“Red Letter Challenge: Forgiving” – John 8:1-12
Easter 5 – May 19, 2019
Introduction – RLC
Last week, I introduced the first of the 5 targets Pastor Zach Zehnder identifies as the significant
topics that Jesus talks about in the Bible, principles that Jesus calls, commands, and asks His
followers to put into practice. They are: BEING, FORGIVING, SERVING, GIVING, GOING.
Remember, in some Bibles, Jesus’ words are indicated by red letters. Last Sunday, we heard
about BEING, and the difference between being and doing, and the importance of being in a
relationship with Jesus as the foundation for doing what He is asking us to do. Today, we land on
a very important topic that Jesus both taught about and demonstrated in practice – FORGIVING.
1. What’s underneath?
a. The couch cushions
I have a couch up here on stage as an illustration today. And this couch looks very nice. No
stains on the outside. Most of us own a couch at our house. And typically we have very clean
couches that also look very nice. They look good on the outside. We sit on them a lot. And we
even have guests over to sit on these couches. But have you ever taken a moment to flip the
cushions over to see what’s underneath. Because you need to prepare yourself physically,
spiritually, emotionally for what’s underneath. You might find cookie crumbs or kids’ toys. You
might find the Zika Virus under there, I don’t know. (Put on vinyl glove…) So let’s find out…
Pull out things from under the couch cushions: a loonie (put them in the offering). We’ve got a
nice HLCS pen. Portals of Prayer. A Care Card. A shoe lace. Some sort of candy wrapper. And
then look at this, this is kind of crazy. Underneath the couch cushions is a Boston Bruins
jersey… a Bobby Orr jersey. I don’t know how the jersey of the greatest defenseman in hockey
got under here but I’ll just hang it here for a few minutes. What’s crazy is that you would have
never known this stuff was underneath here unless you flipped the cushions.
b. Our lives
A lot of us live lives represented by this couch where we try to make ourselves look pretty good
on the outside. We are very well put together. Few stains on the outside. We come to church on a
Sunday and we act like politicians. We hug people and kiss babies and shake hands, you know.
We look great on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram. You know, our family, we’re so happy,
we’re doing awesome. Like highlight reels on SportsCentre.
But the reality is that we are very much like this couch. If you dig deep down, there is something
inside each and every one of us that is messy. And a lot of us, we push this stuff down in the
cracks and we tend to forget that it’s there or we come up with coping mechanisms so that we
can live with the garbage or we just suppress it.
If we flip the cushions of our lives, we see the truth. (Pull papers out of my alb / pockets / socks
– insincere, selfish, grumpy, lazy, bossy, discontent, greedy.)
c. Our church
And it can even be easy for churches to form around this image. In fact, Hope can be that way —
where everything looks great on the surface, but underneath is a bunch of stuff we are not so
proud of – nitpicking, complaints, talking behind someone’s back, apathy, division, just wanting
to be spiritual consumers NOT spiritual leaders. Those are things under the cushions, not seen.
People from the outside – lives don’t look so great, a little dirty, a noticeable stain or two – they
come here and see all the nice people, and they feel like they don’t belong, because they feel like
they are the only one with stains. The truth is that every one of us has some good, some bad, and
some ugly. Romans 3:10 tells us that there is no one righteous, not even one. Not even one.
And Paul was including you in that. He was including me in that. Look around the room. All of
us carry that “no one righteous” status around. Deep down underneath our live’s cushions,
there’s a mess, right? Deep down on the inside many of us are hurting. Real freedom comes in
knowing that we are a mess first and foremost. If you can’t let go of the past, you’ll never be
able to grab a hold of the future.
2. God has dealt with the mess – in Jesus
Now listen, if you’re a Jesus follower, if you call yourself a Christian, I want you to listen to
what I’m about to say: Jesus did not die on a cross, suffer a brutal death, and then rise from the
dead so that you could live the rest of your life as a mess, and as a slave to the past. God sent His
Son to die on a cross for you so that you could know freedom and so that you could be free from
your past – FORGIVEN, that’s our word for today – and so that you could go into the future with
a sense of freedom and confidence.
God wants to flip the cushions of your life over this morning, bring up some things that you
thought you had put away. You couldn’t sit comfortably on this couch if it had a bunch of hard
and poky stuff underneath the cushions. In the same way, you can’t truly live a free and joyous
life if you are living on a bunch of crud underneath. God wants to take away all the crud, the
junk, the past, and remove it this morning. That’s where forgiveness comes in. That’s where
grace comes in.
3. A Red Letter story of God’s grace
There is a really cool story about God’s grace, which includes the red letters from Jesus’ own
mouth. I want to tell you that story this morning, and then apply some more red letters of Jesus to
how we live out forgiveness in our daily lives and relationships.
Sometimes we struggle to understand what God is like. But the clearest picture of God is Jesus
Christ. He is God in human form. So, if we want to understand God, His nature, His character,
what He would do, how He would respond, we can look at Jesus and get a good idea.
One of the most amazing stories about Jesus (and forgiveness) is from John chapter 8 because in
this story we are going to see how Jesus responds to a guilty, sinful woman with lots of crud
underneath the cushions of her life. Listen…
Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all
the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and
the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group.
The first thing to note is that this story actually takes place in the courts of the Jerusalem temple.
The first thing to ask is: “Where’s the man?” If she has been caught committing an adulterous
act, it just happened, and there has to be a man involved. Where is the man? They just brought
They said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law, Moses
commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?”
And so far, they are right, except for not bringing the man of course. She has crud in her life, and
the Law explains in Deuteronomy 22:22, “If a man is found sleeping with another man’s wife,
both the man who slept with her and the woman must die. You must purge the evil from Israel.”
But this wasn’t just about serving justice on a sinful woman. There was more at play…
They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.
This was an elaborate plan that they had been hatching for a while. Probably the reason the man
wasn’t brought in with the woman is because the man was in on it. Maybe he snuck out the back
door while the Pharisees were dragging her out the front door. This woman was a means to an
end to trap Jesus. That’s what the Pharisees were doing. They were bringing this woman to Him
to catch Him in a difficult situation and to discredit Him before the people.
If He answers, “Yes, stone her,” then that seems to go against everything He’s been doing and
teaching and would have been in conflict with Roman law…
If He says, “No, don’t stone her,” then He would seem to be relaxing His public morals and the
bite of the Law. So they bring this question that is meant to trap Him. But these cunning
hypocrites were overmatched.
But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger.
Can you picture that? They’ve hatched this plan. They’ve rehearsed this question. And here they
are. It’s the moment they’ve been waiting for and Jesus stoops down and starts doodling on the
ground. Can you imagine how frustrating this must have been? They thought they had Him and
it feels like at this point He’s ignoring them.
When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “If any one of you is
without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on
the ground. At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until
only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there.
It’s fascinating what the Word of God includes. But there’s also some fascination about what is
not included. It’s one of the big questions – what did Jesus write on the ground that day?
There’s a lot of theories out there. Some of them that are most intriguing:
Number 1: He was doodling, because “this situation doesn’t even merit my time.”
Number 2: He was writing a Bible verse…who knows what Bible verse, he knew a lot of them.
Maybe Jesus was writing a convicting Bible verse.
Number 3: Some scholars suggest that perhaps Jesus started writing down the names of the
people who were standing in that circle holding those stones wanting to kill that woman. And
beside their names maybe he wrote some of their sins. They thought they had the dirt on this
woman, but Jesus gets down in the dirt, because He had dirt on them. Isaac, lust, Benjamin’s
wife… and Isaac gets up and leaves real quick now and Benjamin follows him because they have
something to talk about, oh, and Benjamin still has that stone in his hand. Moishe, theft, Dan’s
sheep… and Moishe and Dan leave. Reuben, hatred; Simeon, false testimony; Asher, idolatry…
and no one stays around. The older ones left first, maybe because they had the longest list of
sins, or maybe because they were the wisest.
What I think is fascinating about this story – A lot of people think that we need to come to Jesus
with our best and only then will He forgive me. The truth is that we come to Jesus with our
worst… AND HE FORGIVES US!! So far in the story this woman has not said a thing. In fact,
think about this. 30 minutes earlier she was literally sleeping with another woman’s husband.
And now they dragged her in front of Jesus. She was not planning on being in front of Jesus.
She hasn’t said anything. She hasn’t made an elaborate confession. Yet, here we have Jesus
breaking into her life in a way that was completely unexpected.
Maybe that has happened to you – Jesus comes to you when you have no idea and He flips the
cushions over in your life and says, “I’ve got something better for you if you want it.”
Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
“No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
The only one who was without sin, the only one that had the ability to hold a rock and throw it
that day dropped his rock. “Woman, I didn’t come to condemn you. I came to save you. I
didn’t come to declare you guilty. I came to set you free.”
4. In Jesus… forgiven (free, saved)
A lot of people know John 3:16: For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only
Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. But do you know the
very next verse? For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to
save the world through him.
He came to justify and forgive each and every one of us. This woman’s couch cushions got
flipped on her in front everyone to see and Jesus said “I can take that crud, I can take that mess.
Don’t listen to the lies of the other people. The jury is gone now. I’m declaring you forgiven,
set free, innocent, not guilty, now go and be free, sin no more.”
That’s what Jesus says to you. He said it on the cross. “Father, forgive NAMES. Father forgive
them all!” The only one without sin, the only one who could throw a rock of condemnation does
not condemn you. But he does invite us to leave our life of sin, and to extend the forgiveness that
we have freely received from Him into the lives of others.
Jesus loves you. So, any time your accusers face you with figurative rocks in their hands, you
can say “I’m already forgiven. I’m already loved. Drop your rock, I belong to Jesus.”
5. In Jesus… (Red Letter) FORGIVING
Now, as we consider the Red Letter Words of Jesus, we also want to put them into practice. So,
being forgiven, we also want to be forgiving! What are some red letter words of Jesus about
forgiving? (This is the application to your life part!) They are ALL from Matthew’s Gospel.
“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he
listens to you, you have won your brother over.” What is Jesus saying here? If your brother sins
against you, don’t go telling everybody else. Don’t ruin your brother’s reputation. Just deal with
it privately, between the two of you. Hopefully he will recognize how he has sinned against you,
and ask for forgiveness, and then you get to practice Jesus’ words – FORGIVE!
The next story tells it the other way. Jesus says, “If you are offering your gift at the altar [that’s
like here, on a Sunday morning, in the context of worship] and you remember that your brother
has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First, go and be reconciled
to your brother; then come and offer your gift.” In this case you are the offending party. You
have sinned. If you want your worship to be sincere, if you want your gift to be given from a
clean heart, then go and confess to your brother, give him the opportunity to demonstrate
FORGIVENESS, and be reconciled. Then you can give your gift with a holy and righteous
The third application comes in a red letter parable of Jesus. It’s the story of a servant who owed
the king 10,000 talents. That’s the equivalent of hundreds of years’ wages, an unrepayable debt.
The servant begged for mercy, and miracles of miracles, the king canceled the debt. He
CANCELED the debt, the entire debt!! That doesn’t sound like real life, does it? No one would
do that. But the story goes on. That servant finds another servant who owes him 100 denarii –
that’s about 4 month’s wages, certainly a reasonable 5 year repayment plan would get the job
done. But despite pleas of mercy, the first servant has the second one thrown into prison until the
debt is paid.
As with all of Jesus’ parables, this one has a deeper meaning. The king would represent God. We
would be the first servant with a 10,000 talent load of sins against God. For Jesus’ sake, God has
had mercy on us and forgives us the entire debt of our sins. But often, we do not extend the same
mercy of forgiveness to those who have sinned minimally against us. We hold a grudge… for
days, for weeks, for months, maybe even for years! Jesus is trying to teach us here to have an
attitude of forgiveness, to live a life of forgiveness. Since you have been forgiven your 10,000
talent load of sins, be sure to forgive your neighbor his piddly 100 denarii load of sins.
As we continue to put Jesus’ words into practice, we will be with Him. When we be with Him,
we will see and experience His forgiveness anew. As we experience His forgiveness, we can’t
help but want to share his forgiveness with others. And I believe the time for forgiveness is right
now. Our world is in dire need of forgiveness – the attitude of forgiveness, and the practice of
forgiveness. At Hope, we want to lead the charge with forgiveness because that’s what God did
for us. PRAYER…