A woman is accused of adultery. She is brought into the public spotlight. Does this sound familiar? This story which occurred in the Bible almost 2000 years ago could be the headlines from todays newspapers. We think we are so sophisticated and technologically advanced today, but the truth is that things havent changed that much in the past 2000 years. Men and women are still failing God and are still in the need of his mercy and compassion. As we examine this story recorded by the gospel writer, there is much for us to learn from it even as we approach the 21st Century. We will learn about sin, we will learn about condemning others, but especially we will learn about Christs love and compassion for us when we fail God.
But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Now early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people came to Him; and He sat down and taught them.
This story starts off with Jesus in the temple teaching. Notice that verse 2 tells us that "all the people came to him." They were anxious to learn from Jesus. They wanted to hear his words and learn from him. Are we interested in being taught? Do we want to learn from the Savior? In todays society there is a lot of noise, a lot of emotion, and a lot of feel-good messages that passes for preaching, but how much of it is real teaching? Jesus taught the people. Let us be also be willing to learn from him.
Then the scribes and Pharisees brought to Him a woman caught in adultery. And when they had set her in the midst, they said to Him, "Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act."
Can you imagine the commotion this caused? Here Jesus is teaching an attentive audience about the truths of God, and suddenly they are interrupted by this raucous group of scribes and Pharisees dragging this unfortunate woman. Perhaps she was loudly protesting or fighting to get free.
How these men could have actually caught her "in the very act" of adultery is beyond me. And what happened to the man that was involved? But as we will see these men are not interested in justice. They are interested in trapping Jesus, and they dont care who they have to hurt to accomplish their goal.
"Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do You say?"
As we learn from the next verse, these Jewish leaders were not so much interested in punishing evil as they were in putting Jesus on the spot. This woman was only a pawn in their plan to embarrass Jesus.
As Ray Stedman wrote, "They knew that Jesus was The Friend of Sinners, that he was always on the side of the unfortunate and that he spent his time, not with the righteous, the wealthy or the respected, but with publicans and sinners. They obviously expected him to turn this woman loose. If he said that, he would be contradicting the Law of Moses and they would have him. They thought surely they had him trapped."
This they said, testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him. But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear.
This translation adds the last line "as though he did not hear." I believe this is a proper interpretation of what happened. Jesus was ignoring their interruption. As Lange writes, "According to the correct interpretation of Euthyumius Zigabenus, the whole act of stooping down and writing on the ground was symbolical, and was meant to express inattention to the questioners before Him."
Why did Jesus do this? Perhaps when they first accused the woman, they sounded calm and reasonable. Their words masked their evil intent. By allowing them to stew, Jesus is giving them a chance to reveal their true intentions not so much to him, but to themselves.
So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, "He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first."
The more he ignored them, the more angry they became. As Matthew Henry comments, "They continued asking him, and his seeming not to take notice of them made them the more vehement; for now they thought sure enough that they had run him aground, and that he could not avoid the imputation of contradicting either the law of Moses, if he should acquit the prisoner, or his own doctrine of mercy and pardon, if he should condemn her; and therefore they pushed on their appeal to him with vigour...."
Finally, as a result of their continual asking, Christ raised himself up. Every time I read this portion of scripture, I imagine Christ standing up with fire in his eyes, and speaking these words forcefully as a challenge to them. I cant imagine him saying them softly or quietly. I sense that he is so appalled at their evil desire and lack of compassion that he stands as if to condemn the darkness of their souls. But he does not condemn them. He simply challenges them, "He who is without sin among you, let him throw the first stone." Even in the heat of Christs righteous indignation, he knew that these Jewish leaders needed to acknowledge their sin as much as this woman whom they had dragged before him.
And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground.
What a dramatic moment. Jesus had not fallen into their trap. The Jewish leaders had fallen into Christs trap. They had brought the woman to Christ because they did not think he would dare say the words, "stone her." And yet that is precisely what he says.
They had spent all this time thinking only of the woman, of the Law, and of Christ. Now suddenly they were forced to think of themselves. They probably had no intention of stoning this woman, but now they were forced to face the consequences of their actions. As Jesus turned away from them, they began to examine themselves. They began to ponder the words that he had spoken. The light of Christs words revealed the dark areas in their own lives. They were shocked. They were speechless. And they were humbled.
Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.
They were convicted by their own conscience. They could not cast the first stone. Muhlenberg comments, "They leave; the people staring after them: their long robes and broad phylacteries not quite so imposing as when they came in. They are gone. The court has adjourned. There has been an adjudication, not precisely that for which the court was called. There has been a conviction not of the accused, but of the accusers, and they, self-convicted, not daring to look the Judge in the face, who could see them through and through."
They were convicted by their own guilt. Tom Blair tells the story of two men who were on trial for armed robbery in the San Diego Superior Court, "An eyewitness took the stand, and the prosecutor moved carefully: So, you say you were at the scene when the robbery took place? Yes. And you saw a vehicle leave at a high rate of speed? Yes. And did you observe the occupants? Yes, two men. And, the prosecutor boomed, are those two men present in court today? At this point the two defendants raised their hands, thus sealing their fate."
Those two men were convicted by their own guilt just as the scribes and Pharisees were. When we are in Christs presence and we are convicted by our own conscience, there is nothing we can say. There are no excuses, no arguments. We know we are guilty.
When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, "Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?"
Jesus stood up again, and all the accusers have left. Now for the first time he addresses the woman. Notice he doesnt ask her if these men were right in their charges or if she were actually guilty of the sin. He already knew the answer to those questions. He only asked, "where are those accusers of yours." What a beautiful statement. Do you feel condemned and overwhelmed by guilt? Have people been telling you that you are worthless, no good, a hopeless case? Look around you. Jesus has caused the accusers to leave. They are no longer here. It is only you and Christ. No matter how incorrigible others may think we are, Jesus has chased our accusers away. And he is reaching out to us in love and compassion.
We need to be careful that we dont be like the Jewish leaders finding fault in others while ignoring our own sins. Matthew Henry writes, "Whenever we find fault with others, we ought to reflect upon ourselves, and to be more severe against sin in ourselves than in others. We ought to be favourable, though not to the sins, yet to the persons, of those that offend, and to restore them with a spirit of meekness, considering ourselves and our own corrupt nature. ... We either are, or have been, or may be, what he is. Let this restrain us from throwing stones at our brethren, and proclaiming their faults. Let him that is without sin begin such discourse as this, and then those that are truly humbled for their own sins will blush at it, and be glad to let it drop."
She said, "No one, Lord." And Jesus said to her, "Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more."
Jesus said to her, "Neither do I condemn you." Jesus is saying to you, "Neither do I condemn you." Christ came not to condemn us but to save us. He came to rescue us from the entrapments of sin and to set us free from the bondage of our own evil desires. He doesnt condemn us. He reaches out to us in love and mercy. As he said in Matthew 11:28, "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest."
Jamison-Fausset-Brown comments, "What inimitable tenderness and grace! Conscious of her own guilt, and until now in the hands of men who had talked of stoning her, wondering at the skill with which her accusers had been dispersed and the grace of the few words addressed to herself, she would be disposed to listen, with a reverence and teachableness before unknown, to our Lord's admonition. ... While a sanctimonious hypocrisy is not unfrequently found among unprincipled professors of religion, a compassionate purity which wins the fallen is one of the most beautiful characteristics of real religion. But until Christ appeared, this feature of religion was but dimly realized, and in the Old Testament but faintly held forth. It was reserved for the Lord Jesus to exhibit it in all its loveliness."
Jesus does not leave the woman there. Notice he ends with the words, "Go and sin no more." Christ does not condemn. He came to save us, to give us a new life. But when we commit our life to him, the we must go and sin no more. We cannot continue to practice sin. Jesus is reaching to you with love and compassion. He is asking you to come to him. He did not come to condemn you but to save you. Wont you let him be Lord of your life today?
This study on John 8:1-11 © 1998 by David
Humpal. All rights reserved.