The Power of Forgiveness

based on a sermon first preached at PCC Evening Service on 21 Oct 2001

"41 There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty. 42 And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both" (Lk 7:41-42a).

Like almost all the other parables of our Lord, the Parable of the Two Debtors was spoken extemporaneously. Unlike ministers of the Gospel like myself, the Lord did not have time to prepare sermons, nor need He prepare His sermons.

No, He spoke with authority according to the immediate situation that He and His hearers were in. And He spoke in a way that drove the lesson into the hearts of his listeners point-blank. That this was the case with His parable of the Two Debtors is very obvious from our text.

Indeed, we cannot understand this parable at all unless we know something of the context in which it was spoken. Let us begin, then, by considering where, when and why the Lord spoke the parable we are studying.

Situational Context

Where did the Lord say it? Well, if you look at the beginning of this chapter (v. 11), you will realise that the Lord Jesus Christ was in Nain of Galilee. The day before He was in Capernaum and He had healed the son of the Centurion. Then He had entered the town of Nain. There He raised the dead son of a poor widow. And we read that "there came a fear on all: and they glorified God, saying, That a great prophet is risen up among us; and, That God hath visited his people" (Lk 7:16).

But along with fame, came also much criticism from the people. The Lord had made Himself a friend of all the sinners and publicans,—all those whom the proud religious people of those days refused to associate with. He freely ate and drank with them as He ministered amongst them, so much so, that those who were jealous of His ministry were quick to criticise Him, calling Him a "gluttonous man, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners!" (Lk 7:34).

But regardless, the Lord made no apology for His associations with the sinners and publicans. He made it clear that He had come to save sinners: "They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance" (Mk 2:17), says the Lord.

And so He would be a friend to sinners who would come to Him. Indeed, in the parallel account describing the Lord’s ministry around Galilee, we see the Lord looking into the eyes of sinners tormented and burdened because of their guilt, and gently calling them to go to Him.

28 Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light (Mt 11:28-30)

Many sinners did come to Him. But many others were drawn to Him too out of curiosity and other reasons. There was a man named Simon,—a Pharisee. We do not know anything else about him except what is recorded in this chapter. He had invited the Lord to his house to have a meal with him. Perhaps he wanted to have some theological discussion with Him. The Lord obliged.

It was in this house that the Lord spoke the parable of the two debtors. It was in this house that He would demonstrate precisely what He means when He calls sinners to come unto Him. It is in this house that He would demonstrate that you can come to the Lord even if you are a terrible sinner.

Picture now the Lord in Simon’s house. He is reclining at the dining table. We must not imagine that the Lord was in a kind of enclosed dining room that we are familiar with. No, no; I am told that even today, the dining areas of the houses in Palestine are often no more than just a porch, sometimes on the rooftop. Even if there is a wall separating the dining area from the street, there are large windows called Tyrians, which were never closed. The people in those days did not dine in privacy as we do today. Passer-bys can look in and see what is happening, and sometimes, if an important guest is at the table, especially if he is a rabbi, people would actually stand around to listen to what is being said at the table.

Now, the table is not the kind of dining tables that we know. It is more like a low coffee table, though a bit bigger. There were no chairs, simply straw mats, and the guests would recline on their left side with their feet away from the table, and their right hand free to eat with.

Here is the Lord Jesus Christ reclining at the table talking with His host. Curious children were standing at the window staring at the food laid on the table longing to be given some scraps. Passer-bys are looking in, and some even stopped and are milling around the table listening to the conversation. The host and the guests would normally not mind having people milling around. It was a common thing in those days.

But on this day, there is an uninvited and unappreciated guest. A woman has just stepped into the room and is standing at the feet of the Lord. We do not know who she is. Some say she was Mary Magdalene, because her name is mentioned in the next chapter. But this is unlikely, for in the next chapter Mary Madgalene is introduced as a certain woman who has not yet been introduced.

Others think that this woman is Mary the sister of Lazarus. But this is to confuse two similar events occurring at a different time and in a different place! Three years later, Mary the sister of Lazarus, would indeed identify herself with this woman by doing something similar to what she did. But that was at the end of the Lord’s ministry, here we are at the beginning. And there it was at Bethany in Judea, here it is in Nain of Galilee.

This woman who had come in is unnamed. Nevertheless she was not unknown. She had a bad reputation of being an immoral woman. It is possible that she was in fact a prostitute. She had heard the Lord calling out to sinners to come to Him. And she knew she was a sinner, and she had come to the Lord.

Simon did not appreciate that at all. We can imagine the look of disdain and disapproval on Simon’s face. But before he could say anything, he notices to his horror that she is weeping, and her tears are dropping onto the feet of the Lord. The Lord turns His head and looks at her with great compassion (He must have done so), but He says nothing. Now, still weeping, she stoops down and begins to wipe the feet of the Lord with her long hair, then she kisses His feet and then she takes out a bottle of fragrant oil and anoints His feet.

Simon the Pharisee, looks disapprovingly and he thought in his heart:

"This man [this fellow], if he were a prophet, [he] would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him: for she is a sinner" (v. 39)—

"This fellow if he were truly a prophet as he claim, he would know how immoral and dirty this woman is; and surely he would not allow her to touch him not to mention wipe his feet with her dirty hair."

In those days there was a common belief that prophets were able to read another person’s heart. Simon was thinking that the Lord could not be a true prophet since He allowed this immoral woman to do what she did to him. He had underestimated the Lord. The Lord was no ordinary prophet; He was the God-Man. He knows all things that He wants to know. He is not only given to know very clearly who that woman was, but He knew the very thoughts and heart of Simon as well.

Turning to Simon, He responded with a parable:

"41 There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty. 42 And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly [freely] forgave them both" (Lk 7:41-42a)

Two debtors: one owes 500 denarii or what he might earn in a year and a half. The other owes 50 denarii, or what he might earn in about a month and a half. The creditor forgives both freely when they had nothing to pay.

We must note carefully what the Lord was saying. The two debtors were forgiven. Why were they forgiven? Not because of anything in them. Not even because they love their creditor. At least one of them would love him, but it is only because he is forgiven that he loves him. They were not forgiven because they loved him. They were forgiven by the mercy or free grace of the creditor.

Now, since their love for the creditor, was dependant on the forgiveness they experienced or received, one would love more than the other.

So the Lord asks: "Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most?" (Lk 7:42b).

Even Simon was able to say: "I suppose that he, to whom he forgave most." He who knows the greatest forgiveness must surely love the most.

The Lord said unto him, "Thou hast rightly judged" (Lk 7:43).

Then turning to the woman, the Lord began to apply the parable, directly to Simon. In essence He was saying to Simon:

Simon, you did not even accord me the common hospitality of providing water to wash my feet. But this woman,… she has washed my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair.

You did not kiss me welcome on my cheek, as an appreciative host would do, but this woman has not stopped kissing my feet.

You did not anoint my head as you may do an honoured guest, but this woman has anointed my feet with expensive ointment.

Why did she do so? She did so because of her sense of forgiveness. She knew how great a sinner she was, so she knew how much the Lord must forgive her, in His willingness to receive her. And so her love and gratitude for Him is very great. Her love was manifested in those extraordinary things that she did for the Lord.

Simon, on the other hand, was a self-righteous man. He never truly saw himself as a sinner. He saw himself of being worthy to have the master in his house unlike the Gentile centurion who felt he was not worthy of a visit by the Lord. Simon knew little about forgiveness of sin and so he loved not the Lord as did the unknown lady. "Wherefore," says the Lord to Simon,…

"I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little" (Lk 7:47).

And then very tenderly, the Lord said to the woman: "Thy sins are forgiven."

A murmur immediately arose among the guests in the house: "Who is this that forgiveth sin also?" (v. 49) for only God can forgive sin. The Lord did not answer them. For now the poor sinner who had come to His feet, needs Him much more than the self-righteous and theologically knowledgeable persons around the table.

The Lord said to her "Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace" (Lk 7:48, 50). This is a wonderfully instructive statement. The Lord had just commended her for her love. Her great love for Him which she manifests in what she did for Him. But He does not say: "Thy love hath saved thee." No, no, it is "Thy faith hath saved thee."

The Lord had invited all sinners who are weary and laden with sin to come to him; and she had come believing all that He had said. It was by faith that she had come, it was by faith that she knew she was forgiven.

Love and gratitude flows only upon realisation of forgiveness. Therefore it was her faith,—her God given faith,—that saved her. And so the Lord assures her so tenderly that she is forgiven and she is saved. Whatever the religious teachers might say, what ever her neighbours might say, she is forgiven and stands righteous in the sight of God

And the Lord told her to go in peace. She came to the Lord, a troubled soul knowing that she deserves nothing from the Lord but damnation, but she believed His word that He would be a friend of all who would come to Him and that He is able to forgive her. She left with peace, peace in her conscience, peace with God, peace in a world of critical stares and accusing fingers, she had a peace that the world does not understand.

Like the woman caught in adultery whom the Lord had instructed to "go, and sin no more," we can be certain that her love for the Lord meant that she would no more continue to live her immoral life. The gift of faith brought her to Christ, love changed her.

Oh may the Lord grant us that we too may believe and love as did this unnamed woman in this remarkable incident.


What are these things to us? Well, let’s briefly consider 3 lesson points from the parable and the incident that occasioned it.

First, we must note that…

1. It is Possible to Respect Christ without Loving Him

Simon the Pharisee of our text is a prime example. He respects Christ more than most people. Many would not even stop to hear Him, but Simon not only stopped to hear Him but invited Him home to have a meal with Him.

But all these were out of respect. There was no love in His heart. This lack of love showed in the way in which he had received the Lord. Normally, in Near Eastern culture, the host would get their servants to wash the feet of their guests or at least provide water for them to wash, but that was lacking. Normally in the Near Easter culture, the guests are given a welcome kiss, but Simon did not do so. Simon had respect for the Lord, but it was superficial, he had no love for the Lord.

Simon’s lack of love for the Lord showed in his failure to understand what the woman was doing for the Lord. Instead, he was repulsed and disgusted at the sight of her washing the Lord’s feet with her tears and wiping them with her hair. Simon did not know what it means to be forgiven by the Lord. He was too self-righteous to think that he needed forgiveness. And so he knew not the love for Christ that the woman knew. He had respect for Christ and His teaching but he was a stranger to the Gospel. He did not understand the Gospel at all.

Beloved brethren and children, I wonder if any of us here this morning is like Simon. It is possible to respect Christ, to know a lot of theology, to be thoroughly Reformed in our thinking, to enjoy discussing theology, to enjoy biblical Christian worship, and yet not love Christ—because you do not really feel or believe that you need forgiveness. Are you like Simon?

Is there a Simon in your heart?

Do you find yourself despising your brethren and grumbling about them because you feel deeply disappointed that they are not walking in the way of holiness as you see it?

Do you find yourself looking down at your Christian colleagues who know not the doctrines of grace, rather than being concerned at their lack of knowledge and understanding?

Do you find yourself disgusted when a poor garang guni man walks into the church?

Could it be that you are entertaining a holier- than-thou attitude that betrays a lack of appreciation that you are a sinner deserving damnation and that all you have is yours, entirely by the grace of God? If so, let the words of the Lord to Simon speak to you. Examine yourself if you merely respect the Lord, but love Him not because you never appreciated that you need forgiveness as did the unnamed woman?

But secondly, consider the fact that love for the Lord Jesus Christ is the only thing that will effectively move a person to live for Him.

2. Love Moves People to Live for Christ

The repentant woman did all those things for the Lord out of love for Him because of her sense of gratitude and forgiveness. She had a terrible reputation of being an immoral woman: a sinner. Yet she did far more for the Lord than the Pharisees and all the religious people who were condemning her.

She washed His feet,—not with water, but with her repentant tears, she wiped His feet,—not with a rag, but with her hair, she kissed and anointed,—not His head, but His feet.

Such humility, such sacrifice. It was inconvenient, it was expensive, it was embarrassing to say the least, but she was moved by love.

Brethren in the Lord, boys and girls, unless you love the Lord, your commitment to the Lord is on shaky ground. Unless you truly love the Lord you will not be a consistent witness for the Lord, and you will not be willing to make any sacrifice for Him. Think about it for a moment. What is it that motivates you to do what you are doing for the Lord everyday?

What motivates you to consistently attend the means of grace and worship?

What motivates you to go out of the way to be a faithful witness to your friends and colleagues?

What motivates you to maintain a time of daily devotion and family worship?

What motivates you to seek to encourage your brethren in the Lord?

What motivates your resolve to pray for the church?

Some of us are motivated by the feeling of novelty—the newness of things in this church. Some of us are motivated by fear of judgement to come. Some of us are motivated by the fear of men, because we want others to have a good impression of us. Some of us are motivated by heavenly rewards. Some of us do what we do simply because it is expected of us.

But brethren, none of these reasons will keep you living for the Lord for long. Sooner or later, sooner for some, later for others, you will give up, and fall back to your indifference and lethargy.

Only love can motivate a person to keep living for Christ. Indeed, only love for Christ is the right motivation for a Christian.

Are you doing anything merely out of duty or merely for rewards? That is a form of legalism. Are you doing things out of fear of man? That is a form of hypocrisy. Love and gratitude is the only good and lasting motivation to live for Christ.

Which leads us to our third lesson, namely:

3. A Sense of Forgiveness is What
Moves Us To Love Christ

The Lord Jesus had said to Simon: "Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little" (Lk 7:47). Our Lord’s assessment is always right. Let God be true and every man a lair.

The woman loved Christ much because she was forgiven much, and she sensed the greatness of Christ’s forgiveness. She was the man in the parable who owed the 500 denarii. She knew she could not repay her debt. Only Christ could pay her debt.

She believed and she came. Her faith in Christ saved her. And her heart is filled with gratitude and love for the Lord. She had been forgiven much, so she loved much. She did not only respect the Lord, she loved Him. That was what distinguished her from Simon.

Simon loved not the Lord because he knew not the forgiveness of Christ.

Did he have any sense of wrongdoing? No, he was a religious man, rigorous in the keeping of the law in his opinion.

Did he feel the weight of his sin so that he cried out with tears and despair? No, he was not aware of any sin in his life—he had carefully fenced his life so that he would not sin, so he thought.

Did he have any sense of relief, or any pardon for his crimes? He was a stranger to all that. So he had no love for Christ though he respected Him.

Oh beloved brethren, children and friends, this message of forgiveness goes to all of us. If you have yet to profess Christ as your Saviour and Lord, you must know that there is forgiveness in Christ. Even the worst of sinners can come to Christ. I do not know what is going on in your heart. I do not know your heart as you do not know mine.

Maybe you are thinking "I am worse than that woman. At least she dared to acknowledge her sin. But I am living in hypocrisy, and I dare not let the church know. How can I come?"

Yes, you can come. The Lord does not say: "You reform your life first, and then you come." He says "Come," and your life will be transformed. He does not say unless you make known your sins publicly you cannot come. He says come, and your sins will be washed away. He does not say: "You learn more about me first, and then you come." He says "Come, and you will learn of me."

Everywhere in the Scriptures the Lord is calling sinners to come to Him. If you know you are a sinner, He is calling you to come unto Him.

"28 Come unto me, [He says] all ye that labour and are heavy laden [by your guilt and sin], and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light" (Mt 11:28-30)

"And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely" (Rv 22:17).

"Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness" (Isa 55:1-2).

"Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David" (Isa 55:3)

Will you not come to the Lord?

"All that the Father giveth me shall come to me," says the Lord, "and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out" (Jn 6:37).

Dearly beloved brethren and children, do you believe you belong to Christ, but you know in your heart of hearts that you do not love Christ as much as you should?

This parable is for you too. Will you not bestir your love for Christ by meditating on the fact that you are freely forgiven in Christ? It is not your love for Christ that saved you; it is Christ who saved you.

Look to the cross of Calvary again. Think of what your sin against God deserves. Remind yourself again that if you have truly come to Christ, all your sins are forgiven you. Let you heart be filled with a lively, overwhelming and convincing sense of forgiveness. Only a tremendous sense of forgiveness will nourish your love for Christ.

Grieve for your sins beloved brethren and children, but do not allow the grief to rob you of your joy. But temper your grief with faith— believing that Christ has forgiven you freely and fully.

He suffered and died for you. He laid down His life for you out of love for you. Will you not remind yourself of this great price He paid to redeem you from sin, and so be filled with gratitude and love for Him, and so live for His glory.


This is the message of this Parable of the Two Debtors. May the Lord grant that we may like the unnamed woman, be overwhelmed with a sense of forgiveness and so live grateful lives that are useful for Christ. Amen.

— JJ Lim

"The sin which is not too great to be forsaken, is not too great to be forgiven" 
(Thomas Horton).