THE ADULTEROUS WOMAN

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. [Romans 6:23 (NIV)]

Rocky Mountain National ParkThe Torah made it abundantly clear that adultery was punishable by death and, since adultery involves more than one party, laws in Leviticus and Deuteronomy required the condemnation of both parties involved. Jesus was speaking to a crowd when some scribes and Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery to Him. Insisting that the law required her to be stoned, they asked Jesus what to do.

Rather than being concerned about a sin, this was another attempt to trap Jesus into saying something for which they could condemn Him. If He said to let her go, that would be a clear violation of Mosaic law. On the other hand, if He said to stone her, Jesus could be reported to the Romans for violating their law prohibiting Jews from carrying out their own executions. Moreover, if He condemned her, Jesus lay Himself open to accusations of hypocrisy since He spoke so often of forgiveness and mercy.

Before answering, Jesus stooped down and wrote something in the dust with His finger. He then stood and told them, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone.” He stooped again and wrote some more in the dust. Although He’d upheld the law, not one of the men could claim to be sinless and the woman’s accusers slowly slunk away. The condemned woman remained with the only sinless man who could, but wouldn’t, cast a stone.

All who read this story wonder what Jesus wrote in the dust. He may have been writing the exact words from the Torah that imposed the death penalty for adultery—words that demanded death for both the man and woman! If this woman actually was caught in the act, where was the man with whom she supposedly committed adultery? It was the scribes and Pharisees who sinned by only condemning her. Moreover, Mosaic law required a trial in which at least two witnesses testified before anyone could be put to death by stoning. There doesn’t seem to have been a trial and where were the witnesses? They were supposed to be the first ones to throw their stones! When Jesus asked for the first stone to be cast, was He asking for the witnesses to step forward? Perhaps there were none or the witnesses knew they were as guilty of sin as was the woman.

Perhaps Jesus was writing the names and secret sins of those present. Even though He walked in human flesh, Jesus also was God and knew what was in people’s hearts. Perhaps, seeing their names written in the dust, these scribes and Pharisees were reminded of the words of Jeremiah that, “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.” [17:13] Had they forsaken God by their abysmal behavior? Let us remember that the finger writing in the dust that day was the same finger that wrote the law on Moses’ stone tablets. Whatever they said, those words in the dust were powerful ones written by the hand of God!

In the end, while the only one without sin did not condemn the woman, He did not condone her sin either. In fact, we know that Jesus had a far narrower definition of adultery that did the scribes and Pharisees. While Jesus is gracious and merciful, He also is holy and calls us to a life of obedience and righteousness. Although He did not condemn her, He did tell her, “Go and sin no more.” Jesus tells us the same thing every time He forgives us; may we go and sin no more!

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? [Romans 6:1-2 (NIV)]

Copyright ©2022 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

AN AMBASSADOR IN CHAINS 

And pray for me, too. Ask God to give me the right words so I can boldly explain God’s mysterious plan that the Good News is for Jews and Gentiles alike. I am in chains now, still preaching this message as God’s ambassador. So pray that I will keep on speaking boldly for him, as I should. [Ephesians 6:19-21 (NLT)]

lupineSince the beginning, Satan has been determined to impede God’s plan. He started in Eden and continued by attempting to cut off the promised line of the Messiah with the killing of Israel’s infant boys in Egypt, Haman’s evil plans to exterminate every Jew in the Persian empire, and Herod’s slaughter of boys under two in Judah. When that failed, Satan sought to derail Jesus’ mission to mankind by tempting Him in the wilderness and Scripture tells us that wasn’t his last attempt to stop the Lord. Having failed with Jesus, Satan has been trying to interfere with the church’s mission to spread the gospel ever since.

Satan may have thought he’d found the perfect man to defeat the early church in the Pharisee Saul—a powerful man who hated both Christ’s followers and Gentiles. He rejected Jesus as the Messiah, approved of the stoning of Stephen, and devoted himself to persecuting and terrorizing Christians. That, of course, was before Saul met Jesus on the road to Damascus. In a little bit of God-ordained poetic justice, the Saul who had been doing Satan’s work by persecuting the church transformed into the Apostle Paul whose mission became that of building the church!

Satan probably thought he’d obstruct Paul’s mission with an assassination attempt, several shipwrecks, assorted arrests, beatings, stonings, and floggings, along with several stints in prison. Paul, however, managed to turn every hindrance into an evangelism opportunity; he even preached to his guards! Once Paul was put under arrest in Rome in 60 AD, Satan may have thought he finally stopped the evangelist in his tracks. Rather than being imprisoned as a common criminal, however, Paul was confined to house arrest. Although he was chained and under guard, he was allowed to live in a rented house at his own expense. In spite of his captivity, Paul “welcomed all who visited him, boldly proclaiming the Kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ.” [Acts 28:31] Rather than discouraging other believers, Paul’s unstinting faith during imprisonment encouraged them and it was during these years that Paul wrote his letters to the Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon. When Paul wasn’t writing to the church, it seems that he spent his solitary time praying for it!

After a few years of freedom, Paul was re-arrested and imprisoned around 65 AD. Confined to a Roman prison that time, he was cut off from the world except for a few visitors. As the apostle faced death, he wrote his final epistle, 2 Timothy and, like his other letters, it is filled with faith, sound doctrine, encouragement, endurance, and love.

While Satan thought Paul’s hardships and suffering would stop him from preaching the gospel, Paul used his hardships and suffering to spread it. When Paul was free, he saw himself as an ambassador for Christ and, when imprisoned, he simply saw himself as an ambassador in chains. Moreover, knowing Paul’s situation, his words about forgiveness, rejoicing in suffering or trouble, and finding joy in all circumstances are all the more meaningful to his readers today. Rather than stopping his ministry, Paul’s imprisonments helped keep his ministry alive because of his letters. His words are as essential to the church today as they were when written nearly 2,000 years ago!

Satan couldn’t stop God’s plan for the Messiah, couldn’t stop Jesus from His mission as the Lamb of God, and couldn’t stop Paul. Satan can stop the church only if the church allows him. Paul didn’t. Will we?

And I want you to know, my dear brothers and sisters, that everything that has happened to me here has helped to spread the Good News. For everyone here, including the whole palace guard, knows that I am in chains because of Christ. And because of my imprisonment, most of the believers here have gained confidence and boldly speak God’s message without fear. [Philippians 1:12-14 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2022 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

SMELL THE ROSES

But the Lord said to her, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.” [Luke 10:41-42 (NLT)]

barred owlsMy father always had a fixed itinerary for everything he did and, for him, a schedule, once made, was set in stone. Unless it was on his agenda, he never stopped to “smell the roses.” Whenever we vacationed, he had a list of sites to visit and things to accomplish for each day. For example, as soon as we arrived at the Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, he got out his list and, without even pausing to view the flowers or drink any tea, crossed off the park, and announced, “Well, that’s out of the way; now we’re off to the top of the Mark!”  Once there, our cursory look out its windows at the city went much the same way and we rushed off the next destination on his itinerary. Had we visited in Jerusalem in Jesus’ time, rather than stopping to listen to Him speak from the hillside, we’d have rushed off to see the Pool of Siloam or Jacob’s well in Sychar!

I thought of my father’s version of sightseeing when visiting the bird sanctuary. We were oohing and aahing at a mother owl feeding her owlets only a few feet away. As a young man approached, we started to point them out but, without even turning his head, he quickly strode past. This swamp is one of southwest Florida’s “must see” destinations but, apparently, like my father, the fellow was anxious to cross it off his list and get on to the next thing. He missed an “Aha” moment (along with the herons, wood storks, alligators and blue flag iris) and will probably tell people his walk wasn’t worth the entrance fee.

Being the promised Messiah was a heavy assignment and Jesus knew he had a limited time on earth, yet we never read of him being in a hurry, rushing somewhere, or not stopping when someone called to him. Rather than grab a quick falafel at a first century fast-food stand, He stopped and dined in people’s homes. He didn’t rush by those who needed healing. While on the way to Jairus’ house to heal the man’s daughter, he paused long enough to heal a bleeding woman. He was never too busy to answer questions and he seized any opportunity to share God’s love and forgiveness. After chatting with the woman at the well, he interrupted his travels to stay with the Samaritans for two more days. Although large crowds followed him, he always found time for prayer and little children. He taught, preached, and healed, but he never was too busy to stop.

Our lives should be more than a “to do” list of events, destinations, and achievements. Granted, we need plans and goals, but we should be willing to adjust our schedules and revise our plans. Rather than think of life’s interruptions as distractions, we could consider them as opportunities presented by God. He gave roses a lovely aroma for a reason; perhaps it’s so we’ll stop to smell them! At the age of 56, my father, a man who never stopped to smell those roses, died of a massive coronary. There’s a lesson to be learned from his sudden death—the time to smell the roses is now! If we don’t, we’ll miss out on more than just a few “Aha!” moments when on vacation. We may miss precious opportunities with family, friends, and God. Isn’t that what Jesus was telling Martha so long ago?

As we journey through life, Lord, slow us down and stop us when necessary. Don’t allow us to become so intent on some distant objective that we forget to cherish the scenery, people, and opportunities we encounter along the way. May we always welcome interruptions that allow us to serve you, share your love, or appreciate your bountiful gifts.

Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything that is beautiful; for beauty is God’s handwriting—a wayside sacrament. Welcome it in every fair face, in every fair sky, in every fair flower, and thank God for it is a cup of blessing. [Ralph Waldo Emerson]

Look here, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.” How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. [James 4:13-14 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2022 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved

 

NICODEMUS AND JOSEPH

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. [2 Corinthians 5:17 (ESV)]

station of the cross - 13 - golindrinas NMNot all of the Sadducees and Pharisees were disinterested in the truth. Consider Nicodemus, a man who was both a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council. Drawn to Jesus because of His miracles, the Pharisee visited Him alone during the night. That his approach seems furtive implies Nicodemus was hesitant to let others know of his visit. Nevertheless, he approached Jesus with respect, an open mind, and honest questions. Although some Pharisees said Jesus got His power from Satan, Nicodemus began by acknowledging that Jesus’ miracles testified He came from God. Recognizing that Jesus came from God, however, was not enough. Jesus’s response was, “Unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.” Jesus, of course, was speaking of spiritual rebirth but Nicodemus’ response implies he took Jesus’ words literally when he pointed out the impossibility of an old man re-entering his mother’s womb to be born again.

While most of us are familiar with this verse as saying “born again,” the word used was anóthen, meaning “from above,” so Nicodemus could have understood Jesus was speaking figuratively of a spiritual birth. The Pharisee may have wondered how an old man, set in his beliefs, habits, position, and attitude, ever could make such a radical change and start fresh. Being stuffed back into the womb is impossible but spiritual rebirth can seem as unfeasible. Jesus acted surprised that Nicodemus, a respected Jewish teacher, didn’t understand the things about which He spoke. His reference to Moses lifting up a bronze snake on a pole to heal (found in Numbers) and His words about water and the Spirit that echoed words written by Ezekiel [36:25-27] may have prompted the Pharisee to go back and re-study Scripture.

The next we read of Nicodemus is during a meeting of the Sanhedrin when he pointed out the illegality of convicting Jesus without a trial. During the sham trial that followed, however, neither he nor Joseph of Arimathea, another secret follower of Jesus, defended Jesus. Whether they still had doubts, were afraid, or simply thought no harm could come to the Messiah, they remained silent when others condemned Him. It may not have been until Calvary that the two Pharisees finally understood Jesus’ comparison of Moses raising the pole in the wilderness to heal the Israelites to the “Son of Man” being “lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life.” [John 3:14]

The next time we read of the two men, Jesus has been crucified. At great risk to position and reputation, Joseph asked Pilate for Jesus’ body. Rather than the disciples, it was Joseph and Nicodemus—men who once has been too afraid to speak for Jesus—who prepared His broken body for burial. They anointed the Lord with over 70 pounds of ointment, wrapped Him in sheets of linen, and placed Him in Joseph’s tomb. By doing so, the two men publicly declared their belief in Jesus. They were born anew!

While Scripture doesn’t tell us what happened to Nicodemus and Joseph, we do know what would have happened to any member of the Sanhedrin having done what they did—he’d be kicked off the High Council, lose his position as Pharisee, and probably be banished from his synagogue. There’s little doubt that both men lost their power, wealth, and position but, in return, they gained eternal life! All in all—not a bad trade!

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.” [Matthew 16:24-27 (ESV)]

Copyright ©2022 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

DOUBT AND UNBELIEF

lilacWe reject all shameful deeds and underhanded methods. We don’t try to trick anyone or distort the word of God. We tell the truth before God, and all who are honest know this. If the Good News we preach is hidden behind a veil, it is hidden only from people who are perishing. Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God. [2 Corinthians 4:2-4 (NLT)]

Yesterday, when writing about John the Baptist, I said that doubt was not the same as unbelief. In John’s question to Jesus, we have the doubts of a godly man but we see trickery and unbelief in most of the questions of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

Because the Sadducees interpreted Scripture literally and the Pharisees gave equal significance to their oral tradition, the groups frequently argued with one another over Jewish doctrine. They were, however, united in their hatred of Jesus. Unlike the Pharisees, the Sadducees did not belief in an afterlife or the resurrection of the dead. Nevertheless, they asked Jesus a question dealing with resurrection. Jewish law said that, if a woman’s husband died without having a son, the husband’s brother had the responsibility of marrying her. Using this law as their starting point, the Sadducees set up a bizarre scenario in which one brother dies without having children and his widow, who never bears a son, ends up marrying and burying brother after brother until she’s married and buried all seven brothers. The Sadducees want Jesus to tell them which of the seven will be her husband in the afterlife.

Since they didn’t believe in any afterlife, theirs was not an honest question and they’re sure Jesus can’t answer without looking foolish, offending people, or being caught in an inconsistency. He’ll appear arbitrary if he picks one brother over another and immoral if He says they all can have her! His other choice (and possibly the one for which they hope) is to admit that resurrection is a preposterous doctrine. Not only would they score a point against the Pharisees but Jesus would look like a fraud since He couldn’t be the “resurrection and the life” if there were no resurrection!

Imagine their consternation when Jesus corrected them by saying they’d misinterpreted Scripture and had underestimated God’s power with their assumption that resurrection meant a continuation of the same kind of bodies we have in this life. Jesus explained that people would be raised into bodies unlike their present ones and marriage and procreation would be unnecessary. When Jesus added that people will have bodies “like the angels in heaven,” He dug the knife deep into their absurd question because Sadducees didn’t believe in angels any more than they did resurrection.

In His final thrust, Jesus asked the Sadducees if they’d read about resurrection in the Scriptures. He then repeated these words from Exodus: “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” [3:6] Even though the patriarchs had been dead for more than four centuries, God’s words to Moses were in the present tense which showed that the men remained alive before Him. Jesus could have found scriptural support in words from Isaiah, Daniel, or Job but He chose a verse from part of the Pentateuch, the section the Sadducees found most authoritative. Having been out-argued by the Son of God, I imagine the Sadducees departed with their proverbial tails between their legs. The crowd that heard Jesus, however, was “astounded at his teaching.”

When comparing the questions posed by John’s disciples and the Sadducees, the differences between doubt and unbelief become clear. Where doubt seeks answers, unbelief isn’t interested in them. Doubt seeks enlightenment; unbelief prefers darkness. Doubt is receptive; unbelief is hostile. Doubt is straightforward; unbelief has ulterior motives. Doubt wants the truth; unbelief just wants to win.

There are those who insist that it is a very bad thing to question God. To them, “why?” is a rude question. That depends, I believe, on whether it is an honest search, in faith, for His meaning, or whether it is the challenge of unbelief and rebellion. [Elisabeth Elliot]

But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees with his reply, they met together to question him again. [Matthew 22:34 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2022 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

JOHN THE BAPTIST – Part 2

On the following day, John saw Jesus coming towards him and said, “Look, there is the lamb of God who will take away the sins of the world! This is the man I meant when I said, ‘A man comes after me who is always in front of me, for he existed before I was born!’ It is true I have not known him, yet it was to make him known to the people of Israel that I came and baptised people with water.” [John 1:29-31 (PHILLIPS)]

mourning doveWe don’t know if John the Baptist recognized Jesus as his distant cousin when the two men met on the banks of the Jordan. Although they were the same age and their mothers were related in some way, with John in the desert and Jesus in Nazareth, it’s not likely they knew one another. If they did, Jesus probably seemed nothing more than an ordinary person to John at the time.

When Jesus walked toward him that day, however, John knew he was seeing someone who was more than a carpenter from Nazareth. In the same way that Elizabeth knew Mary was “the mother of my Lord” when the unborn John leapt in her womb, John recognized Jesus’ true identity as the Son of God. John seemed to have no doubt about Jesus when he testified to seeing the Spirit descend on Him like a dove and, throughout John’s ministry, he continued to point out Jesus as the “Lamb of God.”

After Jesus’ baptism, the gospel of John tells us that both John and Jesus carried on baptizing ministries. Perhaps out of jealousy, some of John’s disciples complained that more people were going to Jesus than coming to John. Again, John made it clear that he knew their different roles when he compared himself to the best man and Jesus to the bridegroom. “He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less.” [3:30]

More than a year later, what happened to John’s confidence in Jesus’ identity? The man who once had been so sure about Jesus sent his disciples to ask, “Are you the Messiah we’ve been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else?” [Mt 11:3] Languishing in Herod’s dungeon, John probably wondered why the conquering king from David’s line hadn’t released him. Why hadn’t Jesus taken the throne from Herod and Rome? Where was the end-time outpouring of the Spirit, the winnowing fork that would separate the chaff from the wheat, and the one who would burn the chaff with “never-ending fire”?

In truth, Jesus wasn’t the Messiah that John and his disciples were expecting; nevertheless, He was the Messiah! John, however, didn’t understand that Jesus had to teach, heal, suffer, die, resurrect, and ascend before returning a second time and executing final judgment. At first, it seems that Jesus ducks John’s question with a summary of his miracles but John understood. The miracles Jesus listed fulfilled the messianic promises in Isaiah; they were proof that He was the Messiah. Jesus’ final message for John is a beatitude that encouraged the Baptizer (and the rest of us) not to stumble in our faith just because Jesus doesn’t fit our expectations.

While we may not be languishing in a dungeon as was John, we may be in languishing in grief, infertility, depression, illness, addiction, chronic pain, money issues, infidelity, or family problems. Just as Jesus didn’t meet John’s expectations, He doesn’t always meet ours. He didn’t free John from Herod’s prison and He may not free us from ours and, like John, we may have doubts. Faith and doubt, however, are not antonyms and doubt and unbelief are not synonyms! We can be people of faith and still have questions; like John, we never should be afraid to ask those questions. John went to Jesus for the answers and, like him, we should look to the words and works of Jesus Christ for our ours. We’ll discover, as did John, that the Lord’s credentials will hold up to the toughest of questions!

Jesus gave them this reply, “Go and tell John what you see and hear—that blind men are recovering their sight, cripples are walking, lepers being healed, the deaf hearing, the dead being brought to life and the good news is being given to those in need. And happy is the man who never loses faith in me.” [Matthew 11:4-6 (PHILLIPS)]

Copyright ©2022 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.