Perhaps one of the greatest excuses and hindrances to people coming to faith in Jesus Christ is that they have an elevated opinion of themselves. They view their good deeds as the means by which they are accepted by God. The Scripture is replete with such examples. One such example is the Pharisee who once invited Jesus into his home for a meal (Luke 7:36-50). The tragic reality is that many people function just like this Pharisee named Simon who placed himself in the wrong category.
In Luke 7:36-50, Jesus has just finished preaching at the Sermon on the Mount and descended into the surrounding region into various cities. He had recently ran into a funeral procession where he performed one of his greatest miracles by raising a young man from the dead. He then was followed by large crowds where he healed the sick, cast out demons from people, made the lame to walk, caused the deaf to hear, and give sight to the blind.
Needless to say, the crowds were beginning to grow as Jesus continued in his earthly ministry. People were interested in witnessing the signs and wonders and they wanted to hear his powerful preaching. Jesus did not preach like the scribes and rabbis of his day. He preached with authority.
The Tragic Mistake
In this scene, a man named Simon who was a Pharisee invited Jesus into his home for a meal. It’s likely that he was part of the crowd in the previous context and wanted Jesus to be the special guest in his home for a meal with friends. It could be genuine intrigue or it could’ve been an attempt to trap Jesus that motivated the man.
The Pharisees were the strict sect of the Jews who viewed themselves as the guardians of God’s law. The word Pharisee comes from a Hebrew word meaning separated. They were religious leaders of the religious community of the Jews. They were known by their zealous desire to keep the law of God and to guard the law from perversion. They emphasized not only the law, but the religious ceremonies of the Jewish community. They were highly skilled teachers who had the Old Testament committed to memory.
Unlike the Sadducees, the Pharisees believed in the miraculous—including the resurrection of the dead. They believed in the sovereignty of God. The Pharisees were monotheistic. They also believed in the doctrine of predestination. As time would progress, their zeal for the law would give way to their zeal for their own personal interpretation of the law and additions to the law which turned these people into legalists. That’s why to this day you hear people called “pharisee” as a term of derision. As time would progress in Jesus’ earthly ministry, he would face the challenges and accusations of many Pharisees who despised Jesus.
As Jesus was at the table of the Pharisee, a woman entered who had an expensive ointment (perfumed oil). She approached Jesus and began to wash Jesus’ feet with her tears while wiping his feet with her hair. She broke the flask and began pouring the expensive ointment upon Jesus’ feet. As this entire scene unfolded, the Pharisee became irritated with the disruption. Simon questioned Jesus as a true prophet since he wasn’t able to discern how bad of a sinner this woman was who was anointing his feet.
It’s at this juncture that we see the tragic mistake of the Pharisee. He compared himself to this woman. As a man, in this culture he would’ve been superior to the woman. As a Pharisee, he viewed himself as self-righteous while the woman he viewed as a sinner. While we don’t know the specifics of her sin, what we do know is that she was apparently guilty of many sins. Simon the Pharisee viewed himself to be in a class of righteousness while the woman was a vile sinner. He viewed himself as deserving of Jesus’ attention while this woman, in his view, should have been treated as an outcast and rejected.
The Lessons to Remember
Jesus launched off into a story about a moneylender who loaned money to two individuals. One owed a large sum while the other owed a small sum, but when both could not repay the debt, the lender forgave both individuals. Jesus asked Simon which one would love him the most to which the Pharisee responded that the man who owed the most would love him the most.
Jesus was making a clear point. This woman took the posture of a servant and demonstrated her love for Jesus by sacrificing the ointment and washing his feet. Simon sat at the table in a position of self-righteousness and viewed himself as deserving of Jesus’ attention while the woman saw herself as a sinner who desired to honor and praise Jesus.
Jesus used the woman as an object lesson. He spoke up and publicly announced that her sins are forgiven. He didn’t speak like that to Simon. The woman was humble, but Simon was filled with pride. Everyone at the table began to question Jesus’ audacity to forgive sin since only God can do such work.
There are several lessons to learn in this story. We see a clear proof of Jesus’ deity in the authority to forgive sins and to discern the thoughts and motives of the heart. We also learn a lesson regarding pride and the danger of self-righteousness. Before we can come to Jesus and receive the forgiveness that is necessary to reconcile us to a sovereign and holy God—we must humble ourselves to the point of seeing that our sins are not few—they’re many! It’s only at that point that we can receive the forgiveness of sins through Jesus.
One great trap in life is the belief that we can somehow please God in our flesh. We are led to believe that we can perform enough good deeds that will make us acceptable in the sight of God. Another trap is the idea that we possess enough righteousness that will satisfy God. We have to be brought to a place of humility where we recognize and admit that we do not possess enough righteousness to please God nor can we perform enough good deeds to earn righteousness that’s necessary to please God.
Years ago a man named Phillip Emmert was arrested for selling methamphetamine to support a drug habit. His crime was verified in a court of law and he was convicted of his crime. His sentence from the court was a 27 year sentence—without parole. Phillip Emmert was guilty.
After serving only 14 years of his 27 year sentence, in 2007 George W. Bush received a request for clemency from Phillip Emmert. President Bush reviewed the crime and case and provided clemency. Phillip did not claim he was innocent or that he had been framed in the crime. He admitted to it, but he had requested clemency from the single individual who was capable of providing it.
In July, Emmert was eating a meal and watching a TV news report when he saw his name flash across the screen. When interviewed, he said “I stopped with my mouth full.” He went on to say, “There was Scooter Libby, me and two other people,” he explained. “I know why I am on that list. It is because of the prayers of many, many people,” Emmert said. “But there are a lot more deserving people, if you take the time to look.”
When we are brought to see that we’re guilty and only Jesus can save us—it’s at that point of humility that we will receive the forgiveness of sin and righteousness of Christ. He is our only hope. However, the person who is consumed with self-righteousness will never see himself as desperately sick and standing in need of a physician. Jesus himself once said, “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 5:31-32).
Are you a sinner who needs forgiveness? Turn to Jesus Christ today. Believe that he paid for every last one of your sins in his atoning death on the cross. Come to him today as a sinner who recognizes and admits your sin and trust in Jesus’ work on your behalf. The good news is that Jesus loves to save sinners. Call upon the Lord today (Rom 10:13).
There is a fountain filled with blood
Drawn from Immanuel’s veins;
And sinners, plunged beneath that flood,
Lose all their guilty stains.
The dying thief rejoiced to see
That fountain in his day;
And there may I, though vile as he,
Wash all my sins away.
—William Cowper (1772), “There Is a Fountain”