Wednesday, March 27, 2013

No Condemnation

Romans 8:1 says that "there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." I've been thinking about this scripture in relation to the story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery. And how maybe we need to rethink our thoughts on this verse. 

At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” (John 8:2-11)

This is obviously a great story of God's grace, love, and forgiveness, which in and of itself it beautiful. But it's such a multifaceted passage of scripture. I think for the first time ever I realized that this exchange happens in a large group setting and not just between Jesus and a small group of Pharisees. This is everyone in the temple who came to hear Jesus teach that is turned away from stoning this woman. 

But that's not even the first thing that stands out to me. What really stands out is that the Pharisees just brought the woman to Jesus. The guy involved in this case of adultery... He's sitting naked in a bed somewhere, feeling pretty awkward I imagine. But the Pharisees don't bother with him. They bring the woman. 

This is another story of Jesus valuing all life and changing and redeeming the perspective and value of women. From the woman at the well, to the woman with the issue of blood, to this woman caught in the act of adultery, Jesus loved and cared for them all. He didn't view women as the lesser. While they're beautiful stories of God's grace and healing to us now, I feel like we miss the cultural implications these stories had to those who witnessed and heard them back then. It's the shift Paul talks about when he says there is no longer Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28). 

I also wonder what was going through this woman's mind post encounter with Jesus. Jesus says go and leave your life of sin. Did she? An encounter with Jesus will change your life. And one where your life is spared and redeem, that for sure will change your life? But how was she changed? Was she able to find fidelity post her encounter with Jesus? Did she slip back in to old habits eventually? She did ever feel condemned after her encounter where Jesus said he didn't condemn her? Obviously she was convicted in that moment. How can one not be? But did the idea that there was no condemnation for her sin, from the Son of God, change her perspective on life?

While the Pharisees thought they were going to trap Jesus and put this woman to death, actually (potentially) saved and changed her life. She had an encounter with Jesus where her sin was forgiven and she found that there is no condemnation with Christ. But the guy who she was sleeping with... He wasn't given the chance to find forgiveness. This was a very public encounter with Jesus. People knew who this man was. How long did he have to walk around with the shame and guilt and condemnation? Or how long was he blind to his own short-comings?

When he encounter Christ, conviction should lead to repentance, to leaving our life of sin. Not guilt, shame, and condemnation.

I wonder if Paul's claim that there is no condemnation is as much a reminder to himself as it was to the Roman church. Was Paul fighting with feelings of condemnation over his persecution of the church? But Paul says because I have encountered God, there is no condemnation because Christ has sets us free from sin and death (Romans 8:2).

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Faithfully Waiting

The story of Caleb is one of my favorites. Caleb was one of the spies who went and checked out the Promise Land. Caleb said Israel would have no issue taking the land because God was on their side. The other spies just saw giants and lost their cool. Caleb had God in his sights and God in his heart. The rest of the spies saw a problem and feared. Their feared cause doubt in Israel and thus, those who feared were going to have to chill in the desert until they died.

But not Caleb. Caleb and Joshua were the only two from that generation that were going to get to live and make it into the Promised Land. Pretty dope, right?

But Israel was in the desert for 40 years. Caleb had a lot of waiting. And one they crossed the Jordan? Well Caleb was still a part of the Israeli army. But Caleb didn't let go of God's promise.

"Now the people of Judah approached Joshua at Gilgal, and Caleb son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite said to him, “You know what the Lord said to Moses the man of God at Kadesh Barnea about you and me. I was forty years old when Moses the servant of the Lord sent me from Kadesh Barnea to explore the land. And I brought him back a report according to my convictions, but my fellow Israelites who went up with me made the hearts of the people melt in fear. I, however, followed theLord my God wholeheartedly. So on that day Moses swore to me, ‘The land on which your feet have walked will be your inheritance and that of your children forever, because you have followed the Lord my God wholeheartedly.’ “Now then, just as the Lord promised, he has kept me alive for forty-five years since the time he said this to Moses, while Israel moved about in the wilderness. So here I am today, eighty-five years old! I am still as strong today as the day Moses sent me out; I’m just as vigorous to go out to battle now as I was then. Now give me this hill country that the Lord promised me that day. You yourself heard then that the Anakites were there and their cities were large and fortified, but, theLord helping me, I will drive them out just as he said.” Then Joshua blessed Caleb son of Jephunneh and gave him Hebron as his inheritance." ~ Joshua 14:6-13

At the age of 85 Caleb just as strongly believed and held to the promises of God. AT 85 Caleb was just as strong and ready to fight with the Lord's help as he was at 40.

This is an extremely encouraging passage of scripture for me. Caleb had to wait 45 years for God's promise to come true in his life. It makes a couple of years not seem so bad. Caleb missed out on the promise land because of the fear of others. Caleb remained faithful but still had to wait. But waiting brought the promise. He remained faithful and trusted that God's word would come true, even 45 years later. It gives me hope and a resolve to keep going and remain faithful.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Reaching The End

I wonder what Moses was thinking when he reached the end of his life. Was he happy? Relived? Disappointed? I'd imagine it was a little bit of all that. And what were Israel's thoughts? Yes, the bible says they mourned for thirty days. But Moses was also the only thing keeping them from entering the promised land at the point of his death. He needed to die for God's promise to finally be fulfilled.

Which is where I think disappointment and possibly bitterness creeps in to Moses' final thoughts.

Moses died at the age of 120. The Bible says his vision was good and he had his strength. By this point, it appears the Moses has moved passed his fear of speaking in public that he has when God first calls him. He just delivered his final sermon to the Israelites (and you thought your pastor was long winded).

After delivering his final instructions to Israel, God informs Moses that after he dies, the Israelites are going to turn away from God and prostitute themselves to other gods.

Moses didn't really want to rescue the Israelites in the first place. He was content to stay in the dessert, watching sheep for his father-in-law. The Israelites were a major pain in Moses' ass. They complained pretty much as soon as they left Egypt. They complained against God for food an for water. They complained about the food God has miraculously provided because they wanted something different. (I imagine a child who wants pizza for dinner again complaining that mom made spaghetti) WHen they get to the promise land they refuse to enter because they have forgotten that God delivered them out of Egypt and don't think they can take the land God has promised. And we can't forget how impatient they get while Moses is receiving the law from God, that they go ahead and make a golden cow to worship. They also heard the voice of God before creating a false God. The Israelites were a frustrating people. And in Moses' final moments, they continue to be frustrating. The Israelites are the reason Moses doesn't get to enter the promised land.

But if Moses hadn't gone to Egypt he would've missed out on God. While the burning bush is an incredible life changing moment, where do you think it ranked on the list of things Moses saw God do? All the signs in Egypt, the manna, the quail, the water from the rock... Not to mention, seeing God and talking to God every day. The book of Deuteronomy closes with:

"Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, who did all those signs and wonders the Lord sent him to do in Egypt—to Pharaoh and to all his officialsand to his whole land. For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel." (Deuteronomy 34:10-12).

For all the strife Israel caused in Moses, for all the interceding he had to do for them, Moses had the closest, most personal relationship with God on earth since Eden closed it's door to humanity. 

Life is tough. People can be difficult. And while I'm sure the disappointment of not being able to enter the promised land weighed heavy on Moses and the knowledge that the people God had saved and had called were going to turn their back on God again was hard to die with, I imagine Moses would've have traded his life experiences for anything. He knew God in an intimate and personal way and had seen God do great things in his lifetime. And I'm sure that was comforting at the end of his life when God called him off the earth. 

And at least he had a view of that which God promised before he died.