Jesus's responded to outrageous sin with outrageous love.
By Doug Reed
Under the Law of Moses the proper response for outrageous sin was wrath. Yet, Jesus most often responded to outrageous sin with outrageous love. He showed a love so great that if often made people mad. A perfect example is His encounter with a woman caught in adultery.
Now early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people came to Him; and He sat down and taught them. Then the scribes and Pharisees brought to Him a woman caught in adultery. And when they had set her in the midst, they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do You say?” This they said, testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him. But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear.
So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.” And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, “Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?”
She said, “No one, Lord.”
And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.”
The Pharisees were quite right in their understanding of the Law. The Law of Moses did command the death penalty for those caught in adultery. However, their hypocrisy is apparent from the beginning. Where was the man who was also caught in adultery? Did he not also deserve to die? (Actually, this scenario revealed the common idea of the day that it was the woman’s fault when a man committed this sin. He was the victim!)
Jesus handled this situation masterfully. He turned the woman’s accusers into the accused, and the woman left not with condemnation but with acceptance. What do you think Jesus was writing on the ground? There were many transgressions that carried the death penalty under the Law of Moses. Even Sabbath breaking was a sin worthy of death. Do you suppose Jesus stooped at the feet of one of the accusers and wrote “Sabbath breaker”?
Many would consider it outrageous that Jesus would let this woman go unpunished. She should get what she deserved! Yet, people never seemed to get what they deserved when Jesus was around. They got outrageous love instead. Jesus also taught His followers to show outrageous love even the in face of great injustice.
John 1:17 tells us that “… the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” Jesus was the embodiment of God’s grace. Grace is not getting what you deserve but getting the opposite instead. In Christ we are not just saved from God’s wrath, we are given the utter opposite. We are given a kindness so great that we could call it infinite.
In the life of Christ we see the unfolding revelation of God’s grace. From the very beginning at the birth of Christ we can see that something extraordinary was happening. When the angels came to give the most important announcement ever given, whom did they go to? You would think they would go to the most important people in the land. Yet, they went to the shepherds. Shepherding was considered the most lowly profession a person could have. They went to the people you were not supposed to pay any attention to.
The unfolding of Grace continued in Jesus’ life. He gave people the love they were not supposed to get. People who were supposed to get wrath got blessing instead. Jesus loved the people you were suppose to hate. In the gospels we often hear about how Jesus treated tax collectors and prostitutes. It is no accident that Jesus had many encounters with people such as these. In that day people considered the tax collectors to be the worst sinners of all, and the prostitutes were only slightly better.
Jesus touched people you were not supposed to touch. The Jews were very observant of what was clean and what was unclean. That which was unclean was not to be touched. It is hard for us to imagine, but in Jesus’ day people like the lepers, the blind, and the lame were considered God’s outcasts. Most thought their condition came either because they had sinned or their parents had sinned. People such as the lame, the blind, and especially the lepers were considered unclean, and they were not to be touched.
We think of Jesus’ laying hands on the sick as a method. Many of us lay hands on sick people today when we pray, because Jesus did so. What we miss is that when Jesus laid hands on the sick, it was not a technique or method. It was a statement. It was a statement of God’s acceptance. It was saying that which every one thought God hated was beloved. What everyone thought was unclean was now clean. No doubt such a touch from Jesus not only healed the body but also the soul.
Jesus even blessed the gentiles. The gentiles were the dogs. They were ones most deserving God’s wrath. Yet, in Christ they got God’s blessing. Outrageous!
It is not hard to understand why Jesus’ love upset some people. Think of the person or persons you consider most evil. Maybe that person brought great harm to your life. Maybe you found their evil disgusting. What if they got the exact opposite of what they deserved? Would that upset you?
The grace of God was upsetting to some, but to others it was good news. It meant that outrageous love had come for them. God was going to give them the opposite of what they deserved.
Have you let outrageous love come for you? Have you let outrageous love come for your neighbor, or have you stood in its way?
Were there people that outraged Jesus? Some folks get down on me for preaching God’s love too much, as if that was possible. They say I should talk more about God’s fearful side. Did Jesus have a dangerous side? Absolutely, but He showed it to the people you wouldn’t expect. He showed it to people like the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Priesthood itself.
Matthew 23 is a good example of what C.S. Lewis might have called Jesus’ untamed side. Here he gives some of the most scathing rebukes and strongest threats of the New Testament. He calls the Pharisees a brood of vipers, whitewashed tombs, and He said the blood of all of Israel’s prophets was upon them. What follows in Matthew 24 is Jesus’ chilling prophesy that the temple itself would be totally destroyed with not one stone left upon the other.
Why did the religious leaders of the first century get the harshest rebukes of all? Shouldn’t such words be reserved for the worst sinners such as the tax collectors and the prostitutes? I can only imagine one answer to these questions. Grace was coming in Jesus Christ, and it was a very dangerous thing to stand in its way. If you stood in the way of grace, you could get flattened.
Jesus’ encounter with the Pharisees gives us an often overlooked lesson. We too are not to stand in the way of grace. We are to receive it fully. Often the person we refuse to give grace is ourselves. We are to give it fully to others. What God has received we are not to reject.
Jesus demanded outrageous love from His followers. We see this in Matthew chapter five:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away. Matthew 5:38-42
When Jesus told His followers to go two miles when someone compelled them to go one, it was a reference to the supposed rights of a Roman soldier. Rome decreed that any Roman soldier could conscript anyone to carry his pack a mile.
Could you imagine being a Jew and having to carry a Roman soldier’s pack against your will? This was not just some guy who needed a little help. The Romans were pagans who conquered Israel. They had killed the Jews by the tens of thousands, many by crucifixion. They brought such high taxes that common folks were having to sell their land to pay their debts. And one of these Romans comes, and he does not ask you to carry his pack a mile; he demands it. What do you do? Jesus said carry it two miles.
Jesus taught that the way we should meet outrageous injustice is with outrageous love. Yet, there was an edge to His teaching. In the kingdom of God the way to expose darkness is not with more darkness but with light. The more loving our response is to evil, the more our enemy’s hatred is exposed. The way to overcome our enemies is not by becoming like them but by doing the opposite of what they do to us.
Could you image being a Roman soldier and a hated Jew had just carried your pack not the required mile but two miles? Such a soldier probably would not lay down his sword, but he would be disarmed. He could never hate that Jew again.
At the cross we see the most outrageous love of all. We all deserved God’s wrath, but what did He give us instead? He became one of us. He came here not to be served as He deserved, but to serve. In fact, He came knowing we would reject him, hate him, and finally take His life on the cross.
Have you ever tried to do an act of kindness for a person, and they rejected you? Perhaps, you wanted to keep them from harm or give them some gift. Yet, instead of the love or gratitude you expected in return, they insulted you or hated you? How did that make you feel? You might have said, “Well, if you are going to act that way, I am leaving.”
However, that is not what Jesus did. The scriptures say He could have called thousands of angels to rescue Him. He chose to stay. Not only that, He chose to take the punishment that His enemies deserved. He became our sin, and the Father treated Him as a sinner, showing him the rejection that was our due. On the cross Jesus cried out, “Father, Father, why have you forsaken me?”
Yet, that is only half of the exchange that occurred at Calvary. Jesus took all of our spiritual poverty and in return gave us every blessing He has. The book of Ephesians tells us that we are blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. Because of Christ, we have a kindness so great that it will take all eternity to comprehend.
Outrageous? Many would say so. In fact, the Muslims have written a different ending to the story of Jesus. In their version Judas gets crucified for betraying Jesus, and Jesus goes up to heaven. To them it is unthinkable that God would let men humiliate Him like that. There is only one explanation for it. Outrageous love. God loves us with outrageous love.
Considering these things, I believe we Christians are left with two challenges. One is to receive God’s outrageous love for us. I think at times we think God wants to be in our lives and bless in some small way. Or perhaps we think He is there in a way that is adequate. Yet, how many of us trust Him to be there in a way that is outrageous? I believe we have a second challenge and that is to show outrageous love to others. We are to give people the opposite of what they deserve in the same way God did so for us. In doing so, we will come to understand His outrageous love for ourselves all the more.