Every man that has ever received it will never forget it…his first sucker-punch. Mine came from the closed-fist of my cousin, Joe. “Why do you always have to be Luke Skywalker?” he questioned, followed by a solid thwack across my jaw. You know maybe Joe had a point. Maybe my struggle is one we all share. Why do we always desire to be the hero? In every story we tell or write we try to somehow make ourselves the hero. I have found this to be true in stories from the Bible as well. We quickly assume that we are David and the giant we face is our debt, our addiction, or our in-laws. We are Daniel and the culture that ridicules us or our boss that rejects us is the lions. Either we are the hero or the villain. It has to be one or the other. But what if we understood a better interpretation? What if we began with the fundamental concept that when it comes to the Scriptures, Jesus is always the hero?
What is maybe my favorite story in the Bible is getting a ton of usage right now. It is found in John 8. It is the story of the woman caught in adultery that the Pharisees (ruling religious leaders of the day) bring to Jesus. In this story, Jesus utters the great and memorable line “let Him who has no sin cast the first stone”. Seeing Jesus as the hero in this story is pretty easy. He is the one who silences the self-righteous and frees the woman from her accusers. But who are the Christians in this story and what is the primary theme of this passage? Many want to molest this text by holding it down and making it say what it does not say. They want it to be about judging others and thus make Christians who talk about right and wrong to be the pious, snooty Pharisees. This text has little to do with judging and a whole lot to do with judgment. Jesus is not teaching or saying that we are not to judge the actions of others. Jesus is teaching that He is the sinless one who has the authority to judge the world. If freedom from sin is the criteria to cast stones, then Jesus is the only sinless one and thus the only stone caster in the group. Jesus is the one that has the right to stone this adulterous woman. Yet in a moment of absolute grace, Jesus chooses not to condemn her but to free her. This is a display of God’s beautiful grace, but we must understand that this is only grace against the backdrop of the law. Adultery is a violation of the law of God and is punishable by death (Leviticus 20:10). What Jesus does is freeing grace for this woman because she knew that judgment, guilt and punishment were imminent and maybe even rightfully deserved. Jesus’ gracious words must have radically shaped this woman “Go and sin no more”. In light of my incredible grace, go and sin no more.
Who are the followers of Jesus in this story? Christians, we are the woman caught in offensive and detestable sin. For me it was the sin of my pride. I was caught in my prideful ways and flung at the feet of Jesus only to hear Him extend His grace that is found in His gospel. “In me there is no condemnation. Find your identity in me and not you and your pride”, were some of the words I heard from Scripture. It is that grace that has forever changed me. But how would I have been aware of my pride and God’s abhorrence for my pride had not someone warned me? I did not understand that His grace was being extended to me until I realized I was a sinner in sin. I needed to hear that God hated my haughty eyes and my prideful heart (Proverbs 6:16-19,8:13), and I needed to feel the weight of the condemnation that my sin brought. There is no understanding of grace, no release from condemnation without the knowledge and feeling of condemnation. This is a grace in itself.
Christians, we find ourselves in a culture that rejects God’s authority over His creation. The current news is nothing more than rebellion against our creator. After God created and established this earth, man, woman, marriage and the family, He looked at it and declared that it was very good. What humanity has been doing ever since is saying, “No, it is not good. This is better.” We are trying to subvert the authority of our Creator by making ourselves out to be our own gods. This is treason and rebellion. When Christians contend for God’s created order and for the institutions that He has established, we are not trying to be the heroes nor should we be made into the villains, yet in the eyes of the culture we are portrayed as sexists and bigots. It seems that it is impossible to enter this conversation and escape unscathed. Even when our posture is humility and love, it is still mostly misrepresented and misunderstood. Jesus was misrepresented and misunderstood, and His followers should expect the same.
Paul tells the church in Ephesus to try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness but instead expose them (Ephesians 5:10-11). The dilemma that we face is that out of fear of being misunderstood and the labels that follow, we will stop exposing the works of darkness and millions of people will be anesthetized by the popular culture and lack of voice by the Church into thinking that their sinful lifestyle is acceptable by God. Millions will die and stand before the sinless judge who will condemn them to eternity apart from Him. Christians, we are neither the heroes nor the villains but all recipients of God’s abundant grace, and may it be with that grace that we speak the truth in love.