So this was how it would end. Public humiliation and possibly a public death for a private act.
An act that had never been intended to be shared with others and certainly not made public. It had all started out innocently enough, a shared glance, an innocent touching of hands, a long conversation and it ended in with her doing what she never thought she would do. How often had she heard her rabbi warn his congregation that “Sin will always take you further than you want to go, it will always keep you longer than you want to stay and will always cost you more than you want to pay.”
But she thought she was in control, but she wasn’t and this was how it would end. Public humiliation and possibly a public death, and the disgrace would not just be hers; it would be shared by her parents and her children.
We all know the story; we read a portion of it earlier from John Chapter 8. There are people all the time who use the phrase “Cast the first stone” and have no idea that it is part of the Jesus story. We also hear those guilty of a variety of offences who try to escape judgment by invoking the same phrase.
This is week three of our Summer series “Say What?”. From June to September, members of the preaching team here at Cornerstone are focusing their efforts on everyday phrases that have their roots in the Bible.
This is one of the easy ones, at least for those of us who have been around the church for any length of time. However, I would suspect that there are many people who use the phrase or understand the concept of the phrase but don’t realize where it originated from.
This is one of the great Jesus stories.
In an attempt to trap Jesus, the religious leaders bring a woman to him for judgment. Not sure they were really interested in justice as much as it was just an opportunity to have Jesus either a) prove that he wasn’t all that interested in extending grace or b) that he wasn’t all that interested in obeying the law of the Old Testament. Either way, the woman was just a pawn.
But instead of playing their game, Jesus did what he did so well and he turns the tables on those who were trying to trap him.
When they demanded that he take part in the condemnation of the woman, he bends down and begins to doodle in the dust. We have no idea what he was writing, there have been all kinds of theories but that is all they are, theories, because we don’t know. Maybe he was writing names or sins or maybe he was just doodling, but to guess would be just that, a guess. But then Jesus looks up and extends one simple test, he tells them, “If you want to judge her that’s fine, but first judge yourselves. What makes you so worthy of being her judge?”
And they all walked away. There have been some who speculate that Jesus was writing the names of girlfriends and indiscretions in the dust, but there is no evidence of that. Maybe the religious leaders were simply afraid of what he might be writing. Reminds me of the Mark Twain quote, where he said, “I once sent a dozen of my friends a telegram saying ‘flee at once – all is discovered.’ They all left town immediately.” Perhaps it was the religious leader’s guilty conscience that caused them to leave. We will never know this side of eternity. But there are lessons to be learned from the story.
John 8:3 As he (Jesus) was speaking, the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. They put her in front of the crowd.
It Started With Her Problematic Past. You ever get the impression that the woman here was an innocent spectator? You kind of get the idea that she was just standing on the side of the road minding her own business when they grabbed her and dragged her to Jesus.
And maybe she was. Crazy things happen.
So maybe there is an outside chance that this lady had been framed. But we don’t know that. All we know is that in the story the charge was that she had been caught in the act of Adultery.
I don’t know how many times I’ve heard this message preached and I’ve always gone away feeling sorry for the woman. Hold it.
The woman was an adulteress. The Bible says that she’d been caught in bed with a man who wasn’t her husband. Now I don’t know for sure what she was doing in bed with the man who wasn’t her husband, but I’d be willing to bet they weren’t playing checkers.
We immediately think that this woman broke one of the Ten Commandments, but in reality, she broke several of the commandments.
It started when she broke commandment number Ten when she wanted what wasn’t hers to have. Thou Shalt Not Covet. We don’t know what it is she wanted, maybe it was simply the physical, or maybe it was deeper than that, maybe she was looking for an emotional connection that was missing with her husband that she saw in someone else. But either way, she wanted what wasn’t hers to have.
And then if the man she was involved with was married, she broke commandment number eight when she stole the affections that belonged to someone else. Thou Shalt not steal. And finally, she broke commandment number seven when she slept with a man who was not her husband. Thou Shalt not commit adultery.
And in 2020 some people may be thinking: what’s the big deal, People have affairs all the time?
Notice how we have even sanitized the act, from adultery to an affair.
If you follow entertainment news at all, you may have heard that Jada Pinkett Smith confessed to having been unfaithful to her husband, Will Smith. But she didn’t call it adultery, or even an affair, she referred to it as an “entanglement.”
But the reason adultery made the big ten is that it is so destructive. Destructive to individuals, destructive to families, and destructive to society as a whole. Adultery is not a victimless sin and often those who are hurt go far beyond just the betrayed spouse. It was Natalia Ginzburg who wrote “No adultery is bloodless.” Partners are hurt, children are hurt, relationships are damaged and trust is destroyed.
And because of her past, because of a decision that she made, she was brought to judgment.
Now understand that we all have a past. It may not have included breaking commandment number seven, but I would suspect that it involved breaking some of the other the commandments. And for those who piously claim that they have never broken any of the Ten Commandments Jesus takes it to an even higher level when he challenges people to not only take responsibility for our physical actions, do not murder, do not commit adultery and do not lie. But to take responsibility for our thought lives as well; do not even lust after someone who is not your spouse, don’t even hate someone, don’t just be a person who doesn’t lie because you’ve taken an oath, be a person of integrity who doesn’t lie, ever.
But nobody should be defined by their worst moment. To those who would judge this woman she was an adulteress, but she was so much more than that.
And it’s not just individuals who have a past; churches have a past as well. At Cornerstone we have done some right things over the past 25 years and some wrong things. There are things that I would do over again and there are things that I wish I could do over and correct the mistakes I made. Mistakes in dealing with people, mistakes concerning the direction we took, and decisions that were made.
In the same way that nobody should be defined by their worst moment, churches shouldn’t be defined by their worst moment. I’m sure there are some people who have had a bad experience with Cornerstone, people who might say; “Well, I tried that church once, and I didn’t like it, nobody talked to me, the worship was terrible and the preaching stunk.” Well, maybe we were just having a bad day.
It was W. Somerset Maugham who said “Only a mediocre person is always at his best.”
The great thing about the past is that it’s the past. It’s gone, and it’s finished.
We can’t deny our past, but we shouldn’t live there. The past makes a great classroom, but it shouldn’t be your living room. However, it was this woman’s past that brought her to where she now stood.
John 8:4-5 “Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?”
Which Brought Her to Her Present Reality And her present was defined by her past. She was where she was because of choices that she had made. If she had not committed adultery, then she wouldn’t have been standing in front of Jesus while others discussed her future.
According to the religious law, the penalty for committing adultery was death. She was caught in adultery and was being sentenced. There was no defence for her; she couldn’t appeal to a higher court. She had started writing the story and her accusers would finish it for her. As a Jewish woman, in a Jewish culture, raised in a knowledge of the Jewish law she would have known the consequences of her actions.
We might choose to ignore the words of the law laid down in the Old Testament but for her that wouldn’t have been an option and she would have known the words of Leviticus 20:10 “If a man commits adultery with his neighbor’s wife, both the man and the woman who have committed adultery must be put to death.
When she started down that path, she would have known the ultimate destination if she got caught. She may very well have thought that she wouldn’t get caught, but she knew what the law dictated would happen to her if she did get caught.
We might feel sorry for her, we might feel that the punishment didn’t fit the crime, after all what would happen today if adulterers & adulteresses were put to death? Other than the fact that it would solve the overpopulation problem, the unemployment problem would be solved with all those jobs opening up, Hollywood would be a virtual ghost town and most of us would lose some friends.
And as much as we might feel that this was extreme and unjust action, at that time, in her country, under her religion according to her traditions and customs she was simply getting what she deserved, no more no less. And she knew the consequences if she got caught, but like most of us, she had no intention of getting caught.
But understand this. It was the choices she had made yesterday that determined where she was today.
All of us are where we are in life today, for better or worse, because of choices we made yesterday.
The temptation in our life is to say “why me?” The real question should be “Why not me?” Each of us are where we are today because of choices that we made somewhere along the line.
The decision to study in school or slough off, the decision about where we would further our education and what courses we would take, the decision of who we would marry. Some of you may be thinking, well I didn’t want to get married, we had to.” Well that involved another choice didn’t it? Every addiction began with a choice, you may be thinking “I don’t have a choice, I have to do it.” But you made the choice at the beginning, the choice to try whatever it is you are addicted to.
Our today is shaped by our yesterdays. The woman made a choice in her past that led her to the present. A different choice would have led her to a different reality.
It was the French philosopher Henri L. Bergson who wrote “The present contains nothing more than the past, and what is found in the effect was already in the cause.”
In the church it is the same way, choices that we made yesterday affect where we are and who we are today. Sometimes we made the right choice, we had our choice of four properties to choose from when we were building, this was the bottom on my list but now it’s obvious the right choice in many ways. And because of that decision that we made 16 years ago we are in a prime location today. On the other hand, if we had had bought it when it first came on the market we probably could have bought five times the land for half the price, oh well.
There are issues that we have with the building today because of choices we made when we were building. Including only air conditioning the worship centre. I’m sorry.
Because of choices that we made about what our services would look like and how I would preach there are people who made a decision to not to come to Cornerstone, and that has coloured who we are. On the other hand because of choices that we made about what our services would look like and how I would preach there are people who are committed followers of Christ because we are what we are.
It is when you accept the responsibility for where you are that you acknowledge that not only what you did in yesterday has shaped the today but what you do today will shape tomorrow.
God gave us the gift of our “free will” because he knew that if we choose to, that we would make the right decision. But it would be our decision to do the right thing and not because we were forced to do the right thing.
So, you understand where we are in the story. It had started with a decision she had made in the past that led her to where she was in the present. And sometimes we can’t get past that point. We look around and say “poor me”. We look back and wish that we were able to go back and redo whatever it was that we had done that brought us to where we are.
But you can’t change the past. It was Dale Carnegie who cautioned us “Don’t try to saw sawdust.”
And Jesus knew that he couldn’t change the woman’s past and regardless of what the religious leaders were trying to get him to commit to, he refused to alter her present, but what a gift he had for her. Let’s go back to the story, to see how it ends.
John 8:10-11 Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?” “No, Lord,” she said. In that statement Jesus dealt with her past, “Where are your accusers? Where are those who want to remind you of the mistakes you made yesterday?” And he dealt with her present. At that point in time she was humiliated, shamed and possibly facing life or death. And Jesus asked “Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”
For her, this was the greatest gift that she could have been given. But the gift that Jesus had for the woman was much greater than forgiving her past or saving her from her present. Because Jesus goes on to say And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.”
Jesus not only forgave her past sins and changed her present reality the greatest gift he offered was Jesus Offered Her a Preferred future
When I am counselling
folks I often challenge them first to describe their present reality. To describe where they are now and then ask
them to describe their preferred future. Where they would like to be. It’s only then that we can work on how to get
from point “A” to point “B”.
You understand that is the great thing about understanding that we are responsible for where we are?
When I talk to people about acknowledging that their choices have led them to where they are today, what they first hear is that they have to accept the blame. Not at all, it’s not about blame, it’s simply about responsibility. Your choices are also responsible for all the good in your life as well. Married to the love of your life? That was a choice. Love what you are doing for a living? That was a choice.
You buy a car and you have problems with it and you think “Well, I chose to buy that car, I have to accept responsibility for my choices.” But there’s the other side of the coin, if you buy a car and it’s awesome you made that choice as well.
So, once you acknowledge that what you did yesterday has shaped where you are today then you will understand that what you do today has the power to shape your tomorrows.
Jesus was giving the woman the gift of a redefined future.
He was giving her the chance to shape her tomorrows without the baggage of yesterday. So often people are quite happy to quote the first part of what Jesus told the woman while ignoring the second part. They love the “Neither do I (condemn you)”
but they seem to forget that Jesus went on to say “Go and sin no more”.
Jesus had wiped away her sins, he had given her a clean page to write her future on, but she would have to be the one who would write it.
We don’t know the rest of the lady’s story. She was offered a chance to change, but we really don’t know if she did or not. And if she did, I wonder if she ever came to a point that she was ready to judge, and Jesus’s words rang again in her memory, and she put down her rock.
Today you have the opportunity to start over. To say “I can’t change my past but I can change my future.” Are you willing to let go of your past? Are you willing to define your future by your actions today? And it’s tough, if it was easy everybody would be doing it but just as Jesus believed that the woman caught in adultery could make the right choice he believes that you can make the right choice.
And that challenge is not just for us as individuals but also as a church. The biggest challenge we have at Cornerstone today is looking past our success. To understand that, just because what we are doing worked yesterday and today doesn’t mean it will work tomorrow. Sometimes what works today won’t work tomorrow.
We have reinvented ourselves several times since we began worship together 25 years ago, the message stays the same but we are not the same church we were in 1996, or 2006 or 2016 for that matter and hopefully we aren’t the same church we will be in 2021.
What do you want your personal future to look like? What choices will you have to make today to make that happen? What do you want the future of Cornerstone to look like? What choices will you have to make today to make that reality?
One of my favourite verses is Philippians 3:13 No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead. . .
Today Jesus is offering you a brand-new future. But it’s up to you. Will you accept the gift and the challenge? And as I close let me leave you with the word of Barbara Bush, who said, “May your future be worthy of your dreams.”