We began a new series at Gateway Church in Austin called A Brush with Greatness.
What would it be like to have a life-changing encounter with Jesus?
This sort of brush with greatness led to genuine transformation. Saul allowed fear of a changing world to lead him to persecute and event kill followers of Jesus – until he encountered God on the road to Damascus.
For each of us, although possibly challenging, having Jesus step into our ordinary lives could be the best experience we’ve ever had.
These discussion questions are designed for your life group or family dinner to help you apply the message to your life.
Message Audio from Gateway in South Austin:
At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered round him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?’ They 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. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, ‘Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.’ Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. At 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.
Jesus straightened up and asked her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ ‘No one, sir,’ she said. ‘Then neither do I condemn you,’ Jesus declared. ‘Go now and leave your life of sin.’ – John 8:2-11 NIV
Today we’re closing this teaching series called, “A Brush with Greatness” – where we’ve been looking at encounters that various people had with Jesus in the NT Scriptures.
I find it amazing that there’s no one I’ve found in Scripture, who encounters Jesus and then responds apathetically toward him.
- People are either intensely offended by him or they are intensely moved and changed by him.
- They’re either totally repelled from him… or passionately drawn toward Him. I don’t really see much of an in-between.
For those of you who are new to Gateway or new to the Bible… I just hope that you feel so welcome here today. I’m just so grateful to have you here with us at this point in your journey – and my encouragement to you, if you’re new, is to just approach this conversation with a really open heart & mind today.
But for any of us who come in-and-out of here, week-after-week, and you’re ongoing response to Jesus is just a casual one… might I suggest that perhaps there’s something that’s still keeping you from seeing Him for who He really is. I say that because a brush with the greatness of who Jesus is and an encounter with Him strikes at the human heart and demands a response – just as we saw with Simon in week 1 and with Saul last week.
Few of us can really imagine what it would be like to have our deepest, darkest secrets drug out into the open… out in to the public square to be known and to have judgement passed on. But that’s what happens to this woman we meet in John 8.
Although she is about to have a brush with greatness – it’s important to note that we’re encountering her in, what I’m sure was the most vulnerable and humiliating moment she’d ever had.
4 questions to ask:
- How did this woman get caught in the act?
- Where is the guy involved?
- Why the attempt to trap Jesus?
- How does Jesus engage the vulnerable?
At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered round him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. John 8:2-4 NIV
How did she get caught in the act?
We need to go back to John 7 to help us answer this. The Jewish people are celebrating what was known as the Feast of Booths/Tabernacles. That sets the table for what is about to happen here. This was one of the biggest festivals on the Jewish calendar – people would’ve travelled great distances to get to Jerusalem to take part in this religious festival.
For the Pharisees, this is one of their biggest events of the year… they’re the “headliners” because they are the teachers of religious law… these are the men who’ve been entrusted to protect and to carry the Jewish story forward from one generation to the next. This annual feast is one of their big moments.
It’s on the last day of that festival… this moment that the whole festival has been building up to… that Jesus stands up in the midst of the whole crowd and says,
‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.’ John 7:37-38
The crowds at the Feast had just experienced a real brush with greatness.
So now the big take away… the question that everyone is suddenly asking is,
- “Who is this?”
- “Did you hear how he spoke with such authority?”
…and for the Pharisees, this would have stirred up quite a bit of jealousy and even hostility toward Jesus.
You can almost hear them saying to each other, “look fellas, we’re the defenders of the law – we’re not going to let this young teacher steal our thunder and lead our people away from following us!
We need to set some kind or trap for this guy to get him to stumble right in front of a crowd… this guy stole our moment at the festival… and now he’s probably taken some of our followers too.
So, in their jealousy they devise a plan… and a really clever one, at that… to try and get Jesus to stumble over his own words (and to do so, publicly) so that the Scribes and the Pharisees would have something to accuse him of – and to get the crowds to walk away from Jesus.
We cannot overestimate how toxic and how dangerous unchecked jealousy and envy can be in the context of community… because it’s this very thing that drives a group of Jewish religious leaders to go find a woman in the midst of an immoral sexual act – and if that wasn’t embarrassing enough, they immediately take her in front of entire crowd of people gathered around Jesus’ teaching… and they did all for their own religious prophet.
…but we can’t blame this whole thing on the Pharisees.
This woman had a part to play too… I mean, she was guilty of what she was accused of.
One thing I know about sexual sin is that it rarely starts there. It’s almost always the result of a bunch of smaller decisions that were made before… or the result of a backstory.
So, what is this woman’s backstory?
- Perhaps she’s living out of a wound that’s been inflicted on her… and she’s been hurt so deeply that subconsciously, she sees herself as a victim and she believes that this is the best kind-of life that she deserves or could ever expect.
- Maybe, at some point, a small crack opened-up in her character… and it just seemed too trivial to open-up about… and over time, that small crack became a chasm between the person God had created her to be and the woman brought before this crowd.
We don’t know her backstory. All we know is that, in this humiliating moment, this woman bears the full weight of a hidden life made public.
The story continues
‘Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?’ They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. – John 8:4-6 NIV
Why was this such a clever trap?
In Deuteronomy 22, the law made getting caught in the act of adultery a capital offense.
Now, the idea of stoning someone for adultery sounds barbaric, and yet it was commanded in the Bible according to these accusers. It is important to note that the Hebrew Scriptures are about 3000-4000 years old. These laws were intended for ancient Israel in a time when every tribe was more like ISIS and the Taliban than what we may be used to.
We shouldn’t compare these laws to our own as much as compare them to the other laws at the time. When we do that, we will discover how innovative, kind, and actually forward thinking these laws truly are. Watch the Bible Project on Deuteronomy for more on this.
On top of that, 2000 years ago Jesus clarifies the heart behind the laws and even calls us to a more beautiful level of goodness. For example, Jesus says that the law says not to commit adultery, whereas grace says we should not even have a lustful thought in our hearts towards someone else.
By the way, the very reason we feel stoning is so barbaric in our culture is because we have been so influenced by the Scriptures and the way Jesus interacts with broken humanity whereas stoning someone or even honor killing still happens in parts of our world without the Bible’s influence.
We should also point-out that actually catching two people in the act, would have been really hard to do… so, how did they “just happen” to catch her?
The reason this is such a clever trap, is that are layers to it. They’re trying to trap Jesus in his own words.
‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them. – Matthew 5:17 NIV
They’re also trying to trap him politically.
The Jewish law said, that the death penalty was a fitting and just consequence for anyone caught in this particular act – but the Roman law said, only the Romans had the right to ascribe the death penalty to anyone.
No matter what Jesus chooses here, he’d be pitting himself politically, against one people group represented in the crowd.
Grace or Truth?
Ultimately, there trying to force him to choose between Grace & Truth.
- Truth – he clearly upholds the Scriptures, so how can he contradict it publicly.
- Grace – he was known for his compassion and kindness up to this point, so to suddenly hand out such a harsh judgement against this woman would contradict his own character.
Ironically, I think that far too often, we set similar traps for ourselves.
- Some of us would say, “All you need is grace – God’s not really concerned with the decisions we make… or the things we do… or what we believe – all you need is grace” …but to say that, totally underestimates the Greatness and the Holiness of who God is.
- So others of us would say, “All you need is uncompromising truth – you just need law and you need to adhere to that law in all that you do” …but to say that, you completely miss the heart to compassion that drives everything that Jesus does. You miss the heart of God that drives the entire Biblical story.
So what does Jesus do in response to this attempt at religious and political entrapment?
But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. John 8:6 NIV
Jesus doesn’t immediately respond at all. He just bends down and starts writing in the sand. A lot of speculation has been made about just what it is that Jesus was writing in the sand that day:
- Writing down the names of those holding the rocks?
- Drawing an image of a cross?
- Writing down the secret sins of those holding the rocks?
The truth is, we don’t know because the biblical authors don’t tell us.
Here’s what I do know… and it’s the first brush with the greatness of Jesus that this woman experiences –
Jesus Dignifies This Woman
To explain what I mean, let’s just kinds parachute down in to this crowd for a moment.
When this woman is thrown before this crowd, she is most-likely naked… and she is definitely morally and emotionally fully exposed before this crowd. All eyes are locked on her.
When the Pharisees asked Jesus this question, suddenly all of the eyes move to Jesus… so what does he do?
- First thing he does, is he diverts his eyes from this woman in the midst of her shame.
- When he diverts his own eyes and he begins writing in the sand… what do you thinks happens to the crowd? “What’s he gonna say?” “Hey, is he writing something? … what do you think he’s writing?” “Can you make it out?”
All of a sudden, everyone’s eyes are fixed on Jesus and what he’s doing… instead of on this woman and her shame. Jesus dignifies her with this response.
Jesus offers another way
Jesus refuses the trap and he refuses to allow another human being’s humiliation to be used to make a religious or political point. He refuses to choose between grace and truth.
- He doesn’t say, “C’mon guys, I think you’re blowing this whole thing out of proportion… just let her go.”
- He doesn’t say, “Are you serious? You guys caught her in the act… then the punishment is just… go ahead and carry it out.”
Instead, he offers a totally different way. He offers the same standard to the accusers that they are applying to her.
When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, ‘Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.’ Again, he stooped down and wrote on the ground. At 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. – John 8:7-9 NIV
He doesn’t say anything else… why? Because he knows that he doesn’t have to.
Can you imagine the scene… as, in response to the words of Jesus, all of the Pharisees drop their stones and begin to walk away?
The Pharisees came to Jesus hoping to convict him – instead, the Pharisees are the ones who walk away convicted. And we’re left with this moment where suddenly, the woman realizes that the only one left standing there with her is Jesus.
Just the Two of Us
There she stands, completely exposed, completely vulnerable – before God himself… and I think that very few of us ever get to this place. Most of us have no idea what it means to be exposed or vulnerable before God… to be fully known by him.
Why? Because of an instinct that the human heart has had since the very beginning. Even at the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve hid from God after doing what they knew they should not.
We do our best to rely on our will-power… to sew our own fig leaves together to protect ourselves and to prevent vulnerability – all in an attempt to project our “ideal selves” to God and to others.
So many of us sit here today,
- paralyzed by the hidden places in our lives and by the wounds and the shame that we still carry from the past
- paralyzed by addictions and habits that we can’t shake in our lives
- paralyzed by secret sin… that if it were dragged out in to the open… we feel as if it would destroy us.
- paralyzed by pride – fully able to see the sin in others and unwilling or incapable of seeing our own blind spots.
For so many of us today, our fear of being fully known by God keeps us in spin-cycle of sin management… shame management… and pain management – instead of allowing ourselves to be vulnerable before him.
… but this woman stands totally vulnerable before Jesus.
Jesus straightened up and asked her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ ‘No one, sir,’ she said. ‘Then neither do I condemn you,’ Jesus declared. ‘Go now and leave your life of sin.’ John 8:10-11 NIV
How does Jesus engage the vulnerable?
He forgives – “Neither do I condemn you” – this is not just some kind of pleasant gesture toward her. Jesus forgave her because he knew that he could… because he knew that this encounter with her was a moment that brought him one step closer to Jerusalem… where he would be crucified – and where he would pay for all of the sin that she was carrying with her.
In forgiving her, he’s saying to her that the Kingdom of God is not just something you inherit when you die… it’s available to you here and now!
Neither do I condemn you.
But he doesn’t just forgive her and then leave her there…
He invites – “Go now and leave your life of sin” – he’s inviting her in to a life of freedom… not just forgiven but then stuck living in the same patterns she’d been living in.
And you and I are given the same invitation today!
It’s so telling about God, that when humanity is hiding in the garden in Gen 3… God is shown walking through the garden asking:
“Where are you?”
Our deepest longing as humans, is to be fully known and fully accepted… and completely loved. Yet when it’s offered… we find it safer to hide and cover ourselves.
God still calls out to all of us today, Where are you?
Will we make ourselves vulnerable before God… and step fully in to having a brush with the greatness of a God who sees us fully for who we really are… who forgives us… and who invites us in to the freedom and purpose that only comes to us when we allow ourselves to be found by God – to be fully known… fully accepted… and completely loved by him.
We’ve inherited hiding as our starting place… but we can inherit being found as our ending place.
In this series we have had brush with greatness… an encounter with the strength and power… the compassion and kindness… the grace and the love of Jesus.
- The One who is inviting us to step out of our comfort zones and in to deeper waters with him
- The One who is opening our eyes so that we can see the world that he is wanting to reach through us
- The One who see us standing naked before him… with all of our sin completely exposed before him… and he says to us, “neither do I condemn you”
The Son of Man Pursues Us
There were multiple times in Jesus life and ministry that He made His identity known as the Son of Man, the one who God would exalt and be lifted up to rule His Kingdom. As a result, the religious leaders sought to kill him, and they would have done so by stoning Him. Yet the Hebrew Scriptures prophesied that the Messiah’s bones would not be broken but that instead he would be “pierced for our sins.” The Romans method of execution was crucifixion. Jesus, the Son of Man was lifted up and exalted high above but it was on a cross. In taking upon Himself the sins of humanity while lifted up on a cross, we can now be forgiven of the sins we have committed that put Him on that cross.
You see, it was not the Jewish religious leaders who were responsible for the death of Jesus. In fact the earliest followers of Jesus were Jewish. Some of the religious leaders like Joseph of Arimethea and Nicodemus helped bury Jesus’ body after the crucifixion. Jesus was Jewish. The Scriptures tell us that salvation comes from the Jews.
The Jewish religious leaders were not responsible for the death of Jesus and neither were the Roman rulers. We are responsible for the death of Jesus. The sins of all humanity are what led Him to the cross.
Ultimately, Jesus willingly gave His life for all. God demonstrated His love for us in giving His life for us that we might know God personally!
By writing our sin or shame on this rock, it is like an acknowledgment that we hold stones ready to judge others all the time. But Jesus invites us to allow Him to love us and forgive us and help us learn to love and forgive others. Often we are most judgmental towards people demonstrating what we don’t like about ourselves.
Just as the accusers did that day, we want to invite you to drop your rock. As you die, symbolically you are surrendering this struggle to God and letting Him forgive you and make you new. No longer carry it around with you!
The question: What is our response to him? (address doubts, fears, shame, etc)
A brush with the greatness of who Jesus is and an encounter with Him strikes at the core of who we are and demands a response.