I want to call you tonight to a life of unashamed, unreserved worship. I want to call you to a worship which is bold, unapologetic, and uninhibited. But before you shut the door of your heart and say, “Whoa, Greg’s gonna tell me to raise my hands or clap or something!” I want you to listen to this story that I trust will ignite your heart for worship.
Please turn with me to Luke 7.
I was wrestling with what to preach on tonight, and as I was continuing through my daily Bible readings, this story stood out to me. I’m sure you’ve read it many times before. Let’s let it wash over us afresh tonight. I’m going to read it, and then paint in some details, and then I want to look at two different characters in this story, and share how they relate to you and me.
In those days it was a good deed to invite a traveller to your house, but especially a travelling teacher. I’ve experienced this many times with my parents, when we’d go visit a supporting Church and my Dad would preach and afterwards, inevitably, someone would invite us around for a meal.
So we can suppose that on this day, Jesus had gone to a synagogue and spent some time teaching there. In the crowd were a wide variety of people. But two people especially were of interest. The one was a Pharisee, prominent in the town, probably well-to-do and respected. The other was a sinful woman – most commentators say she was in all likelihood a prostitute. She had probably heard of Jesus, and His reputation, and gone to hear if what they said of Him was true: that He offered hope to the lost.
As Jesus spoke, His words washed over her and she felt a sensation she hadn’t felt in years: is that hope? Maybe my burden can be removed? What are these words? These are words of life! Is there hope for such as me? Yes there is! I must hear more.
After the service, this Pharisee Simon wanted to hear more. You see, he’d also heard of Jesus’ reputation as a prophet and a man of God. While Simon had heard what Jesus had been teaching, he wasn’t yet convinced, and he decided to invite Jesus to his house for a meal. So in front of everyone, Simon stood up and invited Jesus to his house, and anyone else that would like to come to hear more. All were welcome!
This was the woman’s chance! She knew she would go to Simon’s house to see Jesus again, but she had to go with a gift – something to show Jesus how grateful she was for His words of hope. She dashes off home wondering, what can I give? God lays it on her heart right there: her expensive bottle of perfume. It was a treasure to her, it would be useful in her business, men spent more money on her if her room smelt nice.
But that life is over now, she’d been trapped in it for years, but now she could see the way out! It wasn’t a question of maybe, all that was left was to show God how much she appreciated what He was giving her. She would grab the bottle of perfume and run back to Simon’s house. Hopefully she wouldn’t miss a word that Jesus spoke!
She ran back to Simon’s house as fast as her feet could take her. Would they let her in? Of course, Simon had said everyone was welcome! She was glad to see the big front doors flung wide open, and quietly moved in. A few people were preparing the large inner area for the arrival of the guests, but Jesus hadn’t arrived yet. She sat down on the outer edge of the dining area and waited while the servants laid out the cushions that the guests would rest on while they ate.
It wasn’t long before she felt the atmosphere changing. The host and his guests were arriving! She looked out carefully for Jesus, and when she saw Him that sense of hope stirred in her heart again and she felt the invisible burden on her shoulders become lighter again. What man was this that He spoke such words? A prophet, and greater than a prophet! Surely He must be the Messiah she had heard was coming.
She watched for the way the great man would be treated. It was customary to wash the feet, and kiss the cheek of an honoured guest. But these never came.
The lack of these touches of hospitality were Simon’s way of signalling to his other guests that he had not yet decided how worthy this travelling preacher was. He had also made it subtly but unmistakably clear that although the feast was given in Jesus’ honour, Simon considered his guest to be below him socially and spiritually.
Jesus seemed unaffected by this lack, however, and moved around the dining area and settled down right in front of her! Oh, what an honour! To sit at His feet!
As the meal began, she listened intently to His speech. Every word stirred up life in her heart, she was convinced now that the God she thought hated her actually loved her. God wasn’t her enemy, He would be her Father. She didn’t need to hide from Him – no!
As the burden of years of guilt and shame started to lift from her, she felt happier than she ever thought possible. Life, oh wonderful life! Hope, oh wonderful hope! Love, oh wonderful love! As the cavern of her soul filled with light, her eyes filled with tears. She could hold it back no more, and oh why should she? She began to weep as she listened to his words, silently at first, trying not to disturb anyone; but the joy was so deep that she felt no shame at her tears.
Her tears fell on Jesus’ feet, which were stretched out right in front of her. She knew now that others were looking at her, there’s no way they could have missed that last sob. She opened her eyes, but she only looked at Jesus’ feet where her tears were falling and forming little mud trickles. She had no doubt that Jesus wouldn’t reject her for this. She felt certain He’d love her more. So rather than trying to pretend this wasn’t happening, she began to wipe the mud from his feet with her hair.
Now everyone was looking at her. What was she doing?? Rather than causing her to turn in embarrassment, she wanted them to see her joy, wanted them to see her love for this man who had brought her life in place of the death that had been tattooed to her soul. She kissed his feet, as someone would kiss the feet of the man who’d just spared her life. She took the perfume she’d brought with her and poured it on His feet. She just couldn’t stop.
As she continued to rub the perfume and massage his worn feet, she listened as Jesus spoke. He was talking to Simon. It was a story. Just as she hadn’t missed a single one of Jesus’ words before, she listened carefully to these words too.
‘Two people,’ Jesus said, ‘owed money to a money lender. One owed much and the other little. Neither could repay, and so the money lender cancelled the debts of both. Which would love that money lender more?’
The answer was obvious to everyone. Clearly it would be the one who was forgiven of the bigger debt! But Simon’s answer came slow. He seemed to suspect that Jesus was making a point about him, and he didn’t like it. Instead of giving the quick answer that the question deserved, Simon hesitated and then said, ‘Well…I suppose…it would be the one who was forgiven of the bigger debt.’
‘Right you are!’ Jesus said. Then he turned around, facing away from the Pharisee. The woman was still at his feet, she was still listening but she hadn’t stopped caring for his feet. Jesus wanted her full attention, and turned her face up. In those eyes she saw that spark of love and forgiveness she was so hungry for. Surely it was the look a kind creditor would give when he was cancelling a huge debt without reservation! And he told Simon of all her kind deeds towards Him. What’s this? He was boasting of her deeds! But her deeds had always been so shameful! And yet here He is, the preacher of life, boasting of what she had just done. And before a Pharisee of all people!
Then He said the words which hit her square in the chest, “Her many sins have been forgiven.” Can it be? Is it possible? I can be forgiven? As if He heard her thoughts and wanted to reassure her, Jesus spoke directly to her for the first time: “Your sins are forgiven. Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”
That’s the end of the story as we have it. We don’t know who this woman was, or where this story took place. But what a story, am I right? This story is a love story, just like the crucifixion is a love story. Not some cheap romance or soap opera love. A love much deeper and heart-felt than that.
There are two characters in this story that I want us to examine a little.
Firstly, let’s look at the lady’s passion.
I think what strikes me most about this woman was the abandon with which she worshipped the Lord Jesus.
This young woman had been living in such sin that it was known around town. Yes, the worst sinners knew her, but her sin was so great that even the Pharisees who separated themselves from sinful practices knew who she was and what she did.
While she did what she did, she hated it! She hated herself for what she allowed herself to do. She felt such shame, she carried such disgrace, dishonour and humiliation that she could barely put herself to sleep at night. She couldn’t look at her reflection without retching, and she avoided all ‘clean people’ because they reminded her of how dirty she was. She has been battered down. Her self-image is tattered and ragged. She is the continual object of cutting criticism in insults by the wives of her customers. She has been spat upon. She is the example many mothers in town use to warn their daughters. She is brunt of nasty jokes. She is shunned by the best people and used and abused by the worst. Inwardly, she is broken and bleeding. Her spirit is wounded. Perhaps you've felt like that; perhaps you feel like that right now. You've failed miserably, and though time has passed, you still are humiliated and unsure, and feel too weak and fragile to pick yourself up and move on.
Normally she would have avoided the synagogue, but this day was special. And having been there, she was changed. As she listened and believed the words of this preacher, she felt the dirty rags of sin fall from her shoulders, and instead of feeling naked and more ashamed she felt alive and free and accepted and loved for the first time in forever!
Her response was natural. It was an overflow of what she was experiencing in her soul. In her crying there at Jesus’ feet we can see two things: Her deep humiliation for her sin; and her strong devotion to the Lord.
Her deep humiliation for her sin in that she cried over this. Her eyes had allowed sin to come in and go out, and now she made them fountains of tears.
And her strong devotion for the Lord Jesus in that she loved much (vs. 42, 47), pouring her devotion into actions deemed silly or menial to others: Washing his feet, kissing his feet, wiping his feet with her hair, anointing his feet.
Understand that her worship was natural. She didn’t have to stir it up within herself. She didn’t have to prepare long beforehand. She set herself before Him who forgave her and let the worship flow with abandon.
Our worship of God ought to be an overflow of what we are experiencing in our souls. I know there are times of dryness, but don’t be content with that. Remind yourself again and again and again and again of what God does for you, then throw yourself before Him and pour out your hearts with abandon.
I truly believe that’s what heaven is going to be like, because I can’t imagine a better eternity than to always be worshipping and thanking God properly – with abandon, without shame, without holding back.
Where He goes she will follow, and where He sends her she would go. So she followed Him, and offered Him the best worship she could. She worshipped Him, in front of those who she formerly would have avoided.
Now hear me, it’s not more spiritual to cry in prayer, or raise your hands in worship, to clap or to shout hallelujah. None of those things of themselves please God.
But do you avoid being expressive in worship because you’re ashamed – afraid of what your spouse next to you will think, or what if your kids walk in while you’re on your knees praying?
If the reason you hold back from being expressive in worship is the fear of those around you – how binding is that? We chain ourselves to the earth with the cords of fear. Worship is a chance to let yourself go in God. Your hearts cry out to worship Him with abandon. What you and I need more than anything else oftentimes is to let ourselves go in our worship of God – to let go of the restraints of social etiquette, to drop the burden of fear. Let my heart just cry out to God in the praise that He deserves, let my mouth SHOUT – why? Because it MUST SHOUT! Let my eyes pour with tears in recognition of my heart filled with the love and light and joy of God.
Look at this woman. She is kneeling in a room of respectable people – religious leaders and businessmen and well-to-do socialites. But her focus is on Jesus and she despises the shame of what she’s doing. She can’t barely hold it in, and why should she? She’s safe in His presence, and His caring eyes are the only ones that matter. She cries for an audience of one.
When you worship, who or what holds your focus? Is it those around you? Is it the fight you had with your spouse? Is it worries about how the business is doing? Is it anger? Or is it Jesus? Do you sing for an audience of one; do you cry for an audience of one?
Now when you read this story, maybe you associate yourself with this immoral woman. You’ve lived a life of such terrible sins that the neighbourhood knew who you were; they could point you out: “You want a good time – go hang out with so-and-so.”
But maybe, like me, you associate yourself more with the Pharisee. So let’s look for a minute at the Pharisee’s Self-righteousness.
I’ll tell you my story.
I grew up in a Christian home. My parents were Christian missionaries, so were almost all my grandparents, uncles and aunts and cousins. I said the sinner’s prayer every night when I was five. My parents taught me to memorise Bible verses; we did family devotions after dinner; I went to Church whether I wanted to or not – even if we went away on holiday my parents would find a Church and drag us to it!
The result of all of this is that I was different from the other kids at school. I never really fitted in with the popular kids, never got a girlfriend, was never invited to parties.
Even in high school when I became more popular, I didn’t go to drunken parties, I didn’t sleep around, I never even tried smoking or drugs, and I didn’t steal.
Sure, I was quite free with my tongue – I was a lying, cursing, hateful, disrespectful young man, but I saw all of these as ‘little sins’ – they didn’t hurt anyone.
When Jesus came into my life, He changed all that. The first thing that changed was my mouth – I stopped lying, swearing, being disrespectful. I started building up, encouraging, talking about God.
Here I was – I’d been the ‘cool Christian’ dabbling in ‘little sins’, and then I’d been saved.
Maybe you can relate to me. I’d never done drugs. I’d not been in a string of sexual relationships. I’d never murdered a man. I wasn’t saved from Satanism, I wasn’t involved with prostitutes. I’d been ‘a little dirty’, and then I’d been ‘clean’. Out of these two characters, I was much, much, much closer to the Pharisee than the prostitute.
I started to envy, in my heart, those saved from really dark pasts. I would read this story that we read tonight and think to myself, “I wish I’d been saved from really bad things like that, cause I’d love to love God like they do…”
Then God started to say to me, ‘You don’t know what sin really is. But pray, and I’ll show you.’
So I started to pray, ‘God, please show me my sin for what it really is.’
Boy, did I get a shock. I would encourage you to pray that prayer for yourself. Have you been dabbling in ‘little sins’? They might be little to you now, but if you see them for what they really are, you’ll see they aren’t little.
God’s told you not to lie, and you know it! So when you lie, what are you saying to God? “I don’t care who You are, I don’t care what You want from me. Stand behind me, I’m god now!”
God’s told you not to lust, and you know it! So when you look at person and let your mind go where you know it shouldn’t, what are you saying to God? “I’m doing this, and I spit in Your face!” It doesn’t take a long drawn-out sexual affair to say that, no – your heart says it when you choose to go in the way God’s told you not to go!
It wasn’t the sin of murderers only that sent Jesus to the cross – it was the sin of liars, of thieves, of gossips, of gluttons, of the greedy, of the lazy… The awfulness of the cross reflects the awfulness and ugliness of these sins – our sins.
And so I look again at these two characters – the Pharisee and the prostitute – and I realise, in God’s eyes I was as lost and dirty and sinful as the prostitute! So what does that mean? I’m forgiven for as much as she was. So what does that mean? My worship should be the same as hers: Wholehearted – desperate – unashamed – unrestrained!
I shouldn’t hide my tears when I worship my great God – He’s saved me from the pit, He took this great burden from my shoulders, He took off my garments of sin and replaced them with His garments of righteousness, He deserves my love and devotion!
As we close tonight, I want you to ask yourself: is there anything restricting me in my worship and service of the Lord?
Maybe its fear of what others may think when they see you? Maybe its embarrassment about how you see yourself? If these are the cases, I call you to take your eyes off of those things which have become idols to you – put your eyes squarely on Jesus. Worship for an audience of one.
Perhaps tonight, and for a long time, your worship has been dry and unfeeling. Perhaps it’s become a lifeless thing for you.
If that is the case, I invite you to a new experience with Jesus. Ask Him to give you a clear picture of Him, ask Him to give you a clear picture of sin, ask Him to give you a heart desperate to worship Him in the way that He deserves. God will answer that prayer.
May we learn to see ourselves, and others, through Jesus’ eyes, rather than our own, and may that lead us to unashamed, unrestrained worship!