READ : Luke 7:47-48
It’s a great blessing when we are humbled enough to receive the grace of Jesus.
We’ve been thinking about the most beautiful book in the world and the way it presents the good news. Today we think about the good news of a broken heart. That seems a strange combination of words, doesn’t it? Good news and a broken heart? Isn’t good news happy? And a broken heart sad? Isn’t it the worst thing in life when we get our hearts broken? Sometimes it seems so. The only one you’ve ever really loved rejects you and turns away. The dearest on earth to you suddenly dies. Your child or grandchild suffers a terrible injury. Someone close to you walks away from the Lord. Where is any good news in happenings like that?
But sometimes brokeness can be blessing in disguise. In the beatitudes Jesus actually says so.
Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of God. Blessed are those who mourn that they will be comforted.
Knowing your spiritual poverty and need makes you an heir of the kingdom, and the sorrow of mourning leads to genuine comfort. This runs counter to the outlook of most people. Many feel that self-sufficiency and freedom from pain make life ideal, but God is described in the psalms as one who heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.
In Psalm 51 we learn that one of the best offerings we can ever bring to God is a broken and contrite heart. He welcomes that from us and will never despise it. We learn in 2 Corinthians 7:10 that godly grief, that is brokenheartedness, leads to repentance, and repentance to salvation. That’s what we want to consider today. Godly grief, brokenheartedness, repentance, and salvation.
Listen to these words now from Luke’s Gospel, chapter 7, verse 36 about a brokenhearted woman:
One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him that she is a sinner.” Jesus spoke up and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Teacher,” he replied, “Speak.” “A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.” And Jesus said to him, “You have judged rightly.” Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.”
Repentance in Luke’s Gospel
Luke has more to say about brokenheartedness, about repentance, than any of the other Gospel writers. All of these passages I’m going to talk about with you now occur only in Luke.
In Luke 3 John the Baptist explains the ways in which people can express their repentance. If they have two coats, they’re to give one away. If they have more than enough food, they’re to share it. That’s how they show their repentance.
And the tax collectors show their repentance by not extracting more from the people than is lawful. And the soldiers are told to express their repentance by not intimidating and extorting from people, and by being content with their wages.
Jesus tells in Luke 13 how repentance is every person’s one hope. He says, “You know those people on whom the tower of Simoan fell? Now were they more evil than anybody else in Israel that the tower crushed them?” And he said “No, except you repent you will all likewise perish.” “In the same way,” he said, “what about those people whose blood Pilate mingled with their sacrifices? Were they extraordinarily evil? Worse than the rest of us?” He said, “No, unless you repent you will all likewise perish.” In other words, repentance is absolutely necessary for any of us to know salvation.
We learn also in Luke that repentance is what makes heaven rejoice. The parables of the lost coin and the lost sheep and the lost son all tell us that there’s joy in the presence of the angels of God. There’s joy in heaven in the heart of God over one person who repents.
And when you come to the end of the Gospel, Jesus says that repentance and forgiveness of sins are to be preached in his name to all the nations. Forgiveness of sins is a kind of shorthand for everything God does. And repentance gathers up everything in our response. Along with forgiveness, repentance is our message.
What is it to be repentant?
Now what is it to be repentant? In the Bible there are a couple of words that describe what it is. In the Old Testament the Hebrew word shuv means to turn or return. When you repent, you recognize you’re going in the wrong direction and you turn around and you start toward God.
And in the New Testament the word is metanoia, the Greek word which means literally “a change of mind.” It’s a radical change of outlook that you go through. You look differently at yourself, at God, at the way you have lived your life, and you have an entirely new orientation.
Now in the Gospel according to Luke, we don’t have a definition of repentance, but we have some illustrations of what it looks like. A couple of them are in parables and a couple are scenes from real life.
In the parable of the tax collector and the Pharisee, here’s this tax collector from the most despised group within Israel. He won’t even lift up his eyes to heaven. He won’t come near. He beats on his breast. He says, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner” the sinner, actually. Now there’s repentance before our eyes.
Then there’s the prodigal son who goes away to the far country and wastes all of his money in riotous living and finally is reduced to poverty and hunger and loneliness. He comes to himself and he says, “I remember how much my father did, even for the hired servants back home. And here I am, hungry and lonely and far away. I’m going to go back and I’ll say to my father, “I’ve sinned against heaven and before you. I’m not worthy to be called your son. Make me one of your hired servants.” And he got up and started back. And that is a picture of what it is to repent!
And then in real life, we see one of those thieves who was crucified beside Jesus. At first, both of them were reviling him like everybody else, but one man came to a change of heart. Maybe it was when he heard Jesus pray, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Something broke his heart about himself. When his companion on the other side started railing against Jesus again, this man said, “Don’t you fear God? Seeing you’re under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly. We’re receiving the due reward of our deeds.” Can you imagine a man being so brokenhearted that he’d admit that he deserved to be crucified? That’s what he said. “But this man,” pointing to Jesus, “has done nothing amiss.” And then he said to Jesus, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He expressed faith that Jesus had a kingdom and that he would be able to help him on the other side of death. So there’s repentance before our eyes.
And what about this woman we read of earlier who comes in to Simon’s house and stands behind Jesus. Her tears flow and she anoints his feet with precious ointment and kisses his feet. She shows an overflowing sense of gratitude and devotion that she’s been forgiven. Jesus shows his mercy toward her instead of the judgmental attitude of Simon. Now these are people who repent. But it’s striking that in each case there’s another person there who isn’t repentant.
What is it to be unrepentant?
In the matter of the tax collector, there’s the pharisee who doesn’t confess any sins, who just advertises his virtues before God. Anything but repentance. In the parable of the prodigal son, there’s the elder brother who feels so angry that his brother has been welcomed back. He is so self-righteous about the way he has acted that he won’t come to the party. Anything but repentance.
And then the thief on the cross, the first one, says to Jesus, “If you’re the Christ, save yourself and us.” In other words, “Get us out of this mess if you can do anything.” Anything but a brokeness of spirit.
And then Simon, the host where this sinful woman comes in and pours out her heart in love and gratitude. This man shows no real concern for Jesus. In fact, he suspects that Jesus can’t really be a prophet, or he’d know that this woman is such a wretched person.
This is interesting how in every case there are two, one repentant, the other unrepentant. And there all of us stand on one side or the other. When the grace of Jesus comes to us, we either acknowledge our sin and need with broken hearts; we confess and turn to the Lord. Or in our self-righteousness we reject his grace. Everything depends on our response to the grace that we meet in Jesus.
Many of us have seen the movie “The Passion of the Christ.” People say different things about it. But what I love in this movie is the fact that Jesus is portrayed as the one who loves people, who forgives them and dies for them. And when we recognize that with grief and gratitude, then we find the good news of a broken heart.