It was really quite a claim. You can’t really get lower than that. The tax collectors were really the scum of the earth. They were regarded as sell-outs against their own people, actually making a profit in collusion with the Romans as they charged their own people. You know, we can contain Jesus; we’ve heard these stories and we are used to them, but I promise you that if He came into our midst today and said things to us, I think we, too, would struggle with Him. But do understand that His message appeals to those who grasp their true need; people who really nothing to fall back upon.
So, it would often be the people who were the outcasts and not in positions of power and influence. They had nothing to lose and everything to gain. You see the idea? These were the people who would more often be receptive to His message. The religious leaders had a great deal to lose. He was threatening their own interests. So, we see this extraordinary and radical nature, as so many facets of Christ’s life are. When He gives attention to people in great need, what kind of attention does He give them? It is undivided attention.
I love the fact that He completely reduces His world to their needs and focuses on them, while His disciples are interested more in moving on. This is to me a very important reality because it illustrates, too, that you and I are the recipients of God’s love and attention. It is not easy to grasp how God can even notice and be concerned with our very deepest needs and worries and fears and so forth.
Yet, He has all the time in the world to focus on you as well as each and every other person because for God a day is as a thousand years and a thousand years is also like a day. In a very real way, then, He has all the time necessary. Do you ever think about that? When you are in a large church and all the people are praying and doing the silent intercessory prayers? How on earth does He take it all in?
Well, He has eternity in every moment, and you see where I am going with that. However, the other side of the coin is that eternity is also only a moment to Him. It is a deep mystery. But, the point here is He is deeply focused and concerned about our needs. Now, our text continues, in verse eight, and “Again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. When they heard this statement that He made, they began to go out one by one, beginning with the older ones, and He was left alone.”
So, one group after another would drop their stones and quietly leave until finally they were all gone. “He was left alone, and the woman, where she was, in the center of the court. Straightening up, Jesus said to her, “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “I do not condemn you either. Go and from now on sin no more”.”
So, Jesus is not really minimizing the sin or contradicting the Law. For Him to forgive her is not a cheap thing at all. If we grasp the nature of Jesus’ forgiveness, and this is implied, it means that He would have to pay for her sins Himself. In order for the Father to be satisfied, and remember one of the great tensions points in Paul’s theology in Romans was that ‘God must be just when He justifies sinners’. Now please stop and reread that 3 times and let that sink in!
Now, how can He be just and at the same time declare those opposed to Him to be righteous? The only way He can do that is to take the cost upon Himself. Basically, He is underwriting the cost of the human condition. Now, forgiveness is free, but it is not cheap. Someone must pay the price. Certainly, John 3 makes it clear; “He so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.” Also, 1st Peter 3:18 is a central passage on this whole motif on what is required, this awful cost, that was necessary; “Christ also died for sins, once for all; the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit.”
So, Peter also makes this very clear; the just died for the unjust so that He could bring us to God. Otherwise, His offer of forgiveness really wouldn’t be meaningful. Then, in 2nd Corinthians 5:21, there is this well-known text, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” The awful price of forgiveness, then, is Christ underwriting that and making it possible for us to receive it.
So, we see a clear picture of God’s provision. The Law was given to do what? What did the Law communicate to us? Paul makes this clear in Romans 3. It wasn’t to save us from sin but to reveal our sin. Romans 3:20 reveals that, “Because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.” The Law reveals the condition and drives us to grace. No one in the Law was saved by keeping the Law because no one could satisfy the requirements of the Law.
Instead, the Law drove them to grace and that is why David, in his marvelous repentant Psalm, Psalm 51, essentially says that it is by grace and through faith in You, and Your mercy and compassion, that it is possible to have the right knowledge of You. Remember when he says, of his sin; “Be gracious to me, O God, according to Your loving kindness. According to the greatness of Your compassion blot out my transgressions.” The superscription of the Psalm is very specific. By the way, the superscription of the psalm, in Hebrew, was actually the first verse. Our numbers are actually one number off.
But, the superscription says, “For the choir director. A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet came to him, after he had gone into Bathsheba.” We have no ambiguity here; we know what the context was. But you see what David is appealing to? It is not to his righteous life, it is to God’s loving-kindness, to His ‘chanan’, and that word means ‘mercy’ and it means ‘loyal love’. “Because of the greatness of Your compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions and my sin is ever before me. Against You, You only, I have sinned and done what is evil in Your sight, So that You are justified when You speak and blameless when You judge.” Clearly, we see a man who grasps his problem and he is thinking if there were an option for me to do it, if I had a sacrifice, I would offer it.
That is why he says, in verse 16, “You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; You are not pleased with burnt offering. The sacrifices of God”-are what, who remembers how it goes? “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit.” And, “Blessed are those who”-what? “Are poor in spirit.”
So, “A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” David comes to God in the humility of conviction. So it is with us as well. The worst thing we can do is rationalize our foolishness and our sin and cover it up. God will know our heart and so when we come to Him we are understanding that it is the Law, God’s righteous revelation of Himself, in the Old and the New Testament, when we see His Commandments, and it is impossible for us to satisfy them, apart from His grace and power. And so, the conviction must always precede conversion. So it always is; a person must first become aware of their sin.
I believe, and I am hoping this will be the case, that Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ can have a similar impact on our own times. From all accounts, it seems that it will have a very powerful impact. There is always a cultural warfare going on, isn’t there? We see it today and surely we see it in this text. If you wanted to look at the Gospel of John just in terms of spiritual warfare it would be a very creative and interesting study. It is in every chapter. You see the polarization that Jesus brings with those that would be willing to humble themselves and come to Him in the obedience of faith with the humility and transparency that is needful.
By contrast, it is the self-assured, smug people, who will resist His claims and offers. The one thing you can see with Jesus is that the more time people spend with Him the less they can ignore Him. You can not spend much time with Him without accepting Him or rejecting Him. To ignore Him is not an option. He polarizes the crowds and He does it in every chapter. Moving back to our text, then, we see that He does not diminish the sin but He offers gracious forgiveness. It is not an excuse to the sin.
The second contrast we see in this text and remember that the first was between law and grace, and grace does not eliminate the Law, it satisfies it, you see the difference there? Jesus, by fulfilling the Law, makes it possible for us to enjoy the grace of God. So, we see the next contrast in verses 12 through 20 and this contrast is between light and darkness. Again, there is a lot of polarization in this Gospel.
This brings us to the second great ‘I-am’ statement. “Then Jesus spoke again to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the light of life’.” So, the interruption we just looked at, in Jesus’ tabernacle discourse is now picked up again because I believe what we have, if you look at verse 37 of John 7, and remember that there was beginning of the feast and a middle and then, “On the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, ‘If anyone is thirsty let them come to Me and drink’.” Now, after making these claims, when He talks about offering rivers of living water and He referring to the Spirit of God, then I believe the contest would also be continued of we go from chapter seven, verse 52 to chapter eight, verse 12, without this story in between. He is still on the last day of the feast.
Remember that the tabernacles were associated with the provision of water and also with the provision of light as well. What you have in this idea of tabernacles is four huge bowls and stands in the area of the temple and these golden bowls were filled with oil and apparently they would use the garments of the priests that were worn out as wicks for them. When they would light them, and my feeling is that they did this every night, imagine Jerusalem at night because as the rabbis said, ‘All Jerusalem was illuminated’, and this in a city that did not have public lighting after dusk. You have to understand this; it is difficult to think of a city without public lighting. Imagine, also, Jerusalem’s yellow limestone walls illuminated by these massive, golden bowls of oil.
It must have been a spectacular thing that could be seen from many miles off. It would have been a marvelous thing and on the final day, with Jesus teaching in the court of the women, where both men and women could give offerings, you have to imagine, as that lighting takes place, you have Jesus saying, “I am the light of the world.” He is saying that He is more than just the light for Jerusalem, He is the light for the entire world. The theme of light, of course, is huge in the Scriptures, isn’t it? What is the first thing God creates? Light.
Think about the motif of light, where “The Lord is my light and salvation, whom shall I fear?” The light was what led them in the wilderness. These lights in Jerusalem were reminiscent of the pillar of light and the fire and the clouds and the imagery would all be associated with this. And the idea of Psalm 119:105 where, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” “The light comes into the world,” in John chapter one and “The darkness does not illuminate it.” So, this motif of light and darkness is very, very evident, particularly in John.
So, He is making a very strong and very clear claim here and in doing so, in this ‘I-am’ statement, He is comparing Himself, in effect, to the rising sun. These wilderness images are used effectively in this text-the manna, the water from the rock and the pillar of fire-in chapters six, seven and eight. “He who follows Me,” He says in verse 12. What does it mean to follow Him? Essentially, if we put all the texts together, it means simply to put one’s trust in Him and to put one’s hope in Him. This is what results in life.
Again, I have to stress that mere intellectual assent is not the issue. It is a personal reception. I have worked with people before and I am thinking here of one person in particular, and he was a classic example of a person who was logical from the get-go and continued on. He started off in a kind of strong agnostic position and then he was a soft agnostic and then he moved into a ‘maybe a possibility of a being’ position and then he moved toward theism. And then his issue was about Jesus. Was Jesus who He claimed to be? Eventually, he came to believe in the deity of Christ and that was when he said, ‘Now I have a problem’. He couldn’t go the next step on an intellectual level. It had to be a heart level. He understood the issue. He understood that now it wasn’t just a matter of believing, but that he had to accept Him or reject Him, if Jesus was who He claims to be. You understand that issue?
The thing that brought him over the edge, as it turned out, was a book by Peter Kreeft that was a summary of Pascal and titled Christianity for Modern Pagans. The book had an impact because it focuses on that very issue which Pascal raises, which is the difference between propositional and personal truth; the difference between believing in a proposition and believing in a person. He understood, finally, that it was not a leap into the dark but a step into the light. I remember when he made that step and the amazing thing about this guy was that he was such a logical machine and then he was faced with ‘what do I do to grow’?
It is a wonderful story but for most people, it is not that logical. I’m studying philosophy and the philosophers who believe and those who don’t and the intriguing thing about these philosophers, who are all strong academics and also believers, each says that it actually wasn’t the intellectual arguments that really did it for them. It was some experience, some encounter, some matter of the heart, that brought them there. Then they began to think through the logical implications of their new world view. The point is that this idea of belief and trust, whatever launches that, that is what sustains our lives.
Looking now at verse 13, “So the Pharisees said to Him, ‘You are testifying about Yourself; Your testimony is not true’.” This is kind of going back to the story of John 5. Remember how He actually has more than one witness? He said that John the Baptist witnesses to me, that God witnesses to me, and “So, also, My works bear witness of Me.” Moses even bears witness.
If you believe Moses, “you would believe Me, because he wrote about Me.” He is kind of having to review that old territory again. “He answered and said to them, ‘Even if I answer and testify about Myself, My testimony is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going; but you do not know where I come from or where I am going.” Here is the interesting point He is claiming here.
He is not just saying His words are true because of this external authority. His words are true because of His origin. The very fact that He comes forth from God gives authenticity to his words. This is a radical concept because He is telling them that, “You judge according to the flesh; I am not judging anyone. But even if I do judge, My judgment is true; for I am not alone in it, but I and the Father who sent Me. Even in your law it has been written that the testimony of two men is true. I am He who testifies about Myself, and the Father who sent Me testifies about Me.” Now, the light, by its very nature, has a way of bearing witness to itself, doesn’t it?
Have you ever been in a situation where you were in a completely dark area, maybe a cave? Merely a pinpoint of light is enough to illuminate where it is going. You don’t need a lot of light in a completely dark area for you to follow that light. It has its own self-attestation. The light overcomes the darkness. The darkness can not comprehend it. It will lead you to safety. Well, His own witness, His own word, is His Father. The experts of the law, ironically, didn’t know their own messiah, even as He stood before them.
Now here is the point. No one can know the word of God without knowing the God of the word. You can know the word of God intellectually, but not in a meaningful way unless you know the God of the word. It is needful for us to have an encounter with God because it is the Spirit of God who illuminates the things of the Spirit in the word of God. There are many people who are theologians who do not have a relationship with God at all.