Overflow in Worship and Prayer (Luke 7:36-50)


On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. (John 7:37–39 ESV)

Our key text for our theme this year comes from John 7 where Jesus makes a loud proclamation that if you thirst, you should come to him to drink. Only in Jesus will you find true satisfaction. But Jesus did not say that we would simply be consumers, taking the living water Jesus provides and being satisfied. Jesus said when we coming to Jesus, not only would we be satisfied, but we will flowing rivers of living waters from our hearts to others. In our first lesson we considered a simple question: what flows out of us? Now that one month has passed since that lesson at the beginning of this year, I would like for each of us to take a moment and evaluate what flowed out of us this month. Over the course of this year we are going to continue to examine what flows out of us and consider what the scriptures say ought to overflow from our hearts. For our lesson this month we are going to consider our hearts overflowing in worship and prayer. Turn in your copies of God’s word to Luke 7:36-50 and we will read this account of Jesus accepting an invitation to eat in the house of a man named Simon, who is a Pharisee.

Considering Two Overflows

Let us start by considering the overflow of the sinful woman. Let’s look carefully at what she does. She is a notorious sinful woman because the Pharisee knows she is a sinner. So she does not have closet, at home sins. The whole town knows who she is and how sinful she is. However, she has the courage to come into the house of a Pharisee. The Pharisees were a group of people that considered themselves the elite, holy ones. She enters the Pharisee’s house with an alabaster jar of perfume and stands behind Jesus, who is reclining at the dinner table. She is standing behind Jesus and she is crying. She is crying in such an overwhelming way that her tears are washing Jesus’ muddy feet. Seeing that her tears are wetting Jesus’ dirty feet, she gets down on her knees, wipes his dirty feet with her hair, kisses his feet, and anoints his feet with the perfume she brought. Jesus tells that she did not do this just one time. Verse 45 says that she has not stopped kissing Jesus’ feet.

We are supposed to stop and consider what is causing this overflow out of this woman. Why is she doing this? Why is she crying? What causes her to bring the gift of perfume to put on Jesus’ feet? What causes her to wash dirty feet with her hair? What causes her to kiss his feet? What brings her to worship like this? It is clear that she has had an encounter with Jesus. She is a notorious sinner. She does not have what we would classify to be “small sins.” She has committed the bigger sins, at least in terms of how we look at sins. But she is doing this because her many sins have been forgiven (7:47). She loves deeply which has led to an overflow of worship because she has been forgiven her overwhelming amount of sins. She is simply responding to what Jesus has done. She does not have to think hard about what to do. She is offering whatever she has available to her. So she comes to give her perfume to Jesus. But before she has an opportunity to use the perfume, she just stands behind Jesus crying while the dinner party is going on. She is so cut to the heart and so overwhelmed by the forgiveness of sins that she has experienced that she is crying in an overwhelming way. What else can she do? She has long hair. So she gives what she has and wipes his feet with her hair. What else does she have? She can kiss his feet so she will do that. You see that her worship consists of what she has. Her worship consists of what she can do. She is offering what is in her heart and what comes to her mind.

To help understand this, let us now consider the overflow of Simon the Pharisee. Jesus explains all the things that Simon did not do when he came to eat with him. Simon did not give Jesus water to clean his feet, which was a custom of the day after walking in your sandals on dirt roads. Simon did not kiss Jesus on the cheek, which was a common greeting of the day, just as we would give a hug or shake hands. Simon did not anoint Jesus’ head with olive oil, which was a custom of hospitality in the day after walking in the heat of the day. Simon is also put off by the sinful woman being in his home and touching Jesus. Why does Simon not even do what was customary in that day and time? Why does Simon not overflow in worship like the sinful woman did? Notice that Simon even challenges whether Jesus is even a prophet based on what is going on in the room (7:39). It becomes clear that Simon is not excited about Jesus being in his home. Jesus was merely an obligation to Simon. Jesus did not mean much if anything to Simon. Jesus puts his finger on the reason why in the parable he told. The one who loves more is the one who has been forgiven more (7:42-43).

Now let’s consider what is happening in this scene for a moment. Jesus tells a parable about two people who have a different amount of debt. One owes a two months of debt and the other owes a year and a half of debt. So the debt amounts are different. But does the quantity of their debt matter? The amount of the debt does not matter because neither can repay their debt. This is the situation regarding the sins of the whole world. It does not matter what the quantity of our sins are, no one can repay the debt. It does not matter if you sin once a day or 20 times a day, neither can repay for their sins. Nor does it matter if sins are weightier or lighter. Quality or quantity of the sins does not affect the fact that no one can repay their debts. What Jesus is showing us is that our perception of our own sins will cause what overflows from us.

Worship and prayer cannot overflow from our hearts when we look at Jesus the way Simon did. Simon does not see himself as a sinner. This is especially seen when he thinks in his heart that this woman who is touching Jesus is a sinner (7:39). Simon does not think that he is also a sinner like this woman. No, what he seems to think is that he may be a sinner, but she is really a sinner. We do this when we look at others and compare them to ourselves. We look at ourselves as “not that bad.” Sermons spend their time talking about how bad everyone outside of the church building walls is because we do not see our own gross sinfulness. We simply think we are not that bad.

Now here is the problem. When we do not see our sinfulness as our sins really are and how much we have been forgiven, then we will not want to worship. We will not want to be here. We will not want to sing. We will not want to pray. We will not want to study God’s word. We will not want to learn. We will want to just get this over with. We will not want to make sacrifices for each other. We will not want to evangelize. We will want to do as little as we think we can do. This is what Simon does. He does as little as he can to have Jesus in his home. We become heartless minimalists toward God. We want to do what we consider to be the least amount and still avoid eternal punishment. We have no interest in doing what we think would be “above and beyond.” We look at everything regarding God as something we have to do or do not have to do. So ladies studies, Friday studies, Sunday night worship, and so forth are evaluated as things we do not have to do. Sunday morning we have to do. The Lord’s Supper we have to do. We make a list in our hearts of what we think we have to do and do not have to do. This is spiritual suicide. This is how we are like Simon. Further, consider that prayer becomes difficult and non-existent because we have nothing to say to God. What should we say? We do not see how much we have been forgiven. We do not see ourselves as being that bad. We do not see who we really are before God. So we do not really need God today. Now we would say that we always need God. But our words do not match our actions. We say we need him but we do not live like we need him. If we truly believed that we needed Jesus, then we would not evaluate what we have to do and do not have to do. If we needed Jesus, then he would be like water or oxygen to us. We would never want to be without him.

So what brought out the worship out of this sinful woman like it did? What Jesus shows us is that we only worship him when we stare at how much grace and love we have received. We will worship when we understand how much we have been forgiven. Our hearts will overflow and we will no longer be heartless minimalists when we see that we had a debt that we could not pay, ever, but Jesus paid it. We will never overflow if we do not see the gravity and debt of our sins because we will never truly come to Jesus.

Unfortunately we have the tendency to mess this up. When we look at our sins, we have the tendency toward guilt. This is not what God wants. God does not want us to look at our sins and keep feeling guilt about sins that the blood of his Son forgave. God wants you to look at your sins for gratefulness, not guilt. God wants each of us to be stunned by his amazing grace. God wants us to be floored that rather than receiving wrath and judgment, we receive love and grace. This sinful woman found wrath and judgment everywhere she went. The Pharisees is angry that this sinful woman is in his home touching Jesus. He has passed judgment on her as a notorious sinful woman who is unworthy to be near Jesus or touching Jesus.

In fact, we cannot miss the comparison between Simon and Jesus. Simon’s heart is full of wrath and judgment toward this woman. But Jesus has three sentences recorded that he says to this sinful woman. First, your sins are forgiven. Come to Jesus and your sins are forgiven. You cannot fix your life. You cannot pay your debt. But if you come to Jesus, he will forgive your sins, whatever they are, no matter how many and no matter how grave. Second, Jesus tells her, “Your faith has saved you.” You are not saved by being good enough. We cannot be good enough. You cannot win God’s favor. Your faith is what will save you. Come to Jesus like this woman came to Jesus. Come to Jesus broken by sins and understanding that you can do nothing to solve your sin problem. Come to Jesus crying over your sins and crying over the fact that Jesus can and will save you. Come to Jesus with faith that says, “Jesus is my life. Jesus is my oxygen. Jesus is all I need.” Then Jesus says to you, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.” You can go in peace. Do not go in guilt. Go in gratefulness. Go and be amazed at what God has done for you. When you go in peace being amazed by what God has done for you, you will overflow with living waters to the world. You will be a completely different person toward the world and will overflow with life-giving, healing waters to people because you have truly drank from the life-giving, healing waters yourself. Your worship and prayer life will completely change when you stare at how much grace you have received and continue to think about how much you have been forgiven.

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