An Issue with Authority


An Issue with Authority

John 8:1-12

Main Idea: Jesus Christ has the authority to do and to say everything he’s done and said.

  1. Jesus Acts with Authority (8:1-11).
  2. Jesus Claims Authority (8:12).

Consider this scenario: You’re standing in a bank. You’re in line waiting for the next teller to become available when you see a man walk into the bank. He’s got a visible firearm, and he begins to give people instructions. You see a second man. He walks right past you and all the other people waiting in line to talk to the tellers. He opens that little, swinging half door (I’ve never understood the point of that door anyway—who’s it going to stop?), and he walks over to the safe and begins to open it. A third man has a handful of empty bags. He begins to fill up each bag. Once the bags are full, he leaves out the back door of the bank. What’s going through your mind?

Now picture that scenario with a few more details. The man who’s filling up his bags is a custodian, and the bags he’s carrying are garbage bags. The reason he’s exiting out the back of the bank is because that’s where the Dumpsters are. The man who marched by you and all the other customers, he’s the bank manager. He opens the safe every morning. It’s part of his job. The man with the visible firearm is the bank security guard. The details make a difference, don’t they? Imagine if you attempted to walk past the tellers and open the safe. They’d call 911, slap handcuffs on you, and throw you in the slammer! You don’t have the authority to do what the bank manager does. In John 8 Jesus Christ makes clear he has the authority to do and to say everything he’s done and said.

Chapter 8 begins with Jesus doing something that, if he were not God, would be absolutely insane. He will forgive a woman caught in adultery. Who has the authority to forgive sin? After that, he stands up and again claims to be the Messiah. He calls himself the light of the world, and he tells each person listening to him that they live in darkness and they need to follow him. Either Jesus is the Son of God, or he’s utterly insane. Either he has the authority to do the things he does, or he’s nothing more than a madman who should be ridiculed, then forgotten.

Jesus Acts with Authority

John 8:1-11

The scribes and Pharisees are trying to trap Jesus. They think they have all of the pieces in place to bait him into their trap. They have a woman who was caught in the act of adultery. She is guilty with no reasonable doubt. Why did they think bringing this woman to Jesus would trap him? In their minds Jesus had set himself above the law in the past, and they thought he might do it again. Back in chapter 5 there was a controversy over the Sabbath (5:16). Jesus healed a man on the Sabbath, and they thought he was breaking the law. He wasn’t. He was doing what they should have done on the Sabbath: he was helping people. But in their opinion he was violating the law.

Why do they think this particular situation will cause him to violate the law? The Mosaic law is clear that adultery is wrong, and the punishment for it is death. They know how compassionate Jesus is, particularly for those everyone considered sinners. Knowing his compassion, they thought Jesus might, in violation of the law, excuse her sin. They thought they could trip Jesus up due to his compassion. Jesus ignores their plan. He doesn’t address the law or this woman’s condition. He just tells them to go ahead and stone her, with one condition: as long as they were not guilty of breaking the law. With one statement Jesus shines the light on their sin. Only Jesus could have thrown the first stone, but he didn’t. They all slink away, none of them willing to stand before Jesus and claim to be sinless.

Up to this point nothing Jesus has done has required any special authority. All he did was properly interpret the law, but what comes next demands unique authority. Jesus forgives her sin. He tells her he will not condemn her. Who has the right to forgive sin? We can forgive someone who sinned against us, but our forgiveness doesn’t absolve guilt. Suppose you’re in Jesus’s position and you forgive this woman. All of a sudden the wife of the adulterous man comes up to you and says, “What right do you have to forgive this woman? How dare you? Did she sin against you?” What would you say? It’s not up to you to forgive someone else’s sin. You don’t have the authority. Now, if the angry wife walked up to Jesus and asked the same question, “What right do you have to forgive her? Did she sin against you?” he could say, “Yes, she did. Not only did she sin against me, but I will take that sin upon myself—I even will become her sin for her. That’s why I have forgiven her.”

Jesus does not ignore or excuse her sin. He acknowledges her sin, but he came to save sinners. When he spoke to this woman, she heard Jesus say, “I’m not like those hypocritical men who only care about condemning you. I care about you, and I forgive your sin. Now, go, and by my power live a transformed life.” She was guilty. She was ashamed. She was humiliated. It looked like her life was over, both metaphorically and literally. Caught in the act of adultery, she was going to be executed. A group of religious men drag her to the holiest man around. They drop her at his feet and say, “She’s guilty. We have multiple witnesses. Do we have your permission to stone her?” At that moment stoning, as horrible as it seems, may be welcome. She’s been disgraced. Then Jesus covers her disgrace with his grace. He levels the playing field by quietly making each man admit his own sin, and then instead of condemning her, he forgives her. Not only does he forgive her, but he also transforms her future. He doesn’t give her a license to keep sinning. He gives her a reason to stop.

Your sin never surprises Jesus. When he took your sin on himself as he hung on the cross, he bore judgment for every single sinful action, attitude, and thought you’d ever have. Your sin can’t surprise him because he’s already received the punishment for it. As a Christian, you are free from condemnation. Jesus paid it all. Rest in his grace. Rest in his goodness. Rest in his forgiveness. Jesus won’t stone you, so don’t stone yourself.

Jesus Claims Authority

John 8:12

One of John’s favorite descriptions of Jesus in his Gospel is that he is the light. John describes Jesus this way twenty-two times in the book. The “light of the world” is a clear messianic title. When the people heard Jesus make this statement, they should have remembered that Isaiah describes the Messiah as “a light for the nations” who would bring God’s salvation to the ends of the earth (Isa 49:6). So, when Jesus stands up and calls out to the crowd, “I am the light of the world,” he’s identifying himself as the Christ, the Messiah, the one who fulfills God’s promise to make the world right again.

However, the title “light of the world” does more than identify Jesus as the Messiah. It also identifies him as God. Throughout the Old Testament, God is called the light. For instance, in Psalm 27:1, “The Lord[Yahweh] is my light and my salvation.” So add that to Jesus’s claim. He’s not just a messenger from God. He is God. He’s divine.

With the claim to be God comes unique authority, which we see by understanding more specifically what Jesus means when he says he’s the light of the world.

In chapter 6 Jesus replayed the history of the nation of Israel. He fed them miraculously with bread in the wilderness. He crossed a sea miraculously. The crowds grumbled and complained, then acted in unbelief.

In chapter 7 he celebrated the Festival of Shelters, which commemorated a specific time in Israel’s history—the time of wandering in the wilderness, being fed miraculously by God after miraculously crossing a sea. It was a time characterized by grumbling, complaining, and unbelief.

Also in chapter 7, while celebrating the way God provided for them in the wilderness, Jesus invites thirsty people to come to him and drink—in the same way God provided water for the nation when they were thirsty.

Now here in Chapter 8 we see this little word again (v. 12) that connects these words back to Jesus’s statement about the water in chapter 7. We should understand this metaphor in the context of Israel’s wilderness wanderings. After God brought the nation of Israel out of slavery in Egypt, they found themselves trapped on the banks of the Red Sea with Pharaoh closing in on them from behind. They began to doubt, to grumble, and to disbelieve the word of God. Moses told them to trust in God and watch his salvation:

Then the angel of God, who was going in front of the Israelite forces, moved and went behind them. The pillar of cloud moved from in front of them and stood behind them. It came between the Egyptian and Israelite forces. There was cloud and darkness, it lit up the night, and neither group came near the other all night long. (Exod 14:19-20)

From this point forward God leads his people through the wilderness and to the promised land with a cloud and a pillar of fire. They just have to follow him.

When Jesus calls himself the “light of the world,” he is not just identifying himself as God; he’s commanding them to follow him. Jesus is telling them, in no uncertain terms, the only way for them to leave slavery is to submit to him. The only way for them to make it through the desert and reach the promised land is to submit to him. His claim of authority is no different today. The only way to escape slavery to sin is to follow Jesus. The only way to know where to walk and also make it to heaven is to follow Jesus.

C. S. Lewis wrote, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else” (“Is Theology Poetry?,” 141). By claiming to be the light of the world, Jesus is saying, “Only by me can you see and understand everything else. Only by me can you see and understand this world.” Apart from Jesus, this world is simply unknowable. The parts only make sense because of Jesus. Your life will only make sense as you submit to Jesus. Until the light of the world illuminates your world, you’ll never make sense of the world.

The imagery here is pretty simple—if our world didn’t have the sun, not only would we not know the sun, but we wouldn’t see to understand our world. Jesus is like the sun. We can’t make sense of a world that has so much evil and so much good without Jesus. Jesus helps us see it. He helps us understand it. In Jesus’s light we can embrace the reality that this world is broken because of sin, but we can do so with hope, for Jesus has promised to fix it. Our hope isn’t a fool’s dream. It’s rooted in the reality of the resurrection. Jesus already defeated death, so we have confidence he will one day banish death forever. Jesus is the light of the world, and only by following him can we see.

Reflect and Discuss

  1. Does Jesus ignore the woman’s sin in dealing with the scribes and Pharisees?
  2. How is the act of forgiving the woman’s sins different from the previous times Jesus has acted?
  3. In forgiving the woman’s sin, what is Jesus saying about himself?
  4. Have you ever felt shame and disgrace over your sin? How is this passage a message of hope concerning those feelings?
  5. How can you rest in the forgiveness of Jesus?
  6. What Old Testament texts are being referenced by calling Jesus “the light of the world”?
  7. How do Isaiah 49 and Psalm 27:1 point to Jesus as God rather than just as a messenger from God?
  8. How do Jesus’s claims of himself as bread, water, and light point back to the exodus?
  9. How does the light of the world help us make sense of the world around us?
  10. How can you leave a life of slavery by submission to Jesus?