Friday, January 25, 2013
When we choose to remain blind to the truth, the truth we will never see. In our last account of the sermon of Christ to those in the treasury of the temple, Jesus had revealed Himself as the origin of light. Those who submit their lives to His light will be made able to see. But those who shut their eyes, or turn away from the Light, will find only darkness. It is hard to find truth in the dark. So it was that the Pharisees who had chosen to reject Christ as the Messiah, and discard the witness to His divinity, had chosen to walk away from the Light, and away from the truth. The scriptures themselves are not the source of Light, they are a vehicle to reveal God, who alone is the source of Light and Truth. The Pharisees had put their trust in their own wisdom, and in their own ideas about the interpretation of scripture. But instead of leading them to the true Messiah, they used scriptural interpretation to vaunt up pride, and boost self-sufficiency. They did not see their need. But Christ did. He knew the painful consequences they would face, from choosing to remain in darkness while opportunity was right in front of them, still offering them a way to the Light.
And so in verse 21 of John’s gospel account in chapter eight, Jesus warns His prideful accusers … “Then said Jesus again unto them, I go my way, and ye shall seek me, and shall die in your sins: whither I go, ye cannot come.” Christ would be returning the side of His Father, God. The perfection of Christ would allow Him to return into the perfection of the source of all love, without regret, or fear, or the revealing of evil within Himself. The Pharisees who were present would be unable to do this. Not simply because they were mortal and would sleep until a final resurrection, but because even when returned to life, the evil within them would still be in control of “who” they were. They would die in their sins. Seeking after another Messiah who would not come, as only one would ever exist; the Pharisees looked in the mirror for truth and salvation and would never find it there. Only by looking to the light would they finally see. Only by putting their own ideas of wisdom and scriptural interpretation on the altar of humility, would they finally allow themselves to embrace the truth of the Messiah, and the vehicle to their salvation. As we follow Christ, we are changed by Him. We are made pure, we do not simply evolve that way. Nor do we find perfection by the strength of our will, our knowledge, or our beliefs and intentions. We find perfection or the complete removal of evil from within us, by submission to Christ, and in no other way.
The Pharisees though, missed the warning of remaining in sin, because they had rejected the only source that could externally change them, and remove the sin from them. Again they focused on the idea that Christ would somehow elude them to a place they could not follow. A perplexing concept. And so in verse 22 they ponder to each other … “Then said the Jews, Will he kill himself? because he saith, Whither I go, ye cannot come.” The only place Christ could conceivably escape them was in the grave, for that was the one place none of them would dare to venture to find Him. Perhaps even more perplexing was the idea that they would want to find Him at all. At present, they would have been all too happy to be rid of Him completely. If Christ had decided to move to China, they would have been happy to pack His bags and send Him on His way.
But Christ was not done focusing on origins, in verse 23 He answers … “And he said unto them, Ye are from beneath; I am from above: ye are of this world; I am not of this world. [verse 24] I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins.” First, in the history of mankind, not a single soul has ever reached perfection through their own strength. The mechanism for salvation has always, and will always be, a full submission to God. This was a secret Enoch had discovered. To be human, is to be born into a condition our first parents embraced for us, a native propensity to serve self, the very nature of evil itself. It is naturally a part of who we are. Therefore, salvation must come from outside of ourselves. Perfection must come from a source not within us, but external to us. We must be made perfect; we will not achieve it any other way. Christ states to His errant religious leaders, that only a belief in Him, and His longing to save them, will ever see them saved from themselves. This is not a threat. This is not a punishment. This is a statement of fact, and an offer of love. Even now, He longs to see them saved. Even now, the very ones intent on killing Him, are the ones He is reaching out to. He is warning them of the natural results of the choices they are making. But His warning is not full of condemnation, and absent all hope, it is still a chance to change, a chance to turn away from self, and turn towards the source of all salvation.
The offer of Christ to the Pharisees, and the warning of us dying in our sins, is no less relevant today. It is NOT the wish of Christ or His Father that any of us should perish. But He cannot compel us to choose Him, or to choose to love. He can offer to remake us, but we must accept that offer if we are to see ourselves remade. Our belief in the truth of the written word is NOT enough to save us, any more than it was for the Pharisees who stood before Him still attempting to accuse Him and using the Word to do it. The scriptures were no less true then, than they are now. But their minds were clouded by their pride and their arrogance in their interpretations of the written word. And they chose to reject Christ, while still clinging to the written word that pointed unmistakably right at Christ. We are at no less risk. There is a reason why there are hundreds of different Christian denominations and interpretations of the same written words. It is because we have allowed ourselves to believe only our own ideas of the Bible are the right ones, to the exclusion of all others. We build walls between ourselves based on the differences we see in the same written words. And so in the process, we forget, that ALL the words point us back to Christ, not deeper into the book. Christ is the central point of scripture, not just more scripture. And for both the Pharisees and us, we must let go our ideas of truth, and find truth were it lives, above us, from the source of truth, Christ alone. Only then can the written words reveal the truth, and what we will find in them is only more about Christ.
In verse 25 the Pharisees challenge Jesus to ask “who” does He think He is, as they say … “Then said they unto him, Who art thou? …” What makes you think you can do for us, what you point out, that we have been unable to do for ourselves? Verse 25 continues … “… And Jesus saith unto them, Even the same that I said unto you from the beginning. [verse 26] I have many things to say and to judge of you: but he that sent me is true; and I speak to the world those things which I have heard of him.” Here Christ reminds them, that He has not changed His position on “who” he is. He is the same Messiah He has always been. But far more important than that, He is speaking the truth to those who are listening, the same truth He learned from the side of His Father who is from above. Here again, Christ is revealing the mind and will and motives of His Father, the God of the universe. He is revealing to those who will listen, the precious truth of salvation, the precious origin and offer of redemption. All they need do is believe; all we need do, is the same. Believe in Christ, and not in ourselves; believe in His ability and desire to remake us, and not in our own strength or abilities. Here again is the united vision of the Godhead to save us from ourselves.
But John notes in verse 27, as it was evident to him, that the Pharisees had no idea Christ was talking about His Father God. They refused to accept this idea, so to them they must have assumed, Christ had learned His ideas of truth from the side of His earthly father, who was obviously not present. So to insure they do not keep with this misconception Christ makes a prophecy regarding His near future, in verse 28 He continues … “Then said Jesus unto them, When ye have lifted up the Son of man, then shall ye know that I am he, and that I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things. [verse 29] And he that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him.” Christ predicts for all to hear, that soon He will be crucified. The term “lifted up” had that special significance. What is more, the precious truths of redemption that flow from Him are in perfect concert with the will of the Father. Christ is not alone, His Father is with Him, and His Father delights in the actions Christ takes.
Think of it. The healings Christ has done, even the one on Sabbath that caused such disdain among the leaders, was an action that “pleased” God the Father. The redemption of Mary Magdalene caught in the very act of adultery, but spared, and freed from the bondage of sin was an act that “pleased” the Father. The feeding of the hungry, the provisions made at the wedding feast in Cana, the selection of the disciples, even of Judas himself, were all actions that “pleased” the Father. It is not the mercy and love of Christ alone in the Godhead; it is shared equally with the Father. Their actions are in harmony. They are one in purpose, and one in love for us. We are not loved by Christ, and merely tolerated by His Father. We are actively loved by God the Father, He may even think of us as His grandbabies (as Christ is our Creator). The actions to redeem us, and bring us home, are not just the work of Christ in isolation, they are the work of God, all three parts. It is both Father AND Son who are pleased at the ideas of saving us from the pain and death that evil brings. The Holy Spirit acts as the mechanism to achieve that transformation as we let Him in. Here in this simple verse of scripture recorded by John, is a revelation of WHO GOD IS. Here is a revelation about the mind and heart of God, both Father and Son. This is the God we serve, the one who delights in our salvation, both physical and spiritual.
The passion of divinity flashed through Him, and His words carry fire into the hearts of His listeners. They have seen His patience with His accusers. Now they see that the love He bears, is shared by His Father, to the point that He would sacrifice Himself to take on their punishment and save them eternally from the pain of evil. These are words such as they have never heard. This is hope. This is a reason to live. This is something more than they have ever been offered by any man, as man could not make this offer. Only God could. And so in verse 30 John records the response of the great many who were in attendance … “As he spake these words, many believed on him.” His sermon was now bearing immediate fruit. His passion, His love, His consistent reach to save, had persuaded them. And salvation was to be had, right there, and right then. It was not a future promise His listeners were to cash in, it was a promise in the here and now. They would leave that place changed by an encounter with God. A personal encounter as if He spoke only to them. This is a hallmark of truth. Truth has an effect.
Now Jesus, as He ALWAYS does, acknowledges and accepts those who have only seconds ago, decided to believe in Him. He says in verse 31 … “Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed;” We do not have to follow Christ in person, then or now to be considered His disciples. It is enough that we allow Him to save us just where we are, and in the condition we are in. Our transformation starts as soon as we let it. No need to wait. No need to be home in heaven to get started changing, we start right here and right now. We simply follow His words. We simple hear Him, and let Him transform us. We come to Christ FIRST, it is only then that our transformation into His true disciples can begin. The Pharisees had an extensive knowledge of the word, but lacked Christ, so their knowledge did not transform them, or illuminate their vision of truth. Had they come to Christ, their knowledge would have been deepened and they would have seen truth more clearly. It is after we come to Christ, that the words He would then utter become relevant to us.
Christ then says in verse 32 … “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” Christ is the truth. Not the Old Testament, or the New Testament, or the Law given on Mt Sinai, or the great Revelation enumerated by John and expounded on by the Prophets – ONLY Christ is “the” Truth. Through Christ, can all those scriptures finally be understood properly, without Him they are sounding brass, and tinkling cymbals. For it is only Christ that can “make us” free. The Law and the Prophets do NOT make us free. The Bible does not “make us” free from sin, or our slavery to serve self. The written word does not have the power to transform, only to reveal us for who we really are. But Christ, the origin of truth, the shared source of truth with His Father God, CAN actually MAKE US free. It is a work only He can do, and only as we let Him. It was not the interpretation of the Pharisees of the written words that would liberate them from their pride, but it could be Christ if they let Him. It will not be our doctrinal differences that define our denominations that will “make us” any more free than were those Pharisees in the days of Christ. It is Christ alone that can “make us” free. Our freedom is not some sort of hidden discovery, or achievable work ethic, or something we can earn for ourselves. It is something that happens TO us, that is done BY Christ, FOR us. We are “made” free, and find freedom from sin in no other way. This is the central tenant of the gospel and the entire point of the Bible. This is the definition of our Salvation, and first truth Christ reveals to His new followers.
Come to Christ, find truth in Him, and be made free. But the freedom Christ was offering from slavery to self was not something his accusers would choose to comprehend. They interpreted His words to be related to physical slavery of the poor to the rich, or the weak to the powerful. Since they were not bound to the superstitions of the idolatrous nations around them, and wealthy enough never to have tasted the servitude of debtors, or even the enslavement of Rome itself; they looked to their heritage as a mark of their freedom. They responded in verse 33 … “They answered him, We be Abraham's seed, and were never in bondage to any man: how sayest thou, Ye shall be made free?” Their pride was revealed again. They took their ancestry as a sign of their spiritual prowess, and their apparent lack of bondage to other men at the moment, as plain reasons they did not need to be “made” free. How dangerously like us. We look to our “Christianity” and our study of the word, and decide we are better than those around us, and do not need to “made” free from anything including our sin. We will simply stop sinning, when we choose to, or when we get around to it, or at some distant point in our future after we have had a little fun.
But Christ was not talking about being bound to another man, or governmental power, He was talking about our slavery to sin. So in verse 34 He answers … “Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin.” There it is in a nutshell. The nature of evil is addiction we are unable to control. When once embraced, evil takes us over, and we are NOT free to remove it from ourselves. Adam and Eve created in perfection were unable to rid themselves of it. Lucifer who spent eons in the perfection of eternity was unable to rid himself from it, when once he chose to forsake the wisdom of God, and trust instead to himself. Evil is degenerative. Evil is addictive. Evil removes control from self, and makes self the only God worth serving. It results in an empty meaningless existence that offers nothing but pain, and death. Only death can stop the degeneration, unless redemption halts the process. To commit sin, is evidence, that control is ALREADY gone. This is why Truth must “make us” free.
Christ continued in verse 35 … “And the servant abideth not in the house for ever: but the Son abideth ever. [verse 36] If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.” Here Christ makes an analogy their culture could understand. A slave or servant was not the same kind of family member or friend as the Son was. Servants were not always welcome in the home. But family was. Here is Christ saying, let me free you from your servitude to sin. Let me make you over again, and remove from you, what you cannot remove from yourself. When the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed. We do not trade the slavery to self, for slavery to Christ. When once the slavery of evil is removed, we are then free to love others. To love others is our choice, not our requirement, it becomes natural to us, instead of foreign to us. We become in harmony with the law of God, instead of constantly rebelling against it. Our choice to love, literally liberates us from the need for laws of restriction. Our freedom to do rightly, and to love fully, make us fit citizens of a perfect culture and government where the need for laws regarding limits to the service of self, are simply a thing of the past. Evil requires restriction, love does not. It is this kind of freedom ONLY the Son can offer us.
Christ is the origin of truth. He is the origin of Light. In His Light we can finally see His Truth. When we see, and we embrace, we find He is next the origin of even something more …
Friday, January 18, 2013
As the trap to kill Christ for His refusal to condemn Mary Magdalene caught in adultery before the people had failed; the conspirators had left, but the crowd remained. It was the perfect opportunity for Jesus to continue speaking to this crowd of witnesses, about the origin of things that would change their lives. John’s gospel account continues in chapter eight and verse 12 saying … “Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.” If this had been all that Jesus had said to His listeners it may have been enough. For His central point had been revealed, most of what would follow was a response to the Pharisees who remained in the crowd and had kept silent during the failed attempt to trap Christ with His love for redeeming Mary over following their ideas of the law’s requirements.
Jesus had told His listeners, “I am the light of the world”. The origin of light, the thing that drives darkness away, the focal point upon which we focus and find only light, life and truth is in fact Jesus Christ. Notice that Christ did not hold up the scripture and say “these documents” are the light of the world. Nor did Christ hold up the laws of Moses, or the Ten Commandments, and offer them as the light of the world. It is not because those documents are any less “true”. It is not because they had lost their relevancy. It was because ALL of them were testimonies of “who” was to come, of “who” was to fulfill them, of “who” was to meet the hopes and dreams of everyone contained in them from Adam to the people sitting in the Temple on this day. All of scripture pointed to a “who”, and that WHO was Jesus Christ. It is NOT to be your understanding of scripture that will be the source of the light you encounter. It IS to be your understanding of Jesus Christ that will determine the light you find in your life. The Bible is a supporting document for the truth of Jesus Christ, not the other way around.
If we are to find light, so that we can “see”, we must follow not after our own understanding and our own wisdom, or scientifically proven conceptual ideas, but instead we must follow after Jesus Christ. ONLY through the illumination of Jesus Christ, can the scriptures be understood. ONLY through the prism of His light, through the lens of perfect love, can the words recorded and ideas presented in the written word begin to make perfect sense. Trying to read the Bible without first “following” Jesus Christ and submitting our wisdom to His, is like trying to read a book in the dark. The eyes cannot see, and the brain cannot interpret. In point of fact, the God of the Bible, is more important than the testimony of the Bible. This was never more poignantly true, than when that testimony has been misconstrued and misunderstood. The Pharisees present in this crowd had misapplied the scriptures to keep power and wealth reserved to themselves. In so doing they had abandoned love, and the God of love, who now stood before them, offering to re-open their eyes from the darkness they chose to wallow in.
From the Pharisees point of view, nothing was more important than the law Moses had brought down from Mt. Sinai. This was the basis of study they had spent their lives engaged in. Scripture had been long debated among them, though some ideas were not universal. Some of their number believed in the literal resurrection at the end of days, while others believed when you died you slept forever, never to exist again. These kinds of divisions over understanding are common, even today, when the most important premise of love is not sought first. In any case, Christ, by all indications, valued love over the law. So from their point of view, He could not be source of light, because He was in conflict with the “light” they believed they already knew. In verse 13 they challenge Him saying … “The Pharisees therefore said unto him, Thou bearest record of thyself; thy record is not true.” First, they point out to the listening crowd that the religious leadership of the organized church of the day, has NOT sanctioned what Christ is saying about Himself. And then they further state, that “what” Christ is saying about Himself is not the truth.
In verse 14 Jesus responds … “Jesus answered and said unto them, Though I bear record of myself, yet my record is true: for I know whence I came, and whither I go; but ye cannot tell whence I come, and whither I go.” In effect the Pharisees were blinded because they sought to use scripture to accomplish an end, and did not love first. In looking away from Christ as the Messiah, they looked away from both Christ and His Father. So to know the perfect love that existed in heaven and was the foundation of scripture was not something they were going to perceive. Jesus continued in verse 15 … “Ye judge after the flesh; I judge no man. [verse 16] And yet if I judge, my judgment is true: for I am not alone, but I and the Father that sent me.” First of all Jesus says to them, that they evaluate life based on what it looks like to them. How things appear to the Pharisees is how they are, including all their predispositions and prejudices, not unlike us. Second Christ says to them, that His role and His mission is NOT about judgment. It is about redemption. But thirdly, if He were to judge, His judgments would be true, not because He is alone, but because He is ever in concert with His Father in ALL things. This means that Father and Son work together for our redemption, and that our redemption was the primary goal of both of them, not just of Christ. It also means that if we are to be evaluated by God, we will be evaluated by both Christ and His Father, not just the one or the other. Those today who believe God can be found outside of Christ are ignoring that Christ is also God. There is no path to God, outside of God. This was a concept the Pharisees would refuse to believe or accept.
Jesus now turns the tables on His accusers and quotes their laws back to them beginning in verse 17 … “It is also written in your law, that the testimony of two men is true. [verse 18] I am one that bear witness of myself, and the Father that sent me beareth witness of me.” Jesus offered Himself as one witness to the truth of what He said. So far, they had never caught Him in a lie, nor would they. Nothing He had ever said could be disproven, or even factually disputed using the scriptures as a basis. Christ disagreed with their interpretation of scripture, but they did this among themselves for centuries. As His second witness, Jesus offers His Father, as evidenced in the miracles He performed, that would have been impossible without Divine blessing. After all, none of them had fed 5,000 men plus women and children. None of them had ever restored a crippled man completely to full health and vigor before. None of them had turned water to wine. These deeds bore the witness of the Divine. None of these deeds had been done to enrich Christ, or make Christ more wealthy or powerful. All had been done as gifts to those who received them. The facts were in evidence.
So the prosecutor decides to ignore the facts that were common knowledge and demand a personal appearance answering in the start of verse 19 … “Then said they unto him, Where is thy Father? …” If Jesus was going to claim to be the Messiah sent of God the Father, let Him produce God the Father in person as a witness. They did not see Him in the crowd that day. Nor would they. Had God the Father appeared in that instance to testify of His son (as He did in the form of a dove descending on the head of Jesus at His baptism, and stating in a plain voice from heaven about how loved His Son truly was); the Pharisees would have still refused to believe. They did not believe it the first time. This is the same cry for “proof” that Atheists demand today, that even if answered would never be enough. The Pharisees of His day would have claimed it was Satan that appeared masquerading as God. The Atheists of our day would claim it was some sort of mass hysteria or mass hallucination or CGI trickery if merely seen on TV. When one refuses to believe, no amount of “proof” will ever shake them from their refusal.
Jesus offers his response picking back up in mid verse 19 … “Jesus answered, Ye neither know me, nor my Father: if ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also.” This was more than a statement about the parentage of Christ. This was a statement about where their lifelong study of scripture had led them to the wrong conclusions because their motives and premise were not the right ones. If they had understood the love of the Father as revealed throughout the Old Testament, they would have seen this love reflected in the person of Jesus Christ. Every story of redemption throughout the Old Testament showed that when man recognized and admitted that he could not save Himself, God intervened and saved Him. Every story that chronicled man’s attempts at saving himself, ended badly, or worse ended violently. When man attempts to get involved with his own salvation the results are horrific. But when man allows God to handle it, the outcome is assured. This lesson was lost on the Pharisees. They saw only their own importance. And so those who should have been most alert to the Messiah, and should have been the first to recognize Him and follow Him, looked away from the source of light, preferring to wander in darkness. They did not know God the Father, so they did not recognize God in the person of Jesus Christ. All their accumulated study and knowledge did nothing to alert them to the light that stood before them now. Power was more important to them. Humility was absent from them. And missing the light of the world was the result.
John footnotes his story at this point, noting that Christ was teaching in the treasury, to those who were there. The leaders were none too happy with Him, and would have killed Him on the spot, but the divinely appointed hour was not yet come. So they left Him alone. But His sermon was not yet over …
Friday, January 11, 2013
How interesting that religious zealotry is NOT limited only to “false” religions. The Pharisees were the upper echelon of the Jewish faith established by the true God (in fact by Christ) since their patriarch Abraham sought God nearly 1600 years earlier. Christ was the God of Abraham, of Isaac, of Jacob, of Joseph, of Moses, of Joshua, of Samson, of Ruth, of David, of Solomon, of Isaiah, of Daniel, of Ester, of Nehemiah … and now He stood among them, the long awaited Messiah who every patriarch of the Jewish faith had so hoped to see in their lifetimes. The Pharisees were not following some ancient myth or superstition; they were basing their religion on the written word of God, found in carefully preserved scrolls of the accounts of each of these biblical heroes that comprised the Old Testament as we know it. While Abraham may have also fathered many other nations who too sought to follow the true God in their own way, through the lineage of Jacob alone, would come the Messiah. They had a rich heritage and the words of truth. The Pharisees SHOULD have had a religion based in the love of God the Father, whose entire purpose was to redeem his lost and fallen children and bring them home again. But the truth contained in accurate scriptures is not enough to change the heart, if power over others is prized over service and love to others.
When power is prized and valued over love, religion can degenerate to a point, where the entire basis of longing for a Messiah decides to spend its entire energy looking for a way to kill the Messiah instead. Power and control lead to murder. Love leads to sacrifice. This contrast was never so brilliantly revealed than in the interaction between the ordained religious leaders of the day, and the head of their religion, the God they were supposed to be worshipping. The rich and powerful corrupted hearts who claimed only the pretense of religion now sought to kill the founder of their own religion; simply because they had missed the point of loving others. They embraced the laws of Moses, and were now trying to use those very laws to kill the innocence of Christ, in order to quell the message of love itself. For you see, love is more powerful than justice. Love is more powerful than evil itself. And the only response evil is left with when confronting a love it does not understand and cannot overcome, is to kill it. It is why when the end of all things is upon the resurrected wicked; they are brought to their knees when confronted by the overwhelming love of Christ to confess He is Lord. But they rise from their knees only to cry again “kill Him”. So well before the last great day, the Pharisees conspire to use scripture to justify the murder of the opposition, the murder of love.
But John opens his story in chapter eight and verse one, with a brief note … “Jesus went unto the mount of Olives. [verse 2] And early in the morning he came again into the temple, and all the people came unto him; and he sat down, and taught them.” From John’s account we see that it must have been at night that Jesus went to the mount of Olives, likely to pray. It seems this must have been a favorite spot for Him, as there are other references to Him going to this spot. Perhaps it was to be alone. Perhaps it was like Moses to be closer to God in a higher elevation like on Mt. Sinai. But I wonder when Christ ever took rest, if He prayed at night, and taught during the day? In any case, we find it is early in the morning when He again travels to the temple to begin teaching. Also interesting that despite the religious leader’s rejection of Him, Christ does not reject them. He continues to teach in the temple, where the words of truth are supposed to be taught. Also interesting, that the people, a great many of them, come to hear Him teach there. So the stage is set. Christ is in a public place. He is sitting, teaching a great crowd of listeners that will serve as witnesses to the plans and trap of the Pharisees. Time to spring the trap.
Verse 3 begins … “And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst, …” Notice this was not an angry wife who caught her husband cheating. It was not an angry mob of common folk who were tired of having a slut, prostitute, or just a cheater in their midst and decided to take matters into their own hands. It was Scribes and Pharisees who brought this woman before Christ, and seated her in front of the crowd for all to see. Having been caught in the literal act of adultery she may not have been fully dressed. At a minimum she would have been wholly unprepared to face the public. She would have been embarrassed, ashamed, humiliated. She would have looked the part of a guilty person. One wonders, how the Pharisees knew exactly the right moment to collect her in such a state? One wonders, since adulterers generally seek secrecy to keep their deeds out of the limelight in general – how did the Pharisees and scribes know where to find her, when to find her, and why her male accomplice seems to have totally eluded this story. Perhaps he picked the place and time, and was a part of this conspiracy. We may never know. What is clear, was that this pretense to murder was now in motion, and so far, their plans were running on course.
Verse 4 continues … “They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. [verse 5] Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou? [verse 6] This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him …” So much revealed is so few verses. First, though they hate Him, they call Him “Master” in order to show fainted respect to Him in front of the crowd. Second they show her in her disheveled state in order that any question of guilt on her part is erased in the minds of the people there. Notice again her male accomplice is absent. Then they reveal the core contrast of their corrupted hearts; they quote the law of Moses in the ears of the people that is very “clear” on what the penalty of adultery is. Now in point of fact, Christ might have debated them on their ideas of clarity. First, as it was then, and as it is now, the penalties for breaking the law are reserved for those WITHOUT repentance. Adultery is not beyond repentance even within the Jewish religion prior to Christ arriving. It, like any other sin, requires bringing an offering to the temple, and the symbolism of blood shed points to the future method of what must be done to pay for our sins. Mary had only to repent and make an offering, and the LAW of Moses would have been satisfied. Only if Mary had refused to repent, and chosen to abandon redemption forever, would she finally meet the results of her choices. Just like us. Only if we choose to refuse to be remade, refuse to learn to love, refuse to submit to God, and trust Him, not in ourselves, will we finally meet the end of our chosen path. But no single sin, or even repeated sin, is able to separate us from the love of God, or from His desire to still redeem us from the lives we have chosen.
The Scribes and Pharisees were counting on the love of Christ to be His undoing. This was perhaps the most insidious part of their plan to trap Him. They knew He loved more than He judged. They knew He could not resist the desire to redeem no matter what the guilt or sin of the person cast in front of Him. They knew He would not choose to follow their ideas of the law of Moses and they were counting on it. They were counting on Him to publicly disobey Moses in front of the people, for the sake of love and redemption. It was the basis of the trap itself. They needed Him to disobey the law in favor of love so that they would have the pretense they needed to kill Him as well. They could care less about Mary. What is one more loose, or abused women, willing to offer sex in the scheme of things. They could always find another one of those. But to use one, to trap Christ, and get Him to demonstrate that love is more important to Him than the law of Moses in front of the people, would be priceless to them. In this they reveal the full Satanic influence over their now fully submitted minds to the devils ideas. Evil was counting on a display of love, in order to justify the killing of the author of love. And evil was gleeful to use religion as the reason behind it all.
A wise human leader, who sees the trap laid out before them, might decide that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or of the one. A wise human leader, might decide that Mary has earned the fate that is coming to her, whether she was trapped into this or not. She had a choice. She could have claimed rape, or rejected the offers of her male accomplice, or run away. She could have moved. She could have done many things to avoid being here at the feet of Christ awaiting the death for her sins that she deserved. For the fate of all evil leads to death. It was death that was now what the Pharisees hoped for, not the death of Mary, but the death of Christ. If Mary had to die too, so what? A wise human leader could have simply let Mary get stoned to death, and try to use this as a lesson to the crowd that evil does indeed lead to death. The Pharisees plan would have been thwarted. They would have had nothing left to say. In fact, a wise human leader, could have asked that her male counterpart be brought there too, in order to face judgment. Having produced him, he might have offered a different take on why Mary was there. A wise human leader, might have found a way out of this trap, that at the worst cost two guilty people their lives. So be it.
But wisdom was not the primary lesson to be taught that day, nor was justice, nor was a debate over the law. The real lesson, was to be the value God holds, over each life, no matter how low it has fallen, how far it has gone, or how guilty it truly is. Verse 6 continues … “But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not.” I wish John would have read the words written on the ground and reported them here. Perhaps he did read them and chose not to reveal what they said. If I were to offer a guess, I would bet he wrote the names of those in this very accusatory crowd who had been with Mary in the past, and the reasons they “knew” they could catch her at it. But John does not reveal what Christ wrote. The trap could not be sprung without a verbal response from Christ, and writing was not going to get the job done, so they kept pressing Him on it. Verse 7 reads … “So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her. [verse 8] And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground.”
The perfect response. He turns their trap back on themselves. If they now cast a stone at her, they are publicly saying that they are without sin. Since they have been seen making the traditional sacrifices at the temple themselves, this would be a public lie on their part. Christ has used the law, to defend the law. And in so doing, He has subtly pointed out the purpose of the law was to point out our need of redemption, and the love that authored it in the first place. He reminds them publicly that there was always a method of forgiveness within the law itself. And that none of us are perfect. More interesting to me, is His continued preoccupation with writing in the sand on the ground. For He returns to writing as soon as He has given His response. Again I have to believe that what He was writing was a message to her accusers that reached into the core of who they were and revealed the contrast of perfect love with what they intended to do in the name of religion. Their response was chronicled in verse 9 … “And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.” What Christ said, perhaps what He wrote, had left them staring into the mirror of perfect love. And what they saw, convicted them of their evil intent. Their trap had failed. And they left. Perhaps they followed the order of oldest to youngest, as the older ones in the crowd had lived longer and therefore had sinned longer than the younger ones. Perhaps the younger ones were just more passionate or more stubborn. But in any case, all her accusers left.
Verse 10 continues … “When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee? [verse 11] She said, No man, Lord …” There was now to finish out the matter of law of the Pharisees and Scribes had brought before the crowd still in attendance. In order to be stoned, Mary must have an accuser. She did not. All those who wished a killing had left. Even now, the law was not disputed by Christ, negated by Christ, or ignored by Christ. Christ never said Moses was wrong, or the adultery was not a sin, or that Mary was somehow innocent in her participation in this deed. Her guilt was clear. What was being discussed was the punishment for her crime, and more to the point, the value of her redemption. Her life mattered so much to God, that God would not cast her away, even if she was guilty, even if she did deserve her fate. God loved her too much for that, as He loves you, me, and the world today. He has not cast us aside, or left us to reap what we have sown just yet. Still He longs to save Mary, as He longs to save us. It is Satan who always demands that the justice of the Law of God be met in our demise. It is love that offers us another alternative. It is love that took our punishment, and our sentence unto itself. We are free, not because death is not required, but because He took our death instead.
But then comes the blessing of redemption. Then comes the words of promise and hope. Then comes the most liberating sentiment in all of scripture to date as Christ says to Mary continuing in verse 11 … “And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.” First, though He could have, though we are still guilty, God does NOT condemn us. It is not the guilt that is in question, it is the condemnation for that guilt. We are guilty, no question. But it is NOT our God who condemns us to this fate, it is His enemy Satan who does. It was Satan behind this trap to kill Christ. It was Satan who was all too happy to kill the guilty Mary and trap the love of God. God by contrast, was NOT the one who condemned Mary or us. God, as the entirety of the Bible points out, is interested in our redemption, NOT our punishment. The ideas of Satan, the character of God he tries to paint as a God of vengeance, are really lies, and a self-portrait. God does not want our condemnation, He wants our redemption. This was the point to be made in the story of Mary. This was the larger lesson for the crowd to see and hear and experience. God is a God of redemption. It is the guilty who NEED redemption. It is the guilty who appreciate the gift of life instead of the punishment of death.
Further comes the liberation from evil as Christ lifts the slavery she has been bound to her entire life. He takes from her, her inability to refrain from sinning, and pronounces the life altering blessing on her … “Go, and sin no more”. This is not an edict from a God who does not care about her life or her pain. This is the blessing of a God who has just finished saving her life, and now is adding her freedom from the addiction of sin she suffers from. He is healing her mind, her soul, and making her life renewed in one blessing. He did not just save her, to preserve her in her evil and the pain it causes; instead he is pulling her out of her pain. He is freeing her to be free FROM sin, not free TO sin. This is not an excuse to continue in adultery, or a redefinition of the penalty all sin brings. It is not a “wink” at evil and the consequences and pain evil brings. It is a redefinition of slavery, a removal of it, a renewing of freedom that starts within us as it placed there by Christ. It was not the deeds of Mary, that earned her redemption. It was not the strength of Mary that would enable her to sin no more. It was the blessing of Christ poured out upon her that would yield a change. Mary was not to use His forgiveness as an excuse to keep right on sinning. She was to be blessed with the removal of the slavery to keep right on sinning. Her life was to be different. Her life was to be better. She was not to wait to judgment day to finally be rid of her pain. She was to be rid of it today. Right there and right now, in her humiliation, in front of the still staring crowd amazed at the mercy of Christ. She was to be made free in that condition. She did not have to achieve some state of purity in order to come to God to get freedom. She was brought there by force, in the worst state imaginable, but she walked away free.
This is not just the story of Mary and how she was redeemed. It is the story of how I am redeemed, and how you are redeemed. We are both guilty of sin and choosing to serve self over others. Satan demands that the penalties of the law be implemented immediately upon us both. But Christ steps in and takes our penalty, He offers us His gift of freedom from the addictive controlling power of sin, to remove it from our lives. He offers to remake us, to help us think differently, want differently, and love differently. He teaches us to love like He loves. And in so doing we learn truth. For as we learn of Christ, we find Christ is truth. Scripture did nothing to redeem Mary that day. Christ did everything. It was the improper understanding and use of scripture that would have seen Mary dead. Instead the proper understanding of redemption and love was to redeem Mary instead. You cannot see the love in scripture until after you have been remade by Christ. The unchanged heart, sees only what it wants to see. It uses scripture to prove its point, maintain its power, and keep pure its own ideas at the expense of the lives of others. But this was not the point or intent of scripture. Love was always what was behind it, throughout it, and within it. It was love demonstrated in the actions of Christ that day that redeemed Mary while never breaking the law, ignoring the law, or belittling the law. The law remained as it always will. But what Christ did, was reveal that love redeems, and is greater than anything else in the universe. Love is the basis of the law, not its undoing. Love is reflected in forgiveness. Love is reflected in redemption. Love is reflected in restoration. Christ was the embodiment of these things. He was the embodiment of love itself. For God is love.
Friday, January 4, 2013
When a church must rely on the power of force or compulsion to insure its own preservation, it has lost sight of any truth it may have once known. The God of both Old and New Testaments has never compelled mankind to love and serve Him, for it is impossible to “force” love. Love must always be a choice if it is to be love. Our God of love “chose” to save us, and take on our punishment in order to redeem us. Our God offers us the “choice” of being saved from the pain we inflict on ourselves and others. Our God longs to save us from the fate of death that inevitably accompanies the evil we embrace. But He does not force us to make this choice. He cannot. He can only offer. We are free to accept or reject. It is our freedom to choose hate and death; that makes it a true choice when we pick love and life.
It was this same freedom that allowed Lucifer to break trust with God, and choose to pursue his own wisdom instead of God’s; and evil which had never been known, was born into the universe. Up until that time, Lucifer had chosen to follow God and trust in God as had every other sentient being in the universe. But up to that time the choice was natural and logical. No one had ever put themselves or their own wisdom ahead of God’s. No one had ever challenged love or its motives. No one had ever looked to themselves as a source of wisdom that might match or rival God’s; until Lucifer made that choice. He broke trust with God, and decided to follow self, and the negative spiral that ensued defines the evil that now lies in the hearts of the Pharisees, who lead the church of His day.
But the doctrine of Satan is nothing like the doctrines of God. Where God would offer us a choice to be free from self, Satan would gladly compel us to serve self with an addiction we are unable to break. Satan is uninterested in freedom, but keenly happy to enslave any who even briefly look away from God. The doctrine of Satan is most happy when it is able to compel others to submit to its authority. It is happier still when it can compel truth to be silent, mix it with error, and present it as the “will” of God. The Pharisees had abandoned truth for power, and in so doing were now doing the will of the father of evil. The doctrine that would compel the conscious of others is authored and preserved by Satan himself. When a church adopts compulsion, it adopts with it, Satanic doctrine from which it will be powerless to escape. Power and control have a high allure to unconverted minds that know not what it means to truly love. This was the lot of the Pharisees in the days of Christ, this was the path they had chosen. I wonder, if the Catholic and Protestant churches of today, that claim the name of Christ, would also be willing to completely abandon the power and influence they seek to exert in the halls of governments around the world, opting instead to offer only truth and love to all who have need?
But Jesus was not there to compel, He was there to make an offer of freedom to His listeners. And Christ knew something the people there did not: He would not always be with them. There was a limit to the time He would be permitted to spend with them. His offer to them bore a sense of immediacy. He had a sense of urgency. There was a real need, that required a real solution, and it required it now. To those sent to take Him, Jesus responds in verse 33 … “Then said Jesus unto them, Yet a little while am I with you, and then I go unto him that sent me. [verse 34] Ye shall seek me, and shall not find me: and where I am, thither ye cannot come.” God longs to be with mankind, His creation. Love longs to be with its object. Every precious minute spent with Christ, was one that Christ wanted to spend with us, and one we should have treasured to spend with Him. The life of Christ was not to be one that would last indefinitely with His people. His work required an end to His earthly life, and a return to the Father who sent Him. Once removed physically from our presence, we would be unable to follow Him where He was going.
The offer of Christ was not that we should be saved from evil within us, only at the last great day. It was an offer of salvation that could begin immediately. Our pain does not delay, our cure must not either. Christ had come to meet our need of salvation, and meet it in the here and now. He does not defer His offer until a last great day of judgment. He does not require us to live in the pain of self-service the entirety of our lives, die, and only then be resurrected to finally know the freedom from serving self that His offer truly brings. He offers it here. He offers it now. He offers that a belief in Him is able to meet our most immediate need, it is able to end the pain we inflict on ourselves and others in the here and now. This is why He was so passionate with what time He had left among us. It is why He so longed to free us, because He saw that our need was so great. He knew we would want to simply be with Him, for when we are in the presence of Christ our pain is taken away. He knew that when we seek Him, we find relief when we find Him. And He knew, that soon the punishment justice would require would remove Him from our lives in a physical way.
Only Christ would transcend death, and be reunited to His Father. Only Christ, being God, could be something more than mortal. Christ knew that even when we die, we do not escape our graves, we do not follow Him to heaven. We sleep. If it were otherwise, His words that day may have been different. He may have said, fear not, when you die believing in me you will be instantly reunited with me in heaven just after your death. Instead He says … “where I am, thither ye cannot come”. We are not immortal. We are not transcendent. We do not enter the door of death, only to re-emerge in some other higher state of being. We are dust, and to dust we return. We sleep when we die, knowing nothing. We sleep awaiting the last great day of resurrection, and in that hope, but our consciousness ceases to exist. It is this truth that Christ knows, and His listeners do not. Time for us, is not without limits, at least not yet. We have only the limits of our mortal existence in which to choose to be made free from our pain and sin. We have only now to choose to embrace life, and let go of the path of death that follows trusting to self, instead of to God. Jesus preaches with an urgency, to reach those that are listening. His would-be kidnappers are stopped in their tracks, the urgency with which love calls to them, reaching into the innermost parts of their hearts, causes them to completely lose track of the mission they have been assigned.
But the leaders present at His sermon are not so moved, they are puzzled. Beginning in verse 35 they begin to wonder aloud where Christ might go that they could not find Him. Is He going to teach the Gentiles maybe in some far off land? What on earth could He mean that He is going somewhere they cannot go? This saying makes no sense to them, as once again, they are thinking in physical terms and not in spiritual ones. This is often the case when unconverted minds who trust not in any wisdom outside of their own, attempt to interpret truth. When we decide it is our job to “tell” God what truth is, we rarely get it right. What we do instead, is attempt to “tell” each other what truth is, in no uncertain terms, and use this as a basis to form an organized church. What Christ told His listeners did not make sense to those who were not there to follow, but to lead. Leaders could make no sense of this. They had the means and power and influence to track Christ down, no matter where He tried to run from them. But frankly to be rid of Him, was not an unpleasant idea anyway. It was the concept that having been rid of Him, they would only then want to actually find Him that perplexed them. Why would they want to find Him, after they had won? This idea was troubling.
Time though, was growing short. The Feast was nearly over. People would be returning to their homes, some of them may never have the chance to hear the author of truth and love ever again. And so the urgency increases even more, in verse 37 it states … “In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. [verse 38] He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. [verse 39] (But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.)” Again Jesus quotes the scriptures of His day, again Jesus ratifies that the Old Testament spoke truth despite what misinterpretations the people of His day, or ours, had associated with it. Again Jesus speaks of “living” waters that spring from “within” us. This is the gift He is here to offer and His Holy Spirit will see fulfilled. We are not the source of this blessing, we are the recipient of it. It is something that will be placed within us, not grown there of our own deeds and intentions. We that “believe” on Him will see this transformation take place in our lives. We that “believe” on Him and not ourselves, truth His wisdom and not our own, will see a river, not just a trinkle, but a flowing river of living water flow out of us. For it is His power, His love, and His truth that can flow through us, when we submit ourselves out of His way. When we submit to Christ, we can be a vessel for His Spirit; instead of predisposed to wish credit for His actions, and fame for our part in His service. But because Jesus was not glorified yet, and was still with us personally, His Spirit had not yet been poured out on His followers.
The words of Christ, like seeds on the ground, encountered a variety of responses in the ears of His listeners. There were some who heard and did not fully understand, but they knew His words had the ring of truth to them. Perhaps they could not fully understand them, but they knew them to be true. These would gladly call Him “the prophet”. Others heard the love in Him, others knew that the source of love was in Him like in no other man that had ever been, or would ever be. And so they gladly called Him the Messiah, the Christ, the long awaited hope of Israel. These were even more blessed. But there were some, who though they were convicted He was the Messiah, could not reconcile their own prejudices with what they knew of His background or origin. They perceived Him to be from Galilee and from Nazareth, not from Bethlehem of the house of David. After all, Herod had slaughtered all the male children of Bethlehem about the time which Christ was born, no one had survived to their knowledge, so even based on the scriptures they knew – the perceived the facts could not line up with this Jesus being the Messiah. And verse 43 pens the painful reality of His age, and of ours … “So there was a division among the people because of him.”
How painful it must be to Jesus our Lord, that so many people who claim His name, are so divided from each other “because” of Him? For He is one Lord, so why do we divide ourselves from each other, while all still claiming our method of following the one Lord is the only “one” He would approve of? It was not the Old Testament that was in error in the day of Christ, nor the prophecies of His place of origin that were mistaken, it was the understanding of the people who simply did not know, or refused to accept, the truth of Him. Christ was born in Bethlehem from the lineage of David, as the prophets foretold. It was true. Whether people knew, or chose to believe it, was the only question at issue. There was no “real” need for division over the truth, for the truth was true, and did fit the facts. It was us, in the error. It was again when we applied “our” knowledge of scripture and the facts, that “we” drew a different conclusion and division arose. It is the same today. We look at scripture and attempt to teach, rather than to learn. We apply our “knowledge” of the facts, and draw conclusions different from each other. And we allow these differing conclusions to become so important to us, that we separate ourselves from each other over them. Instead of cherishing the uniting principle and motive of love, that could supersede all other ideas of truth; we allow our pride in our “understanding” of doctrine to keep us from free association with fellow believers so as to keep “pure” our ideas of doctrine, over simple love. The division of His listeners is little different than the division of hundreds of protestant churches who color the landscape of Christianity today.
Verse 44 continues … “And some of them would have taken him; but no man laid hands on him.” Some of the officers sent to take Him, now gave it careful consideration. But all in all, His passion, His love, and His truth touched them deep in their minds and souls. The power of love in the message of truth was so compelling, that men under orders who knew the penalty for failure, decided they could not fulfill their mission. Instead they return empty handed to the eagerly awaiting Pharisees, who expected to judge Christ, condemn Him, and see Him killed in their presence. They were to be disappointed. When the soldiers appeared without Him, the Pharisees demand to know why they did not bring Him? They could have lied. They could have simply told the truth that there were so many there who did believe, it might have caused a riot to attempt to grab Him then. The Pharisees would have believed that answer, and likely been satisfied with it. But instead they told a different truth, the real truth in verse 46 … “The officers answered, Never a man spake like this man.” The power of truth in love had reached the hearts of those sent to take Him. To this the furious Pharisees ask … “are ye also deceived?” They add in verse 48 … “Have any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed on him?” This they offered as “proof” He was not the Messiah. Since none of the church leaders of the day had endorsed Him, He could not be the one. As if truth and love, require the endorsement of the leadership of the church, before they can be “truth and love”.
In verse 49, in order to further prove their point about leadership knowing what is best, and simple parishioners not knowing that facts they add the commentary … “But this people who knoweth not the law are cursed.” Simpletons. These idiot guards are cursed for not knowing the truth the exalted leadership knew. But in his account of this incident, John did not go with allowing this unjust idea to stand. Instead it was debunked in real time. Nicodemus, a venerated leader, and one of the Pharisees was in attendance that day. Nicodemus, unbeknownst to any of them, had sought Christ out at night and learned directly from Jesus the words of truth, love, and light. None of these men knew it. But Nicodemus did, and he was educated. Nicodemus then calls to their attention the hypocrisy of claiming a curse on the uneducated guards based on the law, when attempting to use the law to condemn a man without trial, and without even hearing from Him? In verse 51 … “Doth our law judge any man, before it hear him, and know what he doeth?” Salt in a wound there my friend, salt in a wound. The stunned Pharisees hardly could recover from this, one of their own just called them out on their shenanigans. Now they are just plain mad at Nicodemus for this humiliation and respond in verse 52 … “They answered and said unto him, Art thou also of Galilee? Search, and look: for out of Galilee ariseth no prophet. [verse 53] And every man went unto his own house.”
To the truth of the words of Nicodemus in exposing their hypocrisy they offer further “prejudice” as proof. Asking if Nicodemus too was from Galilee (knowing he was not), they ask him to ever disprove the notion that Galilee was not a place from where great prophets ever came from. Of course this idea too, ignores that Bethlehem was the place of His birth, and that He descended from the lineage of David. But to keep this argument from coming up, in verse 53 they take an immediate action – meeting adjourned. Better to go home disappointed they did not get to judge Christ that night, than to have further conversations that may reveal the truth of His heritage and origin of birth. If ever forced to confront the truth of Him, they would be forced to admit they had no leg to stand on in regards to their hatred of Him, other than He threatened their power over the minds of the people. Satan HATES losing control over his subjects. So too, do religious leaders hate losing influence over the minds and hearts of their flocks. But truth needs no guardian. Love needs no army. The true power of the gospel is found in humility. The transformation that follows a real encounter with Christ, cannot be stopped by edict, or any other device of Satan. So it was in His day, and in ours …