Copyright © 2009, American
Journal of Biblical Theology
December 6, 2009. Scripture quotes from KJV
We live in a society that is called, “postmodern.” There is an accepted world view that has evolved over the last few hundred years that resulted from the many scientific discoveries that challenged the religious dogma that was theretofore accepted. The religious establishment demanded a flat world that was the center of the universe. When scientists proved them wrong they were violently resisted and persecuted by the established church leadership. The uncompromising church establishment continually found itself at greater and greater disagreement with the respected scientists and educators of the world. This friction led to the separation of world views into two primary camps: religious dogmatism, and the scientific/educational dogmatism. The latter world view rejected any religious teaching that cannot be scientifically explained, considering it myth. The resulting contemporary theology replaced religious dogma with intellectual and scientific principles, replacing God as the authority for the universe, with mankind. This led to secular humanism as the currently dominant world view. In this view there is no absolute right or wrong. Consequently we see a continual degradation of values in the world. People are easily devalued. The unborn have no value to many people. Accepting responsibility is old-fashioned. We see sin piled upon sin.
This is the pervasive world view, that effects every Christian and their relationships both within the church family and without. What do we do when we encounter:
Those outside the body of believers who are living a clearly sinful lifestyle?
Christians who come from a sinful lifestyle.
Christians who are engaged in a sin or a sinful lifestyle?
Christians who have broken God’s laws?
Christians, of all people of the earth, should be the last to judge, the last to condemn, and the first to forgive. However, the reality is that those who consider themselves religious are often the first to condemn and pass judgment. When we hear of one of who has professed faith in Christ and has committed some significant sin, what is our normal, first response? Too often we hide our love and compassion behind an impenetrable wall of religious pride and use the situation to judge and condemn others.
How do we tend to relate personally and individually to a person who we have so negatively judged or condemned? Too often our response is cowardly silence. What kind of testimony are we to those people when we condemn and shun them? How should we expect them to respond to us? Often we are so self-centered and self-justified that we hope they just go away. The verses we will study today give us some guidance on how to respond to people around us as they go through the crises in their lives.
John 8:1-2. But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them.
We find Jesus teaching in the Jerusalem temple courts. His presence there and the content of His teaching has caused quite a stir among the religious leaders. In the previous chapter they were engaged in no small debate about Jesus, that included Nicodemus’ testimony in defense of Jesus. The religious leaders desperately want to get rid of Jesus, and because of His acceptance by the people, their only weapon was to discredit him. In the following verses they try to do so, and in doing so, expose their own hypocrisy and maybe some of our own.
1. FORGIVENESS IS NOT NATURAL
John 8:3-6a The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.
The motives of the Jerusalem Jews is clear, indicated by their interruption of Jesus’ teaching with such a graphic and physical challenge. One can envision the disruption that this event would have caused as the teachers of the law and the Pharisees literally dragged a woman into the group and stood her before the crowd that had been listening to Jesus’ teaching. They were self-righteous and prideful religious people who had no concern for the woman who they were abusing. They conspired together to use this woman and her situation as a means to trap Jesus in a dilemma that was intended upon testing his loyalty to the scriptures in the face of contradictory Roman law. The law of Moses is quite clear concerning the penalty for adultery:
Lev. 10:10-16 “‘If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife—with the wife of his neighbor—both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death. 11“‘If a man sleeps with his father’s wife, he has dishonored his father. Both the man and the woman must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads. 12“‘If a man sleeps with his daughter-in-law, both of them must be put to death. What they have done is a perversion; their blood will be on their own heads. 13“‘If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads. 14“‘If a man marries both a woman and her mother, it is wicked. Both he and they must be burned in the fire, so that no wickedness will be among you. 15“‘If a man has sexual relations with an animal, he must be put to death, and you must kill the animal. 16“‘If a woman approaches an animal to have sexual relations with it, kill both the woman and the animal. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.
In every case of sexual impropriety, all participants in the transgression are to be put to death. We can be thankful for the grace of God. Had Jesus come to execute the law rather than to fulfill it, all would perish. The law of God has not changed, and if we were subject to that law, we would all stand condemned. However, through Jesus, the purpose of the law changes. Though we deserve to be subject to the letter of the Law, Jesus died on the cross so that those who place their faith and trust in Him would be forgiven, and would never be condemned. However, we all have sinned and come short of the letter of the law, and we all deserve the penalty that the religious leaders demanded. Every one of us could be dragged before the crowd today and face accusation.
The motive of the religious leaders was not so much to hear Jesus’ opinion on the execution of the law as it was to catch Him in a trap that they could use to publicly discredit Him.
· If Jesus were to hold that the woman should be stoned, He would contradict His own teaching of grace, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness. The religious leaders could also report Him to the Romans as inciting the people to disregard Roman law that forbade the Jews from executing capital punishment.
· If Jesus were to hold that the woman should not be stoned, He would contradict the law of Moses, and the religious leaders could accuse Him of heresy.
However, this event exposed, not only the hypocrisy of the religious leaders, but it also reveals the culture of condemnation and bigotry that existed towards those who they considered unclean. If the religious leaders were honestly seeking an interpretation of the law, they would also have needed to accuse the man since both are to be stoned under the law. Where is the guilty man? Clearly, this woman was being victimized by the hypocrisy of her accusers.
It is true that she was caught in adultery, and she is guilty as charged. She had sinned under the law, and her sin impacted many people including herself, the man she committed the sin with, her family, her community, and ultimately, even us. When we are impacted by another’s sin, our natural response is similar to that of their religious culture: rejection and condemnation.
When we reject and criticize another because of what we may term “sin in their life” what are we actually doing? First, we are being the worst of hypocrites, ones who more than anyone should know better. We have all sinned and we have all experienced the grace of God and His forgiveness. Because we have all sinned, we all stand guilty before God, and are therefore not in a position to judge or point fingers at one another. Consequently, the second error indicated by our judgmental attitude is that we, by judging, are taking for ourselves that which only God has the right to do. Only God, in His perfection, is entitled to pass judgment upon us for our sin.
Though the event that is taking place in this passage is clearly describing an attack upon Jesus by the religious leaders, His response to the state of the woman’s guilt demonstrates Jesus’ attitude towards her.
John 8:6b. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger.
Jesus was well-aware of their hypocrisy, as He is with ours. While they were expecting an answer that would arm them in their attempt to discredit Him, Jesus simply turned it attention away for a moment. Many have conjectured about what it may have been that Jesus was writing in the sand. Jesus gave the accusers, the woman, and the crowd a few moments to consider the question the religious leaders was asking. Many would be establishing positions in their own hearts.
How do we respond when we hear the news of someone who is caught in a sin? Given time to contemplate their punishment do we first think about throwing stones? In today’s culture we do not typically throw stones. Instead, we tend to use our tongues as weapons to discredit and destroy the one who we find guilty. This pause gave those in the crowd the opportunity to form these thoughts. Perhaps there was a murmuring in the crowd as individuals discussed with each other the appropriate punishment for this sinful woman.
2. FORGIVENESS IS NOT OPTIONAL.
John 8:7-9. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. 9At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there.
The question of who would be first to throw a stone was important. Under the Mosaic law, the first stones must be cast by the first-hand witnesses to the crime, not by the court or the people. No such witnesses had been brought forward, and no such witnesses brought any charges. In this situation, the one to cast the first stone would be selected by the court, a role that Jesus took upon Himself, given the context of the situation.
Jesus’ answer to them simply placed the dilemma that they created back on themselves. Jesus’ answer clearly identified that He held her guilty for her sin, since His answer did not pardon her of the verdict. As He held her guilty He simply reminded those in the crowd, as He is also reminding us, that we are all guilty. The religious leaders understood that to break any law, whether benign or grievous, made one a law-breaker, and exposed their unrighteousness. This is the purpose of the law: not to result in death by stoning, but to expose unrighteousness. After the accusers heard Jesus’ statement, He again turned His attention away, giving them an opportunity to consider and respond.
When it comes to dealing with sin, we are often cowards. Talk is cheap and easy. Being the first to actually throw a stone takes more than talk. If we are challenged to act on our hypocrisy, our cowardice is often revealed. Rather than face this indignity, the religious leaders quietly left the scene, having failed in their attempt to discredit Jesus.
Those accusers who were older and had more authority with the crowd also had greater wisdom and would not be so publicly hypocritical as to pick up a stone. As they left, the remaining accusers left with them, leaving Jesus and the woman alone with the crowd.
Note that the accusers did not take the woman away for punishment. They had no intention of stoning the woman, and they had no real concern for this woman either way. Their accusation against the woman was a rebellion against God. When we condemn one another we have no intention of actually executing punishment. All we want is to exercise our own sinful pride and hurt those whom we judge. We enjoy hearing ourselves pass judgment because it seemingly and temporarily elevates us to a position that we have not been able to earn for ourselves. When we condemn another person, we are like the religious leaders, rebelling against God.
Now we find the woman standing there with Jesus in the temple courtyard, and presumably accompanied still by the disciples and many others who were gathered there to hear Jesus’ teaching. These were also given the time to consider their own judgment of this woman. Knowing that Jesus had just declared her guilt, His verdict must have astonished them.
3. FORGIVENESS IS GRACE IN ACTION.
John 8:10-11. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11“No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
Jesus’ verdict taught the disciples, the crowd, and us how to apply the Law of Moses under grace. It is the law that condemns, and it is God who judges. Neither of these tasks has been given to us. Instead, we have been given grace. Our sins have been pardoned, and we have been instructed by God’s Word to “go and sin no more.” The instruction to do this comes from Jesus, the Judge in this court, not from us.
Jesus’ response to the woman is clear. First, he loved her and had compassion for her. She had already suffered significant abuse at the hands of her accusers, and she would continue to suffer the consequence of her sin in her relationships with those close to her, Jesus did nothing to add to her suffering. Often, rather than respond with love and compassion towards others who, like us, struggle with sin, we tend to want to heap more suffering on them. Jesus clearly responded in a way to relieve her suffering and to help her bear the burden.
Second, Jesus’ love and compassion compelled Him to withhold condemnation. Likewise, when we respond to others with true, unconditional love and a heart of compassion we would not find ourselves condemning them. Any attitude of condemnation comes, not from love, but from sinful pride, a sin that to the LORD is as grievous as any sin that the accused could have committed.
Finally, Jesus forgave her for her past sin and gave her the opportunity to sin no more. Jesus’ response was to forgive her of her past and offer her a new life for the future. Likewise our response should be the same: first we should offer immediate forgiveness to all others and then support one another as we all struggle to live a repentant life.
What do you do when you have forgiven someone for this transgression and they turn right back to it again? Consider God’s treatment of us. Though we continue to sin, we are forgiven. Consequently, when we witness the sin of others we are simply reminded of our own forgiven sin. Our only response is a continual attitude of forgiveness. Forgiveness is not a commodity to be dispensed based upon circumstances. Forgiveness is a consistent attitude that is borne of the fruit of the Holy Spirit in us. Because of this, there is no limit to the number of times we forgive. There is no “three strikes your out” rule when it comes to dealing with a person’s sin. If this were the case, we would have all struck out long ago.
What can we offer people who have sinned? We can offer our love, and the assurance that God’s forgiveness is available. We cannot erase the past, but we can make people aware that God is ready to forgive, as we are also. Nothing else can resolve lingering guilt. We can love the person without compromising our moral standards. We should make it clear that we love the person, and still make it clear that we do not support or condone the sin. With the Holy Spirit’s help we can walk the fine line in ministering to people who have engaged or are engaging in acts of transgression.
What about our own sin? How do we relate to other Christians when it comes to our own sin?
James 5:16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.
James encourages us to pray for one another. The 13th verse in James’ letter directs persons to pray for themselves; the 14th verse directs to seek for the prayers of ministers or leaders; and the 16th directs Christians to pray one for another. James encourages us to share with each other our needs, our afflictions, and even our sins. Why do you suppose this is so? Note how much emphasis is placed in these verses on praying for the forgiveness of sin rather than praying for deliverance from the affliction.
James instructs Christians to confess their sins to one another. Why is this so difficult? It is quite possible that we do not trust one another to handle the confession appropriately. We are so quick to judge and so slow to forgive that we expect to be treated with judgment and unforgiveness. This fear of sharing our confessions exposes our dramatic need for spiritual growth and maturity.
Note that the purpose of the confession is not to receive judgment from one another, but rather so that we can pray for one another that our relationship with the LORD can be fully restored. If you can visualize in your mind the identity of an individual with whom you have full confidence to share your sins, knowing that you will not be judged, but prayed for, you have just identified a righteous man (or woman.) Righteousness is not a state of sinless perfection. Righteousness is found in a life that is fully submitted to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Such an individual can be trusted with such a confession.
What about the prayer itself? Note the words imply a fervent pouring out of the heart to God. Confession is the first step toward healing and wholeness. Until we confess sins to God, we cannot be whole. Remaining in denial stymies the healing process. Confession should be directed to God because all sin I s ultimately rebellion against Him. At times, confessing sins to other believers is wholesome. Such public confession can be carried out only in an atmosphere of love and mutual trust, not one of suspicion and accusation. Ordinarily a good rule is that the circle of confession should match the circle of persons impacted by the sin.
When we honestly look at the way we respond to the sin that we all struggle with, we will most likely come away convicted of our condemning and judgmental spirit. Ignoring our own sin we broadcast the sins of others. We use our words and attitudes as stones as we throw them back and forth at each other. It is no wonder that we are frustrated. It is no wonder that our relationships with others are strained. While we succumb to our pride, the evil one sits on the sidelines and laughs at us as our love for each other is marginalized and our ministry in the kingdom of God is minimalized.Forgiveness is not a commodity that we dispense among one another based upon our own judgments. Like God’s forgiveness of us, forgiveness is the fruit of grace that is given to all people of faith. As we learn to become more like Christ, let us become more graceful in our treatment of one another as we trade a critical and condemning spirit for the love of the Holy Spirit. Only then we will we learn the true meaning of forgiveness.