I am going to ask you quite a difficult question to see if you have been listening all this year! As the apostles watched Jesus, what were the really big questions? If we look back on the journey they were on, what were the really big questions they were being faced with?
You might remember that first the twelve apostles were invited to “Come and see”. Then Jesus said “Follow me”. Then some time later Jesus said “Be with me”. In other words, they were invited into a personal coaching relationship. They spent time with Jesus. They did life together. They watched and listened and learnt just by observing Jesus.
Although many of the teaching moments seemed to be spontaneous, Jesus undoubtedly had a master plan. So what are the big things He wanted them to understand?
Here are my suggestions:
- Jesus’ identity: Who is this man? What is He really like? (We can broaden that to God’s identity. Who is God? What is He like?)
- The Kingdom: They saw examples of God’s Kingdom breaking into the world – healings, deliverance, salvation… And Jesus taught them about the nature of the Kingdom.
- Faith: How did people respond? How should people respond to Jesus and the Kingdom?
- Service or ministry: What was Jesus up to? How did He go about it? Remembering that Jesus had told them that they also would be involved in ministry.
- Themselves. This hasn’t been so obvious but they were learning about themselves – their own attitudes, reactions, character, etc. What was Jesus challenging? What did He want to change?
Last week we read about John the Baptist questioning whether Jesus was really the Messiah. The apostles weren’t mentioned but we know they had been called to be “with Jesus”. What were the big questions?
- Who is Jesus? At the heart of the story was John’s question: Are you the one who was to come or should we look for someone else?
- The nature of God’s Kingdom. To answer the question, Jesus simply pointed to the evidence of the presence of the Kingdom of God – healings, the deliverances, the preaching of the gospel.
- Faith. Jesus said, “Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.” A large part of Luke’s telling of the story focused on the fact that some were responding and others were closed.
- Service. We see Jesus ministering and are reminded of His ministry to the needy and the poor. That story doesn’t say much about people serving Jesus but today’s will.
- Themselves. Again, the apostles were not mentioned but they must have been reflecting, for example, on their own response. Were they acknowledging God’s ways were right or were they resistant? Who did they believe Jesus was? Had they been tempted to fall away? They certainly would be later.
There are other big issues that would come up later but already they were surfacing. I think another big item on Jesus’ curriculum is “What does a holy life look like?” Well, they were observing a holy life and Jesus had already taught about Kingdom living. Relationships were really important to Jesus. That is an aspect of holy living and an aspect of the Kingdom. Perseverance – finishing the race. Jesus has raised that already by saying, “Blessed is the person who does not fall away on account of me.”
As we look at Jesus’ training of the twelve, we can identify the big questions at the centre of Christian faith. Actually, they are the big questions of life.
- Who is God? Who is Jesus?
- What is God’s ultimate plan? Where is everything heading? What is God’s Kingdom like?
- How should I respond to God? Am I for Him or against Him?
- How can I serve God? What is He asking of me?
- What does He want me to become? Who am I and who can I be?
Are there more important questions than the ones Jesus was confronting the apostles with?
Read Luke 7:36 – 8:3
Again, central is the question of who Jesus is. Simon wondered if Jesus was a prophet but had his doubts that He really was. “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.” No He can’t be a prophet. Jesus is less than a prophet.
Later, Jesus said to the woman, “Your sins are forgiven.” But only God can forgive sin and the guests knew that. In v.49, they asked, ‘Who is this who even forgives sins?” Is he a prophet? Is he less than a prophet? Is He more than a prophet? Who is He?
Is the story about the Kingdom of God? Absolutely it is. It is about how someone enters the Kingdom. It is about salvation, forgiveness, love, peace. “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”
It is very clearly about faith and about two contrasting responses to Jesus. The woman has put her faith in Jesus; has been forgiven (forgiven a great deal) and has responded with extravagant, expressive love. Simon was sceptical and critical and cold.
What about service? Actually that is at the centre of the story. Simon had not served Jesus. He hadn’t provided event the normal courtesies. He hadn’t provided water for Jesus’ feet. He hadn’t greeted Jesus with a kiss. He hadn’t anointed his guest with oil.
The woman, on the other hand, was recklessly extravagant. She brought very expensive perfume and poured it on Jesus’ feet. She wept. With her own tears she washed Jesus’ feet and she dried them with her hair. She kissed His feet. Jesus said she hadn’t stopped kissing Him. Simon was lying there being critical of her and feel superior to her and to Jesus who obviously didn’t understand how inappropriate this was. There were other guests there who would have been equally disgusted and critical.
Did the woman care? Did she pull back because it was shameful? Was she embarrassed? Not in the least. She was overwhelmed by the goodness of Jesus and the forgiveness that she had received. Her life had been radically changed by the love of this man. Yes, she had done wrong. Yes, she was a sinner. Yes, she was rejected and avoided in her town. Yes, she had a bad reputation. Yes, she would probably be criticised once again for what she was doing, but she didn’t care. Jesus had changed her life. This cost her. It cost her money (a lot of money.) It cost her in terms of reputation and she didn’t care.
The point of the parable about the moneylender and the two borrowers is that those who know how much they have offended God and yet God has forgiven them, are blown away by it and respond with the same extravagant, I-don’t-care-what-people-think attitude as this woman. Love is expressed through serving.
Those who have been forgiven little (or who don’t realise how much they have needed forgiveness or how amazing God’s forgiveness is) well, they remain pretty cool about the whole thing. They might give a little but not extravagantly; not sacrificially. It doesn’t really cost them anything significant.
In terms of service (or ministry) of course we have also again seen Jesus minister. He ministered to Simon. He accepted his invitation. He gave Simon time. He sought to teach Simon – even though Simon was resistant
But, more significantly, we see Jesus’ ministry to this woman. He extended the grace of God to her. She was a despised sinner but, to Jesus, she was a precious individual who was in great need. He believed in the possibility of her redemption. She didn’t deserve forgiveness. None of us deserves forgiveness. But God offers forgiveness. And she responded. She trusted this God who was reaching out to her. Her faith was what saved her. She believed Jesus and trusted Him. And her life changed.
But notice the other ways Jesus ministered to her. He let her cry and wash and kiss and anoint His feet. He would be criticised for this but He didn’t care either. By receiving her expression of love, He blessed her. Imagine if He had pushed her away in embarrassment. It is a blessing to give and he let her give and so be blessed.
Sometimes we don’t receive what people want to give us and we rob them of a blessing.
He defended her against the criticism of the Pharisees. He stood up for her. He praised her. She was the one who was doing what was right. Jesus pointed out that she was actually the hero of the story.
He also encouraged her. He gave her confidence. He reaffirmed “Your sins are forgiven. Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”
Imagine if, that night, she had lain in bed thinking, “Oh dear, I made a complete fool of myself today. I have lived a life of stupid decisions but today I made one of the most stupid decisions ever. People will reject me even more now than they have in the past. What chance do I have of ever receiving God’s forgiveness? I must be the stupidest person in all Israel.”
Doubts are always possible especially when Satan wants to rob someone of the experience they have just received from God. But no, Jesus had said that she was forgiven. This Jesus who was so powerful and so wise had affirmed her faith and said that she had been saved. He blessed her with the peace of God.
There is a great deal that we can learn from the way the woman served. There is a great deal we can learn from the way Jesus ministered to people.
But there is a little postscript to this story. As Jesus continued travelling from one town and village to another, ministering to the people, proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom of God, the twelve were with Him but there was also a group of many women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases – everyone from Mary Magdalene who had had seven evil spirits cast out of her and was possibly a social outcast through to Joanna, the wife of the manager of Herod’s household – so from all strata of society. These women were giving out of their own resources to support Jesus and his disciples. They were financing Jesus’ ministry.
So here is another story of women who had received God’s grace and who were responding by serving.
These were the big items in Jesus’ curriculum and they remain the big items for us.
Do I understand who Jesus is? Do I know God? Am I full of the Holy Spirit?
What about God’s Kingdom. Will I live God’s way, honouring Him as King? Do I understand that history will culminate with the establishment of God’s Kingdom? Do I want to be part of that? Do I know how to be part of that? Am I part of it now?
If I understand who Jesus is; who God is and I know about His Kingdom, then I have a decision to make. Do I believe it? Do I trust Him? Have I put my faith in Him like this woman had and received His forgiveness and assurance of my salvation?
Faith always leads to service. How am I serving? Does my serving show that I am unbelievably grateful – that I am blown away by the goodness of God and I am holding nothing back in terms of now serving Him? Or does my service show that I am actually lukewarm about it all?
The apostles grappled with those same big questions. Eventually, they understood who Jesus was and they understood His Kingdom and they trusted Him. The result was that they served Him with all their being and ultimately they died for Him. How do we know they love Him? We see it in the way they served Him and died for Him. Those who have been forgiven much, love much.