We live in a society that loves to compare. We compare houses, we compare children’s achievements, there’s even a website where you can compare salaries with other people, and we even do it with morality.
We think of morality as a bit like a ladder (draw) we put people like Mother Theresa and Martin Luther King near the top, then at the bottom are people like terrorists, murderers…
Where would you put yourself? When we have to think about where we put ourselves, we go through a process like this; I’m better than so and so, but not as good as them, often on the basis of actions. But the Bible comes to us and says acceptance by God is not a ladder, it is a matter of grace and faith.
The scandal of the gospel
What do you think the most scandalous scene in the bible is?
Turn to Luke 23:39-43(read it) what is the scandal? There are two injustices; Jesus the innocent one dies as punishment even though his judge has declared that there is no charge against him. But this scandal is then magnified as we see what happens next. Why are the two criminals there? Because of their actions, in fact in their execution justice is being done – that is the second criminals’ confession “We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve.” And yet scandalously Jesus goes on to promise the dying criminal eternal life (43)“Today, you will be with me in paradise”.
In other words because of the confession of his sin and his simple expression of trust in Jesus, when he says “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” this criminal, this insurrectionist or terrorist is forgiven and will be in heaven.
It’s one of the greatest pictures we have of salvation and grace and of the great transaction that takes place on the cross as Jesus dies for the criminals’ guilt while he is credited with Jesus innocence simply by faith. This passage confronts us with the problem of grace, the gospel is scandalous!
God’s grace is readily available to all, and as the criminal on the cross shows us it is not earned it is given by faith, there is NO morality ladder.
God’s grace is not cheap it cost Jesus his life and experiencing his Father’s anger against and judgement for sin. But it is available to all at any stage in life.
But some people look at that and grasp that the gospel is all of grace and therefore conclude if I’m forgiven and if grace is readily available to all that means I can live any way I want. If we just look at Luke 23 you could reach that conclusion, but it is not a good place to think about it because there is no after for the criminal. In a few hours he will die and be with Jesus in paradise, we don’t see what difference grace made to his living.
We are all spiritually bankrupt
Turn to Luke 7:36-50, (read) Jesus is eating in the home of Simon. When suddenly the conversation, which Luke tells us nothing of, stops and everyone turns to look at this infamous woman who has just walked into the room. There is muttering and shuffling of feet as people move back out of her way as she walks with her head bowed low and carrying a jar in her hands right up to where Jesus is reclining.
Then the shock deepens as her tears begin to drop onto his feet, she loosens her hair and begins wiping away her tears with it. Then she breaks the jar and pours the perfume on his feet. We see another sinful person, someone else who would be near the bottom of our comparative morality ladder.
Who is the other character? Simon the Pharisee. In contrast to the woman Simon is very religious, he gave his money to the poor, he served God, he had dedicated his life to God, I guess he’d be near the top of our ladder. How does Simon react? (39)He is horrified that Jesus accepts this woman, because he has totally misunderstood who Jesus is and what he has come to do. Jesus tells a story to get behind his defences, to show him why the woman acts as she does but also why someone who is forgiven their sins will never want to live however they want.
(40-41) What do you notice about the two men? They both owe a debt, one owes 50 Denarii – about 50 days wages, the other owes 500 Denarii a year and three quarters salary. But the sums aren’t what is important what vital fact does v42 give us? (42) “Neither of them had the money to pay him back.” Neither has the money or any hope of paying it back, though one owes significantly more both are bankrupt. It’s a picture of what we are like before God it doesn’t matter whether you’re a very good person like Simon – he has still sinned even if it was only in failing to love his neighbour this woman as himself. Everyone is spiritually bankrupt. It is utterly impossible for us to make ourselves right with God. There is no ladder of morality there is simply perfect or sinful.
But Jesus carries on with the most amazing part of the story; what does the money lender do? He cancels the debt. So Jesus asks “which of them will love him more?” It’s a good question isn’t it? And it gets to the root of our question.
If you know how much you are forgiven you won’t want to live life however you want.
Do you see what Jesus is saying – the woman knew how much she was forgiven and it meant she loved lavishly, a love that was shown in the way she lived and acted(44-47).
Simon by contrast has not loved Jesus because he does not think he needs to be forgiven, he is depending on himself on his own performance to save himself. Though he is wrong.
No-one who understands how much they have been forgiven will walk away and live life to please themselves. No-one who knows how sinful they are and the cost to Jesus of their forgiveness and the wonder of grace will walk away and live life their own way.
Instead if we understand the depth of our sin and the love and grace of God in Jesus death to save us it is impossible for us to ask that question; if I’m forgiven anything can’t I live how I like. Because if you understand what it cost and what it means to be forgiven everything you will not want to live however you like. You will love and want to live life for the one who gave his all for you.
Do we identify with the woman or with Simon? Do we rejoice in God’s grace and the scandal of the gospel because we recognise that we are spiritually bankrupt without it, or do we begrudge it because we mistakenly think we can earn it?