Mercy, Not Sacrifice

Our Lord was no stranger to difficult situations. The Pharisees and Sadducees would often present him with questions regarding various different aspects of the Old Law. Each time, our Lord answered with the utmost wisdom and absolute truth. Perhaps one of the most difficult (if not the most difficult) situations into which these enemies of righteousness placed our Lord is recorded for us in John 8:3-11. The scribes and Pharisees had brought a woman taken in adultery and demanded of Jesus that he judge her case and execute the penalty decreed under the Old Law. Lest we forget, the Old Law plainly stated that those who were caught in such circumstances were to be put to death (Leviticus 20:10). Jesus was literally being asked to judge as to whether or not someone should live or die and the scribes and Pharisees were planning on executing upon his advice. Jesus was in a difficult circumstance because on the one hand He was obligated to uphold the Old Law. He came not to destroy the law, but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17). However, on the other hand, Jesus purpose, was not to condemn any man, but to offer mercy, pardon, forgiveness and salvation (John 3:17). The dilemma was real. How could Jesus fulfill the demands of the Old Law in this case, yet at the same time uphold the principles of mercy, pardon, and forgiveness?

The scribes and Pharisees had brought a woman taken in adultery. They had caught her in the very act. Evidently they had a witness or witnesses to this because they were not to make such accusations without at least two witnesses and someone was not to be put to death at the mouth of just one witness (Deuteronomy 17:6). They reminded Jesus that Moses commanded that she should be stoned. This was true provided they had the witnesses (Leviticus 20:10). And then they asked Jesus what He would do. The text also says that their true motives were to tempt Jesus so that they might be able to accuse him of wrongdoing or at least, poor judgment. At first, it appears that Jesus ignored them. Jesus did not wish to judge this case. There were judges who could hear such things, but Jesus was not one of them (Luke 12:14). So he was not properly the person to whom such matters should be brought. So the text says that he stooped down and wrote in the sand. The scribes and Pharisees, however, were insistent that He judge this case and they would not leave. So Jesus answered them as follows: “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.”

The statement that Jesus made was not designed to suggest (as many today insist) that no one ought to ever be judged for sin unless they have lived a sinless life. The statement actually has its roots in Deuteronomy 17:7. This passage states, “The hands of the witnesses shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterward the hands of all the people. So thou shalt put the evil away from among you.” Here was a catch that the scribes and Pharisees had failed to take into consideration. The witnesses, being the ones to cast the first stones, had to come forward, and a proper examination of their involvement in the whole affair could then be made. Two people rarely witness the sin of adultery unless they are somehow unwittingly privy to that knowledge (unlikely here since they were putting this case to Jesus as a “test”), or they are complicit in the whole affair. If they are complicit in the whole affair of adultery, then they must also be put to death for their participation in such a situation. Hence, Jesus wise answer neither removes His obligations to the Old Law, nor allows those who are guilty themselves to prosecute the offense without self-condemnation. So slowly, one by one, from the oldest to the last, the scribes and Pharisees leave the scene. This leaves only the woman and Jesus. Jesus, no longer having any witnesses to the event He mercifully refuses to condemn the woman to death, but equally as mercifully instructs her to commit no more sin.

We learn many great lessons from this text, but perhaps the greatest is this. Just because someone is guilty of sin doesn’t necessarily mean that we must apply the whole penalty to that sin. Herein is one of the great attributes of God. Psalm 103:8-13 states, “The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy. He will not always chide: neither will he keep his anger for ever. He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him. As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us. Like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear him.” Personally, I am thankful that God doesn’t deal with me, as I know that I deserve. However, the lesson that we should learn from this is that neither should we deal with each other this way. It should be our great aim and desire to have as much mercy, compassion, and pity upon those who are involved in sin as much as it is to teach them the truth. Let us learn this great lesson from the life of Jesus for God desires mercy and not sacrifice (Hosea 6:6; Matthew 9:13; Matthew 12:7).

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Zealous Mediocrity

I suppose if there were ever an oxymoron to be considered, the title of this article would be within the top ten. It would be there along with apathetic concern, charitable covetousness, and slothful industriousness. We generally use oxymorons when, in our language, we fail to find the appropriate description for something in terms of non-conflicting vocabulary. Oxymorons also generally serve to provide a measure of both entertainment, and rebuke. In short, an oxymoron takes one extreme to describe its opposite. Hence, the title of the article.

The word zealous is really just the positive aspects of the word jealous. When a person is jealous, they are generally consumed with desire for something that someone else has, whether it be a material possession, wealth, a relationship, or personal attention. Generally we think of jealousy as a bad thing. However, one can be jealous for something that is good too, but we use the word zealous to describe the good aspects of jealousy. Being zealous is just the opposite side of the coin of being jealous. The same attributes apply, but the object of the jealousy is noble instead of contemptible.

When we think of someone that is zealous for a cause, we think of someone who is a real go getter. We think of someone who applies every ounce of energy they have to their work. We think of someone who is burning up with motivation to go out and get the job done. We look a sports teams at all levels, high school, college, and professional, particularly football, and we see examples of zeal. Before the game they are out on the field getting pumped up. They meet in a huddle and cheer themselves on to victory. They growl and grunt and grate their teeth giving their every ounce of energy to the effort. It is a true picture of zeal.

On the other hand, we have mediocrity. You can almost hear the balloon of zeal deflate merely at the sound of the word. The word mediocrity has within it the word medium. It is neither hot or cold, neither black or white, neither at one extreme or the other, but squarely ensconced in the middle. In a sense, there are no opposites to mediocrity because the true opposites of mediocrity are both miles away from where mediocrity sits.

Mediocrity is not something that is generally desired. When was the last time you heard someone say, “Boy I really enjoyed dinner tonight, it was so . . . mediocre.” I expect that you would have one angry host or hostess on your hands should you say something like that. Or when was the last time you went out with your significant other and said, “I really had a mediocre time tonight. Let’s do it again.” Doesn’t quite make sense, does it?

So what do we get when we have “zealous mediocrity” or “mediocre zeal”? We get a whitewashed version of something that nobody really wants. That is, everyone “believes” in zeal and disdains mediocrity. But, of course, more often than not, our actions in this area speak louder than our words. So if you look at what we say, there is zeal, however, if you look at what we do, there is mediocrity, hence, we have zealous mediocrity. We go out onto the field and we give a good pep rally, but when it comes to playing the game, we haply turn the ball over every chance we get-zealous mediocrity.

The church at Laodicea had a similar problem. Jesus said to them, “So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. . . . As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent” (Revelation 3:16-19). The church at Laodicea was zealous for mediocrity. They had works, but they were mediocre. They thought they were rich, but they were really poor. They thought they were clothed rather well, but they were naked. They thought they could see, but they were blind. Mediocrity takes the things around us and transforms them into apparently beautiful things. And we become zealous for that deceptive beauty. A lot of times, we see what we want to see and hence become self deceived to the true situation. This is exactly what had happened to the church in Laodicea. They were zealous for mediocrity, desirous of a situation where they were satisfied with their “work.” Instead of being zealous with mediocrity, they needed to be zealous with repentance.

The great rivers of our country provide us a picture of zealous mediocrity. The waters of the Missouri, Ohio, and Mississippi constantly churn and twirl as they make their way toward the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean. When we look at the waters of those rivers, in places they appear very zealous, but ultimately they follow the course of least resistance. They are zealous for mediocrity. The true source of zeal lies not in the waters that occasionally churn on the surface of the river, but in the rocks that hold steadfast to its bottom. It is not that which follows the course of least resistance that creates zeal, but that which resists the course of least resistance. What path are we on, Christian friend? The path of zealous mediocrity? Or the path of zeal that leads to salvation?

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Free Union

One might think upon seeing the title of this article that we are about to discuss something extremely positive. After all, what could be more appealing that freedom and what could be more motivating that unity? However, we have an adversary who is very deceitful and rejoices in calling wicked things by righteous names. This is exactly the case with the title of the article today.

As many of you know, we (five of us) took a mission trip to Costa Rica at the beginning of December, 2003. Being in a different culture for a week is enlightening because you can see how different people do things differently. However, there are some things that are universal to mankind. One of those things is the problem of sin. Changing cultures did not imply that we changed standards for what is right and wrong. Sin is as much a problem in Costa Rica as it is in the United States, Europe, Russia, or anywhere in the world.

One interesting thing, however, that did not change from our culture to theirs, is the desire to place a nice sounding name upon sin by those who engage in sin. We see this happening in our society as well. Abortion has been changed to “pro-choice.” Homosexuality has been changed to “gay” or “an alternate lifestyle.” The murder of the elderly has been changed from euthanasia to “death in dignity.” And the sin of fornication has been changed to “recreational sex.” The effort to change the name of something that is evil to something that sounds good is merely an effort to justify that which is evil.

Isaiah 5:20 says, “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” Without a doubt we live in a world that would make sin appear palatable so that the masses would swallow it whole. This is, in fact, the very goal of Satan himself. He deceived Eve at the beginning and he continues to deceive today.

So what is deceptive about “Free Union?” “Free Union” is what the non-Christian people in Costa Rica refer to what we would call “living together” or “living in sin.” But “free union” certainly doesn’t sound like such a bad concept upon the surface of it. In fact it sounds pretty good, and herein ought to be the warning for us. Just because something sounds good or looks good, doesn’t necessarily meant that it is. Even Satan would change himself to appear as an angel of light if he thought that it would advance his cause (2 Cor.11:14).

Let us take warning and be sure that we give ourselves to things that we know are right (Phil.4:8); things that we find approved within the word of God (Col.3:17). Let’s make an effort to avoid trying to have our ears scratched with soothing words (Isaiah 30:10). The alternative, of course, is to have the honestly to grapple with our own failures and seek the appropriate changes in our life regardless of how difficult it may be.

Which will we choose? Deceptive words which make us feel good? Or words of truth and sobriety that cause us to examine our lives? Would to God that we choose the later because the situation that sin presents to us is anything but free and united.

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