The Gospel of Luke - Part 26: Saving Faith - Luke 7:36-50

(These notes are based on lesson notes prepared by Rob Mahon for connection class leaders at Hoffmantown Church.)


Last week, we finished the study of the struggling faith of John the Baptist, the last person we would expect to wonder if Jesus was who He claimed to be. But just like we do, when things don’t go right, when things turn out to be different than what we expected, we start to question our faith.

We then need to remember what Jesus told the delegation to take back to John and take the same advice.

  1. Remember what Jesus did, the life he led and the miracles he performed.
  2. Remember what the Bible told us about the Messiah and how Jesus fulfilled those prophecies to a Tee.
  3. Don’t get wrapped up in your shorts, don’t let the doubt prevent you from exercising your faith.
  4. Write one of those faiths checks. They do not bounce.
A.  Strong Faith(7:1-17)   (see also Matt. 8:5-13 and John 4:43-54)
B.  Struggling Faith  (7:18-35)   (see also Matt. 11:2-19)
C.  Saving Faith(7:36-50)

In 7:1-10, we saw great faith from a person we wouldn't expect — a Roman soldier. Then in 7:18-35, we saw the struggles of faith also from an unexpected source — John the Baptist!

Now we look at a great story from the life of Jesus. And it’s another story about faith.

As we read about this woman and Jesus, let’s notice what Jesus commended. He accepted and appreciated her devotion but he commended her faith.

A.W. Tozer, in his book, The Pursuit of God, says:

Faith is all-important in the life of the soul. Without faith it is impossible to please God. [Hebrews 11:6] Faith will get me anything, take me anywhere in the Kingdom of God, but without faith there can be no approach to God, no forgiveness, no deliverance, no salvation, no communion, no spiritual life at all.
In the story we are going to read, there’s a sobering contrast between the Pharisee who has put his faith in his own works, his own righteousness and the woman who has put her faith in the Lord.

A Reader's Digest article told of a 67-year-old man named Bill who had donated over 100 pints of blood over the years. No doubt many people owe their lives to this man's kindness. How do you think this man's good deeds go over in heaven?

Here's what Bill thinks: "When that final whistle blows, and St. Peter asks, 'What did you do?' I'll just say, 'Well, I gave 100 pints of blood,'" [Bill] says with a laugh. "That ought to get me in."

Bill was probably joking. But if he was serious, if he truly believes that his good deeds will give him a ticket to heaven, then he has perfectly articulated the gospel of works. If Bill is counting on the giving of 100 pints of blood to get him to heaven - he is trusting in the wrong blood.  So let’s look at:

C.   Saving Faith (7:36-50):

Now one of the Pharisees was requesting Him to dine with him, and He entered the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. And there was a woman in the city who was a sinner; and when she learned that He was reclining at the table in the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster vial of perfume, and standing behind Him at His feet, weeping, she began to wet His feet with her tears, and kept wiping them with the hair of her head, and kissing His feet and anointing them with the perfume. Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet He would know who and what sort of person this woman is who is touching Him, that she is a sinner.” And Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he replied, “Say it, Teacher.” “A moneylender had two debtors: one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. “When they were unable to repay, he graciously forgave them both. So which of them will love him more?” Simon answered and said, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more.” And He said to him, “You have judged correctly.” Turning toward the woman, He said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has wet My feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. “You gave Me no kiss; but she, since the time I came in, has not ceased to kiss My feet. “You did not anoint My head with oil, but she anointed My feet with perfume. “For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.” Then He said to her, “Your sins have been forgiven.” Those who were reclining at the table with Him began to say to themselves, “Who is this man who even forgives sins?” And He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” —Luke 7:36-50
The final passage of this chapter is another lesson in faith, contrasting the attitudes toward Jesus of a self-righteous Pharisee and a sinful woman. The contrast is striking.

A similar incident occurs later in Jesus’ ministry where Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, also anoints the feet of Jesus. This incident is recorded in Matt. 26:6-13, Mark 14:3-9 and John 12:1-8.

Here is John’s account of the second anointing.

Jesus, therefore, six days before the Passover, came to Bethany where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. So they made Him a supper there, and Martha was serving; but Lazarus was one of those reclining at the table with Him. Mary then took a pound of very costly perfume of pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of His disciples, who was intending to betray Him, said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and given to poor people?” Now he said this, not because he was concerned about the poor, but because he was a thief, and as he had the money box, he used to pilfer what was put into it. Therefore Jesus said, “Let her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of My burial. “For you always have the poor with you, but you do not always have Me.” —John 12:1-8
All three of the other Gospels record this second anointing of Jesus as occurring in the last week of Jesus’ life and ministry. However, there are enough differences in the Luke account and the other three to assure us that they are two separate occurrences.

A.   The Woman:

Let’s see what we can learn from the woman in Luke 7:37.

And there was a woman in the city who was a sinner... —Luke 7:37
The wording of verse 37 seems to be a discreet way of saying that she was a prostitute in that town. Simon, the Pharisee, knew who she was (v.39) and must have been shocked and offended to have her in his home.
Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet He would know who, and what sort of person this woman is who is touching Him, that she is a sinner.” —Luke 7:39
“Who was a sinner” in verse 37 is from the Greek word 'αμαρτολος [hamartolos]. This word is used over 30 times in the Gospels, about 44 times in the whole New Testament. Although we are all sinners, this word is used in the Gospels specifically to describe an irreligious or ungodly person. So, for example, when we’re told that Jesus was a “friend of sinners” —
The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, “Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!” —Matthew 11:19
— it means that Jesus associated with (was friends with) ungodly, irreligious people such as tax collectors and prostitutes.
And there was a woman in the city who was a sinner; and when she learned that He was reclining at the table in the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster vial of perfume. —Luke 7:37
Alabaster jars were carved, expensive, and beautiful. The woman brought something of value, possibly great value, to give to Jesus.
...and standing behind Him at His feet, weeping, she began to wet His feet with her tears, and kept wiping them with the hair of her head, and kissing His feet and anointing them with the perfume. —Luke 7:38
We aren’t told why the woman was weeping. What possible reasons can you think of? It seems likely that this woman had already heard Jesus speak, maybe a number of times. Clearly, she had been deeply touched by what she heard.
...and standing behind Him at His feet, weeping, she began to wet His feet with her tears, and kept wiping them with the hair of her head, and kissing His feet and anointing them with the perfume. —Luke 7:38
1.   Repentant brokenness:

What does the fact that she focused on Jesus’ feet suggest about her attitude?  The woman’s actions suggest a sense of personal brokenness and unworthiness.

We have talked about this before, and saw it even in Peter, when people had a genuine encounter with Jesus, and their hearts were tender, there was often a sense of personal unworthiness. And often Jesus had not confronted them with any kind of sin; it was just what came out as they saw Jesus:

At the north end of the Sea of Galilee, when Peter and other fishermen had fished all night without catching any fish, Jesus told them to throw the nets over the side. The nets were so full they could hardly get them into the boat, and the boats almost sank. At the sight of Jesus exhibiting the power of God, Peter was overwhelmed.

But when Simon Peter saw that, he fell down at Jesus’ feet, saying, “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” —Luke 5:8
And when the centurion realized that Jesus was coming to his house to heal his servant—
Now Jesus started on His way with them; and when He was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to Him, “Lord, do not trouble Yourself further, for I am not worthy for You to come under my roof —Luke 7:6
And when John the Baptist was introducing himself in the beginning of John's Gospel, and he was emphasizing that he was nothing and that Jesus was everything, he said:
“It is He who comes after me, the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” —John 1:17
Robert B. Munger, a former professor of evangelism at Fuller Theological Seminary and now an associate pastor at Menlo Park Presbyterian church in California says:
“The Church is the only fellowship in the world where the one requirement for membership is the unworthiness of the candidate.”
Randy Alcorn, a widely published Christian author, author of "Edge of Eternity" and head of Eternal Perspective Ministries says in his book:
“Those who know their unworthiness seize grace as a hungry man seizes bread; the self-righteous resent grace.”
Back in Luke, it’s interesting that the woman never says a word — not to Simon, not to Jesus.

She stood behind Him at His feet as He reclined on a couch. The first thing that happened was that her tears fell on His feet as she stood there. Then she apparently knelt down by His feet and began to dry his feet with her hair. Then she began to kiss His feet and anoint them with the perfume she had brought with her.

The Bible Knowledge Commentary describes the kissing of the feet as “a sign of the utmost respect, submission and affection”.

What should we learn from this woman?  Be broken. Brokenness is more than just being sorry for our sins. Brokenness means we have come to the end of ourselves; we see our own wretchedness and realize that only Jesus can help me, only Jesus can save me.

One of the qualities God blesses and uses is brokenness. We are broken when we face our own inadequacy and pride in the light of God’s character.

In his book, "Born Again", Chuck Colson described his sense of brokenness before God. He had been President Richard Nixon’s Special Counsel and had helped Nixon win the presidential election. Now he was out of the White House and facing accusations of being at the center of the Watergate crimes. After speaking with Tom Phillips, then president of Raytheon, he went to his car. Colson wrote,

“As I drove out of Tom’s driveway, the tears were flowing uncontrollably. ... With my face cupped in my hands, head leaning forward against the wheel, I forgot about machismo, about pretenses, about fears of being weak. And as I did, I began to experience a wonderful feeling of being released. ... And then I prayed my first real prayer, ‘God, don’t know how to find You, but I’m going to try! I’m not much the way I am now, but somehow I want to give myself to you.’ I did not know how to say more, so I repeated over and over the words: Take me.”
That is a picture of brokenness. Psalm 51:17 tells us:
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
    A broken and a contrite heart, O God,
    You will not despise. —Psalm 51:17
The New Living Translation says:
The sacrifice You want is a broken spirit.
    A broken and contrite (repentant) heart, O God,
    You will not despise. —Psalm 51:17 (NLT)
2.   Gratefulness:

The second thing we need to learn is to be grateful.  This woman expresses a deep appreciation for Jesus. She washed His feet with her tears, dried them with her hair, kissed His feet and anointed them with precious perfume.

How about us? Do we express this kind of heart-felt, wholehearted gratitude to Jesus for our salvation?  Paul tells us in Second Corinthians 9:15:

Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift! —2 Corinthians 9:15
B.   The Pharisee:

What do we know about the Pharisee?

And there was a woman in the city who was a sinner; and when she learned that He was reclining at the table in the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster vial of perfume. —Luke 7:37
1.   First, that he was a Pharisee.

Pharisees are mentioned 93 times in the New Testament, 26 times in Luke.   All but eight of the references to the Pharisees are in the Gospels.

a.   So what is a Pharisee?

There were several different groups of parties within Judiasm at the time of the New Testament, just as there are now. Judaism in New Testament times was diverse. We read of Pharisees, Sadducees, and Herodians. One man is called a Zealot. From other sources we learn of the Essenes.

The Pharisees constituted the most important group. They appear in the Gospels as the opponents of Jesus. Paul claimed that he was a Pharisee before becoming a Christian. In describing himself, he said he was:

...circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee. — Philippians 3:5

The Pharisees were the most numerous of the groups, although Josephus stated that they numbered only about six thousand. They controlled the synagogues and exercised great control over the general population.

The name Pharisee means “the separated ones.” It may mean that they separated themselves from the masses of the people or that they separated themselves to the study and interpretation of the law. It is usually assumed that they were the spiritual descendants of the Hasidim, the loyal fighters for religious freedom in the time of Judas Maccabeus. They appear to be responsible for the transformation of Judaism from a religion of sacrifice to one of law. They were the developers of the oral tradition, the teachers of the two-fold law: written and oral. They saw the way to God as being through obedience to the law. They were the progressives of the day, willing to adopt new ideas and adapt the law to new situations.

The Pharisees were strongly monotheistic. They accepted all the Old Testament as authoritative. They affirmed the reality of angels and demons. They had a firm belief in life beyond the grave and a resurrection of the body. They were missionary, seeking the conversion of Gentiles. Jesus said of them:

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves. —Matthew 23:15
They saw God as concerned with the life of a person without denying that the individual was responsible for how he or she lived. They had little interest in politics. The Pharisees opposed Jesus because He refused to accept the teachings of the oral law.

b.   The Sadducees were the aristocrats of the time. They were the party of the rich and the high priestly families. They were in charge of the Temple and its services. They claimed to be descendants of Zadok, high priest in the time of Solomon. However, the true derivation of their name is unknown. In all our literature, they stand in opposition to the Pharisees. They sought to conserve the beliefs and practices of the past. They opposed the oral law, accepting the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament, as the ultimate authority. They were the fundamentalists, the conservatives. The Sadducees were materialistic in their outlook. They did not believe in life after death or any reward or punishment beyond this life. They denied the existence of angels and demons. They did not believe that God was concerned with what people did. Rather people were totally free. They were politically oriented, supporters of ruling powers, whether Seleucids or Romans. They wanted nothing to threaten their position and wealth, so they strongly opposed Jesus.

c.   The Zealots receive only brief mention in the New Testament. Simon, one of the disciples, is called Zealot (Luke 6:15). John 18:40 uses a word for Barabbas that Josephus used for Zealot. Josephus states that the Zealots began with Judas the Galilean seeking to lead a revolt over a census for taxation purposes (A.D. 6). He did not use the name Zealot until referring to events in A.D. 66, the beginning of the Jewish revolt against Rome. The Zealots were the extreme wing of the Pharisees, the radicals. In contrast with the Pharisees, they believed that only God had the right to rule over the Jews. They were willing to fight and die for that belief. For them patriotism and religion were inseparable. They were the religious extremists.

d.   The Herodians are mentioned in only three places in the New Testament (Matt. 22:16; Mark 3:6; 12:13). In the earliest reference in Mark, they joined with the Pharisees in a plot to kill Jesus. The other two passages refer to the sending of Pharisees and Herodians to ask Jesus about paying taxes to Caesar. It is assumed that they were Jews who supported Herod Antipas or sought to have a descendant of Herod the Great given authority over Palestine. At this time Judea and Samaria were under Roman governors.

e.   The Essenes, not mentioned in Scripture, were probably members of the isolationist Qumran community near the Dead Sea, and are commonly associated with the "Dead Sea Scrolls" discovered in 1947 in a cave near the Qumran archaeological site.

The vast majority of the people were not members of any of these parties, although they would have been most influenced by the Pharisees. 

Now that we know what a Pharisee is, we will break until next week, when we will see what we can learn from the Pharisee and the other players in this story.