Pastor's Pastor

Outrageous grace

Jesus' generosity toward sinners outraged the establishment of His day just as quickly as this column will aggravate some religious practitioners today.

James A. Cress is the Ministerial Secretary of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

Jesus' generosity toward sinners out raged the establishment of His day just as quickly as this column will aggravate some religious practitioners today.

In fact, Jesus' grace was so extravagant that He expressed full love and forgiveness to some individuals even before they repented—the woman taken in adultery, for example.

Scripture declares that she was apprehended "in the very act" and hauled before Jesus as a test of His orthodoxy. In their haste to accuse the woman, her accusers gave neither time nor opportunity for her remorse, much less her confession and repentance. She was about to face the death penalty, which her behavior demanded. "Moses says we should stone this adulterer, but what do you say?"

Jesus did not verbally answer His accusers. And note, these evil church men were His accusers more than they were her accusers. They had arranged to entrap her. The man with whom she had sinned was excused; the woman was accused; but Jesus was their ultimate target.

Christ's enemies were vastly more interested in His entrapment than they were concerned for her need. She was fodder for their determination to destroy Jesus; she was a pawn to manipulate for their own purposes.

Rather than retort, Jesus chose confrontation. Not a confrontation of minds to debate the fine points of law. Not a confrontation between holy God in the flesh and morally bankrupt religiose. Not even a confrontation of legal defense aimed at freeing the guilty from prosecution and punishment. Jesus confronted each of those accusers with their own sin.

First He knelt on the floor with the accused and began to write in the dust. When they continued to barrage Jesus with demands for judgment, Jesus finally spoke a judgment upon them far more serious than anything for which they were accusing the woman. "Moses said stone her. Go ahead. If you are without sin, cast the first stone."

Then, as Jesus again knelt and continued writing on the floor, the gospel says the crowd dispersed one by one, from the oldest to the youngest. Perhaps they convened a committee to make certain the floors were more thoroughly cleaned next time.

Then Jesus queried the woman, "Who condemns you?" When she saw that all her accusers have departed and that she might face reprieve from the death penalty, she responded, "No one, sir." "Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more."

Beautiful! Profound!

The desired outcome becomes the means to accomplish the objective. Jesus sought a forgiven sinner freed from Satan's grasp and He used the most liberating method possible to obtain His goal. He forgave her!

Forgiveness obligates. Now note that this extravagance is no cheap grace which Jesus extends. Forgiveness obligates the recipient to live "as if" they deserved it.

Forgiveness is not just a concept, it is a reality. Forgiven people live in the freedom of forgiveness. They behave as those who have been forgiven should behave.

Furthermore, Jesus does not just extend His personal forgiveness. He commands His followers to follow His example. "Turn the other cheek; love those who hate you; pray for those who persecute you."

Forgiveness liberates. Jesus understands why forgiveness is so important. He knows it will liberate the forgiver as much as the person who forgives. Jesus declares we will not be forgiven ourselves if we do not forgive those who have wronged us. In fact, from Jesus' perspective, forgiveness does not even depend upon the wrongdoer's apology.

If you have wronged me and I await your apology, my ongoing grudge controls me more than it reforms you. My resentment allows you to occupy my mind without paying rent. You may never apologize or you may never even know that I have been offended and that you need to apologize. But notice who pays the perpetual high toll of grudge-bearing.

If, on the other hand, I forgive you, even if you have not repented or asked forgiveness, then I am liberated from the controlling load of unresolved wrongs. By forgiving you, I am free to live joyfully in Christ; liberated to service for the Savior, liberated to proclaim the good news of His outrageous grace.

And Jesus demonstrated this liberation again and again. He took the Samaritan woman from the well of repetitious works of dipping and made her an evangelist who dispensed the water of life. He turned Peter's cursing tongue to a soul-winner's proclamation. His forgiveness made Mary Madgalene the first preacher of the resurrection as she pronounced God's victory over the very demons that had once possessed her. And His merciful, extravagant grace turned Saul from murderous mercenary and chief of sinners, to the privilege of ministry.

Now here's the real miracle of Jesus' outrageous grace. He will do the same for you and me!

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James A. Cress is the Ministerial Secretary of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

September 2000

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