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Between A Rock And A Hard Face

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“Men who live in glass houses should never throw rocks.”


"But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and 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. 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 one 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. 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. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” " (John 8:1-11, NIV)[1]

I don’t know for sure how a person turns this account into a sermon that inspires us but I believe that in the pages of scripture we find the greatest source of strength and encouragement that we can find anywhere.  It is not false encouragement or flattery but an honest assessment of our standing with God, a report of our personal progress.  I think that our insight into the scripture is proportional to the time that we give to it.

"But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does." (James 1:25, NIV) [2]

It is not meant for our discouragement, rather to give us direction so that we might struggle to become more like Christ.  This without question should be the goal of every person who calls themselves a Christ follower.  In our society today, it means little to call yourself Christian but to call yourself a follower of Christ is more specific.  And you cannot call yourself a follower of Christ if you do not enter into the quest for Christlikeness.

I believe that it is our desire today to be Christ-followers.  That’s really why we are here.  If we could discover one more way that we might emulate Jesus we could go away encouraged and strengthened and equipped to live more effectively before a skeptical society that suspects that we are not all that much different than they are regardless of what we say.

So I want to talk today about the position in which Christ found himself in the scripture that we watched together. He found himself as a middleman between a mob and a madam, between a rock and a hard face.  Most of us will identify in some way.  We’ve been in one of these places.  We’ve been the accuser with our pockets full of rocks.  We’ve been in the dilemma where we realize full well what the implications of our beliefs are but we have wanted to come alongside someone who may have received exactly what they have deserved but we want more and better for them.  We want to show them something different.  Rather than rejection we want them to know forgiveness and restitution and freedom from the past.  Or we have found ourselves as the guilty one.  We know our own guilt and we are ready to receive the stones.  We have no idea what the middleman has for us.  We have no concept of mercy – God’s mercy.  You could have today if you want.   You could find forgiveness today regardless of what you have done or how many times you have done it.  You have lost the ability to forgive yourself and yet God stands ready to deliver you.

Let’s look first at the mentality of the mob

1.  The Mentality of the Mob

The Pharisees and the teachers of the law had a shared mentality.  They saw themselves as the only legitimate interpreters of scripture.  They knew the scriptures inside and out by the letter.  For all their knowledge of the words of God they had little to no understanding of His wonderful heart for lost people.  You can’t discover God’s heart until you see your own clearly.  If I consider myself to be a “good person” then I can never fathom the riches of His love.

We sing about this idea in many songs new and old.

“Amazing grace how sweet the sound

that saved a wretch like me . . . “

And can it be that I should gain
An interest in the Savior's blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain?
For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be
That Thou, my God should die for me?

How Deep the Father's Love For Us

How deep the Father's love for us

How vast beyond all measure

That He should give His only Son

To make a wretch His treasure

How great the pain of searing loss

The Father turns His face away

As wounds which mar the Chosen One

Bring many sons to glory

Behold the man upon a cross

My sin upon His shoulder

Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice

Call out among the scoffers

It was my sin that held Him there

Until it was accomplished

His dying breath has brought me life

I know that it is finished

I will not boast in anything

No gifts, no power, no wisdom

But I will boast in Jesus Christ

His death and resurrection

Why should I gain from His reward?

I cannot give an answer

But this I know with all my heart

His wounds have paid my ransom (repeat

A salvation experience restores a broken relationship with God.  It is totally a work of God.  There is nothing that we can do to make that more significant than it is all by itself.  It changes our relationship to God.  It does not make us better than anyone who has not yet experienced it.  We are set apart by virtue of God’s work in us and the way that He sees us, redeemed sons and daughters of God.  If he calls us to anything He calls us to love people to a greater degree than we ever have done.  If we have experienced his saving grace fully then we have it to give to others.  If there is anything in the life of a Christ-follower that should cause alarm relative to their experience of salvation it would be their feelings about people who have not yet come to Christ.  A sense of self-righteousness that causes us to look on others in judgment is a sign that we have forgotten our own “wretchedness”.  People who stand apart form Christ are spiritually impoverished and handicapped. They are blind, deaf and even dead as far as their spiritual nature is concerned.

It can be a frightening thing when we forget that is nothing more than the provision of God’s forgiving grace that makes us different than others whose sin is so offensive to us.

 

It’s easy to hide in the mob especially when we want to throw stones.  Anonymity breeds carnality.  If I can do my dirty deeds without fear of identification then it breeds more of the same.  On the other hand if I am called to stand out from the mob things change.

That’s exactly what Jesus did.  He called the witnesses forward.  Perhaps some one or two of this mob caught this woman and her missing lover in the act of adultery, but not the whole lot of them.  As a matter of fact, most of the people who were a part of the group had no first hand experience with this situation.

So Jesus called the accusers to the front and center.

One of the stories told by that beloved Texas pastor, the late Dr. George W. Truett, was that of a young lady brought before the church for discipline because of a violation of the church covenant. It was suggested that she be dropped from the roll of the church. As the debate developed the pastor said, “Let us also call the church treasurer and have him read the record of the giving of every member, and let us vote to drop everyone who has violated God’s law against covetousness.” That bombshell cleared the air of accusers, as did the reminder of Jesus: “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her” (John 8:7).

—John R. Rice [3]

"But never put a person to death on the testimony of only one witness. There must always be at least two or three witnesses. The witnesses must throw the first stones, and then all the people will join in. In this way, you will purge all evil from among you." (Deuteronomy 17:5-7, NLT) [4]

So Jesus was trying to find the witnesses and inviting them to come forward.  To become a part of a “mob” is an ungodly and dangerous thing.  Don’t be a part of a mob unless you would be willing to stand alone for the same cause.  It is a cheap and cowardly thing to hide in a group when you would be unwilling to be singled out to stand on your own.

Not only was he looking for the witnesses, but he was challenging their very right to be stone throwers.  He knew that there were no “sinless” people in the crowd.  He taught that adultery of the heart was just as bad as the physical act.

As to adultery, both the OT and NT condemn it. In the OT theocracy it was punishable by death (Lev 20:10; Deut 22:22; cf. Exod 20:14; Lev 18:20; Deut 5:18). Note that there is no double standard. Both parties to adultery were to be put to death. In the NT, adultery is condemned by Jesus in his teachings (Matt 5:27–28; John 8:3–11) and by Paul as a part of a vice list (1 Cor 6:9). It has been noted that two sexual commands dominate both Testaments: “Do not commit adultery,” and “Do not covet … your neighbor’s wife.”39

 

Jesus also taught about lust, “adultery of the heart.” There is disagreement as to whether Jesus was strengthening the OT teaching or simply explaining its true intent. Whatever the case, he was teaching that the adulterous thought was as wrong as the adulterous act. Adultery of the heart violates the command not to covet one’s neighbor’s wife. Jesus was as concerned about the thought as he was about the act. While the act harms the marriage, lust harms the one lusting by confusing and distorting the shape of his desire. The idea that adultery of the heart will never bring harm is wrong. It has already. Desire has gone astray.[5]

You see you can’t hide from God in the middle of a self-righteous, graceless mob or in the sins of the heart and mind that we foolishly consider to be private.  We don’t think that the lustful thought is that bad but it is as clear to God as the act and just as repulsive to His Divine nature as it is destructive to our marital bonds.

2.  The  Mindset of the Middleman

 “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. 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 one 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.

Ever found yourself in this position?  I was reared in it.  Either by nature or nurture I have been a peacekeeper at worst and a peacemaker at best.  You can keep peace without making peace but a middleman can never make peace.  It takes a desire on the part of at least one of the estranged parties for there to be peace.

 

"Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone." (Romans 12:17-18, NIV) [6]

It takes two people to fight.  If one is unwilling there will be no open conflict.  One person, unwilling to fight can keep the peace.  It takes two people sick and tired of fighting to make peace.

"Through love and faithfulness sin is atoned for; through the fear of the LORD a man avoids evil. When a man’s ways are pleasing to the LORD, he makes even his enemies live at peace with him." (Proverbs 16:6-7, NIV) [7]

People who are engaged in conflict frequently are people who enjoy it.  If you hang out with these sorts of people the battle will inevitably boil over to embroil you.

"You can count on this. I want you to put your foot down. Take a firm stand on these matters so that those who have put their trust in God will concentrate on the essentials that are good for everyone. Stay away from mindless, pointless quarreling over genealogies and fine print in the law code. That gets you nowhere. Warn a quarrelsome person once or twice, but then be done with him. It’s obvious that such a person is out of line, rebellious against God. By persisting in divisiveness he cuts himself off. " (Titus 3:8-11, The Message) [8]

I think that God wants all of his followers to be people who promote peace.

"Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord:" (Hebrews 12:14, NKJV) [9]

"Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace." (Ephesians 4:2-3, NIV) [10]

And you know what, a person is either a peacemaker or a peace breaker.  You do not serve the interests of God’s kingdom when you are a peace breaker.

Peacemakers are the middlemen and women.. They stand between opposing parties striving to bring mutual understanding and appreciation.  Much of what we spiritualize in the church as irreconcilable differences are nothing more than the expression of God’s nature.  He makes us diverse to function in different ways.  When we fulfill this function we minimize the differences.  We are at our best when we are engaged in kingdom work and service.  People who fail to engage in this work see nothing but the differences and we cannot tolerate them.

A person who has an inactive or dormant gift of teaching will be critical of the way another person teaches.  A person who refuses to use God given talent will be critical of another who is like talented  and using their gift.  Often critical natures and spirits belong to people who are inactive in their spiritual service.

Some rules for Middlemen

q     Don’t pander the punishers.  Jesus refused to play the game of these people.  He had his own agenda and he realized that his response would be misinterpreted.  It always is when legalists lock horns with grace givers.  They could have seen his doodling in the dust as weakness.  Any good legalist interprets such activity as an unwillingness to take a stand.  Any grace giver realizes that the stand has already been taken by Christ on Calvary’s tree and his hands were nailed wide open and they remain the same – ready to receive whoever would come to Him.  It doesn’t matter how wicked or guilty we are, his arms are wide open.  Peacemakers cannot afford to be manipulated by those who desire swift and immediate retribution.

q     Don’t be prematurely pressured.  Play your own game.  I have a ministry play book and I follow it quite closely.  One of my plays is something that I call tacking.  In a sail boat it is possible to sail with a favorable wind and to make great time if the wind is blowing where I am going.  Any deviation form that perfect wind will slow my time.  I cannot sail directly into an opposing wind but I can still get where I am going.  It will take longer but a good sailor can make any wind work for them.  I’m not a good sailor on the high seas but I have learned how to navigate life’s seas in a fairly effective manner.  It comes first with the realization that I cannot change the direction of the wind but I have complete control over the set of my sails.

    "The Winds of Fate"

One ship drives east and the other west,

With the selfsame winds that blow.

‘Tis the set of the sails, and not the gales,

Which tells us the way to go.

Like the winds of the sea are the ways of fate,

As we voyage along through life.

‘Tis the set of the soul, that decides it's goal,

And not the calm or the strife.

Peacemakers learn to develop a reliable play book and they play by the book.

q     Don’t placate the peccadillo.  This is just a fancy word for “offense”.  In our attempts to be peacemakers we cannot excuse sin.  Sin keeps us from God and it will ultimately destroy the person who harbors it.  People who will come to Christ must ultimately break with sin.

I wrote this note to a person who had once served Christ actively and then turned away.  They blamed the church for the estrangement that they felt and accused us of being unforgiving.

“I hold nothing against you.  I have simply let you go according to the choice that you made.  You declared your preferential direction and you went there.  I just assumed that this was what you wanted.  You can't live equally in two worlds.  If you want full acceptance in the world that you have chosen, you will find yourself estranged from the world that you have forsaken.  If you want full acceptance in the world that you have forsaken, you must forsake the world that you have chosen.”

This then takes us to . . .

3.  The Matter of the Madam

I think that the great fear of many well-meaning Christians is that in our attempts to be redemptive with people, we excuse their behavior and consequently they do not make that break.

Look what Jesus said to this maligned madam.

"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. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” " (John 8:9-11, NIV) [11]

He wasted no time lecturing her over her past sin or her current lifestyle.  He didn’t tell her that he forgave her.  He merely stated that he didn’t condemn her.  This was not necessarily a conversion experience for this lady but in all likelihood it was a turning point.  In the movie, “The Passion of the Christ”, this lady was identified as Mary Magdalene, who later witnessed his crucifixion as one of his devoted followers.  Perhaps this was so, there is no definite connection that I am aware of.

Jesus was being true to his mission in this encounter.

"For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son." (John 3:17-18, NIV) [12]

People who do not know Christ as their personal Savior “stand condemned already”. 

If we didn’t stand in need, Christ would not have come.  Left on our own apart from the Savior this is how the whole world stands.  For this reason we need a Savior.

Charles Edward Pugh exclaimed before his death, "The Christian way is horse sense. It is sanity. And anyone who thinks otherwise is a damned fool, and I am not swearing when I say that."

 

 -- John Wesley White, The Survivors, p. 60.

We are ministering to people who already stand condemned when we attempt to bring Jesus to them.  Dear brother, dear sister, do you not understand from the pages of scripture that you need Jesus.  One day you will stand before God and he will call for a final accounting.  The first question that you will answer to God is what you chose to do with Jesus of Nazareth.  Did you receive him or ignore him?

The closer we get to people whose lives are in turmoil the greater level of discomfort we will experience.  The ways that we minister to people do not always fit just right.  We find ourselves many times in tension with the letter of the law but not perhaps the spirit of the law.  And there are always those who want to see the law “carried out” when it comes to others.  They want to see someone else pronounce sentence.  They want to see justice done or the law applied to someone else.

I remember one of our young adults in Moncton who misquoted Pastor Buckingham relative to the lengths to which the church must go to reach people who stand apart from Christ.  He said that we must go to any lengths short of sin if we are to reach them.

The misquote by the young adult was that we should get as close to sin as we can if we are going to reach the lost.

Some want to live within the sound of church or chapel bell;

      I want to run a rescue shop within a yard of hell.

 

                                    ... C. T. Studd (1860-1931)

The closer we get as a church to lost people and their circumstance and as we bring Christ to them, we will increase the level of our own discomfort.  There will be times when we will wrestle within as to how we walk the fine line between being redemptive and condoning.  But unless we are willing to walk the line we will become increasingly irrelevant, ineffective and disconnected from the culture in which we exist.

It’s time to drop the rocks brothers and sisters.  You can’t emulate your Savior with a pocket full of rocks or a stony heart that is calloused to God and people.

Drop ‘em, if you want to call yourself a Christ-follower.  You can’t be both a thrower of rocks and a lover of God.


----

[1] The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[2] The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[3]Tan, P. L. (1996, c1979). Encyclopedia of 7700 illustrations : [a treasury of illustrations, anecdotes, facts and quotations for pastors, teachers and Christian workers]. Garland TX: Bible Communications.

[4] Holy Bible : New Living Translation. 1997. Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House.

39 Ibid., p. 31.

[5]Feinberg, J. S., Feinberg, P. D., & Huxley, A. (1996, c1993). Ethics for a Brave new world. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books.

[6] The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[7] The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[8] Peterson, E. H. (2003). The Message : The Bible in contemporary language. Colorado Springs, Colo.: NavPress.

[9] The New King James Version. 1996, c1982. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[10] The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[11] The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[12] The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

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