Theme: Law and Grace
This week’s lessons show how the grace that came through Jesus Christ fits with the
perfect law of God and its condemnation against us for our sins.
Scripture: John 1:17
But there is more to the meaning of Jesus’ personal graciousness than how he is described in 1 Corinthians 13 and Galatians 5. For when John introduces Jesus as “full of grace and truth” he does so in a verse that is speaking of the incarnation, that is, in a verse that tells how Jesus is God come down to us in human form. And the importance of that is that it means that God is gracious, too, for God is like Jesus.
What should we think of God if we had only the law to go on? We would think of God as a rather demanding, harsh, unbending and judging deity. And we would not be entirely wrong. For the law is demanding. It is unbending. That is the very nature of law. Moreover, the law of God is a law with penalties. The law says, “Do this and you shall live” (Luke 10:28). But if we do not do it, the law says, “The soul who sins…will die” (Ezek. 18:4), and that “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). We cannot fault God for his righteousness or justice. But if law is all we have to go on, we might be at least partially excused if we should think of God as rather insensitive to us or unsympathetic to our failures.
But now Jesus has come, and we see in a dramatic way that the giving of the law is not all there is to say about God. True, God is a lawgiver, and he did give the law through Moses, and the law of the Old Testament is “holy, righteous and good.” But God is also gracious, as gracious as Jesus Christ. God is not harsh or unforgiving, as we suppose. Moreover, his purpose in sending Jesus was to teach us that he is indeed gracious and to provide a way for us to be saved from the punishments required by the law, since we cannot either obey the law or save ourselves from condemnation.
When we say that Jesus was himself gracious we are talking about Jesus’ character. But this inner character of Jesus was also expressed outwardly in the way he dealt with people. Therefore, we have to add to the statement that Jesus was personally gracious the additional statement that Jesus acted graciously to others.
One great example occurs only in John’s gospel. Jesus’ enemies had been trying to trap him, and on one occasion they had sent their temple guards to arrest him. They had been unsuccessful, but here they had finally hit upon a scheme that was literally fiendish. They had managed to catch a young woman in the very act of adultery, and they brought her to Jesus, saying, “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” (John 8:4, 5)?
This was despicable, of course. Besides, it was probably dishonest. According to the practice of law in such cases in Jesus’ day, it was not possible to secure a conviction in capital cases unless there were multiple witnesses to the very act for which the person was accused. In this case, there would have had to have been two or more witnesses and they would have had to have seen not merely what we would call a compromising situation, even so compromising a situation as the couple lying together on the same bed, but also to have seen the couple engaged in physical movements that could have no other possible explanation. How could that have been achieved unless the whole case was a set-up? To have achieved that kind of evidence the woman’s accusers would have had to have stationed their witnesses in the room or at the keyhole beforehand and thus have trapped the woman.
These difficult legal demands were intentional, of course. For the aim of the lawyers was to make executions virtually impossible. It is how the people managed to exist under the unyielding standards and harsh penalties of God’s law. One important Jewish document, the Mishnah, declares, “The Sanhedrin, which so often as once in seven years, condemns a man to death, is a slaughterhouse” (Makhoth 1, 10).
Besides, where was the man in the relationship? If the witnesses had seen the very act of adultery, as the accusers claimed, they would have had to have seen the man too. Yet he was not present. Was he in on the plot? The more we think about this attempt to trap Jesus, the more hypocritical, cruel, evil, and demonic it becomes.
But it was shrewd too! It was shrewd because it was addressing the one truly great problem in the relationship of any sinful human being to God. The earlier attempts to trap Jesus had not been like this. Earlier his enemies had tried to catch him on the matter of paying taxes. Should a loyal Jew pay taxes to Caesar’s government or not? But that involved only the matter of public hostility to Rome, and Jesus handled it easily. He told them to give Caesar his due but to be sure they gave God his due also (Matt 22:21). After this the Sadducees had tried to catch Jesus with a sophomoric question about the resurrection, asking who a woman would be married to in heaven if she had been married to more than one husband here. Jesus handled that by his superior knowledge of the Scriptures, telling the Sadducees that they knew neither the Scriptures, nor the power of God (Matt 22:29).
What is it that makes Jesus “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14)?
Why does Dr. Boice conclude that Jesus’ enemies were probably being dishonest when they brought before him the woman said to be caught in adultery?