What part do we play in the story of Jesus and the adulterous woman?

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This week, our lesson focused on a story about a woman caught in adultery, and Jesus’ response both to her and her accusers. (You can listen to the full lesson here.) It’s a story that teaches us a lot not only about Jesus and his mission, but about our own need for grace and mercy.

The book of John tells the story of how Jesus came down to earth and took on human form, dwelt among us, and spoke with such authority that the religious leaders of the day decided that they needed to silence him any way they could.

They finally decided to try and trap him into making public statements that the teachers could then take to the government and use to portray Jesus as a troublemaker, someone who needed to be silenced before he stirred the people up into a violent revolt. The don’t seem particularly concerned about the woman, whom they caught in the act of sin, as their attention is focused on discrediting Jesus.

When the people demanded that Jesus render a judgment, he refused to take a stand on the question.

He simply told the accusers “Let him who is without sin, cast the first stone.”

But what did he mean by that? As with other passages, when the Bible doesn’t give us specific answers, we must look at context, as well as the full picture painted in the word of God. We can see enough of Jesus’ teachings in other areas to explain what he meant more clearly.

Did he mean that what this woman had done wasn’t wrong? No, because Jesus talked a lot about the sin of adultery, just like other violations of the law.

Did he mean that sin was no one’s business but that person and God? No, because Jesus himself said that if a brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.

Jesus didn’t expect us to be sinless, but he DID expect that we be honest about whether we’re truly judging what he called “righteous judgment.”

That means examining our own hearts and taking an honest look at what we’re doing before we try to make a case against someone else.

Am I guilty of the same sin? Is my priority to save and to help, or to point out fault?

It’s important for us always to see ourselves in this story to keep from becoming an accuser with impure motives, who doesn’t care at all about following the law, but is more concerned with making ourselves feel holy.

We also should see ourselves in the accused – one who has been brought before our God condemned due to our own sin, worthy of death, with nothing to save us other than the mercy of the judge.

Thanks be to God, our judge is Jesus Christ, who gave his life for us and paid the penalty for our sin. We were bought with a price, and should live our lives in joy and humility, with an eye toward helping people escape just as we escaped, through the blood of Jesus.

How can Christians lead worthy lives?

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In Colossians 1:9-10, we read that Paul’s prayer for the Colossians – and for all Christians – is to live a life that is worthy of the Lord.

That seems odd to us in some ways, because we understand that we can’t earn our salvation, that we are saved by the grace of God and not through our own goodness or works.

We can never be good enough to deserve anything that God has done for us. So how can we be worthy?

“Worthiness” and “deserving” are not the same

I think the problem is that we associate worthiness with deserving, and that’s not really how we normally use those ideas. As with a lot of terminology, we understand the concepts in real life, but we don’t always apply those ideas when we read the Bible.

For example…

… we might observe a teenager who’s been given a Ferrari by his parents for his birthday, and he proceeds to drive it recklessly, bang into mailboxes, trash the interior with wrappers and dirt, ignore all the maintenance, and get into accident after accident — all the while boasting to anyone who will listen how great his car is and by extension, how great HE is, and how horrible his parents are for not getting him the special rims and accessories that he wanted. We would think, “Why is that car wasted on someone like that, who doesn’t appreciate what he’s been given?”

We would probably never say that any teenager has EARNED a Ferrari, but we might say that he shows gratitude in the way that he treats the vehicle, and in the way he responds to the parents who gave it to him. How I treat the gift itself, or how the gift changes my attitude or actions, reflects my attitude about the giver!

How does God’s gift change us?

That’s what Paul is saying to Christians. You’ve been given an immeasurable gift of grace in your salvation.

Paul describes in chapter 1 of Colossians who Jesus is, how exalted he is above all things — he is the image of God. He is the creator of all things. And he is the head of the body, which is the church. And yet that same Jesus has reconciled us to his body by his death, to present us holy and blameless and above reproach before him!

How do we live in view of that gift? Do we see it as sacred? Does it change the way we make decisions in our lives? The priorities we set? The way we spend our time and energy? Do we follow Jesus begrudgingly, always looking for shortcuts, excuses not to do things we know are pleasing to God, or looking for the absolute minimal level of commitment so that we can continue with the things we’d rather be doing with our lives?

A worthy life gives everything to God

Paul wrote in Galatians 2:20: “The life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” That describes a life where we are totally committed to serving God above ourselves. Anything less is unworthy of the grace God has shown to us.

May God bless us all and give us the faith and resolve to live with that kind of gratitude in our lives and our hearts, so that we can serve God the way God deserves to be served.

Listen to the full lesson on YouTube here.

Jesus put spiritual things first

Knowing Jesus: Jesus put spiritual things first

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Typically, people in the world — and I include many Christians in this statement — have the same reaction when they see someone that’s considered more excited about serving God than is considered “normal.”

They think they’re nuts.

Based on scripture, I suspect that’s how a lot of people saw Jesus most of the time. Granted, they lived in a time when traveling prophets and teachers weren’t quite as far out of the mainstream, but all the same, a man whose sole focus in life was trying to serve God still stood out. And Jesus’ zeal for service to the Father was unrivaled.

Then he went home, and the crowd gathered again, so that they could not even eat. And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind.” — Mark 3:20-21

Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.” But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” So the disciples said to one another, “Has anyone brought him something to eat?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest.— John 4:31-35

It’s interesting to read so many of the articles that invariably appear as Easter weekend approaches, and in many cases, those articles are designed to craft a vision of Jesus that supports whatever vision of the Christ fits the writer’s viewpoint. Sometimes it’s Jesus the rebel, or Jesus the social justice warrior, or Jesus the glutton/drunkard. (Only when twisting the scriptures would anyone use the accusations of Jesus’ worst enemies as an accurate depiction of Jesus’ character.)

The point that seems to be lost on so many is that Jesus’ zeal was focused on his mission of teaching the Gospel to those who needed to hear it. He reached out to the broken, he pushed the mediocre followers to do better, he challenged the entrenched theologians to re-examine the law, and in everything he did, he looked for ways to glorify the Father.

When his disciples were wondering where the next meal would come from, Jesus was thinking about the next soul he could influence toward God.

Jesus demanded spiritual priorities

It’s no wonder that Jesus’ most animated moments seemed to occur when others’ service to God fell short — when their priorities shifted toward their own worldly interests and away from the task of seeking a deeper relationship with God. Jesus didn’t protest all the social and economic injustices of the day. Instead, he turned over the money-changer tables in the temple because they had made it “a den of robbers” (Mark 11:17), a “house of merchandise” (John 2:16). He railed against the scribes and Pharisees — religious leaders of the day — because their hypocritical actions were not only keeping them from entering the kingdom, but hindering those around them as well (Matthew 23:13).

For Jesus, everything seemed to come down to a choice. Who are you going to serve: God, or yourself?

As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” — Luke 9:57-62

Spiritual priorities: worrying about many things

Jesus had a focus on doing the Father’s will, and he tried continuously to instill that priority in his followers. In Luke 10:38-42, Jesus is shown teaching in the home of Mary and Martha in Galilee, and while Mary sat and listened, Martha attempted to play the host to what was undoubtedly a house full of people. She is described as “distracted with much serving,” and the reality is that she probably wasn’t acting any differently than most people would with a home full of people in the midst of what must have been a monumental discussion in her eyes.

There was nothing wrong with being a good host, but Jesus told her, “you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary.”

Do we get so sidetracked with the daily tasks and responsibilities that we start seeing them as our primary duty? If we’re serving a role in the Sunday worship, are we so absorbed in getting everything right that we forget that we’re worshiping God? Do we think to ourselves that we ought to be doing more for the Lord, if only we could get all our other chores and errands out of the way first? We would never see them as more important; we just see them as more pressing.

Jesus’ implicit point to Martha was that she wasn’t going to have many more chances to listen to the Master teach. I suspect at the end of her life, her regret might have been that she didn’t spend more time at the feet of Jesus, and less time worrying about things that no longer seemed that important in looking back on her life.

As we try to follow Jesus, we’re called to go where he goes, whenever the need calls. We’re called to actively seek him, and do works worthy of the kingdom of God (Colossians 1:10, Ephesians 2:10). That calling will require us to choose every day: what is our one “necessary thing?”

Lecture series: “Who was Jesus, and what does that mean for me?”

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Jesus is a historical (despite the protests of some) and spiritual figure who has divided people for centuries since his brief period of public ministry. It seems safe to say that no one has ever impacted the world in such a short time. No one could, except for one who came as the son of God.

We sometimes take for granted that Jesus is the anchor of our faith, the source of our salvation, the reason that we have hope in this life. Growing up in what I would consider conservative churches of Christ, I think we’ve had a tendency to take this side of our faith for granted. We talk a lot about obedience, about following God, about morality, and those are things we ought to talk about. But sometimes we have a tendency to lose site of why it is that we assemble every Lord’s Day in the first place. It’s vital that as followers of Christ, we keep our eyes focused on the one we’re following!

I had the opportunity to visit the Vegas Drive church of Christ in April and deliver a weekend series of lessons on the topic of Jesus, and I thoroughly enjoyed being with my friends and spiritual family again. I had preached there on a part-time basis for about five years before moving on, and it was a blessing to be back. But the greater blessing was spending time talking about various aspects of our Lord.

I’ve included links below to the audio and also the presentations I used, and I hope you find the contents useful and encouraging – and maybe informative!

Lesson 1:

Was there really a Jesus?

Without opening a Bible, we have strong reason to believe that there was a literal living man named Jesus who went around the region of Judea teaching about the coming kingdom of God. The record of his existence, teachings and life as passed down through the early church, coupled with historical finds from that time period and the undeniable explosion of Christianity after his death are compelling reasons to ask the question: how did this insignificant man in this remote part of the world manage to change human history forever?

View slides: Was there really a Jesus?

Lesson 2:

The ultimate stumbling block: The empty tomb

There is no way to have an honest discussion about who Jesus really was without dealing with the question of the empty tomb. Despite a wide range of speculation and various theories put forth, there has been no explanation given for how a man could predict his own death, successfully stage that death at the hands of a disinterested government, and then make people believe he had risen from the dead. There is even less reason to believe that his disciples later contrived the resurrection account, submitting themselves to torture and death for a cause they knew to be untrue, and somehow managed to convince thousands of people who were all present during the time when the events of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection took place.

View slides: The empty tomb

Lesson 3

Was Jesus the son of God?

This question goes hand-in-hand with the question of the resurrection. Without a resurrection, the claims of Jesus as God would be empty. Without Jesus being God, his resurrection would have been impossible. Skeptics who deny one must also deny the other. But the growing list of writers who argue Jesus never made the claim to be God’s son are based on a dishonest and selective view of the scriptures. We find overwhelming evidence in all four gospels as well as the epistles and the early church writers that not only did his followers worship him as God, but that Jesus accepted and approved that conclusion.

View slides: Was Jesus the son of God?

Lesson 4

Understanding the thief on the cross

Once we arrive at the conclusion that Jesus was in fact the son of God, sent to live among men, die on a cross, and rise from the dead as the chosen Messiah, we have to start asking what all this means to us? We see Jesus sending out his apostles to all the world to “preach the gospel to every creature.” It is a message of hope and joy, calling men and women of every nation to repent of sin and worldliness, and turn their lives over to the Lord. The story of the thief on the cross in Luke 23 gives a remarkable vision of the grace of God and the saving faith that is required of us today. This is a story that’s often misused, but the central message is that if we believe Jesus’ message despite all the obstacles placed in our way, that Jesus will save us – but it’s his grace, his prerogative, and he decides the conditions of our salvation. Not us!

View slides: Understanding the thief on the cross

Lesson 5

Am I a Christian or a disciple of Christ?

The term “Christian” has become so common and so easily used in our culture, that in many instances it seems to have lost its meaning. Anyone can claim to be a Christian, and we often set the requirements as low as “someone whose family went to a church at some point.” More and more, our culture distances itself from what Jesus truly commanded: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” Can we truly call ourselves Christians if we’re not disciples of Christ? What does it really mean to be a disciple? The Bible tells us it means much more than simply acknowledging that Jesus was a real person, or that we agree with his teachings, or even that his claims about himself are true. It means giving our lives to him, conforming ourselves to his image every day.

View slides: Am I a Christian or a disciple?

Lesson 6

The church that Jesus built

The religious world increasingly claims that you can talk about Jesus without talking about the church. But scripture clearly shows us that the church is the body of Christ – the two are inseparable! But what is the church? How does the Bible define it, and is it even still in existence today? If it is, then should I join it – or it is even something I can join at all?

View slides: The church that Jesus built

Knowing Jesus: Jesus was compassionate

Knowing Jesus: Jesus was compassionate

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Jesus’ mission on this earth was of a spiritual nature. He came to establish a kingdom that would bring Jew and Gentile together in one body — his own. He lived his life with a singular focus matched by few, if any.

As we’ve already discussed, he came to “seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10). It’s certainly true that the prophets pointed to him as one who would heal the sick, give sight to the blind, cure the lame and bring hope to an oppressed people. However, passages like Isaiah 35 indicate that those miracles weren’t an end to themselves, but rather a sign of the true purpose of Jesus: to build a highway, a “way of Holiness” (v. 8), by which sinful people could return to God.

Jesus had three years to mold a group of imperfect men into apostles, correct a flawed understanding of God’s law, and prepare himself as a sacrificial offering for the sins of all the world. His focus on teaching the lost sometimes seemed to border on obsession (John 4:34, Mark 3:21).

And yet, faced with a mission that transcended any temporary, physical need that might present itself, Jesus still found time to help people.

Going about doing good

When Peter met the Roman centurion Cornelius, this is how he summed up Jesus’ life:

You yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. — Act 10:37-38

The significance of this, to me, is that no one was in a better place than Jesus to understand how seemingly insignificant a single act of kindness could be. What is even a lifetime of suffering when compared with an eternal glorified body in the presence of God?

He had himself taught that it was better to enter life maimed or blind than to be healthy and suffer eternal condemnation (Matthew 5:29-30). How many people did Jesus heal, knowing full well that they had missed the true significance of his appearance in their lives (Luke 17:11-18)?

Is doing good ever futile?

People would continue to die, and yet Jesus raised people from the dead. People would continue to get sick, and yet Jesus healed them. Do you think Jesus ever looked out at the vast array of pain and suffering that he saw every day and asked “Why should I bother helping this person, when a hundred more will still be suffering?”

If Jesus was truly tempted in all points as we are (Hebrews 4:15), it’s impossible to believe he didn’t.

Who can walk down a busy street in New York City or some other major metropolitan area, hear the request of a beggar, and not think “if I help this person, what about the person after him? Or after him? I can’t help all of them!”

Jesus was the only man who ever lived who had a hope of ending disease, hunger and pain. And he didn’t do it. And yet, Jesus never let the “big picture” or thoughts of futility keep him from doing good.

Jesus’ life was driven by compassion

How many of Jesus’ recorded miracles appear to be situations where Jesus was engaged in other business, and yet he saw someone in need and had compassion?

Soon afterward he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a great crowd went with him. As he drew near to the gate of the town, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and a considerable crowd from the town was with her. And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. — Luke 7:11-15

Jesus, knowing people’s hearts, understood more than anyone else how important a small act of kindness could be — even if it didn’t do anything more than lighten someone’s load for a few moments.

He calls his disciples to view life the same way. It’s worth noting that in his parable of the judgment scene, he describes those who will enter into life this way:

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ — Matthew 25:34-40

If we truly want to follow Jesus, we need to be people of compassion — even when it doesn’t seem like it will make a difference. Jesus didn’t help those in need because he thought it would fix the world’s problems or end suffering for more than a few moments. He did it because he was compassionate toward people who needed help.

May God help us to be that kind of people, too.

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