Saturday, September 22, 2007

The Adulteress: A Stone's Throw from Grace (John 8:1-11)


Her story is scandalous, first word to last. And glorious.

At dawn, the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees tarried by a nameless woman's door, itching to drag her out of bed and into the temple, where Jesus was teaching. Moments later, half-dressed at best, the woman was forced to "stand before the group" (John 8:3), like Hester Prynne wearing her scarlet letter, cheeks stained with shame.

The words of the Pharisees were harsh, accusatory: "Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery" (John 8:4). This woman? Look, she wasn't alone in that bed. Where was her partner in crime? Sleeping in? Reading the Mount Olives Times? Since Mosaic Law insisted "both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death" (Leviticus 20:10), how come they weren't both hauled into the temple?

Sting Operation

Listen, the Pharisees weren't interested in punishing the man or the woman. They were after Jesus. And so they threw words at him, sharper than any rocks: "In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?" (John 8:5).

Oh, great. If Jesus told them, "Stick to the Law: Stone her," his grace-filled teachings went out the window. But if he said, "No! Don't stone her," he opposed the Law of Moses, a dangerous move for a rabbi. The Pharisees thought they had him nailed.

Breathless with anticipation, the crowd watched as "Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger" (John 8:6). This is the only place in Scripture where Jesus wrote something, and we don't know what it was. Talk about frustrating! Did he list the Ten Commandments to prove he knew the Law? Write out the many sins of the Pharisees? Or scribble, "Don't go away mad, just go away"?

Written in Stone

Most scholars think the Lord was doodling. Yup, just drawing lines in the shifting sands of the temple floor, sparing the accused woman from his holy gaze, waiting until the crowd was ready to hear his answer. Finally he stood and said, "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her" (John 8:7).

None in the temple that day qualified, and they knew it. None of us do either.

Only one person in recorded history "has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin" (Hebrews 4:15). Only one person could have rightfully condemned her. Only one person could have thrown that first rock.

But he didn't. That's not why he came. "For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him" (John 3:17). Jesus came to save an adulteress that day in the temple, and he came to save you, beloved.

He bent down again to draw in the sand, giving his words time to sink in. Sure enough, "those who heard began to go away one at a time" (John 8:9). How like Jesus, gently whispering the truth into each ear, convicting each heart, one by one.

The Last One Standing

I'm surprised the woman, who surely was aware of her sins, didn't head for the temple door after her detractors made their exit. Instead, she stood there as if pinned to the ground with hope. Sinner though she was, could she possibly be forgiven?

Jesus straightened up and met her gaze, then asked, "Has no one condemned you?" (John 8:10). Yes, they'd accused her, but they'd not condemned her. Only this innocent man could sentence her to die, yet he held no stones in his hand. Did he plan to punish her with words?

No, he didn't.

Brave soul that she was, she managed to answer his question. "No one, sir" (John 8:10). She gets extra credit for resisting the urge to deny her guilt or blame her bed partner.

"Then, neither do I condemn you," Jesus assured her (John 8:11).

She was a free woman. Free! Still a sinner, but forgiven. Still guilty of adultery, but her death sentence had been quietly lifted, then placed on Jesus' shoulders.

Grace came to the temple that morning.

A Fond Farewell

The teachers of the Law and the Pharisees missed the Lord's final benediction, but you can bet those who remained didn't. They hung on every word. "Go now," Jesus told her—a gentle release, not a harsh rebuke—"and leave your life of sin" (John 8:11).

We hear you, Lord. What a relief to know that because of your grace, we can leave behind the past, as this woman did, and walk in a whole new direction.

Liz Curtis Higgs is the author of 25 books, including Embrace Grace (WaterBrook Press). She lives with her husband and their two teenagers in Kentucky. Visit her website: www.LizCurtisHiggs.com.

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