If you had been caught in the very act of adultery and dragged out by a crowd, you would have expected them to head for the closest city gate out of Jerusalem and the closest pile of stones. But instead you find yourself being dragged towards the Temple. Why can’t you drag me outside and get it over with?!To the Presence of God Almighty was the last place you want to be headed when you know already you are as guilty as Sin. But this particular mob was not as interested in this adulterous as they were intent on the Man who was presently at the Temple. This woman was a pawn in their scheme to discredit Jesus. They had no care for her shame nor did they even care for justice—the Law demanded the man to be taken out and stoned as well. Conveniently he had been left behind—could it have been that he was a friend or family member of one of this mob?
Force Jesus into a situation He cannot side-step. “Should we stone her, Jesus? Moses said we should.” If he answers YES then Rome can blame Him for carrying out an Illegal capital punishment under Roman law plus risk losing the title of “Friend of Sinners.” Sinners don’t need friends; they need Judges! If He answers NO then He is guilty of speaking contrary to the Law and Moses (our Hero) will stand as His judge.
The Woman is sobbing. She has not only been dragged to the Temple but now falls before Jesus who everyone knows is a Prophet. Surely He knows her sin without having to be told. HER sin which is about to condemn them both.
Her shame is multiplied as she stands in the circle of her condemners who curiously have also somehow put Jesus at the center of this circle. One looking in on the scene might have thought of a pack of wild dogs salivating for the certain kill.
Jesus ignores the pack and starts writing in the sand. Is this a stall tactic while He collects His thoughts? Does He think that He can wish them away by ignoring them? Nobody knows for sure exactly what He was writing—not sure that anybody really wanted to know!
“He who is without sin, let him cast the first stone!” The woman briefly raises her gaze wondering which one of these accusers will bend to pick up one of the many stones that lay around the Temple area; some had even carried stones with them.
But Jesus is the Same one who had said, “But I say unto you that anyone who looks at a woman with lust in his heart is already guilty of adultery!” Which one of these accusers was sinless?? Had even some of them looked at this woman in that way??
One-by-one the crowd was decimated by their own guilt. Some of the Younger ones held on wanting to still see this through to the end; but when they saw their Elders file out, they knew it was over.
The Only-One-Without-Sin looked up: “Where are your accusers?” Their exact location was no longer a concern: to accuse you have to be present! “Is there no one left to condemn you?” YOU could, Jesus. You could be my lone Stone-thrower! “Then neither do I. Go and sin no more.” The only one who could have condemned me, forgave me!
Very soon many of that same crowd would condemn the Only-One-Without-Sin. He would bear the Shame that we might all be forgiven.
The Birth of “The Royal”
– Easter is not just Another Day –
Almost two years ago the whole world took notice as a Royal was born to the throne of Great Britain: An heir born to the House of Windsor in an age of Parliamentary Monarchs. With the amount of media coverage and popularity it would have seemed that we were back in the days of Henry VIII or Queen Victoria! And now the whole media machine is just starting to crank up as William and Kate have less than a month for the next Royal(s) to be born!
The birth of a “Royal” is different from almost any other birth. Most babies we look at we look with a smile as we think of how cute and innocent they are. We wonder what their future holds. We dream dreams on their behalf hoping that some of those dreams will come to be! What Role will they fill? What role will they take in our family history? What role will they fill in our Community? What role will they fill in History? The word that best captures this moment is Potential.
Not so the Royal—they are born into a predetermined Role. The weight or shine of a crown can already be seen on their head. The hopes of the father have been confirmed and he now has an heir! Ask Henry VIII about how crucial this concern was to a monarch. A nation can collectively breathe a sigh of relief as now there would be a smooth continuity of reign from father to heir instead of the political upheaval that has often accompanied the death of a ruler who has had no direct heir. The eyes of wondering and hopes for the future will not be looking at Royal; this baby has been born with official titles and documents. The word that best captures their moment is Responsibility.
Jesus was born a “Royal”- in fact He is The Royal! He was born with titles: Son of the Most High, Savior, Son of David, Messiah (Christ) the Lord. He was born with responsibilities: saving His people from their sins, sitting on the throne of His father David, ruling a kingdom which would have no end, fulfilling the hopes of Israel. He was the child whose destiny had been set not only before His birth, but even before the creation of the world!
It is revealing to look at Jesus The Royal through the eyes of two people in Luke 2, Simeon and Anna. Jesus was brought to the Temple just like any other 8-day old Jewish boy. It was the day of Presentation and Circumcision. Jesus was just one among many to have been born eight days earlier. But these two servants of God picked Him out from the rest by the prompting of God’s Holy Spirit. Simeon had been told his life would not end without this meeting taking place. For Anna it was her devotion to God which brought her now face-to-face with “God Among Us”, Emmanuel. Their deaths were postponed until they would witness His birth: the birth of The Royal. But even in their declarations of the glory of His birth, they gave testimony to the ultimate destiny of this One: His death. These who could now “die in peace” gave testimony to the turmoil that would follow Jesus throughout His life and strike a sword through the heart of His mother one day in his death. A destiny set for Him by God the Father. A Royal birth that would one day make me an heir as well. The Royal who was born to die so He could give me a birth into the Family of God as an heir of righteousness and salvation!
Not the Jesus I Expected
- Never One to back down from a GOOD Confrontation –
When many Christians think of Jesus as the “tender Jesus: meek and mild”, they are misrepresenting the Savior. Jesus was Humble and submitted to the will of the Father but He was not mild and His submission to the will of the Father often brought Him into direct conflict with others. Had He submitted to others’ opinions, He would have been out of line with the will of the Father.
Over and over again in the Gospels this scene plays out: a blind, lame, or sick person comes across Jesus’ path- but it is the Sabbath! “It’s the Sabbath, Jesus, are you going to heal him – huh?! You know you not supposed to, so are you goin’ do it- huh?!” It says that they would often gather round the sick person just waiting for Jesus seeing if He would heal the person so that then they could confirm to themselves how ungodly Jesus was to be a Sabbath- breaker. (Examples: Matthew 12, Luke 6, John 5, etc.)
Jesus could have saved Himself a lot of grief if He just did not heal these people on the Sabbath. He could have avoided further alienating the “good people” of His day. He could have slipped His card to the withered-hand man, “Hey, if you drop by Peter’s house on Monday, I can take care of that hand for you. No sense just upsetting a lot of these well-meaning Sabbath police.” He could have led the blind man out of the eye of the public and healed him in private. But Jesus never chose this route. In fact He often added a comment that just further infuriated them. “You all pull your donkey out of the ditch on the Sabbath (as allowed by the Law), so why can I not “pull” these out of their ditch?” “My Father works on the Sabbath and so do I.”- ever think about that?? God still caused them to draw a breath on the Sabbath; He kept the sun and moon in place on the Sabbath. Then Jesus really tipped them over the edge when He said “I am the Lord of the Sabbath!” (Matthew 12, Mark 9, Luke 6).
One guy just couldn’t take it any more: He was NOT going to have any of this Jesus healing on the Sabbath while he was around and especially not on his watch in the synagogue!! Notice what he did in Luke 13:14 – “ But the synagogue official, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, began saying to the crowd in response, ‘There are six days in which work should be done; so come during them and get healed, and not on the Sabbath day.’” Do you get what he just did? In our day it might sound something like this: “All right folks, this healing time is Over. Go home. If you want to get healed, you have Sunday – Friday. Sabbath healings are finished. Jesus is doing the wrong thing and we are shutting this thing down.”
Is this the Jesus you would have expected? If Jesus had allowed their opinions or attitudes to dictate His conduct, there would have been a lot of people that would not have been healed. Worse: He would not have been in compliance with His Father’s will. Jesus did go looking for confrontation but nor was He one to avoid it.
We live in a time where more confrontation will become necessary. Some Christians believe that any form of conflict is ungodly. “Go along to get along” has become the mantra of a growing number of Christian circles. Jesus did not go looking for confrontation- it came looking for Him. We should not be those who go looking for confrontation for the sheer joy of a good fight; BUT we must not be those who back down from confrontation that finds us because we, just like Jesus, are insistent on the will of the Father. Compliance is compromise.
For many months now I had been preaching the same message: “Repent, the Kingdom of God is at hand. Prepare the way of the Lord!” I would get all kinds of reactions from those who heard. Those who sobbed their repentance and were baptized in the Jordan by me. Those who asked what they must do and then were willing to follow my advice as the fruit of their Repentance. Those who impiously stood on the banks of Jordan asking me to baptize their bodies while their hearts remained dry as a bone- dead men’s bones. I refused them but not without warning them: “One is coming who will baptize with Fire – and with the Holy Spirit”: God’s fire of judgment and His Holy Spirit of power. These are the very ones who have helped to make the Way crooked; surely He, our Messiah, will come and “straighten” them out!
Though I was “the Voice in the Desert”, I too was like them in one way – I was waiting for Him to arrive as well. I had not been given any timetable; I had been given a Message. Some thought that I was He. Noo! He is so above me that for me to stoop to unlace His sandals would not cause me to stoop low enough. It is the lowest household servant who has to bend to the Master’s dirty feet, but I cannot even claim such as a position as that!
Then one day He stepped out from the midst of the crowd gathered in their usual spots along the river bank to hear my usual message. He waded toward me. Not sure what I was expecting at that moment- perhaps for Him to turn and preach as well? Perhaps for Him to call down Fire on some and His Holy Spirit on others?? What he said next was absolutely the last thing I would have expected: “Would you baptize me, John?”
Why would He ask me this? Mine was a Baptism of repentance; He had nothing of which to repent. Mine was a baptism of water; His was to be of the Holy Spirit and Fire. Mine was a baptism of the Kingdom- He was the King!
I tried to stop Him: “I think we should switch roles here; you should be baptizing me!” “I must have you baptize me so that all righteousness might be fulfilled”. He was telling me that the same baptism that had been announcing that His Kingdom was coming was now the baptism that was announcing that He the King was now here! (John 1:29-34; Matthew 3:13-17) Immediately God Himself put His approval because I heard His Voice from Heaven and I saw the Holy Spirit alight on Jesus as He came up from the water and made His way back to shore. He indeed was the Righteous One. He indeed was anointed with the Holy Spirit and would baptize with the Holy Spirit.
I learned something very important that day: You don’t have to understand to Obey. God does not use those who argue with Him; He uses those who obey even when they don’t totally understand.
This last Saturday we celebrated the marriage of our daughter, Ashley Willoughby to Jesse Bonfiglio. I am a pastor and Jesse’s dad, Jerry Bonfiglio is a pastor as well. A wedding is often spoken of in the terms of “two families coming together”- this happened in sooo many ways this weekend.
Jerry and I have been colleagues and friends for 20+ years. Never knew that one day we would be more closely related—well sort of. What a great privilege for us to share our Children and to share their Ceremony. Jesse is Ann and Jerry’s only son and child so this was special. Ashley is our only daughter and first one married so this was special to Suzanne and me. Jerry led the first part of the wedding and “oversaw” my handing my daughter off to his son. He gave the Message of the wedding. I saw them through their Vows, Rings, and Unity Sand with Ashley’s only brother, Benjamin, singing for his sister and now Brother-in-law. We both prayed Prayers of Blessing over our children – I laying my hands on Jesse and Jerry laying his hands on Ashley. We jointly introduced them as the new couple and then each grabbed our wives to join the new Husband and Wife for the Receiving line.
There was another whole “Family” there as well – the people from our two churches! Two churches came together for this wedding: the Nazarene and the Baptist. Thank you to the many who came to join us from both. There were people there from two churches but there was still only one Family – God’s family!
Thank you, Jerry and Ann
Thank you to our Nazarene and First Baptist Family
Stephen and Suzanne
Pastor Stephen Willoughby
Pastor Steve grew up in Columbia,South America, where his parents served as missionaries for 25 years. After graduating from Capital Bible Seminary, he was invited to serve as Assistant Pastor at FBCP. He has served in that capacity for twenty years before taking on the position of Senior Pastor.