John 8: 1-12
Week by week, there is a preaching of the glad tidings in this hall, out of an expectation that, where the gospel is taken up, God Himself will speak to us; and that expectation is reinforced by long experience. God takes advantage of the announcement of the preaching to speak Himself, and those who have had that experience know it is so because they sense something that lies beyond the measure of anyone who may be speaking in the preaching. It lies beyond the infirmities and limitations of the preacher; and lies beyond what might be thought of just as a gospel address. They feel that God Himself has spoken, and the reason why they would know that God had spoken is that, whenever God speaks to anyone, He gives them the sense that they have been brought through that speaking into His presence. I might say that that is unavoidable: if God speaks, those whom He addresses will have the sense that they have been brought into the presence of God. And there are two things that will always happen when you are brought into the presence of God, and therefore two things that will always happen if you truly hear the word of God: one is that you will have a very clear view of what you are, and the other is that you will have a very clear view of what God is. We need these things and that is why we come to the gospel. Now I was just reflecting on my own experience, and I could not have put my early experience into the words I have just used; but what I have described is among the oldest memories I have. I can remember feeling that I was in the presence of God in the preaching perhaps not long after I started school - maybe fifty five years ago. You see, God is not just calling adults through His word; He has something to say to everyone who is at the preaching. You may feel you have a very clear sense of what you are, you may feel the constant prompting of your conscience, you may be reminded of things that you had not thought anybody knew; but now you find that clearly God knows. If I can call on my own experience, maybe that kind of feeling comes first; but it ought not to be the dominant feeling, because it is clearly a greater thing to come away from the presence of God with a clearer sense of what God is.
Now, I have read about a man and a woman who were both standing in the presence of God. That is what links these two people together; they were both standing in the presence of God, and what I have said about the presence of God is clearly true of them both. We get an unsparing view of what they were, and we get a very clear view of God Himself as well. They are both real people. The first one may have been seen in a vision, but he is a real person because we know what his name was and we know what his job was. We know less about the woman; we do not know her name, but we are in no doubt that the story we have read of her is true, that what was said about her is true and what happened to her is true as well. Perhaps someone here might have an experience as real as this today. Do not think that these are matters for dreams or that they might only happen to someone else. Today might be the day that it happens to you, and I would like you to give some thought to what will happen, and what you will go away with if you let it happen.
The book of Zechariah was probably written when the people of Israel - or some of them, a few of them - were coming back from the captivity in Babylon. This man Joshua was the priest and he had come back from Babylon, and he is viewed in this section standing before God. You might rightly say that that is where the priest ought to be, but the condition in which he was standing before God made it quite impossible for him to act as a priest. Something has gone badly wrong and Satan knows it. So Satan comes as well and his work is to accuse Joshua. Now Satan knows enough about each of us to be able to do this. He is the father of lies, but he does not need to lie to make out that I am a sinner: it is frankly obvious. He can seize on the things I have done and represent to God that those things, and what I am, disqualify me from the blessings that God might otherwise have wished to confer upon me in His love. I think it is true about Satan that he knows about God’s righteousness. I do not believe that he understands God’s grace but he knows about God’s righteousness, and he knows enough about it to accuse the sinner.
Now scripture speaks about a number of garments. The Lord Jesus tells a parable about an occasion when a king made a wedding feast (Matt 22: 11, 12) and, as we often say, we understand that he gave every one a wedding garment. The guests who were received were people who had come in from the ditches and we can assume that they were conferred with a wedding garment. It speaks of the way that God is able to confer righteousness upon us. We have none of our own, but God is able through the work that has been accomplished on His behalf by the Lord Jesus Christ to clothe in righteousness everyone who comes: “righteousness of God ... upon all those who believe”, Rom 3: 22. That is a garment that is offered in the gospel. We are also familiar with the parable of the prodigal son, and how the father had a garment for the prodigal son: that garment speaks of the Father’s love. I have been enjoying a few thoughts about the prodigal son. Somebody said to me that they imagine that when he got up from the pig troughs in the far country, most of his friends would not have recognised him; but the father knew him! The father knew him and he knew him a long way off and, although he was clothed in his rags, the father embraced him. Somebody else remarked that He did not love the rags but He loved the man who was wearing them; and He clothed him with the expression of that love. “God commends his love to us, in that, we being still sinners, Christ has died for us”, Rom 5: 8.
Now this man Joshua, as I have said, was a priest, and the priest had a garment. The garments that the priest should wear had been designed by God Himself. God is a clothes designer, as we know: He made coats of skin for Adam, for example, to His own design; so that instead of looking at the sinful flesh of a fallen man, He might look with pleasure at His own work. The priest’s garments were also made to God’s pattern. We do not know if Joshua here was wearing the priest’s garment but his situation was as bad whether he was wearing it or not. If he was not wearing it, then how was that? Here was a man who had been called by God to a certain office to be available in God’s service, but had the clothes that God prescribed to enable him to fulfil that office been discarded somewhere along the way? It may be, on the other hand, that the garments that are spoken of here were the priest’s garments, in which case, how was it that they were filthy - filthy? How was that? You might think that that question would apply even if he was wearing his own clothes. How was it he was wearing filthy garments? Joshua does not say. What could he say? Satan had a lot to say and there was a lot that Satan could say, but what could Joshua say? Anything Joshua could have said about himself would have just given Satan ammunition, would it not? What, for example, if Joshua had said, ‘Well, I have only just come from Babylon’. ‘Ah’, Satan says, ‘what were you doing in Babylon?’. You might say, ‘Well, I go out into the world every day, I cannot help getting involved in things out there’. ‘Ah’, Satan could say, ‘you are involved in the world, are you? I know all about the world. I know it is not of the Father. I know it is coming under judgment. It is all over you: your clothes are covered with it. You have made yourself unsuitable to the office to which God has called you. How did that happen?’. This man is like us, you see. He is not a man like the man at the wedding who came in off the streets. This is a man who had been called to God’s service. He might be like someone who has broken bread. He has committed himself at one time, and now he is in the place where the service entrusted to him should be conducted and he is entirely unworthy of it. There he is, standing in the place of office but incapable of exercising it, and Satan is standing right next to him with enough to say to condemn him, and Joshua cannot say anything. And I say to you, beloved brother or sister, you cannot say anything either. But I would say this to you also; you do not need to, because, when Satan goes on as he does, eventually God tells him to be quiet. Satan has to do what he is told, and Satan is silenced by a God who is rich in mercy. He says, ‘I am the God who has chosen Jerusalem’. That is the right that God asserts. It is the right He has to exercise and display His mercy and that voice, the voice of that God here, is made to prevail. So Satan is silenced and now heaven waits to hear what God has to say. God could have asked a few questions, could He not? He could have asked the sort of questions Satan could have asked. ‘Joshua, how did you get like that? How did you get in that state? Did you not know that that garment was a garment of holy service?’ He could have said those things, could He not? He could have asserted His righteousness and where could Joshua have stood? What could Joshua do? But what does God do? He completely confounds Satan. Satan was not ready for this: He says, ‘Take that filthy garment away, and give him something else’. You might think that is very simple, is it not? But Satan is completely confounded. He would have never thought of that.
You might be exercised, as I say, that the word of God might bring you into the presence of God week by week, and you know it troubles your conscience. You might go out of here resolved that this week is going to be different, that this week is going to be better, that you are going to speak to the people you were rude to and put it right, that you are going to stop doing this and that, you are going to stop going here and there, you are going to pray more, all these other things. Will it happen? - well, put it this way, I will not promise you that it will. But God is saying that your justification in the presence of God will not rest on your good intentions. It will not rest on what you have done, the best of it or anything else; and it will not rest on what you would like to do or what you may do. We are saved, Paul says, by grace. “Ye are saved by grace” (Eph 2: 5), and here is the grace of God. He says, “Take away the filthy garments from off him” and, “I clothe thee with festival-robes”. Beloved, what a wonderful God we have to deal with. I will come in a moment to how God does that: the adversary might say, ‘but, but, but ...’ How is God able to do that? Changing the garment does not make the garment clean. We will come to that, but let us see first that Satan is silenced by the grace of God. What a wonderful thing that is. If the word of God brings you into His presence this afternoon, I will tell you how you will go out. You will go out, beloved, with a sense you have never had before that you had to do with “the God of all grace” (1 Pet 5: 10), the God of all grace who may have surprised you with the provision that He is able to make for you; so you will stand out there justified - “justified freely by his grace”, (Rom 3: 24): by His grace. It is a wonderful thing, beloved, a wonderful thing! God has magnificent ideas in His mind for the sinner and He will not allow anyone to change His mind. Grace is His resource that will save Him changing His mind. What is grace? As another has said, “The principle of grace is this, it does what it will with its own”, FER vol 2 p121. His righteousness must be satisfied but He is not pressing a claim of righteousness against a sinner who cannot meet it if there is Another who will, who can, who is ready to. Beloved, the Lord Jesus has raised His hand on your account, and if you will only put your faith in Him, He has undertaken to answer to God’s righteousness for the claims that that righteousness makes against you which you could never ever meet. The testimony is this: that that work of righteousness which He undertook for the sinner is accomplished; and the proof of it is in this festival-robe.
Now I go on to John 8. In a sense it is the same story, but there are some differences. One of the differences is that, whereas in Zechariah Satan was accusing Joshua, in John 8 Satan’s representatives are accusing the Lord. You notice that. They sought something - not to accuse the woman, although they did that too - but to accuse Him. Now, that is very important, because the question of your righteousness and your salvation now becomes a question between God and Satan. Satan - like these Jews - is now questioning whether God is entitled, if He were to wish to, to present salvation to you. It is a very bold question but there can be only one answer, and it will be God’s answer. So this woman is taken in sin. I do not want to go into the detail of this particular sin except to say that, unlike many other sins - many of which are in our thoughts and private to ourselves - this sin cannot be committed on your own; so there was someone else who was as guilty as this woman. I think if you had found him in the byways of Jerusalem and asked him, he would have said he was in a better position than the woman because somehow they had chosen to bring the woman and let him go. But the result of that was that, although she stood in her sin in the presence of God, someone just as guilty as her was not there. The result was that whatever she received he would miss. He would probably have thought that that would be to his advantage, and we are about to see that it was not. The Lord Jesus asserts the rights He has. What He says challenges them all, but, at the same time, we could say that He was among them as “Him that is without sin”. No one can say anything against the Lord Jesus: He is marked by perfect righteousness and holiness. As Man, He represents God in the most absolute way, “Him that is without sin”. Here we have something rather more literal than we have with Joshua and Zechariah because this God before whom we stand is among them; and He is come not in judgment but He has come to stoop down. In the presence of this sinner who was standing up, the Lord Jesus stoops down in front of her and writes on the ground. What a wonderful thing that is! Imagine her coming into the presence of God, feeling as small as possible, and the God before whom she came stooped until He was lower than her. Think of that! It is another manifestation of God’s grace, but taking away nothing from His righteousness - “him that is without sin among you”. He had come in grace but He had come as the sinless one: “Him who knew not sin” (2 Cor 5: 21), “sin apart” (Heb 4: 15), “who did no sin”, 1 Pet 2: 22. He did no sin and there He was, claiming the sovereign right to decide this woman’s case and to disqualify everybody else. What a wonderful thing that is! These other people standing by, what could they say? He disqualified them all, and He asserts His own right to decide this case. He has done more than assert His rights to decide your case. He stooped the second time, and in stooping the second time, He has asserted the right to take your case and to meet the claim of God’s righteousness against it.
Let me leave you with this thought. God says to Satan, “Is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?”. Could you say that you are a brand plucked from the fire? I am. I just ask you this question, who went into the fire to get you? It is not as if you were knocked out with a stick or something like that; no, it says “plucked out of the fire”. Someone has felt the full intensity of the heat of a fire on your account. Someone has gone where the wrath of God burned in all its intensity, and He went there to pluck you out of it. Jesus stooped, it says, and He wrote with His finger on the ground. Think of the feelings of Jesus, the feelings that have left a mark on this world, the fingers that communicated the gift of God, the fingers that touched a leper, the fingers that touched the eyes of the blind, the fingers that broke bread for five thousand people; think of them too as the fingers, beloved, that reached into the fire to pluck you out. What a wonderful thing that is! And it is that One now who claims the right to silence Satan on your behalf: “neither do I condemn thee”, He says. Are these easy words to say? Is she just let off? I tell you, they were not easy words to say. I cannot remember who the first person was who was healed in the ministry of Jesus - perhaps the gospel records would not allow you to tell straight away; but the first time that Jesus reached out His hand and touched an infirm person so that they were healed, He committed Himself irrevocably to all that the cross would involve. Mr Darby says, ‘He bore in His spirit what He took away in His power (for all was the fruit of sin in man)’, Collected Writings vol 7 p172. So, in touching even the consequences of sin, beloved, He undertook before God to bear the guilt of it. He could not say this to this woman except that, while she stood there and He wrote on the ground, He was committing Himself before God to take the brazen sin of that woman upon Himself as if it was His own and bear the wrath of God in relation to it. As I say, He was willing, for this woman, to reach into the fire of God’s wrath and pluck her out. What grace beloved, what grace! If you feel you have been in the presence of God, you have been in the presence of a God ready to stoop like this, ready to act like this; not just to be nice or to be kind, but to suffer and suffer the utmost intensity that the sinner might go free.
Oh, what does ‘go’ mean? I read on a little bit in both these passages because they talk about walk, and people who have been touched by the grace of God, as you might be this afternoon, will walk out of this room different. You will have been touched by the most powerful thing that a creature could ever feel, the grace of God; and if it truly has touched you, you will never be the same again. And that will be seen in the way and the places in which you walk. He does not say to Joshua ‘I will give you a place to walk in the streets of Babylon, to get these garments dirty all over again’ but “a place to walk among these who stand by”. In other words, to walk from now on in the conscious sense that, having come into the presence of God, you will never leave it - never leave it. And that is what this woman was left to do. The Lord says, “I am the light of the world; he that follows me shall not walk in darkness”. Well, you might say that she has got to go back to the rest of her life. Will she walk out of the sight of Jesus, and perhaps never see Him again? That is not a safe way to go. It says, “he that follows me shall not walk in darkness”. He says “go, and sin no more”. There is only one path in which you can carry that out and it keeps you near, very near to Jesus.
Well, I have not any more to say, beloved, all I have done is to draw attention to these two people. They are rather like us, are they not? You might say, ‘I am not as bad as these people’, but in character we are. We may have committed ourselves to the service of God, to the path of His will, but we are stained with the world and the things that we have done out of pleasure and out of our own pursuits and our own way. There we stand unable and perhaps unwilling to serve; accused by Satan in a way that would disqualify us forever from the privileges that we thought were ours.
It is only in divine grace, beloved, that they will ever be ours and, if they are ours by divine grace, they are ours forever. May He bless the word.
27th May 2012