Before you begin this message, please read from the Word of God, Luke 7:36-50.
I wanted you to read the entire narrative in order that we can consider it from the point of view of Jesus’ last words to the woman, words of departing benediction, “Go in peace.” There would be peace now for her who had so long been hunted and harried by her sins. Rising from the feet of the Lord which she had washed with her tears, she was told to go forward from that moment on in peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. She was dismissed with the priceless blessing spoken from the lips of the Lord Himself, “Thy sins are forgiven thee; go in peace.”
We need to understand today that the Lord’s words were not meant simply to put an end to that situation. There was brewing at that moment a controversy with the Pharisees and the Lord over who could forgive sins. When the Lord tells her to go in peace, He is not simply seeking to deliver her from that cold atmosphere and brewing controversy. But these are the words, first of all, of assurance, words which she must carry with her wherever she goes, the assurance of her pardon: Go in peace. For the words of forgiveness are real and true.
Secondly, those words were words of command, direction, and guidance. She was to live in the peace of God the rest of her life, until she came to that dark valley of death. She must go in peace, she must walk in the peace of forgiveness. When she came at last to that dark valley of death where she would have to fear no evil for the Lord would be with her, she could still hear the Lord saying to her, “Go, go over in peace.”
We do not have the Lord physically with us in the church or with us today to speak these words to us. We do not believe that we conjure up the Lord physically at a sacrament called the mass, or the Eucharist. We do not believe that Jesus Christ is physically on the earth. But He is with us now. He is with us in His Word, He is with us in His Holy Spirit. He is present to speak to our hearts through His Word and to speak His own voice so that we hear Him and we know it is His voice. The people of God know the voice of their Shepherd when they hear Him.
And His words to us are: “Thy sins are forgiven; go in peace.” There is no one right now who really knows your heart except you to a limited degree. Yes, you know your heart only to a limited degree. But God knows it perfectly and exhaustively. Whoever you are, and whatever circumstances of life you are in, whatever thoughts, burdens, sins you harbor, if you are a child of God there are no more crucial words right now than to hear these words of Christ: “Go in peace.”
The Lord’s words, “Go in peace,” were first of all given to the woman as the assurance that she was indeed pardoned and forgiven. To this poor sinner who was given love for Christ, such a love for Christ that she washed His feet with her tears and dried them with her hair, the Lord’s words, “Go in peace,” were the assurance that she was pardoned of her debt. Peace, after all, of which Jesus speaks and of which the Bible speaks, is peace with God and peace of the knowledge of the forgiveness of sins before God. The world is filled with all kinds of vague and silly notions about peace and how to attain peace. There is only one true peace, and that is peace with God on the basis of pardon, the pardon of sin. The prophet Isaiah in chapter 57:21 says, “There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked.” There is none because peace is found only in one thing: forgiveness of sin before God. That is the message of God’s Word.
Go in peace. The Lord is saying to her: “What so troubled you, what so burdened you in your soul, your sins – they are forgiven.” This woman was a sinner. That word “sinner” means “to miss the mark.” We read in verse 37, “And, behold, a woman in the city, which was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee’s house….” We are not told what her sin was. Maybe as you read the narrative you suspicioned that it was sin against the seventh commandment, that this woman was a harlot and had committed adultery numerous times. We do not know specifically what her sin was. We know only that it was public knowledge. Simon, the Pharisee who had invited Jesus into his house, did not want to touch her because the sin that she had committed was in the public eye odious and vile. She was defiled in Simon’s eyes.
And the Lord read Simon’s thoughts as he sat at meat. This is what Simon was thinking about Jesus: “This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him: for she is a sinner.” Everyone knew she had lived in sin. To Simon the Pharisee, that meant that his hairs stood on end; her sin was so odious and so foul that he did not want even to have her touch him. Simon thought that a touch could contaminate his soul.
We do not know what her sin was, but we know this too: the woman knew. She knew. And she knew her sin in a way that Simon the Pharisee never could. She knew her sin as a stain upon her soul that she could not wash, a debt that she could not pay, and a shame before God and herself. Her confession was spoken in her actions. She runs the gauntlet of human scorn. She enters into the house of the Pharisee and stands at Jesus’ feet, behind Him, weeping, and then she begins to wash His feet with tears and wipe them with the hairs of her head, kissing His feet and anointing them with ointment. Now how do you put those actions into words? She was broken up in her soul over her sin. She was given an accurate, horrible picture of herself as an unworthy, vile sinner in the sight of God. Her sin now grieved her and consumed her heart. Do you know what she knew?
Her confession was simply this, that, in the light of the knowledge of her sin and what that sin was, she could go nowhere else but to Christ for relief. She had done something, she had been something. And no one could help her, no one could remove it but Jesus Christ. She could find no other source of alleviation of her pain but in the Lord. Her sin grieved and crushed and broke up her soul. She saw her unworthiness even to approach before the Lord.
You see, when you think that you can do something about your sin, that you can make up for it, then you do not know your sin. When you think that maybe you can hide it behind the backs of others and that gives you relief (you think you got away with it and that gives your soul relief), then you do not know yourself. And you do not know sin, either. If you think that it is relief simply to excuse your actions as not being as bad as someone else’s, or that time, after all, will heal all things and will blur them; or if you say concerning your sin, “Well, let’s chalk that one up to experience,” then you must not talk about a life with God. You must not do that. Then you do not know sin. You do not know God. And you do not know yourself in the way the Holy Spirit teaches self-knowledge.
No, this woman was broken in her soul over her sin. And her confession very plainly was that Christ was her only hope. She saw, by the grace of God through faith, that the Christ of God alone could be the satisfaction for her sin. So she loved Him.
There are two things present in her. There is first of all her knowledge of her hopeless state as a sinner. But also, by the grace of God, there was present in her a love for Christ as her salvation. You cannot love the Lord Jesus Christ, by the grace of God, and you cannot go to Christ as your only hope of pardon, if you do not know your sin in a personal and profound sense. Love for Christ and knowledge of sin are not two separate things. They are one and the same thing. They go hand in hand. You cannot love Christ unless God, by grace, gives you to know your sin. Jesus is not simply some nice person in the past who has a few good things to teach you about moral living and conviction. That is the Christ of your own imagination. That Christ has no salvation. No, the Christ is the Son of God, the Savior. And the knowledge of Him is only in the way of a heartfelt sense of sin which the Holy Spirit must teach through His Word.
By nature, you and I minimize our own sin, and we maximize the sin of others. That was Simon the Pharisee. We believe that our own sins are small and that they surely are not as smelly as the brother or sister over there. We look outside of ourselves and we gloss over the inside. So long as sin remains little to you, your own sin, then you must remain a stranger to the love of Christ. But when the love of God’s grace shines through His Word and the power of the Spirit works, then you see sin as a debt, as a burden, as a shame which nothing can wash away, nothing can remove, except the grace of God in Jesus Christ.
So, Jesus said, “Go in peace.” Those were words of assurance that she was indeed forgiven. Do not leave with questions and doubts, He says to the woman. Do not leave uncertain concerning this great gift of God’s grace. Walk in the enjoyment of this great blessing of the cross, the pardon of sin. You are justified in Jesus Christ. Your sins are forgiven. My blood upon the cross avails.
But I sense in those words, “Go in peace,” also an abiding command, an abiding precept, a word that must guide us from this point on. “Go in peace,” as I said, did not only mean for the woman to leave the company of those quibblers, Simon and the Pharisees, who as a swarm of bees were ready to challenge the Lord concerning how in the world He could forgive sins. They began, we read, to question among themselves saying, “Who is this that forgiveth sins also?” They continued in that proud way of self-righteousness and they were offended at the Lord’s work as the Messiah, as the sin-pardoner. So when Jesus says, “Go in peace,” He is not only saying, “Leave us.” He is saying, “Leave such. If you are going to have the peace of forgiveness, you have to leave those who seek their salvation in their works.”
But He means more. He means that this gospel of peace must now be the principle out of which we live our life. Go in peace – the peace of the gospel of forgiveness must be the principle of our lives.
Life is made up of our daily common deeds. It would not be possible always to be washing feet with tears and using our hairs to dry them. That was a great work of thanksgiving. But you do not do that every day, do you? You go into your home; you go with those children; you go with that husband/wife. And the Lord says, “You go and you glorify God in that place by living out of the peace of forgiveness. And as you do the wash and as you clean and as you make the meals and as you wipe noses and as you go to the office, then you go about it in the same love that was characterized by this woman – a love for the Lord who has forgiven her.” You see, the drudgery of life is transformed when you go forth into life as one who has been brought into the peace of God, your debt of sin forgiven, your shame pardoned. Then you sit behind that desk and you do the work of your office and you answer the phone in peace, the peace of the gospel reigning in your soul, as we read in Colossians 3. The Lord is saying, “Serve Me now, as one whose guilt is cleared, whose trespass is forgiven.” Carry this also in your trials.
You see, the peace of forgiveness of sin does not mean that our life is now a bed of roses and trouble free. There is the need, according to the wisdom of God, that our faith be tried. All the teaching so popular today of this “name-it-and-claim-it” gospel, this victorious Christian living, is not of God or the Word of God. The people of God still experience many trials and sufferings. And it is not of the devil. It is of the hand of God Himself, who is pleased now, through the manifold trials of this present life, to perfect our faith. That is the Scripture (I Pet. 1:6, 7). God, in His inscrutable wisdom, leads us in ways which we would interpret as being against us, as if God were forsaking us.
Now when Christ says, “Go in peace,” He means “Go armed in your mind and soul that you have been brought into peace with God and, therefore, interpret all things as in the light of this gospel, in the light of faith. Do not interpret your life in terms of the earthly eye but in the light of faith.” Those who do not have the peace of forgiveness, for them life must be one great fear after another. Without forgiveness before God, how could you face one day? But great confidence may be ours when we hear Him say, “Peace be unto you.” The peace of God now rules in our hearts, and confidence may be seen in all of our life. Therefore we are dismissed in mercy.
We know then that tribulation is working for us. We know that sufferings and trials are not things which tear us down ultimately, but are sent of God to build us up, to work patience and experience and hope even as we read in Romans 5:1-5. We know that because we have peace with God. And we have peace with God because Christ has forgiven our sins. Therefore the foundation of our life is forgiveness with God.
This must be your guide. This must be your precept – dismissed in peace. Go forth in your way before God.
Then, with the peace of God, and the joy of forgiveness, though your way today be one of sorrow or joy, heaviness or ease, pain or health, mental peace or mental anguish, then all is well. All was well for this woman. We do not know the circumstances of her life. We can well surmise that they were not going to be easy. But all was well because she had heard from the lips of the Savior Himself: “Thy sins are forgiven; go in peace.”
Let us pray.
Father, we praise Thee for that sacrifice once given upon the cross, the Son of God in our flesh bearing the wrath of God against the sins of all those given to Him of Thy eternal election. Upon the basis of that forgiveness we hear the word of the Savior that our sins are forgiven, we may go in peace. Grant that this peace may rule in our hearts to Thy glory and for our comfort. Amen.