Transforming Motives, Transforming Lives
28 June 2015
A study in the series on the Gospel of John by John Dugas
Grace Bible Church, Tulsa
Full Audio Message
Lynch mobs twist justice into something ugly. You can think to movies about the old West where a person is accused of a crime and a mob is stirred up by twisting justice into something hateful and cruel. The accused is denied a fair trial and are executed based on the mangled emotions of those who think they are carrying out justice. They fear that if they hesitate, justice won’t be served.
Our sense of justice can easily be warped and twisted into ugly hate. How does that happen? First, we operate on our own sense of justice rather than following the laws that are designed to prevent that. But second, we go into the situation with no room for mercy, compassion or grace. We leave no place for compassion toward sinners. Without compassion we cannot help them change.
There is a place for law to be carried out and there is a place for mercy. But what Jesus does is to expose motives and points to something profound: law isn’t only about law. Law points to something greater. It points to the need for change. While the law doesn’t directly give hope of forgiveness and mercy, it points us to the Lawgiver. Jesus shows that God’s program isn’t about law for law’s sake. His program isn’t “One strike and you’re out.” Even someone who must receive capital punishment for his crimes can receive mercy from God before he is executed. Think here about the thief on the cross. God ordained the authorities to follow through with that man’s execution. His crimes deserved it. But he also received mercy from the lips of Jesus.
We however can end up pitting “love God” against “love neighbor.” We can be so insistent that the law is upheld that we have no place for love or mercy or compassion toward that sinner.
Here is where Jesus and the Gospel come in. Apart from Jesus and His substitutionary work on the cross, there is not really any place for mercy. Loving God would require that we always carry out the sentences for disobedience every time. But God’s character is not only justice, righteousness and wrath. God’s character is also love for sinners, mercy to the guilty and grace to change lives. Justice, righteousness and wrath show us our need for a Savior. Love, mercy and grace show us the amazing, life-transforming work that this Savior accomplishes. “Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more!” Law can only point out sin and punish the sinner. Grace can forgive sin and change the sinner.
When we’re done today, I want you and I to be convinced that we need to consider our own motives when we confront sin in others. I want us to be convicted when we find motives that are anything less than Christ-centered. I want us to begin down a new path where we deal with sin in others but we do so to promote transforming grace in their lives.
Jesus confronts religion that has soured and lost its freshness. Jesus confronts our religion when it serves our own ends—religion that has no room for grace, mercy and compassion. How does He do that? Jesus transforms our motives so that He can use us to transform lives.
Your English Bible may put the story of the woman caught in adultery in brackets or even move it to the margin or footnotes. Why? Most NT scholars believe that John did not write this passage and I agree. The style and vocabulary is different from John’s writings. Actually it is very much like Luke’s writings. The earliest manuscripts do not have this story in John’s Gospel. I do believe that this story is authentic. Is this passage a part of Scripture? Leon Morris explains, “But if we cannot feel that this is part of John’s Gospel we can feel that the story is true to the character of Jesus. Throughout the history of the church it has been held that, whoever wrote it, this little story is authentic” (The Gospel According to John, p. 883). I do believe it’s a part of Scripture and worthy of our study.
Calvin advises that since it has been accepted by the churches from a pretty early date, and it is consistent with the writings of the apostles, there is no reason why we should not make use of it.
I. Men use justice for their own advantage (John 7:53-8:6).
In the evenings, Jesus would go to the Mount of Olives but return to the temple early in the morning (Lk 21:37-38). During the day, He taught in the temple, so people gathered there to hear Him. On this particular day, scribes and Pharisees interrupted Jesus’ teaching. These men held to a very strict, legalistic view of the Law and applied it that way to the people. They brought to Jesus a woman caught in adultery. They reported that she had been caught in the very act. She was seized with her shame still clinging to her (Morris, p. 885). Since the Law required that there had to be two witnesses to confirm the guilt of someone accused (Dt 19:15), it seems that they may have set a trap for her. Were they waiting and watching and thus guilty by what they watched?
What we do know is that they set her in the midst of the crowd, making her stand in full view of everyone. They present the case like they’re following Moses’ law. However, according to the Law that they cite (Lev 20:10; Dt 22:22f), they were required to bring the man who was with her. If found guilty, both were to be stoned together. In light of that, listen to how fishy their claim sounds: Moses commanded us to stone such women. They twisted the Scriptures! Moses didn’t say to just stone the woman! And they break the Law by jumping straight to execution with no trial.
The writer points out to us that the religious leaders were using this as a way to test Jesus in order that they might have grounds for accusing Him. They tested Him, hoping that He would fail the test, they could trap Him and murder Him. If Jesus condemned her, they could report Him to the Roman authorities. The Jews didn’t have the authority to enforce the death penalty. But if Jesus did not accuse her, they could accuse Him of disagreeing with Moses’ Law. They emphatically demand, “What then do YOU say?” But Jesus doesn’t fold under their demand. He just writes in the sand.
There has been a lot of speculation about what Jesus wrote in the dust. I think those speculations distract us and make us miss the real point. Jesus remained silent, allowing their words to just hang in the air and expose their hypocrisy and hatefulness. Jesus gave everyone time to ponder this.
II. Jesus uses justice to confront men’s motives (John 8:7-8).
The silence is just too much for them, so her accusers press Jesus for an answer. Jesus responded by standing up and slicing open their hearts. He exposes their own sin and lays it bare for everyone to see. Jesus doesn’t deny the charges against the woman. He upheld the Law of Moses saying that they could proceed with the stoning but they’d better be innocent in this situation. He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.
The Law required that the witnesses were to be the ones to throw the first stones, then the rest of the people were to join in (Deut 17:7). So Jesus calls upon those who can testify that they are without sin to be the first to cast stones. Jesus isn’t saying that only sinless people can judge. He’s talking about their own sin in this matter. Have they sinned by entrapping her or watching her sinful act? More to the point, are they guilty of murder in their hearts toward Him?
In another passage, Jesus instructs us to deal with our own sin (log in our own eye) before helping someone deal with their sin (speck in their eye). Jesus’ reply to their question completely disarmed them. He saw through their trap and uses this opportunity to expose the sin in their hearts. Here are men who are looking for a chance to murder Him and they pretend to be concerned about the law regarding adultery. Her sin really isn’t the issue here. Their sin is. So Jesus lets His own words hang in the air and become daggers piercing their hearts. He wrote on the ground again.
III. Jesus confronts sin in order to change lives (John 8:9-11).
Jesus let His powerful words sink into the hearts of her accusers and it did its work. One by one they became convicted of their own sinfulness and departed. They abandoned her and their accusation against her. The older ones left first, realizing they were caught in their own trap.
With no accusers and no witnesses, the case was dropped. Jesus once again proved Himself to be the Master Teacher who taught with authority, with faithfulness to God’s word and with penetrating insight. Also, as the one true judge of men, Jesus had the authority to offer her the hope of forgiveness and a new life apart from sin. Jesus did not take her sin lightly. He told her to stop her sinful habit, to start a new life without it. A repentant person intends to turn away from sin and intends never to return to it. Make a clean break with your sin.
But at the very core of Jesus’ nature is an attitude of mercy toward sinners and an offer of new life for the humble. One day soon, He would bear sins like hers on the cross. He would become a curse for sinners like her so that they might live a righteous life going forward.
Long ago, God told the story of Israel’s own spiritual adultery in very similar images. In Lamentations 1:8-9 He reports, “Jerusalem sinned greatly, therefore she has become an unclean thing. All who honored her despise her because they have seen her nakedness [the language of sexual sin]; even she herself groans and turns away. Her uncleanness was in her skirts…she has no comforter.” But then God gives a message of hope in Lamentations 3:22-24, “The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never ceases, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Thy faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion’, says my soul, ‘Therefore I have hope in Him.’” That dear woman caught in adultery experienced that same offer of mercy from the Lord that day!
The law points us to the Lawgiver. And while He is indeed just, we will find Him to be merciful too. When we grasp this, it will change our motives. We won’t seek sinners to condemn. We will seek to save the lost and restore sinners to righteous living. Turn to Gal 6:1-5 and Jude 22-23. Ask Jesus to begin transforming your motives so that He can use you to transform lives.