Gospel Analysis: John 3:16
LENT 4B John 3:14-21
Pastor Edward F. Markquart
Grace Lutheran Church
Des Moines, Washington 98198
The following Bible study is from a larger course entitled THE LIFE OF CHRIST: A Study in the Four Gospels. This 54 week course for the laity will be available for congregations in 2006.
Basic text for the course: SYNOPSIS OF THE FOUR GOSPELS, Kurt Aland, English Edition, P. 26.
THE LARGER CONTEXT OF JOHN 3:16 IS THE STORY OF NICODEMUS
#27. THE DISCOURSE WITH NICODEMUS John 3:1-21
-Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews.
-He came to Jesus by night and said to him, Nicodemus came to Jesus at night because he didn’t want anybody seeing that he was interested in what Jesus was saying and doing.
Later in this lesson, we are going to see paintings of Nicodemus coming to Jesus at night. In those paintings, Jesus will be pictured in a home. In later studies in this course, we will discover that Jesus stayed overnight at the Mount of Olives when he was visiting Jerusalem. My suspicion is that the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus occurred at night on the Mount of Olives rather than in a home in Jerusalem. Jesus had no home in Jerusalem. If we accept that Nicodemus came to Jesus at night, our imaginations go to work and we can hear Nicodemus’ footsteps walking up the dirt path to the Mount of Olives. Jesus’ ear would have been cocked, hearing the footsteps of someone approaching in the quiet of the night.
-"Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God." Nicodemus called Jesus “Rabbi.” The word, “rabbi,” means teacher. Nicodemus was aware that Jesus had come from God because no one could do the signs/miracles that Jesus did if he weren’t from God.
-Jesus answered him, "Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God Underline the phrase, “kingdom of God.” Those words, “the kingdom of God,” are only used twice in the Gospel of John. This is one of John’s references to “the kingdom of God.”
John normally uses the word, “life.” Life and kingdom of God are the same reality for John. It is critically important that all of us see the kingdom and enter the kingdom of God. It is critically important that all of us have life and are born again into new life.
A person cannot see or enter the kingdom of God without being born again/born from above.
-Without being born from above/born again." Underline the phrase, “born from above/born again.”
In American Christian culture, the most important part of the Nicodemus story is the phrase, “born anew.” It is also translated “born again” or “born from above.” It is interesting that the New International Version of the Bible translates this Greek word to be “born again” and the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible translates the Greek phrase to be “born from above.” Both translations appeal to different religious constituencies. Many readers of the NIV like “born again” language and theology; many readers of the NRSV are not so fond of “born again” language and theology.
The phrase, “born again,” occurs three times in the Bible: John 3:3, 7; I Peter 1:23.
John defines what it means to be "born again:" to be “born again” is to be born of the water and the Spirit.
What does it mean to be born of the water? To have our sins washed away. We never outgrow the need for having our sins and imperfections washed away daily and continuously. The water in baptism reminds us of our need for daily cleansing and washing.
What does it mean to born of the Spirit? To have the Spirit of Christ living inside of us. It mean to have the love of Christ, the joy of Christ, the peace of Christ, the patience of Christ, kindness of Christ, the goodness of Christ, the faithfulness of Christ, the gentleness of Christ, the self control of Christ living inside of us. It is having the Spirit of Christ taking up residence in us and living within us.
There are three references in the Bible to being “born again;” whereas there are 245 references to the word, “faith.” If a student takes the Logos computer program and inserts the words, “born again,” the computer will turn up three references. If a student takes the Logos computer program and inserts the word, “faith,” in either the New International Version (NIV) or the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), there will be 245 references to “faith” in the Bible.
In other words, the word, “faith” is a much more frequent and dominant Biblical word and concept than the phrase, “born again.”
If a student types in words like “faith, believe, believes, believing,” there are then 421 Biblical references to faith/believe/believes and believing.
Some Christians work themselves into a theological lather about the phrase, “born again” whereas the words “faith/believe/believes/believing” are much more dominant in the Bible.
“Born again” simply means to have “faith” or “believe” in Jesus Christ.
Historically, there are four components to the word or experience of “faith.”
TOKY = Trust, Obey, Know and say Yes.
We are to trust Christ and trust the promises of Christ. An infant learns to trust his/her mother or father and that infant will feel secure in the loving arms of his/her mother of father. An infant will naturally feel insecure with someone whom the infant does not trust.
A second component of faith is obedience. We are called to obey Jesus’ one commandment of love, to love as Christ loves.
A third component of faith is to know. We are to know Christ, knowing Christ in a personal way and not simply have knowledge of Christ or the Christian religion. A man is to “know” in woman and that “knowing” means sexual intimacy. That is, I know my wife sexually and therefore intimately, and know her in a way that I do not know other women who are friends. In the Christian life, there is an intimate familiarity and closeness with Jesus Christ.
A fourth component of faith is to say “yes” to Christ. We are to say “Yes” to Christ, as a person says “Yes” to one’s spouse, children, and to life itself.
TOKY = trust, obey, know, and yes. These are four components of faith.
Historically, there have been three components of faith in Latin: notitia, fiducia, and assentia. Know, trust, assent. This class has added a fourth component of faith: obey the one commandment of Christ which is to love as Christ loves.
The Holy Spirit creates “faith/belief” or being “born again.” The Holy Spirit is like the wind which you cannot control. The wind blows where it wills, and you are not sure where it comes from or where it goes, but you know when the wind is blowing in your life. Martin Luther wrote: “I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ or come to him, but the Holy Spirit has called me by the gospel, gathered me with other Christians, enlightened me with his gifts and helped me to grow in holiness and wholeness.” As we study the gospel in this class, the Holy Spirit will come to us through the gospel that we are studying. We are gathering with other Christians to study and we will be enlightened through our studies and conversations and we will grow in wholeness and holiness and righteousness.
In the story about the virgin birth, Mary was overshadowed by the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit miraculously impregnated her. So it is with us. The Holy Spirit overshadows our lives and miraculously penetrates our hearts. The Holy Spirit creates the “new birth” or “faith” in us. Like the miracle of the virgin birth, when the Spirit penetrates our lives and Christ is born in our hearts, this is a miracle, a miracle as grand as the virgin birth itself. We then become “Christ carriers,” for we carry Jesus Christ within us, just as Mary carried the Christ in her.
What did you do to deserve to be born? Nothing. To be born is a pure miracle and pure gift. There is nothing that I did in order to be born. Being born is a pure gift from the love between my mother and father. Similarly, to be born again is a pure miracle and pure gift. There is nothing that I did in order to be born again. Being born again is a pure gift from a miracle of the Holy Spirit.
-Nicodemus said to him, "How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother's womb and be born?"
-Jesus answered, "Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. John wants us all to enter the kingdom of God. That is the issue here. We are to enter the kingdom of God and no one can do that without being born of the water and the Spirit. Being born of the water and Spirit is what it means to be born again.
-What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Underline the phrase, “born of Spirit.” Humans give birth to flesh. The Spirit of God gives birth to the Spirit in us. When the Spirit of God is strong in us, it is because God’s Spirit has enlarged our spirit.
-Do not be astonished that I said to you, "You must be born from above.'
-The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit." Underline the phrase, “born of the Spirit.” The wind blows where it blows. You can hear the wind but you don’t know where the wind comes from. You can see the effects of the wind blowing in the trees, bending the trees, whistling through the leaves of the trees; but you cannot actually see the wind. Likewise with God. Like the wind is invisible, so it is with the Spirit of God. You can’t see God but you can see the effects of God. You can see the effect of the Spirit on a human being’s life but you cannot actually identify or see the Spirit of God. You can’t control the wind anymore than you can control the Spirit.
-Nicodemus said to him, "How can these things be?" Nicodemus, symbolic of the Jews in the Gospel of John, just didn't "get it."
-Jesus answered him, "Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? " A person can be well educated in the Christian religion or any other religion, and still not understand “the things of the Spirit.” A person can be a church leader, a church pastor, a congregational president, etc. etc. etc. and not be touched by the Spirit of God/Spirit of Christ in one’s heart and mind.
In the following pictures, notice two people locked in deep conversation about God.
DISCUSSION QUESTION: WHAT DO YOU SEE IN THE FOLLOWING PICTURES? (Ask the whole class to observe the pictures and share what they observe.)
PAINTING AND IMAGINATION: NICODEMUS
As said earlier, I believe that the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus occurred on the Mount of Olives where Jesus camped out at night when he was in Jerusalem. I don't believe that this conversation occurred in a home.
-Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? Nicodemus apparently, at this moment, did not comprehend Jesus and what Jesus was talking about. By the end of the Jesus Story in the Gospel of John, Nicodemus helped prepare Jesus’ body for burial. In between that sacred night of a life-transforming conversation with Jesus and Good Friday, Nicodemus came to understand what it meant to be “born from above.”
DISCUSSION QUESTION: WHAT DO YOU THINK IT MEANS TO BE “BORN AGAIN?” ARE YOU BORN AGAIN? WHAT DOES “BORN AGAIN,” MEAN FOR YOUR LIFE? (Break into groups of two for this discussion. Please chose a discussion partner other than your spouse or close friend.)
-No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.
The text for Lent 4B begins here at John 3:14:
-And just as Moses lifted up theserpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. We focus on the phrase, "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up (onto the cross to die so that all of our sins may be forgiven as his blood washes away all of our sins.) The words, "lifted up," are used six times in the Gospel of John e.g. Jesus is "lifted up" onto the cross and is "lifted up" into heaven at the ascension.
The phrase, “believes in him,” is one of the most important phrases in the Gospel of John. It occurs here for the first time in this gospel, but it occurs eleven more times in this gospel. This is what God wants to happen to our lives: that we believe in Christ.
We remember our magic word that defines the word, “believe:” TOKY. Trust, Obey, Know and say Yes.
Listen to that important phrase resonate throughout the whole Gospel of John:
John 3:15 "that whoever believes in him may have eternal life."
John 3:16 "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life."
John 3:18 "He who believes in him is not condemned; he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God."
John 3:36 "He who believes in the Son has eternal life; he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God rests upon him.
John 6:35 Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst."
John 6:40 "For this is the will of my Father, that every one who sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day."
John 7:38 "He who believes in me, as the scripture has said, 'Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.'"
John 11:25 Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live,
John 11:26 "Whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?"
John 12:44 "And Jesus cried out and said, "He who believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me."
John 12:46 "I have come as light into the world, that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness."
John 14:12 "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I go to the Father."
The most important event that can occur in our life is to believe in Jesus Christ.
We remember our magic word that defines what it means to believe: TOKY. Trust, Obey, Know, Yes. These are the four components that help us define the word, “believe.”
We remember that the word, “believe,” occurs 245 times in the New Testament. The phrase, “born again,” occurs only three times. To be born again/born from above means to believe in Christ.
-"For God so loved the world that he gave his only (begotten) Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. " For God so loved the world. Underline. Highlight. Emphasize.
Focus on the word, “so.” God SO loved the world. Read the sermon based on this word. This adverb, SO, reveals the heart of God. (Read the sermon on the theme, SO.)
For God So Loved the World, John 3:14-21
Focus on the word, “loved.” Agape love is gracious, giving, free, unearned, undeserved, abounding.
Focus on the word, “the world.” Not the word, “the church.” God’s love is for the world. The world is generally hostile to God, hates God, resists God, does not have time for God, does not believe in God. God loves the world.
Focus on the words, “he gave.” God gave his only Son. The word, “gave,” suggests a gift, unearned, free, undeserved unmerited.
Focus on the words, “only begotten Son.” Jesus is the ONLY Son, the “mono-genesis.” This phrase is found in John 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18; I John 4:7. Jesus is the only-begotten Son, and the Greek word suggests that Jesus was the “only-genesis” Son of God. Our word, “genetics,” comes from that same Greek word.
“Mono” means one. We Christians today are the adopted children of God; only Jesus is “mono-genesis.”
Focus on the words, “believes in him.” In Jesus. In Christ. Many theologians suggest that the sum of the Christian faith is to “believe in him.” “En Christos.” “In Christ.” (Read the sermon on the theme, IN.)
In Him, John 3:14-21
When we believe in Christ, we will not perish or die eternally. Instead, we are given eternal life, forever life, never ending life, eternal life. What a concept. What a belief. That we are destined to live with God forever and beyond all time.
-Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Jesus did not come into this world to condemn the world. The church is forever condemning the world and pointing out the sins, flaws and imperfections of the world for that is easy to do. We recall Jesus’ admonition to the Pharisees later in the temple when Jesus looked at the woman caught in adultery: “Let the person who is without sin cast the first stone.” Jesus later said to her, “Neither do I condemn you.”
-Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. Underline the phrase, “those who do not believe (in the Son) are condemned already.”
What does that mean? Does this mean that Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus are condemned to judgment/hell because they don’t believe in Christ?
Does this verse and the Gospel of John condemn people who do not claim the name of Jesus?
Yes and No. Let's talk about that question for a moment.
Yes, Jesus is the only Son of God. Yes, Jesus is the way, the truth and the life; and the only way to the Father. Yes, there is no other name by which a person can be saved. Yes, Jesus is the only way of salvation.
No, we are not to be the judge of human hearts. No, it is not our responsibility to draw the lines as to who is saved and who is not. No, it is not our responsibility to judge who will be in heaven or not.
In the past, certain Christians have damned their theological opponents to hell and everlasting damnation e.g. the Catholics, the Lutherans, the savage Indians, the primitive black slaves, the Asian Japs; the Mid-Eastern Muslims, etc.
We human beings are not to judge or condemn any person of any religion, denomination or belief system that is different than ours. We may disagree with their religion, their denomination and their belief system, but we are not condemn that person to hell or everlasting death. We love that person as another child of God. At the same time, we share with them the love and knowledge of the true God, revealed through his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Many Christians are aware that there are various and numerous legitimate interpretations of Scripture.
Most Christians think that “our own” is the truest interpretation of Scripture.
Most Christians are aware that the love of God/Christ trumps religious knowledge and human interpretation.
See the sermon: ONLY ONE WAY OUT Easter 5A John 14:1-14
DISCUSSION QUESTION: CAN DEVOUT PEOPLE WHO ARE PART OF OTHER WORLD RELIGIONS (E.G. MUSLIMS) BE SAVED? WHY OR WHY NOT?
-And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.
-For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God."
The following paragraphs are from the Gospel Analysis of John 7:53-8:11 and the story of “the woman caught in adultery.” These words reflect the theme of Jesus not condemning the world but saving the world.
And they said to Jesus, ‘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.’ They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.” The religious leaders were more interested in this woman as an illustration of a moral principle than as a person. They were not interested in this woman as a person; they were more interested in their religious values, their religious philosophy, their religious ideas, their knowledge of the Old Testament laws.
These religious leaders are an illustration of what happens to us all. That is, we can slowly become twisted in our thinking so that our moral principles become more valuable than people, that ethics are most valuable than individual lives, that spiritual laws are more important than a person’s life. The lawyers of the law knew their Old Testament better than anyone, and knew what the Old Testament law demanded. Stoning and death.
Unless it was a “set up.” The Jewish law from Deuteronomy declared that an illegal act such as adultery must be witnessed by two people and neither of these people could be the husband. Some scholars suggest that a husband, wanting to get rid of his wife or being jealous for her, got his friends to witness illicit sex between another man and his wife. The man having sexual intercourse with the woman slipped away safely because he was part of “a set up” for a wife to be caught in the act of adultery. In other words, there was a collusion between the husband and the witnesses so that the wife was caught and the man was allowed to go free. This is what some scholars think.
-Teacher. The Jewish leaders addressed Jesus formally and respectfully as teacher or rabbi even though he wasn’t educated in the rabbinic schools. They had “run ins” with Jesus the previous day and they had learned that Jesus was clever with words, thoughts and arguments. Their inner purpose was to trap him and ultimately kill him, but in this situation, they respectfully addressed him as teacher.
In the Law, Moses condemned this woman to die by stoning. That was true. They were applying the law of the Jewish religion. But the Jews were also aware that they did not have the power of execution anymore but only the Roman authorities could put someone to death. The Jews could not.
These men had their PH. Ds in the Jewish law, and they knew every dot and comma of that Jewish law. They used their knowledge of the Bible to condemn this woman to be guilty of adultery. This woman was such an easy target for their condemnation.
People with great knowledge of the Bible often use that knowledge to condemn other people.
-They were trying to trap Jesus. “What do you say Jesus? Give us an answer.” The most important issue was not this woman who was devastated and humiliated as she stood before the crowd. The most important issue was this: “What to you say Jesus?” Their intellectual trap was more important than the woman, than the individual person. The Pharisees wanted to trap Jesus between his reputation of being a friend of sinners and the Jewish law against adultery. “You can’t have it both ways, Jesus. Are you a friend of sinners or are you a friend of the Jewish law against adultery? Whose side are you on, Jesus? The sinful woman or the Law?” The Jews were more interested in their intellectual trap than the individual woman.
That same attitude is found today: people are often more interested in philosophical or intellectual traps to win an argument (e.g. abortion, homosexuality, euthanasia) than with the people involved.
- But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, ‘If any of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her. Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. Remember, Jesus was in the temple courtyard with its hard, baked clay floors of dust. Jesus was not in the temple proper with its stone floors. Imagine Jesus sitting on the ground and bending down to write something in the dirt with his finger.
We can feel the detail of the scene as if this was a memory of a witness who had been there. Persistently, in this story, we experience juicy details of an eye-witness account.
This is the only time that Jesus wrote anything. The basic message of Jesus was oral. Jesus’ message was transmitted orally. Jesus never wrote one paragraph, one chapter, one book, one anything, and yet the Jesus movement swept the globe. Many scholars are convinced that essentially, the Christian message is primarily oral. To write down that message is a dampening of the Spirit. At least, that is what Martin Luther said. People become Christians by encountering the living Word of God inside another human being who speaks that Word of God. The written Word of the Bible is crucially important but never a replacement for the Living Word, the Spirit of Jesus, living inside a human being who then shares God’s message orally and personally to a friend.
The Bible says that Jesus wrote on the ground. What did Jesus write on the ground? What words did he write? What message may have Jesus conveyed? It seemed that Jesus was more than doodling in the dirt.
The normal Greek word for write is “graphe” from which we get our word, “graphite,” or writing material. But that normal Greek word is not used here in this circumstance. A peculiar Greek word is used. Not “graphe” but “katagraphe”, “kata” meaning “against.” In other words, some scholars speculate that Jesus was writing an accusation against the witnesses who were testifying against this woman. Jesus was writing down the sins of the accusers. This traditional explanation goes back to St. Jerome himself. Perhaps these accusers were part of a set up plot. No one knows for sure what Jesus wrote on the ground that dawn when a woman caught in the act of adultery was brought before him and the large crowd. All we know is for sure is that Jesus, the rabbi, was seated on the ground and with his finger he wrote somethingagainst someone. It does seem that Jesus was more than doodling in the dirt.
-The Pharisees kept on questioning him. Jesus sat in silence, stooped over, looking at the ground, but the Pharisees were adamant and persistent with their questions, perhaps all asking at once like a crowd of reporters who want a response. You can almost see and hear the persistence of the Pharisees and their taunting, repetitious questions at Jesus, all thrown at Jesus simultaneously.
Sometimes we are the same way in our arguments with our spouse or friend: we repeat the same patterns of logic over and over again and nothing new is said. The old refrain is repeated endlessly. So it was with the Pharisees. But Jesus was silent, looking intently down at the ground, almost ignoring them but not ignoring them at all.
-Jesus straightened up and said. You can actually see Jesus straightened up his body, his torso, from the hips lifting his chest and shoulders up. Notice the detail. It seems to me that this is another account of an eye witness. You feel this way when reading other passages in the gospel of John such as in the end of the book where the disciples catch 153 fish or Jesus being asleep in the helm of a boat. The details are so specific. You can feel the touch of an author who had witnessed an event first hand, and so it is in the story for today at dawn in the temple. Jesus’ body was bending over; then he straightens up his body. The details seem authentic and not fabricated.
-If any of you is without sin, let him cast the first stone. Silence. Pause. A long pause. A silent pause. You can feel the silence. “Again he stooped over and wrote on the ground.” What a question. What drama. What total silence. The question is absolutely profound. It stops the Pharisees and all the accusers in their tracks, in our tracks.
We know that Jesus’ question is for us today: “Are we without sin?” No. “Can we cast a stone at anyone?” No.
We remember the quotation, “It is not wise for anyone who lives in a glass house to cast the first stone.” The windows of our lives break easily when stones come hurling in our direction. We don’t throw rocks at anyone unless we have momentarily forgotten what we have done. Often we are blind to our own sinfulness.
We remember Jesus’ teaching from the Sermon on the Mount: “Judge not and you shall not be judged.” (Luke 6:37. P. 60)
-And then Jesus again stooped over and wrote on the ground. Again, the reader feels like you are reading an eye witness account. You feel that Jesus is calm and controlled in this situation, and knows that he has the upper hand in the argument with the Pharisees. The trap has sprung, but it has sprung on the Pharisees and teachers of the law. They know that they are now trapped.
-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. You can feel the silence in the courtyard. No one was speaking. Every one was thinking. Everyone knew that they were guilty of sin. And so everyone started to leave, one at a time, each one silently wandering away. You can hear the people slowly get up from the floor. You can hear the stirring of the bodies and rustling sounds of the clothing and the creaking of sounds of the sandals as people quietly walk away.
-The older ones left first. Why is this? Why did the older ones leave first? Perhaps because the older ones were wiser and knew the degree of sinfulness in their own human hearts whereas younger people hadn’t fully come to grips with their own sinfulness yet? Is that what age does to you? Help you to become aware of your own imperfections? Your own sinfulness? Your own humanness?
-Only the woman was left and she stood silently in front of Jesus. What was this rabbi, this holy teacher, this devout person who seemed to be wiser than all the wise men of the ages? What was this wise rabbi who seemed to the very mind of God going to say to her? You can feel the silence. The two of them. All alone. She standing there, looking down at him, not quite knowing what to expect. He silently sitting there, still bending towards the ground.
-Jesus straightened up and asked her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you? Again, the detail. Jesus straightened up. You can actually see Jesus straighten up his body from a stooped position and finally look directly into the face of the woman. All the prior time, Jesus has been looking at the floor, at the ground.
Then, Jesus asked a profound question: “Where are they?” Where are all those others who so quickly condemned you.? Where are they?”
He asked a second profound question: “Has no one condemned you?”
-No one sir, she said. She finally spoke. No one condemned her. She knew she had a friend in Jesus. She knew that Jesus was a friend of sinners. He had demonstrated this again and again, and in this courtyard scene at dawn, Jesus once again defended a sinner.
-Then neither do I condemn you. That is one of the most powerful lines in the whole Bible, in the whole of human history, in the whole of the human race. You need to underline this sentence, take it home and paste it on your refrigerator. Here was a woman caught in the very act of adultery which for some people was the most heinous and obvious of all sins, deserving of condemnation, and Jesus said to her, “Then neither do I condemn you.” If Jesus had this forgiving attitude towards a woman caught in the very act of adultery, then Jesus also has this same non-condemning attitude towards you and me. Jesus is the rabbi, the teacher, the Son of God, the very Mind of God, the very Heart of God, the very Wisdom of God, and this Jesus did not condemn this woman caught in the act of adultery and neither does Jesus condemn our lives when we do something equally and obviously sinful.
This attitude of Jesus is not unique to this one story. In John, chapter four, Jesus met a Samaritan woman at the well and it was slowly revealed that this woman had four husbands and the man she was living with was not her husband, but a partner. Once again, there was no trace of condemnation in Jesus towards the woman at the well either, although the people in town may have been condemning her behind her back all the time. Jesus did not condemn the woman at the well with five husbands in chapter four nor did Jesus condemn the woman caught in the act of adultery in chapter six.
Think of your sins. Those sins that you get caught at. Those sins you think you get by with. Make a list. The list is long. And Jesus does not condemn you. Jesus does not condemn us.
That Jesus did not condemn the woman at the well for having four husbands and then a “live in” and that Jesus did not condemn the woman caught in the very act of adultery, does this make Jesus a libertarian? Does Jesus teach, “Do what you want to do and you will always get forgiveness from God?” Does Jesus teach, “Forgiveness is easier to get than permission? Do it and get forgiveness later?” Is that what Jesus is? A softie who guarantees forgiveness so we can go and do what we want when we want?
Think of John 3:17: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world but that the world might be saved through him.”
-Jesus declared, ‘Go now and leave your life of sin. In other translations, we hear, “Go and sin no more.” And so Jesus retains the delicate balance. He does not condone the woman’s sin; he simply does not condemn her for it. Likewise, Jesus does not leave the woman in her sin but says, “Go. Leave your life of sexual sins.” Jesus does not demand of this woman that she never commits any more sin. All of us commit sin. But the time has come for this woman to be transformed by God whereby she does not remain in her sinful, sexual behaviors.
I love the quotation. “God forgives us all of our sins, but does not leave us in our sins, but because God loves us, God leads us out of our sins.” God loves us just the way we are, but God never leaves us just the way we are because God loves us.
Jesus wants us to leave our life of particular sins and sin no more. Jesus wants us to be freed of particular sins to which we have become addicted.
What does this story mean for us today? I am sure that you can figure out how God’s word for today is relevant to your personal situation and needs. I know what this story means for me. First, I am to judge no one. That is God’s business to judge people and their inner hearts. Secondly, I must be very careful that I do not use my knowledge of the Bible to condemn other people. This seems to be an easily acquired habit for people who are knowledgeable about the Bible: to use their Biblical knowledge to condemn people who are specifically condemned in the Bible. A person needs to be very careful is using the obvious Bible verses that appear to condemn certain people or groups of people. Third, there is no condemnation in Christ Jesus. Fourth, God wants to transform our sinful habits and sinful attitudes so that we “sin no more.”
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