Mercy, not judgment. Forgiveness, not condemnation. Acceptance, not rejection. Encouragement, not brow-beating. This is the picture of Jesus I see in this well-known Bible passage, so brilliantly brought to life in the box office hit, The Passion of Christ.
Here Jesus comes face-to-face with a known sinner, a woman caught in adultery. She has clearly transgressed God’s law and is well-deserving of the consequences: Death by stoning. But Jesus surprises everyone by His response: Rather than throwing her to the frothing, religious dogs, Jesus turns the tables on them and protects her from punishment by trumping the current law with a higher one: Mercy. (Read the whole account in John 8:3-11.)
Maybe we need another WWJD campaign, because the body of Christ seems awfully confused and divided about what Jesus would be doing if He were walking among us right now.
If you’re one of the ones scratching your head, you’re in luck, because the story of the woman caught in adultery gives us a window into Jesus’ life and provides some very clear answers as to how Jesus wants us to view, love, and treat all people:
1. To be like Jesus, we must be rich in mercy:
What a beautiful picture of mercy we see in the account of the adulterous woman. It must be our aim to show this same kind of mercy to everyone we know–everyone.
Some of us churchy people have sadly forgotten this. Let’s look at Ephesians 2: 4-5: “Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved.”
I love that expression: Rich in mercy. As a new Christian, I remember basking in the richness of His mercy. Coming from total depravity without Jesus, then suddenly welcomed into His perfect love and acceptance, His mercy was palpable. How unfortunate that sometimes as we reach those benchmarks of five, ten, thirty, or even more years of walking with Jesus, we forget how desperately we needed (correction: still need) His mercy, and we tend to have very little to show others, especially non-Christians. Let’s not forget where we came from, and let’s access the riches of mercy Jesus has for us to give to others.
2. To be like Jesus, we must love all people even before they’re saved:
Even though Jesus hadn’t died yet when He met this adulterous woman, He was foreshadowing what He knew would happen when He gave His life for her.
Here’s what Romans 5: 8 says: ” But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Everything that Jesus had to give, He gave it, and He gave it freely, without conditions long before we had any idea what He had done for us.
I bet you know people–coworkers, relatives, clients, neighbors–who need you to be the hands and feet of Jesus to them, but you’ve been holding back because you think maybe they “deserve what they’re getting because of their sin.” Or you just don’t feel like laying down your life for someone who’s different from you or who has issues you don’t understand. Well, if Jesus had reserved His blood from us based on these conditions, no one could be saved. Get out of your comfort zone, stop judging people, and start showing them mercy.
3. To be like Jesus, you must let kindness and love soften the hammer of truth:
When Jesus finally spoke to this woman, He first established that no one was left to condemn her. Jesus had cleared them all away, not by confronting them in disgust, but by challenging them to do a little bit of self-evaluation before flinging stones at the accused. Then He told the woman, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.” See how He did that? He loved her, accepted her, affirmed her, then He charged her to sin no more. And then He left it at that. The decision was hers to choose how she would respond to His crazy love and mercy.
Don’t forget what Paul tells us in The Love Chapter: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” 1 Cor. 13: 4-7
I know… I left out the first few verses (the noisy gong and clanging cymbal parts), because I think we often forget this last part, especially when we’re trying to share the gospel with people who resist it. You want to know what Jesus would do with them? Our answers are right there in those verses: Love (AKA Jesus) is patient, kind, gracious, humble, shows honor to others, is not out to “one-up” others, maintains a cool temper, and forgives easily. Think about the last time you got into a debate with a non-Christian–or anyone. Can you say you represented Jesus according to these verses? If so, great! If not, think about those verses the next time you find yourself in that situation.
There’s a bit more, and I want to break this down into bite-sized pieces: Love/Jesus rejoices with the truth. Therefore, to show this to others, we should share truth–even hard, confrontative truth–in a way that points people to the joy of it. I think we often focus on the negatives of rejecting Jesus rather than focusing on the joy that knowing Him brings us. Maybe if people saw more joy in us, they’d be more apt to believe us–and they might think Jesus is worth believing.
The last part says this: Love/Jesus always protects, trusts, hopes, and perseveres. When you’re sharing the gospel with others, is your aim to protect and cover them, or to expose and dishonor them? Can you trust and hope in Jesus that if you sow, He’ll do the reaping? Do your part in love, then leave the rest to Him. This way, you won’t have to head-butt people with your Bible or your arguments. Finally, love/Jesus always perseveres. Don’t give up on people, but in your perseverance, continue to show love in all of the ways we’ve discussed.
Now go, and be rich in mercy.
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