Put the Stones down
(Reading John 8:1–11)
In today’s Gospel, we had the story of a woman who was taken in the act of adultery and brought before Jesus, by the Scribes and Pharisees to see if Jesus would break the law? The law as given by Moses said that such behaviour deserved “death by stoning” and so here we find Jesus under a test.
My sermon today entitled … “PUT THE STONES DOWN”
is about Forgiveness—for that is what this story is all about.
How important is forgiveness? Well, very simply, without it we are not saved. It is conclusive in the Scriptures that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We have fallen short of who we were created to be, of how God designed our lives to be lived, of what kind of testimony we should have here on earth. We are truly amazed when we come to a place of understanding the depths of our sin yet recognize how God, in His mercy,
chose through His Son to forgive us.
Forgiveness is also directly linked with mountain-moving faith. Jesus once told His disciples, “…Whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe…he shall have whatsoever he saith. Therefore…Whatsoever things ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them. And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses” (Mark 11:23–25).
Jesus was saying, “I am willing to give you faith that can move mountains—all of those things that stand before you and hinder what your life is destined to be. Whatever you are lacking,
I will supply. Yet when you come to Me, if you have anything in your heart against others, forgive them, that your Father in heaven may forgive your trespasses.”
It is clear, that without forgiveness, we cannot remain in the life flow of the blessing of God. Jesus went on to say, “But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses” (Mark 11:26). This does not mean that you lose your salvation every time you struggle with Unforgivingness; for it is a struggle that no one is immune to. However, it does mean that when we harbour Unforgivingness in our hearts, a sense of well-being is lost. The life flow and ability to hear from God becomes hindered because ultimately the kingdom of God is all about forgiveness.
Picture for a moment the scene in our opening text: Jesus is sitting in the temple teaching the people when suddenly in bursts some Scribes and Pharisees. Keep in mind that the Scribes and Pharisees were the keepers of the law—the ones who were supposed to represent the testimony of God in the earth. To their credit, they started out with the desire to preserve the Word of God. Fearing that it might eventually devolve into something other than what God had originally meant, they set out to be Purists. They intended to guard the Word and to exemplify what was written in the text of Scriptures that they had, up until that time. However, they ended up being more of an example of how religious zeal and incomplete obedience to the full revelation of God in the Scriptures, can leave people
bearing very little resemblance to Jesus.
Into the midst of the crowd they came, bringing a woman who
was of the family of faith – but who obviously had fallen and failed. Casting her down at the feet of Jesus, they said, “This woman claims to belong to the family of Abraham, part of the seed of God’s testimony on earth, yet we caught her in the very act of adultery. Our Scripture says that she should be condemned and stoned to death. What do you say, Jesus?” The Word says that they asked this question in order to test Jesus and have reason to accuse Him. Ironically, they were quoting the Word of God, but they were arguing with the author —
trying to tell Him what He meant when He wrote the Book!
Consider as well, the outward appearance of the Scribes and Pharisees in this whole scene. They would have been spit-and-polished, with everything pristine—their garments pressed with precision, the borders of their sleeves and skirts measured to exactly the right length. They had prayer shawls over their shoulders and prayer beads attached to their sides so that they would be known as people of prayer. Standing there adorned with all of this paraphernalia, I recon that they also had one more thing—they had stones in their hands? Or at least they had stones very close at hand, ready to condemn anyone who failed to meet their religious ideals.
Now contrast this to Jesus, who, according to the Scripture, identified with the common man. He was made in our likeness, He took upon Himself our frailty, and He understands our weaknesses. He had no outward display—no symbols of prayer and religious obedience—except the manifestation of the full power and purpose of God.
As a carpenter’s son, Jesus likely wore regular workman’s
garments. There was probably dirt around His knees since He had stooped down to write on the ground with His finger.
Actually “the law” said that BOTH of them should be stoned, Lev 20:10 – and maybe Jesus was writing “where is the man?” since she had been taken in the act. Isn’t in interesting how society sometimes protects one while throwing stones at the other? It allows some to escape and crucifies others?
Although we do not know exactly what Jesus wrote, we do know that it stung the conscience of the religious but gave hope to a woman who had fallen. In other words, Jesus rewrote a scene
of judgment and death – into a place of forgiveness and hope.
He rewrote this woman’s future – perhaps giving her the reassurance that her past as well as present frailties were still covered by the mercy of God, for she knew she was a sinner in need of a Saviour. On the other hand, those standing by with the stones had long lost the understanding that they themselves were outside of the kingdom of God, having failed to represent His heart of mercy and grace.
Jesus could not have rewritten this moment in history if He, too, had been holding stones. The same holds true for you and me.
If we are found with stones in our hands, we will not have any power to make a difference or to rewrite the future; we will be unable to represent God in our generation. After all, how can we represent a kingdom that is established on a foundation stone of forgiveness – if there is Unforgivingness in our hearts? It is simply not possible, which is why we must come to a place of total forgiveness. Of course, this is never easy. It means that we must learn to overcome grievances and offences that have been learned or personally experienced—sometimes deeply embedded
over the course of our lifetime. I remember a time when I was betrayed by somebody whom I worked with, respected and trusted. The sense of betrayal went so deep in my heart that it took me months to get over it. I cannot tell you how many times I went before God and said, “Lord, I am not even at forgiveness yet—I am dealing with trying not to hate somebody. You have to help me.” No matter how many times I attempted to put those stones down, my hands simply would not let them go. If I succeeded in throwing them down for a moment, it was as if a bungee cord was attached to them, and they eventually bounced right back up into my hands again. I could not get rid of the
bad feelings and sense of hurt.
Nevertheless, I persisted in the battle, not willing to be a hypocrite in the kingdom of God. I found myself in the same place over and over, praying the same kinds of prayers, until one day, the Lord spoke to my heart: “Here’s how to do it. Turn your hands over and let Me take the stones away.” I realized at that moment that it was impossible for me to put them down in my own strength. Only the Lord could take away the stones of bitterness, and I found that He was willing to do it. He gave me the ability to forgive and forget that betrayal, and filled and flooded my life with a fresh peace. The Devil sometimes reminds me about it, but he cannot rekindle its bitterness.
Are you holding on to bad feelings today towards another? It may well be that you feel betrayed by family, friends or church members, but if you won’t forgive and forget, those bitter feelings will destroy your effectiveness for God, and could destroy your health and well-being. Remember, the fault does not necessarily lie in the one who betrayed, offended or hurt you,
the fault first and foremost lies in the enemy, the Devil himself!
So it may be that the devil got one up on your friend, but has he never gotten one up on you? It is time to let these things go, and leave childish thinking to children. Its time to become Sons and Daughters of God, time to take on the Fathers Business.
The Scriptures speak of another man who had stones in his hands. He dwelt in the mountains and in the tombs—one is a high place and the other is as about as low as you can go on the earth (Mark 5:1–5). However, instead of casting his stones at other people, he was cutting himself with them. It is a picture of a person who hates himself for what he has done and for what he is becoming. Just like the Pharisees, this man also needed the courage to say, “Jesus, take these stones from my hands.”
Likewise, many Christians today are unwilling to forgive themselves for the things they have done in the past. Although the Lord has cleansed them, they persist in calling themselves unclean. God alone can give them the grace to let go of the past and to release those stones from their hands.
Without forgiveness at the core of our being, we can talk about Jesus all day long, but we can never represent Him. People who merely talk about Jesus become concerned solely about the exterior—about their own reputation, about being called, “Teacher, Teacher” and having the best seats at banquets Matthew 23:6–7. These things become the whole focus of their life. The people who truly represent Jesus are the ones bending down, writing in the sand. They are rewriting into people’s lives the mercies and grace of Almighty God, no matter what they have done or however they have fallen.
I believe that very soon many prodigals will be returning to the
house of God—men and women who perhaps gave their lives to
Christ when they were young, yet somehow ended up on a wrong path. They took the life of Christ and went far beyond the borders of where they should have been living—but not beyond the reaches of God’s love. And now the Lord is giving His church the opportunity to represent Him, offering these people hope for the present and rewriting their future. Just as the father welcomed the prodigal son when he came home, we too can put our arms around others, covering their failures and empowering them to become everything that God is calling them to be. We can put a robe over their shoulders, shoes on their feet, and invite them to join us on the journey. But before we can do this, we must have put down our stones.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to misrepresent Christ in this world. Yet if I am ever going to err, let it be on the side of mercy. Let it be mercy that rewrites my life and the life of everybody God desires to touch through me. I want to be a bridge builder, not a bridge destroyer. I want, what God wants; to see the church come to life once again in our generation—every race, every nationality, every denomination coming together as one body in Jesus Christ for the final moment of time.
This means that all of us must drop our stones—denominational stones, theological stones, racial stones, sectarian stones, all the grievances that we have been holding on to. By the grace of God, we must be willing to stoop down, get our hands and our knees dirty, and start rewriting the future in people’s lives.
It all begins by holding up our hands and saying, “Jesus, take these stones from my hands. I know that I do not have a right to
carry these, but I cannot put them down. You’ll have to take them from me.” Remember, Jesus is not angry with your frailty
or your struggle. All He is asking, is that you simply turn
your hands over and trust Him. Trust Him to take away any Unforgivingness in your heart, any self-condemnation, any inner judgments that you may not even be aware of. It is God alone who can help you to forgive and bring you into this place of mercy and faith that He speaks of. It is God alone who can enable you to stop beating yourself up for your past failures.
If we do not come to God and allow Him to take away these grievances now, as the body of Christ we are going to be swallowed by the evil of this generation. After all, it is clear that we are living in an hour when society is becoming increasingly divided and civility has practically gone out of the window. This comes as no surprise, for Jesus warned that in these latter days, nation will rise against nation (Matthew 24:7). In the original Greek, this means that ethnic culture will rise against ethnic culture. In other words, the world will be marked by bitter divisions and hatred, and we here in Ireland are not strangers to these things.
Yet in the midst of this, you and I cannot be found like the rest of society. If we end up embracing any part of this system that is throwing stones at each other, we will no longer represent the Church or represent Christ who went to the cross. Let everyone else do the judging, but we are called to live by a higher law—the love of God, the mercy of God and the forgiveness of God in Christ Jesus. It is the willingness to embrace what we would not naturally embrace; the willingness to call “clean” what others regard as unclean; the willingness
to receive with hope what others would call failed.
There is no other gospel that will change the hearts of men. It is not our garments, it is not our Scripture memorization, it is not
our big Bibles —it is the love and mercy of God in our hearts that will make the difference. It is time to allow Jesus to take the stones out of our hands so that we can truly represent Him in this generation. As we learn to forgive, and as we are willing to stoop down and identify with people – who the whole religious scene is about to write off in their ignorance, I believe there will be a harvest of souls in this generation beyond anything we could ever have imagined, … praise God.
NOW THIS FINAL WORD
I hear some of you say to me “Wait a minute Pastor, you don’t know what was done to me, you don’t know what it was like to have suffered abuse for 30 years, you don’t know what its like to have your Husband cheat on you and walk out leaving you alone to raise 3 children, you don’t know what its like to have someone step in to your life and steal everything you’ve ever worked for…” Wait a minute, …. until you have hung on a cross, until you have sweat drops of blood, until you have raised your head in Hell, and suffered it all for something you did not do, then you can know nothing about forgiveness.
If Jesus can forgive you, and go to Hell to save you, you had better learn how to forgive the greatest wrongs afflicted on you, otherwise, someone else is robbing you of your blessings and your benefits in Christ. And unless you “put the stones down”
the sheer weight of carrying those stones of revenge,
will kill you: Make no mistake!
So lay the stones down today, lay them down now, and trust God to give you grace to do what you cannot do without him.
God Bless You -Amen.