Shame, one of the greatest enemies of the Gospel good news, tells us we’re forgiven but still not worthy. Yet Jesus came that we might have life and have it to the full. Join us as we learn to trade the dark cloud of shame for living in the light of God’s mercy.
This week’s message addresses the hidden epidemic of shame. Within our culture, shame is a barrier between ourselves and connecting with God. This shame is not something that God intended for us. In fact, Jesus hates shame because it is something that drives us from God, rather than drawing us near. Instead, Jesus offers mercy as a remedy for shame, inviting you to come closer.
Craig: Feel free to go ahead and grab a seat. And we’re gonna be digging into a subject today that has been called the hidden epidemic of our era. It’s not one of those out front-and-center epidemics. You can’t track it like COVID-19. There’s not daily and minute-by-minute updates on infections and what kind of damage it’s doing. But I believe this is actually an epidemic that is every bit as damaging as COVID-19, if not more so because ultimately, honestly, what we’re gonna be talking about today has the potential to have eternal consequences, eternal impact. And what I’m talking about is the hidden epidemic of something called shame.
And I just wanna acknowledge right up front that some people might have a hard time believing that shame is an epidemic because we seem to live in a culture that is really shameless, right? I mean, the things that we used to consider wrong and bad we often as a culture now, we say they’re normal, they’re right. Things that we used to be afraid to talk about in secret we now celebrate in public. And so it’s kind of easy to look around our culture and go, “We don’t have an epidemic of shame. We’re actually a shameless culture. We just don’t have any of it.” And I get that, but what I’ve come to believe is that the surface level departure of shame as a culture has actually masked a deep entrenchment of shame at the personal and a profound level. The reality is that I think that shame is an incredibly damaging thing.
You probably should understand what exactly I mean by shame. Let me define it for you. Here’s what I mean when I talk about shame. Shame is the persistent feeling that our mistakes have made us unworthy of love and belonging. It’s the persistent feeling that because of the bad that we’ve done, because of the sin that we’ve committed, we’re unworthy of love and belonging. It’s not just that we acknowledge we have done bad things. We think that the bad things that we have done have made us people who are unworthy of love and acceptance. And that, I think, is a problem because that becomes a barrier between us and God. It becomes a barrier as followers of Jesus between us and experiencing what God really intended us to experience. And it becomes a barrier to us actually being able to communicate to others everything that God has for them. Shame is an incredibly destructive thing. Now, I wanna make a distinction because I think this is important. There’s a difference between what I’m calling shame and what we often call guilt. We sometimes use the two words together, almost as though they’re the same thing, but I don’t think shame and guilt are the same thing at all. I actually think that guilt can be a good thing.
See, guilt is what says, “Okay. That’s wrong. I did something wrong.” There’s nothing wrong with saying that I’ve done something wrong. There’s actually a power to guilt. Guilt can be a very productive thing. Guilt can cause us to repent. It can cause us to turn away from the wrong that we’re doing. It can cause us to turn back to God. Guilt can drive us to our knees before God asking for forgiveness. Guilt’s a good thing. Guilt’s productive. Shame, on the other hand, is almost always destructive because shame basically says that because of the wrong that we’ve done, God doesn’t have anything to do with us. And so shame can drive us away from God. Guilt can drive us to our knees before God, but shame actually drives us away from God who’s the only source of forgiveness and hope and redemption because shame says, “God doesn’t want anything to do with you even if he were to see you come down.”
Here’s the thing. Guilt tells us we need forgiveness. Shame tells us we’ll never get it. Are you with me? That’s the difference. Guilt tells us we need forgiveness. That’s a good thing. Shame tells us we’ll never get it because God doesn’t want anything to do with us. And I have come to believe over about 30 years of vocational ministry that shame is alive and well in our culture and in our churches, and it’s eating us alive. For the last 30 years, I’ve just had countless conversations with people sitting on the couch in my office or the couch in my home as Coletta and I talked to them. And they’re living under a cloud of shame that is driving a wedge between them and God and it’s driving a wedge between them and other believers. I just can’t tell you how many of these conversations I’ve had. One that really just weighs heavy in my heart is a young man that I got to know when I was a youth pastor back in Cincinnati and he was just this guy that’s just full of life. Everyone loved him. He just had this natural warmth about him. Everybody wanted to be his friend. He genuinely loved people and he loved God and he loved connecting people to God. I really thought God’s hand was on him to become a pastor of some kind. I thought he was being called to vocational minister. He thought that. He actually served with me as an intern once when I was at a church here in Colorado. And I just loved this kid and I was just so looking forward to seeing what God was gonna do through him.
Somewhere in his journey, he got addicted to pornography. And obviously, that’s an incredibly damaging addiction. It does incredible harm to us. It does incredible harm to our relationships for all kinds of reasons we’re not gonna get into today. But what was really worse in his life wasn’t the addiction itself. It was the shame that he felt because of it. He got into this place where he really could no longer believe that God could love him. He could no longer believe that God could forgive him. He could no longer believe that he had any business being with other believers who would love him and help him move past this addiction, and it just destroyed his life. He actually literally died this past year. And he was lying in a hospital. And nobody was really sure what was wrong. I believe at the bottom of my heart what really killed him was shame. It was this cloud that he was living under.
And the tragedy of that is, as we read through the Gospels… Well, guilt, again, is certainly a useful thing when we reckon if we’ve done something wrong and we go to God for forgiveness. Shame is not a useful thing, and yet, unfortunately, it’s a thing that just exists and persists in our culture and it does damage like it did to that young man. And many of you as you’re listening to this, you know exactly what I’m talking about. You feel this. And maybe it’s a shame that you felt because of the wrong that you’ve done and you’ve built it for yourself, or maybe it’s something that other people have cast upon you. They’ve made you to feel this, but it doesn’t matter how we get to it. When we get to it, it does the same thing. No matter how we get it, shame shades us from God’s love or shame shades us from the light of God’s love. It keeps us from experiencing it. It’s a little bit like walking around under an umbrella in the warm spring sun, or it’s worse than that. It’s like walking around under an umbrella where rain is pouring out of the umbrella itself when we’re walking around under blue skies.
And so over the next few weeks, we’re gonna lean into what the Bible has to say by getting out from under the shade of shame. And we’re gonna start by taking a look at an event from the life of Jesus as recounted for us by an eyewitness to it, a man named Matthew. So, if you wanna grab a Bible and start making your way, we’re gonna be in the Gospel of Matthew today starting in chapter nine. And actually, what we’re gonna see today is the story of how Matthew who wrote this became a follower of Jesus, which is interesting because, honestly, as we begin to see who Matthew is, we’re gonna recognize that Matthew is the kind of guy that honestly should have been living under shame. Matthew is the kind of guy that would probably have been living under this cloud of shame that would have made him feel like, “God doesn’t want anything to do with me.” And yet, what we’re gonna see is that God absolutely not only had a desire to have a relationship with him, but he had plans for him.
And so we’re gonna be in Matthew chapter 9, verse 1, which begins this way/ “Jesus stepped into a boat, crossed over and he came to his own town. Now, some men brought to him a paralyzed man lying on a mat. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the man, ‘Take heart, son. Your sins are forgiven,'” which seems like an odd thing to say, right? I mean, they’ve just brought this guy to him and they’ve laid him down. His legs don’t work. And so they’re…obviously, they’ve heard about Jesus’s ability to heal people. Maybe they’ve heard about his ability to heal people even with this kind of condition. And so they bring this man who’s paralyzed, they lay him down, and Jesus looks at him and says, “Your sins are forgiven.” And my guess is they kind of were like, “Thank you, but what about his legs? Because see, we were hoping you do something about his body. We weren’t really looking for any kind of spiritual thing.” And from our perspective, what Jesus says here may seem kind of out of the blue. It may even seem a little bit inappropriate. But what you need to understand is that in the first century, there was a very common belief that a person’s physical problems were as a result of their spiritual failings, a result of their sin. So, the natural assumption for most people was that he was paralyzed because of his sin.
And while Jesus later in the Gospels actually refutes that idea, he says, “That’s not where physical problems come from,” here in this instance, instead of kind of refuting that belief, he decides to kind of use it. And so what he does by saying, “Your sins are forgiven,” is he’s essentially saying to the people, “Hey, I’m gonna go after the source rather than the symptom. You think his physical illness is a symptom of his sin? Well, I’m gonna go after the source.” And they would have understood it in that context. So, in that context, what he says here makes sense, but that doesn’t make it any less shocking, which is why verse three says, “At this, hearing him say this, some of the teachers of the Law, the religious experts, they said to themselves, ‘This fellow was blaspheming.'” And blasphemy is not one of those words that we use very often these days, but it basically just means a serious insult against God. So, essentially, they’re saying, “This guy’s throwing shade at God. Who does he think it is? Where does he get off making this kind of a statement?”
Now, there’s two reasons why they would have said that. The first is they would have understood that by claiming to forgive this man’s sin, Jesus was essentially claiming to be God. Okay? And the reason for that is very simple. It’s that the only person who can forgive a sin is the person that was sinned against. Does that make sense? Think about this. If you wanna come up to me at the Littleton campus between services and you wanted to shake my hand, but instead of shaking your hand, I punched you in the face, which, let me just be clear, almost never happens. Okay? It’s extremely rare. Okay? But if it did happen, if I punched you in the face, you could forgive me. You might choose not to, but you could forgive me.
But what somebody else couldn’t do is like somebody couldn’t see that and come running over and go, “Oh, no. Pastor Craig, it’s okay. I forgive you.” You’d be like, “Not your option.” Right? He didn’t punch you in the face. When he punches you in the face then you can forgive him but you can’t forgive him for punching me in the face. You can only forgive someone who has sinned against you. Now, for Jesus to forgive this man who’s laying in front of him is basically to say that this man has sinned against him. And the only one that we sin against by all of our sin is God. Even when we insult another person or hurt another person, we’re ultimately sinning against God because God created that person as his image. They’re special to him. They’re of value to him. And when we treat them poorly, we’re sinning not only against them. We’re sinning against God.
So, for Jesus to say, “Your sins are forgiven,” he was essentially claiming to be the God against who all sin is done. Are you with me? That was the first reason why they said this is a serious insult against God. But there’s a second reason why they consider this blasphemy, a serious insult. And it’s the second reason that’s actually more significant in this context, and it’s this. It’s that Jesus forgave this man before he’d done anything to deserve it. Very important to understand. Jesus forgave this man before he’d done anything to deserve it. See, in the Jewish religion, in Judaism, it was possible to be forgiven of sin, but only after you had atoned for it. The only way to be forgiven for sin is if you had atoned for it, and literally if you had made a sacrifice. Maybe you sacrificed a bull or a lamb or a dove or some expensive grain you gave up that you’re essentially at that moment you were making atonement, or another way to think about it is you’re kind of making it right. You’re making up for what you’ve done wrong. And only once you’ve done that, could you be forgiven. And so deep in their hearts and their minds was this idea that you can only be forgiven once you’ve done enough to deserve it. But Jesus looked at this man who hadn’t made atonement. He hadn’t done anything to deserve it, and Jesus said, “Your sins are forgiven,” and they went, “You can’t do that. He doesn’t deserve it.”
And I think it’s important that we recognize at this point that what we hear from the religious leaders is really the voice of shame because here’s what shame says when it comes to forgiveness. Shame says you can’t be forgiven until you’ve done enough to deserve it. That’s the voice of shame. It says you can’t be forgiven until you’ve done enough to deserve it, until you’ve made it right, until you’ve made up, or until you’ve somehow atoned for it. And the reality is that this is a message we’ve all heard our entire lives, isn’t it? Maybe you heard it growing up in your home. Maybe you heard it in a church that you grew up in. Maybe you heard it at school. Maybe you heard it on the court or on a ball field with a coach. The idea if you’ve done wrong, I will forgive you, but only after you’ve earned it, only after you’ve done enough to deserve it, until you’ve done something to deserve it.
Do you remember the original “Jurassic Park”? Anybody remember the original “Jurassic Park”? That there’s a line in the original “Jurassic Park” that speaks to this. It’s John Hammond. He’s the guy who built Jurassic Park. And he’s talking to a programmer who’d made a mistake and they’re kind of going back and forth. They’re bickering and John Hammond says an interesting thing. He says, “Hey, listen, I don’t blame people for their mistakes, but I do ask that they pay for them,” which almost sounds noble, doesn’t it? Like, “Oh, you don’t blame people for mistakes.” That’s great. But he says, “I do ask people to pay for them.” And it makes sense that, like, honestly, probably you heard that line like I did. I’ve watched that movie probably 20 times over the years. And it just kind of comes and goes. You don’t recognize that what you’re hearing there is actually the voice of shame. It’s a voice that’s common in our culture. It’s a voice that says, “You can only be forgiven once you’ve done something to deserve it.” But Jesus looked at this man and he said, “Your sins are forgiven,” even though he hadn’t done anything to deserve it.
And that was blasphemy. It was a serious insult against God. They couldn’t imagine that God could possibly function that way. And because it’s the voice, because it’s a message we’ve heard our entire lives, what Jesus says next is just absolutely astonishing. Verse four, “Knowing their thoughts,” Jesus said, “Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts?” And if you had the ability to underline whether it’s digitally or with a physical Bible, I’d really encourage you to underline those words, “evil thoughts.” Pay attention to what Jesus calls their thoughts. They’re looking at a man that has been paralyzed. Jesus says, “Your sins are forgiven.” They can’t believe that Jesus would say that because he hasn’t done anything to deserve it. He hasn’t atoned for it. And Jesus calls their thoughts… What’s the word? Is it misunderstanding? No. Is it bad theology? No. Is it a mistake? No. He calls their thoughts evil. He says, “You’re entertaining evil. You’ve invited it in. You made a seat for it at the table. You’ve made it feel like family. You’ve made it get really comfortable. And it’s evil.” He says, “You’re entertaining evil thoughts.” Now, that’s a really powerful statement, right?
Why would he call their thoughts that Jesus couldn’t forgive a sin for a man who didn’t deserve it? Why would he call that evil? And the answer is very simple. It’s something we see throughout the Gospels, throughout the stories of Jesus’ life, is that Jesus hates things that drive people away from God rather than drawing them to him. Jesus hates things that drive people from God rather than drawing them to him. He hates them. And I know that seems like a strong word, but I don’t think there is a better word for it. Throughout the Gospels, the only times we ever see Jesus get mad, and by the way, we do see Jesus get mad occasionally. That’s a little hard for us to reconcile sometimes, right because our natural temptations think of Jesus as this, like, peaceful, hippie-like person. But the reality is that in numerous occasions we see Jesus get mad, use some pretty harsh language. But every single time… Check this out. Every single time Jesus gets mad, you know who it’s at? It’s at people who are making it harder for others to get to God. It’s for people who are throwing up barriers making it harder for other people to get to God. It’s for people who are using shame to drive people away from Jesus himself. Jesus hates things that drive people away from God rather than drawing them to him. And so he looks at their thoughts and he says, “You’re entertaining evil.” And I don’t know about you, but that’s a disturbing thing for Jesus to say.
And for the last several weeks, I’ve been struggling with that. I’ve been wrestling with it. I’ve been asking myself this question and I invite you to ask yourself this question with me. The question is this. Who do I have a hard time thinking deserves forgiveness for their sin? Who do I have a hard time thinking deserves forgiveness for their sins? And I’m gonna be honest with you. I have some people in my life, some people who have hurt me badly. They have done sin against me. I don’t think it’s imagined. I don’t think it’s all in my mind. I think they’ve actually done it. And I would love to say that, you know, I’m such a perfect guy. I’m so much like Jesus. I’m such an amazing pastor that I’m just happy to forgive, but there’s a deep dark part of me that for some of these people goes, “I don’t know that they deserve it.” Now, here’s the thing. I’m being really transparent with you guys here. I have forgiven them. I’m willing to forgive them, but you know what?
There’s a part of me that feels like I’ve done a really amazing job because I forgave them and they don’t deserve it. How great am I? That’s sick. But it’s there. And maybe you have some little struggle like that that there’s somebody in your life that you feel like they don’t really deserve forgiveness. Maybe it’s somebody close to you. Maybe it’s an ex-husband, or ex-wife, or ex-boyfriend or girlfriend. Maybe it’s a teacher. Maybe it’s a parent. Maybe it’s a child. Maybe it’s a group of people. Maybe it’s people that you only know at a distance that have done damage to you. Maybe it’s a corporation. Maybe it’s another church. Maybe it’s the Democrats or the Republicans. Maybe it’s the people who refuse to wear masks or the people who insist on wearing masks. Whatever it is, we’ve all got these groups of people that we feel like they’re in the wrong, and honestly, because of their behavior, they don’t deserve forgiveness.
And then this is the much more disturbing question that I’ve been asking myself. Is it possible that Jesus is more bothered by my judgmental thoughts than their sin? Does that bother anybody else? Because that’s what we see here. Right? It’s very clear. Jesus is much more bothered by their thoughts than he is by that man’s sin. And in those places in my heart where, honestly, I struggle with the same kind of thoughts, I don’t know that they really deserve forgiveness. And yes, I’ll give it but I’m really going above and beyond. It’s in those places that I’m beginning to ask myself the question, “Is Jesus actually more bothered by my judgmental thoughts than he is by their sin?” And that doesn’t mean that the sin doesn’t matter. Okay? Let’s be clear about that. I’m not saying that the sin doesn’t count. I’m not saying that sin isn’t a real thing. It is. Jesus died for it. But is it possible that my judgmental thoughts are actually creating a barrier keeping people from getting closer to the God who has done the ultimate act of love and sacrifice in order to forgive them? It’s what I’m wrestling with.
Knowing their thoughts. Jesus said, “Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts?” Which is easier to say? “Your sins are forgiven,” or to say, “Get up and walk?” But I want you to know that the Son of Man, that’s his favorite title for himself, that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins. And so he said to the paralyzed man, “Get up. Take your mat and go home. And the man got up and he went home. And when the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe and they praised God who had given such authority to man.” What authority? The authority to forgive sins, right? And that’s clearly what’s going on here. He said, “I want you to know that I have authority to forgive sins.” And the man gets up and he walks and then the people go, “It’s amazing that God’s given such authority.” What authority? The authority to forgive sins. And understand what Jesus is doing here is he’s saying, “Hey, you guys don’t think either one of these things is possible, right?” Which is easier to say, “Get up and walk,” or to say, “Your sins are forgiven?” You don’t think I can say either one of those things and it mean anything. You don’t think there’s any power behind either of those words. But how about this? How about if I can do what you think is impossible in front of your eyes, will you at least entertain the possibility that I can do deep in your souls what you also think is possible?
And so he looks to the man and he says, “Get up.” Oh, man, I wish I could have seen that, don’t you? I don’t know exactly what it’s like. I imagine him saying that and the man like, “Oh, you mean now?” And maybe he sends the signal, right? His brain sends a signal to his toes, just a little thing. And for the first time in years, his toes respond. They curl, right, they maybe twitch. And then he arches the foot and then in amazement he pulls his knees towards him and they come. And he gets his feet under him and he pushes up and he stands up, maybe shaky at first, but for the first time in years, this man is standing. And if I’d been him, I’d have been like, “If you did all that for me, well, what do I need to do now?” And what does Jesus say? He says, “Pick up your mat and go home. You don’t owe me anything. You didn’t have to do anything to deserve this and you don’t have to do anything to keep it.”
And the people watching, of course, are wrestling with this question. “If he can do what I thought was impossible in front of my eyes, is it possible that he can actually do what I thought was impossible deep in our souls? Can he actually forgive sins? And here’s the thing. He can. And the only thing more astonishing than Jesus’s authority to forgive is his willingness. Are you with me, church? The only thing more astonishing than Jesus’ authority to forgive sins is his willingness to forgive sins even the sins of someone who’s done nothing to deserve it, to make it right to atone for it. And that, throughout his ministry, that was the greatest point of contention between Jesus and the religious leaders. They couldn’t believe not only that he had the authority, but they were absolutely unable to believe that God himself would have the willingness, that it wasn’t just this man.
Verse nine says, “As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth.” And you might wanna underline those words “sitting at.” They’re really important. He saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collectors. He’s a tax collector. And here’s what you need to know about tax collectors. They’re terrible people. And we tend not to like tax collectors now, which I don’t think of the IRS, but that’s really… There’s almost no point of connection. Tax collectors in the ancient world were actually terrible people. They were traitors, first off. They betrayed their own nation to collect taxes because they were collecting taxes from their own people and sending them off to a foreign government.
And it’s interesting, the history of tax collecting is fascinating. See, when Israel was first conquered by the Babylonians, and later by the Persians, and then there were the Greeks, and ultimately, the Romans, during all that time that they were under occupation by a foreign government, governments were constantly sending tax collectors and saying, “Hey, go to Israel and collect a bunch of money and bring it back here.” And what was interesting is for a long time, they would send tax collectors to take their money, and the tax collectors would disappear. It’s the strangest thing. But they wouldn’t come home. And in Israel, they’re like, “No, we never saw him. I don’t know what happened to him.” You’re with me, right? They killed him.
And so somewhere along the line, the Romans wised up and they struck on a brilliant idea, which is, “We won’t send Romans to collect taxes. We’ll get Israelites to collect taxes from their own people because then they won’t kill them.” And they enticed them to do that because it was betrayal of their own nation. I mean, it was a terrible thing for a person to do in that ancient world. And in order to entice people to do that, they basically said, “Hey, you know what they owe, but you can tell them whatever you want. And feel free to pocket the difference. Just send us what we owe and you can collect whatever much you want.” And so often, they would double it or triple or quadruple it. So, not only were they traitors. They were also extortionists and thieves. They were genuinely bad people. Okay. That’s who Matthew is. He’s a tax collector. He’s a terrible person.
And Jesus is going along and he sees Matthew. And where is Matthew? He’s in the tax booth. He’s actually engaged in sin at this very moment. He hasn’t stepped away from it. He hasn’t repented of it. He hasn’t decided, “This is wrong and I need to turn around. I need to fix this. I need to make it right. I need to give back money and somehow make it up to people.” No, he’s actually engaged in sin in this very moment. And Jesus shows up, and what does Jesus say to him? “Follow me,” he told him. And Matthew got up and followed him. He said, “Follow me.” He said, “Come be with me.” He didn’t say, “Fix this and then come follow me.” He didn’t say, “Make it right and then come follow me.” He didn’t say, “Do something to deserve it, and then we can talk about you being one of my followers.” No. He just said, “Come follow me.” He found him in the midst of sin and he said, “Come follow me.”
And understand too, Jesus had just made the claim that he’s God, right, which means that what he’s essentially doing is he’s saying, “This is how God is. God is willing to build a relationship with you even before you’ve done anything to deserve it.” I don’t know why Matthew went. I mean, not exactly. I don’t believe for a second he fully understood everything about Jesus. He didn’t know who he was. But maybe he’d heard enough, he’d seen enough. Maybe he’d even seen what happened with this paralyzed man. He had enough of a glimpse of Jesus to say, “If this guy wants to hang out with me, I’m in. I don’t know why he does, but if he’s willing, I’m in.” And so he left the tax booth and he followed Jesus. And it wasn’t just him. While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house… By the way, that’s a statement of belonging. It’s a statement of acceptance in the ancient world. When you had a meal with somebody, you were saying, “We’re tight.” Well, Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners, and that’s not being used ironically. That’s who they actually are. They’re sinful people. They’re still in their sin. They came and they ate with him and his disciples.
And when the Pharisees, religious leaders saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners? Doesn’t he understand the sacrifice he’s making? Doesn’t he understand how this is gonna destroy his reputation? Doesn’t he understand he’s not… “He’s not condemning them. He’s not putting shame on them. And without that, how could they possibly change? It’s like he’s okay with where they are. That’s not okay. That’s not cool. What’s he doing? And on hearing this, Jesus said, “It’s not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” And pay attention to what he calls that group of people there. He calls them… What’s the word? Sick. He doesn’t whitewash it. He didn’t go, “Oh, it’s not sin. They’re not sinners.” No. He said, “They’re sick. They’re in need of healing. They’re in need of spiritual healing every bit as much as that paralyzed man was in need of physical healing. They’re sick.”
And here’s where the church really struggles to get it right. We always have. And I get it because it’s hard. The reality is this. Following Jesus is like walking on the peak of a roof. Okay? We wanna walk this line on the peak of the roof. And if we lean too much off in this direction, we’re gonna fall off that way. If we lean too much in this direction, we’re gonna fall off that way. We have to do this kind of interesting balancing act. And here’s the two sides we can fall off on. One side is the shame side. One side is we look at people who are caught in sin and we cast shame upon them, we cast shade on them. And they live in a world where they feel like the light of God’s love can’t reach them because what they have done has made them unworthy of love and belonging. We fall off on that side all the time.
The other side, though, is we can fall…we can get excuse people for their sin. We can say, “It’s not sin. We’re not… No, no. If we call it sin, then that means they’re sinning and that’s just a quick step to sinners, and that’s just the worst thing you can call everybody. And so we can’t do that.” We excuse sin and we sweep it away. We rename it.”And Jesus doesn’t do that. I want you to notice that. Jesus doesn’t do that either. Right? He’s clearly not casting shame, but he’s also not whitewashing it. He says, “They’re sick.” Here’s the thing. Here’s why this is so important and we try to get this right. Shame says, “You need a Savior, but the Savior can’t stand you.” So, why would they come? Shame says, “You need a Savior, but the Savior can’t stand you.” Jesus on the other hand, the Savior says, “You need a Savior and here I am because I love you. I am with you because I love you.” And Jesus seemed to think that it was that that would actually bring change.
He said, “I didn’t come to call the healthy.” And I imagine he’s got air quotes around that because he’s talking to religious leaders who thought they were healthy. He said, “I didn’t come to call the healthy, but sick. It’s not the healthy need a doctor. And I’m the doctor. It’s the sick who do.” He says, “But go and learn what this means. I desire mercy, not sacrifice, for I have not come to call the righteous but sinners.” Pay attention to that. He says, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” See, for the religious leaders, we’ve made the sacrifices necessary to be forgiven. We’ve done all that we need to do, so now we deserve for God to forgive us, but they don’t. Jesus says a shocking thing. He says, “Figure out what this means, guys. I desire mercy, not sacrifice. Your sacrifices, honestly, they don’t do as much as you think they do.”
And if we know the rest of the story, we get that, right, because it’s not that Jesus is offering forgiveness without atonement. It’s not that Jesus is offering forgiveness without the payment of the penalty. It’s just that he was willing to do it for us, right? That’s the Gospel, that Jesus loved us so much, he came, he died on the cross to pay for our sins to make atonement for our sins, then he rose from the dead to prove that he’d accomplished it. And so Jesus was offering atonement, but more importantly than that, he was offering mercy to people that, from the world’s perspective, didn’t deserve it because I desire mercy, not sacrifice.
If you’re not familiar with the word mercy or if you’re not quite sure how to think about in this context, this might be useful. Think about it this way. Mercy is kindness that withholds bad consequences of bad behavior in order to create redemptive relationships. Let me say that again. It’s important to understand. We’re gonna unpack this throughout the series. Mercy is a kindness that withholds the bad consequences of bad behavior. It doesn’t say it’s not bad behavior. It doesn’t say it’s not sin. It doesn’t say it’s not wrong. No. It’s actually bad. It’s actually sin. It’s actually wrong. And it has a consequence, but it’s willing to withhold those bad consequences in order to create redemptive relationships. Jesus said to Matthew, “Come follow me.” And it was in his following Jesus that he left his sin. Jesus ate with sinners and tax collectors. And it was in that sense of belonging with him that they began to change from the inside out, not changing in order to have the relationship but changing because of the relationship. And that’s mercy. It withholds that separation. It withholds that judgment. It withholds shame in order to create redemptive relationships.
You understand what Jesus is saying here is, “Hey, there is a remedy to the shame business. And the remedy is mercy. Mercy is the remedy. Mercy is the remedy. I desire mercy not sacrifice.” In other words, hey, sacrifice for the sake of mercy, but never sacrifice mercy itself. You hear me, church? Sacrifice for the sake of mercy. Jesus made sacrifices for the sake of mercy. He sacrificed his reputation. He sacrificed his ability to get in good with the power brokers and the religious leaders of his day because of his willingness to extend mercy to the people who didn’t deserve it. He sacrificed that. He paid that price. He sacrificed his life for us. That’s the Gospel. He gave his life for us so that we didn’t have to pay the consequences of our sin, which is eternal separation from God. Sacrifice for the sake of giving mercy, but never sacrifice mercy itself because mercy is the remedy. It’s the remedy for our shame.
If you’re listening to this today and you’re a follower of Jesus, but you feel like God is distant and the light of his love feels dim and faded, I wanna suggest to you that there’s a very good chance that it’s because you’re living under the cloud of shame. And mercy is the remedy. If you’re listening to this and you’re not a follower of Jesus because there is a part of you that believes that there’s no possibility that the Savior wants anything to do with you. Maybe you are aware that you need a Savior but you’re having a hard time believing that the Savior wants anything to do with you, mercy is the remedy. And as followers of Jesus looking to be the hands and feet of Jesus, we’re looking to become like Jesus and join him on mission in the world, our ability to be on mission with Jesus depends on our ability to get a handle on mercy because mercy is the remedy.
Let me ask you a couple of questions. Over the next several weeks, we’re gonna unpack for more stories in Jesus’s life what this mercy is, and how we walk this line because it’s a balancing act. Honestly, following Jesus is more art than science, and living in this tension, and we’re not casting shame, and we’re not giving excuses, but we are living with mercy, that’s tricky. We’re gonna unpack that over the next few weeks. Before we do that, let me ask you two questions. Number one. Where in my life do I most need to extend mercy to someone? We’ve already asked a question and maybe you’ve already got somebody in mind.
Maybe the Holy Spirit’s already brought somebody and placed them on your heart that you’re struggling to believe that they deserve forgiveness. Maybe you’ve given it but you feel like you’ve gone above and beyond by doing it because they don’t deserve it. Where in your life do you need to extend mercy and then maybe this question along with it? What sacrifice might I need to make for the sake of mercy. It may be that God’s gonna call you to some sacrifice, something costly, not for the sake of your forgiveness, but for the sake of being merciful and demonstrating to somebody else the mercy of God that has come upon you? And the second question is this. Where in my life do I most need to experience God’s mercy for myself?
Again, 30 years in pastoral ministry, I believe that shame is alive and well and it’s eating us alive. I’ve had just far too many conversations with people who are followers of Jesus, they know what it means to follow Jesus, but their sin has decayed into shame, and that shame is shielding them from the light of God’s mercy. It’s shading them from the light of God’s love. And I know there’s many people listening to this that are in that place. Maybe you’re a follower of Jesus and you need to experience God’s mercy in your life and feel the freeing power of it. Or maybe you’re not a follower of Jesus and you need to experience the love of God and the forgiveness that he has for you because of his mercy. Would you pray with me?
God, on behalf of the followers of Jesus, we come before you and we give our heartfelt thanks to you for your mercy. We know that we’ve done wrong. We know that we have sinned. And we know that it is mercy that has been our remedy. Your willingness to withhold the consequences of our sin, and not only to withhold it but to place it on your own Son who paid the price of our sin so that we could be eternally forgiven, eternally free, brought back into a relationship with you. Your mercy is our remedy and we are grateful, Lord. Lord, as the followers of Jesus right now we’re praying for those that are listening to this message that don’t have a relationship with you. They’ve never experienced that mercy.
We’re praying for them right now that you would break through the cloud of shame that says that they’re unworthy of love and belonging to hear a different message, that it’s not about what they’re worthy of, it’s about what you’ve done. It’s that you do love them, that you are merciful to them. You’ve purchased their forgiveness and you’re offering freedom. And if, by the way, that’s you, if you’re listening to this, and you don’t have a relationship with God through faith in Jesus, maybe today for the first time you’ve heard that not only do you need a Savior, but your Savior is here. He’s knocking at the door of your life. He wants to be with you because he loves you. Mercy is your remedy. You don’t have to fix it. You don’t have to get it all right. You don’t have to deserve it. It’s being offered to you as a free gift. And if you’ve never accepted that gift, I’m gonna give you the chance to do it right here right now. You’re just gonna have a conversation with God. You’re gonna say something like this to God right now. Just please say this to him.
God, I’ve done wrong. I’ve sinned. I’m sorry. I know I don’t deserve your forgiveness. I know I can’t make up for what I’ve done. Thank you for being merciful to me. Thank you for sending Jesus to pay for my sins. Jesus, thank you for dying on the cross. Forgive my sin. Jesus, I believe you rose from the dead. And I understand that you’re offering me forgiveness, new life, eternal life, a relationship with God because you are merciful. I’m ready to accept your gift. Jesus, I’m putting my faith in you. Jesus, I’m choosing to trust you and what you did for me. Jesus, I’m gonna follow you from now and forever. Amen.
Did several people make that decision this weekend? Can we just welcome them into the family of God? It’s awesome. I’m so excited for you. Hey, if you made that decision today for the first time, we would love to celebrate with you and give you some resources to help you begin experiencing this new relationship with God. So, here’s what I’d love for you to do if you would. Just click the button right below me if you’re watching online. It says, “I Committed My Life to Jesus,” or if you don’t see that you can text the word Jesus to 888111. Either way, the same thing is gonna happen. You’re gonna get a link. It’s gonna take you to five truths we want you to understand, things that are true of you now because of your new faith in Jesus. We wanna help you begin to experience all that God has for you because of his mercy and his love. Mercy is the remedy and that’s good news, right, church? Amen. God bless. We’ll see you soon.
SHUTTING DOWN SHAME
When shame screams, reminding you of what you’ve done, the God who stoops, kneels down and whispers, reminding you of who you are. God did not intend for you to carry the burden of shame. Jesus was sent, not to condemn, but to save you from sin and its separation from God.
Reza: Heavenly Father, thank you for today. Thank you for this opportunity to be in this place, to be together. So, Lord, I ask that you would specifically open up our hearts that as we open up your Word, that we wouldn’t just learn facts and learn good things about the Bible, but God, that we would actually see your character, and we would sense your character, Lord, as you transform us here this morning, as we open up your Word. So, Lord, we thank you for allowing us to gather, allowing us to be in this place alongside one another. And it’s in the precious name of Jesus we pray. Amen. Amen. You may be seated.
Friends, it is so good to see you, and it’s so good to be together. Over the last…obviously, the last year, the last, you know, 12, 13, 14 months or so, it’s been interesting to come back and actually be together with other people. And there’s incredible encouragement in gathering, whether we’re able to gather physically and being in this auditorium together, or there’s some that are still gathering online because of sicknesses, because of pre-existing conditions, and…it doesn’t matter how we gather. But if you think about it, for generations, for centuries, for even thousands of years, God’s people have gathered in different avenues and in different ways and have engaged with one another. As we come together on a weekly basis, we are encouraged through the Scriptures and through the singing and through the proclamations that we declare with our hearts.
And so here we are this morning, and we are in a series called “Come Find Your Mercy.” And in this series, we are exposing the mercy that Jesus extends. As we’re gonna talk a little bit about it because, I don’t know if you’re like me, but I know many of us, the world seems to be broken in a lot of ways. And we’re experiencing that brokenness in ways that we haven’t experienced really ever as humanity. And yet, there is this mercy, and there is this grace, and there is this truth that we get to steep in, and his name is Jesus. And so, even as we take a look at the Scriptures, you know, even Jesus himself, John the Apostle, we’re gonna be taking a look at the Gospel of John.
John described Jesus in a number of ways, and he also quoted him. And there was a time in John 10, John chapter 10, verse 10, where it’s almost as if Jesus is giving his mission statement. He’s just saying, “This is why I’m here.” Like, “This is the purpose for which I have come to this world.” Now, this is a really simplistic portion of his purpose, but what Jesus said, what John recorded, is the thief, Satan. Jesus says, “The thief, Satan, comes only to steal and kill and destroy.” And, friends, we have experienced that in a lot of times in our life, that we have witnessed Satan’s plan to steal joy, to steal self-respect, to kill our hopes, to kill our dreams, and essentially destroy relationships and to destroy our lives. But the beautiful thing is it doesn’t stop there. The story does not end with steal and kill and destroy. But the story continues through Jesus as he restores and redeems the things that Satan has come to steal, kill, and destroy.
And Jesus continued, he said, “Hey, if that’s what the thief came to do, to steal, kill, and destroy, I, Jesus, I have come that they, God’s people, might have life and have it to the full.” Some translations say have an abundant life, have full life, the life that was intended, the way that God intended for life to be. So today, we’re gonna focus a little bit on, what does it look like, and how does Jesus aid us in overcoming darkness as Satan has tried to steal, kill, and destroy? How do we shed light in dark places? How has Jesus done that through extending this thing called mercy?
You see, if we go to the beginning of the Gospel of John in John chapter 1, John has some pretty specific ways of describing Jesus, and this is how he begins his Gospel account. This is how he begins his memories of what Jesus did and what he wrote down for us to know about him. And this is what he says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” He was with God in the beginning.” And so this phrase that John uses to talk about Jesus, he specifically uses this phrase called the Word. Now, in your Bible, that phrase is capitalized. So it’s not just talking about a random group of letters that are grouped together to make a phrase or a word, but there’s something specific. It’s capitalized because he’s saying that this is somebody.
So you could actually read this verse as saying, “In the beginning was Jesus, and Jesus was with God, and Jesus was God. Jesus was with God, the Father, in the beginning.” That he had this way of saying that Jesus is the Word. Now, we know that we use words to communicate. Some of us use words to communicate verbally, some use their fingers and sign language to communicate words, but either way, words are used to communicate with others. And so, John is very specifically saying that Jesus is the Word of God, that Jesus is the chief way that the Father wanted to communicate to his people was through the incarnate, through Jesus coming in flesh to be with us in a language that we understand, and that’s face to face. And so, what was the Word that God wanted to communicate with his people through Jesus?
A few short verses later, John writes it this way in John chapter 1, verse14, “The Word became flesh,” Jesus became flesh, “and made his dwelling among us.” Like, this is bigger than just a cute little Christmas phrase. “We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father.” Now, this is what I want us to pay attention to, “Full of grace and truth.” And, friends, that’s significant because there is…sometimes we think that Jesus is sometimes grace and sometimes truth, but what we see here, very specifically, John says Jesus came full of grace and full of truth, 100% grace, at the same time 100% truth, not 50% grace, 50% truth, not sometimes grace, sometimes truth, not grace when grace is needed, and only truth when truth is needed. No, Jesus came 100% full of grace and 100% full of truth at the exact same time.
And here’s why it’s important for us to talk about it, because we have a tendency to not only think God leans one way in each situation, grace or truth, but we have a tendency to pick a side as well. That some of us are saying, “Hey, we wanna embrace the grace of God, and maybe the truth of God we’ll leave to other people,” or “Hey, we’re all about the truth of God’s Word and the truth of who God is, and we’ve gotta stay true to that, but that grace, yeah, I’m really not too sure about.” See, we have this idea that we’ve gotta pick a side because, for us, it seems like you can’t be full of grace and full of truth at the exact same time. Like how could they coexist? It’s almost like beauty and the beast. Like they don’t go together. Like really, can grace and truth really go together?
It’s kind of like these tension bands that you use for therapy, or you use to work out with. Like these tension bands, it’s almost like grace and truth go together like a tension band. Like, you need to pull on both sides of the band to create the tension needed for the band to be useful. If you only used one side and let go of the other, the band would not be very useful. And if I chose this side and not this side, the band would not be useful. And so, if one side is grace and one side is truth, then we see the tension that is needed for this band to be useful, the same exact way is true. And this is why John says that Jesus came full of grace and full of truth.
You see, here’s what grace represents in Jesus. What grace represents in Jesus is God’s immeasurable mercy and his forgiveness for our sins. And truth represents God’s immeasurable holiness in the way that he can’t stand or be in the presence or relationship with sin. You see, grace and truth go together. It’s not one or the other. And there’s a specific order here that I think is important though, that even though Jesus came full of 100% grace and 100% truth, the order is important. He didn’t come full of truth and grace. He came full of grace and truth, and that’s what we’re gonna take a look at, and that’s what we’re gonna see in the Gospel account that we’re gonna take a look at here.
But I wanted to find some terms for us because if you’re new to Christianity, or if maybe you’re not a Christian yet, and you’re confused, and you’re like, “Okay. That’s like a whole, like, Christian language, like Christianese, like grace and mercy. Like, I don’t understand. Like, what do those phrases actually mean?” Let me just give us some handles to hold on to in these definitions of grace and mercy as we continue. Grace. My simple definition of grace is getting something that you don’t deserve. Like we get eternal life and relationship with God even though we don’t deserve it, because of grace. Mercy is actually not getting what we do deserve. We’ll talk about this. That what we deserve is separation from God because of our sin, but we don’t get separation because of the mercy that Jesus shows us. So, grace is getting something you don’t deserve, mercy is not getting what we do deserve.
And the tension that we grapple with with grace and truth is this. Here’s the reality, grace and truth have to go together. They can’t be separate from one another. They’re dependent upon each other, and this is why. Because grace without truth ceases to be grace. Like, if there is no truth, if there is no standard, if there’s no plumb line, if there is no standard, then there are no consequences for our actions. And if there’s no consequences for our actions, guess what, we don’t need forgiveness. But grace without truth ceases to be grace because grace needs there to be truth. There needs to be a standard, a line that we walk, a standard that we look at for there to be consequences. And when we don’t meet that standard, we suffer the consequences, but then God gives us grace and forgiveness. So grace without truth ceases to be grace, but also truth without grace, now that just crushes people.
And there was a group of people in the 1st century that were the ones that were to uphold the truth of God, the Law of God. They were supposed to be the messengers of God’s truth and grace, and they were called the Pharisees, the religious leaders, the priests of Israel. And yet it wasn’t only that they didn’t understand this grace and truth, they seemed to completely miss the boat. Because, in their mind, making sure that people follow the truth to the letter of the Law was more important than any relationships with people. What they didn’t understand is this, the Gospel, the story of God’s interaction with humanity. The Gospel story of Jesus flies on the wings of grace and truth. You need both of them. And Jesus lived this tension of grace and truth, and this is what the Pharisees didn’t understand.
We’re gonna take a look at an instance with the Pharisees and Jesus, and there’s almost this confrontation that happens because the Pharisees couldn’t understand this. How can someone who claims to be holy, how can someone who teaches the Law, actually hang out with broken and messed up people? They didn’t understand how that could work. But the truth is, broken and messed up people were drawn to Jesus. Do you know why? Because grace and mercy are incredibly attractive to those that have been cast out. That Jesus exemplified grace and truth, and so the broken and the messed up people came towards him. You see, the teachers of the Law were adamant that you were only eligible for forgiveness if you deserved it, because forgiveness was something that you earned. And yet there was a man named Paul, who was a Pharisee, and then he understood the truth of Jesus, and he no doubt thought a whole lot about his former way of life, and now this new message of salvation that he’s communicating through the forgiveness and gift of God.
Listen to how Paul says in Ephesians chapter 2. Ephesians chapter 2, verse 8, “For it is by grace that you’ve been saved through faith. This is not of yourselves. It is the gift of God, not by works, so that anyone can boast.” You see, this forgiveness is a gift, and a gift is always given, it’s not taken. A gift is always received by us, and it’s extended by somebody else. You see, the main point of today, what we’re taking a look at, this idea, “Come find your mercy,” that there is this thing that we all desperately crave called mercy, and so mercy is found in Jesus. So, friends, come find your mercy. But not only for yourselves, come find your mercy because if we’re the people of God on mission with him, then we need to have enough mercy to extend to other people.
And so, that’s why we’re diving into this, and this is where we’re at. But there’s this thing, there’s this voice, there’s this reality in our lives called shame. And shame has a voice, and that voice is incredibly loud. And every one of us understand the depths of what our sin has represented in our past, for some of us, what it’s representing right now. And there’s a lot of shame associated with it. When Adam and Eve were in the garden with God, they were in relation with him in the garden, and when they sinned, they hid from God because they were ashamed. That shame prevents us from even understanding that there is grace and truth and mercy. And so that’s why we’re diving into this, to understand that the mercy of Jesus is greater than the shame that we might experience.
So I invite you to take out your Bible, turn to John chapter 8. If you don’t have a Bible with you, you can open up our app on your phone or maybe even just pull up John chapter 8 on your phone, on your device, just google John 8, and just follow along with us because we’re gonna walk through this. But as we walk through this, I kind of wanna set a little bit of some scenes for us. Because, in the Gospel accounts, Matthew, Mark Luke, and John, which really depict the story of Jesus interacting with humanity, his teachings, his healings, the story of his death and resurrection. That we see Jesus going out, and it’s almost as if he’s actively seeking people out that society has cast aside to make a point, that he goes to people that seemingly have been cast aside and are eliminated from society but also eliminated from the Kingdom of God, and he interacts with them, and he talks with them.
And it’s almost like he’s actively searching for them, and he’s saying, “Hey, you were made for more than this. I need you to know, the thief has come to steal, kill, and destroy, but here’s what I need you to do. I need you to understand that you were made for more than this. And if you follow me, I will take you to places you never dreamed of with God.” So today, we’re gonna look at this extraordinary event in John chapter 8. In some ways it’s extraordinary, in a lot of ways it’s incredibly embarrassing, and it’s kind of unbelievable when we start taking a look at what was really taking place. Let me just set a stage for us, and then we’ll read through the passage.
Like many mornings, Jesus is gathering with his disciples, and others are gathering in the temple courts for his morning Bible study. He was maybe opening up the Book of Isaiah, the Prophet or Jeremiah or, you know, doing some sort of a teaching. And a few blocks away, there was a completely different scene as Jesus was teaching this Bible study, preparing to teach this Bible study. A few blocks away, there were some priests who caught a woman in the act. The Scripture says, “They caught a woman in the act of adultery.” Like, we don’t need to think…that’s just what it says. And then they pull her out, and they drag her across town because they’re dead set on making an example out of her. They’re using her, they’re using her sin and they’re using her shame to make an example out of her. So they drag her across town, and they thrust her in the middle of this Bible study. So that’s the scene. That’s where we find ourselves in John chapter 8.
So we’re gonna turn to John chapter 8. Oh, just a side note also. In your Bible and it says it in my Bible, there might be a little footnote that says, “The earliest manuscripts that we have, we have recovered… archaeologists have recovered about 5,700 original written manuscripts of the New Testament.” Some of our earliest manuscripts do not include the story in the Gospel of John, but a lot of our manuscripts actually do include this story in the Gospel of John. And so, as historians have put things together, they’ve seen that this story is completely consistent with the way that John depicted the heart of Jesus in his interactions with people, and it affirms the way that Jesus would lift up those that were outcasts and how he responded to people who crushed God’s children.
So John chapter 8 starts this in verse 2, “At dawn, he, Jesus, 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, the Pharisees, brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group, and 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?'” You see, they were sitting there, and they had just caught this girl in a compromising circumstance, in a compromising situation with a man she wasn’t married to.
Now, I’ll be honest with you, there’s a lot of questions that I have about this. Like, first of all, how did they know where she was gonna be? Like that’s one question that comes… Was she set up? Were they using her so that they didn’t have to lose their power, so they thought, “Well, let’s just use this woman, and we’ll put her in the situation, and then we’ll drag her across town?” And then I think to myself, “Well, what about the guy? Like why isn’t he in trouble? Why is it just her?” Like there’s a lot of problems with this scene that we don’t have a lot of answers for. But regardless, this is what we find in this place. They bring her to the temple courts. They put her before Jesus right in the middle of his teaching, right after they caught on the act of adultery. And one of the leaders, he speaks up, and he says, “Hey, Jesus, we need you to know. We know that this girl is a sinner. Like we caught her in the very act of sinning. She’s guilty, and there’s no doubt about it.” The priests have actually already called their verdict. Like they’re judge, they’re the jury. They’ve already rendered their verdict. And you can tell their rendered verdict by their stares, by their glares, by their tone, and by their crossed arms. They look down at her and try to challenge Jesus in this way.
You see, they said, “Moses clearly tells us that we are to stone, that we are to execute, that we’re gonna extract capital punishment on these kinds of people.” But the truth is they weren’t jealous for the Law of Moses, they’re not like trying to uphold the Law of Moses. They were trying to set a trap for Jesus because, if Jesus would have said, “Actually, no, don’t stone her. Let’s protect her.” If Jesus would have said no, then what he was doing is actually he was denying the truth in the Law of Moses, which would have made him a false prophet and a false teacher. If he would have said, “Nope, you’re right. Let’s go ahead and stone her. Let’s give her what she deserves,” then his followers would leave him because he was completely heartless, and he was aligning with the Pharisees who oppressed the people.
And so they thought they finally had Jesus trapped. And Jesus didn’t immediately answer the question, which I’ll be honest with you is one of the most frustrating things about Jesus. Like I wish that, like, when I asked a question, like, Jesus would answer it, like it just seems polite. If someone asks a question, you answer it. But Jesus didn’t always do the polite thing, but he did the right thing. So let’s take a look and see how Jesus responded. Like he didn’t react, he responded. There’s a difference, men, in reacting and responding. A reaction just kind of comes out. And I can call out men because I am one. But a response is deliberate. That’s why we call it an emergency response team, not an emergency react team. Like that would not go well if we had an emergency react team.
But let’s see, how does Jesus respond? In verse 6, they said that, “Hey, the Law of Moses says we stone such women. What do you say?” They were using this question as a trap in order to have a basis for accusing him, but Jesus, he didn’t even say a word. “He bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger.” So they asked him a question, and Jesus ignores their question. He didn’t immediately say anything. Instead, he knelt down and he scribbled in the dust. You see, the reality was that the priests were actually right and wrong at the exact same time. Like they were right, that is what the Law of Moses said. They knew the letter of the Law, but you see, when Jesus stooped down and got on his knee and started writing in the dirt, what they didn’t understand is the spirit of the Law.
Like they knew what the Law said, but they didn’t know the author of the Law. And so the situation that they tried to put Jesus in is Jesus either gonna trample on the Law, the standard that God set out, or is he gonna trample on the woman? And so the Pharisees turn to Jesus and say, “What do you have to say about this?” All Jesus does is he gets down on a knee, and he starts…with his finger, he starts writing and doodling in the dust.
I want you to take a look at this picture behind me. When you see the picture of this scene that has been depicted, I want you to think to yourself, where do your eyes and your heart go to first? You see, for me, my eyes go straight to the woman that is covering her face in shame. I just have this picture in my heart, that for most of her life, she’s been walking around in shame because of the glares and the stares of people that have already condemned her because of her actions. And yet, in this moment, no one spoke for her, but someone stooped down for her. And I oftentimes also think to myself like, “What was Jesus writing in the dirt?” The Scripture doesn’t tell us.
I wonder if he was writing like the Great Commandment, love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind. Love your neighbor as yourself. Or maybe he was writing out the Ten Commandments, or maybe he was writing out words of the prophets that maybe exposed and challenged people who were self-righteous. Or maybe, I kind of hope this one, I hope he was like writing out the sins of the actual Pharisees. Like we don’t know what he wrote. And to be very honest with you, I don’t care what he wrote. It’s not that important what he wrote. What’s important is how he responded. Because the way that he responded is a message for us on being on mission with God. That, yes, one, that we know there’s a God who stoops for us so that we can receive mercy, but so that also we stoop on behalf of other people and extend mercy again to be on mission with God.
Here’s the truth. This woman was caught in the act of sinning. Every single one of us are caught in the act as well. We all stand accused. If the Law had its way, if Jesus never came, and the story ended at Malachi, the last Book of the Old Testament, if the story ended there, then we would all stand accused because there needs to be a payment and punishment for sin. Now, I wanna be very clear on this. It’s not because God is mean, and God only wants, you know, people that never make mistakes. But in his character, what we view God, God is holy. God is up here. God is 100% holy and pure without blemish, without sin. And because he is holy, he cannot be in relationship with anybody who is unholy. And because of our sin, because we are separated from him, what we actually deserve is punishment.
And so there needs to be a payment and punishment for sin. But Jesus is God’s response for us, when we were separated, was not to condemn us in our sin, but it was Jesus coming down to the dirt, to creation, to stoop on our behalf, to come down to us so that he can lift himself up on a cross. You see, if you think about it, Jesus is prone to stoop. He stooped down on his knees to wash the disciples’ feet. He stooped down to embrace children. He stooped down to pull Peter out of the water. He stooped down to pray in the garden before he was executed. He stooped across a Roman whipping post on our behalf. And he stooped down to carry a cross, so we wouldn’t have to feel the payment or the punishment for that sin.
Jesus is the God who stoops. There was nobody to speak for this woman, but there was a Savior who was willing to stoop on her behalf. And the story continues in verse 7, “When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and he said to them, ‘Let anyone of you who is without sin 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 standing there.'”
You see, there’s two things that I believe Jesus was communicating when he stooped down. The first one is this, that he wasn’t afraid of her sin, that he wasn’t shocked by her sin, that he wasn’t intimidated by her sin. And you know what? He’s not scared of our sin either. God’s not intimidated or shocked by the things that we do. You see, we’re the ones that kind of put sin in categories, “Well, that’s a really big sin. That’s a little sin. That’s a tiny sin.” But remember, anything that separates us from God is what the Scripture calls sin. And yet, here’s maybe the scariest statement that I’m gonna say today, and probably the scariest statement we’ll hear, is that Jesus actually is not surprised by our sin because he has had and does have a front row seat to our sin. And yet he’s not intimidated, and he doesn’t turn us away.
He was not surprised by her sin, and that could scare us. He’s the God of mercy, we do not need to be afraid. And here’s the second thing that I think Jesus was saying in this when he said, “Why don’t you guys go ahead and throw the stone.” He was actually agreeing like, “You know what, guys? You’re actually right. That is what the Law says. She does deserve punishment. All sinners deserve to be condemned and punished because the wages of sin is death. Let’s do this. Go ahead. Let’s stone her. Let’s enact capital punishment. Let’s be the judge and jury. Let’s pick up stones. I’ll give you a stone. I’ll let you go ahead and go first. However, actually, if you’ve never sinned, why don’t you go first? Here, here’s a stone. If you’ve never sinned, why don’t you go ahead and throw that first stone at her? That’s what she deserves. If that’s the game we wanna play, then after you do the first one, we’ll all jump in, and then we’re gonna give this girl what she deserves.”
Jesus was implying a terrifying statement at that point, that all sinners actually do deserve to be condemned. And what he was saying is, “Hey, we can start with her. Whoever hasn’t sinned, you throw the first stone, we’ll all jump in. And then we’ll actually start going through the crowd, and then the next sinner, we’ll stone that person, and then the next sinner, we’ll stone, and the next sinner. And then we’ll keep this game going. And let’s start this game. Let’s go to the count of three. I’ll blow my whistle, one, two, three, we’ll start this. And one by one, everyone who has sinned is gonna get what they actually deserve until finally only the perfect people are left.” Do you imagine how awkward and silent that scene must have gotten when the Pharisees actually realized what was happening? If they played by those rules, Jesus would have been the only one standing. He would have been the last one standing and the last one standing had all of the credibility and the grounds to enact judgment and condemnation. And that’s the point of all of this, that Jesus is the only one that had any grounds to stand on when it came to this. And He did the most powerful thing. He made them look at themselves and realize, “I’m no different than this woman.”
You see, I wonder if she was there on her knees in front of everybody in shame and one by one as people left, I wonder if in that moment in her life, up to this point, the only one who was consistently accompanying her was her shame, but yet now there was a Savior who was greater than her shame. You see, this story, I don’t know about you, but for a lot of us, I think the story has the ability to uncover some difficult memories of our past, that we all have sin that we have engaged, and things that we’ve seen, and especially in this area if I may, sexual sin. That it is, I believe, one of the chief ways that Satan has come to steal, kill, and destroy our identities is in the area of this sexual shame. That Satan twists and perverts this beautiful idea, sexuality that God actually created and put into humanity before sin ever entered the picture.
And maybe for you, a story like this is eliciting a lot of memories of being in compromising situations, situations that maybe you put yourself in, mistakes that you have made, or even horrifically, decisions of other people and sins of other people who forced themselves upon you. And a story like this just shows and brings up the shame that we have been clouded with. And because of that shame, many of us think, “I’m not sure I even deserve this mercy.” Can I be transparent and vulnerable? That’s my story, that at 11 years old, I was violated by a trusted person who was older than me, that I spent a lot of time with. And for 32 years of my life, I’ve had to spend with this weird shame that I’ve allowed to speak to me, and in a lot of ways define me. And it wasn’t until about 13 years ago that I started entering into a counseling journey of understanding that that shame that I’ve been carrying is nothing but the voice of the enemy that has been heaped upon me. I wonder if that’s what this woman had been experiencing. And maybe like you, maybe like me, maybe like this woman, we feel exposed and vulnerable because of this thing called sin.
But let’s see a little bit of a deeper layer in how Jesus responds to her. “After everyone left and it was just Jesus and the woman, 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.'” He stooped down into her mess, not only raised her up physically, but he affirmed her identity. And he asked this vital, vital, vital question, “Who’s left to condemn you?” That’s a question I wanna extend to each one of us to remember. There’s no one left to condemn us. Although there are gonna be people that will try, and there will be church people that are going to try to condemn us, but that’s not the voice of Jesus.
Jesus didn’t go out searching for people the society had cast aside to continue to keep condemnation upon them. Instead of getting her what she deserved, he gave her what she needed, this beautiful thing called grace. The reality is only Jesus had any basis or grounds to stone her, but the reality is only Jesus who actually could have rescued her, and he did. The grace and truth of Jesus is on display here. “Neither do I condemn you.” That’s grace. But then he says, “Go and sin no more.” That’s truth. So here’s a reality about us and our shame and sin, that we’ve got to understand the depth of our sin to understand the magnitude of God’s mercy.
I wanna be very clear though. In this area of shame that we just talked about, this vital area of sexual shame, if somebody violates you, that’s not your sin, that’s theirs, but we still live with the effects of that shame. But we’ve gotta understand the depth of our sin, the things that we have chosen to engage in, to understand the magnitude of God’s mercy. You see, mercy doesn’t mean that there’s no consequences for sin. Like God is hard on sin. If you wanna know how God feels about sin, look at what Jesus had to endure going to the cross, that the wrath of God towards sin is mighty, but the difference is we didn’t have to experience it because Jesus experienced it.
If you wanna understand God’s heart and the way that God views sin, look at the cross. If you wanna see what the wrath of God looks like towards sin, look at the cross. But if you also wanna know how much God loves us, and what we didn’t have to experience because of our sin, look at the cross, because Jesus swallowed it for us. So to understand the depth of our sin, we’ve gotta understand the magnitude of God’s mercy. Sin is brutal, and Jesus went through a brutal death for us, and yet he didn’t come to condemn us. The Father didn’t send us a condemner, he sent us a Savior. The accusers had nothing left to say. And I know for a lot of us, we’ve had a lot of accusers, accusing us of a whole lot of things, and that has driven many of us away from church. It’s driven many away from Jesus. But might I just imply, may I just encourage to not allow the messengers who have messed up the message prevent us from receiving it. Like, let’s not blame the message, for the messengers that have messed it up. So the question for us is, what voice are we listening to?
The voice of shame is loud, and I recognize that. And I know that voice of shame is incredibly loud. But mercy has a name, and mercy’s name is Jesus. And this is the Jesus that speaks louder than our shame ever could. Shame will try to continue to speak to us, to define us. But when shame screams, reminding you of what you’ve done, it’s the God who stoops, who kneels down and whispers, reminding you of who you really are. What you’ve done or what’s happened to you is not defining of you, but the God who stoops, who whispers, and the whispers of our Lord are greater than the shouts of shame ever can be. And you might hear this.
You might think to yourself, “Man, this is good. I get this. This sounds really good, but you don’t know my story.” You know, you’re right. I don’t know your story. I don’t know what you’ve done. I don’t know what you’ve engaged in. I don’t know what’s happening. I don’t know any of that. But there’s some of us that think, “Man, I don’t deserve this grace because of X, Y, and Z,” but friends, may I say like that’s the point. If you deserved it, it wouldn’t be a gift, it’d be a reward. But it’s a gift that God has given us. You might think you might sin too much; can I tell you this? Jesus is a much better forgiver than you are a sinner. Like he is a much better forgiver than you are sinner, and that’s really good news for some of us.
And his standard for who receives mercy, you wanna hear this? His standard for who receives mercy is really, really low. He doesn’t have this really high standard, like this person receives mercy because… No, his standard is low, and that’s good news for you and for me. Mercy is for everybody, for every dirty person, for every outcast, for every unclean person, for everyone who has a mess in their past, for everyone with regrets, every lost and broken person, that Jesus is the God who stoops down to lift us up and whispers louder than shame ever could speak to us. And this, my friends, is why we call the Gospel good news because it is good news that we have a God who stoops, and it’s good news that we understand that we have a Jesus who extends mercy.
This woman realized that there was no one to condemn her, but there was somebody to stoop for her and affirm her. Friends, I wonder if that’s just a word for us here, online, and here in this auditorium. There’s a few realities for us to understand. Sin is always ugly, shame is always loud, but Jesus is always greater than both. See, we don’t have any written sermons of Jesus, him writing in the dirt. This is like the only written sermon of Jesus that we have as scribbling in the dust. And I don’t know what it said, but I wonder, I just wonder, and I just imagine if it said something like this, “This is where mercy happened, at the feet of Jesus. I stooped down to touch the dirt that I created, to be with the people that I love to extend mercy.”
Would you pray with me? Lord, thank you for today and this opportunity to be in this place, and to understand, Lord, that we desperately need your mercy and your grace. And I know, Lord, there are some of us here today that the reality of mercy and the reality of grace and the reality of your truth is something that we’ve been calling out for, that it’s so attractive to us, but we never thought it was possible for us because of what we’ve done or where we’ve been. Lord, if any are in this place or hearing my voice right now through technology, that God that if we thought that we were too far away, would you remind us that you’re a much better forgiver than we are sinner? Would you remind us that the gift of God is eternal life, that it is a gift not to be deserved, but to be extended?
And, Lord, I pray for my dear brothers and sisters who’ve experienced shame in this area of sexuality, this area that our common enemy has come after to steal, kill, and destroy. I pray that the voice of shame would be drowned out by the proclamations of your truth. So, Lord, I pray for journeys of counseling, and I pray for conversations and for uncovering darkness. Lord, that you would lead us to freedom, that you would lead us to places we never thought possible. Because, for a lot of us, we’ve been so used to listening to shame, we thought that’s all there was. So, God, thank you for reminding us there’s something greater, in your name. Amen.
This week Craig addresses shame that stems from something happening to us, rather than when we have done something which brings us shame. He walks us through examples of how Jesus freed others from their shame and how he wants the same for you.
Craig: And I love the line in that song. We didn’t sing it today but last few weeks we’ve done the full version we have. The line is, “Earth has no sorrow that heaven can’t heal.” I love that line. For the last few weeks, we’ve been talking about heaven’s remedy for one of our most persistent sorrows, one of our most persistent pain. And I’m talking about the pain of shame. As we define it in this series, shame is the persistent feeling that we’re unworthy of love and belonging. It’s different than guilt. Guilt says we need forgiveness because what we’ve done is wrong. Shame says you need forgiveness but you’re probably never going to get it because God doesn’t want anything to do with you. That’s shame.
For the last few weeks, we’ve talked about shame that comes primarily from the things that we’ve done, from the sin that we’ve committed. Today, we’re going to talk about a different kind of shame. Today, we’re gonna talk about a shame that comes not from the things that we’ve done, but from actually things that have just happened to us, things that we’re not actually responsible for. And I realize some of you may go, “Well, I don’t understand why anybody would feel shame for something that they don’t have any responsibility for. That doesn’t even seem rational.” But the thing is, since when does it have to be rational to be real, right? The reality is that a lot of the things that make us feel isolated, that make us feel alone, that make us feel unable and then ultimately even unworthy of experiencing love and belonging are actually things that we don’t have any control over. Let me show you what I mean.
I want you to go ahead and grab a Bible and start making your way to the Gospel of Mark and we’re gonna be in Mark chapter five. And by the way, if you’ve never downloaded the Mission Hills app, I encourage you to do that. Not only can you follow along with the Scripture, but you can even see the message notes right there and have them in front of you and add your own notes in. So that’s a great way to kind of keep track of what we’re doing. Mark chapter five, we’re gonna see today a story from the life of Jesus that…it’s a powerful story. It’s a story about a woman who was suffering from shame. She was suffering from a sickness, but she was also suffering from shame. She was living under the shade of shame and unable to experience God’s grace and his goodness. Mark chapter 5, starting in verse 25, describes the woman this way. It says, “And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for 12 years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors, and it’s been all she had. And yet, instead of getting better, she grew worse.”
This woman with a chronic condition, right? I don’t know exactly what the cutoff for chronic is but if you’ve been dealing with something for 12 years, you’ve got a chronic condition. Can we agree on that? Now, we don’t know exactly what her condition was. Mark kind of skirts the issue a little bit for probably a pretty good reason. And that is that most of us believe that what he’s talking about here is actually a chronic menstrual condition. She’s basically been menstruating for 12 years. Anybody uncomfortable yet? Yeah? Good. And not that I really want you to be uncomfortable but if we don’t feel a little bit comfortable with this description of what she was experiencing, then there’s no way we can really begin to grasp the depth of what she was experiencing and how painful it was. It wasn’t just a painful physical condition. It was also a painful social condition.
Because in the first century Jewish world, a woman who was menstruating was considered ceremonially unclean. And there were all kinds of things that she couldn’t be part of or participating. She couldn’t go to the temple to offer sacrifices for sin. She couldn’t go to the synagogue to worship God. She couldn’t get married. She couldn’t hang out with people. She even had to be careful when she went to the market just to get food because in the ancient Jewish world, when somebody was unclean, they were also communicable. It was a communicable condition. You can make other people unclean by touching them.
And even some first century rabbis actually taught that even if a woman’s shadow fell on someone when she was menstruating, then they were unclean, too. And they had to go through the purification rituals. So even something as simple as going to the market to buy bread was a risky endeavor. And then what that means is she wasn’t just dealing with a chronic sickness, she was really, she was dealing with chronic shame. Because the reality is that that shame isolates us, but isolation also shames us. The more time we spend in isolation, the more that shame becomes a cloud that we’re living under. And chronic conditions do that. The reality is that chronic conditions breed shame. They do. Chronic conditions breed shame. Some of you know exactly what I’m talking about.
Some of you may not have thought about it like that, but here’s a couple reasons why chronic conditions tend to breed shame in people. First is just this. It’s because chronic conditions make the unafflicted uncomfortable, right? People who don’t have the condition are uncomfortable around the person who does. And if somebody gets sick, right, and it’s a temporary sickness, it’s easy. We’re sympathetic. We’re empathetic. “You know, how are you doing? Are you feeling better today? I’ll get you some chicken noodle soup.” Right? That’s great if it’s a short sickness, but if somebody is chronically sick, it gets a little uncomfortable. It’s like, “Oh, you’re still sick? I don’t know what to say to you. I don’t know what to do around you. Do I ask about it again? Are you tired of talking about it?” It gets uncomfortable. It gets awkward. And that begins to create a sense of isolation and, ultimately, shame.
The other reason I think that chronic conditions breed shame is simply because those with chronic conditions often feel like a burden to others. They feel bad. They can’t do what other people can do and they’re afraid that they’re kind of cramping everybody else’s style. Or they have to do certain things to be able to function that are inconvenient and so they begin to feel like a burden. When my youngest daughter was struggling with chronic abdominal issues, we saw this that, you know, she had to avoid certain foods and it changed the kind of way we were cooking. Or that she had to do certain things that she could function well and that kind of kept her out of things, or it just felt like it was an inconvenience from her perspective for the rest of the family. And so she often felt like a burden. And here’s the thing, it’s really hard to feel like you belong when you feel like a burden. Chronic conditions do that. They breed shame.
Now, I’m gonna ask you to do something before we go on in the story. I want to ask you to think about your chronic condition. Because I actually think we all struggle with chronic conditions of one type or another. They might be medical like this woman’s. You might be struggling with a chronic medical condition, but it may not be medical. There’s a lot of other chronic conditions that we struggle. They might be a mental condition. You might struggle with a chronic mental condition like anxiety or depression or some kind of mental illness. Or maybe it’s a behavioral condition. Maybe you have a really bad temper that you can’t seem to shake or maybe it’s something like sleep. I’ve been struggling with a chronic sleep issue for about 10 years now.
Or maybe it’s financial. Maybe it’s a chronic financial condition that you just can’t seem to get ahead financially. You’re drowning in debt, and everything you do just seems to kind of lead to more debt and you’re ashamed of that. Maybe it’s a parenting issue or something else. But the point is, there’s all kinds of chronic issues. A chronic issue is just really anything that we feel the weight of, but we can’t seem to get out. And no matter what we do, we can’t seem to get out. And we’ve tried, right? This poor woman, she spent everything she had, and it hasn’t gotten any better. It’s actually gotten worse, right? So not only is she broken in her body but she’s broke. We have these issues that we struggle under the weight and we can’t quite get out of them.
And what I want you to do is I want you to ask yourself this question. What chronic condition am I dealing with? What’s your chronic condition? And then a little bit harder one is, and what shame am I feeling because of it? For some of you, that’s going to be an easy one. You know exactly what I’m talking about. Whatever chronic condition that you’re struggling with comes to mind, you immediately know that you feel a certain amount of shame. You’re living under the shade of the shame of that thing. Some of you may not have thought about it that way. You may have never used that particular kind of language. Sometimes shame sneaks up on us.
You know, I said that I struggle with sleep for about 10 years. And I remember I had been struggling with it for two or three years. And then I was in our Life Group and we were all kind of sharing how we could pray for each other. And I had a really bad couple of weeks. And so, you know, when it got to me, Coletta looked at me like, “You’re gonna tell them, right?” And I was like, “No.” And I was thinking, “Why is that? Why didn’t I want them to know? I mean, I believe in the power of prayer. I know, you know, they love me and I love them and they’d be happy to pray. Why wouldn’t I want to tell them that I was having a struggle? Why wouldn’t I want them praying for me?”
And I realized that I was feeling ashamed. There was just something about it that felt like I’m weak somehow because I’m having this problem. I’m somehow not everything that I’m supposed to be. That I’m broken in some way. And I realized there was shame and I hadn’t realized that initially, but it had crept in. And so some of you will immediately go, “Yeah, I know exactly what you’re talking about. Yeah, I feel the shame of this condition.” Some of you may not have ever put that language to it, but you may discover that it’s actually there. And the reason I want us to think about our chronic conditions is because I think that the way Jesus interacts with this woman actually provides tremendous hope when we’re dealing with chronic issues.
She spent everything she had, and she is broke. And she’s not any better. Numbers 27 says, “When she heard about Jesus,” I’m just gonna pause there for a second because you can imagine her world, right? Her world is pretty dark. But then somebody lit a match and she had hope, right? She heard about Jesus. She heard there’s this guy, right? He tells lame people to walk and they get up and they walk. He tells blind people to open their eyes and they see. He tells the deaf to hear and they hear his voice. He tells the lepers be cleansed and their skin is made new again. He tells people with shriveled hands to hold their hands out to him and they’re whole by the time they get out, close to Jesus. He tells the dead to rise and they get up. She hears about Jesus. She hears about this amazing man and hope enters into her world.
But here’s the thing about hope for people with chronic conditions. Hope is a dangerous thing. It’s a scary thing, actually. Because any of us who’ve ever dealt with any kind of a chronic issue know what it’s like to have a whole bunch of false hopes. “Oh, maybe this thing will help. Maybe this thing will fix it. Maybe if I just do this, it’ll get better.” And over and over and over again, those things ultimately failed to deliver on the promise. And so we’re so acquainted with disappointment that hope becomes actually a dangerous thing. We don’t want it because hope opens us up to heartbreak. But she can’t really help it. She hears about Jesus and hope enters into her world. And she does something about it. She acts on it.
It’s interesting to see what she did. It says this, “She came up behind him in the crowd and she touched his cloak. Because she thought, ‘If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.'” And that’s such a powerful statement. It speaks to the power of her hope, but also the power of her shame, doesn’t it? It speaks to the power of her hope because she went. She got up. She left her house during the day when people were about and she had to worry about whether or not she would communicate her uncleanness to them. She actually went into a crowd of people and she had to push her way through the crowd touching people or jostling around her to get up close to Jesus. She touched Jesus. She touched a holy man’s cloak. As an unclean woman, she touched a holy man’s clothes. She had to know that if she was discovered, there would be consequences. If the crowd figured out who she was and what she was doing by making her way through that crowd, there would be bad consequences for her bad behavior. But the fact that she went, that’s the power of her hope.
At the same time, what she did also speaks the power of her shame, doesn’t it? Because this is not the approved approach for asking for a miracle. Can we just say that? She goes incognito. She sneaks up behind him in the crowd. She’s got the shawl over her head so nobody can see. And she just, she finally gets to that place and she reaches out and she touches his cloak. That’s the power of shame at work, right? She doesn’t dare fall at his feet, so she sneaks up behind him. She’s basically acting like a pickpocket, right? If you think about it, she’s basically trying to pickpocket a miracle from Jesus. That’s not how you’re supposed to do it but that’s the power of the voice of shame. That’s what shame is saying to her, right? And what we see here is we see the battle between hope and shame. We see two different voices that are shouting at each other in her heart and in her mind at this moment. And hope says, “Jesus could help me.” But shame says, “Yeah, maybe. But why would he? What makes you think Jesus would want anything to do with you? What makes you think that a holy man like Jesus, a godly man like Jesus would have anything to do with an unclean woman like you?”
But the thing is she wins this battle, doesn’t she? She wins this battle, not necessarily the war. I’m not saying she’s won the war on shame because it’s clear to me that shame is still alive and well in her life. Yeah, she’s able to get up and go. But again, she does it incognito. She does it behind his back rather than falling at his feet. That’s because the voice of shame is still saying, “What are you doing? What makes you think he would want anything to do with you? What makes you think this is okay?” But she does something really powerful. Even though she hears that voice, she ultimately says, “You don’t get the final vote.” She hears the voice of shame but she says, “I hear your voice but you don’t get the final vote.” And she comes, right?
And I think that’s just so powerful. Because I think in that actually, we’re given a pretty good example of how it is that God calls us to deal with the voice of shame. Whether it’s shame from the things that we’ve done or the things that have happened to us, it doesn’t matter. We have to deal with it kind of the same way. We have to say to shame the same thing that we say to things like fear and doubt and insecurity. We have to say to shame, “I hear your voice, but you don’t get the final vote. You don’t get to decide how I will live. You don’t get to determine how I will move forward.” That’s what we have to do with shame. We have to say, “I hear your voice. But you don’t get the final vote in my life.” So she comes forward. And she pushes her way through the crowd and she touches his cloak and immediately, Mark says, immediately her bleeding stops. And she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.
Can you imagine how she must have felt in that moment? I mean, the terror of going out in public during the day and finding that a huge crowd and then pulling the shawl down a little farther hoping that nobody would see her and bent over but beginning to push your way and touching all these people knowing what would be coming her way if they understood what she was doing. And finally getting herself all the way up to the front and Jesus is walking and she just, she gets her nerve up and she reaches out and she touches his cloak. And the moment she touches his cloak, she feels something is different. Immediately, she realized she’s been freed from her suffering. Can you imagine for 12 years nonstop struggling with this issue? She touches Jesus’ cloak and her suffering, done. She touches Jesus’ cloak and her pain, done.
Can you imagine her in that moment touching his cloak, feeling that and just stopping in her tracks as Jesus continues forward and the crowd fills in the space between them? Which is exactly what she wants, right? She wants to stay anonymous. She wants to stay incognito. Yeah, Jesus, you just keep going with the crowd, keep going. Unfortunately, at once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. And he turned around in the crowd and he asked, “Who touched my clothes?” Can you imagine how she felt in that moment? I mean, what a roller coaster, right? She touched his clothes and immediately she was better. And then Jesus stops and looks around and says, “Who did that?” And her heart just sinks.
I love the way the disciples responded. They said, “You see the people crowding against you and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?'” I love that. They’re like, “Everyone. Everyone touched you. What are you talking about?” And Jesus just kind of ignores them. Mark says, “But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. And then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet. And trembling with fear told him the whole truth.” Such an interesting statement, right? She didn’t tell him the truth. She told him the whole truth. Why the whole truth? Why does Mark say, why the whole truth? And the answer is because she can’t just tell him what she did, she has to tell him why she did it. And she has to tell him why she did it the way that she did it. She has to confess, not just her sickness but her shame.
She has to confess that she’s unclean and that she pushed through the crowd and that she touched a holy man’s clothes as an unclean woman. She has to tell the whole truth. And that’s why she’s trembling with fear. And also, it’s not just Jesus she’s got to deal with, right, there’s the whole crowd of people listening to her tell the whole truth. And then she says the whole truth, then begins to hear the crowd muttering. “She’s unclean? Why is she here? What does she think she’s doing? Did she touch me? Am I unclean? How do I even know? Do I have to go through the purification rituals? Those are expensive. Do I have to pay that price just because I might… I can’t believe she did that. She did that to all… Like who does she think she is?” And probably she’s also beginning to hear people say something like, “Stone her. Stone her.” Because that was perfectly within keeping with Jewish custom in that century.
And she begins to hear those voices calling for the bad consequences of her bad behavior. And the muttering gets louder and the calls for stoning her get more and more amped up and then Jesus holds up his hand. And everybody gets quiet, waiting for him to give her the business, right? They’re waiting for Jesus to hand down the bad consequences of her bad behavior. He holds up his hand and everybody quiets. And he looks at her and he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.” That is not what they were expecting. They were expecting anger, and Jesus handed down something very different, right? Three things to pay attention to on what He said here. First, pay attention to what he called her. What did he call her? He called her “daughter.” That’s term of affection. As near as I can tell, it’s the only time Jesus ever called a woman that. He says, “Your faith didn’t just heal you, your faith made you part of my family.”
This is so powerful. The crowd was expecting anger and Jesus delivered affection. And it’s not the only time we see that, right? We actually see this time and time again throughout Jesus’ ministry. So important to understand. Hard to understand, but so important that we get a handle on Jesus extends affection where shame tells us to expect anger. Do you hear me, church? Jesus extends affection where shame says we’re only able to expect anger. Shame says, “Don’t go. Don’t step forward. Don’t take that risk. Because God’s just gonna be mad. God’s people are just gonna be mad. Don’t do that.” And yet, when we do it, what we get is affection instead of anger. That’s powerful.
Second thing I think we need to pay attention to is that he said, “Your faith has healed you.” Not your belief, right? So she believed the moment that she heard. She heard, “Oh, he made the lame to walk. He made the blind see. He raised dead people.” Okay, she believed he could help. But belief is not faith. Belief is a good starting point. It’s a necessary component. Belief itself is not enough. Intellectual understanding itself is just not enough. I mean, it’s interesting. In the Book of James, the half-brother of Jesus writing to his church said, “Hey, you believe that God is one and you believe that he’s powerful and he’s capable and all those things?” He says, “That’s great that you believe that. But you know what? Even the demons believe that. And they shudder at the thought.”
Belief is a good start, but it’s not enough. Faith, however, is belief in motion, right? That’s what faith is. It’s belief in motion. It’s the belief of a woman that thinks that he could help me, who silences the voice of shame that says, “Yeah, but why would he?” And she gets up and she takes risks. She goes. That’s belief in motion. And the reality is that faith almost always involves some kind of a risk. If faith doesn’t involve some kind of a risk, there’s not really much trust involved in it, right? And she takes that risk. She takes that step of faith. She put her belief into motion and Jesus says, “Your faith has healed you.” It’s so important to understand, Jesus will always respond to faith. Jesus always responds to faith. Jesus loves faith. Jesus is all over faith. He always responds to it.
Not always. Let me be honest, not always in exactly the way that we’re hoping for. Not always in exactly the way that we took the step of faith, expecting him to respond. Sometimes we get that. Sometimes we get other good things that we weren’t necessarily expecting. But he always responds to faith. We’re learning this in my family. My youngest daughter went through the chronic abdominal issues, but she shamed me, honestly. It’s probably not the right word to use in this series. She humbled me. Let’s go with that one. She humbled me in the midst of that, when we were praying for her to be healed, saying, “I’m still praying for God to heal me, but not before he’s taught me what he needs to teach me in this.” I was like, “Who are you? Like, that’s not fair. How did you get that kind of wisdom?” Well, she actually got that kind of wisdom going through it, honestly. God was working something in her heart that she wanted to lean into and embrace. And I’m so proud of her for that.
God was responding to her faith. He was doing things. They weren’t what we were praying for but he’s doing really good things that, looking back, we’re like, “I’m so glad that he did that.” We’re not perfect on this one. We’re still kind of learning this reality. Jesus always responds to faith, but not necessarily always in the way that we expect. Just the other night my oldest daughter was over and she’s having some jaw pain from something. So we prayed that God would heal her and I said, “Amen.” And my youngest daughter went, “If it’s God’s will, right?” Yes.
Because, again, God might do something in the midst of this that’s maybe even better than the initial healing that we’re asking for. But listen, God will always respond to faith. He will always respond to faith. And if he doesn’t give you exactly what it is that you came to him in faith looking for, I promise you what he gives you will be ultimately better. You may not be able to see that in that moment, but I promise one day, you’re gonna look back and go, “I see what you’re doing there.” It will be better, I promise you.
Third thing that’s interesting about what Jesus says here is he says, “Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.” “Go in peace and be freed,” not, “And you are freed.” He says, “Be freed.” It’s a command. In the original Greek, it’s actually a homework assignment. He says, “Okay, your faith has healed you. Now, here’s what you got to do. Go be freed from your suffering.” Why would He say that? Because she’s already freed from her suffering, right? In fact, that’s exactly what Mark said earlier. He said, “Immediately after she touched his cloak, she knew that she was freed from her suffering.” So why would Jesus say, “Now you got to make a choice. Now you got some homework to do. You got to go out and you got to be freed from your suffering.” Why would he say that? And the answer is because he’s not talking about her sickness. He’s talking about her shame. He’s talking about the cloud of shame that she’s been living under because he knows that even though he has taken care of shame’s cause, she still has the potential to live under its cloud. And so he says, “You can’t do that.” He says, “I’ve taken care of shame’s cause in your life. But you have to choose to step out from under its cloud.”
That’s powerful. And it’s something that I think we all have to recognize. It’s a truth that we all have to deal with as followers of Jesus or as people who maybe wouldn’t call them as followers of Jesus, but they’re struggling with maybe making that next step of faith and becoming a follower. Here’s what we got to recognize is that Jesus will free us from shame’s cause, but we have to choose to step out from under its cloud. We have to choose to say, “Yeah, I hear your voice but, sorry, you don’t get the final vote in my life anymore.” Jesus will free us from shame’s cause, but we have to decide whether or not to step out from under its cloud. He will free us from its cause whether it’s sin, that he’s already set us free from. He died on the cross to pay for our sin. He rose from the dead to prove that he had done it. He’s offered us new life, power through the Holy Spirit in our lives. He has already set us free from shame’s cause when we’re talking about sin.
And yet, as followers of Jesus, we often find ourselves still clinging to shame of what we’ve done. Like somehow, we have to make up for it. And I know I couldn’t earn my way to salvation. I’m so grateful that God was willing to save me. But now somehow, we’re still living under the shade of shame. We can’t do that anymore. And I think this is also true when the shame comes from things that we don’t have any control over, things we haven’t done, these chronic conditions that we all struggle with. And you go, “Oh, wait a minute. If I’m still struggling with it, then he hasn’t set me free from it.” I promise you, he’s in the business of doing that. He’s in the midst of doing that. And maybe you won’t be fully freed from that sickness or that condition, or whatever it is on this life. But I promise you, it’s coming. There’s a day coming when Jesus returns and he makes all things new and he wipes every tear and he wipes away every sickness.
And if that’s what’s going to be true, if it’s absolutely certain that that’s going to be true, then I think we’re called even now to begin living out from under the shade that that condition tries to throw over us. Listen, he either has or he’s in the midst of or he is absolutely going to, Jesus will free us from shame’s cause. We have to decide to step out from under its shade.
Two questions for you. I’ve already asked the first but let’s go back. Let’s think about it in this perspective. What chronic condition is the source of the most shame for me? What’s your condition? Maybe it’s a medical condition, a mental condition. Maybe it’s a behavioral condition, maybe it’s a parenting condition or a work condition or a finance, whatever it is. What’s the one thing that’s just weighing you down and you just can’t seem to get out from under it?
And then here’s the second question. What step of faith is shame trying to shout me out of taking? Maybe it’s just having a conversation with somebody. Maybe it’s being honest that you’re struggling with this thing. Maybe it’s sharing with your Life Group. Maybe it’s getting involved in a Life Group so that you have somebody to share it with. Maybe it’s reaching out to somebody for help. I’ve had several conversations between services today, people come and go on, “I just need to talk about something that’s been weighing me down for years. Can I talk to you?” And what I always tell people in a case like that is, “Yeah. I’m probably not the best person to get you help. You can either have me or you can have help. I’m not a great counselor, but, you know, absolutely.” And so we started making appointments. I’m going to be having several of those conversations, but I may not be the best person. If not, we can connect you to the right person. We have counselors here. We have an amazing care team here. They’re just amazing followers of Jesus here who would love to come alongside you. So maybe it’s you need to reach out for help.
Or maybe you’re here today or you’re listening to this message today in some part of the world and you’re not a follower of Jesus yet. And maybe what’s kept you from taking that step of faith is that shame is shouting you back from that step. But here’s the thing. Sometimes the step that shame is shouting us back from taking is the last step that we have to take before we can walk into everything that God has for us. And so we cannot allow shame to keep us from taking that step. So what is the step? What would it look like for you to take it? Would you pray with me?
God, as a follower of Jesus, speaking on behalf of a whole lot of brothers and sisters who are followers of Jesus, we just thank you for this event from the life of Jesus. Thank you for this woman. Thank you for her courage, for her example of hearing the voice of shame but refusing to give it the final vote. And thank you so much for what we see Jesus do in response to her faith. Because it gives us confidence that any shame we’re living under, that’s not what you intend for us. It’s not how life needs to be, that you have affection other than anger. So, as followers of Jesus, we ask that the power of your Holy Spirit would move in us and show us those places where shame has a hold in our lives, whether it’s from things that we’ve done, or things that have just happened to us, that they’re shading us from the light of your love. Would you give us courage through your spirit to take the step of faith that you put in our hearts right now and to move forward into what you have for us?
As followers of Jesus, too, we just pray right now, all of us together we pray for those who are watching this video, they’re listening to this podcast, they’re joining us online right now, and they’re not followers of Jesus, we’re praying for them right now. And if that’s you, if you’re listening to this and you wouldn’t count yourself as a follower of Jesus, my question to you is, “Why not? Is there some thing, maybe some shame in you that says, ‘Yeah, I think maybe Jesus could help me? I just have a hard time believing that he would.'” See, that’s the voice of shame. And I can promise you that it’s a lie. Shame is a liar. I know it because I know that God loves you. He loves you so much he sent his own Son, Jesus, to pay the price of your sin. Jesus lived a perfect life so he didn’t have any sin to pay for. He died on the cross as a substitute for our sin. That’s how much he loves us. That’s how little shame God thinks that we should be feeling because of our sin.
Jesus died for our sin. Three days later, He rose from the dead to prove that he had accomplished what he set out to do. And now he offers us new life. He offers us forgiveness, a relationship with God, a life that we live now and forever in the light of his mercy, his grace, his love, his goodness. But we have to translate our belief in what Jesus did into faith. We have to put it into motion. The way we do that is we just make a decision to say yes to following Jesus. If you’ve never done that, maybe now is the time. Maybe now is the time to put belief into motion. And here’s how you do it. You’re just gonna have a conversation with God in your heart. Just say something like this to him right now. Say, “God, I’ve done wrong. I’ve sinned. I’m sorry. Jesus, thank you for dying for my sin. I believe you did that. I also believe that you rose from the dead. And I understand even though it’s hard to believe that you’re offering me forgiveness, acceptance, affection, eternal life. So, Jesus, I’m putting my belief into motion right now. I’m making a decision to put my faith in Jesus. Jesus, I’m gonna follow you now and forever. Amen.”
We’ve had several people make that decision this weekend. Can we just celebrate that? It’s awesome, isn’t it? I’m so excited. If you made that decision for the first time today, I would so love to celebrate with you. Would you do something for us? Would you just let us know you made that decision? It’s really easy. If you’re watching online, you can click the button below me that says, “I committed my life to Jesus.” If you don’t see that, if you’re one of our campuses, you can just text the word “Jesus” to 888111. Either way you do it, here’s what is going to happen. We’re just going to send you a link. It’s going to take you to five truths we want you to have because there are things that are true of you now that you said yes to following Jesus and we want to put those in your hands, help you begin to experience this new life in the light of God’s mercy. Shame is a liar. But our God, our God is good. Amen? Why don’t you stand with us? Let’s worship our God.
Whenever we publicly align with a group, we have the possibility of alienating people who are not of that group. Our mission as Christians is to follow Christ’s example of extending friendship and building relationships, not getting bogged down in rule enforcement and judgment of others.
Craig: Hey, welcome to Mission Hills, so good to have you with us today. We’re wrapping up our series called “Come Find Your Mercy” today. If you’re just joining us, let me get you caught up real quick. For the last few weeks, we’ve been talking about God’s remedy to one of our most persistent pains, and I’m talking about the pain of shame. As we defined in this series, shame is the persistent feeling that we’re unworthy of love and belonging. It’s a persistent feeling that the love and belonging just aren’t options for us. And shame is different than guilt, okay? Guilt says we’ve done wrong and we need forgiveness. That’s a good thing. Shame says we need forgiveness, but we’ll probably never get it because God doesn’t want anything to do with us. Now, shame comes from two different sources and we’ve talked about in this series. Some shame comes from things that we’ve done, it’s the sin that we’ve committed, the wrong that we’ve done.
Some shame, on the other hand, we talked about this last week, some shame comes from things that have been done to us, things we don’t really have any control over. But it doesn’t really matter where shame comes from, it does the same thing. It creates barriers. It creates barriers between us and God. It creates barriers between us and other people. It creates barriers between us and the life that God created us to be engaged in and to experience. And so shame creates barriers. And so what I thought we would do today as we wrap up the series, and we’re gonna take a look at an event from Jesus’s life that demonstrates more clearly, I think than any other part of Jesus’s life, how Jesus feels about barriers and what he wants to do about them? So, why don’t you go and grab a Bible, and start making your way to John chapter 4, we’re going to be in verse 1, starting in Chapter 4 of John today. And I think we’re gonna see two things today.
Some of us are going to see some encouragement. We’re going to see some encouragement because we’re feeling some barriers, and it’s gonna be encouraging to see how Jesus deals with them. Some of us are gonna be challenged today because we might be responsible for creating some barriers. And when we see the way Jesus dealt with barriers, we might find that we need to make some adjustments in our thinking, okay? So, John chapter 4 starting in verse 1 says this, says, “Now, Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that he was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John. Although, in fact, it was not Jesus who baptized, but it was his disciples. And so he left Judea, and he went back once more to Galilee.” I mean, basically what John’s saying is this is early in Jesus’ ministry, and he’s starting to get some attention. People are starting to pay attention to him. He’s becoming an influencer in today’s terms, right?
And the moment that he comes on to the Pharisee’s radar, the Pharisees kind of noticed him because he’s getting popular. The moment he comes into the Pharisees radar, he’s like, “Okay, I’m out of here.” And so he went from a place where there were a lot of Pharisees to a place where there weren’t very many of them. He broke off his association with them, he didn’t want them really kind of getting involved with him, which was kind of an interesting thing. And understand that I think we need to understand what the Pharisees were. And the best way to do that, I think, is to understand the big problem that the Jews were facing in the first century. In the first century, the Jews had one major problem that everybody was talking about and that major problem was they were God’s people, but they were living under Roman occupation. Does that make sense? That was the big problem. We’re God’s people, but we’re living under Roman occupation, so what do we do about it? And there are basically four kind of schools of thought about what they should do about it.
One school of thought, which involved people like the Sadducees, which was a religious group, but also people like the tax collectors. One group said, “The solution was to follow Rome.” Let’s just not rock the boat, let’s just cooperate, let’s go along with them, and could get on their good side and things will go better for us, they said, let’s follow Rome. In modern equivalents, I would say, in modern Christian equivalence, at least I would say, that was kind of like the liberal or the mainline denominations kind of going out. We’re not gonna challenge anything in the culture, we’re just going to, kind of, accommodate to the culture, okay?
Now, there’s another group of people called the Zealots, and they said, “The solution was to fight Rome, to raise arms and literally go into battle against them to fight against Rome.” And then as I was thinking, what was the modern equivalent for that? I’m gonna get in trouble for saying this. I know I am. But you remember a few weeks ago at the Capitol, people had Jesus signs, but they were storming our nation’s Capitol. That was a very zealot-like response, okay? Let’s fight.
Now, there’s a third group of people called the Essenes, and the Essenes said, “The solution is to flee. We’ll flee Rome, we’ll go off in the desert, we’ll start on little communes, and we’ll have our own little group,” so they were like homeschoolers of their day, okay? Now we homeschooled our kids, so you can’t get mad at me, okay? You can’t. I’m exempt on that one. And then there’s a fourth group of people, and they were called the Pharisees.
The Pharisees said, “The solution was faith.” They said, if we get back to faith in God, God will take care of the Roman problem for us. We don’t need to figure out how to deal with it, we just need to have faith in God. Now, here shows up Jesus, he’s gaining a following, and so the Pharisees starts to notice Jesus. And so, the question I want you to ask is this. When you think about Jesus, think about those four groups. So, we got four different sponsors, right? Let’s follow Rome, let’s fight Rome, let’s flee from Rome, and let’s get back to faith. Which group sounds more like Jesus? It’s faith, right?
And that’s precisely why the Pharisees were so interested in Jesus early on because they thought he might be one of them, he sounded like one of them in a lot of ways. And so they’re like, hey, if he sounds like one of us, and he can do miracles, we need him on the team, right? Like, that’s awesome. Let’s get him on the team. And so their interest in him was because they thought he might be one of them. And yet, in spite of some similarities, and there really were some real similarities, the moment Jesus realized he came on to their radar, what did he do? He ducked under. He left. He didn’t want that connection, he didn’t want that association. And I think that’s interesting. And I think we need to ask the question, why is that? And I think the answer is ultimately that while they had some similar beliefs, they had a very different mission. See, the Pharisee’s mission was to enforce the rules, because they said, if we can get enough people to follow enough of the rules, God’s blessing will return to Israel. Jesus said, that’s not the way to do it. Jesus’s mission was to offer a relationship. Because Jesus understood that the only way for people to really change was to be in a relationship with him. He believed that a relationship with him was the only way that people could be what the rules say that we should be.
So, they had very different missions. And it’s because of those different missions, and because for Jesus, the mission mattered most that Jesus went, I don’t want to get connected to the Pharisees, I don’t want to be associated, I don’t anybody thinking that we’re one in the same, I’m not going to do that, and so he left. And there’s something in that I think we have to pay some attention to. There’s a principle that I think sometimes Christians, and I worry a little bit that as Christians in 21st century America, we might have not paid enough attention to this principle, here’s the way I would say it. It’s that the groups that we identify with can become barriers to the people we need to reach. You hear me church? The groups that we publicly identify with can become barriers to the people we need to reach. And the reason that’s very simple, it’s because people have perceptions of groups. They perceive groups, rightly or wrongly, accurately, inaccurate. People have perceptions of groups and assumptions about everybody who identifies with those groups, especially people who are quick to go out publicly, “I’m one of those,” okay? People have perceptions of groups and they have assumptions about people who identify with those groups.
Let me give you a contemporary example, and I know I’m about to disappoint some of you. My goal as your pastor is to disappoint you at a rate that you can handle, okay? Be gracious to me, try to hear what I’m actually saying and not what you think I might be saying, okay? Here’s the thing. If a Christian announces to everybody, is really public on Facebook, Instagram, just in all their settings, if it’s really clear to everybody, they’re public identified as a Democrat, people have perceptions of the Democrats, and so they have assumptions about anybody who identifies. And one of those, again, rightly or wrongly, is irrelevant. This is the perception. One of the perceptions is okay, if you’re a Democrat, then you care a lot about the poor, but you don’t care much about the unborn. Now, if a Christian is outspoken, if they’re saying I’m a Republican, if that’s the group they’re identifying with, then the perception again, rightly or wrongly, the perception is, okay, you care a lot about the unborn, but you don’t care much about the poor.
Now, you might be going, that’s not fair, that’s not accurate. Unfortunately, it’s real. And if you don’t think that people perceive those groups that way, then you’re not talking to enough people who don’t think like you do. It’s just a fact. Those are very, very common perceptions. Now, are those assumptions fair? No, they’re not. I know, Christian Democrats… By the way, some of you just think I said an oxymoron. And that’s part of the problem, too. I didn’t. I know godly Democrats who care deeply about the unborn, and they hate the fact that the Democrat party seems to be associated with abortion rights. They hate that. And I know republicans, godly Republicans, who hate the fact that people perceive the republicans don’t care about poor people because they deeply care about them. So, are the assumptions fair? No. Are the perceptions real? They are. They are.
Here’s the thing that blows my mind. Check this out. So, Jesus, we just talked about those for groups, right? We got fight, we got follow, we got flee, we got faith, of those four groups, Jesus had a zealot who said, let’s fight and the tax collector who said let’s follow on the same team. Actually, they were part of his inner circle. Jesus had a zealot and a tax collector in his inner circle. That’s way, way harder than having a Democrat and a Republican together. How did he pull that off? How did he reach a zealot and a tax collector? How did he do that? And he answers, he refused to publicly identify with any of the groups. Doesn’t mean he didn’t have things in common with them, didn’t mean that he didn’t have some places of agreement, but he just refused to publicly identify, that’s what we see happening here. Here’s the thing, refusing to identify with any group, to publicly identify with any group, allowed Jesus to reach every group.
And I just think we need to pay some attention. Please, again, don’t mishear me. I’m not talking about how we vote. I’m not even, as we talked about, which political party you belong to. But I’m talking about how upfront and how public and how making sure everybody knows that we’re identified with that group we are. Because the reality is, the more we identify with a group, the harder it gets to be able to reach people who don’t identify with that group. And as followers of Jesus, the mission needs to come first. And so we need to at least wrestle with, and I’m not telling you what you necessarily need to do, but please wrestle with this a little bit. And by the way, if you think I’m just totally wrong, do an experiment. Go buy a Dallas Cowboys jersey, okay? And go to the Bronco Stadium on the next home game and tell me what kind of conversations it opens up. The moment we put on a jersey for one team, it affects the way people who don’t wear that jersey think about us, it just does. Again, I’m not saying how we vote, I’m not… none of that stuff. I’m talking about this public identification, I’m this. And sometimes, let’s be honest, sometimes it’s, I’m this before I’m Jesus, right? Before I’m a Jesus follower, and we just need to be careful about that.
I had somebody say to me a couple weeks ago, and I know it was intended to be a rebuke, I know it was intended to be a challenge. He said, “Pastor, I can’t tell if you’re a Democrat or a Republican.” And I was like, “Score.” And it’s not that I’m so holy, and so much like Jesus, but actually learned that from Jesus and what we see here, who seemed to be careful about that. I actually don’t publicly belong to any of those parties. I don’t. I’m not saying you need to follow my example. That’s what I do. That’s not what you need to do that. But you do need to wrestle with this principle that we see Jesus putting into practice here, he’s not going to identify with a group publicly, that’s going to limit his ability to reach people who don’t identify with that group. Now, he had to go through Samaria. To get away from the Pharisees, he had to go through Samaria, which is interesting because he didn’t actually have to go through Samaria. I mean, Samaria was in between Galilee and Judea. And so, it was the shortest route, but it was not the route that most Jewish people took, because there were huge barriers between the Jews and the Samaritans. And so they tended to avoid going through Samaria whenever possible, they would just take a roundabout route.
And those barriers were religious, they were racial, they were political. And because of that, Jews just didn’t do this. And so it’s interesting that John says, he had to go through Samaria. And I would argue, he had to go through Samaria not because of his journey, but because of his mission. He had to go through Samaria. And so he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son, Joseph. These are Jewish ancestors. Jacob’s well was there and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey sat down by the well. It was about noon. And when a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” His disciples had gone into the town to buy food. And what’s interesting is that Jesus is continuing to ignore barriers. He’s ignoring all kinds of barriers. First off, Jewish men didn’t initiate conversations with Samaritans. Jewish men didn’t even initiate conversations with Jewish women who were strangers to them. They absolutely didn’t initiate conversations with Samaritan women. And he’s asked her for a drink. And he’s not carrying a Nalgene bottle around, okay?
So, when he asked for a drink, he’s basically saying, “Can I have a sip from your bucket?” And that’s the thumping that was absolutely not done, okay? In the ancient eras, to drink from the same vessel, they call it same cup, same bucket, whatever was a sign of kinship, it was a sign of friendship. And so for Jesus to say, “Can I have a drink?” was basically, “Can I be your friend?” All kinds of barriers he’s just ignoring here. Which is precisely why I think why the woman responded the way she did. The Samaritan woman said to him, “You’re a Jew, and I’m a Samaritan woman, how can you ask me for a drink? Jews don’t associate with Samaritans.” And by the way, in most translations, that last sentence, for Jews do not associate with Samaritans is in parentheses. And the reason it’s done that is the translators have assumed that this is a note that John threw in there because he thought, well, maybe my readers don’t know that Jews don’t associate with Samaritans. I don’t think that’s right, I disagree with that. Because first off, John is almost certainly writing to a Jewish audience, and there’s almost no question they would have known that.
Now, in the original Greek, there’s no quotation marks, and so it’s entirely possible. And I think it’s actually more likely that phrase. For Jews don’t associate with Samaritans is not an explanatory note, it’s actually part of what this woman said to Jesus. What she said to Jesus was, dude, you’re a Jew, I’m a Samaritan woman. You’re gonna ask me for a drink? You guys don’t associate with us. What are you doing? And literally, actually, she says something like, “We don’t drink from the same vessels.” Which again, in the ancient eras, that was association, it was kinship, it was friendship. She said, what are you doing? This doesn’t happen. We know these conversations, we’re not friends, right? And a powerful thing to recognize what Jesus is doing it, right? Jesus extends friendship, where shame tells us to expect animosity. Because that’s what this woman is speaking from. She’s speaking from shame. She’s speaking from centuries of feeling like a second-class citizen, not a good enough Jew, even though they’ve got ancestry roots and religious roots that are very similar. For centuries, she’s felt pushed aside and never quite enough. And there’s been a heaping of shame on her, not from anything she had anything to do with, but shame she feels, a distance, a barrier that she’s felt, and what she expects from Jewish men is not friendship, which is exactly what Jesus is offering. Jesus extends friendship, where shame tells us to expect animosity.
I think that’s powerful. I think we need to pay attention to that. Because I promise you, you have some people in your life, in your sphere of influence, who expect animosity from you, because you’re a follower of Jesus. And they’ve never learned that that’s not what it means to follow Jesus, but that is what they have experienced. What does that look like for us to pay attention when Jesus says to extend friendship, where shame tells people that they ought to expect animosity? She said, “What are you doing? You guys don’t talk to us guys.” And Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water?” Well, sir… The woman said, “You have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?” And Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them, will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
Now, is anybody confused that he’s using a metaphor here? Yeah, he’s clearly not talking about magic water, right? He’s offering salvation, right? It’s pretty clear, right? I mean, it wells up to eternal life. Clearly, that’s not water, that’s a metaphor using water to talk about salvation. It’s really clear. It’s really obvious, who could miss that? Well, this woman misses it. The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming back here to draw water.” She completely misses it. And the thing is like, you might look at that and go, “Okay, is she just, like, not all that bright.” I don’t think that’s the problem. I think the problem is she’s continuing to look at this conversation through the lens of shame. She couldn’t believe somebody would actually offer to somebody like her anything that powerful. And here’s the reality about shame, check this out. Shame keeps us from recognizing hope even when it’s right in front of us.
Some of you are in that place right now. You’ve been listening to this series, or maybe you’re just new to us today, and maybe you’re a follower of Jesus, but you feel tremendous shame. Maybe it’s things you’ve done, maybe it’s things that have been done to you, and you desperately want to get out from under that, you desperately want to experience freedom from that, but shame won’t let you. Because shame keeps saying, “That’s not for you. Freedom, it’s not for you, true forgiveness, grace, mercy, it’s not for you. It might be for somebody else, but it’s not for you.” That’s what shame does. Or maybe you’re not a follower of Jesus, and you hear people talk about this thing we call the Gospel that God loves you so much, that his own Son died to pay for your sins, so you could be forgiven and have an eternal relationship with God. It starts now and goes forever. You’ve heard that but shame says, yeah, but not for you. Shame keeps us from recognizing hope for what it is, even when it’s right in front of us, that’s what’s going on. Jesus has made an incredible offer, but she can’t see it for what it is.
And so he told her, “Go call your husband and come back.” “I have no husband,” she replied. And Jesus said to her, “You’re right when you say that you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man that you now have is not your husband. What you’ve just said is quite true.” It’s interesting here we see the other side or the other source of shame, right? I mean, so far, we’ve definitely got a woman who’s dealing with shame, but it’s shame of things that have been done to her, I think things she had no control over. She’s born as a Samaritan woman, she has no control over that. She’s born as somebody that the Jews heaped scorn and shame on but she’s not having control over that, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t feel the shame of it. But now we find out that she’s also got some shame because of some things that she’s done. Jesus says, “You’ve had five husbands and the guy you’re living with now, he’s not your husband.” Now, five husbands is a lot of husbands, right? I don’t know what was going, I mean, it could have been five deaths, maybe which raises the question like, what was she feeding these guys, right? More likely, I think it’s actually five divorces that she initiated. And the reason I say that is a little bit later on in this conversation, she brings some people back to Jesus. And she says, “Come see the guy who told me everything I ever did.” And the way she’s owning it, she’s like, I had a significant part, I did some things that were wrong.
So, that’s what’s going on here, okay. She’s feeling some shame for some of the things that she has done, and Jesus has just pointed it out. Jesus has just raised the issue that she already feels shame about, which feels weird, right? I mean, like I thought Jesus is all about getting rid of shame, and isn’t he just kind of casting it on here? He’s talking about the rules, right? Pay attention to the sequence, because the sequence is really important. It’s the same sequence we see throughout his ministry. And it says, Jesus offered relationship before getting into the rules. You hear me church? Jesus offered a relationship before getting into the rules. It’s not that he never got into the rules, we’ve seen that throughout this series, right? Jesus always called sin what it is, Jesus always deals with it. And he says, “Turn away from it, turn back to God, repent of it, be forgiven of, but you need forgiveness,” he always does that, but that’s not where he starts, he starts with relationship every single time.
And by the way, it’s not just Jesus, that’s God. Go all the way back to Abraham, the first Jewish person, that God called. He said, “Come with me, I’m gonna take you to a country that I’m going to show you, you’re going to be my people, I’m going to be your God.” He started with the relationship. And you realize, it was literally centuries later, it was hundreds of years later before he gave Moses the Commandments, the rules. He called the Jews into relationship long before he gave them the rules. It’s not that the rules don’t matter, the rules matter. They’re God’s rules. They’re God’s Commandments. And if we want to experience life as God intended it, we have to pay attention to the rules. And when we break the rules, that’s a sin and there’s a price for it. It’s a price that Jesus himself died to pay. So, it’s not that we say the rules don’t matter, but the sequence is important. Jesus offered relationship before getting into the rules. This is a tension that we have to live in, it’s not an easy tension to live in, right? Because as I said, a few weeks ago, we’re kind of like, we’re walking on the peak of a roof. And there’s two easy ways to fall. We can fall off on the side of it’s all relationship. And we’re just going to forget about sin. We’re never going to talk about sin, we’re never gonna challenge anybody on the way that they’re living. That’s not the way God intended. The other side of the roof says, and we’re gonna make them feel it. We’re gonna make them feel their sin, and we’re gonna make them feel how filthy they are, and we’re going to condemn them, and they’re going to feel shame for it.
The problem is that that shame doesn’t create an opportunity, it creates a barrier, and we can’t do either one of those. Jesus never does either one of those. He always walks the peak. And the thing is, sometimes I think we think we have to walk the peak between those two things, like this. We don’t. That’s not how you walk the peak of a roof, you know how you walk the peak of a roof, it doesn’t look cool. This is the clip they’re gonna end up throwing up on Instagram this week, I guarantee it because I look like an idiot. If you don’t look cool… But that’s how you do it, you get both feet in both sides of it, and you keep yourself there. It’s not an easy thing. I can’t tell you, here’s the three principles of what you need to do, here’s the four things you need not to do. It’s something that as followers of Jesus we do because we’re enabled by the power of the Holy Spirit, and we are guided by the model of Jesus. Jesus offered relationship before getting into the rules. He always got into the rules but in the context of relationship. And it was in the context of relationship that they understood that he’s talking about the rules because he cares. Because he cares.
This woman didn’t quite know what to do with that. “Sir, the woman said, I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you, Jews…” and by the way, do you feel the animosity there? Do you feel the barrier, do you feel the shame? You Jews, you tell us that the place where you must worship is in Jerusalem. The problem is, of course, I’m not welcome in Jerusalem. There’s a barrier for me going to Jerusalem. So, that’s the only place I can get to God, but I’m not really allowed to go, so there’s barriers, right? And here’s the interesting thing. For years, I’ve taught this passage, in a particular way, and I’ve heard it taught a very similar way, you may have even heard this taught that way. And that is I always heard what she was saying as kind of a deflection, right? Like, Jesus just made things uncomfortable, right? He’s offered a relationship, but now he’s beginning to talk about the rules and she’s feeling uncomfortable. And so I have a theology question, can we talk about that instead? That’d be a lot of you. How about this? I’ve always had this question.
I always saw this as deflection but for the first time ever, as I was studying and praying through this passage this time, I realized this isn’t deflection, this is a genuine question. She’s asking the question she deeply wants to know the answer to. Because here’s what’s happening. She’s going, hey, the Jews keep putting up barriers. The Jews say, you got to worship in their temple, but I’m not allowed in their temple. But here’s the thing, you’re a prophet, you clearly know things you shouldn’t know, so, I believe God’s speaking to you. But if God’s speaking to you, if you’re a prophet, that also means that you speak for God, so could you tell me God’s heart on this? The Jews keep putting up barriers, is that how God feels about it too? In other words, what she’s basically asking is this. Are they right? She’s asking Jesus, are you going to reinforce the barriers or remove them? Are you going to reinforce the barriers they’ve been telling me are there or are you going to remove them?
Jesus says, “Woman, believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father, neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem, you will worship the Father.” By the way, not God, right? The Father. That’s relationship. “You will worship the Father.” In other words, no barriers. You’re gonna be able to worship God, wherever. And it’s not just her. In the Greek the you there is actually the plural. So, he’s saying all you Samaritans, really all of the world is going to worship, they’re gonna be in a relationship with the Father. It’s not about where, it’s not about when, it’s not about how, it’s not about who, who you are, it’s…Yeah, you can worship, and he wants that relationship, he’s removing the barriers. He says, “I’m not reinforcing any of the barriers, I’m removing them.” So, you Samaritans worship, but you do not know. You understand what Jesus is doing here is, he’s saying, “Listen, I’m opening doors.” Jesus opens doors, where shame tells us to expect barriers. He says you misunderstood, you don’t really know God, but if you did, here’s what you wouldn’t understand is that God opens doors where shame tells you to expect barriers.
He says, “You Samaritans worship, but you do not know. We worship what we do know for salvation is from the Jews. He’s talking about himself. The Messiah is from the Jews. He comes from the Jewish people, yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks. God, his Spirit, his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth. It’s a lot there. But the bottom line is, no barriers. No barriers. No barriers. Which is radical, right? I mean, it’s radical in the modern world, even in the modern world, we don’t get that. I mean, the idea that there might not be barriers between us and God, because he’s done everything possible to remove those barriers, that’s a little bit hard, even in the modern world. In the ancient world, is absolutely unheard of. That’s not what religion is, religion is all about the barriers. It’s all about who’s in and who’s out, it’s always about barriers. So, this woman, she’s never heard anything like this, she doesn’t know how to respond to this. And so the woman said, “I know that Messiah called Christ is coming, when he comes, he will explain everything to us.” Basically, is her saying, dude, I think you might have been in the desert too long because what you’re saying doesn’t make any sense. This is not how it works; this is not how it’s done. And I never heard anything like this, that’s too confusing. I can’t wrap my head around it; I’ll tell you what, “I’m just going to wait until the Messiah shows up and he’ll clarify things.”
And then Jesus declared, “I the one speaking to you, I am he.” I’m the Messiah, I’m here to clarify. What I’ve just said is the clarity you need. What’s that clarity? Shame raises barriers, Jesus removes them, which is the Gospel, right? That we had a barrier between us and God, it’s our sin. We broke the rules, there’s a consequence to that, there’s a penalty to that, there’s a wage to it. Our sin created a barrier, we put up the barrier, not God. We put up the barrier, but there is a barrier, but God loves us so much. He sent his own Son to die to pay the price for our sin to remove the barrier. Three days later, he raised him from the dead to prove that our sin had been paid for, that the barrier was down. He offers us a relationship with him that begins to transform us from the inside out, so that we become what the rules point us towards. Not because we’re just following all the rules and regulations, but because we’re actually transformed into men and women of God. The Gospel tears down barriers, that’s what the Gospel is. Shame raises barriers, but Jesus removes them.
Which if you think about it basically means, it basically means the shame is the anti-gospel, right? Because shame replaces barriers that Jesus has removed. When we put shame on ourselves, when we put shame on other people, we’re actually re-raising barriers that Jesus literally died to remove. So, as we wrap up the series, I want to ask you to wrestle with three questions. First question is this, what barriers is shame raising in my life? Maybe you’re a follower of Jesus and shame is raising a barrier in your life because you don’t feel close to God because you don’t feel like that’s really an option for you. Maybe it’s because of what you did before you said yes to Jesus, or honestly, maybe it’s because of what you’ve done since you said yes to Jesus. We have some young people in our lives that are, kind of, new to following Jesus and sometimes we get this feeling from them. And we ask that, we confirm, yeah, that’s exactly what they’re feeling. They’re like, “Yeah, I know, Jesus died for all my sin up until the point that I said, yes, but now I screwed up. And now even though I’m a follower of Jesus, I fell short and I messed up big time.” And like, there’s not still grace, is there? There’s not still forgiveness, isn’t it? There’s not still love, isn’t it? There’s not still like, is there? We have to… Yeah, there is. That’s the voice of shame talking. Shame raises barriers, but Jesus removes them.
Or maybe you’re not a follower of Jesus, and maybe you have a hard time believing that the hope that this thing we call the Gospel talks about is actually an option for you. Maybe it’s because of what’s been done to you, maybe it’s because what you’ve been done, but shame is saying, yeah, but not for you. And you need to hear this, you need to hear this truth. Shame is speaking, not God. Shame raises barriers, Jesus removes them. Where in your life is shame raising a barrier? It’s time to step out from under them.
Another question I want you to wrestle with is this, is there anywhere in my life that I’m doing shame’s work for it? This is the challenging part. If shame raises barriers, but Jesus removes them, as followers of Jesus, we need to be following his example, right? I mean, that’s not complicated. So, are there places in our lives where we’re actually teaching people to expect animosity from Jesus because that’s what they get from the followers? Are there places where we’re raising barriers of shame, where we’re casting shame on people and creating barriers and shame doesn’t even need to do it? Maybe they’re not feeling shame yet, but we’re making sure they do eventually because we just keep adding bricks to it. Is there someone in your life that is feeling a barrier because of the way that you’ve communicated to them?
This leaves me this last question, and this is the mission question. You know at Mission Hills, we’re all about helping people become like Jesus and join him on mission. So, we take this whole shame series, what’s it look like to maybe find one thing, one big, maybe risky step of faith to trust Jesus and what he’s been teaching us through his Word over the last few weeks? Here’s the question, I think that might help us to get a handle on it. Who in my life probably expects animosity from me as a follower of Jesus and how can I surprise them with friendship? Who in your life, because of what they’ve done and maybe they’re feeling the shame of that or maybe it’s because of what other Christians have cast upon them. For whatever reason, who in your life probably expects you as a follower of Jesus to have animosity towards them? And what would it look like and what might happen if we did what Jesus does and if we surprise them with friendship? Would you pray about that with me?
God, thank you for the series, thank you for these examples from the Gospels, thank you for the example of Jesus. There’s really good news in this, Lord, because we all feel shame, we all hear its voice and we struggle not to give it the final vote in our lives, we feel the shade that it casts and we live under it. Lord, to see Jesus just consistently say to shame, shut up. We understand that shame is a liar, but it’s a loud liar. So, we thank you for these powerful examples that we’re not called to live under shame. And we ask for power through your Holy Spirit, to step out from under its cloud in our lives, to embrace all that you have for us and what it means to live for you, to be on mission with you. Lord, as followers of Jesus right now, we just asked to speak to our hearts and point us to that person. Maybe they’re close to us, maybe they’re just kind of on the periphery of our life, maybe they almost go unnoticed. But would you speak to us even right now, Holy Spirit, speak to us. Bring to mind that one person who probably expects us as followers of Jesus, friendship is not an option between them and us. And would you give us an abundance of grace and mercy and creativity and whatever it is, that we might surprise them with friendship the way that Jesus surprised this woman? Lord, it’s so hard to walk this balance. We thank you for the example of Jesus that shows us what it looks like, and we thank you for the power of the Holy Spirit that will enable us to do it, if we just listen.
If you’re a follower of Jesus, well, just take a moment right now, begin praying for the people that are listening to this message online, in person, listening to a podcast, or somewhere else, that they don’t have that relationship with Jesus. And if that’s you, I just want to speak to you for a moment. I believe there’s a very real possibility that the only reason you’re not a follower of Jesus yet is because you have a hard time believing that he wants you. There’s a barrier that’s gone up and maybe shame brought up the barrier, maybe it’s another barrier, maybe it’s an unrelated one. But there’s a barrier that you feel between you and saying yes to following Jesus, and I want you to hear this truth. Jesus removes barriers. He loves you so much that he came, he lived a perfect life, so you had no sin to pay for. So, he died on the cross to pay for your sin, to remove that barrier. Three days later, he rose from the dead. That’s a fact of history. He did that to prove that the barrier was down, that it wasn’t in the way anymore. And Jesus is offering you forgiveness of every wrong you’ve ever done. He’s offering you freedom from sin and freedom from shame and guilt, he is offering you a relationship with God that starts now and goes on forever, eternal life. Now, all you have to do is say yes to following him. He wants you to follow him because he wants to be in a relationship with you. My challenge to you right now is whatever barrier you think is between you and him, just understand right now, it’s not there. You can begin that relationship and have everything that comes with it right here right now. Here’s how you do it. You’re just gonna have a conversation, it’s all it takes because the barriers are gone.
Here’s what you’re gonna say. Just say something like this in your heart right now to God. Say, God, I’ve done wrong, and I’m sorry. Jesus, thank you for dying to pay for my sin. I believe you rose from the dead. I understand that you’re offering me forgiveness, freedom from sin and shame, a relationship with God, eternal life. I want to receive that right now, so, I’m putting my faith in you, Jesus. I’m putting my trust in you. Jesus, I’m choosing to follow you for now and forever. Amen.
We’ve had several people make that decision this week, can we celebrate that decision. That’s awesome. I’m so excited about that. Hey, if you made that decision for the first time today, I would love the privilege of being able to celebrate with you and to pray over you. You don’t have to come to my office or anything like that. We just want to know that you made the decision so we can get some resources to you and celebrate with you. Here’s how you can do it. Just do this for me, just click the button, if you’re watching online, click the button right below me that says, I committed my life to Jesus. If that’s not an option, then you can just do this, text the word Jesus 888111, just text Jesus to 888111. Either way, you do it, same thing’s gonna happen. You’re going to get back a link, it’s going to take you to five truths we want you to have. Five things that are true of you now because you’ve just said yes to following Jesus. We want to have you get a hold of those truths and begin experiencing everything he has for you.