Note: This series is written as a first-person narrative in order to present Jesus in the context he walked with the unknown disciple that narrates presenting my thoughts and sparking more thoughts with his questions. Enjoy.
We had been invited to a banquet, and by ‘we’, I mean Jesus. We get to tag along and get a free meal. It was hosted by a local Pharisee named Simon.
When we arrived at his home, I looked around for water to wash the dust off my feet. Jesus was only shown the way to the table where others were stretched out. There were none of the basic courtesies for guests or teachers. A rabbi staying or eating with you is considered a great honor.
While we were eating, a woman slipped in and stood behind Jesus with tears streaming down her face. Jesus reclined with one arm propping him up and the other one was free to reach for his food. His feet were stretched out behind him.
The crowd was silent, save for the weeping woman, whose tears began to fall and hit Jesus’ feet. She knelt, tenderly wiping them away with her hair. Then she kissed them, and pulled out an alabaster jar of perfume, broke it open, and poured the contents on his feet.
Simon was turning red, and while Jesus watched her I heard Simon say to himself, “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.”
Jesus looked at him. “Simon, I have something to tell you.”
Simon, choking back a bit of his arrogance, replied, “Tell me, teacher.”
“Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”
“500 denarii,” I thought. That’s more than a year’s wages. You could go to jail or be forced to sell yourself into bond slavery to pay that back.
Simon answered, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”
“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.
Jesus looked towards the woman while still talking to Simon. “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”
Simon didn’t take that very well. He turned red, not expecting to be called out for his inhospitality or to be used as a negative example.
Jesus sat up, meeting the woman on her level. “Your sins are forgiven.”
The table grew loud. “Who is this who even forgives sins?” “Only God can forgive sins.” What’s he doing?” “This is blasphemy!”
Jesus, ignoring them, reached up and wiped her tears away, saying, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
When we left, Jesus led us from town to town while he proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God. We twelve were with him, some other men, and a few women, all who Jesus had helped cure of illnesses and demon spirits.
Mary, also known as Magdalene, had seven evil spirits cast out. Then there was Joanna, wife of Chuza the manager of King Herod’s household, and a woman named Susanna, among others. They weren’t just following Jesus, but also supporting him through their money.
It’s not unknown or that rare to have female benefactors. I had heard more than one critic complain about it. Even doing good and healing people will still get you criticized. These ladies were all in though.
You know what I like about the Jehovah’s Witnesses? Their unity, they’re centralized. If the universal church (all believers) were that unified, we could do an even mightier work. Why don’t we?
A couple of reasons come to mind, we take it for granted, and we think of our churches as Burger King, where we can have it our way.
What do you mean ‘take it for granted?’
Our salvation and God’s grace and favor in offering it to us. We can’t earn it, it’s a free gift that came at the cost of Christ’s life. Say a prayer, and then keep on doing what you do, without even trying to make a Kingdom impact.
Statistics show that people attend church 3 out of every 8 Sundays. Try that with work. Reasons are given, too busy and don’t have time. That’s a pretty good indicator where God is on a person’s priority list.
In the parable of the Sower (Mark 4:1-20) Jesus says “Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.” Is that you?
How can I prevent that?
Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left,but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?
There’s a lot of deep theology in there. It’s challenging. I spent weeks on grace and salvation after a challenging sermon. Is the reason you’re not in church because it doesn’t feel good? You feel convicted?
If you never walk out of church feeling convicted, I warn you, your heart is hardening. Jesus cares for and lifts us, but also disciplines when we are wrong.
What can I do?
Endure, cling to Christ and don’t let go. Be tender-hearted and mature enough that when the Bible or Holy Spirit says to do this or don’t do that, you listen and obey. That’s being trained by, and walking in the Spirit (Galatians 5:13-26).
God’s grace, His undeserved favor, isn’t to be wasted, cast aside, and we can’t negotiate the terms of it. It’s the most important thing ever. To do otherwise cheapens it.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer had a lot to say about cheap grace in The Cost of Discipleship…
Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our church. We are fighting today for costly grace…Grace without price; grace without cost! The essence of grace, we suppose, is that the account has been paid in advance; and because it has been paid, everything can be had for nothing…In such a church the world finds a cheap covering for its sins; no contrition is required, still less any real desire to be delivered from sin…
Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ.
It calls for a life of ongoing repentance.
Yes, an awareness of the cost of your salvation, and the joy that the deliverance from hell into eternal life is yours. “Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. (Philippians 2:12-13)”
Working it out, not working for, means growing in God’s grace by trusting Him more because faith is the only way to be saved. Because you trusted God to save you, it’s easy to follow and listen to Him. Because you love Him for what He did for you, you seek to please Him and avoid anything that doesn’t.
When you sin, and you will (I did right before I typed this), ask for forgiveness with a repentant heart, not one wanting a rubber stamp.
What’s this have to do with going to church?
The universal church–actual followers of Christ–is called the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27). Christ is the head of the church (his body), and as such, that means we have to sacrifice our preferences so long as it doesn’t go against the essential doctrines.
Why is this important?
Paul says it best in 1 Corinthians 12:12-26.
Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.
Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
You have a purpose, and you cannot do it very well lone-wolfing it (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12). You need encouragement, relationship, and people who love you enough to confront you when you’re wrong. Find a Bible-believing healthy church that’s like a family and go get involved. Do more than listening to a preacher for an hour and singing some songs. Serve, make friends, make a difference for the kingdom.
That spiritual drought will end with a torrent of living water.