That poor little tree. That tree that nobody wanted, except Charlie Brown. That poor, pitiful, pathetic little tree.
My name is Mike Edmisten. I’m the Senior Pastor here at Connect. And I’ve got a confession to make. There have been times when I could relate to that little tree.
Charlie Brown was told to get “great big, shiny aluminum Christmas tree.” Lucy even told him to get one that was painted pink. But Charlie Brown was drawn to this scrawny little sapling. It was barely more than a branch. And that choice seemed to be a disaster. All the kids mocked him and laughed at him, except for Linus.
Linus did what Linus always seemed to do. Bring compassion and truth to the situation. Linus said, “I never thought it was such a bad little tree. It’s not bad at all, really. Maybe it just needs a little love.”
And look what that love did. Love transformed this scrawny little ugly tree into something beautiful.
And here’s the best part. Love has the power to do the exact same thing in our lives. That’s what we’re going to talk about today, and it’s going to be awesome.
Let me pray for us and we’ll dive into the second message in our Charlie Brown Christmas series.
I’m convinced that one of the most overused and most abused words in the English language is the word “love.” We use it all the time, and its overuse has really diminished the impact that this word should have.
I was thinking about how often I use this word. There are all kinds of things that I claim to “love.” Especially this time of year.
For example, I love eggnog. Anybody else with me? I love this stuff. In fact, I’m not sure why this is just a holiday thing. I agree with Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory. He said, “Since when is eggnog a Christmas drink? Eggs are available all year round. I’ve been known to enjoy this poolside.”
I love Christmas music. But there is a caveat here. I love GOOD Christmas music. But I’m convinced that only about 10% of Christmas music falls into that category. The radio stations in this town that have been playing Christmas music since Halloween really need to have a look at their playlists. If they want to hear good Christmas music, they need to come to Connect and listen to our band!
I love certain Christmas movies and TV specials. I’ve already told you that I love A Charlie Brown Christmas. It’s one reason why I looked forward to this series for months. I also love other Christmas classics, like Christmas Vacation. “You serious Clark?” I’m dead serious. I love that movie.
I love the Christmas traditions in our family. We always go to the Festival of Lights at the zoo. We go to the Christmas Ranch up in Morrow. We’ve got some traditions this time of year that I love.
Those are just a few things that I claim to love this time of year. But honestly, “love” probably isn’t the best word to describe those things. I like them. I enjoy them. But I’m not sure I can honestly say that I love them.
There are more important things that I really love.
I love my church. I know I say it all the time, but I mean it every time. I love my church. Someone told me this week that Connect is the absolute best church they’ve ever experienced. And I agree. I’m totally and completely biased, but I agree. The things that God has done in this church and through this church are unbelievable. And the way this church loves me and family is irreplaceable. I love my church.
I also love my Connect Group. We got together for our Christmas party on Friday, and we had an absolute blast. There is nothing that can ever replace community. And that’s coming from someone who is an introvert by nature. People don’t believe me when I say I’m an introvert because of my job, but I really am. But even though I’m an introvert, I need community. And my Connect Group is just that. It is a place where I can find community. It’s a safe place where I can share my struggles and my failures. I really do love these people.
I love my family. I am blown away that God would entrust such special people to me, and I never, ever want to take that for granted. My wife is beautiful. She really is amazing. My two boys are talented, compassionate, and very special. I love my family.
That’s a lot better use of the word “love.” It’s a shame that we use this word “love” in so many different ways. I can say, “I love eggnog.” I can also say, “I love my wife.” And most of us understand that it’s two very different things, but it does still diminish the impact of the word.
So today, we’re going to unearth what love really means. Because real love changes us from the inside out. It changed that scrawny little tree into something beautiful. And it has the power to do the same thing in our lives.
One of my favorite examples of love anywhere is found in John 8 in the Bible. It’s a story of Jesus and a woman who was caught in adultery. When you dig down into this story, you find love in its purest form. And it’s that kind of love that we all desperately need in our lives.
So let’s go. John 8, starting in verse 2. We’re going to read the story all the way through, and then we’ll go back and unpack it.
“At dawn [Jesus] appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them.
The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery.
In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.
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, the older ones first, 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.” (John 8:2-11, NIV)
I love this story. Now some people have a problem with this story because it is not included in the oldest manuscripts that we have of the gospel of John. It’s likely that John didn’t write this and that it was added later, but everything about this story rings true. There’s no reason to believe that this story didn’t happen exactly as it’s written.
And this story gives us an amazing picture of how real, authentic love can change us.
So let’s unpack it. First, think about what’s going on. Jesus was teaching in the temple courts, which was one of the main gathering places in that culture.
Jesus had obviously stirred up quite a bit of interest and intrigue, because a crowd of people had gathered around Him to hear His teaching. Now, we’re not told exactly what He was teaching at the time…probably because the lesson He was about to teach was far more important.
The teachers of the law and the Pharisees showed up. Throughout the gospels, we see this group conspiring against Jesus. They would ultimately be the ones to orchestrate His arrest and His eventual crucifixion.
And this scene is no different. We are told that they were trying to find a way to trap Jesus in His own words so they would have a basis for accusing Him and eventually having Him arrested and punished.
The pawn in their scheme was a woman. This woman had been caught in the act of adultery. Don’t miss that. She wasn’t suspected of adultery. She wasn’t accused of adultery. She was caught in the act of adultery! Are we tracking here? I don’t know how they did it. Maybe the Pharisees set the whole thing up as a sting operation. Maybe they jumped out of the closet at just the right moment, if you know what I mean. But whatever the case, she was caught in the act of adultery.
Now, we know that this really didn’t matter to the Pharisees. If adultery was their real concern, they would have brought the guy, too. Adultery takes two. They only brought one. So right away, their hypocrisy is shining through. All they cared about was trapping Jesus in His own words.
But think about this woman. If she was caught in the act of adultery and she was immediately hauled up before this crowd and before Jesus, what was she wearing? Probably very little. Possibly nothing at all. She had been caught. She is unquestionably guilty. And her shame and humiliation is off the chart.
And the Pharisees and the teachers of the law set the trap. In verse 4, we read, “[They] said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” (John 8:4-5, NIV)
Again, they are showing their hypocrisy. The Law of Moses in the Old Testament did say that adultery was a capital offense, but it never said the death was to occur by stoning. And it also said that both the man and the woman were to be put to death. They only brought the woman. It’s very clear that the Law of Moses wasn’t their concern. Their concern was setting a trap for Jesus.
And that’s when Jesus did something really strange. He bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. We’re not told what He wrote. People have speculated, but that’s all it can ever be. Speculation.
But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law kept after him. Look at verse 7 again. “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.” (John 8:7, NIV)
And in one sentence, Jesus completely destroyed their plan. Jesus was the master at that. He could always cut right to the heart of what a person was really thinking. What they really wanted to do. What they really believed. Seriously, He could have written this on Twitter. It’s way less than 140 characters. In one tweet, Jesus dismantled the Pharisees and the teachers of the law. And they did the only thing they could do. They left. And that meant that only Jesus and the woman remained.
And that’s when we see love bust onto the scene. “Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
“No one, sir,” she said.” (John 8:10-11a, NIV)
So it’s just the two of them now. Jesus looks at her and says, “Woman, where are they?”
By the way, some people think that Jesus is being condescending or insulting by calling her “woman.” Actually, it’s just the opposite. In this culture, the term “woman” that Jesus used would be comparable to our words “lady” or “ma’am.”
It was actually a term of respect. Now, it doesn’t work that way today. I wouldn’t recommend any husband referring to his wife as “woman.” “Hey woman!” is not going to go well for you, dude. Trust me.
But in this culture, the word was a term of respect. Jesus was showing respect to this lady who really hadn’t acted much like a lady. She was an adulteress. She was caught dead to rights. And Jesus was giving her honor and respect.
He said, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
And she said, “No one sir.”
And here is one of the most perfect pictures of love that we will ever see in the entire Bible. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” (John 8:11b, NIV)
This response is what we’re going to zero in on, because it shows us two things that real love does. And when this kind of love enters into our lives, we are never the same.
Here’s the first thing that love does. Love accepts the now. Real love accepts us as we are right now. And that acceptance is full. Total. Absolute. No stipulations. No conditions. It is full, complete acceptance.
One thing that I will never share with people is the pictures from my wedding. Now, don’t misunderstand. Nicki looked stunning. Absolutely knock-down gorgeous.
But I looked like a total dork. Seriously. I was overweight. I had stupid looking glasses. Plus, I was having an allergy attack that day, so my face is red and puffy. It’s one of those deals where you look at her and then you look at me, and you’re like, “Dude, count your blessings.” And I do. Everyday. I still don’t know how I convinced her to marry me.
But I’d like to think that I improved a little bit over the years. It took a while, but Nicki got me to dress a little with a little more style. She just fixed me up as best she could. And you may be looking at me now and thinking, “That’s all she could do.” Well, you should have seen what she had to start with.
But anyway, I know my wife is mad at me right now because she hates when I talk about our wedding pictures like this. But I’m telling you, it’s true. She was a knockout. I was a dweeb. But you know what? She accepted me as I was. Totally. Fully. 100%. Nothing held back. It was absolute acceptance as I was, because that’s what love does. Love accepts the now.
That’s exactly what we see Jesus doing with the woman. Jesus looked at her, knowing she was guilty. Knowing she deserved punishment. When Jesus said, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her,” He was the only one that passed that test. He actually was without sin. He had every right to start chucking rocks, but He didn’t.
Instead, He said, “Neither do I condemn you.”
Jesus said, “I don’t condemn you.” Instead, He was saying, “I accept you.”
Jesus accepted this woman who was unquestionably guilty. And He accepts me in the same way. I am unquestionably guilty. I am as guilty as this woman was. And so are you. We are all sinners. We are all unquestionably guilty.
And you know what Jesus says to each one of us? “I don’t condemn you. I accept you. I accept you right now.”
And that’s the model that we follow in our church, which means that you are accepted. Right here. Right now. We accept you. No matter who you are. No matter what you’ve done. We accept you, because that’s what love does. Love accepts the now.
But then there’s another thing that love does. Love embraces the not yet.
Love accepts the now, but love also embraces the not yet. Love believes that better is coming. Love speaks to our potential. Love pulls us toward what is better. Love always believes that the best is yet to come.
My wife is so good at this. She sees things in me that I don’t see in myself. She believes greater things for me than I believe for myself. She accepts me fully as I am right now, but she also knows that I haven’t peaked. I haven’t reached my potential. The best is yet to come.
That’s what love does. It accepts the now, but it also embraces the not yet. That’s what Jesus did with this woman.
He said, “Neither do I condemn you.” But then He said, “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
This really shows a misunderstanding that people have about acceptance. In our culture, acceptance has come to mean approval. If you accept someone, it means you approve of what they’re doing. That is not even close to the biblical picture of acceptance.
Jesus fully accepted this woman, but He never, ever approved of what she was doing in her life. Jesus never excused her sin. He never gave any indication that he thought her sin was no big deal. He didn’t just dismiss it with a wink and a nod. Instead, he called it what it was. He called it sin. And then He called her to something better.
That isn’t our culture’s definition of love AT ALL, but it is God’s definition of love. And if you have to listen to culture or listen to God, choose God. Just choose God.
Love doesn’t overlook wrong. It doesn’t dismiss sin. In fact, love calls it what it is. And that’s why here at Connect, we aren’t afraid to call a sin, a sin. It’s not politically correct, but we’re cool with that. Because political correctness is not love. And love is what we’re all about. Love will call a sin a sin, but then it will call us to something better.
Go back to Jesus and the woman. That’s exactly what He is doing here. By not condemning her, Jesus is accepting her right now. But then He pushes her to leave her life of sin, meaning that He has something better for her. He accepts her “now,” but He also embraces her “not yet.” He knows that who she is now is not who she will be.
That’s exactly what the love of Christ does for us. Jesus accepts us as we are right now, but He also knows that who we are now is not who we will be.
So let’s get down to the bedrock of this. Why does this matter so much to us?
Fill in the blank. I am ___________________.
How would you complete that sentence? I am ______________.
Anxious. A liar. A porn addict. A gossip. Involved in sexual sin. A lousy parent. A food addict. A drug user. An alcoholic. Hopeless. Judgmental. Self-righteous. Empty.
Everyone is going to have a different answer. How would you complete this sentence? I am ______________________.
However you filled in that blank, here’s the truth that you have to wrap your arms around. Jesus accepts you now. Right now. This minute. You are accepted. He accepts your “now.”
But He also embraces your “not yet.” He has something better for you than whatever went into that blank. He’s calling you out of your sin because He has something so much better in mind for you.
And the reason you can embrace His better is because He gave Himself up for you.
That’s what the Apostle Paul tells us in Galatians 2 when he wrote, “…I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20b, NIV)
Look at the two things that Paul tells us. The Son of God loved me and gave himself for me.
Jesus gave Himself for all of us when He died on the cross. When Jesus was crucified, He took God’s wrath for us. He took God’s judgment and God’s punishment on our behalf. God punished Jesus for all our sin, meaning that there is no punishment left for us to endure. Even though we are unquestionably guilty, we are forgiven. We are set free.
And that means that we are accepted right now, but who we are right now is not who we will be. The love of God is what changes our lives.
I’m living proof of this truth. I’m a sinner. I’m still jacked up in a lot of ways. But at the same time, I can honestly say that I’m not who I used to be. I’ve got a long way to go, but I’ve also come a long way already. God’s Spirit is working in me. I am being changed by a God who loves me.
Love is what changed a pitiful little tree into something beautiful. And love has the same changing power in our lives.
So here’s the question. What are you going to do with that love? You have a God who loves you so much that He gave His life for you. He took His wrath out on Himself so He would never have to take it out on you. That’s what happened when Jesus died on the cross for you.
What are you going to do with that love? What are you going to do with a love that accepts you right now? In spite of your shortcomings. In spite of your failures. In spite of your sins. What are you going to do with the love that accepts your now?
And what are you going to do with the love that sets you free to become something better? What are you going to do with the love that knows that who you are now is not who you will be? What are you going to do with the love that accepts your now, but also embraces your not yet?
That’s the love that Jesus has for you. And that’s the love that we want you to experience today.