Who responded to Jesus best when He walked on this earth? It wasn’t the religious leaders or the pious folk or the wealthy and powerful. It was the ordinary people, the sinners and the outcasts of society. But why is that? The Christian message carries good news for all people. What made some receive it joyfully and others want to kill Jesus?
How Big Is Your Debt?
There’s a story in Luke 7 that might shed some light on this. One of the Pharisees, a man named Simon, invited Jesus over for dinner. A woman known in her city as “a sinner” followed them and started crying on Jesus’ feet. She washed His feet with her tears, wiped them with her hair, kissed them, and anointed them with oil.
The Pharisee’s mind instantly went to a place of judgement. If Jesus were a prophet, he thought, then He would know what sort of woman this was and stop her from touching Him. Jesus wasn’t too impressed with that line of thought, so He told this story:
There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most?” Simon answered and said, I suppose that he, to whom he forgave most.” And he said unto him, “Thou hast rightly judged.” (Luke 7:41-43, KJV)
Jesus went on to list the ways this woman demonstrated her love for him (which, incidentally, highlighted Simon’s deficiencies in hospitality). He finished His conversation with Simon by saying, “Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little” (Luke 7:47, KJV).
One reason the sinners responded so well to Jesus is that they knew they needed what He offered. The people who viewed themselves as righteous thought they were good enough already and found His call to repentance offensive.
Due Compensation For Sin
Some of us might also feel like we haven’t done much that needs forgiving, especially if we grew up in a church and didn’t go through much of a rebellious phase. Maybe you’ve never stolen anything, never had sex with someone you shouldn’t have, never wanted or tried to kill anyone, never purposefully turned your back on God. But does that really make us better?
Isaiah describes “all our righteousness” as “filthy rages” (Is. 64:6, KJV). Paul writes that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23, WEB). And lest we think some of these sins are less offensive than others, James tells us “whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, the has become guilty of all” (James 2:10, WEB).
To reach a proper relationship with God, we all have to realize we’ve been forgiven a huge debt (or, for those who’ve not yet repented and accepted Jesus as their savior, that we still owe a huge debt). No matter how “good” we’ve been, we’ve all done something worthy of an eternal death penalty. We have all sinned and “the compensation due sin is death” (Rom. 6:23, LEB).
Pulling Down Pride
Every person who has ever lived owes a dept so big they can’t pay it back themselves, no matter how “little” our sins seem. We all need Jesus because His sacrifice on our behalf is the only way to provide “the compensation due sin.” So what is it that really separates two types of people (the sinners who accepted Jesus’ message and the righteous ones who rejected Him)? It has to do with the way they see themselves.
One the one hand, you have the type of person who “prayed to himself like this: ‘God, I thank you, that I am not like the rest of men.” On the other hand, you have the kind who “wouldn’t even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’” (Luke 18:9-14, WEB). When we’re full of pride and believe in our own righteousness, we’re incapable of building a relationship with God. The Lord hates pride and will not associate with a person who refuses to acknowledge their need for Him. Pride stops people from seeking God (click here for a whole lot of scripture references).
Like other sins, pride puts up barriers between us and God. And it’s not until we can humbly acknowledge our need for Jesus to take away all those sins that we can have a relationship with God. The most notable time this happens is when we first convert and commit to God. But repentance is also a recurring part of a Christian’s walk with God as we deepen our relationship with Him.
Without Jesus’ sacrifice, we’d be facing eternal death for our sins. But we’re offered eternal life if only we’ll recognize how much we need Jesus. Every one of us should feel the gratitude of the debtor who was “forgiven the most.” And we should respond to that gift of forgiveness with the same joy and overflowing love the sinful woman showed in Luke 7. The better we understand what Jesus has done for us, the more our love for Him must increase.