God said, after creating man, "It is not good for man to be alone." And that's still true. Man needs companionship. Man needs a friend. For the world hails the value and the virtue of friendship. In fact, the philosophizing about friendship goes on and on and on. Someone said, "If you really want to know who your real friends are, make a big mistake and see who is still your friend, right?”
An English publication offered a prize for the best definition of a friend. They received these statements. "A friend is one who multiplies joy and divides grief." "A friend is one who understands my silence." I love you not by closing your ears to the discords in me, but for adding to the music in me by your listening. But here's the best one, "A friend is one who comes in when everybody else has gone out."
In the Old Testament, you find three words for friend; and, although they have almost similar meanings, there's seems to be some distinction. The first Hebrew word for friend is the word "rayah." It means an acquaintance. Proverbs 18:24, "A man who has acquaintances must himself be friendly." If you're open to people, you're going to make friends on a superficial level.
Now, sociologists and psychologists tell us that you can probably have about 200 of these acquaintances in your life. People you know fairly well. You feel comfortable with. You keep company with. Maybe you work alongside them, or you might want to go on a vacation with him or her, or some particular neighbor on the block that you just feel a kind of a friendship toward.
Then there's another Hebrew word, "alooth," and this means to be familiar with; and this takes friendship a step further. This we would call close friends, people you talk with about significant issues, or study of the Scripture. And you might have about 25 of those kind of close friends in your life. You can miss them for some years, and you see them again, and you pick up the conversation right where it left off.
Then there's the word "ahave." It means intimate, close companion; and in Proverbs 18:24 says, "There is a friend that sticks closer than a brother." Maybe you'd have two or three of those really intimate friends at any given point in your life. That kind of intimacy is expressed in 1 Samuel 18:3, “Then Jonathan and David made a covenant, because he loved him as his own soul.”
They had a deep, profound love. In Proverbs 27:6, it says, "Faithful are the wounds of an ahave." An intimate friend not only loves you with intimacy, but an intimate friend would tell you the truth, even if it hurts. There's another element in this intimate friendship. In John 15:13 the Lord said, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Do you have love that you are willing to die for?
By that definition, the greatest friend that ever lived is Jesus Christ. For Jesus Christ is more intimate with us than any relationship, closer than a brother, and never does He leave. Jesus will speak to us the truth, though it cut us to the core, for He knows that when the surgery is done we'll be better for it; and Jesus gave His life for us. That's the truest friend there could be.
Look at Luke 4:16-18, “When he came to the village of Nazareth, his boyhood home, he went as usual to the synagogue on the Sabbath and stood up to read the Scriptures. 17 The scroll of Isaiah the prophet was handed to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where this was written: 18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.”
“God has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free.” Did you notice that all those are the down and out, the poor, the brokenhearted, the captives, the blind, and the bruised? Matthew 9:10, “Later, Matthew invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other sinners.”
Tax collectors in those days were extortionists and criminals. Verse 11, “But when the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with such scum?” And when Jesus heard that, He said to them in verse 12 -13, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor, but sick people do. 13 Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture, “I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.”
“For I am not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.'" Jesus said, "I can't help people who don't know they're sinners.” Matthew 11:28-29 says, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” And what is the biggest burden that any man carries? Sin. 29 Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”
Look at Luke 15:1-2, “Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach. 2 This made the Pharisees and teachers of religious law complain that he was associating with such sinful people, even eating with them!” But that's the best compliment they ever paid Him. That's exactly why He came; and He explained it in verse 3, “So Jesus told them this parable:”
“4 “If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders. 6 When he arrives, he will call together his friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’
“7 In the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away!” Actually those ninety-nine aren't true followers. The parable is this: I'm looking for the people who know they're lost. I'm looking for the people who want to repent, not for those who think they don't need Me.
Then Jesus goes on to tell the story about a prodigal son who came back and the joy and the celebration. That's what Paul said, but the religious establishment wouldn't admit they were sinful. This is all drawn into perfect contrast in John 8:3, “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.”
The Scribes and the Pharisees always wanted to find fault with Jesus with a theological question that He couldn't extricate Himself from; and, therefore, discredit Himself in front of the people. And they had really developed the ultimate trap this time. They caught a woman in an act of adultery. Maybe they actually got a man to do it to her just to create the trap, because the man isn't taken.
They caught this woman in an adulterous relationship, and they shove her in front of Jesus right in the middle of the temple with all the people around Him. And what did they say? Verse 4-5, “Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5 The Law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?” They are acting in a self-righteous manner. They are acting furious.
What does the law say about punishment?. Leviticus 20:10 says, "The man who commits adultery with another man's wife, even who commits adultery with his neighbor's wife, the adulterer and adulteress shall be put to death." They didn't keep the whole law, because the man wasn't there. They just kept the part they wanted. They had a double standard, they didn't mind abusing a woman.
They weren't really self-righteous. Verse 6, “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.” What was the reality? They were adulterers themselves. In Matthew 5:28, Jesus said to them, "You are adulterers, because whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
And He went on in Matthew 5:31-32 to say, “Furthermore it has been said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery.” If they really believed Moses, they would have executed each other.
Now, what is the dilemma? The people held up Moses and the law of God, and so had Jesus. Jesus said, "I have not come to destroy the law, but to fulfill the law." The people had lined up behind Moses and the law of God, and so had Jesus. If Jesus says, "Don't stone her," they would've said, "He is not of God, for He defies Moses' law, and we all know that God gave Moses the law."
So if Jesus says, "Don't stone her," then He violates the law of God. Now if He says, "Stone her," then He will also lose His reputation as a friend of sinners. How come You didn't stone all those sinners that You were eating with? How come You pass Yourself off as some great humanitarian with compassion on the diseased and disabled, but You stone that woman? What kind of love is that?"
Do you see the dilemma? Actually this is the most profound moral issue in the whole universe. They had Jesus in a dilemma that is the ultimate of all theological thought. How does God harmonize His justice with His mercy? If God is a God of righteousness and a God of justice by His holy nature, she must die. If God is a God of love and of grace, kindness, mercy and forgiveness, she must live.
That's a paradox. How can God be a God of justice and forgive sin? How can He be a God of love and punish sin? There's no answer in human wisdom. Watch how Jesus responds. Verse 6, "But Jesus stooped down and with His finger wrote on the ground." You know what He wrote? No, nobody knows what He wrote. I've heard all kinds of things that people think He wrote.
But Jesus just moved His hand through the sand. He moves the moment to Himself. He allows all their fury to be vented. He's totally unruffled. Just moves His finger through the sand. Verse 7, “So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.” Now, that isn't even the question, but that's the right answer.
Verse 8, “And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground.” They knew each other, and they knew what each of them was like. And you know what they did? Verse 9, “Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.”
If you were convicted of sin by your conscience in the presence of Jesus Christ, what would you do? Would you run to Christ for forgiveness? I would. What did they do? They ran away, the very opposite thing. That was the problem with the Pharisees. They never wanted to face the reality of their sin. As soon as they were convicted, they went out one by one, and it says it began with the oldest.
The oldest left first, because he had a lot more sin. And Jesus was left alone, and guess who stayed, the woman. Wouldn't you think that she would have left with everybody else? No, she stayed, she was convicted of sin. Verse 10, “When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, “Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?”
The term 'Woman’, is not a term of derision but a term of respect. Jesus respected her more than all those religious leaders. We are all sinners. You don't get His respect by thinking you are righteous. You get His respect by admitting you are a sinner. Jesus really respected her. “Woman, hey, where are your accusers? There is no one here to condemn you.”
Verse 11, “She said, 'No one, Lord.' And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.” Do you know what Jesus said to them? He said, "The question is not how do you harmonize the judgment of God with the grace of God. The question is, what right do you have to be this woman's judge, you sinners?" In other words, this is God's business, not yours.
But how could Jesus do that?" How can a holy God just say, "Go on, okay, don't sin again." How can God let her off the hook? Somebody has to die. That's just it. Do you know what Jesus knew as He stood there? When He said to that woman, "I don't condemn you; go, and sin no more." Do you know what He knew in His divine heart? He knew full well that He would die on the cross for her adultery.
The only reason He could give her forgiveness was because He would bear in His own body her sin. That's why every time Jesus healed somebody, every time Jesus forgave somebody, He experienced the bitterness of the anticipation of the cross. That woman's sin would not go unpunished. It would be placed on Christ, and He would die for her adultery and our adultery.
I believe that this woman was redeemed that day. She stayed to seek the forgiveness of sin. They left, and Jesus gave her what the law could never give her. Jesus said, "I don't condemn you anymore." "Why?" "Your sin is covered. Go, and don't sin again." That's just what He says to us, isn't it? In Christ, your sin is covered. I don't condemn you anymore, but go and don't sin anymore. Let us pray.