Some things never change.
Ask the bystander on the street (or in the mall) about Jesus and it might be said that He was a wise teacher, or an inspiring model to follow, or a moderate political activist, or a social reformer, or a compassionate servant and healer. But few will address the reason Christ came to earth.
And that’s the way it’s always been. Even during Christ’s ministry, people were espousing similar postulations about Christ. And that’s why they were repeatedly surprised when Christ acted differently than their notions of what He should do.
Take the account at the end of Luke 7.
A woman who is openly recognized for her sinful lifestyle (“a woman in the city who was a sinner,” v. 37) shows up at a Pharisee’s house when she learns that Jesus will be there. She didn’t want to make trouble; she came to offer tribute. So she fell at His feet and washed them with her tears (and dried them with the crown of her glory — her hair) and anointed them with perfume.
The Pharisees are indignant. What sort of man would allow himself to be touched by a woman, and even more, a woman like this — a sinner. It seems like they are confused about whose conduct is most appalling — the woman for showing up at the Pharisee’s home, or Jesus for letting her touch Him (they settle in being most indignant against Jesus’ actions, v. 39).
This then provides an occasion for Jesus to explain the nature of His advent and ministry. He’s about forgiveness. So who will love more, He asks, one who’s forgiven a little or a lot? Well, the one who’s forgiven much, the Pharisee replies. And that’s why the woman loves Him so much, Jesus asserts, because she’s been forgiven so very much (vv. 40-47). And then He concludes His lesson by turning to the woman and saying, “Your sins have been forgiven.”
What?! The whole table around Jesus then began to talk and question, “Who is this man who even forgives sins?” (v. 48). The reason that the people were so astounded by Jesus words is that they had no category for Jesus as a forgiver. Were He to go about the countryside healing and feeding, or were He to make an occasional preaching appearance at a local synagogue, or if He were to speak out against the Roman government, that would be acceptable and within the realm of their expectations. But to forgive sin? Who is He to think He can do that?
And that’s the point of the account. The Son of Man came to save sinners from God’s wrath and to give His life as the ransom that would pay the debt of their sin. But the masses just didn’t see their need for a Savior from sin. They had a high view of themselves and a low view of the nature (and pervasiveness) of their sin.
So here are a couple of reminders for us today:
- Even though we may be believers in Christ who have been forgiven, we do well to daily realize the magnitude of our sinfulness and the greater extent of God’s forgiveness. That will lead us to godly worship and adoration.
- We are surrounded by people who think like the Pharisees; they do not believe in their need for forgiveness. Our ministry to the world might be filled with various acts of compassion, but everything we do must ultimately address the unbeliever’s need for forgiveness. Are we working, like Christ, to communicate His gracious provision and offer of forgiveness?