John 8:1-11 People can only experience God through a community of truth and grace
John 8:1-11 People can only experience God through a community of truth and grace
But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people were coming to Him; and He sat down and began to teach them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery, and having set her in the center of the court, they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in adultery, in the very act. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women; what then do You say?” They were saying this, testing Him, so that they might have grounds for accusing Him. But Jesus stooped down and with His finger wrote on the ground. But when they persisted in asking Him, He straightened up, and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. When they heard it, they began to go out one by one, beginning with the older ones, and He was left alone, and the woman, where she was, in the center of the court. Straightening up, Jesus said to her, “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more.” John 8:1-11
The Jews during the time of the gospel used the law to manipulate and oppress those who were helpless. They did these things ostensibly with the mandate to uphold the law. They have abused the power entrusted to them by the community for selfish purposes. For they were set on enriching themselves at the expense of others, and to exalt themselves by oppressing the helpless. Jesus came to expose the deceit of the Jews by reinstalling the true spirit of the law: truth and grace. He has made known His mission: not to judge the world but to save it (see John 3:17). Jesus’s popularity grew because the people saw truth and grace in everything He did. For this reason, the Jews sought to entrap and apprehend Him. In this episode, the Jews took occasion to lure Jesus into pardoning the adulterous woman so that they could have reason to prosecute Him according to Moses’s law. Today’s devotion teaches us: People can only experience God through a community of truth and grace.
“Teacher, this woman has been caught in adultery, in the very act.”
Jesus in the midst of His teachings was interrupted by a group of scribes and Pharisees dragging a woman into the court. They claimed that the woman was caught in the act of adultery. They knew that Jesus would pardon the woman of her sins and thereby presented credible grounds for them to prosecute Him according to the Laws of Moses.
“Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women; what then do You say?”
The Law of Moses prescribed death by stoning as punishment for adultery (see Leviticus 20:10). Why did Jesus differ in His judgment from Moses’s Law? It is common knowledge that every Law consists of two portions: the moral principle and the consequence of the violation. The purpose of Moses’s Law is to preserve the society’s moral fabric to prevent it from destroying itself. It is no different from the civil law of today which serves to protect the rights and well-being of individuals. And the authority to enforce the law lies with the government of that time.
The abuse of Moses’s Law
During the time of Moses, Moses’s Law requires death as punishment for adultery. But in the days of Jesus, Israel was no longer a sovereign nation and was governed by the Romans under Roman law. While Moses’s Law still functions as a moral compass, every Jew should then be subject to Roman law instead. Hence, the Jewish rulers in the days of Jesus were abusing Moses’s law for it is no longer legitimate under Roman law. Therefore, the Jews in a bid to execute Jesus must defer to the Roman court of that time.
A better way to transform society
The advent of Jesus had introduced a far more effective way to transform society: to transform sinners by truth and grace. But the core mechanism of Moses’s law is to restrain transgressions by instilling fear through consequences. Moses’s law gives transgressors no chance for transformation, no recourse to set things right. Thus, compared with the truth and grace of Jesus, Moses’s law cannot transform society apart from punishing transgressors. It can be said that Moses’s law at its onset is never designed to eradicate society’s ills, but only to restrain sin through the fear of the law.
Jesus stooped down to write on the ground with His fingers.
As to what Jesus wrote was not mentioned in the text. However, it did serve to substantiate Jesus’s immediate words, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” It is probable that the scribbles on the ground had caused them to look at their moral condition. Not only did they not possess the jurisdiction to put the woman to death, they were sinners themselves worthy of punishment. And shouldn’t they judge themselves first? The psyche of the Jews was dark and oppressive. They use Moses’s law to manipulate and oppress those who could not defend themselves.
“He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”
The woman’s accusers upon hearing Jesus’s words started leaving beginning with the older ones. When everyone had gone, Jesus stood up and pointed her to the fact that no one had the right to condemn her for two reasons. Firstly, the Jews had no legitimate authority to put another to death. Secondly, Jesus (as God’s appointed judge) had forgiven her of her sins.
People can only experience God through a community of truth and grace.
The reverse is also true: that apart from a community of truth and grace, it is impossible to experience God for who He is. For this reason, Jesus came bearing truth and grace so that men can encounter God through Him. Human nature tends to judge and oppress one another. Because of this, it is in fact dangerous to try to seek God in the absence of a gracious and truth-filled community. The behaviour of the Jews is a classic example of how people can use religion to manipulate and oppress another. Jesus administered grace when He said, “I do not condemn you, either. Go.” In the same breath, He administered the truth by saying, “From now on sin no more.”
Now, truth and grace must be appropriated in tandem, and either one cannot be above the other. Grace without truth is tantamount to accepting people’s behaviour and attitudes blindly. On the other hand, truth without grace is powerless. Truth, no doubt is the standard of godliness. But grace holds power to propel us towards it. Therefore, the church must hold both truth and grace in tandem. In other words, we must teach the truth without fear of persecution. And at the same time, empower people by being patient while giving them space and time to change.
Regrettably, many churches today are not building truth and grace in their communities. Instead, they are constantly trying to appease the masses to keep them coming week after week. As a result, many either become disappointed with God and left. Or they continue their wanton lifestyle because of the lack of truths in the teachings. There are two kinds of churches: The first kind focuses mostly on grace. Such will attract people who do not like to travel on the narrow path. The second kind are like the Jews who use manipulation and fear to keep their members from leaving.
How can we create a community that is both gracious and true?
People are inspired to change when they see a model whom they can emulate. But if they do not see a corresponding model even as the truth is taught, they become discouraged. Thus, it is essential that the church takes time to disciple and build the qualities of truth and grace into its members. A seed germinates and grows by itself in the presence of water and light. And over a period of time, it becomes a fruit-bearing tree. Forcing it to grow by excessive water and sunlight will only damage the plant.
Be patient and where possible disciple every member.
The church must be patient in identifying the right people to disciple them. As in the days of Jesus, most people are not ready to follow God and will be present only for a season. Indeed, the process of germination and growth is arduous both for the disciple and the disciple-maker. But it is through the process of discipleship that the qualities of truth and grace are built. The disciple appropriates the truths as he observes them being lived out through his disciple maker. At the same time, he learns about grace when his disciple maker perseveres in ministering to him by the gifts of the Spirit. It is by exercising the spiritual gifts persistently that the wounds of the heart are healed and the bondage of sin is broken.
It is unfortunate that most pastors that I come across are so bogged down by administrative work of the church, they cannot grow in truth and grace let alone raising disciples. Because they do not spend time reading the bible, their sermons lacked depth and conviction, and their families are continually fighting among themselves. This is one of the main reason why many people cannot experience God in the church today.
Think of the people who have hurt or betrayed you. Do you still hold them liable to repay you for your loss? Do you often rehearse the scenes of hurt in your mind? Exercise truth and grace by releasing them to God who is the Judge of all and to refrain from repeating their error.
Are you contributing to the power of truth and grace in your church? Ask God to show you someone who is struggling with certain problems. Learn to minister to him/her in truth and in grace. Truth pertains to showing the way to get out of the problem. Grace pertains to the power of Jesus that can break his bondages and lift him out of the troubles. Persevere and do not give up. In due time, you will see the fruit of your love and patience.
Dear Lord, thank you for loving me despite my habitual sins and darkness. I divorce myself from my anger, bitterness, hate, lust, greed, fear and hopelessness. Empower me to live a life of love and freedom. I forgive those who have stolen from me and will not require them to pay me back. Equip me to love in truth and grace. Use me to deliver many who are in the pits of darkness and oppression. Jesus’s name I pray. Amen.