On the Plains of Moab Blog
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June 14, 2015, 6:38 PM

When Love Comes to Town


With all of the carnage we are having to witness each day from the Middle East, I hope that the message was an encourgagement. The Gospel really is amazing!

(YouTube video at the end of the sermon. Enjoy!)

New Life Presbyterian Church
June 14, 2015.
By Cameron Smith

This sermon started out last weekend as an idea for a blog entry. However, after thinking it through, I thought this was a Gospel moment more suited to Sunday morning.

This was the story that provoked this sermon:  Qanta Ahmed, a female physician, penned this narrative entitled, “How ISIS Executes ‘Justice’ – and an Isolated Woman in a City Street: What an Unpolished YouTube video tells us about the horror of daily life under Islamic State”

She writes of a nameless woman presumably guilty of prostitution, “A gang of men encircles a woman in territory controlled by Islamic State….All focus is on the matron. Periodically, she appeals to her arbiters, head bowed, hands clasped behind her back. Her red jacket, worn over [outer coat] stands out. A lone Red Riding Hood, she has stumbled upon a full pack of wolves….Around her, pregnant with fascination, the congregation is spellbound. Building to a crescendo, the cleric’s classical Arabic is precise….His oratory is honed, metered to the rhythms of…an Islamic sermon. He is comfortable at center-stage. The woman again attempts to leave, but men — this time, many men — signal her detention. Their domination over her is absolute. Searching for a sympathetic soul, she sends darting glances from face to face: the armed men, the cleric, his henchmen, the onlookers and back. She understands her captivity. Watching the video, I find myself searching among the men for an advocate, just one, to come to her defense. Instead, I see what she sees: a battery of smartphones at the ready, gloves half removed to operate touch screens, men comparing images, then quickly returning to the spectacle. No savior here, only a sea of Samsungs.” (June 10, 2015 National Review Online.)

The story ends when the “preacher” nods and a hooded man with a pistol walks up to the woman and calmly fires one shot to her head.  She falls.  The crowd walks away.

Whenever I hear about Islamic State barbarities, I feel intense anger and I want justice for the victims of these sham courts. However, in this case, my mind immediately identified it with the haunting similarities to the woman taken in adultery from John 8.  And then came this thought: What if Jesus never came? What if the world operated on the basis of Islam? Perfect obedience, or else. Swift, ruthless, brutal “justice.” The mob as judge, jury and executioner.

Now, I recognize that ISIS is not representative of the Islamic community around the world, but even in Islam’s more peaceful expressions, there is nothing like Jesus.  Jesus, in his crucified, sin-bearing mission makes no sense in Islam.  It is, in fact, an offense to them.  Allah does not sacrifice himself for humanity’s failings.

But back to my thought of a world without Jesus; the New Testament does speculate on this dark alternative.  Romans 3:23 says, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Rom. 3:23 ESV). So, follows Romans 6:23 logically, the wages of sin is death…. (Rom. 6:23 ESV). The writer in Hebrews adds, without holiness no one will see the Lord. (Heb. 12:14 NIV).

Follow that line of reasoning with me here: Without Jesus and all that we believe the Bible says about him – who he is, what he’s done, what he’s made possible. Alone with our own weak and inconsistent efforts at the moral life, we would be facing Islamic State justice on the other side of the grave. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. (1 Cor. 15:17 ESV). ISIS embodies a Christ-less hell on earth.

However, when we come to the woman in John 8, we find a different ending unfolding before our eyes.  The woman taken by ISIS was “searching among the men for an advocate, just one, to come to her defense.” And in the end, “no savior [there].” By contrast, the woman taken in adultery in John 8 finds her advocate in Jesus.  He steps in boldly and turns the tables on her accusers. “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” (Jn. 8:7 ESV). He then bends down and writes in the dirt. Oh, what I would give to know what he wrote! The accusers all dropped their rocks and walked away in shame.

I think it is clear from this encounter that Jesus knew his mission well. He knew who he was, what he had to do and what it would mean for lost people. In everything Jesus said and did, the Cross was always before him. You see it unmistakably in his threefold passion predictions in Matthew, Mark and Luke on the road to Jerusalem that he would be rejected, suffer, die and be raised for the sins of not only this unfortunate woman taken in adultery, but the sins of the world. Jesus always looked with compassion on those who were sick and infirm and destitute because those conditions physically demonstrated their spiritual broken-ness and hopelessness in sin. Every healing, every touch, and every convicting word a foretaste of what he himself would do for them on the Cross.

As someone else has wisely noted, Jesus himself embodied love. He is described in the Gospels as the object of God’s love (John 15:9), the focus of God’s love (John 3:16), [and] the giver of God’s love (John 13:34).  It reminds me of the B.B. King Blues classic, “When Love Comes to Town.” When Jesus came to the woman taken in adultery, “Love had come to town.”  She was a sinner, she was lost at sea; she was under the waves before love rescued her…now she stood accused of the things she did - but she did what she did before Love came to town!

As the accusers were departing the scene, John says Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, "Neither do I condemn you….” (Jn. 8:9-11 ESV).

I quoted earlier from Romans 6:23 to paint a bleak picture of life without Christ. For the wages of sin is death…. Indeed they certainly are if we must make it on our own righteousness.  But we know how that verse ends, and we hear it as well on the lips of Jesus to the woman in John 8 - but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom. 6:23 ESV).

As I close, I need to point out the final words from Jesus to the woman that seals the deal. He said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” (Jn. 8:11 ESV).  Now, there’s no way this woman can keep this command perfectly.  Short of Glory, it is impossible to do so.  I think the intent of Jesus here is that in our owning his completed work on the Cross, we have been declared set free from the darkness of our former ways. “The dog [may] return to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, [may] return to wallow in the mire.” (2 Pet. 2:22 ESV), but as forgiven, adopted, justified, sanctified and later to be glorified children of God, we have new life in Christ. Life in Christ is a slow, deliberate, trial and error, walk away from what used to be “business as usual. Our thoughts, our plans, our appraisal of what makes things beautiful, praiseworthy and true have been baptized in saving faith. Jesus says, neither do I condemn you, now go, and don’t look back to your old ways.

In Jesus, Love has come to town. Don’t ever let complacency rule your heart with that good news. Don’t forget that good news when you find yourself buried in your sins. Most of all, the next time you hear of a barbaric act committed in the name of religion, remember that but by the mercy of Jesus go I.

You have heard the Word of God. Now consider it so very well.   Amen.

 


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