Revive Our Hearts Podcast

The Pharisee

Leslie Basham: Have you heard the Bible story about the woman simply called “a sinner woman”? She came to the home of Simon, a Pharisee, where Jesus was eating. Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth points out there are actually two sinners in this story.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: The man was religious and law abiding. The woman was a breaker of God’s law. The man was a purist, or so he thought. The woman was defiled, and so everyone knew. Simon thought of himself as righteous. The woman knew herself to be a sinful woman. The woman’s sins were more obvious, but I want to submit that Simon’s sins were more dangerous.

Leslie: We’re beginning a new series today, May 20, 2019, on Revive Our Hearts, with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of Brokenness.

Nancy: Several weeks ago my sweet husband was asked to preach at the church that we call our church home, and he was assigned a passage and a topic—it’s part of a larger series that is taking place at our church. It was on the woman in Luke 7 who’s known as simply, “the sinner woman.” You’ll why she’s known that way as we get into the series.

But I thought as he was preparing, and then as I listened—two services—to his message and listened to him unpack that passage after soaking in it for weeks himself, it was so rich, so sweet to me. I said, “I’ve never taught this on Revive Our Hearts.” I was pondering what we would do during this recording session, and I said, “That’s what I want to do.”

So, Honey, thank you for inspiring this passage. I love this woman in a deeper way, and I love Jesus in a deeper way than previously as a result of this study. I hope the same will be true for you.

I hope you have made or are making your way to the Gospel of Luke, chapter 7. We’re going to camp there for the next five programs. There are three main characters in this account. I’m going to read beginning in verse 36 to the end of the chapter. You’ll see how different these three characters are from each other.

We’re going to see Simon the Pharisee. Then we’re going to see the woman, the sinner woman. And then we’re going to see the Savior. Both of them needed a Savior, and that will become apparent as we unpack this story.

So, Lord, would You open our eyes, our ears, our hearts to receive Your Word, and might it point us to Christ in sweet and fresh new ways. I pray in Jesus’ name, amen.

Luke chapter 7, beginning in verse 36. This is the Word of the Lord.

One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee's house and reclined at table. And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment.

Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.”

“A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, [which one could not pay? Neither one could pay. Right? When they could not pay] he cancelled the debt [of which one] of both. Now [Jesus says to Simon] which one of them will love him more?”

Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.”

Then turning toward the woman [I like this little phrase here. I hadn’t noticed it before: “Turning toward the woman”] he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.”

And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

This is the Word of the Lord.

Now, this account is often identified as the story of the “sinner woman,” but, actually, there are two needy sinners in this story. Two people that Jesus reaches out to. Two people who both desperately need a Savior.

And the difference between Simon and this woman is a study in contrasts. They can hardly be more dissimilar.

One is a man, the other is a woman. That much is obvious.

We’re told that the man’s name is Simon. The woman is unnamed. She’s identified only as “a woman of the city, who was a sinner.” We’ll talk more about that later.

The man was a respected and reputable Pharisee, a religious leader, a good guy. The woman was a notorious sinner. And commentators universally agree that this woman was likely a prostitute. So we have a Pharisee and a prostitute. The two did not mix. These were two different worlds they came from.

The man was religious and law-abiding. The woman was a breaker of God’s law.

The man was a purist, or so he thought. The woman was defiled, and so everyone knew.

Simon thought of himself as righteous. The woman knew herself to be a sinful woman.

The woman’s sins were more obvious. But I want to submit that Simon’s sins were more dangerous. Why? Because he couldn’t see them. He was blind to them.

Now, many differences between Simon the Pharisee and this prostitute, but they had one thing in common. And that is that they were both were sinners. They were both desperately in need of forgiveness.

We know the response of the sinner woman to the Savior. We know the outcome of her story. But we don’t know the response or the outcome of the Pharisee’s story. And maybe it’s just left that way so that we will realize, those of us who identify more with the Pharisee, that the outcome of our story is to be determined by our response to the gospel and to Christ.

Today we want to look at the first of these two sinners: Simon the Pharisee. Tomorrow we’ll take a more in-depth look at the woman. So beginning in Luke 7 with verse 36, we’re just going to focus on this verse today: “One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at table.”

Now, before we talk about Pharisees and some of their background and what that meant, I want you to just take a look at that word. In my translation it says “one of the Pharisees asked Him.” Your Bible may say “requested,” or some of your translations say “invited Him.” My translation says “the Pharisees asked him to eat with him.”

That verb—asked Him, invited Him, requested Him—is a Greek word that suggests that the person asking, the petitioner, is equal with the person that they’re inviting or asking. It’s the word that would be used of a king making a request from another king. You see this in the Gospel of Luke chapter 14. It’s used of one peer to another. So you and I are equal. Our verbs don’t go this way. If I ask the president something or I ask a doctor something or I ask a housekeeper something, it’s all the same verb—they asked.

But in this case, the verb he used is somebody who is your equal, and it suggests that this Pharisee who was wanting Jesus to eat with him had an inferior concept of who Jesus was. He saw Him as his equal. Now, he would never see the woman that way, but he saw Jesus as his equal. So he says, just like, “Hey, Buddy, we’re peers. We’re on equal footing. Can you come over and have dinner at my house?”

Now the word “Pharisee”—let me just take a look at who these Pharisees were. This was an influential religious sect in the time of Christ. Josephus, the ancient historian, said that there were approximately 6,000 of them in the time of Christ.

The word “Pharisee” comes from an Aramaic word that means “to separate.” In fact, you see this in the handwriting on the wall in the book of Daniel, “Peres, Peres, I have separated the kingdom.” It’s an Aramaic where it means to separate.

The Pharisees were separatists. It was them and all those unholy people. They were the righteous ones. Everybody else were sinners. So Pharisees were standoffish. They had a spiritual superiority complex. They were reverenced. They were revered. They were regarded very highly.

The Pharisees prided themselves on being law keepers. They were convinced that they were pleasing to God more than anybody else because they strictly observed the Law of God, and not only the Old Testament Scriptures, but their own oral traditions as well, things they had added to the law—hundreds of requirements and ceremonies and detailed applications of the law that they had added and considered it all of the law of God. “We keep all of this religiously.” So from their viewpoint, they set the standard. They were the standard by which everyone else was measured.

They were pious. They were zealous about their religion. You couldn’t fault them. You couldn’t say they were slack about their religion. They were zealous about it. And they were ultra-opposed to everything that they felt did not measure up, anything that they considered godless. The Pharisees were blind. They were blinded by their pride and by their self-righteousness.

They were driven to be popular, to be respected, to be applauded by others. And we know this because through the Scripture, especially in the gospels, Jesus talked to the Pharisees, and He points these things out about them, as we’ll see in a few moments.

They were known, highly regarded, for their outward behavior, their religious deeds. Do you remember what some of those were that they were known for? Fasting. Praying big, highfalutin religious prayers. Alms, money for the poor. Good works. Ceremonial cleansings.

They did this to be seen by others and because they thought if they would just do this, then they would be acceptable to God.

Now, the Pharisees are particularly prominent throughout the Gospel of Luke, and since we’re looking at Luke 7, I want to just give you a little birds’ eye view of the Pharisees throughout Luke’s gospel. You may or may not want to turn to these passages. I’ll just give you the references, and you may want to look them up later. But just a little bit of survey of the Pharisees in the Gospel of Luke.

They appear in Luke chapter 5. Remember when the paralytic was let down through the roof by his friends? And it says in verse 20 of Luke 5, “When Jesus saw their faith, he said, 'Man, your sins are forgiven you.' And the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, saying . . ."

Now, I just want you to look at the marks, the characteristics of these Pharisees because it’s going to be obvious in spades what they are like. The scribes and the Pharisees began to question, saying, "'. . . who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who forgive sins but God alone?' . . . Levi [who was a tax collector that Jesus called to be one of His disciples] made him a great feast in his house, and there was a large company of tax collectors and others reclining at table with them" (vv. 20–21, 29).

Now, you’ve probably heard that tax collectors . . . Well, they might be similar to somebody who works for the IRS today, maybe more like the Mafia. They were not regarded well at all. They were the scum of the earth. They were actually servants of the Roman Empire, and so they would represent Rome. They would strip people of all their wealth and take some of it themselves, pocket anything they could skim off the top. And so, to be a tax collector was synonymous with the worst possible kind of sinner. Okay? That’s the cultural concept here.

And so, Levi, who is a tax collector, and Jesus is calling him to follow Him, makes a feast. And there’s a large company—all his tax collector friends—and others reclining at table with him.

Verse 30: "And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying, 'Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?'"

So you often have juxtaposed with each other, particularly in Luke’s gospel. You have the Scribes and the Pharisees, and you have the publicans or tax collectors and sinners. These are, like, the two categories. There’s no meeting of these as far as the Pharisees were concerned.

Luke chapter 6, beginning in verse 1: "On the Sabbath, while he was going through the grainfields, his disciples plucked and ate some heads of grain, rubbing them in their hands. But some of the Pharisees said, 'Why are you doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath?'"

Now, this was another huge issue the Pharisees had with Jesus because they were scrupulous about holding the Sabbath holy. Not only did they have the laws of God that are in the Old Testament, they had added many laws, many restrictions. They fulfilled those carefully, and if you didn’t, then you were a sinner. They, of course, were not.

So he’s chastising Jesus, and it’s almost as if Jesus kind of tweaked them sometimes by intentionally doing things on the Sabbath—healing, good works—because He wanted to expose them and their self-righteousness and their legalism.

And so here Jesus is with His disciples. They’re getting some food, gleaning, which was legal. This was according to the law of God, but they weren’t supposed to do it on the Sabbath, according to the Pharisees. So the Pharisees are right there. They’re just nitpicking. They’re looking for an occasion to say something critical about Jesus. They’re building a case against Him.

So they said, “Why are you doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath?” According to who’s law? Not according to God’s law. According to their law that they had equated with God’s law.

Verse 6 of chapter 6, “On another Sabbath, he entered the synagogue and was teaching, and a man was there whose right hand was withered. And the scribes and the Pharisees [by the time we get through these verses, you will know the script. You will be able to say it yourself because it’s just, like, put on repeat. It happens again and again. The scribes and the Pharisees] watched him, to see whether he would heal on the Sabbath, so that they might find a reason to accuse him.”

They’re looking for a reason to show that this is not anybody special, that He’s not a true teacher, that He’s not sent from God, and, for sure, He’s not the Messiah.

So, as the passage continues, Jesus heals the man, which is exactly what they were hoping He would do. So verse 11 says that “they [that’s the Pharisees] were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do with Jesus.” This is where they begin to find a path, a plot to get rid of Him.

Now, chapter 7 that we’re looking at, is the next chapter. We’ll come back to that, and we’ll be there for the next several days. But continuing on this overview, look at Luke chapter 11, beginning in verse 37. It sounds a little similar at the beginning to the passage we just read in Luke 7, but now we’re in Luke 11:37. “While Jesus was speaking, a Pharisee asked him to dine with him, so he went in and reclined at table. The Pharisee was astonished to see that he did not first wash before dinner.”

This would have been a ceremonial washing. Again, one of the things the Pharisees had added to the law of God. “If you’re going to be clean, you’re going to be holy, then you better wash your hands every time, and not just when you go into the temple, not just before you offer a sacrifice, but even before you eat your meal.”

Now, we know for hygiene reasons, that’s a good idea. This didn’t have to do with hygiene. This had to do with their concept of religion. So the Pharisees are astonished to see that He didn’t first wash before dinner. Don’t think that Jesus just forgot to do the ceremonial washing. He didn’t do it on purpose because He was wanting to expose these Pharisees and their true heart.

"And [sure enough] the Lord said to him, 'Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, [You clean up everything on the outward appearance. You look mighty fine and clean. You’ve got clean hands] but inside you are full of greed and wickedness.'"

He’s exposing their hearts. Clean hands don’t do anything to get you God’s favor. It might get your mother’s favor when you’re a kid, but it doesn’t get you God’s favor. It was only intended to be symbolic, and if you had a filthy heart but clean hands, what’s the point? What’s the use? What’s the value?

He continues in that chapter, look down at verse 42—now, I’m just selecting some of the many exchanges Jesus had with the Pharisees: "Woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb."

"You are really super careful about tithing the least little bit of herbs that you have so you can look religious—right? But you neglect what another gospel says here, ‘the weightier matters of justice and the law of God.’” So you’re tithing of your mint and your cumin, but you’re neglecting the things that really matter—justice and the love of God. Remember that word “love” because it’s going to come back a number of times in the passage we’re looking at this week.

Verse 43: “Woe to you Pharisees! For you love . . .” Here’s what you love: You love yourselves. “You love the best seat in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces.” You like everyone to look at you and think that you are so mighty and so fine and so religious and so godly and so spiritual. You love yourselves—that’s my little commentary on that.

Verse 53: “As he went away from there, the scribes and the Pharisees began to press him hard and to provoke him to speak about many things, lying in wait for him, to catch him in something he might say.”

And then move over to chapter 13 of Luke, beginning in verse 14. Jesus in this passage heals a woman in the synagogue who has this disabling spirit, has been bent over, unable to stand upright for eighteen years because of demonic oppression, and He heals this woman. And she stands up for the first time in eighteen years. “But the ruler of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, said to the people, ‘There are six days in which work ought to be done. Come on those days and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day’” (v. 14).

I mean, like, forget celebrating with this woman, the amazing work of Christ in her life. No, he’s not happy about that. He’s mad because Jesus isn’t fitting into his religious form.

Chapter 14, verse 1: “One Sabbath, when he went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, they were watching him carefully.” Makes you wonder, Why did He keep going? You know why He kept going? The same reason He keeps coming to you and to me—because He came to seek and to save those who were lost.

Verse 7: “He told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor.” That’s the Pharisees. They chose the places of honor.

Chapter 15, verses 1–2: “The tax collectors and sinners [that’s one group] were all drawing near to hear him. The Pharisees and the scribes [that’s the other group] grumbled, saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them.’”

Tax collectors and sinners were drawn to Him like a magnet. The Pharisees and the scribes rejected Him.

Chapter 16, beginning in verse 13, Jesus says, “‘No servant can serve two masters. You cannot serve God and money.’ The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him. And he said to them, ‘You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts.’”

Chapter 18, verse 9, “He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: ‘Two men [the parable goes] went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.’”

See the contrast here? The Pharisee, this is the one who trusted in himself, he was righteous and treated others with contempt. “The Pharisee standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’” You see the self-righteousness there? The pride?

Chapter 19, the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, verse 37: “The whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, ‘Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!’” You think the Pharisees might be a little bit happy on this happy occasion? Not a chance! “And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, rebuke your disciples.’”

I mean, they were ornery. They were not going to have a happy day no matter what happened if Jesus was around. They were bitter enemies of Jesus, and He did not buy their religious façade. He saw right through it. He defiled Himself, in their eyes, by hanging out with low-life sinners, outcasts. People they wouldn’t think of spending time with.

And He sternly rebuked them for their greed, their pretense, their self-righteousness.

  • He called them snakes.
  • He said their religion was a sham.
  • He warned them of the wrath to come.
  • He pulled off their masks and exposed their hypocrisy.

They hated Him, and they hated His message. They were determined to get rid of Him, and they made every effort to gather evidence that could be used against Him.

Now back just for a closing moment here to Luke 7, verse 36: “One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at table.”

I don’t know what Simon’s motive was. We know the Pharisees generally weren’t Jesus’ biggest fans. Likely, he was wanting to trap Jesus, to build a case against Him. But regardless of the motive, here’s what I love: Jesus accepted the invitation. He didn’t brush him off. He didn’t turn him down.

You see, the Pharisees criticized Jesus for eating with sinners—and He did—but He also frequently went to the homes of religious sinners, aka, Pharisees.

In verse 34, just before this passage begins, they called Him “a friend of tax collectors and sinners.” They meant that in a derogatory way. And He was a friend of sinners. But He was also willing to be the friend of any religious sinners, aka, Pharisees, who would receive Him.

Jesus came to seek and to save the lost. There were at least two lost sinners in the house that night, and both needed salvation. And Jesus had power to save both. The woman knew that she was a sinner, that she had many sins, and that she needed to be saved. Simon the Pharisee? He thought he was so good that he didn’t need to be saved.

The old-time writer J. C Ryle gives this challenge. He says,

There will always be Pharisees in the ranks of Christians. Their succession shall never fail. Their generation shall never become extinct. Their name may change, but their spirit will always remain. Therefore, Jesus cries to us, “Take heed and beware.”

Oh Father, for any place where You can see in me, or in my friends listening here today, the heart of a Pharisee, would You please expose it. Give us conviction and root it out and help us to see how greatly we need Your salvation. We need You. I pray in Jesus’ name, amen.

Leslie: That’s Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth praying for all of us to have a humble, repentant heart, just like the woman we heard about today. And this is a daily need. I think we pretty much all wake up with a measure of pride and selfishness. We have to set our hearts on the Lord and embrace humility each day. We need to be refreshed in the truths of God’s Word.

Our team has developed a new tool to help you do that. It’s called Refresh. You’ll get a set of cards asking some heart-searching questions to instigate that process of turning to the Lord. You’ll get a journal to write what you’re discovering, and that journal includes devotional thoughts from Nancy and others about humility and repentance and other marks of personal revival.

Nancy, I hope countless women experience personal revival with us.

Nancy: Yes, Leslie. This is a perfect time of year to go through this kind of refresh journey because we see freshness blooming all around us here in the spring—at least it’s spring up north still. And it’s a picture of the life that we can experience in Christ each day.

We’re able to bring you refreshment here on Revive Our Hearts thanks to listeners like you who give to support this ministry. Perhaps you’ve never given to Revive Our Hearts before. Maybe you’ve been blessed by this ministry, but you’ve never really made contact with us. Please know that any gift of any amount that you give is your way of saying, “I’m behind what you’re doing, and I want to see it continue.” It would mean so much to us.

We’ve been sharing with you over the last few weeks about the $775,000 that we’re asking the Lord to provide during the month of May as we come to the end of our fiscal year. I’m so thankful for many listeners who’ve already been giving to help meet this need. Thank you so much. I’m so thankful that you’ve chosen to stand with us.

If you want to see how we’re doing, there’s a progress bar you can see at the top of our website, ReviveOurHearts.com. We’re updating it daily to let you know where we are in meeting that goal.

I’m so thankful that you’ve chosen to stand with us, and we’re praying that the Lord will prompt many more hearts over the next ten days or so until this need is fully met.

And if you’ve never given to Revive Our Hearts before, you have a great opportunity because a friend of the ministry is matching each gift from any first-time supporter up to a challenge amount of $75,000. We want to be able to claim all of those matching funds, but that means you need to respond by May 31.

Leslie: When you support Revive Our Hearts, we’ll send you the Refresh journal as our way of saying “thanks.” Again, you’ll get Refresh when you donate any amount to meet these fiscal year-end needs.

You can give online at ReviveOurHearts.com, or call us at 1–800–569–5959.

Tomorrow, we’ll continue our study of this passage in Luke chapter 7. We’ll hear how the example of the woman weeping at Jesus’ feet inspires Nancy to ask, “When was the last time I wept before the Lord?” She’ll challenge you to ask the same. Please be back tomorrow for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth is helping you see your need for the Savior. It’s an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

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