Monday, March 19, 2012

God Speaking: Like Justice

Preached on Sunday, March 18, 2012

Scripture readings: Ezekiel 33:10-20; John 8:2-11 

The religious leaders of Jesus’ people brought a woman to Jesus for judgment. They wanted Jesus to be responsible either for her death, or for sparing her.

If Jesus took responsibility for her death, then he would be contradicting the mercy he showed to the wrong kind of people; the people they condemned as sinners. If Jesus took responsibility for giving her mercy, then she would be a nail in his coffin. They would accuse Jesus of betraying God’s laws. They intended to use this to turn as many people as possible against Jesus in order to destroy him and kill him.

The leaders wanted death. They wanted the woman to die, and they definitely wanted Jesus to die. (John 5:18; 7:1) They saw Jesus as dangerous. They saw him as a sinner. They saw him as a threat. They saw him as evil.

And so they wanted for Jesus what Jesus did not want for them. They wanted for Jesus what God did not want for them. God the Father did not want them to die, and neither did the Son of God. The prophet Ezekiel spoke about this as he spoke for God: “As surely as I live, declares the Lord of Hosts, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.” (Ezekiel 33:11

This is what even the Old Testament (where things are often so scary and violent) is really all about. It is about bringing life into a dying world. This is what God has worked for all along. John tells us this about the Father and the Son, in his gospel. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:16-17)

The Father and the Son want life. They love life. They created all life. They desire to restore lives.

Those who brought the woman to Jesus for judgment wanted death. Something in their heart was in harmony with the people who stood against Ezekiel and the message he brought from God, when he asked them, “Why will you die?” (Ezekiel 33:11) Why do you want death?

Long before Ezekiel, Moses voiced the same offer from God: “This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life…” (Deuteronomy 30:19) God wants to give us life, and God wants us to choose life.

But there are people who want death. The leaders who brought to Jesus the woman for judgment wanted death.

They thought they wanted death for the woman and for Jesus; but, in another way they were like moths drawn to the flame. They were drawn to be a part of the movement of death in this world. They didn’t understand that, however wrong the woman’s actions were, their actions were worse. Their hearts were set on something deadly.

I want to read an extended quote from C. S. Lewis, from his book “Mere Christianity”. Lewis wrote this: “People often think of Christian morality as a kind of bargain in which God says, ‘If you keep a lot of rules I’ll reward you, and if you don’t I’ll do the other thing.’ I do not think that is the best way of looking at it. I would much rather say that every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long, you are slowly turning this central thing either into a heavenly creature or into a hellish creature; either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow-creatures, and with itself. To be the one kind of creature is heaven; that is, it is joy and peace and knowledge and power. To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and eternal loneliness. Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state or the other.” (C. S. Lewis, “Mere Christianity; Chapter 4, p. 92)

When we look at Jesus, side by side with the leaders who brought the woman to be killed, we can see this difference between heaven and hell. They are doing the work of hell just as surely as they think they are serving God; when they are really only following an idol of a god that they have designed in their own image.

We don’t see this so much in the woman who has betrayed her husband, and her lover’s wife, and both their families. Probably she was only thinking about love. Perhaps she was reaching for the only love she could see, but she chose a man to love who would rather abandon her to death than stand by her side.

Maybe the man who left her to her fate was only a coward who was willing to be let off the hook because the leaders only needed the woman. Maybe the man who left her was one of the conspirators; one of the leaders who wanted to create a scandal in order to bring about the death of Jesus, and he used her longing for love to make her a puppet; to make her a pawn in their plan. Maybe he only used her. If either of these were true then her choice was all the worse, no matter how deceived she was.

There are women, as well as men (and there are kids as well), who make such self-destructive choices for themselves. Those who truly care about these men and women and kids lead lives of anxious prayer. They pray that the God who always works for life will open their eyes and lead them from death to life.

The leaders who brought the woman to be judged used God’s ways to lie about themselves. They used God’s ways as a lens to see others and not to see themselves.

They spoke of the woman as an example of the kind of people they called “such”: “such men”, “such women”. (John 8:5) They selectively used God’s laws to compare themselves with others; to earn points for themselves and subtract points from others.

The day before this hanging court (or stoning court) came into session Jesus had pointed out how the leaders used the law to blind themselves. He said: “Has not Moses given you the law? Yet not one of you keeps the law. Why are you trying to kill me?” (7:19)

Jesus had healed a man on the Sabbath; and so they wanted to kill him for breaking the Sabbath by doing the work of healing. Yet they did the work of circumcising babies on the Sabbath in order to keep the law. (John 5:1-18; 7:23)

Circumcision was about the blessing and honoring of life; about setting people apart for God. Jesus blessed and honored life by healing the sick. Those he healed found themselves set apart for God.

The Old Testament law was about the blessing and honoring of life. It was about the shaping of life as God designed it to be lived. In the case of the woman caught in adultery, the law was about the blessing and honoring of marriage as a great source of life for human beings. The leaders were using the rules of God’s law as instruments for judgment and punishment, when the rules of the law were given to be instruments for the blessing and honoring of life.

The woman and her lover had also broken the instruments for the blessing and honoring of life. The leaders were going to use her as an opportunity to destroy life. They thought this was justice.

Jesus was going to intervene for her, and he was going to make her judgment into an opportunity for restoring life. Jesus thought this was justice.

The purpose of the law was to tell the leaders that they were sinners too. It was not given to them just to make them feel that they were better than others. They needed to know the truth about themselves and have their lives restored by God. Jesus had come to do just that. He would die for that very purpose. He would die for them and their sins on the cross.

The leaders who brought the woman to be judged used God’s ways to lie to themselves about justice. They thought justice was about punishment when it was just as much about transformation.

At the heart of the law was the lamb sacrificed for human sins. That was a law meant to speak to the heart and change it. Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He is the lamb who changes hearts and lives.

Human rules and laws have the weakness of not being able to touch the heart and change it. This is why all the work of government, and all the work of human law, needs to be done under the influence of the virtue of humility and restraint.

Even God’s people do not have the power to reach into the inside of others to heal the blindness, or the hardness, or the confusion, or the brokenness of another person’s heart. We want to do it, but we can’t. Well, we can’t, and so we pray to the one who can do it.

The prophet Isaiah says this about God’s special work, which is the work of his servant the Messiah and Savior; the work of Jesus the Son: “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations. He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth. In his law the islands will put their hope.” (Isaiah 42:1-4)

God’s justice and God’s law are about tending to the bruised reed and the smoldering wick of the people who are unaware, or isolated, or cut off from God’s fullness of life. They need to be restored. They need a forgiveness that will change their lives. This is the justice that God came in Christ to bring to the world.

That day in the temple, Jesus gave this restoration, this new start, to everyone present. He gave it to the leaders and to the woman they sought to kill. That day, they all saw the danger of their sins.

The leaders saw that they were sinners who were not fit to throw their stones at another sinner. The woman saw her own danger, and she saw the love of Jesus who presented her with a new life blessed by God. She now had a calling from Jesus to a new way of life.

We live our lives as judges of others, and as those who are judged. We are called by Jesus to a new kind of justice in our life in this world.

We need him to take our blinders taken off, so that we may see the danger we are in; the danger of making ourselves into self-righteous judges who are ripe for hell.

We need to hear that we, ourselves, are bruised reeds and smoldering wicks; and perhaps we have sought cover under the disguise of being self-righteous judges. We have sought to hide from ourselves. We need Jesus to restore us.

And we need to hear Jesus calling us to not hate and despise “those people”; those who are really nothing more than broken reeds and smoldering wicks. If we will hear, and see, and follow Jesus, we will leave behind us the life of the justice that deals in death, and we will find the justice that receives new life from God and gives that life to the world.


  1. We all stumble, every one of us. That is why we need to walk hand in hand.
    (This was on my Faith desk calendar one day last week...don't know who said it!)

  2. Oh..nice new template... well done.
    Oh pastor, I'm sorry I'm late...
    as you know I had the flu...I'm better now.
    Thank you for visiting. It was important to me.
    I'll be back to read you...ok?
    God bless you and all you love.


  3. hello pastor Dennis,

    an inspirational post as usual!
    how great is the love God has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!

    God speaking like justice, God speaking like bread...
    aw, thank you so much for brightening my day.

    and thank you for your support, kind words, and get well wishes for my sister.
    just wanted you to know how much i really appreciate them.

    have a great day!
    i'm always grateful for your wonderful comments on my blog and continued support.