Read: John 8:1-11
The day before had been one of those days most of us would like to forget. It had been a feast day. A time of celebration. But the mood of the crowd was restless, and Jesus was the major topic of conversation. Public opinion was divided between those who wanted to stone him, and those who wanted to make him king. The chief priests and Pharisees even sent officers to arrest him; but they were stopped by the sheer power of his words. It wasn’t his time.
Where do you go at the end of an “impossible” day? What do you do? How do you unwind? John tells us that at the end of the day, everyone returned to his own home. Except Jesus. (John 7:53-8:1) In the first place, Jesus had no “home” on earth to go to. (Luke 9:58) But he could, and did, go away to a quiet place to meet with his father.
We all need quiet times in quiet places. These are our times to meet with the Father and rearrange our priorities. Here, we may realign our purposes with the purposes of heaven. We take the time to get God’s perspective on the day before, and the days to come. Jesus needed that time. We need that time. So, with his strength renewed, and his purpose reaffirmed, he was prepared to face the new day.
John tells us that Jesus walked straight to the Temple, the place of all yesterday’s strife. (v.2) He was ready. The people came. And Jesus sat down to teach anyone who would listen. It didn’t take long for the first challenge of the day to be literally thrown down at his feet.
He couldn’t have been teaching very long before the morning quiet was broken by angry voices. A mob was literally dragging some unfortunate person right up to the place he was sitting. Judging from her terrified screams, it was a woman. She had apparently been drug straight from her bed, through the city streets, and dumped. Her hair was uncombed and she was wrapped only with the bedsheet she desperately clutched about herself. Not daring to look up, she knelt before him. By now, the only sounds she made were the half-choked sobs of desperation. She was both humiliated and hopeless.
The men who had brought her there were, for the most part, scribes and Pharisees. Today, we would have considered them the “good church people.” Jesus looked up to lock eyes with the leaders.
With unconcealed sarcasm, they addressed him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery.” (v. 4) As if he needed to be reminded, they quoted from the Law of Moses, which called for the death penalty, by stoning in such cases. Then they asked for Jesus’ judgement. “What do you say?” The trap was set. According to their plan, anything Jesus said now could be turned against him. If he approved of the stoning, he would destroy his reputation for mercy and compassion toward sinners. If, however, he pardoned her, he would be found in direct violation of the Law, destroying his credibility as a teacher. Now they had him! They thought.
The wise person, however, will never feel rushed into a premature judgment by any crowd. We must never allow our agenda to be hijacked by others with impure motives. As the angry voices continued to press, ever more loudly and insistently for his decision, Jesus knelt to write something on the ground. You might say he was just doodling in the dirt.
No one knows today what he wrote. Some suggest he was listing the sins of the men who were standing there. That may be. I like to think he was simply applying the principle James later articulated. Jesus was always quick to hear. He was now being deliberately slow to speak. (James 1:19) In this way, I believe he was setting a good example for us. There’s no good reason for rushing to judgment. Learn to slow down the process. Be still. Listen to the voice of the Spirit. Doodle in the dirt if you must. It’s in these quiet moments that the Holy Spirit can drop a word of wisdom into our hearts.
When Jesus stood up, he looked them all in the eye, one by one. “Whoever has no sin may throw the first stone,” he said. With that, he immediately knelt back down to resume his writing. In this way, he was allowing room for the Holy Spirit to do the necessary convicting work within the hearts of each man there. He didn’t even need to look up. He heard the first stone drop. Then another. Then stones began to fall more rapidly, until there were no more. Neither were there any men left standing around. Silence.
When he finally stood to face the woman, he looked at her and asked, “Where are your accusers?” The woman answered that they had all gone away. Now it was just the two of them, standing face to face. The sinner . . . and the Savior. Could she have understood that the man standing before her was the only human on earth who had the right to judge her? The man who knew no sin?
In that moment, her worst moment, this woman represents every one of us. Caught up in our sin, without excuse. Ashamed. Afraid. We’ve all been there. She must have held her breath, waiting for him to speak. When he did, his words brought healing to her soul. “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on sin no more.” She must have gasped as she took a moment to fully comprehend all that he had said to her.
We need to take a few moments to grasp the importance of those same words for ourselves. Maybe you’ve heard people say that we must hate the sin; but love the sinner. Most of us struggle, however, with the fulfillment of that principle. The problem, for the most part, comes down to our inability to separate the sinner from the sin.
Good church people, for example often feel a responsibility to hold up the proper standard of righteousness. We don’t want to be guilty of tolerating sin. And we don’t. And we shouldn’t. But in our zeal to be intolerant of sin, we fail to love the people who commit the sin. In our hearts, we’re ready to drag these people away to be dropped before Jesus for severe and immediate judgment. We feel justified in doing so. Any sign of compassion toward such sinners might be taken for a sign that we’re becoming soft on sin, and we can’t have that, for heaven’s sake.
Our first problem is that we always seem to forget or ignore some sins, while we launch an all-out crusade against others. The woman taken in adultery, for example was an easily identifiable target, while others, like those who carry hatred within their hearts, may even be welcomed into church leadership. But Jesus warns us that they are the next closest thing to murderers. (Matthew 5:21-22)
But I’d have to say our biggest problem is the angry face we present to the world. I’m sure that the only thing some people know, or think they know, about God is what they read on our faces, and hear in our voices. Judging by that standard, what image of God have we presented to the world? Do they look at us and see a reflection of the true God, or a distorted caricature? The God of the angry scowl? Would you want to come before a God who looked like us and talked like us?
During my college days, I took a class in Homiletics (preaching). One of the things we had to do was prepare sermons, preach them, and endure the critique from the class and the professor. It could be brutal. One aspiring preacher decided that someone should preach against sin. So, he did. With great gusto. He passionately proclaimed the evils of sin, and the judgment to come. He left no doubt that all sinners will one day be condemned to the Lake of fire, and he seemed to be quite glad that they were going there. He took his seat and waited for the response. After some discussion of the technical merits of his scripture analysis, sermon construction and delivery, the professor concluded with the most important point that had to be made that day. I’ve never forgotten it. He simply said, “This is the kind of sermon that should be preached with tears.”
We must never forget that these are precious people of infinite worth. Jesus came to die for each one. From the cross, he prayed for the very men who had crucified him. (Luke 23:34) Can we do less? Their lives may, in fact, end in tragedy. This realization should cause us to weep. But It is never appropriate to meet men and women, created in the image of God, with anger.
On the other hand, we must be honest about sin. Jesus was. He never ever excused people’s sin. The last thing he said to this woman was “Go, and sin no more.” (v.11) Those who insist that we must prove our love for them by excusing their sin are sadly mistaken. It is our love for men and women that causes us to call them away from those things that would destroy them, or others.
This story is a beautiful illustration of the truth stated in John 3:17. Jesus did not come with the purpose of condemning us; but to save us. The truth is, however, that he can’t save us if he leaves us where we are. He has better things in mind for us. It is his intense love for us that compels him to embrace us up front, and then call us to follow him, away from where we’ve been, into the better place he’s prepared for us.
The text doesn’t tell us what the woman did after that. She could have chosen to continue to cling to her sin, trying to justify herself. Or, she may have chosen to become a follower of the Savior.
But we are left with a choice of our own. We must be honest about where we are. What we are doing. And why. When we look up into the eyes of the Savior, we can see his compassion. We are called to confess our sin and forsake it, as we embrace his love, and follow him to a better place.
What will you choose?