Prayer Day 3: A Christian’s Guide to Spirituality By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Available on Amazon.com
Available on Amazon.com

Almighty Father, beloved son, ever-present Spirit. We praise you for creating us in your image, for walking with us even as we sin, and for patiently restoring us into your favor. Strengthen our sense of your identity. In the power of your Holy Spirit, unstop our ears; uncover our eyes; soften our hearts; illumine our minds. Shape us more and more in your image that we also might grow. In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

Padre Todopoderoso, amado Hijo, siempre presente Espíritu. Te alabamos por crea nos en tu imagen, por caminar con nosotros incluso cuando nos pecamos, y por restaurar nos patentemente en tu favor. Fortalece nos en tu identidad. En el poder de tu Espíritu Santo, destapa nuestro oídos; descubre nuestros ojos; suaviza nuestras corazones; ilumina nuestros mentes. Forma nos mas y mas en tu imagen que podemos también crecer. En el nombre de Jesús, Amen.

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Single but not Alone: Soul Virgin

Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Doug Rosenau and Michael Todd Wilson.  2006.  Soul Virgins:  Redefining Single Sexuality.  Atlanta:  Sexual Wholeness Resources.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

I feel out of place in church–a single friend at seminary shared with me about a year back [1].  Married couples, especially older people, are uncomfortable having me around because I am 20-something and not married.  It’s like I have some kind of disease.  If that were not bad enough, he continued, I am not sure how to relate with the single women that I meet.

I remember experiencing those same feelings when I was single. So when my friend recommended Doug Rosenau and Michael Todd Wilson’s book: I was curious and looked up a copy.

Not surprisingly, the book starts by defining terms.  For example, a soul virgin is: one who continuously seeks to value, celebrate, and protect God’s design for sexuality—body, soul, and spirit—in oneself and others (7).  Clearly, the book assumes that you want to live within the will of God in singleness and that marriage is a goal.  Furthermore, the authors seek to:  help Christian single adults sort through and find better answers about their sexuality—to not just repress or tolerate their sexuality but to redefine and celebrate it (15).  In other words, because God created us as sexual beings, our sexuality has a purpose that extends beyond physically obvious reasons.

Soul Virgins is thorough book with lots of details about how to deal with sticky situations and topics that one probably has not discussed with one’s parents.  The book divides into 3 parts:

  1. Intimacy with God (6 chapters),
  2. Intimacy with God’s people (5 chapters), and
  3. Intimacy with God’s possible soul mate (4 chapters).

These 3 parts are further divided into 15 chapters.  Before these parts are definitions, acknowledgments, and an introduction.  After these parts are an appendix, notes, and brief statements of where to go for more information.

The word-pictures provided are worth the ticket of admission.

For example, the authors picture balanced intimacy and sexual wholeness as a wheel with 5 spokes representing the 5 aspects of our intimacy:

  1. Spiritual intimacy
  2. Emotional intimacy
  3. Mental intimacy
  4. Social intimacy and
  5. Physical intimacy (188).

Healthy relationships have boundaries on each aspect of intimacy that, if offended, result in future problems.  For example, I can remember in high school sharing my dreams about having a family someday with a friend on a date—this would be an example of mental intimacy (190-191).  What would have happened if stead of sharing our dreams we had escalated right into physical intimacy and eventually married but disagreed on the question of having a family?  Clearly, the authors’ thoroughness in going through 5 spokes is very helpful in facilitating productive dialog.

The authors describe another helpful picture as the relationship continuum bridge.  This bridge breaks relationships into three stages:

  1. connecting (friendship and early considering),
  2. coupling (late considering, confirming, and committing), and
  3. covenanting (marriage).

These stages can be pictured as a suspension bridge with two spans (8, 32).  The authors reserve true sex (anything involving body parts hidden by a bikini) for marriage.  Intimacy during the other two stages (connecting and coupling) necessarily involves establishing and respecting boundaries for the 5 spokes of intimacy.  For example, the authors cite a case of a client who wanted to bring his girl-friend to a counseling session after they went out for only 3 weeks—an event too intimate for their relationship at this point (social intimacy spoke).  This invitation was compared to inviting his friend to meet his parents after going out only three weeks (191).

The authors know their subject matter.  Doug Rosenau (www.SexualWholenss.com) is a licensed psychologist and Christian sex therapist.  Michael Todd Wilson (www.MichaelToddWilson.com) is a licensed professional counselor and life coach who had never married at the time this book was written.  Both hail from Suwanee, GA.  The primary authors are assisted with particular chapters by Vickie George (marriage and sex counselor) and three never-married singles:  Erica Tan, Anna Maya, and David Hall.

Soul Virgins is a helpful book.  I wish that this book had been available when I was single and when I led high school/college groups in graduate school.  Rosenau and Wilson not only discuss the touchy subjects that young people want to know about, they review the Biblical basis for their views. Soul Virgins focuses on providing guidance on relationships.  Singles, parents, and leaders can all benefit from this book.  I know that I did.

[1] I am paraphrasing his comments.

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JOHN 15: The Vine and the Branches

Art by Sharron Beg
Art by Sharron Beg

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

What more was there to do for my vineyard, that I have not done in it? When I looked for it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes? … For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel (Isaiah 5:4-7 ESV).

The metaphor of the vine and the branches is simple, yet disturbing.

At one point when I was working as a chaplain intern in a psyche ward, I overheard a young woman pleading over the phone with her parents to be transferred to another hospital.  The reason?  She had been given a New Testament and had read all the way to chapter 15 of John’s Gospel.  Reading about the vine and the branches she had interpreted the metaphor to mean that, because she had had no children (no fruit in her mind), she stood under God’s judgment. So, she wanted to be transferred to another hospital!

While most of us probably have not understood the metaphor of the vine and the branches quite the same way as this young patient, yet the metaphor is a challenging description of a life of discipleship.  For example, verse 6 speaks to the exclusively of Christ in salvation and judgment: If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned (v 6).  Neither notion is popular today.  Yet even verse 2 is enough to generate serious controversy:  Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit (v 2).  Branches bearing no fruit get taken away;  branches bearing fruit get pruned!

Most discussions of this metaphor of the vine and the branches seem to skip both verses and head immediately for verse 7:  If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you (v 7).  We all love to ask for things!  Yet, verse 8 makes it clear that it is the fruit that we bear that makes us Christ’s disciples.  Looking back at verse 7, we note that the sentence is conditional–if you abide in me and my words.  The Greek word for abide means stay or remain.  Bearing fruit is evidence that you abide in Christ.  The key to answered prayer is to abide in Christ and bear fruit, as repeated in verse 16.

The love commandment in verse 12 may also disturb a careful reader.  The measure of love is found in verse 13:  Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends (v 13).  Jesus did just that–he died on the cross; Jesus is our model.  This implies that a life of discipleship requires sacrifice, maybe even death.  This implication is underscored in verse 14 when Jesus says:  You are my friends if you do what I command you (v 14).  Jesus kept the Father’s commands;  we are to keep his.  It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the love commandment embodies not just warm fuzzy feelings on sunny days but also obedience to the entire witness of scripture–especially the law.

Disturbing also is John’s discussion of the world.  Jesus says: If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you (v 18).  The life of Christ’s disciple is to be modeled after Christ–the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The good news is that we are promised the Spirit of Truth, the Helper–the Holy Spirit–who will bear witness to Christ (vv 28-29).

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JOHN 14: Jesus’ Farewell Consolation

Dead_flowers_102302013By Stephen W. Hiemstra

It is the LORD who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed (Deuteronomy 31:8 ESV).

One of the simplest and most profound lessons that I learned in seminary was called a ministry of presence. It is a humble, silent ministry:  be there.

When my sister, Diane, passed away, I traveled to Philadelphia to attend the funeral at her home church.  Other than family, I knew almost no one. Yet, I remember the comfort of being with a crowd of some 350 perfect strangers. Their gift to me was a ministry of presence.  Words still cannot express my appreciation.

Jesus promises to never leave us orphans (v 18).  In this context, an orphan is a disciple whose teacher has died[1]. Jesus’ comment–But the Helper, the Holy Spirit (paraclete), whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you (v 26)—speaks directly to his presence with us.  Paraclete actually means:  one who appears in another’s behalf, mediator, intercessor, helper (BDAG 5591).

When Jesus appears to the disciples on the Road to Emmaus, he is actually modeling the role assumed by the Holy Spirit (Luke 24:14-35).  The paraclete is a powerful helper (v 27) who teaches us (v 26) and who grants us effective prayer (v 13) and peace (v 27)1. Other than Job 16:2, John is the only biblical author who speaks of the Holy Spirit using this word.

So Jesus says that we will not be alone, but he also says that our ultimate home is in heaven (vv 2-3).  The word, house, has several nuances.  It can mean a physical dwelling, a temple, a family, or a dynasty.  In 2 Samuel 7:7-16, a play on the word, house, is used by the Prophet Nathan to describe God’s covenant with King David.  When the Apostle Paul says that our—citizenship is in heaven—he is building on this same idea (Philippians 3:20).  Ours is a heavenly house, a heavenly family, and a heavenly destination.

Jesus [also] said to him, I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me (v 6).  This statement reminds us of Deuteronomy 31:8 where God’s Shekinah cloud is pictured going before us. The word, truth, used here is interesting.  Both Jesus and the Holy Spirit (v 17) are described with this same word.  In Hebrew, the word truth (אֱמֶת) is spelled with three letters (alef, mem, tav)—the first, middle, and last letters of the Hebrew alphabet1.

What greater comfort could we have than to know that our savior is divine, is the alpha and the omega (all truth), and has final authority over life and death?


[1]Gary M. Burge. 2000.  The NIV Application Commentary:  John.  Grand Rapids:  Zondervan, pages 390-413.

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Graham Shares Gospel; Speaks about Judgment

BillyGraham_10212013Billy Graham.  2013.  The Reason for My Hope:  Salvation.  Nashville:  W. Publishing Group (Thomas Nelson).

Reviewed by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Billy Graham will celebrate his 95th birthday on November 7, 2013 with a new campaign called:  My Hope with Billy Graham (http://bit.ly/1cPVrOx).  Graham’s new book, The Reason for My Hope, was released on October 15th in anticipation of this campaign.  He writes to summarize the Good News that he preached during his ministry (vii).

I have read Graham since I learned to read (http://bit.ly/19pe0Yp) so I was anxious to see his latest book.

Graham organized his book into eight chapters.  The chapter titles are instructive because each chapter is well-named and self-contained.  The titles are:  Rescued for Something, The Great Redemption, Sin is In, The Price of Victory, Where is Jesus?, Defining Christianity in a Designer World, No Hope of Happy Hour in Hell, and He is Coming Back.  Before these eight chapters is an introduction focused on hope and after them is an afterword, Living Life with Hope.  The afterword talks about how to find Christ in six steps and includes a believer’s prayer.

Graham’s writing style is distinctive.  As a master of collage, Graham reads the times through highly personal stories of individuals that are like Norman Rockwell paintings that spring to life.  In chapter one, for example, Graham takes us aboard the cruise ship, Costa Concordia, as it runs aground off the Italian coast.  In an age of seemingly miraculous technology, Graham questions how the crew could make such simple mistakes and, having made them, could be so indifferent to the safety of passengers under their care (11).  As the chapter draws to a close, Graham observes:  when we are rescued from something, we also saved for something.  In the words of former president, Ronald Reagan, after the assassination attempt on his life—I believe God spared me for a purpose (12).  Indeed.  We yearn to learn that purpose.

Graham’s  comments about the dark side of postmodern culture are particularly pointed.  Popular music, art, and film are infatuated with evil.  The increasingly frequent occurrence of mass shootings, such as during the 2012  Dark Knight showing in Aurora, Colorado, almost panders to this infatuation (158).  If God was willing to flood the earth in the time of Noah, exactly how can this generation avoid judgment when Christ returns? (168).  In some sense, we are judged by our own indifference.  Graham helps us taste, touch, and see our need for salvation in each of these accounts.

Part of the My Hope with Billy Graham campaign is to teach Christians how to assist seekers in coming to faith.  Graham’s six steps to finding Christ include a series of musts–[you must] Be convinced that you need him, Understand the message of the cross, Count the cost, Confess Jesus Christ as Lord of your life, Be willing for God to change your life, and Desire nourishment from God (170-182).   In the words of the Apostle Paul:  everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:13 ESV).

To understand Graham’s success as a writer and as an evangelist, one needs to understand that he was one of the first evangelists to understand how truly to engage the culture and present the Gospel with multi-media.  His use of collage in writing, for example, shares a lot in common with the use of vignettes in a mini-series.  Collage appears simple, but its construction is highly complex.

Graham’s writing is very engaging–The Reason for My Hope is classic Graham.  I look forward to hearing more about it on November 7.

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JOHN 13: Foot Washing

By Stephen W. HiemstraOld_shoes_10192013

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.  By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13:34-35 ESV).

What does it mean to be a disciple?

In John’s Gospel, Jesus performs a sign and then explains it.  Here the sign is dramatic—Jesus assumes the role of a slave and washes the feet of the disciples.  He then gives them a commandment:  love one another (v 34).  Both the sign and the commandment are equally dramatic.

John uses the word commandment four times in his Gospel.  In the first two uses, Jesus responds commands from and to God the Father:  but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment– what to say and what to speak.  And I know that his commandment is eternal life (John 12:49-50).  The third and fourth commandments are the same: love one another (v 34 and John 15:12).   Washing feet—an attitude of service—is the sign that goes with the love commandment.  Love is the only commandment in John’s Gospel.

The idea that Jesus commanded us to love one another is not in dispute.  In Matthew 22:36-40, Jesus commands us to love God and our neighbor.  On these two statements of love hang the law and the prophets.  In other words, the double love command summarizes the entire Old Testament.  Similar statements can be found in the writings of Paul, James, and Peter.

Still, the foot washing sign raises some interesting comparisons.  For example, Jesus is not the first foot-washer that we meet in John Gospel—that honor goes to Mary in chapter 12.  Mary anointed Jesus’ feet with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair.  In chapter 12 Judas objects to Mary’s foot washing; in chapter 13 Peter objects.  Was Jesus so impressed with Mary’s service that he required it of his disciples?  Were the disciples so unhappy with the idea of radical servanthood that they betrayed Jesus?

The other interesting comparison is between foot washing and communion.  John’s Gospel is the only Gospel account to discuss foot washing at the last supper and he neglects to mention communion which is the focus of other accounts (Luke 22:13-20; 1 Corinthians 11:23-29).  By contrast, John’s miracle of the feeding of five thousand where Jesus says–I am the bread of life (John 6:35 ESV)—has the sacramental feeling of communion.

Here John appears to have provided us a radical model of discipleship which substitutes a model of discipleship focused on service both in intimate moments (the last supper) and in public moments (the feeding of the five thousand).  This reading suggests that John’s communion is an outsider’s communion (the feeding of the five thousand) rather than an insider’s communion (disciples only) because it fits his model of discipleship better.

One further comparison is worth mentioning.  The foot washing incident in Luke 7:36-50 involves an unnamed woman who anoints Jesus’ feet with ointment.  In that incident, it is Jesus’ host, a Pharisee, who objects to the foot washing.

Jesus’ lesson on foot washing is a hard teaching–a disciple is one who serves; one who loves.  Left to myself, I object.  Do you?

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JOHN 10: Good and Bad Shepherds

TOSHIBA Exif JPEG

Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them, even to the shepherds, Thus says the Lord GOD: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? (Ezekiel 34:2 ESV).

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

What is your favorite scripture passage?

One of the most beloved scripture passages begins:  The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters (Psalm 23:1-2).  Another favorite passage is Jesus’ parable about the lost sheep (Luke 15:4-7).

We love stories about good shepherds precisely because we have lots more experience with bad ones.  Just think about the current federal government shutdown. Bad shepherds were also the norm in Jesus’ time.

Jesus’ story of the good shepherd pictures three elements:  a door, a shepherd, and sheep (John 10:1-6).

The door image here is of a sheep pen with a single entrance gate or door where the sheep belonging to an entire village might be kept at night.  The gatekeeper might be a local teenager (v 3).

A good shepherd enters by the door (v 2).  Thieves might try to sneak over the fence but the shepherd enters by the front door (v 1).  The good shepherd also loves the sheep and they love him.  Jesus says:  I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep (vv 14-15).  Hired shepherds lack this love and run away when wolves attack the sheep (vv 12-13).

Sheep scare easily (v 5).  For this reason, Middle Eastern shepherds talk, sing, and play music for their sheep to calm them down and to lead them.  Consequently, the sheep do not need to be sorted in the morning—the shepherd just calls their sheep and they come (v 4).

The context before and after the story of the good shepherd discloses the tension between good and bad shepherds.  Sheep recognize good shepherds.  The man born blind in John 9 recognizes Jesus and comes to faith.  Bad shepherds show up in John10:19 where Jesus enters into a nasty debate with Jewish leaders.

The timing of this debate reinforces the chapter focus on bad shepherds.  The healing of the blind man occurred during the feast of Tabernacles (or booths, John 7:1), while the shepherd discussion takes place during the feast of Dedication (Hanukkah; v 22).  Hanukkah commemorates the re-dedication of the temple by Judas Maccabees in 165 BC.  Previously, the Maccabees led a rebellion against the Hellenization of Israel and desecration of the temple by Antiochus Epiphanies—a very bad shepherd!  While we might read this chapter in light of Psalm 23 (good shepherd), John’s context suggests that this story is better read in light of Ezekiel 34 (bad shepherd).

We are not to despair being a sheep living in a world of bad shepherds.  Jesus says:  My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand (vv 27-28).

Our obligation is to follow the good shepherd; our reward is eternal life.

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JOHN 9: Sin and Darkness; Healing and Light

By Stephen W. Hiemstralighthouse copy

Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.  Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped (Isaiah 35:4-5 ESV).

What does it mean to be the light of the world?

Jesus declared–I am the light of the world—in John 8:12 after breaking up a kangaroo court accusing a woman caught in adultery.  Now, Jesus repeats this assertion (John 9:4) just before he heals a man blind from birth.

Chapter nine is distinctive, in part, because of the sequence of dialogs, including:  Jesus’ discussion with the disciples (vv 1-5), Jesus heals the blind man (vv 6-7), neighbors question the man (vv 8-12), the Pharisees question the man (vv 13-17), the Pharisees question the man’s parents (vv 18-23), the Pharisees question the man a second time (vv 24-34), Jesus seeks the man and speaks with him (vv 35-39), and the Pharisees question Jesus (vv 40-41).

What is so astounding from this chapter is the transition that takes place in the man formerly blind.  He starts out completely dependent on the grace of strangers when Jesus heals him.   He is not only blind; he is invisible—his neighbors do not recognize him after he receives his sight (vv 8-9).  He knows Jesus only by name (v 11).  As he repeats the story of his healing, he becomes more and more sophisticated in his understanding of what happened.  In the end, he lectures the Pharisees on the theology of his own healing (vv 30-33).  When Jesus speaks to him a second time, the man becomes a believer (v 38).  In effect, the man healed of blindness becomes a model disciple.

By contrast, the disciples ask whether the blindness was the result of sin either of the man or his parents (v 2).  Meanwhile, the Pharisees seem embarrassed the man is healed.  First, they examine the man and his parents to see if the man was previously blind.  Then, when the evidence of the healing becomes irrefutable, they attack Jesus for having healed on the Sabbath (vv 14, 16).  When the man explains the theological meaning of his healing to the Pharisees, they then turn their attack on the man himself and throw him out (v 34).  In effect, the Pharisees modeled spiritual blindness—refusing to recognize the reality of the healing—which was inconsistent with their world view.

The healing itself in verses 7 and 8 is interesting.  The man’s eyes are covered with mud which recalls God’s creation of Adam (Genesis 2:7).  The man is then sent to the Pool of Siloam—the same source provided water for the Feast of the Tabernacles.  This exercise of washing recalls the story of Naaman who was cured of leprosy after being sent to wash in the Jordan River (2 Kings 5:10).  In both cases, healing occurred in response to obedience, not because of the water.  Faith in the sender was required.

The formerly blind man’s faith started with reflection on the obvious:  Whether he is a sinner I do not know. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see (v 25).  The resolution of the tension in this statement resulted in faith.

Where has Christ worked miracles in your life?  What was your response?

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Walking in the Wilderness, Luke 15:11-24

By Stephen W. Hiemstradesert_sign

Trinity Presbyterian Church, Herndon, VA

Invocation

Father Almighty. Make your presence known to us here this morning. Grant us wisdom, grant us consolation. In the power of his Holy Spirit, inspire the words that are spoken and illuminate the words heard, in the precious name of Jesus, amen.

Introduction

Who here enjoys risks and uncertainty? (2X)

Unless you have a gambling habit you probably prefer stability, not risk or uncertainty. Unfortunately, life is often marked by many stressful changes.

Over the past year, I worked at Providence Hospital in Washington DC as a chaplain intern. In working with patients in the emergency department, I started seeing hospital visits as a special type of change called a transition.

A transition has three parts: a beginning, a middle, and an end. Initially, patients come to the hospital with a problem and focus on the things that used to be. In the middle, patients receive their treatment and worry about how things will work out. In the end, almost all patients return to their old lives. At this point, the question is: what comes after the hospital?

This last question is inherently spiritual. For patients who came to the hospital because of a poor lifestyle choice, a better question is:  what will be different when you leave the hospital? (2X)

In life there are many transitions. During periods of uncertainty my prayer typically is:

Why did God bring me to this time and this place? (2X)

Scripture

The book of Exodus tells of a great transition in the history of the nation of Israel, the departure from Egypt and entry into the wilderness, and, then, the departure out of the desert and the entry into the Promised Land.

Listen to what Moses said to Pharaoh:  “Let my people go, that they may serve me in the wilderness” (Exodus 7:16 ESV) (2X). Where does Moses see the people who serve God? Ironically, it is not in Egypt, nor in the Promised Land. Rather, it is in the desert where we more often encounter God. This is because in the desert we are more likely to look for God and depend on him, exactly during these stressful periods of risk and uncertainty. It is in the middle of a transition.

Why did God bring me to this time and this place? (2X)

Jesus tells the story of a man who had two sons. The younger son came to him one day and asked for his inheritance in cash. He then left town with the money and began living with style. This reckless lifestyle did not last long and soon the young man had to get a job. Not being one to plan ahead, he was forced to accept a degrading job for Jews – feeding pigs. As the son’s mind began to wander, he began to reflect on how good things had been with his parents and he decided to return home. When his father found out he was coming, he went out to meet him and wrapped his arms around him. As the son began to apologize for his horrible behavior, his father would hear none of it. He took his son, cleaned him up, brought him some new clothes and threw him a party (Luke 15:11-24 NIV).

We all often behave like the younger son. Things must be really bad in the desert before we arrive at our senses and recognize that we need our Heavenly Father. The good news is that our Father is waiting for us, will forgive us, and will take us back into the family. Amen.

Prayer

Heavenly Father. We thank you for your care during transitions of life, but especially in times of uncertainty. In the power of your Holy Spirit, give us strength for the day and hope for the future. In the precious name of Jesus, Amen.

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JOHN 8: Grace and Truth

By Stephen W. HiemstraScalesOfJustice

I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life (John 8:12 ESV).

What does it mean to walk in the light?

The story of the woman caught in adultery is probably the most celebrated capital judgment case in scripture.  The woman’s guilt is not in question; the only question was the sentence.  The Pharisees asked Jesus:  “Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” (John 8:5).

Notice that under Jewish law both parties in adultery face the same penalty of death (Leviticus 20:10).  Because the Pharisee covered up the man’s identity, they broke the Ninth Commandment (do not bear false witness; Exodus 20:16) in presenting this case.  In other words, true justice was not being presented here irrespective of the penalty assigned.  Quite the contrary, the Pharisees have no regard for the woman.

Jesus points to the Pharisee’ bias when he says:  “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7).  The law required that witnesses to the crime throw the first stone (Deuteronomy 17:7).  If anyone picks up a stone, then that person is liable for prosecution under the law because they have not revealed the identity of the man who participated in the adultery.  The Pharisees understand the dilemma so they leave.  The penalty for perjury was the same penalty as for the alleged crime (Deuteronomy 19:18-9).

Jesus’ words to the woman are important.  He says:  “Has no one condemned you?  She said, No one, Lord. And Jesus said, Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more” (John 8:10-11).  Jesus offers both truth and grace.  True alone or grace alone is not the Gospel. Truth alone is too harsh to be heard; grace alone ignores the law.  Jesus seeks our transformation, not our judgment (Romans 12:2).

It is interesting the next discussion in John 8 focuses on the nature of Jesus’ testimony.  What does it mean to walk in the light?  Scholars often argue that the case of the woman caught in adultery does not fit in John—that it was added later.  However, the context of the pharisaic controversy makes perfect sense—it is an example of fair treatment under Jewish law that the Pharisees contested.

Jesus said:  You judge according to the flesh; I judge no one (John 8:15).  Under law, the woman was guilty even though she had been set up.  Under grace, the context is important—the law must be applied with impartiality and fairness to all parties.

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