Caught in the Act
Caught in the Act: Dealing with Shame
It’s baseball season. And, if you’re a sports junky like me, you’re watching & rooting for your favorite team. You’re also rooting against your hated archrivals. There are some great rivalries in baseball: Yankees vs. Red Sox; Phillies vs. Mets; Giants vs. Dodgers to name a few. Soon, the greatest sports of all will start up again: NFL Football. Now, here’s where the rivalries really heat up. You’ve got Eagles vs. Cowboys; Eagles vs. Giants; Eagles vs. Redskins. I’m a little Eagles crazy. Can you tell? These rivalries make headlines whether in the newspaper, Sportscenter or on the Internet.
As I read the passage of Scripture from John 8 this week I kept hearing about another kind of rivalry: Law verses Grace. But what exactly is grace? If you were raised Roman Catholic as I was, grace was taught as something of a commodity. Grace was something you earned and could even stockpile for later use. You could borrow some grace when you needed it from the saints who evidently had an excess amount of grace to their credit. But what does the scripture teach us about grace? This passage illustrates the difference between Law and Grace as well as any other passage in the scripture. Let’s take a look at it together.
>> Read John 8:1-11
Picture the scene in your mind: Jesus was in Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles. He had been teaching in the Temple. People flocked to see him and hear him. They were amazed at his teaching. Some even asked if the authorities had concluded that Jesus was indeed the Christ. At the end of the day, he sent the people away and he went up to the Mount of Olives. Perhaps he went there to pray or just to be alone. The next day (the last day of the feast) Jesus is teaching at the Temple again when he is suddenly interrupted. A loud and angry mob of Pharisees and Scribes bursts onto the scene. They have a prisoner. A woman who had been caught in the act of adultery is dragged in front of the entire gathering.
Her clothing (if any) was torn. Her hair was a mess. She was probably bloodied and bruised from the struggle. She had been caught in the most intimate of acts and dragged away from her partner. It’s interesting to note that he was not captured and dragged before Jesus. Now I wonder how that could be? If one was caught and guilty then the other should have been caught and condemned as well. The Mosaic Law was clear on this. The penalty was death by stoning. Yet only the woman was brought in and declared guilty.
It could be that the man escaped. It could be that the Pharisees let him go. Or, it could be that he was one of them…that this entire situation was planned and plotted just to find a way to condemn Jesus. I’m leaning toward that scenario. The scripture tells us that Jesus saw it as just that: a plan to trap him. The Pharisees were so intent on killing Jesus that would go to any length. Thankfully, Our Lord saw right through their plan and the trap they were setting for him.
The mob presses Jesus with the matter. They are quick to point out what the Law says about the woman’s crime. She is to be stoned to death. But they don’t just take her out and stone her. They want to hear what Jesus has to say about this situation. Now the trap is set. If Jesus agrees that she should be stoned to death he is a hypocrite, since he has been preaching about love and forgiveness. He would also be breaking Roman law since only Rome had the power to issue the death sentence. If he decides that she should go free, he’s breaking the Mosaic and oral laws that say she is deserving of death. You can almost see the wry smiles on their faces as they await his answer. They were so sure that they had him trapped.
But was does Jesus do? Without saying a word, he bends down and starts writing something in the sand. The mob (ignoring his writing) intensifies its demand that she be stoned to death. Jesus gets to his feet and looks them straight in the eye and says, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” Several other versions capture the original Greek a bit better here than that in the NIV. The NASB and the ESV both read “He that is without sin among you throw the first stone…” Dead silence.
Then Jesus bends down and begins writing in the sand again. We’re told that one-by-one, beginning with the oldest, her accusers dropped their stones and went away without saying a word.
What did Jesus write? We don’t know for sure but some think he wrote the name of a sin that each of them struggled with starting with the oldest and continuing until he’d named them all. I can understand why the oldest were the first to drop their stones and walk away. The longer you’ve lived; the more opportunity you’ve had to commit sin and face the realization that you just don’t measure up. The younger accusers didn’t have as long of a history of sin to remember or consider.
Jesus continued to write in the sand. One-by-one the stones dropped from the hands of the accusers and hit the ground. One-by-one the accusers left until only Jesus and the adulteress were left. Jesus straightened up and faced the woman and here he utters the most wonderful words that anyone could ever want to hear.
Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
11 “No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
The only person in the world who was actually qualified to condemn this woman, does not. Instead, he pardons her, and lovingly forgives her. Instead of shame, this woman experiences the beautiful feeling of having been forgiven. This, my friends, is grace. Grace is getting something that you don’t deserve instead of getting what you do deserve.
The crowd is always quick to condemn; to pass judgment on you. You did this! You did that! You’re a guilty sinner! You’re worthless! But Jesus washes away all of our guilt and shame. He bore our guilt and shame on the cross. When you come to Jesus, you are declared “not guilty” in God’s eyes. What a wonderful thing! It’s almost too good to be true…but it is true.
But don’t overlook the important last words that Jesus said to this woman: “Go now and leave your life of sin.” You’re pardoned. You’re forgiven. Now stop committing the sin that you’ve been committing. To go on committing that sin is to spit in the face of the grace that God has so generously given us. We are all guilty and we know it. We fail to meet the standard that has been set. We miss the mark.
A couple of weeks ago, we were supposed to play a double-header softball game. It’s a long story, but the games were never played. While a few of us were waiting around, we decided to make use of the time and get in some batting and fielding practice. Now Pastor Mark usually pitches for our Men’s softball team, and (on most occasions does a great job). He’ll walk a batter here and there. But on this day I asked him if I could give it a try.
I watched as Mark bent over much as Jesus did that day and made a line in the sand behind home plate. He yelled out to me that this was the mark I was trying to hit with my pitches. Well, needless to say, I didn’t hit that mark with too many pitches. It wasn’t as easy as Mark made it look. With most of my pitches, I was way off the mark. So much so that I was worried that Joe Frey (our best hitter) might injure himself trying to hit my bad pitching. I was just awful.
But this illustration demonstrates our situation quite effectively. When it comes to meeting God’s standard, we all miss the mark.
Sadly, many of us (including myself for many years) after becoming a Christian, go on sinning and, in the process, deny the grace that God has given us. Some of you may even be caught in the snare of addiction. Please don’t try to go it alone. Go to someone you can trust and confess. You will be amazed at how freeing this exercise is!
We also have men’s and women’s groups here at Crossbridge where one can form lasting, trusting relationships to help you going forward.
Our small groups are designed to help you form strong, lasting relationships so that you’ll never feel alone. Believe me, you’re not alone. We all struggle with some sin in our life. We just don’t want to admit it! No one will judge you. We’re here to help you.
John 8:34-36 tells us that when “the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed”. Free from bondage of sin. Free from the guilty verdict. Free to live the new life that has been given to us.
Too many of us believe the accusers. Just like those who condemned the woman caught in adultery, there are those out there who would accuse us and try to condemn us as well.
Chuck Swindoll said that “all of those who are not qualified to condemn—will condemn. Stay away from those people. The one who is qualified to condemn—will not condemn you. Stay close to him.”
We all have things in our pasts that we’d like to forget. We all have committed sins that, if made public, would put us to shame. Many times, we are our own worst accusers! We hold onto the guilt and shame of our past and let it keep us from becoming the man or woman God wants us to become.
We can all think of someone who has been publicly shamed. It seems that this media-crazy culture that we live in actually delights in seeing someone publicly shamed. How about Martha Stewart? Whether you like her or not, the media was gleeful when she went to jail.
Another sad situation was that of baseball player Rafael Palmiero. In the middle of the steroid scandal that continues to rock MLB, Palmeiro took the stand in front of Congress and spoke against the use of steroids. Within a few weeks, he tested positive. A sure Hall of Famer’s reputation and career ended on a very sour note.
President Nixon. Michael Jackson. O.J. Simpson. I could go on and on. There are so many examples of people who have suffered public shame.
What happens when it’s you or me who experiences the sting of shame in our life? Many lives have been completely destroyed by the anguish that can be the result of shame. What can we do to make sure that we are not destroyed by shame?
The answer is to look squarely into the eyes of the Lord Jesus Christ as he asks you “Where are they? Has no one condemned you?” Answer him just as the woman answered that day, “No one sir.” Hear him reply “Then neither do I condemn you.” “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
Acknowledge your sin before God and man. Turn from it. Accept His forgiveness.
Now for the hard part. Forgive yourself and start over. You know, it’s never too late.
In a small cemetery of a parish churchyard in Olney, England stands a granite tombstone with this inscription: “John Newton, clerk (pastor), once an infidel and libertine, a servant of slavers in Africa, was, by the rich mercy of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ preserved, restored, pardoned, and appointed to preach the Faith he had long labored to destroy.” You may not remember his name, but all of us know the song he wrote as a testimony of his life: “Amazing Grace.”
The opening stanza of that old hymn really says it all. “Amazing grace. How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.”
Amazing grace, not condemnation, comes by Jesus Christ.
Jesus bore our guilt and shame on the cross. As a matter of fact, the scripture tells us that he “despised the shame” of the crucifixion. But he willingly went to his death…a death of public humiliation for you and me.
Whatever your condition today…maybe you’ve never put your faith and trust in Jesus Christ. Or, maybe you’ve been a believer for awhile but know that there are things in your life that just don’t belong there. Maybe you’ve been hiding your sin out of fear of shame. Romans 8:1 says “There is now no condemnation to those that are in Jesus Christ.”
Why not do as Jesus said? “Go and leave your life of sin.” Then, you can experience true freedom for the very first time.