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Condemnation and the Gospel

05.09.21 Nathaniel Wall

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  19. Condemnation and the Gospel
    05.09.21 34m 31s
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Condemnation and the Gospel

05.09.21 Nathaniel Wall Light the Dark Series

We’re going to turn to John, chapter eight this morning. John eight is where we are together in our message as it relates to the Gospel of John, light piercing the darkness. And we’re going to juxtapose two thoughts this morning, condemnation versus the gospel. Condemnation in light of the gospel and how that fits for us, and John chapter eight is a pretty famous passage of scripture.

This is where Jesus is confronted with a woman caught in adultery. So it’s a powerful passage. And if you remember together where we’re at in this story, John five to John chapter 10 is the section of scripture that is the festivals, the Jewish holidays, right? In John eight, we find ourselves at the end of the year during a time called the Feast of Booths. The Feast of Booths is one of those festivals out of three festivals that the Jews would have. This is one of the festivals where God commands his people to take a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to celebrate.

Now, I will say during the time of Jesus that that command was lightened. The Jews used to say, “All three festivals go to Jerusalem to celebrate.” But by the time Jesus shows up, the statement is more, “At some point in your life, you need to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to celebrate one of these holidays.” So sort of a little lightening to the law that they had practiced for these activities and this celebration.

But nonetheless, Jerusalem would be packed for this holiday. And you see it in this text in John chapter eight, verse one. Look at this with me: But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him and he sat down and taught them.

So it was like this. It’s sort of like we’re saying to John, “Okay, John, we know this is a big time of year. Lots of people are coming around. About how many people are we talking gathered around Jesus?” And John’s is like, “I don’t know all of them.” Right? It’s like there are a lot of stinking people. There’s not even room to get around. Right? That’s how many people are gathered around Jesus in this moment.

And when you think about the Feast of Booths, like if I try to correlate it to maybe a holiday we celebrate, I think it’s sort of like Thanksgiving and Christmas mixed with your end of the year bonus from your job, if you get an end of the year bonus. That’s kind of what this moment sort of relates to. Because the Feast of Booths is harvest time. People are gathering all of their harvest from the end of the year, all of the hard work. So it’s like, you’ve labored intensely towards the end of this year. And it’s that moment where you finally get to just put your feet up on the table and kick back on the couch and relax. Right?

And not only that, it’s payday. This is big payday kind of a day, where at the end of the year now the big harvest comes through, and that new washer and dryer you’ve been eyeballing, right? You’ve finally saved enough to purchase it. Except for now, I’ve seen the appliances have gone up like 15%. So hold off on buying a washer and dryer this year.

But in this moment, right, this is that kind of end of the year where they’re just looking at how much they’ve accumulated and they’re celebrating that. And there’s plenty of food to go around. So it’s kind of like Thanksgiving, but it’s also mixed with the religious holiday where this is one of those festivals that God calls his people to gather and remember what God has done for them, and to celebrate sort of like Christmas for us, right? They’ve got that spirit of just festivities among them.

And so there are a lot of people in Jerusalem. And now it’s in the middle of this moment that you see what’s described in verse three. This is kind of incredible what’s happened in this disruption here. It says: The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery and placing her in the midst, they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone, such a woman. So what do you say? This they said to test him that they might have some charge to bring against him.”

So you can imagine this sort of a moment. This is a packed crowd, right? We haven’t seen that since 2019, but this is a large gathering. Everyone that’s anyone is here at this moment with Jesus, learning from him, hearing from him. And then this huge disruption takes place. They walk into the middle of this celebration and they just bring this woman right in front of Jesus and said, “You deal with it.”

Now when I read this story, I’ve got some questions, right? Because in just reading those verses maybe you’re like me. You look at this, you’re like, “Man, these religious leaders doing this. This does not smell right to me. Is this kosher? Is this okay for these Jewish leaders to do something like this?”

I mean, when you look at this scenario, a couple of thoughts for me. I would wonder like, “How did they know?” Right? This is a time of celebration. We’re all supposed to be gathering, have your great party, and anticipating all that God has for your future, because you’ve brought in this harvest. Like the Jewish leaders of this moment, they should be leading, helping the people lead in this celebration.

They should be out in the front. And somehow, rather than being there in that moment, somehow they catch this woman in this situation. How does that happen? Right? This is a little bit weird. And then on top of that, I don’t know if you thought about this already or not, but where’s the dude? You know, when you think about this kind of a scenario, like bowling is an individual sport, right? Tennis is an individual sport. Adultery, that’s a team sport. It takes two to tango in a situation like this, right? Why is it they’re going after the woman? And there is no guy to be found. How is it the guy gets off scot-free in this situation?

When you see this moment, maybe you’re also like me and this just feels a little bit religiously gross and abusive. Because it’s very apparent from this story they don’t even care about this woman. We’re not even told her name. She’s drug to the middle of this crowd and just thrown right in front of Jesus. They tell us the real reason they’re there, and the real reason has nothing to do with this woman.

They’re abusing this woman in order to test Jesus. They could care less about the condition of this woman’s heart. She’s just a tool for their own purposes. Religion has the tendency to do that, doesn’t it? Promote me and my self righteousness so I build myself up with pride and demonstrate that I’m better than you, and find people that struggle so that they can feel humiliated in their struggle.

If following God leads you to devalue another human being that is not godly. And in this moment, this is where these religious leaders find themselves. And let me just add for our own sake and our own culture. If you have a problem with someone else, go to someone else first before you take them before the world. And what I mean is I don’t care about your thought on Facebook, Right? It’s biblical.

It’s biblical to approach the person which you have the problem than to just go to the public arena and blast them. Because what God is interested in is in your heart and theirs, and finding opportunity for them to see the error of them and change. Religion here, it reveals itself. It’s keen at promoting your self righteousness and highlighting other’s fault above your own.

And in verse six, they ask Jesus this question, and they continue to ask the question, right? I mean, verse seven, it says they continue to repeat this to Jesus, “But what do you say, Jesus?” That’s what they want to know. And they say this, they do this in order to test him. They do this in order to test them.

Now, I want to be clear in saying something, because I think this is a very important to understanding this verse in scripture, in verse six, when they do this to test Jesus. Because it is okay to question when it comes to your walk with God. It is okay to ask questions. In fact, I would encourage you to do so. Please, please, please ask questions. Don’t just believe what I tell you. God says, “Love the Lord, your God, with all of your mind,” right? God gave you a mind a for a reason. And that is to be able to reason things in this life, right?

And when it comes to faith, as in anything in this world, God would expect, especially I would say, in the arena of faith to use logic to understand who he is. Now I would say when we come to understand God, and walk with God, and learn about God that there’s nothing in this world that truly correlates to everything that God is. God is unfathomable in his nature. Now there are things of God that we can relate to. Like God is love and joy and peace and patience, right? You being a relational creature can relate to God in that way.

We call those communicable attributes of God. We commune with God in that way. And then there is this topic of incommunicable attributes where we can still learn about God. But to conceive fully what it means is infathomable, right? God is omnipotent. He’s all powerful. He’s everywhere present. These thoughts of God. God is perfect. God is eternal. The moment you can conceive of what it means to be eternal, it ceases to be eternity, right? You have to come up with a different word for it.

So there are things about God we can learn about God, but we can’t fully comprehend what it means to be that as it relates to God. But nonetheless, God desires for you to think about him. Faith is not this blind guess. Faith is built on logic and reason. Yes, at the end of the day, you must trust. But God has given us certainly a foundation to rest upon.

So when it comes to your faith, please, please ask questions. Please, please learn and grow. In fact, in Acts chapter 17, in verse 11, it says this about the Jews in Beroea. It says, “The Jews in Beroea were more noble in character than those in Thessalonica for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” Notice what he says about the Beroeans, “They are more noble in their character.” Why are they more noble in their character? Because they’re questioning their faith. They’re determining what’s true. They’re testing it, right?

So when it comes to your relationship with God, testing is not bad. But the way we test can be bad. And what I want you to see in verse six is this, that when the Jews are coming to Jesus to test him in this passage, it’s really not to determine about who’s right and who’s wrong. It’s about proving that they are already right. Because this word testing is probably better translated as accuse. They’re not there to learn from Jesus. They’re there to try to intentionally trip up Jesus. They’re there to show that Jesus is not worthy of following, but everyone should listen to them.

So let me just stop here and say this. Who do you best relate to in this story? As you think about how this narrative unfolds, which character do you find yourself best aligning with? Is it the dude that didn’t get caught? He gets off scot-free, right? He’s running away thinking no one’s found him out. So he’s good to go. And can I just tell you, God sees. God sees no matter how hard you think you’re running, how far you think you’re going. You may fool everyone else, but you will not fool god. God sees.

Or is it the woman, where you’re caught and you’re guilty, and you’re trying to determine what to do because your life now seems to be very fragile. Or you’re the religious leaders where you really don’t see your need for God, but Jesus is a nice thought. He might even be a good moral teacher, but you think that you’re riding through this life on your own self-righteousness. After all, you’re better than most people around you.

And I think of the characters. I could add a fourth. The fourth one I would say is Jesus, but ain’t nobody here Jesus. Right? So which one do you relate to in the story? And when you read the story, what’s important for us to see in verse five and six is what the Jewish leaders are up to here. The Jewish leaders are actually trying to trap Jesus. And understanding the complexity of this moment helps us to see how that has transpired.

Because they say to you in verse five, they very plainly tell you, “Now, in the law of Moses, God commanded us to stone such a woman. So what do you say, Jesus?” And they’re right. Deuteronomy chapter 22, verse 24, it says anyone caught in adultery, guy, male-female, stone them. And what it means is first offense is the last offense, right? This is a very quick way of curbing the idea of repeat offenders in this situation. So Jewish law, very plainly says what to do. And is this woman guilty? Yes.

But here’s the dilemma of the circumstance. The law of the land isn’t just the Jewish, law that Rome has conquered the Jewish people and usurping Jewish laws now are Roman law. And Roman law in this moment has made it very clear that no one is allowed to execute someone else for religious purposes. I mean, even think at the end of Jesus’s life, they would have executed Jesus. But what do they have to do with Jesus? They had to take him to Pontius Pilot, because according to Roman law, the Jews in and of themselves couldn’t execute someone for religious purposes.

And so now when they present this to Jesus, they know exactly what they’re doing because they’re putting Jesus in a very difficult situation. Because what’s Jesus to do? If he obeys the Jewish law, then he sets himself against Rome and Rome will come after him. But if he obeys the Roman law, then he sets himself against the Jewish law and the Jews will reject him.

Do you obey God? Or do you obey man? Do you see the dilemma they’re putting Jesus in? This is a very clever moment for these leaders who want to usurp the authority of Jesus and the platform and the integrity that he carries before his people in order to speak into their lives. Now da, da, da, Right? What does Jesus do? What would you do in this situation?

Could you imagine that, the pressure of this moment? Everyone’s just watching, all eyes on you. It says all of Jerusalem has gathered around you in this moment and they interrupt what you’re doing to present this, to put this dilemma before you, and make you choose one side or the other.

And look what Jesus does. It’s the brilliance of who he is, right? Verse six: Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground.

What does Jesus do? I love what Jesus does here. Jesus in this moment, he raises the bar of the Jewish law. See, according to the Jewish law, when someone was to be stoned, it was to be the primary accuser who casts the first stone. The primary accuser in casting the first stone would cast as if, to say if my testimony that is bringing the death of this person is not true, let what happens to them be also what happens to me.

It’s their way of ensuring that what takes place in the judgment that’s to be passed on this individual was done so with the integrity of the testimony that brought the accusation. But here’s the irony of this moment when Jesus says, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” The irony of this moment is that the only one out of all of these people who has the ability to cast the stone is who? Jesus, because he is the only one without sin.

I love what Jesus does here. Raising the bar of holiness. He wants to say, “Okay, guys, you want to make a scene out of this moment. I want to know which person among you thought of the great idea to accuse this lady in this way, reveal yourself. Who’s her primary accuser, whose idea was this? In the nastiness of your religious practice, I want you to stand out and identify yourself before all of Jerusalem. Which person is this? And then Jesus goes back and begins to write on the ground.

Now, when we read this passage of scripture, I can tell you someone’s going to probably ask me this after the service or email me, “What did Jesus write on ground? What did he say?” Everyone wants to know that. And I will tell you, you want to know? I don’t know. I have no clue and I don’t even think it matters, but I will say this about this passage of scripture, that whatever he’s writing, it becomes a moment of self-reflection. All right? Everyone in this moment is thinking about the woman and treating her like a tool for their own purposes, but whatever Jesus writes diffuses this circumstance so much so that everyone against to internalize something in their life.

It’s as if Jesus is revealing what’s in the hearts of everyone around, maybe even one by one writing their sins in the ground. It’s difficult to attack someone else when you’re humbled in your own depravity. And I appreciate what it says about the people. It says, “One by one they started walking away from the older to the younger.” From the older to the younger. Do you know why the older people walked away first? Because you’ve lived longer and you’ve done more stuff, right? You’ve learned enough wisdom in life to know, “I ain’t perfect either. Let’s just back up before for Jesus starts writing my name in the sand,” right?

When you’re young, you’re passionate. When you’re older, you get some wisdom, and you’re like, “We all need a little bit of grace.” And that’s how they start leaving in this moment. And it’s as if Jesus is saying, “Put your rock down, you have sinned too.” Put your rock down. You have sent too. Man, you’re going to meet God one day face to face. What are you going to do? Because the only one that can really cast stones is God. And if you’ve got sin before his holiness, what are you going to do?

Now one of the things to just keep in mind, as you look at this passage, notice he doesn’t say the woman didn’t do anything wrong. Jesus isn’t just sweeping this moment under the rug. He doesn’t say, “Look, she’s not guilty.” He’s not saying that. He’s not ignoring it. Jesus deals with it. But what I think is important for all of us to see and where Jesus takes this, is if you don’t see you’re sinful, then you need humbled. I should say it like that. If you don’t see your sinful, then you need humbled. But if you see yourself, you need grace.

That’s the difference in how Jesus dealt in the gospels. Jesus was very confrontational to the religious leaders, and the reason he was so confrontational is because they were stuck in their self-righteousness and they didn’t realize how [inaudible 00:21:05] they were. But when he met those that were broken, Jesus was one of grace. I think even the other woman that’s mentioned in John chapter four, the woman at the well, how gentle Jesus was in dealing with her.

Verse nine: When they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones. And Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him and Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” And she said, “No one Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you, go and from now on sin no more.”

I want you to imagine for a moment, as you see in this story, the finger of God writing in the sand. What if you were there? And what if Jesus started to write your sin in the sand? How would you respond? Would you stick around long enough to find healing? What you find in this story is the man involved nowhere to be found. The religious leaders who bring this woman and the crowd that’s around Jesus, one by one feel so awkward and maybe ashamed, that they start to walk away.

But there’s only one person that we see finds healing. And it’s the person in this moment who comes to Jesus most broken. Everyone walks away but this one. And what does Jesus bring up as the topic? Condemnation. Condemnation, because we all struggle with the weight of condemnation. And religions answer what the Pharisees are trying this in this story is, “Try better.” Just try better. Eventually you’ll get it right. Maybe God will love you enough. Just try better.

Or the guy in the story that we don’t really get to read about. It’s, “Just hide.” Just hide, maybe God will just forget about you. And you’re just sort of flipping through the back doors. No, I have to go through the pearly gates, but you go through the exit only sign and someone comes out, right? Or this lady. And Jesus says to her, “I do not condemn you.” Why? Because when we mess up, we feel condemned. And what you do in that moment is so important because it demonstrates if you understand the difference between religious condemnation and the beauty of the gospel.

And if I were just to give you one thought as you walk away from today, just to meditate on and churn on and let your soul find peace in it, it would be this last statement that Jesus gives in verse 11. Look at this guys: She said, “No one, Lord. And then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and from now on sin no more.” Most of the time we think God says it like this, “Go and sin no more. And therefore I will not condemn you.”

That’s not how Jesus says it, is it? In a religious way of thinking we often reverse that. If I want God to love me, I’ve got to first become lovable. Go and sin no more, and then Jesus won’t condemn me. But that’s not what Jesus says at all. Jesus in this verse says, “Neither do I condemn you, therefore go and sin no more.” Why? Because it’s the difference between understanding self-righteousness religiously made, and what the gospel is.

When we understand the gospel, we don’t live for God so that we can be loved for God. It’s because we are loved by God that we live for God. Does that make sense? Are you hearing what I’m saying? I’m not here this morning to worship the Lord and hope that God would love me. I’m here this morning because God already loves me, and therefore, I worship him. That’s the whole meaning of the gospel. And this is where the religious leaders are failing to see how their blindedness is causing them to devalue this woman and treat her like a tool rather than the image of God made known in her life.

Jesus gives her worth. Not because of what she’s done, but of who he is. “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.” And I love how she responds here. She refers to him in verse 11, “Lord.” Lord. And I don’t doubt in verse 11, she has no idea the capacity of everything that word should mean in her life. She’s learning about who Jesus is in this moment. But whoever he is, what she knows in this moment is that he loves her, and he has spared her life. Lord. Lord.

Can I tell you the powerful thoughts of this story, guys, and one of the things I hear people often say that sounds humble, but is important to think about for just a moment. I hear people say this. Some people will look at their lives and they’ll say, “You know, I believe in this story that Jesus forgives me, but I can’t forget me.” Right? And it sounds humble. Sometimes we want to pander to that and encourage it and sulk with the person. Right? “I know Jesus forgives me, but I can’t forgive me.”

Can I just tell you, and this is a little bit of a harder word, but can I just tell you the problem with that statement? You think too much about you and too little about Jesus. Do we understand who this is that’s forgiving this woman? Do we understand everything that he’s about to do for this lady on the cross? Do you understand who this is in your life and everything that he’s done for you, and what he offers? The position that he gives and the value that he speaks over you because of the price he’s paid for you?

Who are we to look at him and say, “But I can’t forgive me.” What more could you possibly do than what Jesus has already done? Could you imagine what this woman would tell us if she were here today? If we said to her, “Hey, tell us about the lowest moment of your life.” And she goes, “That’s easy. It’s in the Bible.” Right? “There was a moment where I was branded and so humiliated and, yes, I did this. It was me. Then I met someone and never again in my life have I been so incredibly loved and forgiven and valued and elevated. Do you know, the crowd didn’t even know my name, but in the moment with him, my past was gone and he knew my name. And in that moment, everything changed.”

And maybe she would go on from there and say this to you. She would say, “You know, that was a hard story, but if I had to do it all over again, I would. And here’s the reason why. It’s because from this moment on in the shame of my story, the world has read it over and over, and people in their brokenness have come to read about and understand that Jesus who meets us where we are, and loves us as we are, and frees us in him. And he says to us, ‘You are no longer condemned. Go and sin no more.’ It’s this new identity and the greatness of who this God is. And from that day forward, I lived for a different purpose. I had a different value and I was renewed in my meaning in this life. This is a powerful story, that if God would meet me in my heart this way. And let me live this sort of life before others, that they could meet God in this way, too.”

When I read this story, one of the beautiful things for me, and maybe even the icing on the top is how it all starts. John chapter eight, verse one: Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. I love that thought because I think what it’s saying to me is that this story is no accident, and here’s why. When you read through the Bible, the Mount of Olives has historical value and meaning that’s rich with imagery. In second Samuel, chapter 15, verse 30, this was the place where when King David was betrayed by his son Absalom, he went to the Mount of Olives weeping over the sin of his son. This is, in the story in John eight, where Jesus meets this woman. But this also becomes the place where on the night Jesus was betrayed he takes his disciples to spend his final hours as the weight of sin comes upon his shoulders before he takes it to the cross and pays for you.

The Mount of Olives is the place of letting go of your past because of what Jesus has done. And in Zachariah chapter 14, verse four, really the whole chapter, there is a picture painted by Zachariah that says, “And one day, this king will come and he will return to the Mount of Olives, declaring his victory over all sin because of what he’s done for you.” No doubt when this lady left this moment, she didn’t live a perfect life, but the next time she messed up, where do you think she went? Do you think she went to the religious leaders? I don’t think so.

I think because she learned about the grace of God the next time she messed up the place that she went, and I think she went without delay, she ran straight to Jesus. And guys, that’s us. That’s us, right? God, isn’t testing in your life in order for you to fail, right? I think God tests us in our life, he doesn’t just tempt you in your life or test your life in order for you to fail.

The Lord is for you. The Lord wants you to succeed. And part of understanding that is to realize in our lives, we’re not going to be perfect. But the place we find healing, and transformation, and renewal, and opportunity once again to pursue our king is not on our own trying to prove to him we’re worthy of his love, but falling at his knees and calling him Lord, because he already loves you.