What Will You Do??

What Will You Do??

good-samaritan

The parable of the Good Samaritan, a story so powerful the we still us the term “Good Samaritan” to describe someone who goes out of their way to help another, expecting nothing in return.   2000 years later, this story still inspires to us to become better people.

love-your-enemies

But, as with so many if Jesus teachings, there is another level, another dimension that is not apparent to us at first glance.  We read this and see it only as a challenge to us to do good to others, regardless of our opinions and thoughts about that person.  We are to do good for others even if we don’t like them.  Even if they are our “enemies”.   But this may be even more challenging than Jesus’ call to “love your enemies“?

Love-Your-Neighbor-As-Yourself-620x461

And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”    Of course, it’s a lawyer trying trap Jesus and see how he can tear him down (I know, lawyers are my neighbors too).   But this lawyer defines pretty well for us our own conditions, even to this day.  We know we are supposed to love our neighbor.  But we are much more interested in defining who is our neighbor (or more to our point, who is not our neighbor).  We are far more interested in defining our neighbor than in loving our neighbor.

a-man-fell-among-thieves

Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead.    So, to the point, the man going down from Jerusalem would have been a Jew.   Jesus is speaking to Jews here, the lawyer asking the question was a Jew, this man going down from the city of God was meant, clearly, to be a Jew.

good-samaritan-clipart-4

Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side.    So we see a Jewish man left bloody, stripped, robbed and near death.  And we see the priest, from the Jewish temple, can’t stop and help the man.  Maybe he feared being made unclean and therefore unable to serve in the temple for a time.  Or maybe not, since he was leaving Jerusalem and the temple, not on the way up to Jerusalem. indicating his temple service may have already been finished.  Maybe he just figured no one was looking and he just didn’t feel like it.  After all, he had just served in the temple, he is good, right?  Either way, we have our command to love our neighbors, but we do also have our priorities…

cropped-bigcross

 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.   Another prescribed to the service of the Lord.  He loves God.  His neighbor, not so much.  So the two Jews in the story, both closely associated with the service of the Lord in the temple, can’t be bothered to help their fellow Jew, their brother, whom they see possibly dying in the street.  It’s no skin off their backs, is it?

good samaritan

But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion.   The Samaritan, the one who is formally excommunicated from the temple and all worship associated with it, the one hated by all 3 others in the story.  Hated by the priest.  Hated by the Levite.  Hated by the beaten man.  Hated by all Jews.  Remember what John told us about Jews and Samaritans –  “The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.)” John 4:9 ESV.   Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.  But the priest, he would have no dealings with bloodied, beaten brother.  The Levite, he walked by as if his fellow Jew was just another dirty Samaritan.  But this Samaritan, the one hated by all Jews, he had compassion.  He didn’t walk by thinking “It’s not safe for me to stop.  I’ll be beaten too.”   He didn’t give himself the excuse “He’s already too far gone, I can’t do anything for him.”   He didn’t shake his fist and say to himself “He’s a Jew who would have no dealings with me!”   No, he had compassion on the man and wanted to help.

scene of samaritan

He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him.    He doesn’t just stop to help, he takes personal responsibility for this man’s well being.   He became personally invested in the healing of this beaten, broken man.  You might even say he loved him.

jesus-compassion-4-638

And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’    Now he’s spending his own money on him!!  He’s promising to the innkeeper he’s willing to go beyond this if need be, just to see this Jew, who would have had no dealings with him, healthy again.   Do you see what Jesus is doing here?   He is speaking to a group of Jews, responding particularly to a “smart” lawyer (smart enough to figure out all kinds of way to get out of loving his neighbor).  His response is a story that does not just show us how we should love our neighbor.  He’s not just showing this man what it means to love his neighbor.  No, Jesus is cutting much deeper into the innermost being of this smart lawyer.  He could have crafted a story showing a good Jew stopping to love a hated Samaritan, but he didn’t.  He gave a story of the one the Jews hated most having compassion on a man most of them would have avoided contact with themselves.

cats and dogs together 3

So here’s how Jesus really turns their world upside down with this parable – What do you do when your enemy, the one you hate the most, loves you?   How will you react when the one you hate, someone you would under no circumstances have dealings with, is the one to step up unmistakably in love to help you or save you when everyone else, including all those you expected to be there for you, crosses the street to get away??   When those you thought were your friends leave you for dead, but that one is the one who has compassion?

mercy

Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.

mercy not sacrifice

What will you do?   “And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.” Matthew 12:7 ESV

guiltless

“And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.””

Luke 10:25-37 ESV

http://bible.com/59/luk.10.25-37.esv

John Lewis

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What We Need


So, last week, I asked the question, “Does God bring the famine?” You may not agree with me, but my answer to this question, again, is an emphatic NO! In fact, as we see with the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ the Son of God, wherever he is, nobody goes hungry, everyone gets what they need.

What, exactly, is famine? Famine is nature out of balance. The necessities are scarce, hard to come by, while luxuries are ironically and mockingly in abundance.  


I’m going to contrast the picture of famine in revelation with the picture of Christ as he feeds the 5000. “When he opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, “Come!” And I looked, and behold, a black horse! And its rider had a pair of scales in his hand. And I heard what seemed to be a voice in the midst of the four living creatures, saying, “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius, and do not harm the oil and wine!”” Revelation‬ ‭6:5-6‬ ‭ESV‬‬. This is the back horse of…famine! It’s rider has a pair of scales in his hand. We hear a voice crying out – “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius, and do not harm the oil and wine!” A denarius is a days wage. If we remember Jesus’ story of the laborers in the vineyard, all the laborers, whether they worked one hour or 12 hours, received a denarius, a day’s wage (I know…that’s not FAIR!! I thought Jesus made everything FAIR???!!!). A quart of wheat would be considered starvation (famine) for a family, all for a days wage. What is necessary for minimal everyday living here is unavailable (or barely available) while the luxuries (oil and wine) are plentiful, abundant. This is what greed does. We exploit the earth, leaving it depleted and poor, in order to make ourselves rich. We glorify our greed as a “higher standard of living“. We use this sacred phrase to excuse our own everyday insanity. We work by the millions in inane jobs we don’t like, making machines and products which pollute the air we breathe, we jet around from one place to another in projectiles traveling at lethal speeds (killing and maiming millions btw – I’ve read that this number is higher than all the wars fought on the earth), so that then we can sit before our electronic gods that instill in us all forms of flesh fantasies in an attempt (almost always successfully) to convince us that we must have these oil and wine luxuries and therefore have no choice but to go back to the jobs we hate to make our “products” and keep the circle going round and round.

Eugene Peterson defines famine as “the condition in which we have most of what we don’t need and almost nothing of what we do need.” Paul Goodman says this. “What do we need? We don’t need constant stimulation, poisoned food, carcinogenic air, or useless work for which we are highly paid.” Very few of us believe there is a famine in the land, but there is. In certain places, we see the pictures that come from the imbalance of greed which conspires to make the famine obvious to all. But those bloated bellies and spindly limbs which are literal fact for some are a gruesome parody of the lives of most of us.


But the rider of the white horse also does his work. “Now I watched when the Lamb opened one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures say with a voice like thunder, “Come!” And I looked, and behold, a white horse! And its rider had a bow, and a crown was given to him, and he came out conquering, and to conquer.” Revelation‬ ‭6:1-2‬ ‭ESV‬‬. The same Lord who teaches us to pray “Give us this day our daily bread” is at work, right now, restoring balance to the earth and the people living on it to sanity. He brings us by the tens of millions to his table of bread and wine each week to teach us to live by grace and not by greed. He is the conquering white horse rider who overcomes the red, black and green horse, but he does not change his methods. His white horse is a symbol, a product of our believing imagination. The ways Christ conquers are still the Palm Sunday donkey, the sacrificial lamb, and the mocked and crucified Messiah. His means have not changed. Christ has not given up on donkeys, lambs and crosses, he is NOT replacing them with horses, spears, swords OR bombs. No, this picture in Revelation is a validation that the the means Christ has chosen to accomplish his will and work out his salvation are in fact, against all appearances, victorious.


And what does he do when there is seemingly not enough food for 5 men, let alone 5000? He blesses the bread, breaks the bread, and gives them not only what they need, but above and beyond until their cups overflow and they are sending the excesses back!! “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” ‭‭Psalms‬ ‭23:5-6‬ ‭ESV‬‬. Our cups are always overflowing, nobody is going hungry in the presence of Christ.  


And when it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late. Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.” It’s getting late Lord, I say it’s every man for himself, send these people out of here so we can find something for ourselves to eat!! But no, we are to feed them. It’s not every man, woman, and child for himself. We say we trust him, but do we trust him? Do we believe that our “not enough” is really more than we need? Do we believe that what starts as five loaves and two fish can really feed 5000 men plus women and children, and somehow we will have more when we finish than when we started? And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men.


“The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things. And when it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late. Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.” And they said to him, “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat?” And he said to them, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.” And when they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” Then he commanded them all to sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups, by hundreds and by fifties. And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people. And he divided the two fish among them all. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men.”

‭‭Mark‬ ‭6:30-44‬ ‭ESV‬‬

http://bible.com/59/mrk.6.30-44.esv

“When he opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, “Come!” And I looked, and behold, a black horse! And its rider had a pair of scales in his hand. And I heard what seemed to be a voice in the midst of the four living creatures, saying, “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius, and do not harm the oil and wine!””

‭‭Revelation‬ ‭6:5-6‬ ‭ESV‬‬

John Lewis

Desiring mercy, not sacrifice


In my message a couple days ago about Jesus being “perfect theology”, I asked the question “does God shun sinners?” To which I answer emphatically NO, he welcomes them. There are many “proof texts” I could use, but the one that comes quickest to mind for me is this from Matthew – But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” This verse will always come quickly to my mind, it’s the verse that changed my life. I had never read through the Bible before, but the suggestion from my sponsor (I was open to suggestions at the time!!), I started to read. Matthew being the first book of the New Testament and all, that’s where I started. So I’m reading along, I don’t remember anything standing out to me. But then I come to that verse in chapter 9, and I just stopped. I literally went and re-read that at least 4 times, not sure if I had read it wrong. After all, it was in red letters! I live in America, I had heard so many different things about what Jesus had taught, but I had never heard that. I had always been told (or at least, understood) that you had to be “good” to go to God, go to heaven. But here’s Jesus plainly saying he didn’t come for the righteous, but for sinners. Sinners like me…

So, back to the present. There was an overdose yesterday. Apparently, there have been 8 this week in Calvert County, Maryland, where I live. They happen every week now, it’s just a part of life in the big city (or small town. Or even where you live). Usually it’s just something we hear about and move along, but sometimes it gets personal. This one was fatal. And it happened to be someone my family and I know very well. It happened in my neighborhood, to a daughter of a very good friend of my wife’s, a girl who had been a part of our in-home day care for 7-8 years as she grew up, a girl who had played with my children, been a daily part of life in my own home. She was not a “bad” person, was not “evil”, I would not say she was “wicked”. But she was troubled, she had struggles, as do all of us. And now her struggles have taken her life.

And now, some of you are wondering, “did she know the Lord?” By which you really are asking, “is she going to heaven or is she going to hell?” Because in our “economy” of salvation, you’re either in or your out. You’re either “saved” or you’re not. You’re either part of “the elect”, or you burn in fires of hell for the next 10 billion years. (Is that really part of a “beautiful gospel”?)


So, my answer to that question “did she know lord?” is simply that I don’t know. But she knows the lord now. But was she in or was she out? I don’t know. But I guess here’s my thought for today – if she’s not “in”, if there is an “in” and there is an “out” as some of us so vociferously believe, does that mean she’s burning in hell for the rest of eternity? 
 And my own answer to that question is another question, see if you can help me with this – “What would be the point of that?” And seriously, if you have thoughts on this, let me know, what would be the point of that?


Jesus is the friend of sinners. Yet we will all come before the judgment seat of Christ, this I know. Christ will come again to judge the living and the dead (BTW- this is all you must believe about the after-life to be considered orthodox in your beliefs). But what will that look like? I don’t know, but here are some of the things Jesus himself told us.  
What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.” ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭18:12-14‬ ‭ESV‬‬. Jesus is the one who judges, right? He’s also the one tells us that it’s not the will of the father that any would be lost.
““But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’ I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”” Luke‬ ‭18:13-14‬ ‭NLT‬‬. Why do we so exalt ourselves, thinking “we” are the only ones who might be shown the mercy of Christ?

““If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.” Matthew‬ ‭6:14-15‬ ‭NLT‬‬. Are we forgiving of sins against us? This will be a measure of our own judgment, does Jesus not tell us?
““Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked.” ‭‭Luke‬ ‭6:35‬ ‭NLT‬‬.  
Of course, this from Matthew 25 – ““Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?’ “And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’ “And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life.”” Matthew‬ ‭25:44-46‬ ‭NLT‬‬
In case you don’t know, I don’t think it’s as simple as “in” or “out”. Don’t ask me for clear and easy answers, I don’t have them. But I have one answer – we will all stand before the judgement of Christ. I also know this – there is a mother and a father and a sister who are in hell today, this day, in this life.  
I pray that the light of Jesus Christ might wash over them, and their daughter, their families, their friends. I pray the love of Jesus Christ might wash over them and guide them through this dark time. I pray the light of the world will continue to overcome the darkness we see all around. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John‬ ‭1:5‬ ‭ESV‬‬. Amen.

“But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.””

‭‭Matthew‬ ‭9:12-13‬ ‭ESV‬‬

http://bible.com/59/mat.9.12-13.esv

John Lewis

Hail Caesar!

Cäsar

Looking at Romans 13, which is really a continuation of Romans chapter 12 with a very unfortunate chapter break thrown in. Very unfortunate because it leaves Romans 13 on an island by itself, with no context, when clearly the context for chapter 13 is chapter 12, which we looked at the other day, Paul distilling for us Jesus’ teaching from the sermon on the mount.

MLK-Love-enemies
Paul goes directly from giving us Jesus teachings in his great sermon, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”, into what we know as chapter 13, but is really a continuation of Paul’s take on the sermon on the mount.

love of enemy

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.”

caesars sword
Paul here in Romans 13 is writing about Caesar, and this passage is one of the most misunderstood and misapplied passages in all of scripture, very often with tragic consequences. Beginning a little after the Emperor Constantine, all the way through the rise and fall of Nazi Germany, and even, unfortunately, to this very day, Christians have been using (misusing) this passage, which in the writing of Paul is an extension of the Sermon in the Mount.  Many have used this not as an extension of the sermon but instead as a rebuttal to the Sermon on the Mount. Whenever we want to disagree and rebut someone using the teachings Sermon on the Mount to argue for peace and love of enemies, we turn to this writing of Paul for our rebuttal, claiming our New Testament sanction for the war and violence we so firmly believe in. But the question is, who are we rebutting when we do this? Are we rebutting the one using Jesus’ teaching, or are we rebutting Jesus?

st paul.jpg
Why do we interpret Jesus in light of what Paul has written? If we are Christians, who believe in Christ, should we not then be interpreting the writings of Paul through the lens of Jesus? After all, isn’t Jesus the one who was resurrected and vindicated by God on the third day? I am reminded here of what God himself had to say at the transfiguration of Christ. “And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.”” ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭17:4‬ ‭ESV‬‬. To which God the Father had something to say. “He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”” ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭17:5‬ ‭ESV‬‬. And when the disciples could open their eyes, the only one before them was Jesus. Moses and Elijah were gone. Jesus, not Paul, is the beloved son with whom the Father is well pleased. Listen to Him. Paul does not get a tent.

PP-JesusTransfiguration_JS_0037
So when we think we see Paul overruling something we know Jesus taught us, we need to try to figure out where it is we are getting it wrong with Paul. In other words, we need to default to Jesus until we understand how and why are we misinterpreting Paul.
First of all, notice the pronoun change from chapter 12 into 13. Chapter 12 is all about “you”, chapter 13 Paul is writing about “he”. Put simply, chapter 12 is written for “you”, it’s an admonition for you. Chapter 13 is an observation upon “he”, Caesar. It is not an admonition to you as a follower of Christ. Followers of Jesus are called renounce vengeance and love their enemies ALWAYS, as taught by Jesus in his great sermon and explained by Paul in Romans 12.
Paul is, I believe, doing two things here in Romans 13. Number 1, he is endorsing the police function of the pagan empire of Rome to maintain a civil society. Make no mistake, Rome was a pagan empire, but even a pagan empire in rebellion to Christ can arrest bank robbers and keep the streets safe.

violent revolution
Number 2, more importantly, Paul is calling these Christians in Rome away from violent revolution. Violence is off the table. Violent revolution against the empire had long been a temptation of the Jewish people, don’t forget that this the time between the ascension of Christ and the destruction of the temple in AD 70. Paul here is giving the new Christians in Rome basically the same warning Jesus gave to his disciples in his Olivet discourse. The very warning against violent insurrection most of the Jews in Jerusalem did not take heed of, which resulted in the destruction of the temple and deaths of 600,000+.

nazi-germany
As Paul said, But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Caesar does not carry that sword in vain. If we embrace violence because we feel our cause is right and “just”, Caesar just may use that sword and you will suffer. Then you will be talking about the wrath of God which comes upon us, inevitably, for not following the Jesus way and instead seeking vengeance on those who have harmed us. The wrath of God which is the divine consent to our own choice to follow or not follow the path laid out for us, and the consequences thereof. Sin always carries its own punishment.

moses-and-rameses-were-raised-as-brothers-but-took-different-paths-to-become-great-leaders
Why do we hold up Romans 13 as the only place in the Bible that talks about the government? The Bible talks about the principalities and powers all the time, and it’s almost always in a dark light. Pharaoh during the Exodus. Nebuchadnezzar in Jeremiah. The parade of beastly empires in Daniel. Most clearly, Babylon, aka the Roman Empire, in the book of Revelation. These governments and empires are most often depicted as agents of the satan, not agents of God.

beheading-of-paul
And we need a little context here for what Paul is writing to these Roman Christians. Never, ever forget that Paul, the man who wrote Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God to the Romans, was himself executed by the government, in Rome, for not submitting to Roman authorities out of fidelity to Jesus Christ.

Kingdom-Not-World-AD
Jesus himself was subject to the governing authority of Pontius Pilate, but that does not mean Pilate acted justly. On Good Friday the Roman government was not acting as a servant of God but a servant of Satan. Jesus even explains to Pilate – “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”” John‬ ‭18:36‬ ‭ESV‬‬. Jesus was subject to the governing authorities in that he did not violently resist them, which is exactly what Peter and the other disciples wanted him to do. BUT – in being subject to the governing authorities Jesus shamed these principalities and powers in his crucifixion and was vindicated by God in his resurrection. This is the posture towards evil that followers of Christ are called to imitate.

easterwallpaper1
To pit Paul against Jesus, and Romans 13 against the sermon on the mount, is bad interpretation and worse Christianity. We are followers of the slaughtered and victorious lamb called (by Jesus AND Paul) to overcome evil with good.

 

John Lewis

 

Prince of Peace

prince of peace

“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall speak peace to the nations; his rule shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.”  Zechariah 9:9-10 ESV

foal of a donkey

The prophecy Jesus very intentionally fulfilled upon his arrival in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.  “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.” Matthew 21:2-3 ESV.  Jesus had come to Jerusalem to be crowned king.  The crowd shouting their hosannas as as he came into Jerusalem that day had that much right.  Jesus had come to be crowned King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  Yet he wept over Jerusalem as he came into the city to those Hosannas, because he knew that behind it was a toxic strain of nationalism and certitude.  He knew that the crowd, though right about their hosannas, was completely wrong about the manner in which he would be enthroned.  “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.” Luke 19:42 ESV.  They did not know the things that make for peace.  They did not understand their Messiah was to be the Prince of Peace.

Sunday, Jesus enters the city triumphant, and weeps over it.  Monday, Jesus prophetically protests the temple in a manner following Jeremiah, in a way predicting the downfall of the temple was near.  This results in the temple elite beginning to plot a way to murder Jesus, which never would have happened during the festival if Judas had not lead them to him at a quiet place, at night, away from the crowds.  But as the temple establishment was plotting the end of Jesus, Jesus is everywhere predicting the end of the temple.

flee to the mountains

On Tuesday, Jesus gives his disciples his Olivet discourse with all the signs of the End.  But the End Jesus is predicting all along us not the end of the works but the end of the temple.  Jesus predicts a time of great unrest leading up to the end of the temple.  He says there will be earthquakes, rebellions, famines, uprisings, wars and rumors of wars.  His great sign that the end was near was that Jerusalem would be surrounded by Roman armies – “”But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near.” Luke 21:20 ESV.  His warning to his disciples when they saw this was talking not be like everyone else.  Don’t think those city walls would protect you and keep you safe.  Don’t run into the city, run out of the city, go into the wilderness, just GET OUT!!  “Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let those who are inside the city depart, and let not those who are out in the country enter it, for these are days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written.”  Luke 21:21-22 ESV.   And when these prophecies were fulfilled, all those Jews in and around Jerusalem who believed Jesus was Messiah remembered his warnings, and when most were flooding into the city, they got out.  History tells us they left Jerusalem and went to the city of Pella in northern Jordan.

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On Wednesday, Mary Magdalene anointed Jesus to become king (and for his burial).  On Thursday, he had his Last Supper with his disciples, beginning the transition of the center of the kingdom of God from the temple to the table.

jesus-king-of-the-jews

And on Friday – Jesus was crowned king.  His coronation was a crucifixion, but Pilate told the truth on that sign he had placed on the cross – “Here is the King of the Jews“.   Even though he meant it in mocking, that was a true statement.

peace be with you

BUT ON SUNDAY – God raised him from the dead.  The second psalm comes to pass.   “I will tell of the decree: The Lord said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.” Psalms 2:7-8 ESV.  The words spoken by Jesus upon his resurrection, the first words of the new world  are not words of vengeance, not rallying the troops to go take down Pilate and destroy Herod, not giving those who had stood against him their just due, but words of peace – Peace be with you.   

pentecost

Then on the day of Pentecost, “…there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven.” Acts 2:5 ESV.  Peter preached his great sermon and the gospel was preached to men from every nation under heaven.  3000 souls were saved that day.  The Gospel spread rapidly over the next few decades throughout the Roman Empire, until in AD 64 Nero had both Peter and Paul executed.

jerusalem on fire

The end of the temple would mark the full inauguration of the Kingdom of God, and Jesus had repeatedly given a specific timetable.  This generation will not pass away…August 10, AD 70, the attack started.  Rome destroys Jerusalem, at least 600,000 killed, 97,000 taken as slaves.

not one stone

Jesus predictions that not one stone will be left upon another are fulfilled.  The city was leveled.  So, to put it clearly, the second coming of Christ does not have to be preceded by wars and rumors of wars.  Because that already happened.

Peace-sign

Do what do we look for??  Well, Jesus is king, right?  Jesus us the king that Zachariah prophecies about.  Jesus certainly thought so, that’s why he so intentionally fulfilled the prophecy by riding the peace donkey on Palm Sunday instead of a war horse.  So, what does our king command?  …He shall speak peace to the nations.   He commands peace, the Hebrew word Shalom, not war!!

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The second coming should be preceded by people attempting to live here and now under the reign of Christ.  We might want to call them Christians.  Our morbid fascination with biblically sanctioned end times hyper violence needs to end.  We want Christ to come, but for some reason believe we need multiple wars to bring that into fruition.  We say things like “There will never be peace in the Middle East until Jesus comes again“, thereby condemning that region to perpetual war just by the expectation.   But we need to understand that war is not necessary for Christ to return.

peace in the middle east

Warmongering is anti-Christ.  Christ is the King who commands peace to the nations.  He does not tell us to go have a bunch of wars so He can come back!!  If we get a secret thrill at every rumor or talk of war, that makes us a warmonger.   Jesus does not say “blessed are the warmongers, because they have a good eschatology”.   No, he says Blessed are the peacemakers.

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There is always another Armageddon on the horizon.  Always another war to come.  It is the foundation of our civilization.  But we confess that Christ will come again to judge the living and the dead.  If we confess Jesus as the Christ, we look for rumors of Shalom, rumors of peace.  Our task is to spread and live these rumors of shalom.  We are to live into the reality of Christ here and now.

casualties_of_war-warmongering

After all, he is the Prince of Peace, is he not?

John Lewis

“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall speak peace to the nations; his rule shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.”

Zechariah 9:9-10 ESV

http://bible.com/59/zec.9.9-10.esv

Reading Out Loud

Reading Out Loud

3_Read-out-loud

I’m doing something a little different today.  I’m going to try to make a point about reading words on a page versus having a spoken conversation.   I’ve begun reading a book by Eugene Peterson (he of “The Message” Bible translation) called “Reversed Thunder – The Revelation of John and the Praying Imagination“, and many of the points I am making here mirror points he makes in this book.

god speaks

A major point of the second chapter of this book revolves around the spoken word as opposed to words written on a page.  As Christians, we believe that God speaks, do we not?   God speaks, and all things are brought into being.  God speaks, and a creation comes into existence that is still expanding at the speed if light 13 billion years later.  God speaks, and a covenant is made.  God speaks, and eventually we have the holy scriptures to record the Word of God.

jesus speaks

So here is the point – the word of God was, is and will be spoken long before it was ever written down.  John’s Gospel tells us that Jesus Christ was the word made flesh.  If you read that gospel, it is unmistakable that the coming of Christ was not just ink on paper or some philosophical thought, but an historical occurrence, a moment in time.  In John’s letters, we see the physical, historical nature of what had happened.  “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—” 1 John 1:1 ESV.  Jesus was not reduced to words on paper.  They walked with him, talked with him, ate with him, prayed with him, touched him, probable slept with him (in the purely sleeping sense of that word!).  The word of God was always spoken before it was written.  Jesus was seen, touched, heard, before he was ever written about.

conversation with god

Spoken words are personal in a way written words can never be.  I try my hardest to write every day as though I am speaking to you. I attempt to write as though we are actually having a conversation.  Sometimes I might break the “rules” of written grammar, that is because very often I am writing, deliberately, as though I were speaking.  I want you to be able to hear my voice as you read.  Because there is a huge difference between hearing and reading.

writing in dust

Jesus Himself never wrote anything down, except that which he wrote in the dust to blow in the breeze a few minutes later.  We still wonder aloud what it might have been he was writing 2000 years later.  But Jesus did not communicate with his disciples by writing, he spoke his message to his disciples.

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Which, I believe, is the point of this verse from the opening stanza of the final book of the Bible, the book of Revelation.  Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.   The Revelation of John demands that it be read aloud, and heard.   Why?  What is the significance?

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I believe it is for the same reason I attempt to write as though I’m having a conversation.  The writer of revelation wants to be heard, not read.  Because to be read is impersonal, to be heard affirms and confirms a personal relationship between two parties, an interactive conversation between two people.

hearing

Peterson says that the scriptures, as God’s word, “are a great, but mixed, blessing.”  They are a blessing because it is preserved from generation to generation that God speaks, what he speaks, how he speaks, and what happens when he speaks.  “The scriptures are a mixed blessing because the moment the words are written they are in danger of losing the living resonance of the spoken word and reduced to something that is looked at, studied, interpreted, but not heard personally.”   Words, “word”, is personal.  But the moment they are written, they begin to be cold and impersonal.  They are separated from the voice which spoke them and depersonalized.  If all we do is read the word of God, the words on that paper no longer do what they were designed to do – “create and maintain personal relationships of intelligence and love.”

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When a word is spoken and heard, it brings the speaker and hearer into a relationship with one another.  Written and read – it has to rely on the imagination of the reader to do its work.  The senses of seeing and hearing are no longer involved.  Without these senses actuated, the written word becomes abstract.  Words on paper, separated from their speaker, can be beautiful, interesting, they can be studied.  But if we are not listening and responding, those words are not functioning according to the intent of the speaker.   In the case of Revelation, the intent of the speaker, St. John, is not to inform us about God, but to involve us in God.

the way

Peterson makes the point that very often, words after being written are analyzed, admired, parsed, discussed, but not not listened to, nor heard, not put into action.  Jesus’ sharpest disagreements were with the scribes and the Pharisees, people of his own day who knew their scriptures very well, knew the stories, could recite them backwards and forwards.   But they did not hear the voice of God.   They knew their Torah.  They loved the Torah.  They memorized it.  They used their Bible to regulate every part of their life.  Yet Jesus was at odds with them at almost every turn, every chapter of his gospels, because for them, the Torah was studied and known, but not heard.  The scriptures had become a book to use, not a way of hearing from God.   They separated the book and the knowledge from the divine act of God’s speaking.  They separated the book, and themselves, from the human act of hearing which would become believing, following and loving.

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So, if you ever do actually open the book if Revelation, do as it’s author commands and read it aloud.  In fact, read aloud all the books of the Bible, especially those red letters in the Gospels.  Hear what the book is telling you, don’t just read.   Hear Jesus telling you, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6 ESV.    Listen as He says “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”” Luke 22:19 ESV.   Can you hear Him?  Then do as He is saying.  “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” Matthew 5:44-45 ESV

Read out loud the words of your bible.  Pray out loud.  Speak the words, don’t just think them.  Hear Him speak, don’t just read ink on a paper.  Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.

“The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.”

Revelation 1:1-3 ESV

http://bible.com/59/rev.1.1-3.esv

John Lewis

Written in the Dust

Written in the Dust

writing_in_dust

600 years BC, before Christ, Jeremiah was a preacher and prophet in the tribes of Judah and Benjamin.  Jeremiah was specifically prophesying, through his prophetic poetry, to the backslidden people of Judah.  It is from this poetry that we get these two prophetic verses – ““For my people have done two evil things: They have abandoned me— the fountain of living water. And they have dug for themselves cracked cisterns that can hold no water at all!” Jeremiah 2:13 NLT

“LORD, you are the hope of Israel; all who forsake you will be put to shame. Those who turn away from you will be written in the dust because they have forsaken the LORD, the spring of living water.” Jeremiah 17:13 NIV

living-water

Jeremiah uses the picture of living water to depict Yahweh.  To be connected to God is to be connected to a stream of living water.   But instead of trusting in God, being connected to the fountain of living water that is Yahweh, the people of Judah were trusting in the things of man, in what they could do for themselves, especially their political alliance with Egypt.  They had abandoned God, rejected his living water, trusting instead in their own cracked cisterns which would not hold water at all.   Later, Jeremiah prophecies Those who turn away from you will be written in the dust because they have forsaken the LORD, the spring of living water.   His people of Judah have turned away from the Lord, of and they will wind up written in the dust…

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Six centuries later, Jesus, like Jeremiah, is preaching to wayward people in Jerusalem.  This is during the festival of Sukkot, also known as the feast of Tabernacles.   Jesus doesn’t live in Jerusalem, but is in there for the festival.  This would have been approximately 6 months before the Passover, so it would have been about 6 months before his crucifixion.

living water

“On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'”” John 7:37-38 ESV.

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Jesus is extending an audacious invitation – the invitation to festival goers to come Him for living water.  The invitation to believe in Him.  Jesus and Jeremiah are the only 2 figures of the Bible to talk about living water.  Those who heard him give this invitation would have known exactly what Jesus was talking about.  Jesus is connecting himself to Yahweh, the God of Israel.  Some might even think he was claiming to be the God of Israel…”come to me, believe in me.

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The crowd there was divided about Jesus.  “So there was a division among the people over him. Some of them wanted to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him.” John 7:43-44 ESV.  In fact, the chief priests and Pharisees had sent the temple police to arrest Jesus, but when they heard him speak, they seem to have forgotten what they came for.    “The officers then came to the chief priests and Pharisees, who said to them, “Why did you not bring him?” The officers answered, “No one ever spoke like this man!””John 7:45-46 ESV.   Many were beginning to believe in Jesus.  They might not have been able to connect all the dots, but after all, look at his miracles.  He was able to cast out demons, heal the sick, even raise the dead!!  Now he was openly associating himself with Yahweh, the God of Israel.  No wonder the Sanhedrin wanted him arrested.

jesus-and-followers-in-the-mount-of-olives

“[[They went each to his own house,” John 7:53 ESV. but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.    Do you notice here how chapter 7 doesn’t actually end, but rolls straight into chapter 8?   Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. 

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Jesus is getting quite a following at this festival.  The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?”   The Pharisees have found a woman here whom they can condemn using the Torah, as we know it the Bible.  They have found a woman caught in the act of adultery (somehow the man got away.  Maybe he was a Pharisee). This is what Pharisees use the Bible for (then and now).  They claim all the promises, all the salvation for themselves, and then use it to condemn everyone else they don’t like.   Notice I said “use the Bible”.   That is what these Pharisees do, use the Bible for their own purposes.  They use the Bible to condemn others.  They are not using the Bible to be transformed by God’s truth…

stone such women

They are attempting to use the Bible here for manipulation and intimidation.  They are using it as a device for their own control and power.  They know Jesus is not going to preside over the stoning of a sinner.  They have remarked many times that he is a friend of sinners (amen!), that he sits and eats and drinks with sinners.

bible

They are using the Bible to trap Jesus.  They are setting him up.  They want to be able to accuse Jesus of not believing the Bible.  The Bible says, in both Leviticus and Deuteronomy, that such women (and the men they are caught with) are to be stoned to death.  These Pharisees are right, the Bible is on their side!!  But they are not submitted themselves to the scriptures, they simply want to use it as a weapon against Jesus.   And Jesus can quote scripture to, and he had already twice quoted Hosea 6:6 “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice…” Hosea 6:6 NIV.   Jesus was not going to sacrifice this sinner to the Torah.

stoning-stone

Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him.   Jesus sees this for exactly what it is – another rejection of the God of Israel.  Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground.   Written in the dust…Yesterday –  “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'”   Today,  Those who turn away from you will be written in the dust because they have forsaken the LORD, the spring of living water.  Jesus is completing Jeremiah’s prophecy, and this would not be lost on those Pharisees.  These guys knew their Torah, could quote from it forwards and backwards.  They knew what Jesus was doing.

DustWriting

What was he writing?  Who knows??!!   Maybe “Jerusalem“.  Maybe he was writing some of the names of those men standing there.  If he was particularly feisty that day, maybe he wrote the high priest “Joseph Caiaphas“.   Whatever he wrote, his point was clear.  These Pharisees, the scribes, Jerusalem, Caiaphas, they had all turned away from God, rejected the living water, were more interested in using the Bible to trap, control and intimidate than being transformed themselves by the truth of God’s word found inside.  So even though they get what Jesus is doing, they keep pressing the issue – “Well. What are you going to do Jesus? Do you believe the Torah, are you going to follow the Bible or not??”   And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground.

salvation

These Pharisees thought they were trapping Jesus, but they’d been had.   They wound up trapped themselves.  BUT THAT WASN’T IN THEIR BIBLES!!!   Let him who is without sin wasn’t in the Torah.  Here’s the thing – Jesus Christ, Jesus of Nazareth, was the word made flesh.  Everything he ever did, everything Jesus ever said, was and is the Word of God.  Jesus is what God has to say…

But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”   Here’s a question – was anyone here without sin??  Jesus was!!  Jesus was without sin.  He was qualified to throw those stones.  All those Pharisees, those accusers, they knew they’d been had.   One by one, they put down those stones.  There was a nice little pile sitting there for Jesus.  If Jesus had wanted to “do the Bible“, then he could have picked up those stones and given that woman what she deserved.  She was guilty.  It would have just been too bad for her.

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But Jesus doesn’t pick up those stones.  Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”    Go and sin no more!!    That’s what salvation looks like!!  This woman is guilty, the man she was sleeping with is guilty, I am guilty, you are guilty!!   Jesus has the right to throw those stones, the power to condemn.  But does he??   No!!!   Go, and from now on sin no more.  Guess what – that’s in your Bible!!   Amen and hallelujah, I like that one a lot more than stoning adulterers.

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Go and sin no more is what salvation looks like in a single moment.   Jesus could condemn that woman, but instead offers grace and mercy.  Because, after all, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:1 ESV.  Jesus doesn’t condemn us, he’s the one who saves us!!  Jesus is greater than the law.  He is the word made flesh.

Fountain

These Pharisees had rejected the living waters of God and were written in the dust.  Within a generation, the whole city of Jerusalem would be written in the dust.  If we choose to use our bibles as weapons to condemn sinners, we will wind up written in the dust.

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Leviticus and Deuteronomy both condemned this woman to die.  Jesus, the word made flesh, says go and sin no more.  Christ does not condemn, Jesus Saves, amen!!   “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” John 3:17 ESV.

no-condemnation

Yet we who call ourselves Christians, “little Christs“, spend so much time and energy condemning people.  The more we do, the more we ourselves wind up written in the dust.

“but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” ]]”

John 8:1-11 ESV

http://bible.com/59/jhn.8.1-11.esv

John Lewis