Hope After Scandal: The Blessing of Getting Caught
By Greg Wright
Preached at Grace Bible Fellowship on July 8, 2012
A. The prevalence of scandals.
This morning we will be talking about the hope Jesus offers to those who have been caught up in scandals. All kinds of things come to mind when we hear the word scandal including: outrage, disgust, disappointment, disillusionment, and maybe even a little bit of a cynical “Ah ha, see, I told you so.”
Different words come to mind when you are the actual cause of the scandal, words like guilt and shame. In fact, the feeling of guilt can make you so miserable that you might even consider taking your own life:
· All you see is darkness.
· All you feel is hopelessness.
· All you anticipate is scorn and disgust and hatred.
· And all you receive, even in the most sincere and tearful repentance, is skepticism.
But Jesus . . . yes, hear those words . . . but Jesus answers and says, “I am the light of the world.” Yes, Jesus is the light of the world, and Jesus still brings that light to bear, piercing the darkness of your shame and misery.
If you have been caught up in a scandal there is still hope for you. In fact, that hope is supported by the very fact that you got caught. Letting you get caught may be evidence of God’s love for you. Consider: where would Chuck Colson be today if he had not gotten caught. Getting caught up in the Watergate scandal and the Daniel Ellsberg fiasco brought Colson low enough so that when his friend Tom Phillips spoke to him about his need for a personal relationship with Jesus Christ Colson was willing to listen. Colson died on April 21st of this year. After almost four decades of consistently following Christ, we have great reason to believe Colson was converted and is now in heaven.
But where would he be if he had not gotten caught? Where would he be now if he had been left in his sins?
“It is the greatest judgment in the world to be left to sin,” writes Thomas Brooks in his book Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices. “ . . . O unhappy man! When God leaves you to yourself, and does not resist you in your sins. Woe, woe to him at whose sins God does wink. When God lets the way to hell be a smooth and pleasant way, that is hell on this side – hell, and a dreadful sign of God’s indignation against a man; a token of his rejection, and that God does not intend good unto him.
That is why this sermon is titled, Hope After Scandal: The Blessing of Getting Caught. Even as getting caught turned out to be a blessing for Colson, it can be a blessing for you too if you, like Colson, seek to be reconciled to God.
So what is a scandal? A scandal takes place when a person in a position of trust betrays that trust. It is especially scandalous when a person betrays that trust in ways that are adulterous, fraudulent, criminal, or predatory. Many scandals are very public. We read about them in our newspapers.
However, sometimes scandals occur at a more personal level. The offender could be an employer, a teacher, a counselor, a physician, a pastor, a friend, a sibling, a co-worker, or even a spouse. In fact, you could even find yourself accused in the exposure and humiliation of a scandal, and this could happen to you even if you are a Christian. Remember what happened to Peter, who said to Jesus, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” How many men would have said the same thing to their beautiful bride only to deny them later? As the reformer John Bradford is reported to have said, upon seeing men who were being led away to be executed, “There but for the grace of God go I.” Scandal, it’s an ugly word, but it could happen to you, it could happen in your families, and it could happen in this church. Sometimes sermons are preparatory; they equip us to face potential future challenges. Likewise, I hope this message will be preparatory in at least four ways:
1. To encourage us to stay on the straight path and avoid scandals.
2. To encourage people outside the church who have been brought down by scandals to seek the light of Christ.
3. To encourage all of us in the church to seek the light of Christ if or when we, ourselves, fall into scandals.
4. To encourage us to reach out to others who have brought shame upon themselves through their scandalous behavior.
To accomplish this, we need to know what the Bible has to say about scandals. The Bible is our light on all the spiritual problems of life, including scandals. Many scandals are discussed in the Bible, but the one we will focus on today is the woman taken in adultery in John 7:53 – 8:12. From this brief passage I hope to bring out three points:
1. The scandalous wickedness of man.
2. The glory of Christ in responding to that wickedness.
3. The hope for scandalous people everywhere: Jesus, the Light of the World.
At the conclusion of this discussion I hope we will all have a better understanding of how to deal with scandals biblically. This message will focus not on the victims of a scandal but on the perpetrator: the one who caused the pain, the one who betrayed the trust. Our natural tendency is to vilify this person, and it is right that we should find sin to be repulsive. However, our Christian duty requires more than that. Our Christian duty requires us to do all we can to bring this person out of their sin and into the light of Christ. Do you remember what Jesus said when criticized for hanging out with scandalous people? He said “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.” Sometimes it takes the embarrassment of a scandal for a person to finally realize that they are spiritually sick and in dire need of the great physician. We do not want to miss these opportunities to point people towards the light of Christ.
B. The text.
With that said, let us read the passage: John 7:53 – 8:12.
53 They went each to his own house, 1 but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2 Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. 3 The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst 4 they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. 5 Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” 6 This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. 7 And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. 9 But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10 Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” 12 Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (ESV)
C. The authenticity of the text.
Before we dive into a deeper understanding of this text, I need to make a few general comments regarding its authenticity. The reason I need to do this is many of your Bibles have a note that says John 7:53 through 8:11 is not in the earliest and best manuscripts. There are two major questions regarding the authenticity of this passage:
1. Did John write it?
2. Did the story really take place?
Many conservative scholars do not believe John wrote the section from 7:53-8:11, for example John MacArthur and John Piper. [Oral, Skip to bottom of 5 at Resume]
Piper gives this brief summary of reasons for believing someone else wrote it:
- The story is missing from all the Greek manuscripts of John before the fifth century.
- All the earliest church fathers omit this passage in commenting on John and pass directly from John 7:52 to John 8:12.
- In fact, the text flows very nicely from 7:52 to 8:12 if you leave out the story and just read the passage as though the story were not there.
- No Eastern church father cites the passage before the tenth century when dealing with this Gospel.
- When the story starts to appear in manuscript copies of the Gospel of John, it shows up in three different places other than here (after 7:36; 7:44; and 21:25), and in one manuscript of Luke, it shows up after 21:38.
- Its style and vocabulary is more unlike the rest of John's Gospel than any other paragraph in the Gospel.
That’s what John Piper says, and most evangelical scholars today would agree with him.
However, there are other evangelical scholars who give good reasons why they believe the Apostle John did write this passage, for example Jeffrey Khoo, who teaches Systematic Theology at Far Eastern Bible College writes:
There is abundant evidence in support of the authenticity of the pericope de adultera. [Pericope means story] John 7:53-8:11 is found (1) in many Greek uncials and minuscules mainly of the Majority or Byzantine text-type, (2) in the ancient versions or translations: Old Latin, Vulgate, Syriac, Coptic, Armenian, and Ethiopic, and (3) in the writings of the Church Fathers: Didascalia, Ambrosiaster, Apostolic Constitutions, Ambrose, Jerome, and Augustine.
Jerome (AD 340-420), the translator of the Latin Bible called the Vulgate, said this about the pericope de adultera: “. . . in the Gospel according to John in many manuscripts, both Greek and Latin, is found the story of the adulterous woman who was accused before the Lord.” Jerome considered the pericope genuine, and included it in his Vulgate.
Self-styled textual critics who arrogantly say: “This text has no place in Scripture; I will never preach from it!,” should rather heed these wise words of Calvin: “it has always been received by the Latin Churches, and is found in many old Greek manuscripts, and contains nothing unworthy of an Apostolic Spirit, there is no reason why we should refuse to apply it to our advantage.”
Well, if John did not write this text, why is it in the Bible in a book that John is supposed to have written? Either it was added to John’s original writings, as many conservative scholars believe, or it was deleted from John’s writings and added back.
There are several theories regarding how this could have happened. In his book THE PERICOPE ADULTERAE:THEORIES OF INSERTION & OMISSION John David Punch provides five theories of omission and inclusion:
1. The Pericope Adulterae was inserted into the Fourth Gospel at a later date by a redactor [redactor means editor] who (a) discovered material that the original Evangelist had forgotten to include or (b) gathered additional teachings of the Beloved Disciple to include in the Gospel text. This redactor may have been part of the Johannine community.
2. The Pericope Adulterae was inserted into the Fourth Gospel by later scribes who found the story and believed that the position between John 7:52 and 8:12 was most appropriate. This might include apologetic reasons.
3. The Pericope Adulterae was omitted from the Fourth Gospel at an early date as lectionary style manuscripts were being developed and certain texts were chosen for readings on particular dates. The pericope was neglected in public reading and commentaries, and thus became dubious in the eyes of some scribes and/or Church leaders. The pericope was later “re-discovered” and re-inserted into the Gospel.
4. The Pericope Adulterae was omitted from the Fourth Gospel at an early date “accidentally” as an incomplete edition of the Gospel was released before the Evangelist completed it and released the final edition that included the pericope. Earlier incomplete copies of the Gospel outnumber and predate the later copies, thus causing doubt about the authenticity of the passage.
5. The Pericope Adulterae was omitted from the Fourth Gospel at an early date by scribes and/or Church leaders who believed that the pericope might be misinterpreted to be lenient on the sin of adultery. Later scribes/Church leaders then re-inserted the pericope back into the Gospel when fears about this had been stilled.
Regarding this fifth theory I would add that there are several reasons why this story might have been suppressed in the early church after the time of the apostles. As late as A.D. 250 the early church was not even sure whether adultery could be forgiven. Tertullian, who believed in baptismal regeneration, taught that when one committed adultery he forfeited the grace of Baptism. So it is that some believe, including me, that the early church out of misunderstanding may have suppressed this passage and then added it back later. Now, if they added it back later, they might even have used a manuscript source that sounded more synoptic than johannine, thereby explaining the reason for nonjohannine vocabulary. Those are all the pro and con arguments I have time to mention here.
[Oral, Resume] There are good arguments from both sides regarding whether John actually wrote these verses. If you want to go deeper into these arguments, at the end of this sermon you will find links to articles on both sides of these arguments.
Meanwhile, what are we supposed to do as normal laymen who merely want to read our Bibles and heed its message? Do we now have to become textual critics? I have good news – even though most conservative scholars believe someone besides John wrote these verses, many of these same scholars also believe the story is true. They believe it really happened.
D. A. Carson in his commentary on the Gospel of John writes, “On the other hand, there is little reason for doubting the event here described occurred, even if in its written form it did not in the beginning belong to the canonical books.”
Bruce Metzger in his book A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament writes, “At the same time the account has all the earmarks of historical veracity.”
Leon Morris writes in his commentary on the Gospel of John:
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. It rings true. It speaks to our condition. And it can scarcely have been composed in the early church with its sternness about sexual sin. It is thus worth our while to study it, though not as an authentic part of John's writing. The story is undoubtedly very ancient. Many authorities agree that it is referred to by Papias. It is mentioned also in the Apostolic Constitutions (2.24). But it is not mentioned very often in early days. The reason probably is that in a day when the punishment for sexual sin was very severe among the Christians this story was thought to be too easily misinterpreted as countenancing unchastity. When ecclesiastical discipline was somewhat relaxed the story was circulated more widely and with a greater measure of official sanction.
Now, folks, what are we to make of this. Whether or not John wrote these verses, if it is a true story about what Jesus said and did, I want to know it, I want to obey it, and I want to apply it to my life.
Moreover, I believe that God not only ordained the preservation of this passage in the Scriptures but that He ordained where it would be placed. Jesus’ order, “Go, and from now on sin no more,” can sound like mere moral reformation rather than life transforming salvation. However, placed next to John 8:12, it points to the Light of the World, thereby supplying the means for leaving the life of sin. For this reason, our textual reference does not end at John 8:11 but John 8:12.
D. The context.
With those textual issues out of the way, let us proceed to consider the context of the passage.
This passage occurs in the context of the Feast of Tabernacles. Jesus has already announced that he is the source of the living water to which this feast points, as we find in John 7:37-39:
“On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, “Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”’ Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.”
Although many of the people believed Jesus, the unbelieving Pharisees sent soldiers to arrest him. Yet, even the soldiers refused to carry out their orders, replying, “No one ever spoke like this man.”
But the Pharisees were not about to be stopped by reluctant soldiers. They were very creative, and the plan they put together to destroy Jesus had the spark of genius.
Meanwhile, it was the end of the Feast of Tabernacles. People would have been taking down their booths and going home. The next day was to be solemn assembly, but you did not have to live in booths for this. So it is that we find in John 7:53-8:1, “They went each to his own house, but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.”
II. The Story Discussed.
The drama begins in the second verse, “Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them.”
See the glory of Christ in His bravery. People are trying to arrest Him and kill Him. Yet, He reemerges in the temple and sits down to teach.
Also, see the glory of Christ in His persistence. John 7:40-41 shows that some people believe He is The Prophet or The Messiah. Jesus possibly stayed up late that previous night to listen to their questions and teach them, and now the teaching continues. Their eyes are fixed on Jesus; their ears are attentive to His words; their hearts are open to understanding Him – what a beautiful sight. What a precious moment, when suddenly a woman is thrust into their midst and forced to stand there.
So it is that in John 8:4-5 we read, “They said to him, ‘Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?’”
Now, see the wickedness of men. See it first in their hypocrisy, they call Jesus teacher, a term of reverence and veneration, but they have no desire to learn from Him.
Next, see their wickedness also in their entrapment and harsh treatment of this woman: that this woman has not only been caught in adultery but has been caught in the very act. Do you how hard this would have been to do? It would not be hard today; you can hide video cameras and catch people doing all kinds of things. This was much harder to do during Jesus’ time. Leon Morris writes,
The woman these people bring had been taken in adultery. This means that the witnesses had seen the very act; compromising circumstances were not enough. If the conditions required by Jewish law were as stringent as J. D. M. Derrett maintains, this can scarcely indicate anything other than a trap deliberately set. All the more is this likely to be the case in that the man was not present. Why not? Since the woman was taken in the very act, there should have been two sinners, not one, before Jesus. But if the whole thing had been engineered, provision would have been made for the man to escape. Moreover, the witnesses ought to have warned the woman in accordance with the maxim, "No penalty without a warning." There is no hint that they did anything of the sort. All the indications are that the accusers had some special vindictiveness toward her. This is shown also in the fact that they brought the woman along publicly (cf. Knox, "made her stand there in full view"). There was no need for this. She might have been kept in custody while the case was referred to Jesus.
To put this succinctly, the witnesses not only had to see the sexual act taking place but at least verbally they had to have tried to stop it. The witnesses were not interested in preventing sin; they were interested in setting a trap.
Next, see the wickedness of these men in trying to pit Jesus against either Moses or Rome. For as we read in the sixth verse, “This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him.”
Indeed they thought they had Jesus three ways, as identified by John Gill:
1. that should he agree with Moses, then they would accuse him to the Roman governor, for taking upon him to condemn a person to death, which belonged to him [alone] to do;
2. or they would charge him with severity, and acting inconsistently with himself, who received such sort of sinners, and ate with them; and had declared, that publicans and harlots would enter into the kingdom of heaven, when the Scribes and Pharisees would not;
3. and if he should disagree with Moses, then they would traduce him among the people, as an enemy to Moses and his law, and as a patron of the most scandalous enormities
Against this backdrop of the wickedness of man we again see the glory of Christ as he merely stoops to write upon the ground.
See the glory of Christ in His calmness. He is not intimidated. He does not fumble for words. He is neither surprised nor caught off guard. Nor is He manipulated into giving a quick answer.
While Scripture does not tell us what He wrote, we do have a few clues. For one thing, in the context of this being the day after Jesus announced that He was the source of Living Water, we note that these men are rejecting Jesus as the source of Living Water. The prophet Jeremiah spoke of such men in Jeremiah 17:13 when he said, “LORD, the hope of Israel, all who forsake you shall be put to shame; those who turn away from you shall be written in the earth, for they have forsaken the LORD, the fountain of living water.”
Against the glory of the calmness of Jesus, again witness the wickedness of man as in verse seven the Scribes and Pharisees continue to demand of Him an answer. They think they have Him trapped, and they will not be content until they see their evil designs completed.
This is not unlike people today. Many today think they have God trapped. They think they have questions God cannot answer. They think they have dilemmas that will impress and surprise God. They imagine themselves standing before God and confronting Him in a way that will make God pause and think. What about the genocide of the Canaanites? What about the unprovoked treatment of Job? What about the condemnation of people who have never heard the Gospel? What about slavery and concubines and Old Testament polygamy? What about bearing children by your deceased brother’s wife? The list goes on and on.
Even as the Scribes and Pharisees likewise think they have posed a question Jesus cannot easily answer, behold the glory of Christ in the simplicity of His response: “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”
These men, thinking they knew the law, have opened their mouths against Jesus, but the Apostle Paul knew the ultimate effect of the law, that it tends to close our mouths rather than open them, as we read in Romans 3:19, “Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.” So it was that their mouths were stopped.
The narrative continues in verses eight and nine, “And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him.”
See the glory of Christ in shutting the mouths of His accusers: He speaks and He sits down, not even waiting for them to reply. Moreover, see the glory of Christ in His power over the conscience. A stick of dynamite could not have pierced the consciences of these Scribes and Pharisees, but Jesus is able to do it with just a few words. And for what did their consciences convict them? Certainly it was not that only sinless people can judge others. Has there ever been a sinless human judge? Even Jesus said in John 7:24 that we are to judge with righteous judgment. No, more likely their consciences convicted them for their evil attitudes and actions towards the adulteress and towards Jesus.
But most of all see the glory of Christ in the purpose and object of his mission. The purpose of his mission is to save. That purpose is clearly conveyed in John 3:17, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” The Scribes and Pharisees tried to trick Jesus into being a judge when that was not his purpose and role. Others would try as well, but Jesus would respond, as He did in Luke 12:14, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?”
Also see the glory of Christ in the object of his mission. The object of his mission is individuals. He saves His people, but He saves them one at a time, even as we read in John 10:3, “To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.”
Also, we again see this emphasis on individuals as we now find the adulteress standing before Jesus, where the text says, “Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him.”
Ultimately, that is how it is with you and me. Of course, when you are first caught, exposed, and humiliated in a scandal, you feel like you are standing alone before your peers, your neighbors, your family, and your friends. You feel the weight of their judgment, disappointment, and displeasure. But you must remember that their opinion of you is temporal, whereas the opinion of Jesus will matter for all eternity. What a relief it is to know that the purpose of Jesus, at least at His first coming, is not to condemn you but to save you. He saves unbelievers by regeneration and He keeps believers saved by interceding for them, by chastening them, and by keeping their faith alive.
Jesus asks the woman, “Where are they? Has no one condemned you?” And she answers, “No one Lord.” As I read this I was reminded of Romans 8:33, “Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies.” The implied answer there is, even as the adulteress said, “No one, Lord.” If you are now bearing the effects of being caught in a scandal, this is the verdict that will keep you sane. The eternal justification of God will allow you to bear the temporal condemnation of man. Of course, the evidence that you are elect is that, right now, you are trusting Jesus as your Lord and Savior, seeking to obey Him. The evidence is not that you have lived a scandal free life. A moment of misplaced passion can leave you a murderer. A weakness during seduction can leave you an adulterer. A period of financial pressure can leave you a thief. But if you are born again, you will repent of your sins, and if you are born again, you are elect, and if you are elect, you are justified. All these things go together.
Together with Christ you can face the mess you have made of your life, and together with Christ you will find the grace and strength to rebuild on a firm foundation.
So it is that Jesus responds to the woman with both grace and direction: “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”
Why does Jesus say, “Neither do I condemn you”? Condemnation was not Jesus’ mission, as we have already said, that will take place during His second coming. That will be a time of judgment, but these are the days of reconciliation and salvation, even as we read in Psalm 2:12, “Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.”
Jesus follows this statement with two commands:
1. Go, meaning she was no longer being detained.
2. From now on sin no more, meaning that from now on her life was to be different.
How could the early church have believed that this passage taught that Jesus was soft on adultery? I’ll tell you how – the early church had a bizarre doctrine of penance and baptismal regeneration. Cyprian of Carthage was the leading bishop of Africa during the middle of the 3rd century. In A.D. 251 he issued a decree that said that people who had lapsed under church persecution could be received back into the church after penance. He also believed adulterers could be forgiven. This put him head-to-head against Tertullian, a man who believed in baptismal regeneration, who believed that anyone who committed adultery forfeited all the grace they had received at baptism.
Even as late as A.D. 314 the church was making enormous requirements of anyone repenting of adultery. In the 314 Council of Ancyra (Ancyra was the capital of Galatia in Asia Minor) in canon 20 repentant adulterers faced seven years of penance.
With views like this, imagine how confused the early church must have been over the thought of Jesus saying, “Neither do I condemn you.”
But what about the statement, “From now on sin no more.” Was Jesus requiring mere moral reformation? Moral reformation without Christ is mere works-based-righteous. It does not bring you closer to heaven; it pushes you further away.
III. The Relevance of the Light of the World to This Story.
That is why I am so glad that God has seen fit to place this story right beside John 8:12, “Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’”
The verse starts by saying “Again Jesus spoke to them.” Jesus is continuing the teaching he started in verse two, only now the adulteress is part of the lesson. How is this woman to leave her life of sin? The only way to truly leave a life of sin is by following Jesus:
· People who have been caught up in a scandal need light; Jesus is that light.
· People who have been caught up in a scandal need to know how to live. Jesus supplies the answer by saying follow me.
· People who have been caught up in a scandal need encouragement that they can leave their life of sin. Jesus encourages them by saying, “Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness.”
Verse twelve could, in and of itself, be a three point sermon centered on the words follow, walk, and have.
First we see the word follow. What does it mean to follow Jesus? Sometimes the word means merely to accompany, as we find in John 6:2 where the crowds followed Jesus only to later desert him. However, in other places the same word is used in a manner that means to believe in a way that leads to unquestioning obedience unto death. We see this in John 21:22 where Jesus, after telling Peter that he would die by crucifixion, seeks to steady Peter’s possibly wilting countenance by the stern command, “You follow me.” In this context, the inward expression of the word follow is unwavering conviction, and the outward expression is unconditional obedience, even unto death. That is the way the word follow should be understood in John 8:12, unwavering internal conviction that leads to external obedience.
Second we see the word walk. Often the word is used in the literal sense of merely traveling on foot. However, the same word is also often used in a figurative sense to describe a way of living. We see an example of this in 2 John 1:6 where we read, “And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, so that you should walk in it.” Likewise, in John 8:12 the word walk should be understood as way of life. You were walking in darkness; now you are walking in the light of life. (By the way, to briefly respond to those who minimize the need for repentance at conversion by arguing that the Gospel of John, one of the most evangelistic books in the Bible, does not even contain the word repent, let me respond by saying that while John does not use the standard Greek words for repentance, he definitely describes repentance. You were walking in darkness; now you are walking in the light – that’s what repentance is – a change of mind that leads to a change of behavior).
Third, we see the word have. The word translated as have can also be translated as hold. For example, if it were dark outside, you might have and hold a flash light, and that flash light would allow you to navigate through the darkness. Spiritually, it is dark outside, but we have the Holy Spirit in our hearts, we hold the Word of God in our hands, and with these two things we have the light we need to navigate through the darkness. That is how we have the light of life today. Regarding how the word is light consider Psalm 119:105, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Regarding how the Holy Spirit is light consider how the Holy Spirit working in the heart of David prompted him to write, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.” Even David depended on the Holy Spirit to open his eyes to the truth of the Scriptures.
Of course these ideas of following, walking, and having are broad conceptual categories. Operationally, in the context of the local church, this person would also greatly benefit from:
· The general instruction of the public ministry of the Word,
· The more specific and personal instruction and counsel of the private ministry of the Word,
· The restoration that takes place after true repentance in the context of loving church discipline,
· The encouragement that takes place as one is accepted in Christian fellowship,
· And the preemptive benefits of personal accountability.
But what do all these practical things point back to – Jesus, the light of the world. It is Jesus’ way of life that we follow. It is in His precepts that we walk. It is his light that we are blessed to have and to hold.
Meanwhile, as we consider those who have been caught up in public scandals, we need to remember that we have all been caught up in the net of a scandal, a net from which we could not break free in our own power. We have all committed cosmic treason by sinning against God. If God has opened your eyes to see the darkness of your own sin, may He also show you the glory of Christ in His willingness to pierce your darkness with the light of His glory and truth. He calls you to trust in Him as your only hope for a home in heaven. Part of trust means you rely on the death of Jesus on the cross to pay for your sins. The other part of trust, the part that indicates whether your faith is real or phony, is you turn away from your sins and you begin to obey Jesus. That’s what Jesus means when He says, “Follow me.” Obedience does not save you. Obedience gives evidence that you have been saved.
So what have we learned? This morning from this passage we have seen the wickedness of men in several ways:
· In their sinful behavior, for example their involvement in scandals in general and the specific case of the woman taken in adultery.
· In their hypocrisy, for example calling Jesus teacher when they didn’t mean it.
· In their unloving treatment of others, for example trapping the woman in adultery.
· In showing their rejection of Jesus, shown by trying to trap Him.
This morning we have also seen the glory of Christ in his response to the scandalous behavior of men:
· We have seen the glory of His bravery when people were trying to arrest Him.
· We have seen the glory of His persistence in reaching out to people with the truth.
· We have seen the glory of His calmness when confronted with hard questions.
· We have seen the glory of His wisdom in His ability to silence His accusers.
· We have seen the glory of His effectiveness in His power to pierce the conscience.
· We have seen the glory of His purpose in reaching out to save sinners.
· We have seen the glory of His intimacy as He reaches out to people individually.
But most of all, we have seen the hope for mankind: Jesus the Light of the Word.
· By this light unbelievers become believers.
· By this light believers are chastened and grow.
· By this light believers have the ethical principles they need to guide them in their decisions and keep them from falling into sin.
· By this light believers avoid being entangled in the powerful arguments of atheists, skeptics, and peers.
· By this light men who have made terrible mistakes find hope and forgiveness and a reason to live.
Have you been caught up in a scandal? The light of nature may have exposed what you did, but the light of Jesus does even more; it points you to a new way of life, a life of hope, peace, and reconciliation. There is hope for you. Don’t give up. Don’t flee from the light of Christ; embrace it.
People may never forget what you did. They may never come to understand the way the Gospel transforms people. Albert Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky noticed this in what the secular media emphasized about Chuck Colson after he died. Mohler said the following in his podcast on April 23, 2012.
Now, I’ve been looking at so many of these obituaries and what do they tell us – two things in particular:
1. The first thing, largely the secular press doesn’t know what to do with someone whose life is so utterly transformed by Christ. But in the case of Charles Colson, for this we must be thankful; he gave them no ground to punch a hole in his testimony and to question its authenticity. He lived it for the better part of the next four decades.
2. The second thing we know is this; I think Chuck Colson would be the least surprised of all to know that this is how folks are dealing with his death. They are going back to his sins, back to his crimes. And I think Chuck Colson would be the first so say, “You have to expect the world to do that.” But just remember, they are not able to leave it there, and it isn’t the last word. For any one of us, how is it that our crimes are not the last word, the sheer unmerited grace that is ours in Jesus Christ our Lord, and that in itself is an indelible testimony.
Let us pray,
Dear heavenly Father, I thank you that your grace is greater than the sins of the worst unbeliever and the most scandalous backslidden believer. May they both find hope and peace and a reason to live in your Gospel. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
· For a concise two-page discussion for and against the johannian authorship of John 7:53-8:11 see this article from the Austin Bible Church, Pericope de Adultera http://austinbiblechurch.com/sites/default/files/documents/Pericope%20de%20Adultera.pdf.
· For the more ambitious, if you are up to reading more than 400 pages and want to know the various theories regarding the inclusion and omission of the text, consider reading The Pericope Adulterae: Theories of Insertion and Omission, by John David Punch, http://repository.ubn.ru.nl/bitstream/2066/76519/1/76519.pdf.
· If you are interested in a very concise but helpful book on the subject of textual criticism, I highly recommend New Testament Textual Criticism: A Concise Guide, by David Alan Black.