GROWING LIKE JESUS — SLOW TO CENSURE
by Pastor Mike Fortune
March 1, 2008
Growing Christ followers...
- Slow to censure [John 8:1-9; Leviticus 20:10; Deuteronomy 22:22]
- Quick to forgive [John 8:10; Exodus 34:6-7]
- Ready to encourage [John 8:11; I Timothy 1:16]
If you’re going to be an elementary school teacher, you have to be slow to censure. One snowy day, the kindergarten teacher was helping one of her students put on their boots for recess. He asked for help and she could see why. Even with her pulling and him pushing, the puffy little boots didn’t want to go on. So by the time they got the second boot on, she had worked up quite a sweat. She almost cried when the little boy said, ‘Teacher, they’re on the wrong feet.’ She looked, and sure enough, they were. It wasn’t any easier pulling the boots off than it was putting them on. But she managed to keep her cool as together they worked to get the boots back on, this time on the right feet. He then announced, “These aren’t my boots.’ She bit her tongue rather than get right in his face and scream, “Why didn't you say so?” like she wanted to. Once again, she struggled to help him pull the ill‑fitting boots off his little feet. No sooner had they gotten the boots off when he said, “They're my brother’s boots. My Mom made me wear ‘em.” Now she didn’t know if she should laugh or cry. But, she mustered up the grace and courage she had left to wrestle the boots back onto his feet again. Helping him into his coat, she asked, “Now, where are your mittens?” He said, “I stuffed ‘em in the toes of my boots.”
Good teachers are slow to censure. It’s true in Kindergarten. It’s true once you graduate. And I think it’s becoming more obvious to more and more followers of Jesus. Which is the first thing I want to talk about today. Turn with me to John 8:1-11. Backing up, let’s add verse 53 from chapter 7. “53Then each went to his own home. 1But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. 3The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4and said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5In the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?’ 6They 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. 7When 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.’ 8Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. 9At 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. 10Jesus straightened up and asked her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ ‘11No one, sir,’ she said. ‘Then neither do I condemn you,’ Jesus declared. ‘Go now and leave your life of sin.’”
The New Testament is full of startling stories and this one nearly didn’t make it into the Bible. Those of you reading from the NIV like me may notice a disclaimer in your Bible saying “The earliest and most reliable manuscripts do not have John 7:53-John 8:1-11. Which is surprising to some reading the KJV. Which was based on a handful of fairly recent copies of the New Testament and by fairly recent I mean between the 12 th and 15 th centuries. In the last hundred years or so however, many more ancient manuscripts have been found, some as early as the second century. And in them, when this story occurs, it is located in a variety of places. Most frequently it is found following John 7:52, but manuscripts exist where the story can also be found following Luke 21 and Luke 24 as well.
So while the story of the woman caught in adultery is not as clearly identified with the Gospel of John as many would like, it was obviously a story well known to the early church. It was evidently based on an actual event in the life of Jesus. And it fits perfectly into the context following John 7 full of controversy and debate. The term adultery used in verses 3-4 implies that the woman they wanted to stone to death was married and had been caught cheating on her husband. Which makes you wonder where the husband was. Because Jewish law demanded that the husband bring the charge of adultery not the church or the leaders of it. Which, if you ask me, is a much better position than the one we currently have described in our church manual but traditionally understood to mean that the board’s responsibility is to determine the guilty partner instead of ministering to the brokeness of both people involved in the marriage. But if Ecclesiastes is right, and two really are better than one, doesn’t it just make sense that more than one would be required to cause a divorce? If so, the spouse should bring it to the church not the other way around! But don’t get me started on that.
For now, let’s notice what everybody in the crowd would have noticed right away. The spouse didn’t bring the accusation and the cheating partner is missing. Leviticus 20:10 [NIV] says, “If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife—with the wife of his neighbor—both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death.” They all knew that both deserved to die. Deuteronomy 22:22 [NIV] add these heart warming words, “22 If a man is found sleeping with another man’s wife, both the man who slept with her and the woman must die. You must purge the evil from Israel.”
Which is more than a little ironic. Because the other man who committed adultery or at least arranged it was probably there too. Ellen White isn’t the only commentator who says so. That in order to catch someone in the act of committing adultery, the person doing the catching has to have access to the other person involved! And in this case, that other person could have been a religious leader of the day since that’s who came to Jesus with this dilemma! But when the teachers of the law, all of whom were breaking Deuteronomy 22 and Leviticus 20 and at least one of whom was also breaking the 7 th commandment forbidding adultery, when they drag this poor girl to Jesus and force her to stand in the middle of the seated Bible study small group [can you imagine how awkward THAT Bible study was!!!], listen to what they say: “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery.” And guess what Jesus says in response!!! Quick, round up the board! We’ve got a person to punish! No!!! You know what He says? Nothing!!! Which leads us to point number one.
Growing followers of Jesus are slow to censure. Even the obviously guilty. I can remember learning this lesson stated in various ways growing up as a Christian, but the evidence used to support that conclusion was always based on the fact that Jesus didn’t pick up a brick and throw it at the girl. There you go. That proves followers of Jesus should be slow to censure. Even the obviously guilty. But what I caught this time, based on Leviticus 20 and Deuteronomy 22, is the reason this is obviously true has more to do with the Pharisees’ guilt than hers. Because Jesus had every right to throw the brick at the Pharisees first!!! They were the ones breaking the 9 th commandment about false witness to accuse someone else of breaking the 7 th about adultery. In John 7, they were the ones breaking the 6 th commandment plotting to kill Jesus accusing Him of breaking the 4 th by healing the paralytic on Sabbath.
Jesus could have exposed them all. Including the religious leader who had trapped this married woman in an adulterous affair. But Jesus is slow to censure. Even the obviously guilty. Even the religious leaders. Since he was already sitting down, according to verse 2, it was easy for him to bend down and write in the dust with his finger according to verse 6. What was he writing? The Bible doesn’t say. But all kinds of commentators suggest that Jesus was writing on the ground the secret sins of the accusers [Desire of Ages, 461].
Which could be why the oldest Pharisees left first. A little wiser than the rest, they quickly realized they were busted. Jesus obviously knew them. How they really were. On the inside. But loved them anyway. Why else would he not do even more to expose them? Like the wife of a friend of mine I went to school with. She married him and then a few years later filed for divorce and bashed him on Dr.Phill because she said he didn’t make enough money. No lie! I couldn’t believe it! I had to call my buddy to see if he was okay because the first time I heard about it was on National TV!!! Can you believe that?!! Jesus could have done that. He could have really publicly exposed those religious leaders. Especially the one involved in the adulterous affair. But Jesus is gentle. And slow to censure. Even the obviously guilty. What He knows about us He writes in the sand. So the wind can blow it away. But what He writes about Himself, he carves in stone. Something the sand of time can never erode.
I was surprised to learn this week that the first time the Bible refers to God as a forgiver of sins, or for that matter, even specifically announces that forgiveness is available, is after He gives Moses the ten commandments. Again. Remember how God gave them to Moses the first time? Exodus 31:18 says, “ 18When the LORD finished speaking to Moses on Mount Sinai, he gave him the two tablets of the Testimony, the tablets of stone inscribed by the finger of God.” But if you keep reading, Moses got so mad at the children of Israel when He came down the mountain and saw them worshiping the golden calf in Exodus 32 that He threw the stone tablets on the ground and broke them. So God had to write them again!
And when He does, listen to how Moses describes that embarrassing episode in his life found in Exodus 34:1-7 [NIV]. “1The LORD said to Moses, ‘Chisel out two stone tablets like the first ones, and I will write on them the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke. 4So Moses chiseled out two stone tablets like the first ones and went up Mount Sinai early in the morning, as the LORD had commanded him; and he carried the two stone tablets in his hands. 5Then the LORD came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the LORD. 6And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, ‘The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, 7maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.”
He is not only slow to censure. Point number one. He is quick to forgive. Point number two. The giving of the law was meant to teach us that. Whether it’s adultery, murder, false witness, lying, or losing your temper. He is quick to forgive. No, He doesn’t remove the consequences of your sin. Which often do effect both biologically and practically your children and your children’s children to the 3 rd and 4 th generation as the Bible says. But aren’t you glad He doesn’t abandon you to them? Aren’t you glad He keeps encouraging you and them? I think the wise ones are wise because they begin to realize that. The Bible says in John 7:9 “9At 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.”
The older wiser ones got it first. They knew if Jesus said go ahead and stone her, they could’ve told Caesar that Jesus was breaking Rome’s law. But if Jesus said don’t stone her, they could’ve said He was breaking Moses’ law. Which is also very ironic because Moses’ law was really Jesus’ law! How do we know? Because Jesus is the law giver! The pre-incarnate Christ was YHWH according to the apostle Paul. 1 Corinthians 10:1-4 says “1For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. 2They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. 3They all ate the same spiritual food 4and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.” Who was the rock? Christ!
Jesus was the one who led them to Mt. Sinai and came down on top of it to give Moses the ten commandments. Jesus was the one who was slow to censure. Even the obviously guilty! Jesus is the one who is quick to forgive. As the law was meant to teach us. Jesus is the one ready to encourage us. And wise men and women still recognize this today.
Larry Crabb tells the following story. Imagine living under a powerful ruler who could prosper your life or blow you out of the water. Suppose he gave a series of commands that, if followed, would be rewarded with extravagant luxuries, but if disobeyed in any detail whatsoever, would result in death. Further imagine that his laws included the requirements to never complain, to never irritably snap at anyone, to always put others’ needs ahead of yours. Keep the law perfectly and enjoy unlimited blessings. Break one, just once, and you die. And be aware, your ruler has eyes and spies everywhere. No misstep will go unnoticed. “You have heard it said, ‘Do not murder’ but I tell you, you can’t even get angry!’” Even if you managed to measure up to that standard for a time, you couldn’t rest in the blessings it gave. Because you’d be too worried about making a mistake. Life would not be worth living. But if someone delivered you from that arrangement, not because the law was unfair but because you weren’t good enough to keep it and found a way to let you live as a beloved son or daughter of the king with a royal position established not by performance but by relationship, you would be profoundly grateful. Right? Your one thought would be to get to know that person, to draw near to Him. Right?
Well, our story in John 8 reminds us that this story I just told you isn’t a fairy tale. According to Hebrews 11, it happened. To Abel. Enoch. Noah. Abraham. Sarah. Jacob. Isaac. Joseph. Moses. Rahab. Gideon. Barak. Samson. David. Samuel. The list includes men and women. Young and old. Who lived a life worth living by grace alone, through faith alone, in the coming Christ alone. Rightly understood, our relationship with God has never depended on our performance or ability to change our lives. The proper use of the law is to encourage people to cling to the only One who ever kept it. And that is Christ. None of the those folks in Hebrews 11 are there because after conversion, they willed themselves to live a sanctified life. They are in there because they realized they couldn’t—so instead chose to live by faith! And they are there to remind us that we can live by faith from the other side of the cross! We are called to sincerely serve. Not perfectly obey.
That’s what Paul means in Romans 9:30 when he asks: “30What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; 31but Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it. 32Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works.” Romans 11:5 adds, “So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.”
The bottom line is God wants us to have a better life before death. Which we highlighted last time. Good news! There is a life worth living. So He encouraged that woman caught in adultery to start living it! By faith. That’s why He is slow to censure. Quick to forgive. And point number three: Ready to encourage. Which is what He meant when He told the woman caught in adultery: “Go and sin no more.” What He meant was, “‘Go now and live a guilt free life of faith.” THAT you can do!
We know this is what Jesus really meant in verse 11 because Jesus just finishing saying in John 7:19 that nobody was keeping the law perfectly back then. And nobody would except Him. Not her and not the religious leaders. So when He tells the woman, go and sin no more, please understand, He’s making an invitation to live by faith. He doesn’t mean go perfectly obey the law. Jesus doesn’t ask us to do anything that we cannot do. The kingdom of God is simple enough for a child to understand it. And profound enough for an adult to marvel at it.
Failure to understand point number three leads to all sorts of bad theology that plagues our church and many others. Why? Because bad theology undermines the cross. Think about it: If when saying “Go and sin no more” Jesus meant that she could perfectly obey the law, why would He need to die 6 months later? You see what I mean by bad theology? It creates all kinds of problems. But not just spiritually. Also emotionally. Because you don’t have to be Christian to know that repeatedly failing at something often leads to depression and extremely high levels of anxiety. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Because the law is good. If one uses it properly.
That’s exactly what Paul would later tell the young pastor Timothy in 1 Timothy 1:8. “We know that the law is good—if one uses it properly.” But the problem is too many of us are still using the law incorrectly!!! Which sets the 3 rd and 4 th generation of Adventists against the church because they’re sick and tired of trying to obey something they can’t! They’d rather just leave and be honest about their failures than stay in a place that holds onto the illusion that perfect obedience can be done. But that was never the purpose of the law. Because the law does not save. And newsflash people!!! The law does not sanctify either. It cannot transform your life. But Jesus can. And does. And will. That’s what He was offering to her. And that’s what He was encouraging her to show the world by faith. That Jesus saves and sanctifies.
May I repeat for the sake of clarity? The proper use of the law is to encourage people to cling to the only One who ever kept it. And that is Jesus. Does this make sense yes or no? We are called to sincerely serve. Not perfectly obey. One can be done. The other cannot. Does this make sense yes or no?
Understanding this is why the saints who are alive and remain through the end times before Jesus comes again and takes them to heaven will, according to Revelation 15:4, one day be standing on the shores of the sea of glass singing Christ alone is worthy!!! But my question is: If we’ll be singing that then, why can’t we start singing that now? Who alone is worthy? Jesus! We need to sing that over and over and over again until it oozes out the pores of our children to the 3 rd and 4 th generations!!! I think that woman caught in adultery already knew that. When Jesus saved her life, she experienced that truth. She had already begun to live by faith. And she had already determined to sincerely serve Him every day of her life till the day she died. And THAT friends, is the same conclusion wise men and women make today.
Nearing the end of his life, hear how the apostle Paul said the same thing in 1 Timothy 1:16. “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.” Writing to that young pastor named Timothy, he closed with these words of encouragement: “Timothy, my son, I give you this instruction so that by following them you may fight the good fight holding on to faith.”
Have you too heard from His Word? Growing followers of Christ are slow to censure, quick to forgive, and always ready to encourage others. If that’s your desire, would you turn to the person sitting closest to you and say, “That’s my desire.” Amen and amen. Which means: So let it be.
Larry Crabb, The Pressure’s Off, pp. 31–32