A COURAGEOUS GRACE: Part 1 of 2
by John Lowe
(Laurens SC, USA)
30 September 2005
A man was in an accident, and his shoulder was slightly injured, but he decided he could "stick" the insurance company for a nice bit of money. He hired a lawyer who would go along with the plan, and they ended up in court. The insurance company’s lawyer asked, "Mr. Smith, please show us how much your shoulder was injured by the accident by extending that arm upward as far as the shoulder will allow it to go." The man obliged by raising his arm to a horizontal position and stopped. "That’s it." Then the lawyer said, "Mr. Smith, will you now please show us how far you were able to raise that arm before the accident." Again the man obliged and quickly raised his arm to the vertical so it was pointing directly toward the ceiling. Ooops! Have you ever been caught red-handed? You were guilty and everyone knew it. Like you’re humming along on the highway, and a policeman gets behind you and puts on his lights. I mean, isn’t that a wonderful feeling? And you really have nothing to say, because you know that you were going way too fast.
You know that when we do something wrong, its effects are often far-reaching. Simply, sin makes an impact. In today’s story, a specific sin comes to the forefront. It is adultery. Adultery is a sin because it mocks what God has designed. God intended for marriage to be between a man and a woman for life. God did not intend for that to ever be broken, except by death. Adultery is a betrayal. It is the breaking of an exclusive promise of loyalty and love for one specific person. And its effects are devastating. Adultery wounds the spouse; it violates marriage and destroys society. It wrecks homes, injures innocent children and breaks up friendships. But most importantly, it attacks what God holds dear. Adultery is a very hurtful sin.
It is very hard to forgive. So when a woman who is caught in adultery is brought to Jesus, it is a difficult challenge. What will He do to a person that has violated and flaunted the design of God? So here, we will find four actions in the event described in John 8:1-11 that demonstrate how Jesus handles conflict, and there is also a demonstration of COURAGEOUS GRACE.
Jesus was in Jerusalem, because the Law stated that all male Jews had to go there three times a year on certain feast days. But the celebration was over and they went each to his own house. However, Jesus went to the Mount of Olives, since no one invited Him to go home with them. Early in the morning, he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery.
There are 3 things I want you to see about this situation. First, we observe the…Setting: Jesus is teaching in the temple. The temple is the place of spiritual life. It is God’s place, His residence. So, for those that are concerned with living according to God’s ways, this is the place to be. The text tells us that Jesus came to the temple, and it was a long day. People kept coming, and He kept teaching. But His time of teaching was interrupted. That’s the second thing I want you to see: A private passion became a public spectacle. The scribes and Pharisees have someone they want Jesus to meet. It is a woman who has been caught. The doors had been flung open, and there she was, caught in the act. She was found in the arms of someone that was not her husband. So, what had been a private act is now known by all who will listen to the tale. Everyone stares at her as the posse pushes her through the streets. She is one that has brought shame upon herself. But what we must also note here is that…A shameful act was outdone by a despicable one. That’s the third thing I want you to see. You see, it was all a scheme. According to the law, there had to be two eyewitnesses. So it makes one wonder, how long did they peer through the window before they barged in? How long did they wait before they flung that door open? Did they think to warn her ahead of time, so that she wouldn’t sin? Or perhaps they set it all up themselves so that they would have someone to take to Jesus….and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?”
This they said to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Yes…She’s caught, but she is only bait. You see, they don’t care about the woman. I don’t think they even cared about the adultery, for she is merely a pawn in their game. She’s been framed, and she knows it. After all, adultery requires two. Where is the man? Why isn’t he here as well? It was just as likely that he was part of the scheme. It was a set-up. And I am sure that she has no idea why. Though the Law had been given to the people of Israel to guide them in righteous and pure living, these leaders were using it as a weapon to condemn.
Adultery was one of many crimes that required the death penalty. It ranked right in there alongside of murder, kidnapping, and witchcraft. For the Jews, stoning was the manner in which the death penalty was issued. The person who was the accuser would cast the first stone. It was to be of sufficient size in order to wound. Then everyone else would fire away at the person until they were dead. It was a very messy way to die. Adultery was not the real issue in all of this. And it was not the woman that they were really after. Who the scribes and Pharisees wanted to get was Jesus. They wanted to present to Jesus a situation that was impossible to get out of. You see, though they were supposed to be the righteous leaders of the nation, their motives were tarnished and their attitudes were godless. They wanted to get rid of Jesus.
So here is…The Dilemma: Would Jesus obey Moses or Rome? This was difficult. They felt that they had Jesus no matter what choice He made. It was clear that the Law given to Moses said that she should die. So if Jesus set aside the Law, the leaders would get Him in trouble with the people. But, if He went along with their plan and assented to the stoning of the woman, then they would get him in trouble with Rome, because the Romans forbid the death penalty unless they had given permission. The Romans would come down hard on “mob rule.” So it was a difficult dilemma. Jesus’ reaction is totally unexpected. He does not answer them. He does not offer a solution. Instead, He begins to write in the sand. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground.
And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. And when they saw it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones… The finger that wrote the Ten Commandments and the warning on Belshazzar’s wall begins to write again. Many years previous, the same finger wrote the Law on tablets of stone for Moses to bring to the people of Israel. It was the finger of God that communicated His purity and His righteousness to His people. The finger of God would come again in the time of Daniel with “the writing on the wall.” It is then that the finger of God came with judgment to the evil Belshazzar, writing, “Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin,” meaning, “You are weighed in the balance and found wanting.” So, as Jesus writes in the sand, we are left to speculate about what He is writing. The text does not identify to us what He is saying. I personally think that He is privately writing the sins of the accusers. He does not say anything to them out loud. Instead, as they come closer to Him and press Him for a response, there before them in the sand is their private sin.