Brought to Him in Shame

jesus_099.jpg

Have you ever been publicly embarrassed either by your own actions or the actions of others? Ever been ridiculed? Ever wanted to defend yourself from accusations that may or may not have been true? If you have, you may understand the feelings of the woman I want to talk about today—the woman caught in adultery. (John 8:1-11)

As we slip onto the dusty streets of Jerusalem, we see her surrounded by a group of men. They seem very smug, and her eyes are on the ground. I try to imagine how she feels as the Pharisees and teachers of the law force her to come with them. Perhaps they give her a shove, watch her stumble, and roughly pull her back to her feet. She is completely vulnerable to their whims. It’s hard to tell from our vantage point, but did they even allow her to get dressed before they hauled her out into the streets? They will tell Jesus she was caught “in the very act” so it seems likely that she may not even be clothed. Can you sense her fear, her trepidation, or perhaps the anger as she takes one step closer to more humiliation? It must seem like a long walk especially in the midst of these men who—probably unknown to her—only want to use her to entrap the teacher Jesus.

They at last bring her to a halt. She looks up from the ground and sees she is at the Temple.  And there is the teacher Jesus. A man who has caused all kinds of furor surrounded by a crowd. Not a small crowd either, not by any means, and they force her to stand in front of them.

The Bible does not say anything about the woman’s emotional reaction but at this point, her heart must be pounding. She can probably hear the blood as it pulses in her ears.

The men approach Jesus as he teaches. They ask Him what to do with this woman, inform him of what she was caught doing. He doesn’t answer right away, but starts writing in the dirt. So they keep questioning him. He finally stands, gives them an answer which they probably don’t quite comprehend at first, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” Jesus then bends down to write in the dirt again. The woman waits. Does she think about his words “let he who is without sin…”? Does Jesus somehow know that many of these men have sinned with her or with other women she knows? Does he know that the man with whom she was “caught in the very act” is among these accusers? As His words begin to sink in, she hears a solid thump as something heavy falls to the earth, hears more, a steady rain as the older men leave. The younger stay longer, grow uneasy. But one by one they leave. All of them. When she glances up, she sees stones scattered around her where the men once stood.

And he sees them too—the stones lying impotent on the ground with no one to cast them. He then asks her two questions. “Woman, where are your accusers? Does no one condemn you?”

“No one, Lord.”

And He answers, “Neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more.”

We like to think this passage depicts Jesus as a completely nonjudgmental person who does away with the old Levitical law, and gives the woman a “get out of jail free” card. You broke the law, but hey everyone sins so those men, they just need to go easy on you. “I’m okay, you’re okay” kind of thing. Well, not quite. While this is indeed a sweet story of Jesus’ forgiveness and mercy, there were a few things going on that we might not see with a surface reading. The following may seem a tad technical but I ask you to keep reading.

First of all, the Levitical law stated that both the man and woman were to be brought forward. So where was the man? It is truly not inconceivable that the man whom she had been caught with was among the accusers (as I alluded to above). And others of them were not just guilty of sin in general, but were probably guilty of the same ongoing sin, the sin of adultery. And Jesus knew it. This pricked their guilty consciences, and they left with the tables turned on them, “intimidated into silence by their realization that Jesus was privy to their sexual indiscretions.”

Secondly, when Jesus saw that her accusers were gone, He asked her what could be considered a legal question. The Law of Moses stated there had to be at least two witnesses to the offense so he verified their absence by asking “woman, where are your accusers? Does no one condemn you?” and she confirmed “no one, Lord.” She therefore, under the Law could not be punished for her sin. No witnesses, no execution.

Third lesson: we often gloss over the statement in which Jesus says “Neither do I condemn you…” Oh good, Jesus doesn’t condemn me for a-n-y-thing! I can live as I want and Jesus will still love me. Well, yes, He will still love you, but the next part of that statement puts her actions as well as ours in a different light. He tells her “go and sin no more.” In today’s vernacular, He might be saying something like, “Stay away from that mess. It will only get you in more trouble.” Jesus showed His love to this woman in two ways: by not condemning her, and by telling her to stop sinning. Jesus does not want us to stay in our sin. It is not good for us. It is not harmless. It is not something we can “handle”. He loves us too much to let us bear its weight alone.

And while we need to be careful about not “casting the first stone”, Christ did not mean we should not confront another when they are in a continued pattern of sinful behavior. He often confronted the Pharisees and other religious leaders, calling them some pretty unflattering names. He also gave us permission to help pull the speck out of our brother’s eye, once we had removed the log from our own eye (Matthew 7:5), and Galatians 6:1 teaches that the spiritual believer is to help restore those who have wandered from the faith.

While I’m glad this story is popular, it is an example of how the Bible can be misconstrued. God forgives, He does not wish to condemn. But (and this is a big but) He does not want us to keep on sinning.

Please hear me. God loves us enough to accept us and love us as we are. But He also loves us enough to help us out of the mess we are in.

My prayer is that we would learn to accept the gentle (and maybe not so gentle) rebukes from the Holy Spirit and from God’s word when we have strayed.  I also pray that we would learn how to restore other believers when they are caught up in sin. Of course, we need to be careful in the manner we do this. The Pharisees and teachers of the law give us a good example of how not to handle this responsibility. They seemed to enjoy lording the woman’s sin over her. To not only take her through the streets, but also to make her stand in front of the huge crowd gathering around Jesus must have taken a patent heartlessness (John 8:3). Let us not be like them in our actions or in our minds, but rather restore with a gentle spirit as the Bible teaches, “keeping a watch on ourselves.” (Galatians 6:1 ESV)

Quotations as well as background information are from:  http://www.apologeticspress.org/apcontent.aspx?category=11&article=1277

Happy(?) Valentine’s Day

It is almost Valentine’s Day. To some of us it’s no big deal. We are secure in a wonderful relationship, and we just don’t go all out for it. Others make sure they have reservations for a candlelight dinner with all the trimmings. Chocolates, flowers, followed by a night of romance. (Yes I went there). The problem is that many of you are not in a relationship and it just seems to rub your nose in the fact that you are single. (And I do know there are many contented singles.) You are not part of a couple but are “just a single.” The loneliness you feel may be compounded by this one simple holiday. Maybe you can handle Christmas, Thanksgiving with no one to call your own, but this…this Valentine’s Day is painful for you.

Why do we make a big deal about Valentine’s Day? (And we do make a big deal of it. Go into any retail business almost and see the stuffed animals, the candy, cards, and so on.) I think part of it is our sexual culture, and how sex is overemphasized at this time of year. It actually puts pressure on us I think, especially as women, to have sex with someone whether we are married to that person or not. Don’t believe me? Look at the lingerie advertisements. Go into a certain well-known bargain store, and look! Skimpy nightgowns proudly displayed as you walk down the front aisle. I heard on LPB news that this same store is selling (ahem) “certain items” from a popular “romance” novel.

I read an article in which the author wondered why we can’t be more like kids in elementary school and just send all our friends a Valentine card. Everyone was our “Valentine” when we were in elementary school. Okay, some people might think that is silly but the idea has some merit. Seems we could at least include a single friend in the festivities by sending them a card or chocolates or something. How do you think your single friends would react? Would they be grateful? Embarrassed? I’m not sure, but I think most of them would appreciate the effort.

Here’s the good news: we always have a Valentine. A very special One. Christ is always with us as believers. His Holy Spirit resides in us. So this Valentine’s Day, whether single or in a relationship, take some time to love on God, let His healing hand touch your heart as you celebrate the tremendous love he has for you. No one knows true love better than the Heavenly Father.

“Love is not something God does, it is who He is.” ~Joyce Meyer

John 3:16
I John 4:8

Miracles Come to the Old and Young

Do you ever have trouble believing a promise of God or believing He will see you through a particular situation? Perhaps your circumstances seem impossible to bear right now, maybe impossible for even God to handle. Just because it’s the “most wonderful time of the year” does not mean the problems disappear. On the contrary, for many the holidays just intensify the hurts, despair, and those impossible circumstances. The good news is God delights in doing the impossible.

I would like to explore the lives of three people to demonstrate this truth. Note: You will find links to Biblegateway by moving your mouse under each Bible reference.

Zechariah and Elizabeth, an older couple who suffer from infertility, are promised a son. As I have said in a previous article, among the Hebrews of Biblical times having a child, especially a son, was HUGE to them. Even today, a childless couple may suffer a certain degree of shame and often a lack of understanding from others. For example: “When are you going to have kids?” “Don’t you want children?” “If you really want kids, you can take mine for a while.” or “Why don’t you adopt?” Okay, that may be a topic for another day. (In the meantime you might want to read this link: http://www.infertilitysurvivalguide.com/issues/chapter14.htm)

Zechariah and Elizabeth’s story begins in Luke 1. This is a godly couple who had been unable to have children. Let me repeat, they are a GODLY couple. Zechariah is a priest whose division is serving in the temple at this time. It is their turn to perform the tasks required according to Jewish law, and “it happened he was chosen by lot to burn incense”. Just the fact that his division or clan is on duty was not a common occurrence. And for him to be chosen as the individual to burn incense did not happen every time they served. Notice people are praying outside as he minister, and an angel appears to Zechariah promising the priest a son. Zechariah questions the angel, not understanding how this could be. That seems to be understandable as he and his wife are well-advanced in years. Apparently the angel has a real problem with Zechariah’s attitude however. He introduces himself as Gabriel who “stands in the presence of God” (Luke 1:19, NIV). He tells the priest “you will be silent and unable to speak until the day this happens because you did not believe my words…” (Luke 1:20, NIV). Notice this messenger from God had name picked out as well! Seems Zechariah should have taken the angel at his word. But still the “not speaking” thing seems a tad harsh. Perhaps.

Now let’s jump ahead a few verses to another individual whose life is about to be upended. She is betrothed to a man named Joseph, and as I’m sure you realize this is Mary, the mother of Jesus. She also receives an angelic visit from Gabriel who tells her she has found favor with God and will bear a child and name him Jesus.

Take a moment now and notice the similarity between the two situations–Zechariah’s and Mary’s. First of all, an angelic visitor comes to both of them, and secondly, they both receive the promise of a baby when that seems impossible. Thirdly, both receive a name to give the child.

So how does Mary react? Is she perfectly fine with this? Nope. She is troubled by the angel’s greeting. And then *grimace* she questions Gabriel, asking how in the world she can have a child since she has not been intimate with a man. Whoa, wait a minute. She questions the angel? What is Gabriel about to do to her? Take away her speech too? If you’re reading along you see that Gabriel does not even reprimand her, AND he explains how this will happen. He then goes a step further, offering her encouragement as he relates the news of Elizabeth’s pregnancy. He gives Mary an example of a miracle proving “nothing shall be impossible with God.”

So why the different treatment for these two individuals? Did the angel just not like Zechariah? I doubt it. Did Gabriel feel sorry for the young Mary, and was he just in a bad mood when he visited poor Zechariah? I don’t think that was it either. Was there some difference in the faith they displayed? Ah, maybe now we’ve got something. After all, that is the reason angel gives for Zechariah’s loss of speech.

So now let’s look at the differences in their stories. There are at least two that should be obvious. First of all, Mary was a woman, probably a very young woman barely of the age to have children. She was also, as she said, a virgin. Had a virgin ever been pregnant in all of Biblical history? While this had been predicted by the prophets, no, it had never happened. What about Zechariah’s circumstances? Was he in a better position to have children? Well, he was married. Did married couples have children? Uh, yeah. Did OLD married couples who were past the age of child-bearing ever have kids? Hmm. Might have to think about that one.

What about Abraham and Sarah as just as one example? (See Genesis 17 and 21) Both were well on in age, but they were promised a son, and while it was some time later, God delivered on His promise. Now think about this: did Zechariah know this Scripture? Well, let’s hope so. He had been a priest for many years and part of his education was to learn the books of the Hebrew Bible. He also knew about the doubts of both Abraham and Sarah and how the Lord proved faithful.

Maybe this explains the difference in the angelic response to their questions. But I certainly don’t have all the answers. Perhaps you can come up with some other reasons, and if so I would love to hear your thoughts.

One more thing: I love the part where Gabriel tells Mary she is “highly favored”. Is there any way that you and I can apply those words to us? Are you and I “favored” of God? To find an answer to that, I encourage you to read: Colossians 1 and 2 and Ephesians 1. Among the words and phrases used to describe Christ-followers are: reconciled to God; without blemish; having fullness in Christ; forgiven; triumphant; holy; dearly beloved; redeemed, and much more. In the Holman Christian Standard Version of Ephesians 1:5 you also find that He adopted us “according to His favor” and in verse 6 He “favored” us with His grace.

Women of Christ’s Lineage

How many of us have examined our personal history? Our legacy? Have you ever visited one of those sites that explore your ancestry? Or perhaps you know stories that were handed down word of mouth. My aunt recently went to an ancestry site, and found some interesting facts about our family. Among the treasures of the past she located documents, censuses, marriage licenses, and so on. This has helped her to learn a great deal about our relatives, and to dig up a number of interesting facts.

 To some a family legacy is not that important; whereas to others it is essential.  To the Jews it was their identity, providing the essence of who they were. So as Christmas approaches, I would like to take a look at the genealogy of Christ. (Yes, a genealogy, but it is in the Bible so don’t ditch me now.) This is an often overlooked part of Jesus’ history, but something very meaningful to Him and His Jewish family. We as Christ’s followers, however, tend to skip over it, and leave it out of the Christmas story altogether. After all, it’s boring, irrelevant, has nothing to do with the advent of Christ. Hmm. Perhaps you can tell my opinion is different from many Christians.

While I am not going to write out the entire genealogy from Matthew chapter 1, I ask that you look carefully at some of the names in His lineage, and take note of the women who are mentioned.

Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar, Perez the father of Hezron, Hezron the father of Ram,Ram the father of Amminadab, Amminadab the father of Nahshon, Nahshon the father of Salmon, Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab, Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth, Obed the father of Jesse,and Jesse the father of King David,David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife,

 The writer mentions four women with interesting backgrounds. First of all, in Genesis 38 we find Tamar. This particular Tamar is not the one raped by her half-brother, Amnon (David’s son), but who waited by the road dressed as a prostitute in order to entrap Judah. Why had she done this? The answer is simple when you consider the culture of the day. She was Judah’s daughter-in-law (I know, ewww, but hang with me) whose husband (Judah’s son) Er, had died. Judah had promised that she could marry his son Shelah when he grew up, but failed to keep his word. And she wanted a child, hopefully a son. Having a child in those days especially a son, was essential for a number of reasons. Long story short, when Judah was confronted with the evidence, he had no choice but to admit his blunder. He was the man who had sex with Tamar and now she was pregnant. Not only that he had broken his promise to her, and admitted that he was more wrong than she.

 Next woman on the list, Rahab, (Joshua 2) who the Bible frankly tells us was a harlot. She helped the Israelites to capture Jericho when they first came into the Promised Land by hiding the Israelite spies. She and all those in under her roof were protected by a simple red chord displayed outside her home. She went on to marry an Israelite named Salmon. Not only was she a woman of ill-repute but also a Gentile, but she recognized the God of Israel.

 Third woman mentioned is Ruth. You may remember the story of Naomi whose husband and sons died while they were living in Moab to avoid a famine in Judah. Ruth, a Moabite, and one of her daughters-in-law insisted on going with Naomi back to the land of God’s people. Ruth’s tender words to her mother-in-law are well-known: “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.” (Ruth 1:16-17 NIV) Who was Ruth but a heathen woman from a foreign land? Yet she loved her husband’s mother so much, she literally could not leave her. The wonderful love story that follows of a man named Boaz who “spoke tenderly” to her and became her husband is a romance that touches the heart. 

 The fourth woman is Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah. It’s difficult for me to find fault with her. Some say she was raped by King David, that he was the one purely in the wrong. Others seem to think that she was a willing participant in the affair and, perhaps by bathing where David could see her, provided ample temptation (no excuse for the king in my mind). But if David as sovereign of the land, called her to the palace, she had no choice but to go and to do as he bid.

Four women listed in the genealogy of Christ: Tamar who played the harlot and becoming pregnant by her father-in-law; Rahab, a heathen prostitute; Ruth also a Gentile who loved her Jewish mother-in-law and became a follower of the one true God. And lastly Bathsheba who some would call an adulteress. No matter, she is still one who gives us a wonderful insight into God’s love.

 I think we can learn from this that God esteems women. He loves them and can take broken, perhaps shame-filled lives, and redeem their past mistakes, making them into something beautiful. What a reversal—the honor of being named in His Son’s lineage!

You and I will never receive that particular prize, but isn’t this adequate evidence that God does indeed take lives that seem messed up beyond repair and love those individuals into His kingdom? You may think your hurts, your sins are outside the reach of His love. Your shame and guilt may have wreaked havoc on your conscience. You believe your deeds have done the same to your relationship with Him. But God is there, unashamedly waiting for you, wanting with all of His heart for you to know His love. His arms are open.

 

A Path to True Love

Shame cast a deathlike shadow over the young girl. Not only because of the abuse that had happened so long ago, but her shame arrived almost daily as a result of others’ mocking cruelty and learning that whatever she did somehow fell short of expectations. This shadow clung to her even as she grew into a young woman. Perhaps she could at least try to do things better, couldn’t she? Then others would be pleased and like her more. If those around her were pleased with her surely she would feel better, feel that she was more valuable.

But that did not work.

No matter how hard she tried, it seemed as though she was never pleasing to most people, never made those around her happy, and the anger she often drew from them became overwhelming. And her own anger for which she also felt great shame became secretly entombed. At least for a time.

So she became more reclusive.

Surely if she just kept quiet, no one would be displeased with her. Perhaps they would not even notice her. Even if they ignored her at least they would not hate her, would not become so easily angered with her. And maybe that would be okay.

But that did not work either.

If anything people seemed to become even angrier, more displeased. So she found it easier and easier to lie, to be deceitful about things she had done, to keep secrets, and to do all she could to avoid the blame others wanted to pin on her. Her own anger had a way of working its way to the surface at odd times. Rage turned outward, but also turned inward.

Can you identify with this young woman’s shame and guilt? While this is not the story of my life I certainly can identify.

Have you ever felt overwhelming fear of others and their anger, maybe even a fear of your own anger? I have.

Shame, guilt, fear. A deadly combination. Perhaps not to the body, but certainly to the heart. While it is never wise to blame our past for our deep hurts, we need to recognize it for the horrible thing it may have been. But there is something else we can do. Realize there is hope.

Let’s go back in time and watch as Jesus interacts with a particular woman—a woman who, according to the cultural standards of His day should have been left to wallow in shame and guilt and yes, fear of others.

The Samaritan woman in John chapter 4 had been married five times and was now living with a man. She went to the well to draw water at noon, when the sun was at its zenith and “beats with its greatest vehemence” (http://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/gills-exposition-of-the-bible/john-4-6.html). And when other women would probably not be there. And Jesus spoke to her. We see the woman’s surprise because first of all “the Jews have no dealing with the Samaritans”, and secondly because men did not usually address women in public. When she admitted that she was not married, Jesus acknowledged her honesty, not just once but twice. I believe he was complimenting her. Yes, he acknowledged her sin but he had already given her a way out of the shame by offering living water, and later telling her about true worship which involved worshiping God in Spirit and in truth. Somehow I don’t think she ever had a problem with the truth part.

She became a believer, and took the news to others.

There are many other examples of Jesus interacting with women. The little I have given you here will hopefully whet your appetite to learn more on your own. There are other women in the Bible who just can’t wait to tell us their stories, women who do not always begin well, but who Jesus more loves than we can imagine. Just as he loves you and me.

Guilt and shame can create a huge barrier in learning to accept God’s love. But if you are in a relationship with Him through Christ, He sees you as blessed, adopted, chosen, and blameless in his sight (Colossians 1). He does not see you as others may. He sees your heart. And I’ll bet if you are taking time to read this article in order to learn more about Christ, you already have a good heart. Seeking Him above all else is what we need to do, but any step we take in that direction is, to say the least, pleasing to Him.