The very thought of love letters often brings back many pleasant memories. Sometimes because of distance between two who deeply respect and love each other, love letters help to keep in touch. When formal dates during courtship are too infrequent, a love letter can fill the gap. Some of you may even have stored a bundle of old love letters written many years ago, and it might prove interesting to get them out of the closet or down from the attic and re-read them again. The story is told of a little girl who was playing outside the house. When she came inside she informed her mother that she had discovered a new game. She decided to call the name of the game “Post Office.” She said she used an old bundle of letters which were up in the attic and she said to her mother, “I had just enough of those old letters to put one in every mailbox up the street.”
The words of a secular song say: “Now my poor heart just aches, with every wave it breaks; over love letters in the sand.” This is the picture of two lovers possibly out by the ocean. The sand for them was the place to write little messages of affection. But as the waves rolled in again and again, the words would be washed away. Our message today is about some words of love which neither time nor eternity can ever erase. Are you in need of a love letter? God has one ready for your heart today.
If there ever was a lady in need of a love letter, it is the one described in John 8:1-11. There was no question about her guilt. She had been caught and taken in the very act of adultery. Early in the morning she was brought by the Scribes and Pharisees and placed in front of Jesus. Verse 2 (of John 8) indicates that the setting was within sight of the Temple in Jerusalem which spoke of the Law, and the Law was precise and demanding. Verse 5 records their case: “Now Moses in the law commanded us that such should be stoned; but what sayest thou?” She had some expert accusers and they pressed for a verdict! The details of her birth and upbringing are not given. Most of her past record is obscure. But on that morning she was outnumbered and made ready for judgment. They may have already picked up some stones, and all Jesus would have needed to do, was to give the word and it would have been all over for the sinful woman.
Instead of speaking the answer however, the Scripture says Jesus stooped down and with His finger wrote on the ground. Many have wondered ever since that day what it was that Jesus wrote. On this side of eternity we will never know for sure. It was a personal, private message. Apparently it was never intended for publication. I rejoice however in the many things those same fingers wrote at other times, and that the account has been recorded in the pages of the Bible for our learning and edification. These same fingers wrote the Ten Commandments. We know what Jesus wanted said in the Gospels and in the Revelation and to the Corinthians. But we can only surmise here. Whatever it was, it must have dried her tears and quieted her fears and changed her course in life. While we don’t know exactly what the message was that Jesus wrote on the sand, I would like to suggest three things which Jesus may have written.
1. God Loves Imperfect People
As Jesus stooped over, contemplating the scene which was before Him I can easily think that He might have been flooded with the knowledge of the immeasurable love of God. And since He came from the throne of God, from which all this true and divine and spotless and heavenly love has had its beginning, I think Jesus addressed a love letter to the needy soul before Him. He might have written from Matthew 21: “The publicans and harlots go into the kingdom before you.” But the love of Christ enabled Him to press through the mistakes and shame of a broken life that seemed headed for destruction.
It is always hard to help those who feel good in themselves. The Master said, “They that are whole need not a physician but they which are sick.” And it was a sick soul who stood before Jesus that day. She was sick of her shabby life, and a society that bartered for her body. She needed a physician—not accusers. Only the Son of God could fathom the depth of her longing. Only the Son of God could see the capabilities within her being. Only the Son of God could look past those wasted years of her life. Jesus saw something here worth redeeming. In John 8:10 He says, “Woman.” There is that “angel-potential” in every woman. Jesus wanted to bring it out. Jesus could have written about Mary Magdalene in Luke 8:1-3. Seven devils tried to tear her life apart, but Jesus Christ made the difference. How true the hymn “Rescue the Perishing” is when it speaks of the love of Christ that reaches out and touches desperate lives:
“Down in the human heart, crushed by the tempter,
Feelings lie buried that grace can restore;
Touched by a loving heart, wakened by kindness,
Chords that were broken will vibrate once more.”
Many today are “crushed” by the burden of sin and feel rejected because of words of scorn and ridicule. David the Psalmist cried out in Psalm 51:8, “Make me to hear joy and gladness that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice.” David felt like a steam roller had gone over him, and he too needed a love letter. Jesus is in the business of healing the broken and raising the fallen and giving beauty for ashes. And the way you can know He wants to do it is because of His love. One of the simplest and yet most beautiful verses of the whole Bible is the phrase, “God is love.” They may be the very words that Jesus wrote in the sand. It doesn’t take very long to write three little mono-syllable words—a total of nine letters. For nineteen hundred years the world has not been able to plumb the depths of their meaning or exhaust the benefits of their blessings. Christ still has a love letter for you!
This woman needed love and refuge, not condemnation and judgment. John 3:17 says, “For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.” Jesus Christ was God’s special delivery to the world. God knows every earthly address. And the Bible says that Jesus stands at the door and knocks (Revelation 3:20). Our first suggestion is that Jesus may have written the words, “God loves imperfect people.”
2. God Forgives Imperfect People
Imperfect people are the only ones who need forgiveness. When Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn thee” (in verse 11), He was speaking the word of forgiveness. Forgiveness means to pardon or to remit the penalty for an offense. When you think of the tremendous accumulation of sins that have been collected out of this wicked world—sins against a loving and holy God—one of the most beautiful words of the Gospel is the word “forgiveness.” It seems that as Jesus bent over toward earth, His mind soared to Heaven where provision has been made for the forgiveness of every sin and transgression. He may have written from 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” There was no forgiveness in the rocks which her accusers would hurl, but there was forgiveness in the words which Jesus wrote.
Jesus could have written about Tamar in His ancestral line. Genesis 38 contains the story in sordid detail. It involves the house of Judah, one of the sons of Jacob. Judah’s wife’s name was Shuah, and they had three sons (Er, Onan, and Shelah). The firstborn was married to Tamar, but God soon slew Er because of his sin. As the practice was in those days, when a widow’s husband died leaving her childless, if he had a younger brother unmarried, the brother would perform the duties of the husband and raise up seed to his dead brother (Deuteronomy 25:5-6). So the second son in the family (Onan) was given to Tamar, but because of his unfaithfulness he too was destroyed by the Lord, which left Tamar childless again, and without a husband. There was yet a younger boy in the family, and Judah promised Tamar that when Shelah would be grown, he would be given to her to fulfill the role of a husband and hopefully produce children. It was considered a disgrace for a woman to be childless.
Considerable time passed and Judah’s wife, Shuah, died. In his mourning for his wife and his desire to seek comfort, Judah decided to visit the sheep-shearers in Timnath. Tamar realized that Judah was negligent about not giving her the now fully grown Shelah to be her husband. When she learned about Judah’s trip, she went on ahead by the way and dressed as a harlot. Judah came along and made advances to her, and after satisfying her with some payment, went in to her and had immoral sexual relations with her without realizing it was his own daughter-in-law, and she became pregnant.
Three months later the news leaked out that Tamar had played the harlot and was with child by whoredom. When Judah learned of it, he commanded that she should be brought forth and be burned. He was still unaware that he himself was involved—and his tight little world began to collapse when she displayed some of his payment, which included a few of Judah’s personal belongings. And she said, “By the man, whose these are, am I with child: and she said, Discern, I pray you, whose are these, the signet and bracelets and staff. And Judah acknowledged them, and said, She hath been more righteous than I; because that I gave her not to Shelah my son. And he knew her again no more” (Genesis 38:25, 26). In time she gave birth to twins and their names were Pharez and Zarah.
Somebody may suggest, “Why go into such detail with this rather unsightly Old Testament account?” Well, the fact is that this is not only an Old Testament account. The very first words of the New Testament to greet us, say, “The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. Abraham begat Isaac; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat Judah and his brethren; and Judah begat Phares and Zara of Tamar” (Matthew 1:1-3). Not only is this account in the New Testament, but it is in the direct genealogical line of Jesus Christ. God inspired the writers of the Bible to give us the details of mistakes of some of the past saints, in order to help us appreciate how much He wants to forgive us when we repent. Reading these accounts does not make us feel like going out and doing the same kinds of things. Rather, we are made to rejoice at the vast reservoir of forgiveness that abounds in the heart of God.
Jesus could have written from another verse in His genealogy. Matthew 1:6 says, “David the king begat Solomon of her that had been the wife of Uriah.” There it is; everyone can see the facts in black and white. The sin of David and Bathsheba seems more terrible because of the respectable characters involved. David was called “the man after God’s own heart” (Acts 13:22). But as we see him committing adultery with another man’s wife (2 Samuel 11)—which led to an illegitimate child and even murder, we see him falling short of the mark which his best intentions would have sought. The good news of the forgiveness of God in the Gospel message is that the grace of God included David and Bathsheba! David’s true greatness is seen in that he cried out to God for mercy in his penitence for sin as seen in Psalm 51.
In the account in John 8, Jesus stunned those who were standing by. Jesus said, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” His urgings were for the one with the perfect record to step to the front. Jesus was the only one without sin—therefore eligible to throw stones according to His guidelines. But instead of throwing stones He stooped down and wrote a love letter of forgiveness.
“O perfect redemption, the purchase of blood
To every believer the promise of God;
The vilest offender who truly believes,
That moment from Jesus pardon receives.”
We have thus far suggested that Jesus may have written “God loves imperfect people,” or, “God forgives imperfect people.”
3. God Uses Imperfect People
In John 8:11 Jesus says, “Go and sin no more.” There would be no biblical record of God’s dealing with the children of men and their acts of faithfulness in His kingdom, if it would not be for His using imperfect people. Aside from Jesus, imperfect people have been the only kind that have ever been on the earth. They who thought she was worthless, needed to learn that with her sin gone, she could be a useful and respectable lady once again. It is always better to have our sin shame us, than to have our sin damn us. Many try and hide their sins and imperfections hoping to impress God and others. But the Bible says, “Whoso covereth his sins shall not prosper, but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy.” I would rather endure the shame of my sins now, and send them on to judgment and place them under the blood of Christ, than to try and conceal them and find them following me into judgment, thus condemning me in the next world. No one can carefully interpret this Scripture, and come to the conclusion that Jesus is “soft” on adultery. He says as clearly as it is possible to say it, “Go and sin no more.”
But neither does Jesus say that a person with similar mistakes cannot ever be useful again. Jesus may have written in the sand the words of Hebrews 11:31, “By faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not, when she had received the spies with peace.” Here was a branded harlot who was used by God above all the people who lived in the city of Jericho. There probably were many so-called moralists in her day who never had been caught in a sinful act. Rahab’s earlier manner of living had earned her a disgraceful nickname — “Rahab the harlot.” And that scar is not completely erased in the New Testament, for even there she is still identified by the same name. She knew her salvation did not depend on status. She never prayed, “I thank thee that I am not as this publican, this harlot, this thief.”
The Gospel calls us out of our sin and carries us to new and noble endeavors. God does use imperfect people. We have all been caught in the knowledge of our sin. And Christ is willing to capture us and use us as vessels for His glory. I have often wondered—if the woman was taken in the very act—why wasn’t the man? Where was he? Is it possible that these wicked men who were bringing this accusation against her, had been the partners in her sin, and when their lust had been satisfied considered her little more than trash to be thrown away.
God doesn’t always write love letters. You may recall the events of Daniel 5. Belshazzar and a thousand of his night-clubbers were together in a great pagan celebration. In order to try and heighten the excitement of the party, someone suggested that the holy vessels which had been used in Temple worship by the Jews in Jerusalem might be brought and used to drink their intoxicating beverages while they praised the gods of their heathen land. The Bible says, “In the same hour came forth fingers of a man’s hand, and wrote over against the plaster of the wall of the king’s palace” (Daniel 5:5). The King trembled and turned pale. The music soon stopped. Swords flashed. That same night Belshazzar was a dead man. The message had been delivered. “Thou art weighed in the balances and found wanting.”
There is one final scene which should not go unnoticed in the John 8 account. Part of verse 9 says, “and Jesus was left alone and the woman standing in the midst.” I would urge you to take your chances with Jesus Christ. Others may stone you; He will listen to your concerns. This lesson suggests that Jesus may have written a love letter of compassion, a letter of forgiveness, or a letter of usefulness. Jesus has a letter for you. Will you open your heart’s “mailbox” today?