As a younger child there were a few days in the elementary school calendar that I looked forward to more than others. While playing with parachutes and soccer balls at Field Day excited me, there was an equally fun day for me that came twice a year: The Scholastic Book Fair. I wish I could say that this was because even at an early age I had a true appreciation for gathering knowledge through books but alas I can't. At the ripe age of 9 I loved the book fair for two reasons; first getting the newest Kobe Bryant poster and secondly getting cool book marks.
My favorite bookmarks were those that contained optical illusions within them. These illusions operate on the premise that at first glance one object or picture seems to be present, but over time you come to see a different picture that was wholly different than what you originally saw. This idea of an illusionary bookmark is one that has been carrying over recently to my time in the Bible recently. Allow me to explain.
In recent months as I have been reading the Bible I have noticed how often myself and the church culture settle for the first reading or first meaning or first takeaway that we see from the text and as such we only get the first picture. I think this is because too often we read the Bible as a straightforward manual to better living rather than the beautiful transformative piece of literature it was written in.
Before I go on please do not misunderstand me for saying that we should not take the Bible literally or that we should read ideas into the passages. This idea could not be farther from what I'm advocating. What I'm stating rather is the need to read it literarily (as a piece of literature) and as such not settle for the first idea that pops off into our mind, but rather like a illusionary bookmark, continue to delve and examine the text to see if there is a more fuller meaning and message we are missing.
A prime example of this principle that has been nourishing my soul can be found in the 8th chapter of John with the familiar story of the Woman caught in adultery.
For those of you unfamiliar with the story, this moment begins right on the heels of a heated moment with the pharisees (or the religious leaders of the day). The Pharisees then bring out a woman who had been caught in the midst of adultery and they place her at the feet of Jesus asking Him what they should do to her. They clearly expected Him to condemn her and even referenced the Law of Moses as giving Jesus reason to condemn her to death by stoning. Rather than do this though Jesus bends down and writes in the sand, then states that whoever is without sin can throw the first stone. One by one the Pharisees drop the stones, and the woman is left with Jesus. Jesus tells her that He does not condemn her and tells her to go and sin no more.
If you have grown up in the church or even been to a few Bible studies no doubt that you have heard this story taught and preached. In these sermons typically a pastor will camp out on a few ideas:
The first being "What did Jesus write in the Sand?" from this point many hypothesize that Jesus was writing the sins of the Pharisees as to put them in their place. The application then becomes what would Jesus write in the sand if you were in front of Him?
A second common point addresses what Jesus says to the Pharisees regarding him who is without sin be the first to throw the stone. The common application from this becomes that we should not judge those caught in sin due to the reality of the presence of sins in our own lives.
The last common point preached refers to the last part of Jesus final declaration to the woman "... go and sin no more". This is applied to our lives by most pastors as a charge to go out and quit sinning because Jesus tells us to.
Are these really the main points of this story? Is this passage truly a call to a recognition of the sin in ones life? Or like a illusion is there something far greater going on that is right in front of our eyes?
We only get to see the true beauty of this short moment in the ministry of Jesus when we truly make Him the focus of our reading. Allow me to illustrate:
These Pharisees bring a woman caught in grotesque sin to the Son of God (the true Judge of the World) expecting Him to condemn her and allow them to stone her to death. While He does write in the sand and command those without a stone to throw the first stone, that is not where the true beauty of the story lies. It lies in the first part of Jesus's address to the shamed and humiliated woman:
"Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”
The greater beauty of this Story comes from realizing that every one of us is the woman at the well. We all have been caught in grotesque sins and have stood before the judgement throne of God expecting Him to respond angrily and harshly, only for the mystery of grace to confound us when Jesus replies "Neither do I condemn you".
The beauty of the gospel is that Jesus was condemned on behalf of our sins, Jesus took the punishment for this woman and all of us on a tree on Calvary. This passage is not a call to stop and think about our sin in a shameful way. It is an example of the grace God offers his children as He declares that if we are in Christ we stand pardoned not condemned.
To the many of us who have focused on Jesus's final words in this passage as a call to stop sinning. Jesus did everything with purpose in His ministry including wording that command with a connecting clause. Without the realization that we are not condemned and the resulting freedom that occurs it is impossible to war against sin successfully.
For it is only when we are feasting on God's grace that we have the strength to say no to our vices.
So friends I invite you to glimpse and savor the deeper beauty that arose from that day at the feet of Jesus. The mysterious grace that a perfect savior showed a scornful, shameful woman. I then invite you to along with myself remember that we are that woman, having warred with our own sin and deserving of condemnation but spared by the gospel of God's grace, and in doing so thrive in the power of the realization that you do not live punished by the Son but rather purchased by the Son.
Romans 8:1 "Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus..."