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Monday, November 23, 2015

Arguing with Jesus About His Silence on Important Issues

John 8:1-11

            Have you ever wanted to argue with Jesus?  Jesus said and did many things that were very challenging or hard to understand we might want to argue with him about those.  However, sometimes the most troubling thing about Jesus is not what he said, but what he didn’t say.  It is the times when Jesus is silent on important issues that bother me the most and sometimes I want to argue with Jesus when he doesn’t speak directly about an issue.  Here is a partial list of issues Jesus didn’t teach about directly:  drugs, alcohol, slavery, birth control, homosexuality, democracy, science, abortion, gun control, freedom of religion…  These are all hot topics that stir passionate debates in our times and Jesus never spoke about them directly.  (At least, we have no record of his teachings about these subjects written in the Gospels.)  And sometimes, I want to argue with Jesus about his silence.  “Why didn’t you say something, Lord, so we would know how to respond on these important issues?”
            Today’s scripture comes to us from John chapter 8:1-11.  It is example of Jesus’ vague silence on an important issue that is debated today—the death penalty.  Keep in mind, though, that this message isn't really about the death penalty.  This message is about Jesus' silence.

John 8:1-11
Jesus returned to the Mount of Olives, but early the next morning he was back again at the Temple. A crowd soon gathered, and he sat down and taught them. As he was speaking, the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. They put her in front of the crowd. 
“Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?”

They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger. They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust.

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

11 “No, Lord,” she said.

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

A Vague Response
            In order to really understand anything Jesus says in scripture, you have to understand the context.  And the context of this story is that Jesus was under attack.  The Pharisees weren’t motivated by sincerity when they came for a ruling.  Verse 6 says they were trying to trap Jesus.  So we have to take that into account in everything that follows.
Jesus must have been thoroughly disgusted by this whole situation.  Here is a group of supposedly “religious men” using a woman’s life to bait a trap for Jesus.  The Pharisees actions are deplorable.  They have know regard for this woman's life.  They are willing to use a human life to advance their agenda against Jesus.  And so, Jesus had to be intentionally vague so as not to give his enemies any ammunition against him.  Even though Jesus’ words are not as definitive on the issue of capital punishment, you have to admire his wisdom given the circumstance.
The way I read this, Jesus didn’t give a clear ruling.  He assented (reluctantly) to Old Testament law which calls for the stoning of adulterers, but he does it in such a way that he puts it on the people.  It’s as if he says, “Ok, if that’s what you want, then go ahead and stone her, but I don’t want any part of it.” 
Jesus’s actions are such that both supporters of the death penalty and those who wish to abolish it can use this same story to support their arguments.

Silence is a Tool
            Set aside for a moment your opinions about the death penalty.  Look at the way Jesus uses silence as a tool.  As the angry Pharisees demand an answer, Jesus stoops down and writes in the dust with his finger.  Silence...
            I once had a teacher in the 6th grade—Mrs. Garland.  When the class would get too noisy, she would simply stop and hold up her finger.  This was the exact opposite of what other teachers would do.  They would usually get louder and louder, competing with the noise of the class, sometimes angrily scolding the students and admonishing them to quiet down, maybe even threatening them with consequences.  But not Mrs. Garland.  She would just stop talking and hold up her finger.  It would take a few moments, but eventually (and amazingly) the noise of the room would fad as students started to notice Mrs. Garland’s silence.  You could even hear other students start shushing the class—doing the teacher’s work for her—until everyone sat quietly, paying complete attention to Mrs. Garland.  Then she would say something like, “Now that you’re ready, I will continue…”  Mrs. Garland was a great teacher—she used silence to keep command of her class.
            Jesus used silence to keep command of the angry crowd.  Though he stooped to write in the dust, he would not stoop to their level.  First, he used silence to focus their attention.  Then, he used silence again to give them time to search their hearts and make up their own mind.  He shifted the responsibility and the silence gave everyone the time they needed to feel the immense weight of the responsibility of holding a human life in their hands.
            Silence is a tool Jesus uses to help us truly understand.  He could give us the answer—and sometimes he does—but we must come to some answers as we search our own hearts as Jesus waits in silence.

Finding the Answers
            Everything we need for salvation is written in the Bible.  However, Jesus doesn’t answer every question we have in the Gospels.  We must walk with Jesus in a living relationship.  Sometimes we will be able to turn to the pages of the Scripture and find the answers written plainly in black and white.  Other times, we are going to have to listen to the Holy Spirit in our hearts to know what Jesus wants us to do.
Sometimes, we already know the answer.  That's how it was when I was struggling with the call to ministry.  At the time I was studying to be an engineer and had a promising career ahead of me.  However, I loved volunteering in the church and bagan to question if God had other plans for me--plans to be a pastor.  Several people comment on this too.  Once I was telling my sister, Katie, how much I enjoyed studying the Bible and she said, "Have you ever thought about going to seminary?"  I began to pray about whether God was calling me to the ministry.  I was willing, but I wanted God to give me a clear sign or a word from heaven. 
I have heard amazing stories of God speaking to other ministers and giving them a clear revelation that He wanted them to be a minister.  But no such miracle came to me.  Finally, after praying about this for over a year, the answer finally came.  But it wasn't a booming voice from heaven--it was a whisper in my own heart.  It just sort of dawned on me one day.  I know that God wants me to be a minister.  Why else would I have been praying about this so fervently for the last year?  I don't need a sign or a word, because I already know what God wants me to do.  I just have to have the faith to do it.  The answer was there all along, I just had to accept it.
            Sometimes we already know the answer.  Sometimes the answer is "no."  Other times, there isn't a one-size-fits-all answer that applies in all circumstances.  Sometimes you have to take things on a case-by-case basis.  I think God intends it this way so we have to have a living relationship with Him.  You see, ultimately, it’s not about the answers anyway.  What really matters is having an ongoing, intimate relationship with our Creator.  The questions are just there to keep us pointed toward Him. 

            Are you listening for the Voice of God? 
Maybe you are struggling with a difficult problem.  You’re wondering what direction to go or what you should do.  Maybe you’ve asked Jesus for the answer, but all you get is silence.  Perhaps, you already know the answer in your own heart.  Maybe you already know what you need to do, but haven’t had the confidence to do it.  Maybe Jesus has been silent so you could hear your own answers and find the resolve to trust your own heart.
Are you listening for the Voice of God?  Perhaps you’ve been looking for a one-size-fits-all answer.  Maybe, you just want to have all the answers so you don’t need God so much.  That’s not gonna work.  The one answer that applies to everyone in every situation is this:  you need a dynamic, ongoing, living relationship with God.  Maybe you need to focus on the relationship more than the answers.  Then the answers you really need will come and the relationship you need even more than the answers will be stronger.
 I suggest you pray to the Lord today.  Ask Jesus to take control of your whole life--to save you from your sins and be your Lord.  If you start there, the rest will follow.  The Holy Spirit will be your guide.  And you will find peace.

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