Read the stories of the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11), the foreign woman with a demon-possessed daughter (Matthew 15:21-28), and the hated tax official (Luke 19:1-10)
Would you expect the Messiah sent by God to befriend priests and religious teachers, or sinners and outcasts? When you read the Scriptures, you'll see Jesus kept offending the religious leaders and teachers, not only by claiming he himself is the final fulfilment of Moses' Law (Matthew 5:17-20), but also by being befriending a lot of 'sinners'.
On hearing the religious leaders' accusations, Jesus said to them,
"It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." (Mark 2:17)
This is a shocking statement for religious people who think they are more 'righteous' and superior than others, and therefore, closer to God and deserve God's blessings more. At the time, Jesus' followers did not understand what he meant.
Jesus' teachings and action throughout the Gospel (Injil) are constantly challenging this view. No one is righteous in God's eyes. God is near to those who see their own hopelessness; and God's mercy is for those who see their only hope is in His mercy.
This is a new understanding of the Kingdom of God.
1. Jesus and the Despised Woman Caught in Adultery
One day, the religious leaders brought an adulterous woman to him with a plan to trap him to condemn her to death (John 8). In Moses' Law, the consequence for her sin was death by stoning. The religious leaders demanded an answer from Jesus.
However, Jesus responded by bending down and writing something in the dust with his finger, and said,
"Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” (John 8:7)
This move by Jesus represented the grace he had for broken people. Even though this woman deserved the punishment of sin (like we all are), Jesus saw the brokenness in her life and offered her grace instead of the judgement she deserved.
Then Jesus bent down and began writing on the ground again. For people who knew Moses' Law, Jesus' gesture was a clear reference to God's writing of the Law with His own fingers on stones when He gave the Law to Moses (Exodus 31:18). This was the very law that the religious leaders were citing when they demanded the death of the adulterous woman.
While we do not know what Jesus was writing, we know that the accusers did not stay and condemn the woman. One by one they disappeared, until Jesus was the only one still standing.
Jesus asked her, “Has no one condemned you?" She said, "No one, Lord." (John 8:10)
Jesus wanted her to see for herself the people condemning her had no power to condemn her, only Jesus, the one without sin, had this power. And Jesus said,
"Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more." (8:11)
Only God has the power to judge and condemn. And in Scriptures, God has shown us repeatedly He has chosen mercy. We are no better than this adulterous woman in God's eyes. God extends His mercy to all who trust in Him.
2. Jesus and the Unworthy Foreign Woman
Jesus also gave hope to the desperate. In Matthew 15, a foreign woman who was despised by the local people approached Jesus, desperate for him to heal her daughter who was possessed by demons. She pleaded and begged while other people tried to send her away.
Jesus, however, knew this woman's heart. He tested her with a very strange statement:
“It is not right to take the food from the children and give it to the dogs.” (Matthew 15:26)
Jesus was citing a popular view at that time: God's grace was only for 'the children of Israel', people chosen by God. Like many religious people today, many Jews believed they were better and had more grace from God than foreigners ('dogs') had. Of course, God does not share this arrogant view.
Jesus' response was rude and heartless! But Jesus knew this woman’s heart.
The woman was not offended at all, because she also knew God’s heart! She continued to beg for mercy with great confidence, even going along with Jesus’ humour!
“Yes Lord. Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” (15:27)
She understood that even though God had chosen the Israelites to bring salvation, God's power and mercy was for all mankind. She understood the gift of salvation that Jesus had to offer.
In other words, the woman was saying, “I know I'm not worthy of your grace, but your grace is enough even for someone as unworthy as me!”
It was this profound understanding that led Jesus to honour her, “Your faith is great, Your request is granted.” (Matthew 15:28) Her daughter was instantly healed!
Salvation does not depend on how good you are, but how good God is.
3. Jesus and the Hated Tax Collector
God's mercy is often given to the most unexpected. In Luke 19, a tax collector named Zacchaeus was eagerly seeking Jesus. This story describes him as a wealthy chief tax official. Tax Collectors were known for cheating and robbing people of their money to accumulate their wealth. They were one of the most hated 'sinners'.
Zacchaeus was anxious to catch a glimpse of Jesus, so he climbed in a tree to see him. When Jesus arrived, he looked past his sin and saw his heart. He looked up and said,
“Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” (Luke 19:5)
Jesus staying at a sinner's home?! Jesus invited himself to eat with a sinner?!
Zacchaeus welcomed Jesus into his home with joy and humility while the people around him grumbled in disgust.
What do you notice about the change Jesus had on Zacchaeus? Jesus never told him to repent and change. But Zacchaeus stood up and said, “Look, Lord! I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody, I pay back four times the amount.” (Luke 19:8)
Jesus' acceptance of Zacchaeus had touched and transformed his heart. What was enslaving Zacchaeus before (money and power) was no longer attractive to him. He was willing to be poor!
Zacchaeus had found the most precious gift in life: God’s acceptance, and it has set him free! Jesus celebrated this liberation by affirming that salvation had come to Zacchaeus’ house.
“Salvation has come to this house today, for this man, also, is a descendant of Abraham.” (19:9)
This story shows us the transformation that takes place inside of us when God enters our lives.
Many religions teach that we need to use our own effort to change first, and if we're good enough, then hopefully God would accept us.
But Jesus showed us the exact opposite: No one is good enough, but God loves us first and makes the ultimate sacrifice for our sins by sending the Messiah to suffer and die on the cross (John 3:16).
Just as what God had revealed to Prophets Abraham, Moses, David, Isaiah and Daniel, God accepts us because of the sacrifice prepared by God Himself. He draws us in and transforms our hearts. When we accept the gift of salvation, our lives are changed by God's love and power. And this encounter with God set us free from our bondage of sins.
This is exactly what happened to Zacchaeus when Jesus invited himself into his life.
Jesus showed us the Kingdom of God is all about true redemption for the sinner. It is not about doing good works to please God. Rather, good works come from a transformed heart after knowing the God who reaches out to us from heaven.
Listen to God and Pray...
1. How does reading these 3 stories of salvation change the way you view
2. What do you hold on to today as the reason why God will accept you?
3. How do you respond to God?
4. Who will you share these 3 stories with?