To the priests, Jesus was a political problem. They just wanted Him out of the way. But to the Pharisees, Jesus was a biblical problem. He kept putting the needs of people ahead of the rules in the Law of Moses. Yet the God who wrote those rules didnât seem to be angry with Him. Jesus was performing miracles that were very hard to ignore. If God was angry with Him, it didnât show. But up until now most of their complaints were about the way He interpreted the ceremonial portions of the Law: things that had to do with what was âcleanâ or âuncleanâ or what it meant to ârestâ on the sabbath. They were upset because He ate with sinners, touched lepers and dead bodies and ministered on the wrong day. But would He ignore the moral portions of the Law as well? What would He do if He were confronted with someone who had unquestionably violated another of the Ten Commandments, besides keeping the sabbath day holy? If He publicly rejected one of those holy standards, people would turn against Him, and they, the Pharisees, would have grounds and witnesses to accuse Him of being a false prophet (Dt 13:1-5). So on a day when all Jerusalem was celebrating the giving of the Law, they placed a woman caught in the act of committing adultery in front of Him and dared Him to ignore that rule.
Early in the morning (Jn 7:53-8:11)
â¢ DBS (Fri-Sat)
They made her stand in the midst of the gathering and said, âTeacher, this woman was seized in the act of committing adultery. And in the Law, Moses commanded [us] to stone such women. Therefore, what do you say?â (literal). Weâre told that their motive was to test Him so that they might have reason to formally accuse Him of a religious crime. But Jesus did not reply. Instead He stooped down and wrote in the dirt with His finger. Apparently He remained in that position and stayed silent for a significant amount of time, but they wouldnât give up. They kept on questioning Him and demanding an answer, until He finally stood to His feet and said, â[Let] the sinless one among you throw the first stone at herâ (literal). And then He stooped down and began to write in the dirt again. In those few words He basically told them that the qualification for punishing others is sinlessness and then asked them to judge themselves by that standard before they judged her.
After hearing what He said, those who brought the woman began to leave, one at a time, beginning with the elders, until finally only the woman remained standing where they left her.
While those men wrestled with their conscience, Jesus continued writing in the dirt, but after they left He stood to His feet and asked, âWoman, where are they? Does no one condemn you?â And she replied, âNo one, sir.â Then He said, âAnd I donât condemn you either. Go, from now [on], sin no moreâ (literal).
A living parable
This encounter is so full of meaning that itâs like a parable. The closer you look, the more truth you discover. Jesus was being dared by these Pharisees to uphold the moral standards of the Law of Moses, probably within sight of a wooden platform that had been constructed so that the priests could read aloud the Law of Moses on that special day. Would Jesus ignore or agree with the Lawâs penalty for adultery? Obviously the Pharisees felt He had been far too lenient with sinners. But how lenient was He? Would He let her go or call for her execution? They would soon find out! And so will we, as we discover the lessons taught by this âliving parable.â
Lesson #1: They asked Him: âDoes she deserve to be condemned?â And He answered, âYes, but so do you, because Godâs standard is complete sinlessness. And not one of you is without sin, so by the standard of Godâs Law, you too are under the same verdict: death.â The apostle Paul, in his letters, explained this same truth to us. He said God gave the Law not to save people, but to show us that we need to be saved. Listen:
âBy the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for through the works of the Law comes the knowledge of sinâ (Ro 3:20).
âBut the Scripture has shut up everyone under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believeâ (Gal 3:22).
In fact Paul warns anyone who might try to earn eternal life by keeping the rules of the Law, that by placing themselves under the authority of the Law, they expose themselves to the curses which fall on anyone who does not obey all the laws perfectly. Listen:
âFor as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written âCursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the Law, to perform themââ (Gal 3:10).
This is the first lesson we need to learn from this âliving parable.â We need to realize that apart from the mercy of God which comes to us by faith in Jesus Christ, we are as deserving of death as the most obvious âsinnersâ around us. Understanding this truth will humble us and stop us from being harsh and judgmental. Our goal will be to bring people to the Savior, not condemn them.
Lesson #2: After telling the womanâs accusers that they were just as guilty as the woman they put in front of Him, by announcing that He forgave her, Jesus was saying, âThatâs why Iâm here. I came to earth to save guilty people. You brought this woman to Me, and I, the Son of Man, have authority on earth to forgive sins (Mt 9:6). So I say to her, âAnd I do not condemn you either.ââ
By these words, Jesus was revealing the heart of God. The Father had sent Him here on a mission: to save people, not condemn them. Listen:
âFor God did not send His Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Himâ (Jn 3:17).
If people try to earn righteousness by keeping the rules of the Law, the verdict will be death. If people come to Jesus by faith, they will be given the ârighteousness of faith.â Again, Paul explained this truth:
âBut to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousnessâ (Ro 4:4-5).
Lesson #3: Jesus said to the woman, âAnd I donât condemn you either.â But He didnât stop there. He added this, âGo. From now on, sin no more.â In other words, Jesus did not ignore her sin or let her think that because of mercy she could keep on sinning. What isnât explained here, but He explains elsewhere is that His death and resurrection would make it possible for humans to actually fulfill the holy standards of the Law. By telling her to âsin no more,â He was not giving this woman a hopeless assignment. He was not giving her a second chance only to see her keep failing. In time He would offer her everything she would need to become holy. Hereâs how He would do this:
1) He would die on the cross in her place to remove all her sin and restore her relationship with God.
2) He would ascend into heaven and continually intercede for her before the Father (Ro 8:34; Heb 7:25; 1Jn 2:1-2). By continually forgiving her, He would give her the time to learn how to obey God. John wrote this many years later:
âMy little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteousâ (1Jn 2:1).
3) By taking on a sinful body like ours, when He died on the cross Jesus made our bodies âcleanâ before God so that the Holy Spirit can dwell within us. That means this woman would have the power she needed to overcome the temptations of the flesh and live a holy life. Paul explained this:
âFor what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spiritâ (Ro 8:3-4).
4) Then someday because of Jesus, if she went on to be His follower, she would be resurrected into a glorious, eternal body which has no sinful impulses. At that moment, her adoption as a child of God will be complete (Ro 8:23).
Written in the earth
There were two major truths being taught by Jesus in this encounter. The first is the one weâve studied up to this point: âHereâs what happens to sinners who come to Me: They receive mercy.â But there is also a second truth, but it is less obvious. We discover it by observing what He did rather than by listening to what He said. Twice during this confrontation with the Pharisees Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dirt with His finger. Many suggestions have been made about what He wrote there, but the fact is we donât know. Yet by focusing on what He wrote we overlook the more important question of why He did this. I believe He was issuing a warning to the men who brought the woman, by using a prophetic symbol found in the prophecy of Jeremiah. The message was this, âHereâs what will happen to self-righteous people who donât come to Me: their names will be written in the earth, not in the Book of Life which is in heaven.â To understand this, letâs listen to Jeremiah:
âFor My people have committed two evils: They have forsaken Me, The fountain of living waters, To hew for themselves cisterns, Broken cisterns That can hold no waterâ (Jer 2:13).
âAnd they that depart from Me shall be written in the earth, because they have forsaken the Lord, the fountain of living watersâ (Jer 17:13, KJV).
So in that encounter, on a day set aside to celebrate the Law, there was a promise of mercy to those who know they have failed to live up to Godâs holy standards. They too will hear Him say, âAnd I do not condemn you either.â But there was also a warning to those who refuse to receive the gift of righteousness that He offers: Their names will be âwritten in the earth.â
In situation after situation, as we read through the Gospel of John, Jesusâ basic message is this: âYou need a Savior. You wonât make it on your own. Thatâs why I came to you. Now you must choose to come to Me.â
1) Some peopleâs guilt is obvious. Their failures have been exposed like that of this woman. Others have lived good, orderly lives, and their guilt is less obvious. Which category fits you best? When did you first realize you needed a Savior?
2) Itâs our own failures that help us be gentle with others who have failed. Rather than look down on weak people we tell them about the mercy that Jesus gave to us. Was someone kind to you when you failed? Has God used you to show His mercy to someone else? Tell us about it.