MERCY REJOICETH AGAINST JUDGMENT
Reading: John: 8: 1 – 12
Once more and yet once less, brethren and sisters we have lovingly come to share fellowship with one another. Importantly we have all attended to acknowledge, to remember and to give thanks. For that unexpected costly demonstration of ultimate love, as witnessed too in these emblems of bread and wine, before us.
For we read in Romans Chapter 5 and at verses 8 – 11:
“But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement”.
We are once again confronted with the love of our Heavenly Father and His beloved Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. The issue at hand brethren and sisters, is this: what will be our personal response over the coming week? What will change in my life and in yours to reciprocate, to further develop and to deepen our love and our maturity in Christ, which is in the sight of God of great price?
How will this costly demonstration of love motivate each one of us and how will our reflection and focus upon the life and ministry of the, Master provide us with guidance necessary and direct us in the way of life, during the coming week ahead?
Our readings in the Gospel of John bring us face to face with the Master portrayed as “the word made flesh”, the living embodiment of the Father’s glorious and gracious character in the life of his Son. That character, which through the mercy and grace of our Heavenly Father has shined into each of our hearts brethren. That, as Ephesians records, the eyes of our hearts being enlightened; we may know what is the hope of his calling, and the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints.
How hard it is for us brethren and sisters to have the eyes of our hearts, so focused upon our great hope and the glory of kingdom to come? With so much in the hubbub of day to day life, our eyes are focused elsewhere, just dealing with our daily needs.
Yet we must try, for our faith to overcome, we must firstly focus upon our Master who is the author and finisher of our faith and then like him, we must set before ourselves the joy, which ought to motivate us, as that joy did him.
The Gospel of John not only portrays our Lord as “the word made flesh”, it also importantly for us pronounces him, as our coming judge.
In John Chapter 5 we read in verses 22 & 27:
“The Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son: And hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man”.
The Master, then is the one who, each one of us will shortly stand before to give an account of our lives in the truth and of our service to our Heavenly Father. Elsewhere the scriptures declare that in the day of judgment we should not fear. Rather we are to be confident and look for that day, because in that day our love will be perfected and we will become like him.
Our confidence towards that approaching day is not in ourselves, in our abilities, our service or even in our knowledge of God. Rather it is in the very character of the Lord Jesus Christ who will judge us. For the judge we are to consider is one who is described back in the first chapter of the gospel, as being “full of grace and truth”.
Now although his judgment will be according to truth and therefore righteous, it will be administered graciously for as we read in the Epistle through James “mercy rejoiceth against judgment”.
John Chapter 12 and verses 47 – 48:
“And if any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world. He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day”.
The word we have in our laps, therefore is the grounding of our judgment brethren and sisters. Particularly how we each have responded too that word, which has been planted in our hearts and minds.
The Proverbs exhort us to “keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life”. Indeed the Epistle through Titus puts it this way: “Now the end of the commandment is love out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned”.
Today in our reading brethren and sisters in the first section of John chapter eight, we have an incident that brings’ us face to face with our judge. This unpleasant and often neglected incident in the gospel also importantly brings into the light our own defiled nature.
John Chapter 8 and verses 2 – 6:
“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. And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst, They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou? This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him”.
Now we must firstly highlight that this passage is one of two sections in the gospel records that are disputed as being part of the original texts. Yet certainly in the case of John eight, the incident is regarded as historically authentic. Many scholars believe that this text would be better placed in Luke’s gospel account at the end of chapter twenty-one, they see it as out of place here interrupting the flow of the narrative.
I beg to differ, rather than detract from what occurs at the end of chapter seven and the long dialogue in the rest of chapter eight, which is actually a judgment upon the Jewish leaders. This little insight into the justice, discernment and loving mercy of the Lord Jesus Christ portrays exactly, why our Heavenly Father has proclaimed him fit to be our judge.
In this we can take tremendous comfort brethren and sisters that although he is holy, harmless, undefiled and separate from sinners. He also was and is yet touched with the feeling of our infirmities, but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.
Now in setting the scene brethren and sisters, we are now inside the last six months of our Lord’s ministry. The Master had been present during the feast of tabernacles and on the last day of the feast, (the previous day); he taught the people and then made some astounding claims. In doing so he split the people into two groups, one who thought he was the Messiah and the others who did not.
Likewise he greatly angered the rulers who sought to arrest him and having failed to do so, they undoubtedly concoct a plan overnight to catch him in his words. So the next day the Master returns to teach in the temple and a great crowd, gathers to hear him, to which the rulers interrupt his teaching with this unsavoury trap.
John Chapter 8 and verses 3 – 4:
“And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst, They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act”.
The crowd parts suddenly as the Scribes and Pharisees stride forward dragging this woman, who undoubtedly was actually trapped for them, during the night. And thrusting her into the middle of this large crowd, thereby gaining maximum impact with which to spring their trap. Yes they had chosen their moment well to place our Master upon the horns of a dilemma.
Now they present this problem to the Master not to know what he would counsel, but as verse six makes plain, so that they could have something to discredit him among the people. Brethren and sisters this scene is ugly, they have no respect for the Master, the woman, the crowd or even the law they claim to uphold.
They are crude and graphic in their speech about the woman’s crime. You can hear their disgust with the use of that little phrase in verse four “this woman”. The Diaglott in verse five has “to stone such like women”, further emphasizing for us how they looked down upon this woman. Who to them was cursed, just like the people, the crowd, because they did not know the law, as is clear from verses 48 – 49 of chapter seven?
These self-righteous rulers, who ought to have been shepherds in Israel, thought themselves above the people and treated them only to fulfil their own desires. The woman in a way is symbolic of the nation of Israel, the ecclesia, which they mistreated and mishandled exactly as they now did to this unnamed sister.
The question comes to mind brethren and sisters how do we respond to great moral sins of our brethren and sisters, such as adultery, that come to light?
Are we like these rulers seeing our selves, as morally superior functioning as ecclesial policemen concerned not with the person, but with ecclesial purity and sin management at all costs?
Brethren and sisters if you have been in the truth for any length of time, you will either have witnessed such a thing yourself or will heard of it. Sadly it is all too common. We must recognise that for each one of us, there is usually one particular sin or a doctrinal issue, which will send us in anger into the stratosphere. With some issues we can remain detached and spiritually objective about, but others somehow push our buttons. We can all be guilty of mishandling and mistreating our brethren and sisters. Who although have sinned and some times greatly are still in need of our love, our compassion and our care?
In Galatians Chapter 6 and verses 1 – 2:
“Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ”.
In this account, this is exactly what our Lord does for this guilty sister, whose guilt is never called into question. The Master is teaching us here that even the most grievous sins must be handled in love.
Now a secondary sin was the way this poor sister was manipulated by these false shepherds. For their own ends to get at another brother, one who by his conduct in contrast exposed their sinful ways and practices? To put him down, so they might retain their position of influence within the nation, within the ecclesia, sadly this too continues even today, let such a thing never brethren be so named among us?
Yet there is another subtle sin seen here in actions of the Scribes and Pharisees that we all will at some point fall prey too, because of the nature we share. Namely they upheld one aspect of the law, but disregarded another, so as to receive the outcome they wanted. We have all done this, we have no problem keeping X commandment, but we rationalize commandment Y.
Here the rulers upheld the law concerning adultery, but failed to apply the law properly in the bringing forth of the man also to justice. For the law states that both must be punished, but where was the man? This adds weight to the idea that this woman was the subject of an entrapment.
In James Chapter 2 and verses 10 – 13:
“For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law. So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty. For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy”.
Note carefully how the two laws listed here in James are the very issues at hand in John chapter eight. They had brought this woman who had committed adultery to stone and kill her, but for the very purpose they had murder in their hearts concerning the Lord Jesus Christ.
They would equally show no mercy to this woman, to the Master or even to the crowd and sadly in AD70 they received judgment without mercy in return, let us be, so warned brethren and sisters against deceiving our selves with such double standards.
Because if the truth were told, we are more like the Scribes and Pharisees here than we care to admit; as verse seven indicates they kept badgering Jesus for an answer to their dilemma. He replied and beautifully commanded, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her”. Like them we are all too ready often to throw stones at one another, too ready to judge one another. Those who happen to be another man’s (the Lord Jesus Christ) servant. “To his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand”, reads Romans.
Are we brethren and sisters “convicted by our consciences” in these matters? The record speaks in verse nine of from the oldest to the youngest being so convicted. Indeed the older we are the more aware we should be of our own sinfulness our own weakness and our own failings in our dealings one with another. The Master wants us to understand here that he knows what is in man, he is able to discern even our innermost motives.
Yet there is here an implied warning, a check to the young that their zealousness, which is a good thing, may sadly cloud their judgment from knowing when to extend mercy and when not too.
Now did anyone notice that we left off the end of that passage from James chapter two? We left it out on purpose, because it gives for us the contrast shown wonderfully in the speech and actions of the Master here towards the crowd, towards the Scribes and Pharisees and especially towards this unnamed sister in John eight.
James Chapter 2 and verses 12 – 13
“So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty. For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment”.
Now the extending of mercy appropriately is mandatory if we are to be found true children of our Heavenly Father. Elsewhere we read “Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful, blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy”.
Romans records that “he that sheweth mercy, (is to do so) with cheerfulness”. Now that word “cheerfulness” means to do so readily, joyously, without prompting. In other words not grudgingly or even of necessity, because our Heavenly Father loves a cheerful giver. Is this how you and I extend mercy to one another brethren and sisters?
If we think that we are king priests in training and one of the duties of the priest we are told in Hebrews is to “have compassion on the ignorant, and on them that are out of the way”; (because) we our selves are also compassed with infirmity. You see brethren and sisters as James has already stated “mercy rejoiceth against judgement”, because it is part of that wisdom, which is from above pure, peaceable, gentle, without partiality and without hypocrisy.
Think again of the Scribes and the Pharisees here in John eight. Who are far from pure, peaceable, gentle, rather than being full of mercy and good fruits, we find them partial and full of hypocrisy. Concerned with only the externals of their religion, the Master later calls them “whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness”.
Now contrast them with the one we have come to remember today, how did he treat this obviously guilty sister? Indeed more to the point brethren and sisters how does he treat everyone of us who are equally guilty of spiritual adultery at the very least?
You see this unnamed woman in this incident brethren and sisters is meant to stand for each one of us personally, we who all have besetting sins, which cause us to go astray from our God. That is why the story finishes without a proper conclusion, we are meant to personally answer the Masters command via our manner of life, whether, we will go and sin no more?
Stories such as this are designed to affect our will, our emotions and our reason in other words our whole person. Modern Neuroscience informs us that stories connect with both hemispheres of our brain and deeply impact our subconscious minds, where all our decisions are made. We are being challenged here brethren and sisters to internalize this story. For we have all been and indeed in type, all are this woman, this unnamed sister. Yet what will be our response in the coming week to this costly demonstration of love in these emblems of bread and wine?
In Psalm 130 and verses 3 – 4:
“If thou, Yahweh, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand? But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared”.
Having briefly considered the Scribes and Pharisees and now the woman in this incident. Let us stand with the crowd, as the Master teaches us how to extend mercy to one another brethren.
How the Master handles his interaction with the Scribes and Pharisees in this volatile incident has a number of lessons for ourselves, firstly he takes the heat out of the situation by stooping down and writing upon the ground. He allows the crowd to have time to absorb what is happening here and in so doing he turns this conflict into a teachable moment for them.
Equally in his reply to the Scribes and Pharisees he turns their dilemma back upon them in doing so he wants them to see their own sin. Jesus is trying to break through their religious exoskeleton. He desperately wants to get them to see, that in reality they are no better off than this guilty sister, which they despised. Like her they are caught in self destructive behaviour patterns, which if allowed to play out will destroy them. Again when he stoops down the second time to write in the earth, he allows each of the woman’s accusers the privacy to come to terms with his commandment to them. He does not shame and mistreat them in the same way that they have done to this woman, their sister.
His silence apart from his answer to them speaks volumes to us again about how to diffuse such inflammatory situations that from time to time arise among us brethren and sisters.
John Chapter 8 and verses 9 – 11:
“And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. 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? She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more”.
Let us recall once more this woman, this sister’s guilt is never called into question: the great sin brought against her still stands. Yet Jesus does not look down upon her or despise her weakness, as the others clearly had. Rather he treats her with respect in using the same term “woman”, as he does elsewhere in the gospel record for his own mother. We each brethren and sisters have received this same gracious treatment.
The Master displays different reflexes towards this woman than that of the Scribes and Pharisees, he extends mercy to her. In no way does he condone or diminish her sin. This mercy ought to have greatly impacted this unnamed woman, this sister, because just a few moments earlier, she was at the point of being stoned (compare 8:59). Brutality brought her before him. But unlike the rulers, who were unable to face up to there sin and seek forgiveness, she remains before the lord in hope?
In Romans Chapter eight and verses 33 – 34:
“Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us”.
We now turn our attention to the emblems upon the table. We too have faced a similar death sentence for our sins against our Heavenly Father and we too have had this incredible mercy extended personally to us. Will we remain before him in hope, as we are today and as our unnamed sister here did? Will you heed the judge’s exhortation at this time to go from here and sin no more?
The bread speaks to us of the Master our judge the very embodiment of the character and truth of our God, made flesh. Evidenced here in the application of that word, in the wine. Which speaks powerfully to us of his sacrifice, his costly demonstration of love. Taking upon him self, the wounds of our transgressions and the bruises of our iniquities, so that with his stripes we are healed.