The Third Option

  • Text: John 8:1-12
  • Series: Individual Messages
  • Date: Sunday, June 17, 2018 – AM
  • Venue: Trinity Baptist Church – Seminole, Oklahoma
  • Speaker: Jared Byrns
  • Audio: mp3

Today, we’re going to take a little detour from the book of Hebrews. Earlier this month the US Supreme Court ruled on a case involving Jack Phillips, a baker in Colorado who cited his Christian beliefs on the definition of marriage as his reason for declining to create a custom cake for the wedding ceremony of a homosexual couple. The couple filed a complaint, and the State of Colorado demanded that he comply with his customers’ requests, regardless of his religious convictions. He still refused, and a lawsuit was filed. The Supreme Court then ruled, as I understand it—not necessarily that the baker was within his rights to refuse service—but that the State was out of line in its open hostility toward his religious convictions.

Now, before anyone listening dismisses the message as a hateful attack on those who are different, please hear me out. Today’s message will touch on a few different issues, but it’s not really about homosexuality, adultery, marriage, or any other single issue. It’s about how Jesus sees all of our sin, and how He rejects the excesses of both extreme tolerance and extreme intolerance, calling us instead to extreme transformation. In the midst of our national conversation about balancing non-discrimination with religious liberty, there’s a false narrative about how intolerant we Christians and our beliefs are. So I’d begin by setting the record straight about where I think most of us stand, and I hope it comes across in the loving spirit with which it’s intended.

From my own political perspective, I believe people have the right to manage their personal property however they see fit. If a private business wants to discriminate against me, or anyone else, I see it as a First Amendment issue. With that said, if someone refuses to do business at all with homosexuals, African-Americans, Jews, Hispanics, Muslims, etc., (which is not what happened in Colorado) I can’t see myself taking my business there either, even though I’m none of those things—because I am a Christian. And as a Christian, my Lord teaches me that loving my neighbor is the second most important thing I can do. I don’t want to see anyone discriminated against or mistreated. What’s more, I don’t know any other Christians who do want to see others discriminated against or harmed.

In this country, churchgoers have done some terrible things in the past. For example, a lot of Baptists were involved in slavery and segregation. But just because they were churchgoers doesn’t mean that their actions reflect the teachings of Jesus. I’m thankful for the steps that Southern Baptists have taken in the last few years to repudiate those activities; to rightly label racism as sinful; and to reaffirm our commitment to share the love of Christ with every nation, tribe, and tongue on the planet. There has been too much discrimination perpetrated in the past by churchgoers who thought they were doing the right thing—when what they were really doing was denying the Gospel, which Paul said in Romans 1:16 is “the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth,” regardless of their background.

If we want to be faithful to Jesus, Christians have to love our neighbors. But if we want to be faithful to Jesus, we cannot condone or participate in every activity our neighbors do—which is what this case concerned. Phillips was willing to do business with this couple; he was willing to sell them anything in his shop. But his conscience wouldn’t let him participate in a ceremony that violates God’s Word by using his artistic talents to create something for that specific purpose. He told a reporter:

“I don’t create cakes for Halloween. […] I wouldn’t create a cake that was anti-American or that would be disparaging against anybody for any reason. Even cakes that would disparage people who identify as LGBT. Just cakes have a message and this is one I can’t create.”[1]

I hear no hatred there. I hear a man whose conscience won’t allow him to use his talents to promote a message that goes against everything he believes in. I think that most of the Christians I know stand somewhere in that region. Our church would welcome homosexual guests if they attended a worship service with us, with the same love we would show to any guest who came to worship without disruptive intent. But we couldn’t host—and I couldn’t officiate—a same-sex ceremony, any more than we could a wedding ceremony for a polygamous union or the union of a Christian and a non-Christian. I have a small side business doing native artwork. I’d sell wooden animal-shaped toys to anyone who wanted to buy them, but if a nature worshiper wanted to custom order figurines to be used in religious rituals, I couldn’t do that. Julie makes quilts, and I bet she’d sell one to somebody for the right price, but I can’t see her taking an order for a custom quilt with a giant swastika. None of this comes from hate, but from our attempts to be faithful to Jesus.

In Matthew 22, Jesus said the two greatest commandments are: first, “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind,”[2] and second, “love your neighbor as yourself.”[3] As Christians, our second most important job is to show real love to everyone around us—but because our first job is to love God with everything we have, our love for people cannot lead us to disobey Him.

Having said all that, the purpose of this message is not to attack homosexuality, or even to focus on it, but to discuss Jesus’ attitude toward our sin. I wouldn’t have even preached on this topic this morning if it had just been the cake debate. The more significant problem is when professing Christians get the two commandments backward and start condoning sin. A progressive church in Denver posted on its sign, “Jesus would have baked that cake.” I don’t think so; If Jesus didn’t even have a home, He probably didn’t have an oven!

Seriously though, knowing what Jesus taught, I can’t imagine Him baking that cake. Not because He hates anyone, but because He upheld marriage as the union of a man and a woman. We’re told that Jesus never mentioned the issue at all, but in Matthew 19, He affirmed the Old Testament view of marriage. Verses 4-6 say,

He which made them at the beginning made them male and female, And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.

The Pharisees had challenged Him on the issue of marriage, so Jesus opened up the Old Testament and said, ‘Here’s what God says.’ Plus, if you believe in the inspiration of Scripture as we do, then everything the Bible—including the New Testament—says about marriage and sexuality ultimately came from Jesus.

So, the sign is dead wrong, but it does raise an important question: is Jesus ever okay with our sin? That’s where we need to focus. This isn’t about our political principles, our personal experiences, our feelings, or our laws; this is about whether or not Jesus’ love for us means that He consents to let us live however we want. And homosexuality is not the only issue where this comes into play. Let’s be honest, friends, we have way more than enough sin of our own. Does Jesus ever celebrate it? If we lie, if we gossip, if we’re unforgiving, if we hurt people, if we lust, if we’re greedy, if we’re drunk, if we’re prideful, if we’re self-centered or disobedient, how does Jesus respond?

How does He respond to our sin? Does He bake us a cake to celebrate our sin or does He beat us to death with condemnation for it? John chapter 8 tells us there’s a third option. Turn with me in your Bibles to John, chapter 8, verses 1-12. Now, verses 1-3 say this:

Jesus went unto the mount of Olives. And early in the morning he came again into the temple, and all the people came unto him; and he sat down, and taught them. And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery.

At this point in Jesus’ ministry, He could draw a crowd in almost any place just by showing up. So when a crowd started to gather early one morning in the courtyard of the Temple, Jesus seized the opportunity to sit down and teach them.

But He wasn’t the only one seizing opportunities that morning. The Pharisees and scribes hated Jesus, so they were always on the lookout for ways to discredit Him. Each time they tried, though, He addressed their challenge in a way that they didn’t expect and couldn’t refute. They grew ever more frustrated with Jesus, but they never stopped trying. They found another opportunity that morning when they caught a woman in the act of adultery.

I always wonder where the man was because you know she didn’t commit adultery all by herself. But they didn’t bring the man to Jesus. That tells me this was not about their concern for God’s Law. The question they posed to Jesus—which we’ll read next—sounds like they were concerned about the Law. But they had to have known that Deuteronomy 22:22 says, “If a man be found lying with a woman married to an husband, then they shall both of them die.” Because they ignored parts of the Law when it was convenient, shielding the man while making the woman a spectacle, we can only conclude that this bit of theater was designed for the sole purpose of discrediting Jesus.

Now let’s look at the rest of verse 3 and read through to verse 6. It says:

And when they had set her in the midst, They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou? This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him.

They dragged this woman into the crowd hoping to shame her and embarrass Jesus. We don’t know exactly how they caught her in the act of adultery, but they did. She was guilty. Just because the Pharisees were so shady and the man was equally guilty, it didn’t erase the fact that she was guilty and deserved punishment under the Law. So they brought her to Jesus and pointed out her sin. They reminded Him—as though He needed reminding—that adultery is a sin and that the Law called for her to be stoned. Then they asked Him, essentially, ‘But what do you say?’

That was a deliberate choice of words. Jesus had a habit (in the Sermon on the Mount, for example) of explaining the true point of the Law by saying, “Ye have heard,”[4] meaning this is the traditional interpretation of the Law, then beginning His own explanation of the Law with the phrase, “But I say.”[5] So they came and asked Him, ‘Yeah, well, what do you say about this?’ They wanted an answer they could use against Him, and they appeared to have Him pretty well boxed in. If He said Moses was right and she should be stoned to death, they could say His teaching on forgiveness was nonsense. If He said they should let her go, they could accuse Him of breaking Moses’ Law. If He refused to answer, they could call Him a poseur Who knew nothing about the Law.

Jesus seemed to be faced with a dilemma: whether to put His stamp of approval on her sin or bring down on her the hammer of condemnation. They thought they had Him. But they underestimated Him. To paraphrase that dancing movie I hate, “Nobody puts Jesus in a corner.” They thought there were only two options, but He made a third.

Verses 6-8 tell us how He responded. The Bible says:

But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not. So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her. And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground.

When they tried to trap Him, He ignored them and started writing in the dirt. We don’t know if He was averting His eyes from a scantily clad woman or maybe writing a list of the accusers’ sins. Either way, He displayed as little concern for the seriousness of their question as their question showed for the seriousness of God’s Law. He ignored them, but they kept asking, so He answered them. He told them in verse 7, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” And there’s your third option.

He didn’t dispute her guilt—she was guilty. He didn’t dispute that adultery is a sin—it is. He didn’t even dispute that she had earned the consequences they suggested—the Law was clear. But the Pharisees had overlooked one tiny detail: they too were guilty of breaking God’s Law. Though they hadn’t committed adultery, they knew they had sinned. Jesus’ response was, ‘Sure! Stone her. Absolutely! She’s a sinner, and she deserves it. But if we’re going to start stoning sinners, we’ll need somebody sinless to get the party started.’

That’s all He said: “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” Then He went back to writing in the dirt. He didn’t have to say anything else, because their own consciences told them they were wrong. Now, look at verses 9-10. It says:

And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee?

When they remembered their sin, they walked away pondering how they had fallen short of the righteousness of God. And those who had more years of sin behind them were the first to leave. When the accusers were gone, Jesus asked, ‘Where did they go? Is there anyone here to condemn you?’ He knew the answer, but He was preparing her for His next point. She answered in verse 11:

She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.

She said there was no accuser left to condemn her, and Jesus said He didn’t condemn her either. But don’t assume from this that Jesus was okay with her adultery. Jesus upheld God’s design that had been revealed since the Garden of Eden: marriage is the union of a man and a woman, and we’re called purity outside of marriage and faithfulness within marriage. Anything else, God calls sin—and Jesus agrees.

Jesus, as we see in this story, wouldn’t have baked that cake any more than He would have paid for a room at an inn for this woman to continue her affair. He didn’t condemn her for her sin at that moment, but He didn’t praise it either. The last five words of His message to her could not be any clearer: He said, “Go, and sin no more.” He didn’t affirm her sin; He told her to leave it behind.

Now this passage deals specifically with the sin of adultery. Did Jesus love the adulteress? Obviously, He did. Was there grace for her? Absolutely. Did He excuse her sin? Clearly, He did not.

But the story applies to sins beyond adultery as well. For example, Jesus loves homosexuals. Church, we need to agree on this. Jesus loves homosexuals. He died for people in the LGBT community. He offers them His all-sufficient grace, just like He has offered it to you and me. But He does not affirm homosexual activity any more than He affirms adultery, pre-marital sex, or any other sin. All of our sin is offensive to God. My sin is offensive to God, regardless of what specifically it is, and yours is too.

But when so-called churches in our country say otherwise and preach that Jesus would celebrate sin because He loves us too much to call us to repentance, they deny the clear teaching of the Word of God. They make themselves little more than social clubs, preaching a heretical, Antinomian gospel that God’s grace means we can live according to whatever impulse strikes us without the need for conviction, repentance, or evidence of conversion in the form of the fruit of the Spirit. And worst of all, they lead people away from Jesus, Who can forgive every sin, by leading them instead to a false christ who says no forgiveness is necessary.

Jesus loves sinners, He died for sinners, and He extends grace to sinners, but He never says that sin is okay. That includes our sins. When He agreed that sin made the woman guilty before God and He called her to stop, that’s not just a message for adulterers or homosexuals; it’s a message for all of us: “Go, and sin no more.”

The truth that needs to be remembered in our churches and proclaimed to a dying world is this: Jesus came not to celebrate our sin, but to subdue it. He didn’t tell the adulteress, ‘Don’t let those old, judgmental Pharisees get you down. You live your life and do what you feel is right for you.’ No! He said, “Go, and sin no more.”

He wouldn’t tell the couple in the lawsuit, ‘Congratulations! Here’s your cake.’ No! He says, “Go, and sin no more.” When I struggle with pride, He doesn’t tell me, ‘It’s okay. You have a lot to be proud of.’ When I’m tempted to disobey God, He doesn’t say, ‘Just do whatever works for you.’ No! He says, “Go, and sin no more.” It doesn’t matter what the sin is, whether it’s public or private, whether it’s socially acceptable or not, or whether or not we think we have a compelling reason that somehow exempts us from our Creator’s commandments. Jesus doesn’t give us a little clap and a cheer, and encourage us to follow our own path; He tells us, “Go, and sin no more.” Jesus came not to celebrate our sin, but to subdue it. Sin will ultimately destroy our lives and separate us from God in eternity. Because Jesus loves us, He doesn’t try to accommodate sin’s presence in our lives. Nor does He cast us aside into condemnation for it. There’s a third option—He came to forgive our sin and give us lasting victory over it.

Let’s look at one last verse from John chapter 8. John 8:12 says:

Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.

This is the very next verse after Jesus told the woman, “Go, and sin no more.” Sometime later, the crowd of people had reassembled at the Temple, and Jesus began to teach again. In the text, He goes straight from “Go, and sin no more” to “I am the light of the world.” Those two thoughts are connected. He came to shine His light in the world—the light of God’s righteousness and the light of God’s truth. He plucks us out of the darkness, and we are able to walk away from the power of sin insofar as He gives us the light to do so.

To simplify this as much as possible, Jesus loves us where we are, but He loves us too much to leave us there. He loves us too much to let us continue to wallow in the sin that cost us everything. Jesus loves you too much to abandon you to the clutches of sin and affirm your decision. Instead, He calls us to follow Him, saying, “Go, and sin no more.”

Jesus came not to celebrate our sin, but to subdue it. He came to put our sin to death. Our sin was placed on His shoulders and nailed to the cross with Him. II Corinthians 5:21 says that the Father “made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” Jesus was punished for our sins and died for our sins so that we would not have to be in bondage to our sin anymore.

If you’re a believer—if you have believed that Jesus is the Son of God Who died on the cross for your sins and rose again on the third day, and you have trusted in Him to forgive those sins and be your One and Only Savior—you need to understand that He didn’t come to celebrate your sin, but to subdue it. Don’t continue to wallow in sin when He came to defeat your sin and set you free. In Romans 6:14, the Apostle Paul said that because of what Jesus did, “sin shall not have dominion over you.” If you’re a believer, yet you’ve been walking in sin, He calls you to “Go, and sin no more.” Confess that sin to God this morning; repent and ask Him to set you free. Jesus wants you to walk in His light. You’ll never be sinless, but by the power of Christ Who lives in you, you can have victory.

And if you’ve never trusted in Christ as your Savior, you need to understand—like the Pharisees eventually did—that we’ve all sinned. We’ve all disobeyed God, and we’ve all fallen short of His standard of absolute perfection. And our sin condemns us to punishment and separation from God, just like the woman caught in adultery. Jesus will never say that your sin is okay—whatever it is. But He is willing to forgive it and set you free. You can’t “Go, and sin no more” on your own, but He can change you and empower you to walk in His light.

We’re all guilty before God, and the first step in all of this is to recognize that that includes you. You’ve sinned against God; you’re guilty; you’ve earned the condemnation of God. But God is willing to forgive. Not because you’ve been good enough, not because you’re religious enough, not because you went to church or performed some ritual—God is willing to forgive you because Jesus paid for your sins in full on the cross and rose again from the dead.

This morning, you can be saved, if you believe that message. If you believe your sin has separated you from God, that you can’t do anything to save yourself, and that Jesus is your only hope. If you believe Jesus is the Son of God, that He died to pay for your sins in full, and that He rose from the dead, then this morning you can call out to Him, and ask Him to forgive you and be your Savior. He’ll forgive you, subdue your sin, and give you eternal life.

[1]Janet Oravetz, “Baker at center of Supreme Court case: ‘I don’t create cakes for every occasion,’” 9News.com, 5 June 2018, accessed 12 June 2018, https://www.9news.com/article/news/local/politics/baker-at-center-of-supreme-court-case-i-dont-create-cakes-for-every-occasion/73-561570328.

[2]Matthew 22:37, NKJV.

[3]Matthew 22:38, NKJV.

[4]Matthew 5:21,27,33,38,43.

[5]Matthew 5:22,28,32,34,39,44.

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The above text is a rush transcript of the message and may contain errors.

© 2018, Jared Byrns. All rights reserved.