The story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery can be found in John 8:1-11.
This story reveals the forgiving heart of our Lord Jesus and the free gift of grace available to us all and reminds us of John 1:17 which says “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”
At dawn, Jesus was at the temple courts, where a large number of people gathered around Him to hear Him teach. As Jesus was teaching, he was interrupted by a group of people who brought forth a woman who was caught in the act of adultery.
Who were these people who brought the woman?
They were the teachers of the law and Pharisees. They were the prominent religious leaders who were known to consider themselves above the rest and were well acquainted with the law.
What was their intention?
Their intention was to use this as a trap (v6) so that they could accuse him.
How could they have used this as a trap – the Romans did not allow the Jews to mete out punishments leading to death. So, if Jesus said go ahead and stone her, he would have been accused of being in violation of the roman rules.
And if he says don’t stone her, he would be going against Moses law, which states that they are to be put to death.
Leviticus 20:10 says ‘If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife—with the wife of his neighbour—both the adulterer and the adulteress are to be put to death.”
Deuteronomy 22:23-24 says “If a man is found sleeping with another man’s wife, both the man who slept with her and the woman must die. You must purge the evil from Israel.”
These religious leaders who were very well acquainted with the law fail to mention that the law requires the punishment be meted out to both parties and not only the woman. So why was the man not brought along too?
They publicly humiliated the woman, claiming to uphold morality and justice, but their intention clearly was to put Jesus in a dilemma and trap Him and they were not in any way or form keen to carry out the law to purge out evil from Israel.
How does Jesus respond?
He does not respond right away but instead bends down and starts to write on the ground with His finger. If you picture the situation, I do not think it would have been a placid discussion but a more heated one as a consequence of the large crowd and everyone probably voicing their opinion or demanding justice.
We all probably can relate to some instance where we find ourselves facing an outburst of anger. Our first response may be to respond likewise. The way Jesus initially responds teaches us two things when someone comes at you in anger or accusation.
Jesus bends down and writes – He shifts His focus from the crowd.
For us: When put into a position where we are caught off guard by questioning or accusation, let us shift our focus from the source of that which can trigger an undesirable response.
And HE writes on the ground – At verses like this in the bible we so wish what He wrote was mentioned. We can speculate all we want but we do not know the exact answer. A lot of comparison is with ‘the finger of God’ mentioned in Exodus 31:18 “When He had finished speaking with him upon Mount Sinai, He gave Moses the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written by the finger of God.”
If it was important for us to know exactly what he wrote, it would have been mentioned. What we can take from this is that when we have to shift our focus in a situation like that, may we shift it to His word. Which will remind us that:
Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires. (James 1:19-20)
Don’t sin by letting anger control you. Think about it overnight and remain silent. (Psalm 4:4)
The words Jesus spoke in response to their repeated questioning was “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”
Jesus calls attention to their sin – Jesus knew their hearts and the evil motives. He reminds them that they themselves are sinners and not fit to judge anyone else. Reminds us of the scripture – Matthew 7:3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?”
How does the crowd respond when Jesus calls attention to their sin?
They go away one at a time, the older first until only Jesus and the woman are left. Is that a good response? Let’s think on this, realising that they are all sinners and need God’s saving grace should make them fall at Jesus feet and pray for forgiveness instead of walking away from Him.
The whole crowd of people other than Jesus were sinners and were in need of His forgiveness but only one person receives that forgiveness. Why does she not leave when the others left? Because she knows that she is a sinner, realises and acknowledges that she needs Jesus.
For us: May we never walk away because of guilt or pride but go to Jesus because we need HIM.
Jesus then tells her “Neither do I condemn you, go now and leave your life of sin.”
A repentant and changed heart will result in changed ways. His grace abounds, yes, but it does not mean we go on sinning. We change our ways not to be accepted but because He already accepts us just the way we are.
And notice the sequence of what the Lord says because there is a significance to that, He does not say – ‘Go and sin no more and only then will I not condemn thee’. Jesus forgives us first when we go to Him and gives us the strength to not walk in our old ways.
She came before Jesus a sinner and leaves forgiven. What a marvellous privilege to be loved so much for HE took our sin upon himself.
Jesus never lets the law stand in the way of love. What a loving and compassionate God we serve. We are made clean by His grace, loved by Him, forgiven by Him and accepted by Him. May we reflect Christ every day and in all that we do.