Sermon Transcript January 24, 2021
Christ the King, Palm Coast, FL ~ Pastor Jay Zahn ~ John 8:2-11 ~ Sunday, January 24, 2021
Do you have one of these: an overstuffed couch or chair with soft, comfortable cushions? Like this one (show picture of one on the screen). And this couch looks very nice. No stains on the outside. This is the kind of couch you would sit on, the kind you’d be proud to invite guests to come and sit on too.
Have you ever taken a moment to flip the cushions over to see what’s underneath? Because you need to prepare yourself physically, spiritually, emotionally for what’s underneath. You might find cookie crumbs or change. You might find crumpled up napkins or candy wrappers or actual candy! This beautiful-looking couch can hide a lot of unsavory stuff underneath the cushions.
This couch represents the typical life of the typical human being. We try to make ourselves look pretty good on the outside. We are very well put together. No stains on the outside. We come to church on a Sunday and we act like politicians. We put on our public face and smile and say all the right things. We look great on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and LinkedIn. We know how to show the world what we want them to see. We’re so happy, we’re doing awesome.
But the reality is that we are very much like this couch. If you dig deep down, there is something inside each and every one of us that is messy. Like this couch, deep inside each person in this room you might be surprised to know there is a great deal of hurt, including the guy you are looking at. All of us carry that around. Many of us are not free because we’re held captive to the past. Like old stains on the underside of the couch cushions that we can’t get rid of, we keep reliving the mess over and over again.
God wants to flip the cushions over this morning, bring up some things that you’d maybe rather try to keep out of sight, out of mind. That’s what Jesus does for a woman who is caught in a really compromising, embarrassing, sinful situation. The kind she really didn’t want anyone to see, and most certainly didn’t want Jesus to see. What Jesus does for this woman in flipping over the couch cushions of her life is what he is exactly what he’s eager to do for you and me too.
Maybe we’re not eager for him to do this. The story before us seems scandalous but piques our curiosity. What’s all the fuss about? Jesus is in the Temple, the center of religious teaching and worship among the people of Israel. And he is drawing a crowd, something that drove the teachers of the law crazy. They see this as a direct threat to their power and control over the people of Israel. So “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery.” In hauling this woman in, publicly naming her sin, the religious leaders are convinced this is going to alienate Jesus from some, hopefully many, of the people who have been listening to him.
So they ask, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” (v. 4)
They’re mostly right. The Old Testament book of Deuteronomy stipulates: "If a man is found sleeping with another man’s wife, both the man who slept with her and the woman must die. You must purge the evil from Israel." Where’s the man? If she’d been involved in an adulterous act with someone who wasn’t her husband, that also means the man involved was also guilty of adultery since this woman wasn’t his wife. If two are involved, why is only one standing before the crowd and before Jesus? Could it be that this whole situation was a set up? That the man involved was maybe one of their own, a player in the elaborate plan hatched by these teachers of the law to lay a trap for Jesus?
The trap they’ve created is a classic Catch-22 situation. You know, the kind of a dilemma from which there is no way to escape, caught between conflicting principles. If Jesus says, “Yes, do what the law says and stone her to death,” such an answer seems to go against the message of mercy he has been proclaiming, which exposes him as a hypocrite, who preaches about mercy but doesn’t practice it in real life. But if Jesus says, "No, don't stone her," his answer would also expose him as a hypocrite, someone who says it’s important to obey God’s laws but then backpedals from actually enforcing God’s laws and their consequences when those rules have been undeniably broken. The trap is set. They’re going to catch him in a contradiction in front of all his disciples, and no matter how he answers, it’s going to cost him followers.
One problem: Jesus doesn’t answer them. Instead, he bends down and starts writing on the ground with his finger. Can you feel their frustration? They thought they had him, but he won’t play along. But they’re not going to let him just stonewall them with silence. “When they kept on questioning him…” (v. 7). They’re going to make him answer, they keep pestering, pressing, probing, to make him talk.
And eventually he does. He says: “’Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.’ Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there” (vv. 7-9)
What just happened? A tension so thick you could cut it with a knife. All these teachers of the law, self-righteously standing in judgment, warming up their throwing arm with stone in hand, as they glare at this woman who is seeing her life passing in front of her eyes. And with just a sentence, stones fall harmlessly to the ground as the self-righteous are confronted by the truth about their own sin, and a guilty woman experiences the amazing grace of the Son of God.
Awe-strikingly amazing! Hard-to-believe amazing! Even more amazing still is what this story means for you and me! A lot of people think that we need to come to Jesus with our best and then he’ll come and forgive whatever small faults, failures, or shortcomings still remain. But this story doesn’t fit that picture. This woman isn’t standing before Jesus at her best. Just 30 minutes earlier she had been fornicating with someone to whom she wasn’t married. Standing face-to-face with the Son of God was the last thing she was ready to be doing in this moment. It’s an illustration of life, isn’t it? We can plan our sins. And so often we do. Sexual sins. Greedy sins. Gossipy sins. Prideful sins. Self-righteous sins. But we don’t control, we can’t control when God will come calling. When he does, will we be ready? That question can invoke a whole lot of fear, like it surely did for this woman. She was not planning on being in front of Jesus. She may have been able to justify what she had been doing in her own mind and heart in the throes of lust. But whatever justification she had told herself, that lie wasn’t worth even repeating as she stands eyeball to eyeball with the Son of God. She didn’t argue with the accusation against her because she knew she was guilty.
And that, that’s what makes this story so amazing! She couldn’t defend her choices before Jesus. She couldn’t cover her wrongs. But Jesus could. He did! “Jesus straightened up and asked her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ ‘No one, sir,’ she said. ‘Then neither do I condemn you,’ Jesus declared. ‘Go now and leave your life of sin’” (vv 10-11). The only one that had the legitimate right to throw stones at her for her sins, dropped his death sentence against her. “Woman, I didn’t come to condemn you. I came to save you. I didn’t come to declare you guilty. I came to set you free.”
Jesus let this woman’s couch cushions get flipped over in front of everyone, not to embarrass her, but to free her from choices and behaviors that were keeping her from the abundant life God wanted to give her. While everyone else judged her and wanted nothing to do with her, Jesus used this opportunity to draw near to her and say personally to her: “I will take away your crud, I am releasing you from your mess. Don’t listen to the lies of the other people. That self-appointed jury is gone now. All your naysayers are out of here and it’s just
me and you. I’m the judge, but I’m also your Savior. I’m declaring you forgiven, set free, innocent, not guilty, now go and be free, sin no more.” Hard to believe? Scandalous? A story unworthy of Scripture?
I hope not… because what Jesus did for this woman, I need Jesus to do for me. You need to Jesus to do for you. Whether we sin the same way as her isn’t the point. That we sin, in our own ways, in so many ways, every single day, that’s our problem! That’s our predicament. The solution isn’t trying to hide or deny or justify our bad choices. It’s standing silent before Jesus, seeing what he will do, believing what he has to say. And what he does and what he speaks is forgiveness. His forgiveness is a power like no other, a power to bring out of the ashes and death of sin, to bring forth life, new life.
A young kid, 14 years old, wanted to get into a gang. The way that he proved himself to enter the gang was to shoot somebody—it was an initiation rite. He shot this kid he didn’t know. He was apprehended, brought to trial, and at the end of the trial, convicted.
Just before he is taken away in handcuffs, the mother of the boy who was shot stands up, looks him in the eye, and says, “I’m going to kill you,” and then sits down.
After being in prison for a year or so, the boy is visited by that mother, and he’s kind of frightened. She says, “I’ve just got to talk with you.” They have a little bit of conversation, and as she leaves him she says, “Do you need anything? Cigarettes?” and leaves him a little money.
She starts to visit him. She goes every few months, and over the course of three or four years, she starts visiting him more regularly, talking to him.
When he’s about to get out at the age of 17 or 18, she asks, “What are you going to do?” and he says, “I have no idea. I got no family, no nothing.” And she says, “Well I’ve got a friend who has a little factory—maybe I can help you get a job.”
So she arranges that with the parole officer. Then she asks, “Where are you going to stay?” and he says, “I don’t know where I’m going to go.” And she says, “Well I have a spare room where you can stay with me.” So he comes and stays in the spare room, takes this job, and after about six months, she says, “I really need to talk with you—come into the living room. Sit down, let’s talk.”
She looks at him and says, “Remember that day in court when you were convicted of murdering my son for no reason at all, to get into your gang, and I stood up and said, ‘I’m going to kill you?’”
“Yes ma’am, I’ll never forget that day,” he says.
And she looks back and says, “Well, I have. You see, I didn’t want a boy who could kill in cold blood like that to continue to exist in this world. So I set about visiting you, bringing you presents, bringing you things, and taking care of you. And now I let you come into my house and got you a job and a place to live because I don’t have anybody anymore. My son is gone and he was the only person that I was living with. I set about changing you, and you’re not that same person anymore.
But I don’t have anybody, and I want to know if you’d stay here. I’m in need of a son, and I want to know if I can adopt you.”
And he said yes and she did.
That story reflects what Jesus does for us on an even grander scale. The only one who has a right to demand our death because of our sins against him, kills the sinning spirit in us by volunteering to pay for our sins with his own life. He did it, on a cross, outside Jerusalem. And now he comes to us individually, personally, and he says to you, and he says to me: “Now go and in the peace and freedom of forgiveness, go leave your sins behind you. Live for me!” Yes live for Jesus. Every day. Each moment. In him you are truly free, for in him you are fully forgiven! Amen.