Six weeks ago we commenced a new series that will take us up till Christmas. It is the encounters that Jesus had people as told through the eyes of Luke.
So far we have learnt about Simeon’s encounter with the baby Jesus (Luke 2:25-35) and how the Spirit of God prompted him to know that this baby was The One – the Redeemer. We also saw the encounter that the Prophet Anna had with the baby Jesus (Luke 2:36-38) and how after years of waiting and waiting on God, He came through and saw encountered the Messiah. We looked two different people, both of whom were controlled by demons – one who was mentioned in chapter 4 and the other in chapter 8. Both these men who endured a very hard life, encountered Jesus and experienced powerful healings. A couple of weeks ago we were reminded of Levi’s encounter with Jesus and because of that encounter, Matthew became a follower of Jesus and ended up writing a Gospel about His Lord – his writings that have impacted generations. Last week Andrew shared with us from Luke 7 about a Roman Centurion who had enough faith to seek out Jesus, even though he knew that he himself didn’t deserve to see such a person like Jesus. And Jesus honoured his faith.
Our reading is a beautiful story of an encounter between a lonely, sinful woman of the city of Capernaum and Jesus, and the forgiveness He offered her.
Jesus seems to have had friends in every section of society. In Capernaum there was a prominent Pharisee named Simon who invited him to dinner.
For some reason his welcome to Jesus when he arrived was casual, if not discourteous. He supplied no water to wash the dust from his sandled feet, as was the custom. There was no kiss of welcome, as was the custom. There was no anointing of the head with oil or feet with ointment, as happened with an important guest.
The meal was eaten in normal eastern fashion, with host and guests reclining on couches around a table, resting their head on the left hand and eating with the right. One strange custom, although not uncommon, was that passing people in the street would often enter the open house and watch what was happening. In other words, a private function was also a public affair.
Therefore, it wasn't unusual for a woman to step in from outside to the dining room.
Let's watch this woman: For a while she is scarcely noticeable as she presses against the wall. Suddenly, she moves. She comes behind Jesus and kneels down at his feet and draws a costly jar of perfume from her dress. As she prepares to pour it gently over his feet, tears well up in her eyes. She is greatly embarrassed as the tears fall on the feet of Jesus. Letting down her long her (something a respectable woman would not do), she quickly wipes away her tears from Jesus' feet.
By this time all present are very conscious of what is happening. Simon is shocked. He mutters to himself: “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is - that she is a sinner” (Luke 7:39 NIV).
Now Simon, according to his law, was shocked. His law simply states that a prophet would prevent a sinner from touching him because touching a sinful person would make him ritually unclean.
After Simon said this, then came the rebuke. Jesus said to Simon that he had something to tell him (v40). I wonder if Simon thought that maybe Jesus was going to honour him in some way because he invited Jesus to his house? Jesus though was about to teach Simon a lesson. Jesus started by giving an illustration about two men who were in debt to a banker. One owed the bank 500 silver pieces and the other just 50. Neither of them could pay up and so the banker decided to canceled both debts (Luke 7:41-42 MSG).
Jesus then asked, “Which of the two would be more grateful?” (Luke 7:42 MSG). Simon replied that he thought that it would be the one who owed the most. Jesus said, yep, you’re right (v43)!
Then Luke tells us that Jesus turned to the woman but still talking to Simon. He said “I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven--as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little” (Luke 7:44-47 NIV).
Still looking at this woman, maybe she was a bit calmer now, probably wondering what is to happen, and Jesus speaks His words to her: “Your sins are forgiven. Your faith has saved you; go in peace" (Luke 7:48,50 NIV).
We know nothing of this woman from Capernaum, except one thing, she "lived a sinful life in that town" (Luke 7:37). Somehow, most scholars believe she was a prostitute. Somehow she had been drawn into this seedy lifestyle. But maybe she was sick of it all, sick of herself, sick of sin.
Many people, particularly Christians, who somehow are tempted into sexual sin, get sick of it, sick of themselves, and sick of their sin.
Jesus has an amazing attitude to the "sins of the flesh". Under no circumstance does he condone impurity. Indeed, his teachings goes beyond the outward action! He looks at the heart and says, "I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (Matthew 5:28 NIV).
Yet Jesus always showed deep understanding and sympathy with those who had fallen into sensual sin. He knew that sex was created by God, and that it is good if we keep within the boundaries. Many go outside these boundaries and end up hurt and scarred. Believe me, they do.
Jesus shows deep understanding and sympathy with those who had fallen into sensual sin. He says to those who are truly repentant: “Your sins are forgiven. Your faith has saved you; go in peace” (Luke 7:48,50).
The woman of Capernaum was truly repentant and sorry for her life of sin. This was shown by her tears. She had had it! She needed forgiveness and a new life. And Jesus granted this.
What a beautiful encounter that resulted in confession and forgiveness. The coming of the woman was the search of a stained, sinful life for pardon. Gloriously, forgiveness was received, and she left in peace.
So many need to have such an encounter with Jesus like this. They know that their life is stained. Such an encounter with Jesus can lead to pardon, forgiveness and peace.
Jodie Cadman is a New Zealander who came to live in Sydney. Jodie never forgot her mother's words which she overheard when she was six. It was at the end of her first year at school. The day was hot. Jodie slipped inside for a drink. She was at the fridge when she realised that her mother was talking to a neighbour in the next room. She heard her mother say how she couldn’t bear touching Jodie and how she wishes she’d never had a girl. Jodie could not move. In a few seconds, her whole world had changed.
She huddled, white-faced and shaking, against the wall, trying not to cry. She hardly heard anything else her mother was saying. There was something about a baby boy that was "stillborn". She shakily tiptoed outside. She climbed the old tree and cried and cried until there was no more tears. Eventually it got dark and cool. Jodie went inside to tea. Nobody seemed to notice how quiet she was. The hurt grew inside her and she began to hate both her parents saying how dare her mother not love her. Jodie noticed more and more that her mum hug her brothers but not her. She craved the same affection and would run up to her mother, but she would be pushed away. When she was a young teenager, she fled her country for the bright lights of Sydney.
When she was a street kid Jodie said: "I feel as if I am desperately searching for something and I don't even know what I'm searching for. Maybe it's happiness. Or love, I don't know. Nothing satisfies me. I still feel hollow. Frighteningly hollow. There's something missing. Something important. Perhaps if ever I found it, I'd know what life was all about and what the point was in it all".
Street workers, Charles and Jill reached out to her and prayed for her. Charles said to her how God wants her to forgive her mother, for everything she did and everything she didn't do. Jodie's fists were clenched with familiar anger when she blurted out "Why the hell should I? She doesn't deserve to be forgiven. She couldn't care whether I forgave her or not".
Then she reached a stage in her life where she wanted God to deal with her feelings of rejection.
Charles explained a very important biblical principle: God cannot do much with us unless we release our revengeful grip on those who hurt us. When Jodie released her hate toward her mother she said, "I felt an enormous weight lift off me. I felt strangely warm and peaceful inside like I'd never felt before". Over a period of time she met a number of Christians who knew that peace. It was not easy for Jodie to discover that peace, but recently she said, "I love being alive. It's just so good being able to live peacefully with myself and with other people. I'm at peace with God. The anger's gone out of me. I didn't want to live, most of my life I was running away, searching. I'm glad to be alive now. I just want to thank Jesus for giving me life" (Jeanette Grant-Thompson, Jodie's Story" ANZEA, 1991).
That is what God's forgiveness is all about: releasing you from hang ups, your sins, your bad thoughts, your wrongful desires, to a life of freedom and peace.
In the Book of Romans, Paul shares about the life before Christ and life after Christ. When he wrote that we are united with Christ, he said, “You have been set free from sin...” (Romans 6:18 NIV).
During 1963 in Australia a remarkable book was published. It was the story of a man named John Knatchbull, who was sent from England to Australia in 1824 as a convict. After incredible experiences of cruelty and suffering he was finally executed for murder before ten thousand people at Darlinghurst in Sydney in 1844.
As he lay awaiting execution John Knatchbull wrote his life story. Only 50 years ago, after all these years, has the manuscript been discovered. It has allowed a new estimate of the life and condemnation of one who was a notorious criminal in Australia's early history. John Knatchbull, it now appears, was falsely and savagely sentenced to transportation to Australia at the instigation of a relative. In Sydney he was forced to endure the suffering and cruelty of those bitter days. He was sent even further away, to Norfolk Island, which was the penalty given to convicts who were sentenced for further acts of defiance at the convict colony of Sydney.
On return to Sydney the injustice and cruelty he had suffered welled up, leading him to commit a ruthless murder. It was for this crime he was publicly hanged.
It was during his final trial and the days when he was awaiting death that the John Knatchbull story became a wonderful story of redemption.
A Christian woman, a Mrs Latham, attended John Knatchbull's trial. As he was taken back to his cell she seized the opportunity for which she had planned. She was able to say quietly and sincerely to him: "Make your peace with Almighty God".
Back in his cell John Knatchbull could not get the kindness of the woman's face or her genuine, intense words out of his mind. It was almost the first tender act he had received for years.
He sent for Mrs Latham. She came, together with the minister of the Pitt Street Congregational Church in Sydney. They talked to him of the love and forgiveness of God.
Then it happened. Pardon, salvation broke into the heart of the condemned man. He wrote this: “No tongue can express my feelings until I flew to prayer and meditated on the advice given me by Mrs Latham: 'make your peace with God'. Now I received the full force of her compassionate intention. Now would I have given the treasures of the East had I seen her years ago: what a different man should I have been".
In this faith John Knatchbull died. He spent the night before his execution in prayer. He went calmly to the scaffold in the power of the faith which had come to him. "By putting my trust in Christ", he wrote, "laying all my past sins at the foot of the Cross, Christ would in no wise cast me out".
That’s the power of pardon and forgiveness and peace when we encounter Jesus.
Are you struggling in an area of sin? Are you like the woman of Capernaum, sick of it all, sick of yourself, sick of sin? Then lay your sins at the foot of the cross. By doing so, Jesus will wipe them away from the book of life.
Five weeks ago, we were challenged to see Jesus as The One – The Redeemer.
Four weeks ago we were challenged to wait on God.
Three weeks ago we were challenged to shut the door on the devil.
Two weeks we are challenged to love all people – as Jesus see in any of us what often no else can see.
Last week we were challenged to have faith.
This week we are challenged to come to the cross with our sins.
Remember what Paul wrote in Romans 6:18, “You have been set free from sin…” (Romans 6:18).
This is the gospel – the good news of Jesus Christ. He has come to help us overcome.
Our culture is pretty tough. It’s hard out there. So many wrong and confusing messages. The culture of the world is different to the culture of true Christianity. Whatever walks of life we come from, Jesus calls us to a lifestyle that is counter-culture and honours Him.
The Apostle Paul knew this and so he wrote this message for the church – for Christians – about culture: “Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you” (Romans 12:2 MSG).
Sometimes Christians become too well adjust to the culture around them that nothing distinguishes them. It’s into this culture that we receive confusing messages, fall into temptation and our faith struggles.
Paul says, “instead, fix your attention on God”. This woman from Capernaum sought Jesus out. I think she was sick of it all – sick of her life and she had heard something about this Jesus. She came to him in faith and did something so counterculture.
Paul says, “You’ll be changed from the inside out”. And that is what the power of the Gospel and the Holy Spirit does. He can change us if we decide to be countercultural and fix our attention on God and His Ways. In fact Paul says, “Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you” (Romans 12:2 MSG).
Every single one of us gets dragged down by the culture of this world. But Jesus has come and has died on the cross for us forgiving us of all that we have done. We are to repent. We are to be sick of what we have done or who we have become. We are to fix our attention on God. And when we do, in faith, God will bring out the best from us. Jesus did this for the woman of Capernaum, He did it for Jodie, He did it for John, He did it for me (boy did He do it for me) and He will do it for you.