Revive Our Hearts Podcast

The Woman

Leslie Basham: The gospels tell us of a woman who wept at the feet Jesus. Her example inspires Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth to ask:

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: When was the last time I wept tears of repentance, gratitude, worship, love for Christ?

Leslie: You’re listening to Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of Brokenness, for May 21, 2019.

Yesterday Nancy took us through a passage in the seventh chapter of Luke which illustrates the Savior’s love for sinners. Let’s listen as Nancy continues in this series “Who Loves More?”

Nancy: We’re in the middle of a series in our church right now on Sunday mornings called “Why I Follow Jesus.” Each week they’re having a testimony that relates to the passage of Scripture that we’re going to be studying that week.

Last week a husband and wife got up, and Robert leaned over to me and he says, “Where are their mics?” They didn’t have any mics on, and here’s why: they didn’t need their mics for the first part of their testimony because they brought up with them just a large stack of cardboard cards.

They held up those cards one at a time; each of them had one, and then they would put that down and pick up another one. And each card had on it just one or two words identifying issues that were part of their story.

Here were some of those words (and I’m reading them kind of fast, but they took a few seconds with each one to let it sink it): “control issues, power struggles, dishonesty, cheating, mistrust, arguments, pain, grief, pride, envy, abuse, withdrawal, addiction, relapse, fear, anxiety, worry, debt, betrayal, despair, stress, lying, failure, loneliness, doubt, trauma, PTSD, remorse, denial, stubbornness, anger, divorce, abandonment, depression, codependency, jail, lost, perfection, dysfunction . . .” and so on.

As I watched that husband and wife hold up these cards, one after the other, telling their story without saying a word; I couldn’t help but think about the woman that we’re looking at this week in Luke chapter 7. She might have used some of the same words to tell her story and summarize her past.

We’re not given a lot of details, but what unfolds here is, I think, along the lines, perhaps, of what this couple shared in our church last week. So turn with me if you’re not already there to the Gospel of Luke, chapter 7.

If you’re listening to the podcast or the broadcast and you’re in a place where you can open your Bible and follow along, let me encourage you to do that. You’ll see things there that maybe you haven’t seen before, and you’ll have it clear what is God’s Word and what is Nancy’s word . . . and don’t get the two mixed up, okay?!

We’re looking at God’s Word, and that’s what has the power to change our lives. 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.” In the last program we looked at the Pharisee, and Pharisees in general.

And this Pharisee—we’ll see that his name was Simon—hosted some sort of banquet or dinner and he invited Jesus. We don’t know whether it was because he felt a sense of obligation because the rabbi was visiting in town or because he wanted to trap Jesus in His words.

The Pharisees were starting to say, “We can’t let this man continue doing what He’s doing! The people are loving Him, but He’s doing things on the Sabbath that people shouldn’t do. He’s breaking our laws; He’s not fitting into our program!” So for whatever reason, the Pharisee invited Jesus to his home for dinner.

Now, as you’ve probably heard it explained (no thanks to some of the art that we have that shows people sitting in at tables in chairs; that’s not the era), the guests didn’t sit on chairs. They had a custom—especially for a special occasion, which this must have been—where they would have a low table that the food would be on.

Then they would recline, or lie, on low couches (recliners) propped up on their elbow with their feet stretched out behind them . . . for obvious reasons! They didn’t want their feet near their . . . I might say their feet dusty and dirty from walking on dry or muddy roads. . .they wanted those feet as far away from the table as possible.

It was also customary (and this is important as the passage unfolds. If you don’t get this, you’ll wonder, like, “Why is this happening?”) to greet respected guests. The host would do the greeting, and he would—as they still do in some parts of the world—kiss on both cheeks. I’ve been in some countries where they do this.

In Romania, I think of how the women do this. When you meet those women they’re kissing you on both cheeks . . . and every woman you meet, she’s kissing you on both cheeks. It’s a lot of kissing! (laughter) And so, this was something along that line; the host would do this for his honored guests.

He would have a servant wash the dirty feet of the guests. Or if it wasn’t such a wealthy home, they might at least give the guest some water where he would wash his own feet. But there would be provision made for cleaning the feet, washing the feet.

Then the host would use—or the servant—some kind of perfume or oil or spices to soothe the weary traveler. You know, essential oils aren’t all that new, right? And it would give a nice aroma . . . because people weren’t bathing and showering and using soap the way they do today, so this could mask a lot.

And we’re going to see that Simon overlooked these common courtesies when it came to Jesus. So continuing with Luke 7, verse 36, “. . .he went into the Pharisee's house and reclined at table.And behold . . .”

Now, up until this point, there’s been nothing out of the ordinary. Jesus was invited to go to a dinner; He went to the Pharisee’s house; He reclined at table. It’s just like another dinner, another social occasion.

And then we have this, “And behold.” There’s this exclamation. It means, “Pay attention! Look at this! There’s something unexpected, something startling! There’s a twist in the plot. There’s something shocking, something dramatic. The sense is, “And look! This woman!”

So there was nothing surprising about Jesus going to this house, reclining at the table—that’s what they used to do.

“And behold [!] a woman of the city, who was a sinner [everybody knew it; no surprise, no secret here] 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” (vv. 37–38).

Now, who was this woman? Well, for starters, we’re not told her name. Some respected theologians over the years have confused her with Mary Magdalene. There is no evidence in Scripture to support that viewpoint.

I was looking this morning for some songs we might use today that would go with this passage. There are some well-known artists who have written and sung well-known songs that assume that this was Mary Magdalene. There’s no evidence for that in the Scripture.

We know that Mary Magdalene was delivered by Jesus from demonic oppression, but there’s no indication that Mary Magdalene was an immoral woman. This woman is not Mary Magdalene. Others have identified her as Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus. And that mistake is a little easier to understand because that Mary was involved in a similar account in three of the gospels: Matthew, Mark and John.

It’s easy to think because there are some similarities between those accounts and this one that this is the same incident—both involve a woman anointing Jesus in the home of a man named Simon.

But, remember that “Simon” was a really common name. It would be like “John” or “Joe” today or whatever. But that’s where the similarities stop between these two incidents. The story reported in the other gospels took place in Bethany, near Jerusalem. This one took place far to the north in Galilee.

That anointing took place shortly before Jesus’ crucifixion; this one took place earlier in His ministry. Mary of Bethany anointed Jesus’ head and feet with ointment; this woman anointed only His feet. So we don’t know who she was.

Now, the question is, How did she get into this special dinner? When we have private dinners today, we often have a checklist to clear invited guests. Sometimes you’ll even have security to make sure that no one uninvited gets in. But in that day dinners were often held—even private dinners—in an open courtyard of a home.

The invited guests would sit around the table; they would be the ones eating and talking. But it was customary to allow outsiders—those who were uninvited but who lived in the area—to step into the courtyard and just be bystanders. They weren’t eating, they weren’t part of the conversation, but they could stand and spectate as bystanders.

They would stand around the outer periphery of the room, and if it was an evening, probably in the shadows. This is a picture I love . . . of this woman stepping out of the shadows to come to Jesus. A lot of the town’s people would do this; it was a cheap form of entertainment.

You didn’t have cable shows; you didn’t have Netflix, and so this was a way to catch up on news and events and to listen to discussions of various topics. Now, women were not invited to these kinds of banquets, and Jewish rabbis did not speak to women in public . . . and they didn’t eat with them in public—especially not this kind of woman.

You say, “What kind of woman?” Well, the Scripture tells us she was a woman of the city who was a sinner. And she was not just a sinner in the sense that every human being is a sinner. Commentators agree that she was likely a prostitute. She was notorious for her immoral lifestyle. Everyone knew. They knew the kind of woman she was.

And just by saying, “A woman of the city who was a sinner,” those people knew who they were talking about. She didn’t have anything to lose! She didn’t have anyone to impress. She was known to be a sinful woman.

And I’m thankful that Scripture doesn’t gloss over her sinful condition. Jesus says later, in verse 47, “her sins, which are many.” Many sins. She had sinned a lot! And in the parable He tells later in the passage, she is pictured as deeply in debt—spiritually and morally. She is unable to pay the debt that she owes. Scripture says we’re all in that condition.

We may not be notorious as sinful people, but Romans 3:23 says that, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” And 1 John 1, verse 8, says, “If we say we have no sin [who does that remind you of in this passage? Simon the Pharisee], we deceive ourselves, and the truth [Christ] is not in us.”

Now, this woman—by what follows—comes behind Jesus’ feet, weeps, wets His feet, etc. She totally broke the protocol and the social conventions of the day. She violated what was considered appropriate. It would have been an outrageous violation for a woman like her to come to Simon’s dinner party at all—much less to do what she did with Jesus. So let’s follow what she does.

She hears that Jesus is in the house, and she comes to honor Him. She came prepared with an alabaster flask of ointment, probably expensive and valuable. She quietly moved from the outer edge of the room where lots of other people were.

Don’t think of this as a sedate, quiet dinner party—this is a Jewish dinner party! There’s a lot of hubbub and fun and arguing and conversation . . . there’s a lot going on. Maybe she’s standing in the shadows, not looking for attention, not trying to be seen, not intending to be the center of attention, and she just quietly moves and stands behind Jesus at His feet.

Notice that everything this woman does, she does at the feet of Jesus—a picture of her humility. And she’s weeping. She’s overcome with emotion. Now, I think this was spontaneous; I think it was unplanned. I don’t think she said, “Okay, I’m going to go and weep at Jesus’ feet!” This just poured out—gushed out—from within her, and she was not ashamed!

Why was she weeping? Well, the Scripture doesn’t tell us, but they may have been tears of repentance. A woman who was in the presence of holiness and overwhelmed with a sense of her guilt, her shame, her many sins. She didn’t need anybody to tell her she was a sinner; she knew it.

Undoubtedly, they were tears of gratitude. He had forgiven her—as we will see—already, and she was coming back to say, “Thank you.” The Scripture says she “wet His feet” with her tears. That word, “wet,” means literally, “to rain.” This is a flood of tears; this is a downpour. Martin Luther called it, “heart water”—water that flowed up from her heart. There’s no self-consciousness.

As I’m meditating on this passage, living it, and I’m asking: When was the last time I wept tears of repentance, gratitude, worship, love for Christ?” When was the last time those kind of tears poured out from within you?

Well, maybe she’s a little embarrassed because the tears are falling all over His feet and she’s making a mess; there’s a puddle there! And now it says, “She . . . wiped them with the hair of her head” (v. 38). I don’t know how long her hair was, but it couldn’t have been piled up on her head for her to do that. She’s having to stoop down lower and lower at the feet of Jesus.

And she’s had to undo that hair, which would have been kept pinned up, probably. In this culture, this was a scandal! The Talmud said that for a woman to let her hair down in public was the same as taking off her clothes! This was scandalous. It was considered indecent, sexually provocative. It could even be grounds for divorce. It was the same if she were to touch a man who was not her husband, which she’s now doing with her hair and with her hands.

Now, she may have done this kind of thing in her previous career, but this was different! She’s washing His feet with the hairs of her head. Washing the feet is a menial task; that’s for the lowest of servants. And here’s a woman who considers that lowly task to be a privilege!

Then it doesn’t end there. She “kissed His feet.” This is even more shocking! She’s being intimate with Jesus in this touching-Him way. This is socially disgraceful! And keep in mind that for Him to be touched by a woman like this is—as far as the Pharisees are concerned—for Him to be defiled.

Now that word, she “kissed” His feet, it’s an intense word. It means, “to kiss fervently; to kiss much; kiss again and again; kiss tenderly.” She didn’t give Him like just a few pecks. This is a fervent, earnest kissing. It’s the same word that’s used of the father kissing the prodigal son when he returned home.

There’s embracing, there’s kissing, there’s clinging, there’s hugging, there’s more kissing, it’s hanging on. It’s an intense, fervent, and passionate—not sexual, but passionate—kissing. She’s demonstrative. And this isn’t hasty. She doesn’t, like, scurry away when she realizes that somebody noticed. She’s like in her own world with Jesus!

And Jesus says later, “She’s not stopped kissing my feet from the time she got here.” (see v. 45) She keeps doing this. It’s lingering; it’s prolonged in His presence.

Then she anoints His feet with the ointment that she had brought for this occasion. She does what she had come to do. I think all the rest was just like kind of unexpected—it just came out.

She honored Him, unlike His host—who treated Him as a normal, everyday guest. Simon didn’t give Him any normal courtesies or special treatment. This is a picture of affection, of intimacy, of tenderness . . . and she’s not at all concerned with how it looks.

Her previous life had brought her great shame. That’s why she’s known as “a woman of the city who was a sinner.” But now she is totally, utterly without shame—unashamed! So what motivated her behavior?

Well, Simon the Pharisee—the host—is critical of this woman for what she has done and of Jesus for letting her do it. So Jesus addressed him directly (which we’ll talk about in the next session). As you look at this scene, from all outward appearances, Simon is a spiritual giant—while this woman is a notorious, low-down sinner. But both their hearts are being exposed in this setting.

At the end of Jesus’ conversation with Simon, He sheds light on why this woman came and why she did what she did. So skip down to verse 47; we’ll come back to that middle part in the next program.

Jesus says to Simon, “I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” There’s something to do with her sin, His forgiveness, and her love—and expression of that love—that’s all tied together.

When you read the gospels sometimes, it’s hard to know what order things happened in, because different gospels tell different parts of the biography of Jesus. But you can find this online, you can find like a harmony of the gospels that tells you the sequence in which events took place. Immediately preceding this incident, there’s a passage at the end of Matthew 11 where Jesus says to those in the audience:

“Come to me, all [you] who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light ” (vv. 28–30).

You see, Jesus had just previously issued an invitation for those who were weary of carrying the great heavy burden of their sin. Maybe that’s when she had turned to Jesus—had come to Him, had experienced His forgiveness. She had been carrying that heavy load; she knew she needed rest for her soul.

As we’ll see in the next program, this is a woman who probably had already been forgiven before she comes to this dinner, and she’s expressing the response of her heart to that forgiveness. And so her love and her worship were not prim or proper or restrained. Instead, they were extravagant, uninhibited, demonstrative in her affection for Jesus. She was unconcerned about what others might think. She was willing to be censured and misunderstood.

You know, I’ve discovered—and perhaps you have, too—that many times the sweetest, most expressive worship and the greatest freedom in expressing love for Jesus comes from those that you would least expect it.

I think about the women I’ve met with a number of times at a women’s prison in Arkansas. These are women who are meth addicts, all kinds of unsavory backgrounds, serving life sentences without possibility of parole (for Murder One).

That’s the kind of thing you might find there—addicts, all kinds of immorality, lesbianism, pornograpy, sexual sins, all kinds of sins. And yet, when I’ve been with those women, the women who know Jesus—the women who have been forgiven of their sins—there’s an amazing beauty and expressiveness and lack of inhibition, and responsiveness!

You know, when I speak in the average event . . . (And I don’t mean to make you feel bad if you’re sitting here today, because this is a very responsive audience.) But typically . . . today, we have so much of the Word, we hear so much of it. “The full soul loathes the honeycomb, but to the hungry man every bitter thing is sweet.” (see Prov. 27:7).

And these women in that prison, they’re eager. They’re sitting there with their Bibles and their pencils writing down every single thing you can say. Then they show you notes of what they wrote down the last time you were there. They’re spellbound. This is new, this is fresh, this is wonderful to them! They’ve never gotten over the wonder that Jesus would have forgiven them of their sins!

So their love is expressive, they’re not inhibited . . . as opposed to our own gatherings (myself, too): church services, small groups. With us who don’t maybe fit that category, there’s more pride, respectability, fear of man, little sense of our own need. And it keeps us from being able to worship with our hearts. It keeps us from having “heart tears.”

Now, I’m not saying that if you cry, that means you’re more godly than somebody who is not as emotive. There are different ways of expressing love and worship. But the person who knows what Jesus has rescued her from—how much He has forgiven her of—this is one who will love much!

We have with us today some women—as we did in our last recording session—from a home that helps women with addiction issues. I met several of those women, talked with them the last time we were together, and they were just so free!Some of them are baby Christians, some of them Christians a little longer, some of them just dealing with stuff now.

But they are so responsive, so eager, so grateful for the teaching. They weren’t embarrassed; they were free! They loved Jesus because they knew how much they’d been forgiven! The woman who, with her husband, got up and shared her story at our church last week (first with the cards and then a bit verbally of their testimony), I talked with her afterwards, and then she sent me a written version of her testimony.

She had an unbelievably traumatic, horrible childhood—unspeakable abuse!—which led in time to many addictions, foolish choices. I read it out loud to Robert last Sunday afternoon, and we just were gasping. It was just hard to fathom! But the redeeming love of Christ has made all the difference in that woman’s life!

And now she and her husband are leading a program, under the leadership of our church, to help addicts find freedom through Christ. Out of her own brokenness and pain and failure, she’s sharing the life of Christ. Out of the sins that others have committed against her and the sins she has committed against others and against the Lord, God is redeeming and making all things new. It’s magnificent! It’s like this sinner woman in Luke.

So I want to just ask you. I don’t know what your background is. Maybe you relate to one or the other—the Pharisee or the sinner woman in this story. (We’ll talk more about that over the next couple of days, but regardless of your story . . .) Do you see yourself as a great sinner in need of a Savior? Have you been forgiven? Or are you still carrying the weight, the burden, of your sin?

If so, I want to say to you, “Come to Jesus! Find rest for your soul! He died for your salvation.” You don’t have to carry that sin any longer. Whatever kind of sin it was: internal sins of the spirit, external sins of the flesh . . . come to Christ for salvation!

And then, if you are a follower of Jesus, what does your love for Him look like? What does your worship look like? Do you love and worship Him as someone who knows how very much she’s been forgiven?

Leslie: Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth will be right back to pray. She’s been challenging us to consider just how great our need is for a Savior!

When you love someone, you get in the habit of spending time with them. We’ve developed a tool to help you get into a habit of spending time with the Lord. It’s a resource we’re calling Refresh. It’s designed to take you through a thirty-day process of experiencing personal revival.

You’ll get a set of cards with “making it personal” questions, devotions from Nancy and other writers, and a journal to mark your progress. We’ll send you Refresh when you support Revive Our Hearts with a gift of any size. You’re not just buying a product, but standing with the ministry. We appreciate the support of our listeners, as Nancy’s here to explain.

Nancy: I just want to say how thankful I am for all those who faithfully support Revive Our Hearts. If you’re one of those people, I may never get a chance to thank you personally in this life, but I want you to know, this ministry exists because of you!

Whether you’ve given many times in the past, or perhaps you’ve never contacted us before, we really need everyone to get involved in some way. So would you help Revive Our Hearts at this important time by praying that the Lord would meet our overall need this month of $775,000? And would you ask the Lord how He might want you to help give to meet that need?

If you’re a first-time giver, your gift will be doubled as part of the matching challenge of $75,000. We don’t want to leave any of that challenge on the table, so be sure and let us know what God’s prompting you to give by May 31.

Leslie: You can make your donation at ReviveOurHearts.com. And don’t forget, we’ll send the Refresh resource as our thanks for your gift of any size. The web address, again, is ReviveOurHearts.com, or call 1–800–569–5959 and ask for Refresh.

The woman we heard about today was not allowed in polite society, but Jesus welcomed her humble worship. Are we like this woman or more like the Pharisee who condemned her? Nancy will address this question tomorrow on Revive Our Hearts. Now, she’s back to pray.

Nancy: Oh Lord, would You ask those questions of our hearts as You’ve been asking me and searching my heart over these last days? Help us somehow, by Your grace, to find our place with that forgiven sinner-woman—loving You, cherishing You, worshiping You, thanking You with all our hearts! I pray in Jesus’ name, amen.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth wants to help your passion for Jesus to grow. The program is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the ESV unless otherwise noted.

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