Who me? I’m not beautiful. I’m only someone likely to make a bad choice, believe a lie, or place my affections on wrong things. How can God call me beautiful? How can I arise from my knees in those places of deep regret? Isn’t this the way we often feel when we read the words: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9)?
In John 8:3-11, the Pharisees and lawgivers brought a woman caught in the act of adultery (most would call her a harlot) to Jesus hoping to get His approval to stone her, the required lawful sentence for such a crime (sin). Their real motive was to set a trap for Him to prove that He was a hypocrite and not who He said He was, thus breaking the law Himself.
“But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning Him, He straightened up and said to them, ‘Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.’ Again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. At this, those who heard began to go away, one at a time, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ ‘No one, sir,’ she said. ‘Then neither do I condemn you,’ Jesus declared. ’Go now and leave your life of sin.’”
I recently heard a beautiful spontaneous worship song sung by one of my favorite singers, Misty Edwards. It is called “The Harlot.” It tells the story I just quoted of the harlot apprehended and dragged through the streets of Jerusalem, with all the drama of the screaming and taunting crowd, the pain she experienced, and the hopeless despair of her situation. Then she finds herself at the feet of Jesus, the teacher, so filled with her own shame that she could not even look up. Suddenly, the picture changes, and we find ourselves in heaven at the Great White Throne of Judgment. The harlot is before the Father. The devil is pacing back and forth before Him reciting her sins and demanding punishment.
In the song, the climactic moment comes when Jesus cries out to the Father, “What’s hers is mine, and what’s mine is hers!” It rings out through the emotionally charged music, followed by His act of taking the cup of wrath with her name on it and draining it Himself. She tries to stop Him, but it is too late. He drank all of it!
She then finds herself at the wedding supper of the Lamb, dressed in a beautiful garment, surrounded by a heavenly choir of angels singing “Worthy is the Lamb” as Jesus makes her His bride. He restores her to His original plan for her – companion and help mate of the King of Kings, and Lord of Lords. He sings of His love for her. The song ends with His words, “Arise beauty, arise!”
This is an incredible picture! She, of course, represents all of us. One sin is no more sinful than another. We are all sinners, crying out our regret at the feet of Jesus who is interceding for us before the Father. Would it work in our courts of law today if we had broken a law? Would the judge and/or jury say, “We don’t condemn you. Just go and be good from now on?”
To the Old Testament Jewish religious and legal rulers, who were all about always obeying the Law, even when you knew it was out of the question, this was not practical, realistic, or reasonable. After all, you could travel to Jerusalem, buy a spotless lamb, take it to the temple, and somehow receive absolution from all your sins for the last year. Nothing really changed. You were still the same person. You had done the required penance for your sins – your “acceptable” sins like little white lies, winking and nodding at the corner prostitute, short changing the vendors at the market or the tax booth, or “accidentally” forgetting to bring your tithe to the temple.
Then there were the “unacceptable” sins. These sins were mostly committed by others. You know—murderers, thieves, and of course, the prostitutes. There was really no excuse for such behavior.
What the cultural and religious elites found so confusing about Jesus was how he would look beyond the actions to the state of men’s hearts. Jesus could not possibly have been God’s son! They, themselves, were blind to the truth or lack of it in their own hearts; to see it might have been very painful, if not, totally disabling. Does any of this relate to you and me? Do we find ourselves as self-made judges and jury when it comes to the actions of others, but unwilling to say, “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24)?
If we allow Him to do that, would we find any offenses in our hearts? Most likely you’ve thought about this before as a Christian, and even prayed these beautiful verses as a prayer. Most of us have been either shocked to see the answer or more likely disgusted and deeply sorry. We have felt the regret, the gentle conviction, and the desire to confess and repent.
This in itself is a great gift from God, but the greater one is that “God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” John 3:16.
Why? Read it again.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” God, the Father, had this plan from the very beginning before the planet Earth was even created. He wanted a family .Why else would He have designed man in His likeness? He, a Spirit, made a man, flesh and blood with an indwelling spirit – a family – a family to whom He gave this incredible planet called Earth, a family to whom He gave dominion over the Earth and its animals and plants, a family whom He regularly spoke with and consulted with, sharing the joys of such an existence.
He even had a plan for the ugly eventuality called sin which resulted from the ability that He had built into the man to freely choose his destiny. Man chose sin. Sin broke the bond, the fellowship, the joy of this family relationship. The Father’s wrath was the penalty. Eternal separation and spiritual death was the sentence. But the Trinity was not caught by surprise. Their infinite knowledge and reasoning had already been planned a solution. The love that had been a part of the original plan could not be killed. The Son would leave His heavenly home, be incarnated in a physical body, live a life just as men and women lived it, only without sin. He still had a perfect connection between Himself, the Father and the Holy Spirit. And He would offer Himself up to be the perfect Lamb of God; this time to take the sins of the entire world on Himself. He would drink the full cup of wrath, meant for each one of us individually. Jesus wanted us back; not as dutiful, pitiful creatures, but as His family, His radiant bride.
Bride—it’s no accident that this term is used in many places in the Bible. God’s love for His people, Israel, was often compared to that of a husband for a wandering and often adulterous bride by the prophets. Jesus referred to Himself as the bridegroom, as did Paul in his letters to the new churches, and Revelation (the blueprint of the “End Times”) tells of the extraordinary “wedding supper of the Lamb.” No other term can really paint the picture of the tender, passionate, and eternal love of God for His people.
This Easter, why not look up the song “The Harlot” by Misty Edwards on YouTube. It helps to understand what really transpired on that Good Friday and Easter weekend 2,000 years ago.