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Thaumistic Grace

Jim Thompson - 2/9/2020

Jesus is publicly teaching outside the Temple. We don’t know exactly what he was teaching about, but class was about to be interrupted with an unparalleled teaching moment. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day storm in, and bring a woman in between Jesus and those he’s teaching. This woman had just been caught “in the act of adultery.” Imagine her shame.

She has never felt this kind of humiliation and embarrassment. It’s terrifying enough to be caught in the act, but to be dragged to church, and shoved on stage, only to be mocked… The weight of this was unbearable. And then she slowly realizes that her shame is just a weapon in the hands of the religious leaders that could lead to her death! The amount of fear and disgrace she was feeling was beyond words.

As for the religious leaders, they thought they had finally tricked Jesus. They ask him, “We know you know that the Law says she should be stoned. So, what should we do?” They knew that Jesus was big on compassion, that he loved the shamed, the unlovable, and the outcasts. But they also knew that he was a Bible-teacher. And so they think they’ve painted him into a corner. 

Jesus stoops down and starts to draw in the dirt. They continue to interrogate him, “What do you say, teacher?” Finally, he slowly stands to his feet, and religious leaders aren’t ready for his reply. He says, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone.” I can imagine they all exchanged glances that said, “I don’t want to think about whether he’s right or wrong. Let’s just throw rocks at both of them.” But one by one, they give up. Jesus’ response is the bullseye of wisdom. He doesn’t undermine the Law, and he leaves the door wide open for compassion. Eventually, they all leave.

Now, it’s just this poor girl before Jesus, and likely before the people, Jesus was teaching. He says to her, “Sister, look around. Is there anybody left to condemn you?” Through gratitude and tears, she shakes her head, “No sir.” Jesus replies, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and sin no more.” 

And maybe in this story, you feel more like the girl caught in sin. And if you have a dark past, if you’ve got skeletons in your closet, or if you’ve abused or been abused when it comes to God’s good gift of sex, be reminded that those things in your past don’t have to weigh you down or define you. If you come to Jesus, he’s not ashamed of your shame. He doesn’t reluctantly forgive you. He loves you, wants you to live in freedom. If you’re a Christian and this haunts you, Jesus doesn’t regret saving you. He’s not embarrassed by you. He doesn’t love some future version of you; he loves you right now, and he loves loving you.

Or maybe in this story, you feel like the religious leaders. You think your sin isn’t as bad as the sin of others. You draw attention to other people’s sin so that you can feel better about your own. You deceive yourself into believing that comparison, rather than Jesus, can take away sin. As churchy people, sometimes we can be judgmental, hypocritical, legalistic, self-righteous, and look down at others whose sin is more public. But when Jesus says, “If anyone among you doesn’t have sin, you can throw the first rock,” he’s saying that we’re all the woman caught in adultery. We all need the grace and compassion that Jesus is extending to her. And if we have received it, how backwards and inconsistent is it if we don’t extend that same grace to others? Simply put, Christianity is like one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread. And judgmentalism cannot survive in that economy. 

If we keep reading in John, the hatred of religious elite eventually leads to the cross, where grace is even more on display. They thought they were putting an end to him, but they were actually helping him make his main point in the clearest way possible. The cross is Jesus taking the enemy’s main weapon, death, and using it against him. The cross is the righteous offered up for the unrighteous. It’s the Holy One offered up for the unclean and impure. It’s the perfect commentary on our undeservedness AND God’s lavish love, at the same time. 

Unlike the religious guys in John 8, Jesus is the only one among us who was without sin. He is the only one who doesn’t deserve death, and yet he laid down his life for us. And in whatever ways you’re a rebellious sinner, and in whatever ways you are a vulnerable victim, the cross of Jesus is a fountain of hope and peace for you. It’s the place where both the oppressed and the oppressor can find healing. The cross is God’s declaration, “Come and belong, and go and sin no more.” It’s not just our entry-point into relationship with God, but our daily life-source of grace and truth.