Tag Archives: cosmic conflict

Questions and Answers (13:10)

Lou: Graham, you referred to this beautiful scene in the New Testament where a woman taken in adultery is brought to Jesus and He says, “Neither do I condemn you” (John 8:3-11). But when you go back to the Old Testament, God is ordering the destruction and death of Achan and his family (Joshua 7). Why would there be that apparent discrepancy?

Graham: If Jesus had agreed that the woman taken in adultery should be stoned, He would probably have had a large following. They would have approved of this. One explanation of the Achan story is that Achan did not repent, and so he had to be stoned. The woman taken in adultery did repent, which raises the interesting question: Had she not repented, would Jesus have joined in stoning her? I don’t think so!
I’d rather look at the Achan story in its total setting. In the case of Achan, there was irreverence, there was lack of trust. They were about to go into Canaan. God needed to make an important point in that context, whether or not there was repentance on Achan’s part. With the woman taken in adultery the situation was different. It called for Him to say something else. His gracious treatment of this woman who had been taken advantage of, and His incredibly gracious treatment of those pretentiously pious accusers, is what needed to be said at that time. Everything God does in Scripture is designed to say something that needs to be said at that time, and when you take the Bible as a whole, you see a consistency in it.

Lou: Jesus is so gentle with them in John 8. And that’s what His ministry was like for three and a half years. But then in the early church you have the story of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11), something similar to the Achan story.

Graham: And the third angel’s message is fire and brimstone (Rev 14:10-11).

Lou: So why couldn’t God act throughout the whole biblical period the way He acted during those three and a half years?

Graham: As I understand it, those three and a half years were a demonstration of God’s ideal way of doing things. This is the way He would like to do it all the time. It wasn’t well received by many. Some despised Him for being so gentle. He was gentle with everybody. He was gentle with Judas, gentle with the men who nailed Him to the cross. This is the way God wishes to act for all eternity. He was demonstrating that you can only govern that way when the people you are governing are impressed favorably with that, when they respect you and do not misunderstand this gentleness as weakness. But where there is rebellion and disrespect, God has had to act differently.

Lou: This ties in with what you have talked about before. When God doesn’t act with that kind of gentleness, we’re in emergency situations where the uniqueness of the situation calls for an action appropriate to that situation, even though that action is still based upon love.

Graham: That’s right. I love going through the sixty-six books of the Bible to see the consistency there. God all the way through is trying to say and demonstrate what needs to be said—under varying circumstances with the whole universe looking on.

Lou: But when God comes in the person of Jesus Christ and acts with gracious acceptance, we take Him out and crucify Him!

Graham: Yes, they didn’t respect Him for this. They would have respected Him more if He had said, “Let’s stone that woman, and I’ll throw the first stone.”

Lou: They really didn’t want the kind of God that Jesus talked about.

Graham: That’s right. They even said He was possessed of a devil to describe God in that way (John 8:48). Yet He wept even as He denounced them for doing this.

Questions and Answers (13:9)

Lou: The title “How God Treats His Erring Children” raises a question in my mind, Graham. You have reminded us of some beautiful, gripping stories! But they all have centered, for the most part, upon Jesus and how Jesus treated people. And I think we’re fairly clear about that. We all have that image of a gentle Jesus in our minds. But I think some still have questions: “What if this were the Father? Would He be treating people the same way? And what about the Holy Spirit?”

Graham: When most people hear the title, “How God Treats His Erring Children,” does the Father, the Son or the Holy Spirit come to mind first? I’m hoping that it wouldn’t make any difference, that we can accept the repeated testimony of Jesus: “If you’ve seen Me, you’ve seen the Father” (John 14:9), “The Father loves you just as much as I do” (John 16:26), “And if I go, I will send another Counselor just like Myself” (John 15:26-27; 16:7, 13-14). It would make no difference; Father, Son, or Holy Spirit. That’s the most wonderful thing to understand. Everybody loves gentle Jesus, but the Father would treat us exactly the same as Jesus would. We may have to remind ourselves of this truth many times before we really believe it.

Lou: You used a version for John 20:17 that I’ve never heard of before. Noli? What translation is that?

Graham: The translator’s name is Theophan (or simply Fan) Stylian Noli. He was Archbishop of the Albanian Orthodox Church in America. He produced an unusual version most people have never seen. I enjoy it very much. And there’s a reason why I chose it. The Greek of John 20:17 literally means, “Don’t go on holding Me, don’t go on touching Me, don’t cling to Me, because I must go.” What Jesus said was actually very polite and gracious. So I love the translation, “Do not detain me.” Another reason I love it is the fact that Ellen White used the wording “Detain me not” in Desire of Ages. I went through my many versions and Noli had it the way I wanted it.

Lou: I noticed that with the exception of Hosea, your stories about God’s kindness are all from the New Testament. Does that mean that the God revealed in the New Testament is really gentler than the One revealed in the Old Testament?

Graham: The only remedy for that is to go through all sixty-six biblical books and note how much tenderness there is in the Old Testament. For example, you could look at the parable of God in His vineyard (Isa 5:1-7), something you’ve preached on many times. How tenderly that story is told. “What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it?” (Isa 5:4, NIV). Or “My people. . . how have I wearied you?” Mic 6:3, ESV; Isa 43:24. Of course, the whole book of Hosea is so moving. So are the texts where God says, “Anyone who touches you, touches the apple of My eye” (Deut 32:10; Zech 2:8). That is sometimes translated, “Anybody who hurts you, My people, sticks his finger in the eye of the Almighty” (based on Zech 2:8). That would hurt! And God says, “That’s the way I feel about you.”
One of the most impressive Old Testament stories, though, is God’s treatment of David. Now David sinned enough to be disfellowshipped from most churches, yet God says to his son Solomon, “Solomon, obey Me in all things, just as your father David did” (based on 1 Kings 11:6). That is one of the most generous statements in the whole Bible, so I will use it again when we talk about the subject of perfection (Chapter Fourteen).

The Death of the Wicked (13:8)

Even in the final, awesome death of the wicked, God is still respecting the freedom and the individuality of His intelligent creatures. He has made it very plain, all through the sixty-six books of the Bible, that He doesn’t want to lose any of His children. That is certainly emphasized in the New Testament. “[The Lord] is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9, NIV). It is emphasized all through the Old Testament as well:

As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways; for why will you die, O house of Israel? Ezek 33:11, RSV.

Like a physician, God stands ready to heal us. But He cannot, will not, force us to be well. If we prefer to leave Him, He will respect our decision and sadly let us go. But as we leave Him for the last time to reap the awful consequences, we will hear His sad cry, “How can I give you up? How can I let you go?” Hos 11:8. We discussed this text when we talked about why Jesus had to die (Chapter Eight). Do you remember the dramatic story about Hosea and his wife? When God interpreted what Hosea had done, He said, “I have pled so long, so many centuries, with My people Israel to please come home. Bring words of repentance with you, and I’ll heal you and forgive you” (based on Hosea 14:1-4).

Something similar is acted out in the parable of the prodigal son. Jesus told the story to show how glad God is when anyone does come home. How eager He is to heal! How magnificent is that story! Notice the attitude of our Father toward His sinful children:

While he was still a long way off his father saw him, and his heart went out to him. He ran to meet him, flung his arms round him, and kissed him. The son said, “Father, I have sinned, against God and against you; I am no longer fit to be called your son.” But the father said to his servants, “Quick! fetch a robe, my best one, and put it on him. . . . And let us have a feast to celebrate the day. For this son of mine was dead and has come back to life; he was lost and is found” (Luke 15:20-24, NEB).

Jesus added that there is joy among the angels in heaven whenever anybody comes back (Luke 15:10). But Israel did not come back in the days of Hosea. Note this powerful appeal from God: ”Come home, Israel, come home to the Lord your God. . . . Take words of repentance with you as you return to the Lord. . . . I will heal their unfaithfulness, I will love them with all My heart” (Hos 14:1-4, Phillips). But they didn’t come. “My people are bent on turning away from Me. . . . How, oh how, can I give you up Ephraim! How, oh how, can I hand you over Israel!” Hos 11:7-8, Phillips.

As in Hosea, He will sadly hand us over if we insist on turning away. I understand that God will miss us if we are lost. He will miss us forever if we don’t come home. Think of the eternal void that brilliant Lucifer will leave in the infinite memory of God! The good news is that this magnificent picture of God leads some of us to repentance and to trust. “Do you not know that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” Romans 2:4, RSV. And when we learn to trust, we will actually look forward to seeing the Infinite One. Even though He will come in unveiled majesty and power, we will not be afraid. Sinners though we all have been, we will be comfortable in His presence for eternity.

Jesus and Mary (13:7)

It’s no wonder that when he heard the tomb was empty, Peter was the first one down there on Sunday morning. But it wasn’t Peter—it was Mary who had the privilege of seeing Jesus first and taking the good news to the disciples. Why do you suppose it would be Mary, of all people? The same Mary who was known for living an immoral life? Mary, out of whom Christ had cast seven devils? Would we have elected her for that high honor? But God chose Mary.

Later on, when Mary recognized Jesus and fell at His feet to worship Him, didn’t Jesus say something like, “Don’t touch Me! Don’t touch Me, Mary! If you touch Me, I can’t go to heaven?” What would that kind of comment say about our God? No, in the language of the day, this is what He actually said:

“Do not detain me (emphasis supplied), for I have not yet ascended to my Father. But go to my brethren and tell them that I am going up to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God” (John 20:17, Noli).

Jesus would have spoken these words kindly and graciously. Greetings took a little time in those days. He was literally saying to Mary, “Do not detain Me, Mary, do not go on holding Me or clinging to Me.” Notice also in the text Jesus calling the disciples “brethren,” His brothers. These were the very men who had let Him down when He had needed them so much in Gethsemane. Not only this, when the angels confirmed Jesus’ command to go and tell the disciples, they added something that must have overwhelmed Peter when he heard it. They said: “Now go and give this message to His disciples, including Peter: ‘He [Jesus] is going to Galilee ahead of you’” (Mark 16:7, GNB). How very God-like of the angels to add, “especially tell Peter.” The angels admire and worship God for the incredibly gracious way in which He has handled sinners in His family. How much those angels must have enjoyed adding the words, “And especially tell Peter.”

There are many more examples we could add. But if we trust Him, isn’t this the kind of God with whom we would want to spend eternity? We would be spending eternity with Someone who has an infinite memory, yet we would have no need to be afraid of that memory. For God is forgiveness personified. He has promised not only to forgive us, but to treat us as if we had never sinned. Think of all the verses that say this. For example, “Thou hast cast all my sins behind thy back” (Isa 38:17, RSV). Or, “You will trample our sins underfoot and send them to the bottom of the sea!” Micah 7:19, GNB.

There is no pretense or forgetfulness in this. God knows what kind of sinners we all have been. The angels have watched our every deed. These things are not forgotten. Yet we are treated as if we had always been God’s loyal children. But this doesn’t mean that God has gone soft on sin. Think what it has cost Him to answer the questions and meet the emergencies that sin has caused in His family.

On some serious occasions it was necessary for Jesus, gentle Jesus, to call sin by its right name and denounce it in the strongest terms. One of these was the time when those pretentiously pious Bible teachers, trusted so much by the people, denounced Jesus’ picture of His Father as satanic (John 8:45-52). They were saying that the Son of God’s description of His own Father was heretical, unbiblical, and diabolical. And it was Sabbath-keeping, tithe-paying, Bible teachers who made that accusation. Because of their great influence on the people, Jesus turned to them and said, “No, it is not I who have a devil. You are of your father, the devil, and you prefer his lies to the truth” (John 8:45-49). Yet, when He said that, there were tears in His voice.

The Disciples in Gethsemane and the Courtyard (13:6)

Later that evening, Peter, James and John went with Jesus into the inner part of the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus went there to pass through the awesome experience of separation from His Father. This would answer a couple of questions, “Does sin result in death?” Yes, but what kind of death? “Is it torture and execution at the hands of our gracious God?” No, He suffered there alone, apparently abandoned by the Father (for more on these questions see the section “Three Questions Regarding the Character of God” in Chapter Eight). Three times He came over to where the disciples were dozing, wanting their companionship and comfort. In the end, did He scold them for not helping Him? No, He made an excuse for them. He said, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. I understand, you three. You were just too tired.”

Think what they missed! What if the three of them had knelt around Christ, and put their hands on His shoulder while He went through that experience. Imagine Jesus running into those three from time to time in the Kingdom and saying, “Peter, James, and John, I’ll never forget how you knelt with Me in Gethsemane when I needed you so much.” What a memory they would have had for the rest of eternity! But they slept through it all. And Jesus didn’t scold them.

The same Peter had earlier made a bold speech in the upper room, “Though all the others would desert You, I will give my life for You” (based on Mark 14:29, 31). Yet a few hours later Peter was cursing and swearing to prove that he didn’t even know this Christ (Matt 26:74). Then the cock crowed, just as Jesus had said it would, and Peter wondered if Jesus had noticed. And though Jesus was on trial for His life, and had already suffered much, He was more concerned about His erring disciple in the courtyard than He was about Himself. Luke says that Jesus turned and looked straight at Peter (Luke 22:61-62). Peter may well have expected to see indignation and disapproval on Christ’s face. He certainly would have deserved it. But while he saw sorrow and disappointment to be sure, he also saw pity. It was the face of the One who had washed his dirty feet the night before. When Peter saw that look on Jesus’ face, he ran out of the courtyard and wept bitterly.

Consider the account as written by three of the gospel writers; Matthew, Mark and Luke; beginning with Mark: “And Jesus said to them, ‘You will all fall away. . . .’ Peter said to him, ‘Even though they all fall away, I will not. . . . If I must die with you, I will not deny you’” (Mark 14: 27, 29, 31, RSV). Then Matthew adds:

A maid came up to him, and said, “You also were with Jesus the Galilean.” But he denied it before them all, saying, “I do not know what you mean. . . . I do not know the man. . . .” Then he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know the man” (Matthew 26:69-70, 72, 74, RSV).

Then Luke adds:

The Lord turned around and looked straight at Peter, and Peter remembered that the Lord had said to him, “Before the rooster crows tonight, you will say three times that you do not know me.” Peter went out and wept bitterly (Luke 22:61-62, GNB).

Later, Judas came in to the same courtyard. He threw down the thirty pieces of silver and confessed that he had betrayed innocent blood (Matt 27:3-4). No doubt He, too, looked at Jesus. Do you think he saw a different look on Jesus’ face? Did he see anger there? Was there rejection? He deserved it. But no, Judas was also one of Jesus’ children, and He was about to lose him. Jesus looked at Judas just as He had looked at Peter. There was the same sorrow, the same disappointment, the same pity. Again, it was the face of the One who had just the night before knelt down and washed Judas’ dirty feet. Overcome with it all, Judas ran out and committed suicide (Matt 27:5).

What a wonderful ending it would have been if Judas had been touched by that look on Jesus’ face, just as Peter had been. How much better would it have been if he had found where Peter was weeping and the two of them together had become new men. What a happy ending to the story that would have been! But all heaven watched a different story unfold.

Imagine also how Peter must have felt all that Sabbath. During the previous twenty-four hours he had made a fool of himself repeatedly. Twice he had made impetuous statements in the upper room. Then twice he had disgraced himself in the Garden of Gethsemane. Then came the cowardly behavior in the courtyard, denying that he even knew Christ. Now Christ was dead, and there was no way he could make it up to Him, no way he could make it right.

The Disciples in the Upper Room (13:5)

Perhaps the crowning revelation of the character of God came in the upper room the night before Jesus was crucified. If you look in Luke’s account, Jesus said to the twelve, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover supper with you. But the one who is to betray Me is sitting with Me at the table.” They began to argue with each other as to which one of them would do this terrible thing. But they also were arguing as to which one of them should be thought of as the most important (Luke 22:23-24). Can you imagine their arguing about who was the greatest at the same time they were debating which one of them was going to betray Him?

How did the Son of God treat them? Did He chide them for their childish behavior? Or scold them for their unwillingness to wash each other’s feet? Instead, the whole universe watched as their Creator, the One they worshiped, arose, got a basin and a towel, got down on His knees, and washed a dozen pairs of dirty feet (John 13:4-12). He even washed the feet of His betrayer, Judas. Think what it says about God that He would treat them in this way. Jesus could have looked up at them and said, “You don’t believe My Father would be willing to do this, do you?”

What moved the disciples was not so much that their teacher and leader washed their feet. What moved them was that God washed their feet. Imagine their experience as they looked down on His head bent over the basin and felt His strong carpenter hands on their feet. Then to have Him look up and say, “You don’t think My Father would do this, do you? But He would. If you’ve seen Me, you’ve seen the Father. If you are comfortable with Me, you will be just as comfortable with My Father” (based on John 14:7-9).

Think what fools Jesus’ disciples were to miss the opportunity to wash the feet of the Son of God before He died. What a memory one of the disciples could have had for eternity! Imagine Jesus meeting him a million years into eternity and saying, “John (or Peter or James), I’ll never forget how you washed my feet the night before I was crucified.” That disciple would never get over it. And they missed out on it because of their attitude and misbehavior in the upper room.

When Jesus told the disciples that one of them would betray Him, did He expose that person before the others? No, it says in the biblical record that when Judas left to do what he had determined to do, they thought Jesus had asked him to go buy provisions for the feast, or perhaps even to make an offering to the poor:

Jesus said to him, “Do quickly what you have to do.” No one at the table understood what he meant by this. Some supposed that, as Judas was in charge of the common purse, Jesus was telling him to buy what was needed for the festival, or to make some gift to the poor (John 13:27-29, NEB).

Think how Jesus covered for His betrayer. Why didn’t Jesus expose him before the others? Of all people, the traitor deserved it! But the traitor was a member of God’s family, just a seriously misbehaving one. God takes no pleasure in embarrassing His children.

The Paralytic at the Pool of Bethesda (13:4)

Jesus had a similar (to the woman taken in adultery—John 8:3-11) encounter with the paralytic at the pool of Bethesda. The paralytic had been trying for thirty-eight years to find healing in the water of the pool. One Sabbath afternoon he looked up, and the kindest face he had ever seen looked back at him and said, “Would you like to be well?” John 5:6. Jesus didn’t lecture the man on the youthful self-indulgence that may have caused his illness in the first place. He simply said, “Would you like to be well? If so, get up, put your mat under your arm and go home” (based on John 5:8). Later, Jesus met him and said, “I suggest you stop sinning, lest something worse befall you” (based on John 5:14). Jesus always worked in that order—first He made people comfortable, then He healed them. Especially when dealing with sinners who might be despising themselves, He first helped them recover their dignity and self-respect. How can you ask a person to act with dignity when you have deprived him of his self-respect? God always restores this first. Later He says to stop sinning, lest something worse happen to you.

The Woman Who Anointed Jesus’ Feet (13:3)

Think of the story of Simon, the leper healed by Jesus (Luke 7:36-50). He invited Jesus to a dinner at his house. During the feast, a woman anointed Jesus’ feet with expensive perfume. If this scene is the same one recorded in John 12:1-8, that woman was Mary of Bethany, sister of Martha and Lazarus. It is possible that this is also the same woman who was taken in adultery in John 8:3-11.

In the account of Luke 7, the woman tried to keep her actions private, but forgot that the fragrance would fill the air. So the act became public. Simon said (to himself): “If Jesus were a prophet, He would know what kind of woman this is that is touching Him. He would know what kind of sinful life she lives” (based on Luke 7:39). Jesus spoke up and said, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Speak on,” he said (7:40). And Jesus told the story of the two debtors (7:41-43). Simon realized that Jesus knew his innermost thoughts—which meant that Jesus knew what a sinner he had been! Simon held his breath to see if Jesus would expose him before the crowd. Surely, self-righteous Simon deserved to be exposed. Yet Jesus handled it privately. He maintained Simon’s dignity and his reputation with his associates. He did not expose him. At the same time, He graciously accepted Mary’s impulsive act. Think what these stories tell us about our God.

The Woman Taken in Adultery (13:2)

In the person of Jesus, God was present among us in human form, face to face with sinners. One of the best known of these sinners was the poor woman taken in adultery. But she wasn’t the only sinner in that story. There were also the pious, but heartless accusers who brought her to Christ in an attempt to trap Him into contradicting the Old Testament (John 8:5-6). This was not the first time they had sought to entrap Him like this. But each time they had done it before, He had met them with His customary skill and grace and the whole occasion had turned against them. This time, to be sure that they could convince the crowds in the temple (8:2), they made sure they had convincing evidence. So when they brought the woman to Jesus they said they had caught her “in the very act” (John 8:4, NRSV).

It is immediately apparent from the story what kind of people these were. According to the Old Testament rules, they should have brought the man as well (Lev 20:10). There is no way they could claim they hadn’t observed the man involved, because they had said “We caught her in the very act,” which would be difficult to do without observing her partner as well. So their dishonesty was immediately apparent. After they put this poor woman in front of a large crowd in the temple (8:2), they said to Jesus, “You know the texts in the Old Testament. You know what the Bible says should be done to this woman. Do you agree? Should she be stoned, or not?” John 8:5. And the whole crowd watched to see what Jesus would say.

Jesus chose to say nothing. Instead He bent over and wrote with His finger in the dust on the ground. A few footprints, a few puffs of air, and the record would be gone. It doesn’t say in the Bible that He wrote their sins, but judging by their reaction, that is what He must have written upon the ground (based on 8:6-7). As they looked over His shoulder and saw their lives delineated in the dust, they left one by one from the oldest to the youngest. Before they left, though, Jesus turned to them as He was writing these things down and said, “I suggest that the one of you who has never sinned throw the first stone at her” (8:7). Then He bent down and went on writing. When they were all gone (8:8-9), He turned to the woman who was left there and said, “Where are your accusers?” She looked up and said, “I don’t know. They are gone.” Then He spoke those incredible words to a woman that had committed a really reprehensible act. He said, “I don’t condemn you either. Just go home and be a better woman from now on” (based on 8:10-11).

How graciously and generously Jesus, the Son of God, sought to recover the woman’s dignity and self-respect. We marvel at His treatment of her. But what about His treatment of those pious, heartless accusers? He evidently knew the facts of their lives by what He wrote in the dust. Why didn’t He gather the crowd a little closer and say, “Let Me tell you something about these pretentiously pious frauds. Do you know what this one has done, and that one?” Didn’t they deserve to be exposed? What does it say about God that He didn’t expose those self-righteous accusers? Is it that God finds no pleasure in embarrassing His children? In the first chapter of this book we noted that all His professing children, good and bad, are members of God’s family. God did not publicly humiliate those men, even though they would have deserved it.

Chapter Thirteen: “How God Treats His Erring Children” (13:1)

What do you think it will be like, someday, to stand in the presence of the Infinite One and realize that He knows everything about us—and I do mean everything? Even if we are among the saved, will we be comfortable to spend eternity with Someone who knows us so well? Our answer to these questions depends on the kind of person we believe our God to be. In this chapter we will again consider the most convincing evidence that God is not the kind of person His enemies have made Him out to be; arbitrary, vengeful, unforgiving, and severe. The evidence of how He treats His erring and troubled children points to a God who is infinitely powerful, but equally gracious.

One day we all will stand before God, whether we are saved or lost. Forbid the thought, but if anyone should die before finishing this chapter, the next moment of consciousness for that person would be face to face with God. The Bible states this clearly in many places; this is one of the most vivid:

Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it. . . . And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. . . . And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, by what they had done (Rev 20:11-12, RSV).

Even if we are among the saved, will it be comfortable to spend eternity with Someone who knows us so well? Even though we have been forgiven, we all have been sinners. Paul is very clear about this in Romans 3: “There is not even one who is righteous. . . . For all have sinned, and all fall short of God’s glorious ideal” (Rom 3:10, 23, TCNT). So even though we are saved and forgiven, will God haunt us with the memory of our sinful past? As I’ve already mentioned, the answer depends upon the kind of person we believe our God to be. All through Scripture God has spoken to this question, not in claims and promises alone, but with evidence and with demonstration. And surely the most convincing demonstration was provided by the way Jesus treated even the worst of sinners.