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January 7, 2018 A Meal Revealing Hearts

 

[I. Introduction] Imagine with me.  You are invited to a dinner party at a wealthy person’s home. Present are some church leaders, the mayor, and other upstanding citizens. The reason for the dinner is to host one of the most well known Christian preachers in the nation. He is coming to St. Louis and he has accepted an invitation to this dinner. You are quite pleased to have been invited because you appreciate the teacher’s  ministry. This preacher has said some things that are controversial and teaches some things that go against what you were taught before, but you have an open mind.

 

Everyone is seated around the dining table and the polite small talk has ended. The teacher begins to share some insights about the Christian life. The doorbell rings and a woman enters who is wearing a tight-fitting low-cut blouse, a skirt that is way too short, lipstick that is on too heavily, mesh stockings, and stilleto shoes. As she enters she is not walking perfectly straight. It appears that she has been drinking.

 

She comes up to the celebrity preacher and kisses him on the cheek. She says, “It’s so good to see you again!”  She throws her arms around him and claspes his head to her bosom. She has tears in her eyes. She takes hold of his hand and kisses it. She says, “I love you.” You feel embarrassed for him and are not sure what to think. Is he one of her “customers?” To your shock, he responds by saying, “I love you, too.”[1]

 

Really, what would you be thinking? You would probably have more doubts about this teacher than ever. Some of you may have recognized this story. I have only modernized it.

 

            One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at table. 37       And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, 38        and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. 39    Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” [2]

 

In verse 37 she is called “a woman of the city who was a sinner.” This means she was a prostitute. In fact, this is how the Passion Translation renders the verse:

 

“In the neighborhood was an immoral woman of the streets, known to all to be a prostitute.”

 

This is in the house of a Pharisee. To the Pharisees she was like an infectious disease. Indeed, she may have had one. But Jesus did not see her that way. He accepts her. He reveals God’s grace by welcoming a sinner.

 

We like this story because we are not in it and it is far away in time, far away in geography, and maybe far away in experience. But how much would we like it if happened in our church or in our home? I suspect that many of us would not like it and we would not like her. But Jesus liked her.

 

We should see that this woman’s behavior at this dinner were just as socially  inappropriate in Jesus’ day as they would be in ours. This woman treats Jesus with a shocking degree of intimacy. Some Bible scholars have written that a woman letting down her hair in that culture signified intimacy, even sexual intimacy, in itself. Maybe this was the only way she knew how to express her love for Jesus. But Jesus doesn’t stop her. Author Tim Chester observes:

 

He could have said, “I appreciate what you are doing, but it is not really appropriate behavior.” [Yet] he does nothing.[3]

 

Another scholar notes: “Jesus’ passivity in the face of this behavior is extremely eloquent.”[4]

 

In verse 39 Simon thinks, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him…” Yet, Jesus is happy to identify with her. Just as he is happy to identify with you and me. Truth be told, we are not better than a prostitute. For certain, we were not before coming to Christ. If we are now it is only because of God’s grace towards us – the same grace that Jesus shows this woman.

 

Just before this passage, Jesus Himself recounts what people say about him – that he is the friend of sinners. (vs. 34) Luke then proceeds to tell about this dinner party to prove that it is true. Are we scandalized by this or do we rejoice? “The grace of God turns out to be uncomfortable and embarrassing.”[5]

 

I like this statement by Tim Chester. It is profound:

 

Jesus is socially disruptive; his radical grace disrupts social situations.[6]

 

Are you willing to be disruptive? Or, will you just fall in line with convention?

 

Jesus is not embarrassed by the marginalized of society. He lets them kiss his feet. He doesn’t avoid the broken and needy. He identifies with them.

 

[II.] There are three people in this account. I have two questions. Who are you more like? And, who do you wish to be like?

 

[A.] There is Simon, the Pharisee. He wanted to obey God. He studied the Scriptures. He wanted to keep himself pure. He avoided sinners. Are you like him? What do you think of those who are less educated than you? It doesn’t even matter what your level of education is. If all one has is a high school diploma there is a tendency to look down on those who never graduated from High School. If one has an Associates degree then there is an inclination to think less of those who only have a HS diploma. This propensity to think less of people that are less educated goes all the way up to a Ph.D.

 

What do you think of those who drink or smoke or who engage in premarital sex? What we think of them, not of the sin – we ought to despise the sins - reveals if we are more like Simon than we would like to admit.

 

Would we allow a homeless person to hug us? A prostitute? Jesus would. If we are not willing, then we are Simon.

 

[B.] There is the woman. She was a sinner. But she knew she was a sinner. She was a sinner who loved Jesus and was grateful, because her faith had brought forgiveness. Let us read the rest of the story (starting at verse 40).

 

And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.”

41            “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42      When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” 43           Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 44            Then 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. 45    You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. 46      You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47           Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” 48    And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” [7]

 

She had faith in Jesus and her faith saved her. She ceased being a prostitute. How do we know this? Because it is impossible to love Jesus, to have genuine faith in Him, without forsaking sin.

 

There are, sadly, many like the woman who have sinned much but, rather than fleeing their sin, they defend their sin. They have parades for their sin. There is no forgiveness when we love our sin more than we love Jesus. This woman loved Jesus and hated her sin.

 

This woman saw herself as a sinner. Do we? For us to come to Jesus and receive his grace we must see ourselves as sinners.

 

[C.] The third person in this account is Jesus. Before we come to Jesus ourselves, we must be like the woman, seeing ourselves as sinners, placing our faith in Him, and loving him even with our messy lives. After we come to Him we must become like Him.

 

We have just seen that Jesus is the friend of sinners. He was the friend of sinners for two reasons. He loved them. And, he sought to bring them to repentance. Earlier in Luke, the Pharisees are again grumbling that Jesus is eating – remember that word – with sinners. The way Jesus answered this complaint was by saying, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:31, ESV)

 

If we would be like Jesus, and we must, then we must step out of our protective bubbles – our homes, our families, our little circle of church friends – and become the friend of sinners. If you are not willing to be the friend of sinners then it is time for you to either find a different faith, maybe Muslim or Jewish, and forget about playing Christian.

 

[III.] How did our Lord exercise his friendship with sinners? To answer this question, allow me to ask another question first. How would you complete this sentence: “The Son of Man came __________________________________.” The New Testament completes that statement in three ways.

 

For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” [8]

 

This is one of the most blessed verses in the entire Bible. It reveals to marvelous truths: that Jesus was a servant when he first came and that his life was a ransom.

 

Another way: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” [9]

 

This is what we have just stated. It tells us the reason that Jesus was a friend of sinners. So, these first two ways are statements of purpose. The third statement is a statement of method:

 

The Son of Man came eating and drinking…” (Luke 7:34, ESV)

 

“Food matters. Meals matter. Meals are full of significance.”[10]

 

“Few acts are more expressive of than the shared meal. Someone with whom we share food is likely to be our friend or well on the way to becoming one.”[11]

 

The word “companion” is derived from the Latin. Cum means “together” and panis means ‘bread.” A companion is someone you come together with over bread, someone you eat with.

 

When I was in college, I was blessed to belong to a small but vital church. There were only about thirty to forty of us, but it was a dynamic little church. At that church I experienced a great amount of love. Here is how it was expressed: I rented a small room from a couple that belonged to this church and they invited me to have dinner with them each and every night. At those dinners Tom, also an elder, would share during our meal something rich from God’s word. I always found it encouraging and nourishing. The church would also have frequent dinners at the building where they met.  They were not simply times to eat, but people would stand up and share something from God’s word.

 

At the time, I never gave much thought to how often our fellowship centered around meals. But looking back on those times, it very much did!

 

Maybe that church was rare because, of the many churches I have attended since, none have compared to that one with respect to the frequency of shared meals.

 

The church may have been rare, but it wasn’t a rare practice for Jesus. In Luke 7:34 Jesus quotes his detractors. They say this about him: “Look at him! A drunkard and a glutton!” (ESV)

 

They saw him eating and drinking so much that they considered him those things. Then his own disciples followed his example. The Pharisees and scribes say to Jesus:

 

“The disciples of John fast often and offer prayers, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but your eat and drink.” (Luke 5:33, ESV)

 

In the gospel of Luke it is actually amazing how often Jesus is eating with people:

 

  • ch 5 – Jesus eats with tax collectors and sinners in the home of Levi.
  • ch 7 – He is at the home of Simon and at a meal he is anointed (this is our text)
  • ch 9 – Jesus feeds 5,000.
  • ch 10 – he eats at the home of Martha and Mary
  • ch 11 – at a meal he condemns the Pharisees and teachers of the law
  • ch 15 – at a meal he urges his listeners to invite the poor to eat with them instead of just their friends.
  • ch 19 – Jesus invites himself to dinner at the home of Zachaeus
  • ch 22 – the Last Supper
  • ch 24 – after his resurrection, He is still eating.  On the road to Emmaus two men speak with Jesus and do not know who He is. Yet, once they have a meal together, they know it is him! Then, he eats with his disciples.

 

Even many of Jesus’s parables and teachings have to do with meals. There are at least eight times that he uses food or meals in his teachings.[12]

 

[IV. Conclusion and Application] Jesus was the friend of sinners. We must become the friend of sinners if we seek to be like Him. He came eating and drinking. We ought to come eating and drinking with those whom we would lead to the Lord.

 

We should not neglect meals with our fellow brothers and sisters in the Lord. With those meals bring spiritual food as well. Enjoy the Lord together over food! Sharing food creates intimacy.

 

I challenge you to set apart times to eat with others. Like most matters that are worthwhile, if you do not set times and give invitations, it will never happen. It is not enough to think these are good ideas. (How can they not be good ideas since Jesus used them?) We must be faithful. Reach out. And use meals!

 

Just as the meal we read about in Luke 7 revealed the hearts of those who attended, so too, your use of meals…or lack thereof…will reveal your heart. Is your heart focused on yourself or on the kingdom of Christ? Meals reveal hearts.

 

[1] This story, with very slight modification, is taken from the excellent book, A Meal with Jesus, by Tim Chester.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Lk 7:36–39). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[3] Tim Chester, A Meal with Jesus: Discovering Grace, Community, and Mission Around the Table, Re:lit Series (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, ©2011), 39.

[4] John Nolland, Ibid.

[5] Ibid, 40.

[6] Ibid.

[7] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Lk 7:40–48). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[8] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mk 10:45). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[9] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Lk 19:10). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[10] Tim Chester, A Meal with Jesus: Discovering Grace, Community, and Mission Around the Table, Re:lit Series (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, ©2011), 9.

[11] Carolyn Steel, Ibid.

[12] Luke chapters 3, 6, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, and 22.