Sunday, March 25, 2012
Introduction: Labels have become very complex these days. On any given label, you not only have the product name, but you have the company that made it, along with the ingredients that are in it. On top of that you now can get complete information on how many calories there are in each serving, and the amount of fat, and sugar, and on and on it goes. Some people I’m sure care about all this information. I usually don’t care too much about it. But labels can be good for giving important information.
Unfortunately, throughout the history of our world, we put labels on people as well. This is not a good thing, because once we label someone, it is difficult for us to get past this label. And quite possibly it could be difficult for that person to get past that label as well. Maybe you label someone an underachiever; someone who has potential but doesn’t quite live up to it. If you tell them this enough, they begin to believe it. Or maybe someone is a troublemaker. You keep telling them this over and over.
Have you ever noticed yourself doing this? You see someone, and you judge them right away by their appearance. Maybe they are nicely dressed, with a nice car, and you think they are a wonderful person. Or you see someone in torn jeans, with a tattoo, and 5 earrings, and think they are someone you don’t want to get near. And yet, by putting labels on people, you limit yourself to seeing them as you think they are, and not necessarily how they really are. Even more, by putting labels on people, we fail to see them as God sees them; we fail to see them as what God has purposed them to be.
I. A Woman Caught in Adultery- (John 8:1-7; Lev. 20:10; Deut. 22:13-24)
a. The facts- In our scripture passage this morning, we have a court case
of sorts. Jesus is at the Temple, teaching. There was a legal question involving a woman who was caught in adultery. The normal course of action was to take the case to a Rabbi for a judgment. So the Scribes and Pharisees (the religious leaders of the day) decided to bring it to Jesus./ When they came to Jesus, they tried to lay out the facts before him. Fact 1: Here is a woman, who is accused of committing adultery; Fact 2: The accused is standing before him. She is not a fiction of their imagination, she is real flesh and blood, and she is now standing before Jesus, with I’m sure a guilty and embarrassed look on her face; Fact 3: She actually is more than just accused, as they said she “was caught in the very act of committing adultery”; Fact 4: In the law, Moses plainly states that they were to stone such women; Fact 5: In their presentation, it was a clear cut decision of guilty; Fact 6: This woman had no representation on her behalf, just a mob of people labeling her as an adulteress and expecting a quick guilty verdict (although the scripture doesn’t tell us this, they probably already had the stones in their hands; in fact, in any movie representation of this scene, the men do have stones in their hands ready to throw as soon as they hear a guilty verdict); Fact 7: If she was caught in the act, then they would know who the man was as well, but he wasn’t there being accused, and they don’t mention Moses saying anything about what to do with the man. But in the Old Testament, the book of Leviticus, 20:10- it says, “If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall be put to death.”/ In this passage it doesn’t say anything about stoning to death, but in Deuteronomy 22:13-24 it does state that they are to be brought outside the city gates and “you shall stone them to death ...”
b. The verdict- And so now it has been given to Jesus to make a decision;
to declare a verdict. Again, picture this in your mind. Jesus is put on the spot. A clear cut decision, right? The woman has been caught in the act of adultery. A mob is all about, stones in hand, ready to stone her to death; ready to follow the letter of the law./But the scripture tells us that the religious leaders were not really so concerned with the right and wrong of the law; they weren’t really concerned with stoning her, as much as they wanted to TRICK JESUS. They wanted to discredit Jesus.
Theologian William Barclay, in his commentary of John has this to say: “The dilemma for Jesus was this. If he said that the woman ought to be stoned to death, two things followed. First, he would lose the name he had gained for love and for mercy. Jesus talked about love, and mercy, and forgiveness. But to condemn her to death would indeed discredit his teaching. Second, he would come into collision with the Roman law, for the Jews had no power to pass or carry out the death sentence on anyone. On the other side, if he pardoned her, it could be immediately said that he was teaching the people to break the law of Moses, and that he was condoning and even encouraging people to commit adultery.” (Barclay, Commentary on John, Vol. 2, p. 2)
The religious leaders thought they had set a great trap for Jesus. They thought that they could finally show him to be the fraud they believed him to be. They thought they might embarrass Jesus in front of His followers and cause Him to lose some status. They hoped that this would be the nail in the coffin that would cause the people to turn away from him (because they believed him to be a false prophet). So Jesus knows that He has to speak; he has to give a verdict. He also knows He is being tested by the religious leaders. So what does he do? He stoops down and starts to write in the dirt. There could be 3 possible reasons why he did this:
1. To buy Himself more time; 2. To make the religious leaders repeat their
charge, so that, in repeating their charge they might see the sadistic cruelty they were proposing; 3. The third reason is the most intriguing, and that is that he began to write the sins of each man there./ Then Jesus stands up, and gives the verdict in verse 7: “Let anyone among you who is with-out sin be the first to throw a stone at her. And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground.”
II. A Woman Forgiven- (John 8:7-11)
a. The response of the crowd- Jesus is in essence saying, I forgive her,
but if you do not, then stone her. But let the one who is without sin, be the first to stone her./ It is thought that at this moment, it was the oldest, and wisest who dropped their stones first, and began to walk away. Or maybe, it was those who were closest to Jesus, who could see their sin being written, that dropped their stones first. But once they started to drop their stones, the rest followed.
And actually, the word that Jesus used for sin was the Greek word “anamartetos,” which means without a sinful desire. The one who doesn’t even have a sinful desire, let him throw his stone! The elders who dropped their stones first knew that no one is without a sinful desire. So even if they had sinned in ways that were not visible, they all knew that they couldn’t contend that they didn’t have sinful desires.
Here they had gone from a raucous mob, to a quiet retrieval. They were all so gung-ho to stone this woman. They were all so excited about having caught her in her sin. They were so willing to bring shame on this woman. They cared not about what this public label would do to her. All they thought about was shaming her, and shaming Jesus. They thought they cared about right and wrong, but they did not!
b. Jesus and the woman- So Jesus and the woman are left alone. I’m not
sure that this was much better for the woman, in that she was left alone with a Rabbi, even more, the Son of God. Her sin had been exposed. There was no doubting this. Her shame had become public. She had let herself down, let her family down, and let God down. And now she thought she had to be confronted by Jesus.
Jesus stands up and looks her in the eye. Did she look Him in the eyes?
Probably not at first. But if you know anything about Jesus, you know that He is love. He proved it here. And as He stood there, I’m sure she had to be compelled to look at Him. And as He started to speak, He could have asked “Why did you do this?” Or He could have said many convicting and judgmental things. But He didn’t!! He said to her, in verse 10- “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, sir.” And Jesus said: “Neither do I condemn you.”
Let’s take this apart a little bit. Jesus chooses not to even venture into the why of her sin. He doesn’t even attempt to talk to her about right and wrong. In doing this, Jesus gave us an important understanding that the mechanical and rigorous administration of laws, even though they are important, are not the best way of dealing with sinners as persons. Especially when we understand that the administrators of these laws do not have perfectly clean hands themselves.
But even though He doesn’t condemn her, He does challenge her. In verse 11 He says: “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.” Forgiveness, with a challenge. I do not condemn you, but I do not condone sin./ Now, do you think He really expected her to not sin anymore? And if not, what is He saying? Really, what Jesus is doing here is telling the woman that she has a second chance, and in this second chance she is to go and seek to live rightly.
III. Caring or Condemning?- (John 9:1-3; Matthew 7:1-2)
a. Jumping to conclusion- We can see this same kind of thinking
happening in the gospel of John, chapter 9. As Jesus and the disciples are walking along, they come across a blind man. In verse 2 the disciples ask Jesus: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”/ Do you see how quickly they jump to judgment and condemnation?/ Do you see them labeling his parents and/or the blind man as a sinner? When we jump quickly to judgment and condemnation, we fail to take into account that first, we are all creatures of God, created in His image. And second, we are all sinners.
How could they be so harsh? How could they be so insensitive? The man was blind, not deaf, and yet they are discussing his condition right there in front of him. The answer is this, it’s easier to talk about a person than it is to help a person. It is easier to debate homelessness than to be a friend to someone who is homeless. It’s easier to discuss divorce than it is to help the divorced. It’s easier to argue about abortion than it is to support an orphanage. It’s easier to complain about the welfare system than it is to help the poor. It’s easier to label and condemn than it is to love!
Now this doesn’t mean that religious talk is wrong. This doesn’t mean that we should be lax to teach and seek to live out holiness. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t have standards and expect people to live up to these standards. But when we label and condemn before we know anything about a person, about their life, about their struggles, it is wrong. How do you like it when others label you?
Don’t people often do this without being explicit about it? It is usually subtle.
They are talking to someone, and they say: “So, you’re unemployed?” But behind their words they are thinking, “this person must be lazy and not want to work.”
Or how about this one: “So, you’re a Democrat?” And in their thinking they are labeling them as someone who is extremely liberal.
b. The stones of today- The stones of the religious leaders represented
their willingness to condemn./ And so we need to ask ourselves, what are the stones of today? What are our stones of condemnation? Do we look around our community, and see people different than ourselves, and judge and condemn them for being different?/ By doing this we fail to see them as people who are created in the image of God.
It is amazing how many times I have gotten into conversations with people, and during the course of the conversation they ask me what I do. And then I tell them that I am a minister. And many times their response is: “Oh, I see.” And then they get quiet. Why? Because maybe they think I will judge them. But I want to say to them, “NO, you don’t see.” I am not only a minister. I am Chris, who ministers.” Don’t put me in that box. Don’t label me. Don’t condemn me to being one who condemns!
And if I want to say this to them, then wouldn’t others want to say it to me when I judge, and label, and condemn? It is so easy to condemn; to be self-righteous. But this is exactly what Jesus spoke against in regards to the religious leaders. And Jesus taught on this a lot as well: Matthew 7:1-2, “Don’t judge other people, or you will be judged. You will be judged in the same way you judge others, and the amount you give to others will be given to you.”
Going back to the blind man, Jesus answers the disciples question in verse 3, saying: “(he was born blind) So God’s power could be shown in him.”/ WHAT A PERSPECTIVE! The man was a miracle waiting to happen. Had Jesus been willing to label and condemn him like the disciples, this miracle wouldn’t have happened. And if we are so willing to judge and condemn, then we will miss the many opportunities that God gives to us to make a monumental impact in the life of another!
Conclusion: The woman caught in adultery got a second chance. The blind man healed by Jesus got a second chance. The forgiveness shown to you and to me gives us a second chance. And yet so often we fail to give those around us second chances. I want you to think for a moment of a person or two of which you have judged (and maybe are even still judging). How can you drop your stone and show them some love? How can you show them forgiveness? I hope you have been challenged this morning to look at others with the eyes of God. I hope you will find ways this week to share this good news of God’s love and forgiveness with others./ As Jesus says: “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.” Amen.