Dear BLCF Friends,
Bloor Lansdowne Christian Fellowship – BLCF Church and BLCF Café continue to remain closed effective March 16, 2020, and until further notice. Today we would like to share with you a Lesson in a virtual format. We pray after the advent of a COVID-19 vaccine and following the determination of Health Canada and other Health Authorities the danger of a pandemic has subsided, the Board of BLCF will be able to reopen worship and outreach activities without concern of infection to the vulnerable within our community. In the meantime, please enjoy the following lessons stay safe, and keep the faith.
– Pastor Steve
Bloor Lansdowne Christian Fellowship – BLCF Church, 1307 Bloor Street West, Toronto, ON.
Message for Sunday:
‘Not Casting the First Stone and Other Lessons of Love’
© October 3, 2021, by Steve Mickelson
Based on a Message Shared at BLCF on November 4, 2018
Announcements and Call to Worship; Prayer
Opening Hymn #248: And Can It Be That I should Gain; Choruses
Tithing and Prayer; Hymn #572: Praise God; Prayers
Responsive Reading #662: Freedom from Sin (Romans 5 and 6)
Message by Steve Mickelson:
‘Not Casting the First Stone and Other Lessons of Love’
Let us pray…
Welcome to BLCF Church, on this, the first Sunday of October, 2021. Today, being the first Sunday of the month makes it a Communion Sunday. However, due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, our church remains closed to services and other group activities, with lessons continuing to be presented in virtual format. If we were open today, we would celebrate the first Sunday of the month by the giving of communion. There is no BLCF Church membership requirement to take Communion, only the conviction that Christ, Jesus is Lord and Saviour, who died for your sins, rose from the grave by the power of the Spirit, ascended to heaven, sending us the Holy Spirit to be our companion, forever.
When we talk about taking Communion, we remember the sacrifice of the Lord, whose death on the cross resulted in the forgiveness of all sin, allowed us, by way of faith, the means to avoid the judgment for sin. Jesus came not to fulfill the Law, but to fulfill the judgment mandated by the law, by surrendering his life as a payment for the death judgment awaiting us all.
In John 8, verses 1-11, we have an account how the scribes and Pharisees brought a woman, caught in the act of adultery, asking Jesus how they should deal with her crime, as the Law stipulated death by stoning. This was intended to be not only a test of Jesus’ knowledge of Hebrew Law and the consequences one may expect for violating it. Let us begin today’s lesson reading this passage from John’s Gospel:
John 8:1-11 (ESV)
8 1 but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2 Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. 3 The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst 4 they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. 5 Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” 6 This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. 7 And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground.9 But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10 Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”
These eleven verses, from the eighth chapter of John’s Gospel, provide us with a wealth of knowledge and understanding how violation of the Law, in this case, the seventh of the ten itemized in Exodus 20. In this case Exodus 20:14, 14 “You shall not commit adultery.
The woman had broken the Law and the scribes, Pharisees, and others gathered expected a pronouncement of death to the woman. This was the same judgment that the people of Israel expected when Moses brought the Laws from God down from the mountain, Exodus 20:18-21 (ESV):
18 Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid[a] and trembled, and they stood far off 19 and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” 20 Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.”21 The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.
Footnotes: a. Exodus 20:18 Samaritan, Septuagint, Syriac, Vulgate; Masoretic Text the people saw
These Laws came from God to instill a respect of God’s ordinances, and an avoidance of sin by the people, so as to not have Him render judgment upon them. But the people feared that if they heard God speak to them, that they will surely die. The Law was intended to guide the people on a righteous path of behaviour, to demonstrate their love for God and for others.
In the case of Jesus and the adulteress, Jesus indicated that no man or woman is innocent of sin, and therefore none are qualified to act as judge and executioner. That is God’s privy, and as such, He alone has the authority to render judgment or its consequences upon sinners. This does not mean that there won’t be any judgment for violation of the Law, which will be rendered by God, alone.
Did scribes and Pharisees take the words of our Lord to heart? Apparently not, as we see the actions taken against the Apostle Stephen, whom Christian scholars are considered to be the first Christian martyr, as we see in this account taken from Chapter 7 of the Acts of the Apostles:
Acts 7:54-60 (ESV): The Stoning of Stephen
54 Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him. 55 But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” 57 But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together[a] at him. 58 Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.
Footnotes:a. Acts 7:57 Or rushed with one mind
Though Jesus had been sent to pay the penalty for sin, we that human tendency to sin had not eliminated. Though Stephen was full of the Holy Spirit, in that he saw Jesus standing at the right-hand side of God, the Father, the lord did not intervene. Stephen’s last words before he died were a plea to the Lord not to hold the sin of murder against them. You may note that watching the garments of the murderous mob, was a young man named Saul, better known as Saul of Tarsus.
Saul’s testimony on the matter is recorded in Acts 22:1-21:
Acts 22:1-21 (ESV)
22 “Brothers and fathers, hear the defense that I now make before you.”
2 And when they heard that he was addressing them in the Hebrew language,[a] they became even more quiet. And he said:
3 “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated at the feet of Gamaliel[b] according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as all of you are this day. 4 I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering to prison both men and women, 5 as the high priest and the whole council of elders can bear me witness. From them I received letters to the brothers, and I journeyed toward Damascus to take those also who were there and bring them in bonds to Jerusalem to be punished.
6 “As I was on my way and drew near to Damascus, about noon a great light from heaven suddenly shone around me. 7 And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ 8 And I answered, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.’ 9 Now those who were with me saw the light but did not understand[c] the voice of the one who was speaking to me. 10 And I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ And the Lord said to me, ‘Rise, and go into Damascus, and there you will be told all that is appointed for you to do.’ 11 And since I could not see because of the brightness of that light, I was led by the hand by those who were with me, and came into Damascus.
12 “And one Ananias, a devout man according to the law, well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there, 13 came to me, and standing by me said to me, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight.’ And at that very hour I received my sight and saw him. 14 And he said, ‘The God of our fathers appointed you to know his will, to see the Righteous One and to hear a voice from his mouth; 15 for you will be a witness for him to everyone of what you have seen and heard. 16 And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.’
17 “When I had returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, I fell into a trance 18 and saw him saying to me, ‘Make haste and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about me.’ 19 And I said, ‘Lord, they themselves know that in one synagogue after another I imprisoned and beat those who believed in you. 20 And when the blood of Stephen your witness was being shed, I myself was standing by and approving and watching over the garments of those who killed him.’ 21 And he said to me, ‘Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’”
Footnotes: a. Acts 22:2 Or the Hebrew dialect (probably Aramaic) b.Acts 22:3 Or city at the feet of Gamaliel, educated c. Acts 22:9 Or hear with understanding
We see that before his conversion Saul had busied himself by rounding up and persecuting Christians. And in the process of one of the first persecutions, Saul witnessed Stephen’s death by stoning while he stood by watching over the garments of the members of the crowd who killed the Apostle.
But why was there no judgment from God against Saul or the mob who had murdered Stephen? God had no plans for members of the mob in general, he did have plans for Saul, whose name would be changed to Paul, after his conversion. We see the degree of conviction demonstrated in Paul’s testimony, expressed in the following epistle addressed by the Apostle to members of the Church in Rome, see Romans 10:9-10:
Romans 10:9-10 (ESV)
9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.
Paul said that salvation comes to those who confess that Jesus is Lord, whom God raised from the dead. This confession comes not from a fear of a judgment by God, but a belief in the heart that Jesus died and was raised from the dead. We know from last week’s lesson, that the heart is associated with the intangible aspect of our beliefs, such as love, faith, and hope. With this belief, comes the tangible response of confession of our belief that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for our sins. And from that expression of faith, God will respond to the tangible sacrifice made by His Son on the cross with the intangible actions of our own justification and salvation through Christ, which in turn leads to the tangible actions of our own resurrection and granted eternal life.
All of God’s actions come as an expression of God’s love for us for us and our love for Him. For only He is able to make manifest the tangible from the intangible, merely by His own Word.
Let us pray…
Closing Hymn #286: Years I Spent in Vanity and Pride
Benediction – (1 Timothy 1:17):
To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen