It was early once again. As the sun filled up the sky on a brand new day, people began to spill into the temple court. Jesus was there! (John 8:2 NASB) Hungry to hear what He had to say, His very presence attracted a crowd as certainly as the pull of tides on the ocean. Like “deep calls to deep” (Psalm 42), here were profound needs drawn to the unfathomable greatness of God incarnate.
Rather than seek an advantageous place to speak above and apart from them, He sat down among them and began to teach (8:2).
You see, it was more than just our thinking
He came to challenge;
it’s ever always been our hearts
He came to change.
And so, sitting with them, conversation flowed easily. He looked them in the eye. He knew them each by name. I can’t help but wonder who the fortunate ones were to have negotiated a spot close to Him, the circle growing with every passing moment, neighbors and strangers from all walks of life pressing up close to make room for one more. Peppered with questions and knowing their individual stories were as diverse as the sea of faces surrounding Him, Jesus was once again found in His Father’s house (Luke 2:41-52), only this time He wasn’t a young boy full of queries; He was the teacher. Here in His presence, hope had dawned with the sun on this beautiful morning!
But, it was a calm before the storm. They soon would learn their teacher is Lord of all as He laid bare the hidden motives and intentions of the heart and, in mercy and love, invited one who had been marked by others as worthless to walk in newness of life!
Abruptly, the scribes and Pharisees brought a woman into the temple court and sat her down in the middle of the crowd, forcibly putting her and her sin on display. We don’t know her name. In fact, her accusers only refer to her as “this woman caught in the very act of adultery”(8:4). Leaving nothing to chance, their accusation wasn’t based on overheard whisperings but rather on eye witnesses. To make sure this case was as buttoned up as their reputation for guarding the letter of the Law, a trap had been set and, catching her unawares, she was seized as bait for a much bigger catch. The ultimate goal was to ensnare Jesus with a question (8:6). As part of a carefully constructed narrative, and to highlight their disdain, she is labeled, tossing her person hood onto a discarded heap they called “such women”.
But with every attempt to make her
feel small and marginalized,
their self-righteousness was magnified
and brought to center stage.
The tables were about to be turned in dramatic fashion, just as He had turned over the tables of money changers in the temple. (John 2:15). There, He drove them out with the sheep and oxen and doves; a temple cleansing. On this day He would drive out fear and shame to cleanse and restore the life of an otherwise nameless woman while unveiling the hearts of her accusers. It’s ever always been about our hearts.
The scribes and Pharisees read the audience well and appearing as though they too were interested in a healthy exchange of questions and answers, said to Him, “Now, in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women; what then do You say?” (8:5) “But Jesus stooped down, and with His finger wrote on the ground.” (8:6) Here the word “wrote” originally meant “to cut into, to make an incision”. In the Old Testament it’s applied in the sense of engraving or cutting out stone to write onto a tablet. Bending forward, He stooped down and, as skillfully as a surgeon’s scalpel makes an incision to expose a hidden disease, He began to expose their secret sin. It’s true, no one could have been more knowledgeable about the Law of Moses engraved on tablets of stone than these scribes and Pharisees! What they failed to understand was that He had come to institute a new covenant, not engraved on tablets of stone, but written by the Spirit on human hearts. (2 Cor. 3:3) With the advent of Jesus, the primacy of love re-shaped the answers to questions such as “What is adultery?” and “Who is my neighbor?” (Matt.5:28, Luke 10:30-37). And in the answers, we’re reminded why grace is the most beautiful word of all!
Scripture doesn’t tell us what He wrote, only that, unsatisfied, her accusers demanded a further response from Jesus.(8:7) With a perfect blending of wisdom and authority, He straightened up and said, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” (8:7) In the Greek, it literally reads “He who is without this sin…”, referring to the sin of which they accused her — adultery. What was Jesus revealing as once again He stooped to write on the ground? We don’t know, except that “… when they heard it, they began to go out one by one, beginning with the older ones, and He was left alone, and the woman, where she was, in the midst.” (8:9) The silence must have been deafening.
There she sat, alone and disgraced. Jesus straightened up again, and this time with a perfect blending of mercy and love said to her, “‘Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?’ And she said, ‘No one, Lord.'” (8:10,11) They could not condemn. “And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you; go your way. From now on sin no more.'” (8:11) In that moment, her past was forgiven and she was freed to live a new life through the transforming power of love!
And, as for trapping Jesus? Another one of their seemingly airtight plans fell flat and deflated along with their once puffed up pride. Remarkably, it wouldn’t be their last such attempt. But time and time again, the outcome was the same — His love would always win the day.
Where does this leave me and you? In his book, “The Discipline of Grace“, Jerry Bridges reminds us of this: “The problem with self-righteousness is that it seems almost impossible to recognize in ourselves. We will own up to almost any other sin, but not the sin of self-righteousness. When we have this attitude, though, we deprive ourselves of the joy of living in the grace of God. Because, you see, grace is for sinners.”
Amazing! To answer my own question, it leaves me and you with nowhere to run but to Him. Whether we’re the unattached observer on the sidelines, or the one sitting alone in the circle, or the accuser standing with a stone in hand — the ground is level at the foot of the cross. His righteousness remains our only hope and remedy.
And so, these things will never change ~ inasmuch as grace is for sinners, it will ever always be about our hearts.