Greater: Gentleness

This week’s meditation video.

Good morning and welcome to Journey Church.  My name is Phil Human and I’m one of the pastors here at Journey and it’s always a pleasure to speak with you about God and what God is like.  And this morning I am especially glad to be able to tell you that God is gentle.  God is gentle.  Did you know that?

Our family went on vacation two weeks ago and we flew out to see Jody’s family in California and I noticed when we checked in our bags to the airline – they used to ask a question – did you pack your own bags?  Well, when it comes to how we view God – someone else packed our bags for us.  Someone else has told us what God is like.  Maybe a pastor – maybe a parent.  Maybe television or movies.  Somewhere along the line someone taught us what God is really like.

What if they got it wrong?  Here at Journey, and I know I’m teaching – but we try our best to let Jesus pack the bags for us about what God is like.  The entire premise of Christianity is that Jesus is God in the flesh, and when we see Jesus we see what God is like.

Whenever Jesus began a sermon he started by saying – today I am bringing you good news!  I’m going to tell you about God and it’s good news!!! Get ready for this!

The good news is that God is not harsh or petty or vindictive or rough.  In fact, God is gentle.

Now let’s get this out of the way.  the biblical definition of gentle does not mean an absence of strength.  I’m not sure how many of the guys in here would feel if your significant other said of you, “you know what I like about you?  You’re so gentle.”  “Thanks?”

In fact the word that biblical translators used to use is the word Meek.  But they started using gentle because people equated meekness with weakness.  You know what I like about you honey?  You’re so meek and mild.  Oh yeah?  Well, you’re no picnic either, lady!

But meekness is not weakness.  Jesus was not weak.  And Jesus was meek.  Jesus was the perfect description of power under control.  He was all powerful, and also tender and compassionate.  Meek and gentle.

Check this out.  Did you know that there is only one place in the bible where Jesus describes himself?  Two words.  And what a joy it is to delight in these words.

Matthew 11:28,29  28 Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

Humble and Gentle.  The only two words Jesus used to describe what he is like.  What words would you use to describe yourself?  Jesus says, Humble and Gentle will suffice.

Jesus is both all-powerful, and he is all compassionate.  And he can combine these two attributes so that Jesus is, in the words of author Timothy Keller,

“Jesus combines compassion and justice so perfectly that the world has never seen his like.  Jesus is both melt in your mouth gentle and compassionate to the Nth degree.”  He can be both all-powerful and all gentle at the same time.

This combination of power and compassion is biblical gentleness.  God is gentle.  Jesus was gentle.  And the closer we grow to God in our relationship with him we will see that he rubs off on us.

As we allow the Spirit of God to control our hearts and mind, we will begin to naturally, easily, display gentleness to a world that is bruised and hurting.

700 years before Jesus was born there was a prophet named Isaiah.  And he wrote rather extensively about the coming Messiah and what he would be like.

During Christmas we often refer to Isaiah because it was Isaiah who prophesied that a Child would be born and he would be called Mighty God, Prince of peace, everlasting Father and wonderful counselor.  Isaiah 9.

Well, in Isaiah 42, he makes another prophesy about Jesus – and when Matthew writes about the life and times of Jesus – he looks around and sees Jesus showing such tenderness and compassion to those who are most hurting, and Matthew says, Jesus was the fulfillment of Isaiah 42:3 :

20 A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out,

till he has brought justice through to victory.
21     In his name the nations will put their hope.” NIV

Can I just stop again and say, praise God.  Hallelujah.  What a savior!  Are you a bruised reed?  A smoldering wick – you feel you are just barely keeping it together? There’s good news for you.  We are safe with Jesus.  Go to him!  Jesus wants to see you.  What are you waiting for?

Go to a savior powerful enough to see justice through to victory.   He is powerful enough to cause justice to be victorious.  Powerful enough to handle the hope of nations.

And he is melt in your mouth gentle to the Nth degree to the ones who are bruised.  Heavy burdened.  Weary.  Smoldering wicks.

What a Savior!  Powerful, and yet gentle enough to care for the smoldering wicks.

In the book of John, Chapter 8, there is a story that appears the illustrates the gentleness of Jesus.  Let’s look at this story today and talk about how the story illustrates the melt in your mouth gentleness and Compassion to the Nth degree of Jesus.

Now – if you have a bible you might notice that these verses might appear in italics – or there is a note that says something like, this story does not appear in the earliest manuscripts of John.  And I’d say – it’s important that we recognize the scholarship that has gone into these modern bibles.  And if there is ever any discrepancies – they note them in the margin or as a footnote.  They want us to know – the earliest versions of John doesn’t include this story.

However  – what the footnote doesn’t tell us is that this story appears in many different places in the early manuscripts.  It’s a kind of a stand alone story always accepted as genuine by the early followers of Jesus.  But sometimes it shows up in Luke and sometimes in different places in John.  But is has always been accepted as authentic and genuine by the early church.

Jesus returned to the Mount of Olives, but early the next morning he was back again at the Temple. A crowd soon gathered, and he sat down and taught them.As he was speaking, the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. They put her in front of the crowd.

“Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery.The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?”

They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him,

Now before we see how this is an illustration of the melt in your mouth gentleness of Jesus…  a few observations.

  1. Your marriage vows are a big deal to God. Your promise to love your spouse is a big deal.

The bible teaches us that marital relations is an expression of exclusive love – I belong completely and exclusively to you alone.  Adultery is a betrayal at the deepest level – A betrayal against your character, against your spouse and your family, and your God to whom you pledged your vows…  so adultery is a big deal.    It wrecks marriages and families and human beings.  It’s capital punishment big in God’s eyes.

Although, frankly, almost no one was convicted of this – the requirements that had to be met to actually convict someone of adultery were so difficult to meet that early court records in Israel show capital punishment was rarely ever used.  You needed multiple witness, with precise testimony and overwhelming evidence- it was virtually impossible to find a way to convict someone in court.

That said – it’s important to note- let’s remember that God goes out of his way to include those with checkered pasts – Tamar and Bathsheba specifically, in the lineage of Jesus.  They are his relatives.

But to the religious leaders – all that is secondary – they are using this as a way to trap Jesus.  In what way is this a trap?

What is the trap here?  Well, Jesus said that he had not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it.  Well, the Old Testament law said that a person – both man and woman, by the way, who were caught in the act of adultery should be stoned to death.

If he lets her off the hook – then he is against God’s word.  If he stones her – they say – some savior.  Come to him all who are weary and heavy laden and he will destroy you.  So they think they have Jesus caught in a no win situation.

They feel they got him.  But they don’t realize with whom they are dealing. Yes, Jesus is completely just.  But he is more than only just.  He is also – melt in your mouth gentle and compassionate to the Nth degree.

A bruised reed – he does not break.  A smoldering wick, he will not put out.  So let’s see what Jesus does…

 …but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger. 

Now lots of speculation about what Jesus was writing.  No one knows.  Feel free to ask him when you see him.  It feels like a device used by the writer to slow the story down a little.  Add some tension. What is Jesus going to do?  What is he thinking here?  The tension is building as the crowd wonders – will Jesus break the law of Moses by letting her go, or will he snuff out this smoldering wick of a person?

They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust.

Now – let’s talk about this.  What is Jesus saying here?  He is NOT saying that the only person who can judge someone is someone who has never sinned.  Who on earth could ever be a judge?  There would be no semblance of justice on earth, right?

What Jesus is doing here is forcing the people who want to condemn her to face the reality that they are guilty of breaking the same law they are trying to apply.  They are guilty of partiality.

Where’s the guy?  They are guilty of not having a trial – there’s no semblance of justice being applied here.  They are guilty of breaking the law they are trying to apply.

Let the person who has obeyed the law they are invoking throw the first stone.  See – Jesus doesn’t excuse her guilt.  He never says, you aren’t guilty.  He isn’t breaking the law of Moses.  He isn’t ignoring the law of Moses.  He is applying it to the rest of them.

And the law of Moses spoke against showing partiality.  It spoke against of hasty kangaroo court setups like this woman was being put through.  It spoke against setups.  It demanded multiple credible witnesses willing to be put under cross examination.

Notice – Jesus doesn’t say – don’t throw any stones.  He isn’t letting her off the hook so to speak.  He isn’t getting her off on a technicality either.  She IS guilty.  What Jesus says is that no one there was qualified to throw the stones, because none of them followed the law they are invoking.  They have disqualified themselves from being executioners.

The religious leaders end up snared by the very trap they were laying.  they demanded Jesus apply the law.  And he did so equally.

She is guilty, yes.  But so are you.  You are therefore disqualified from being witnesses or executioners.  Jesus reverses the trap on them by applying the law to all of them, not just her.  Let the person who has not sinned against the Law of Moses in this manner be the one to throw the first stone.

When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman. 10 Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”

11 “No, Lord,” she said.

And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.”

Now – listen – there’s a temptation here – some people, they like to stop reading after Jesus says, “Neither do I.”  They want to stop there.  It’s like, for some people the only part of the bible they know is this – Jesus said he who is without sin cast the first stone.

If Jesus isn’t judging me, then neither can you!  Leave me alone.  I’ll do what I please, thank you.  Let he who is without sin cast the first stone!  If Jesus doesn’t demand I change my life then you Shouldn’t either!

And maybe there’s truth there, we need to live our own lives with gentleness especially so if we are challenging a brother or sister that they are behaving in a way that is against the way Jesus teaches us to live.  We want to be close enough to jesus that we too know how to be compassionate to the Nth degree.

However…  notice that Jesus does NOT stop with Neither do I.   He includes, “Go and sin no more.”

But Jesus is not only melt in your mouth gentle and Compassionate to the Nth degree.  He is also just. And notice what Jesus tells her at the end?  He doesn’t stop at neither do I.  He adds – “Go and change your life.”  Go and sin no more.

He doesn’t say – it’s okay, I understand – you got trapped.   He doesn’t let her off the hook.  He doesn’t shift the blame from her to her circumstances or another person.

In essence Jesus says, you are guilty. And I do not condemn you.  Why?  Why is it possible that the apostle Paul can say that there is no condemnation in Christ Jesus?

How can Jesus say to her and to you and me – you are guilty and there’s no condemnation?  How is it just  to say, you are guilty of breaking the law, and there will be no punishment for doing it?

Here’s how.  Because there was punishment for breaking the law.  It was death. And Jesus  knew as he looked at her that HE would take the condemnation for her.  He would take the stones.  The thorns.  The death.

You are guilty, and there’s no condemnation because Jesus took the condemnation for you.  And that’s why he can say, I will not condemn you, I will take the condemnation for you.  And now – let’s change your life.  Together, let’s create a different kind of human being.

See, the trap that the religious leaders were trying to spring on Jesus – it goes to the question that no one had ever been able to solve.  How can God solve the tension between his love and compassion, and his justice.

Many people – they just don’t know what to do so what they do is they make the mistake of emphasizing one part of Gods nature at the expense of another part.

They say God is loving.  God is so loving, he judges no one, we are all sinners, and God just showers his love on us and there is no judgment there is no guilt.  Flowers – flowers flowers.  god is love.  There’s no need to change your life.  God is love.

The other side emphasizes the justice of God at the expense of his love and gentleness.  People say – God is just.  He cannot be okay with sin and be pure and holy and so he is stern!  God is stern.  He is strict and yes he loves people but he loves people who obey!  He loves good people!  He loves people who toe the line!  Not you degenerates over there!  You hippies!  God loves people who are self controlled and disciplined and who don’t sin too much!  Because God is Holy and just!

And the pharisees think they can squeeze Jesus by forcing him to choose a side.  They plan on crushing him with whatever side he doesn’t choose.

Instead Jesus stands in the middle.  And on the cross he holds the justice of God and on the cross he displays the love of God and says come to me.  Bruised reeds.  You’ve found the safe place between the walls.  You’ve found the place where nothing can hurt you.  There is healing here.

On the cross we see the humility of Jesus.  that he might die so we might live?  And at the cross we see the Meekness of Jesus.  Power under control.  He could have called down ten thousand angels!  He could have flexed he might and burst off the cross.  But he stayed on there in order that we, guilty, might not be condemned.

Oh what a savior  Gentle.  Humble.  A bruised reed he will not break.  A smoldering wick will not be put out.  And justice will find a way to victory.

If you are bruised you gotta go.  Why wait.  Go!  Oh the gentleness.

Come to me, smoldering wicks – to the safety of a savior who knows you’re guilty and yet, does not condemn you.  I forgive you and together we can relight the flame inside you of .  Together you and Jesus, working to heal from the bruises and relight the flame that is inside of you.

This week’s meditation video.

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