Love for Jesus – Luke 7:36-50

Christians will often speak about having love for Jesus. But many people would say they’re just not bothered one way or the other. They might say to you, “If your faith makes you happy then crack on – just don’t expect me to believe it.”

In the last census in 2021, just over a third of the UK population ticked the box for “no religion” (as opposed to Christianity, Islam, etc). That’s not necessarily atheist – many of those people believe there’s a God but just don’t see why they should be interested.

In our reading in Luke we see two people alongside Jesus. There’s a woman who humbly and passionately loves Jesus, and a very religious man who is interested, but no more.

You’re challenged to think about your own heart’s response to Jesus, and to ponder what loving Jesus looks like for you.

These notes accompany a sermon on YouTube delivered at Bromborough Evangelical Church, Wirral in January 2023. You can find more in the series in our Sermon Index.

Observe the feast!

We’re going to go through the passage taking note of what’s said and what’s going on. Then later we’ll think about what it all means for you and me.

If you know your New Testament you’ll be aware of the other gospel writers also writing about a woman approaching Jesus like this one. Luke’s account is different from the others – they’re not the same woman, the same time, or even the same house.

We’ve also seen that Luke is careful to put his material in an orderly fashion. This account comes straight after what we looked at last time, about John the Baptist.

  • John the Baptist, said Jesus, was the greatest born of women.
  • Yet anyone in the kingdom of God was greater than John.
  • Why? Because to be in the kingdom of God you had first experienced repentance of your sin (and been baptised with John’s baptism of repentance), and then come to Jesus and begun to experience life with him. Greater.

Luke put an important note in his account: Read Luke 7:29-30.

And now here we are with a Pharisee and a “sinner” – a woman of ill repute, living outside normal society, habitually unclean.

  • She’s often considered to be a prostitute, and that may well be the case (though it’s not said).

Introducing the players

Let’s see how the two people are introduced: Read Luke 7:36-38.

  • This is the second feast in Luke’s gospel that Jesus has been invited to.
  • The first was at the invitation of Levi the tax collector – very much a celebration of Levi’s repentance of sin and changed life in Christ.
  • This feast has a Pharisee as host. All very nice and proper.
  • There would be a low table in the middle of the room and you’d lie on cushions facing the table – feet outwards.

That’s how come the woman comes in and can access Jesus’ feet as his body and legs stretch out behind him.

  • It must have been a bit weird. What was she doing?
  • Society was generally less private, so it’s not strange that she should come in – but what she’s doing is obviously odd.

Now this woman was a “sinner” – which meant that she was someone who lived permanently ceremonially unclean. Her whole existence was outside Jewish ceremonial society. And if you were ceremonially clean and you were touched by something ceremonially unclean, you became unclean too.

So the Pharisee’s skin was crawling at the thought of such an unclean person coming near him, and he was not impressed that Jesus let her anywhere near him. Read Luke 7:39.

Now back in Luke 5 we saw Jesus touching a healing a leper. Rather than the leper’s uncleanness cause uncleanness for Jesus, the leper was fully healed and cleansed instead. So we’re not worried about Jesus as the Pharisee was! But what will Jesus do to correct the Pharisee?

He shows that he is a prophet by demonstrating that he knew what the Pharisee was thinking! 

An illustration

Then he draws him into an illustration. Read Luke 7:40-42.

Simon the Pharisee is wary, but in truth the answer is obvious: Read Luke 7:43.

Having compared two debtors, Jesus immediately goes on to compare Simon and the woman…

  • Read Luke 7: 44. Simon was under no obligation to provide water, though it would have been polite. She went way beyond.
  • Read Luke 7:45. It was considered a polite greeting, but certainly not required. The woman went way beyond.
  • Read Luke 7:46. Again, oil wasn’t required though it would have been polite. Again, the woman went way beyond.

Simon hadn’t done anything wrong. He just had a visitor in his house for whom he had no particular feeling; he was polite, interested, but no more.

The woman clearly already had much reason to fall at Jesus’ feet.

  • Read Luke 7:47.
  • She had repented of her sins. Repentance leads to forgiveness by God. And now she was in the Kingdom of God, at the feet of Jesus, loving him in an abundance of gratitude. She loved him.

Jesus graciously confirmed it to her: Read Luke 7:48.

The woman already knew it; Jesus was confirming it.

She wasn’t forgiven because she loved Jesus so much.

She loved Jesus so much because she was forgiven.

  • As a sinful woman, to be forgiven and granted entrance to the Kingdom of God was beyond her wildest dreams and brought a joy that no sinful life ever had, or could.

Who can forgive?

The people there were shocked at Jesus’ words so he underlined it: Read Luke 7:49-50.

  • In chapter 7, Jesus has healed powerfully, raised from the dead, commended John’s baptism of repentance, confirmed his status as Messiah ushering in the year of God’s favour – and now he’s doing what only God can do, forgiving sins.

That’s who Jesus is. That’s who Simon had for a meal that day.

So in the story of the two debtors, is Simon the one who owed less money?

  • Simon is invited to ask that question of himself.
  • As you are.
  • Did Simon love Jesus only a little, having been forgiven only a little?
  • No. Simon the Pharisee had rejected the baptism of repentance offered by John. He had not asked for forgiveness, and so had nothing to love Jesus for.
  • Simon the Pharisee was forgiven nothing, which is why he offered Jesus no water for his feet, no greeting, and no oil.

Read Luke 7:30 again.

That is a terrible place to be. Forgiven nothing, and therefore still facing the wrath of God for your sin. Outside the Kingdom of God. Excluded forever.

Starting with a refusal to repent of your sin. When people put “no religion” on their census form, it’s not a simple ‘not interested’. It’s a declaration of non-repentance before God. And that excludes you from him.

So let’s think more about you and him:

Do you love Jesus?

Clearly, Simon did not.

He was civil. He even had Jesus round for a meal. So he was clearly interested, but he didn’t love him.

Jesus’ story of the two debtors makes it clear that it’s the wiping of the debt – the forgiveness of sin – that brings such gratitude and such love.

No love for Jesus

If you have no love for Jesus – no feeling either way – is it because you’ve never repented of your sin? Never asked for forgiveness? Never grasped that he left eternal splendour to die on the cross specifically to be punished in your place?

  • If you have no feeling for Christ because you’ve never repented, never asked for forgiveness, you’re in dire peril.
  • You’re outside the Kingdom of God, on the road to hell.
  • God himself calls you back.
  • Your sin will put you in hell; or you can cry out for forgiveness to the God who is waiting to forgive!
  • Live!

Lost love for Jesus

Perhaps you once had love for Jesus, but now… not so much.

Things have cooled off.

  • You used to love the Bible, love singing hymns and songs – anything that brought you closer to him.
  • But now you find more pleasure in things at home. You’re a bit hit-and-miss about going to church (even though you know Jesus loves it).
  • Jesus knows where you are. He hasn’t written you off. He won’t let you go.
  • It’s easy to drift off into shadows, away from the light.
  • Jesus calls you back. Repent! Return to your first love.
  • You’re not called to try harder, be better, repent more fervently or any other ‘work’.
  • As you step closer to Jesus – in prayer, in thought, in his word – his light is brighter. You’ll delight in him again.
  • I guarantee it, because it’s was he promises (Rev 2 & 3).

Some love for Jesus

Maybe you do love Jesus, but you’ve never really felt the passion that woman had. Maybe you became a Christian at a young age. You never were a druggie, an alcoholic, or spent time in prison, or whatever. Could it be that because you didn’t sin so much, that your ‘sin debt’ is smaller, that your love can’t ever be as big as other people’s? Do you envy more ‘flashy’ testimonies?

Ants are weird, aren’t they? Everything looks random and organised at the same time. When you look at an ants’ nest, they all look the same. But there will be big ants, small ants, smelly ones, clever ones. Some will have better vision than others. They all look the same to you and me.

  • Compared to the vast, infinite holiness and goodness of God, all humanity are the same. All sinful. None good.
  • Every sin – ‘large’ or ‘small’ as we see them – is repugnant and repulsive to the perfect holiness of God.

The truth is, we’re all that sinful woman. We’re all chronically sinful, desperately needing forgiveness as our only hope.

You think you’re not so sinful, but you’re her. You just don’t realise it.

  • If you need persuading, read Matthew 5-7 (the Sermon on the Mount) again. Just because you haven’t sinned with your hands doesn’t mean you haven’t sinned with your eyes, your mind, your imagination… your computer mouse, your smartphone…

Whoever you are, you’re more sinful than you realise.

Draw closer

As you draw closer to Jesus and his words, you’ll see more of yourself. Then you’ll more fully appreciate his love for you.

Then you cry out in repentance and faith and you find he’s still ready to forgive – again and again.

Look again at the woman’s expression of love for Jesus.

  • It’s not an attempt at payback.
    • It’s silly to feel you need to repent harder or love more because of his love for you.
    • As you realise his love for you, your response (like hers) is natural, right, and beautiful.
    • Don’t focus on your feelings; focus on Jesus and your feelings will follow!

That in turn will overflow into doing things for Jesus. Not out of duty or obligation. Not grudgingly. You do all sorts of things for people you love simply because you love them.

  • Likewise you serve Jesus out of love for him, not because you have to because someone says you should.
  • That might be serving in church.
  • Or it might be in work. I remember having a particularly incompetent boss getting me to do something I thought was a waste of time. I couldn’t bring myself to do it for him, but I could pray, “Lord, I do this for you and your honour.”


The last thing to notice about the woman’s behaviour is that it was, frankly, a public embarrassment.

  • It’s pretty socially awkward, humiliating yourself in a public display of love for Jesus.
  • It’s an interesting barometer of your love for Jesus just how much you’re willing to be humiliated for him.
  • “We can’t make that, sorry. We’ll be at church.”
  • “I can’t do that dishonest work thing you’re asking, I’m a Christian.”
  • “I didn’t see the match, I was at a prayer meeting.”

I’m not trying to guilt anyone into anything. I am trying to help you share that woman’s joy in Christ.

The greatest joy, the highest state you can reach as a human being is this: To be a forgiven sinner in the Kingdom of God, joyfully living in loving fellowship with God the Father, displayed to you in Jesus the Son, made alive to you by the Holy Spirit.

Today, do not harden your heart. Repent of your sin (whether Christian or not).

Cry out to God for forgiveness; he is ready to forgive.

Move ever closer to him in Christ; the nearer you are, the more you will love him. Everything else flows out from that.