And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.
—Jesus, John 14.16I find it interesting that the word Jesus used to refer to the Spirit is Advocate. This is the word John uses for Jesus in 1 John 2.1:
1 John 2.1: My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.
This is an intentional contrast to the word accuser (a synonym for Satan), which John purposefully uses in Revelation 12.10:
Revelation 12.10: For the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down.
It seems quite clear that the work of “the Satan” is to accuse. The work of the Spirit and anyone who is energized by the Spirit is to be an advocate for those being accused.
I want to remind you of the story John also tells in John 8 about a woman who, he says, was caught “in the very act” of adultery. Pay close attention to the contrast between the role of the Pharisees in railing against this woman and the gentle but firm role Jesus plays by kneeling down alongside the naked woman and drawing attention away from her to what he was drawing in the sand. (We have no idea what it really was; if it were important, John would have told us.) Then Jesus speaks the words, “You who are without sin, cast the first stone.” Stop for a moment and ask yourself what is going on.
It’s the oldest phenomenon in human social history. The Romans are oppressing Israel. Any time people are oppressed they grow hungry for the sense of identity that has been stripped from them. They reach out for something to give them value in spite of the dehumanization they have experienced from their oppressors. They grasp for something that will give them worth. The earliest established way for humans to do this is to find a scapegoat. A scapegoat is someone to blame, someone to attack as a common problem, some individual or group that being against will bring unity a sense of identity, and restored meaning to their existence—a group that the community would be better off without. In Jesus’s day, there was a religious group called the Pharisees that was doing this very thing to people they labeled as living “outside the Torah.” The Jews who were not following the teachings of Moses were supposedly the root cause of the oppression they were under by the Romans. And what was the label that the Pharisees gave to these Jews who were not living lives in harmony with the laws of Moses? They called them “sinners.”
Matthew 9.11: When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
Luke 7.39: When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”
Luke 15.1–2: Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
Luke 19.7: All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”
Notice they did not use the word sinner the way we do today. But what I also want you to notice is what Jesus was doing that made the Pharisees so upset. Jesus was coming alongside of and advocating for those the Pharisees were endeavoring to rally Israel around as a scapegoat for their humiliating subjugation to Rome.
With the woman caught in adultery, it was the same way. “Are you going to side with us, the followers of the laws of Moses, and stone this woman, or are you going to side with the empire of Rome?” But Jesus chose a third party to come alongside of. He knelt down beside the “sinner,” the “scapegoat,” the ones being marginalized and blamed by the religious leaders of that day.
Is it any different today? Recently I was reminded of the accusing words of Jerry Falwell shortly after 9/11:
“I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way—all of them who have tried to secularize America—I point the finger in their face and say, ‘You helped this happen.’”
Pat Robertson concurred at that moment, but since then both have regretted saying this.
I raise this awful memory not as an accusation against these two fellows in the slightest but as a simple example of how easy it is for all Christians to adopt this type of scapegoating mentality. As uncomfortable as it is, we must realize that this is not something done only by Pat and Jerry, but something that too often is done, almost intuitively, by all Christians, myself included.
Just this past summer, at one of the events I was speaking at and also on Twitter and Facebook, I periodically shared one or two sentences about how we, as followers of Jesus, are called to come alongside the marginalized today and like Jesus to be advocates for the ones that others are demanding should be stoned. I said this is true even if the people we are coming alongside of are those society has labeled as LGBT. You would have thought I had committed the unpardonable sin! But is it any different? I’m also reminded this week of Tony Campolo’s words, which I believe are relevant.
“You don’t have to legitimize somebody’s lifestyle to love that person, to be brother or sister to that person, and to stand up for that person.”
—Tony Campolo in Lord, Save Us from Your Followers, 2008
But even this, for too many people, goes too far.
Too many Christians today feel they have to choose between the rules and the value of people Jesus died for. I don’t personally believe those two are always necessarily mutually exclusive. But in moments when they do become mutually exclusive, it is quite a paradigm shift to realize that when Jesus did have to choose between the two, he always chose affirming the value of people over protecting the rules (see John 8.1–11; Luke 8.40–47; Acts 10.28), and that is what got him murdered (see John 11.50).
Jesus walked the earth in the radical, extravagant, “dangerous” favor of God. He practiced a boundary-pushing, law-challenging, line-crossing, Pharisee-infuriating, radical favor and inclusivity. And the question we have to answer is, “Do we?”
In our day we could talk about any number of marginalized groups, some of which are being marginalized by Americanized, Westernized Christianity. But in light of the phenomenon of scapegoating, the work of the Satan as an accuser, and the work of the Spirit as an advocate, which of the marginalized is Jesus asking you to come along beside and be an advocate for today?
1.I want you to ponder this week how Jesus was an Advocate for those living outside the laws of Moses in light of these two texts:
John 14.9–10: Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.
John 5.19: Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.
2.Write down what this means to you to actually begin seeing the Father as the greatest Advocate for “sinners” against the spirit of the Accuser anytime it rears its ugly head. What does it do inside of you to see the Father as coming alongside you to defend you against your accusers? And lastly write down any changes this causes you to want to make in your own life as you allow the three Advocates we have (the Father, Son and Holy Spirit) to use your life as a conduit to be an advocate for those being marginalized and scapegoated in our society today.
3.Discuss openly and respectfully with your HeartGroup what each of you wrote down, and then covenant together to become a group that is characterized by being advocates for “sinners” rather than accusers.
Till the only world that remains is a world where love reigns, keep enlarging Christ’s Kingdom in the here and in the now. Come, Lord Jesus! Long live the revolution!
I love you guys,
We’ll see you next week.