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Let He Who Is Without Sin Cast the First Stone

Romans 5:8

John 8:2-11
At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?”

They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.  But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

“No one, sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

This is a fascinating and well-known story that can only be found in the Gospel of John.  That fact alone seems to be telling since John is not one of the Synoptic Gospels.  The Gospel of John is very different from Matthew, Mark, and Luke’s accounts of the life of Jesus.  John refers to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” and tells us that he wrote his Gospel to help us see Jesus for who He was and to help us believe in Him.

John 20:31    But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

It is believed that John was a cousin to Jesus because Salome is identified as the wife of Zebedee, the mother of James and John, two of the Apostles of Jesus, and also as the sister of Mary, mother of Jesus.  As family they no doubt grew up together and likely were best friends since childhood.  John without question felt he knew Jesus extremely well, knew his nature, and the heart of him, and there is no doubt that John loved Jesus dearly.  This was a bond likened unto David and Jonathan.  So what is John trying to tell us about the nature of Jesus in this story?

There are a few things that we know for sure:

  • The scribes and Pharisees were on a mission to bring Jesus down
  • The scribes and Pharisees watched Jesus everywhere he went and were just waiting for a chance to catch him in an error.  They needed a reason to accuse him.
  • When they found no error the scribes and Pharisees got tired of waiting for him to make one so they started setting traps for him.
  • The scribes and Pharisees would have known the Law inside and out so they were well aware of the parameters for accusation as well as the whole punishment.

Leviticus 20:10    If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife —with the wife of his neighbor—both the adulterer and the adulteress are to be put to death.

Deuteronomy 17:6   On the testimony of two or three witnesses a person is to be put to death, but no one is to be put to death on the testimony of only one witness.

Deuteronomy 19:15   One witness is not enough to convict anyone accused of any crime or offense they may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.

Deuteronomy 22:22   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.

Accusing someone of adultery was a very tricky thing because catching someone in the act of adultery was almost impossible.  One person perhaps could follow the wayward couple and hide in order to witness a very private and intimate act, but two or three persons?  Very unlikely.   Those were days without smart phones or digital cameras.  What you saw you saw with your eyes and you told with your mouth and people could either believe you or not.  You really didn’t have much more than your word.

It is interesting that of all the traps the scribes and Pharisees could have come up with to set for Jesus this is the one they chose.  This was not the work of a rocket scientist nor a well thought out plan.  Perhaps this reveals their desperation or their ignorance or maybe it is a testament to the fact that their eyes were so blind they could not see the flaw in their plan much less the flaws in themselves.

This is an interesting train of thought since the very next verse after the story is John 8:12  When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

The definition of light is very long.  There is a lot to say about light.  Light is the medium of illumination that makes sight possible, the condition of being visible or known, a person considered to be an authority or leader.  The term “to bring to light” means to discover or reveal.

So if Jesus is the light then can we say that Jesus is the medium of illumination that makes sight possible?  And if we bring our hearts and lives and thoughts and actions into the light He will reveal us for who we are in our human flawed body as well as who we are in Him?

1 John 1:7   But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

If we believe that Jesus is the light then we know the following:

  • The scribes and Pharisees were blinded because they walked in darkness.
  • The scribes and Pharisees did not have illumination so their sight was not possible.
  • The scribes and Pharisees could not see the flaws in themselves any more than they could see Jesus for who He was.   They were not able.

A woman is brought before Jesus accused of adultery.  We have no indication or evidence in the scripture that adds, “She was caught and here are the two witnesses as well as the man she was with.”  Besides that fact that Jesus already knew what was happening this would have been a tell-tale sign that something was very wrong with the picture.  And who was the woman?

You couldn’t just grab any woman and put her in that situation.  Even if you were a scribe or a Pharisee there was a very strict code of decency and decorum and you could easily have the wrath of someone’s husband or father or brother come down upon you.  Also, what if Jesus had condemned her?  What then?  Would they have carried through and stoned her?  Or was she told she was just a prop and that they were sure Jesus was going to fail the test and she would no longer be the center of attention but free to go while they seized Jesus to carry him off?

OR does this tell us why Jesus told her to “go and sin no more”?  Maybe she was in on the scheme and her sin was not adultery but the same sin the scribes and Pharisees were guilty of – lying.

The story tells us that at first Jesus just ignored them.  Do you wonder if he was thinking, “Oh you have got to be kidding me!  This again?  and they are not even creative!”?  Then we are told Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground.  This detail is intriguing.  Some say Jesus was just doodling in the dust to take time to pray and ask God for guidance and to not speak in haste but to consider carefully what to say.  If this is true then it certainly is a good example and a helpful maxim to remember.   But some say it was deeper.

There is a verse in Jeremiah that many point to and suggest Jesus was writing this in the dirt:

Jeremiah 17:13    Lord, you are the hope of Israel; all who forsake you will be put to shame. Those who turn away from you will be written in the dust because they have forsaken the Lord, the spring of living water.

Some believe Jesus was actually writing the Laws he knew them to be guilty of breaking and then writing out the names of the accusers.  The scribes and Pharisees certainly would have been familiar with Jeremiah 17:13 as well as the letter of the Law as spelled out in Leviticus and Deuteronomy.  That would have been more than enough reason for them to just turn and walk away.  There would have been no argument.

So tell the story again.

A group of scribes and Pharisees hatch a hair brained plan to trap Jesus and get rid of him.  The plan is to take a female associate before Jesus and pretend to accuse her of adultery to see what He will say.  They are all actors playing a part including the woman and Jesus is no dummy.  The curtain opens and their performance begins.  Jesus just ignores them.  In his head he is rolling his eyes and shaking his head and trying not to laugh at how stupid they are and trying not to cry because it’s so obvious they can’t see him for who he is.

It is the Sabbath and Jesus is not only not in the mood for a scene but He senses that the woman has a tender heart.  There is an opportunity to speak to her heart.  Instead of answering them and debating them he stoops to write on the ground.  He begins to write out what is wrong with their plan.  At first they don’t pay attention or catch on that he is actually writing something readable so they keep pushing him to answer.

The woman is standing at the front of the mob because she is the star of the show.  She is closest to Jesus and she can sense His gentle spirit and love.  She is memorized by him.  Jesus stands up and looks her straight in the eye and says, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”  His voice is not loud or accusing or harsh but instead it is gentle and kind and warm.

He stoops and continues to write about them on the ground and they begin to realize what he is writing and they see their performance has been in vain.  The elders, being of course the more important of the scribes and Pharisees and seeking the most glory when they catch Jesus, are situated at the front of the crowd so they are the first to realize what is happening and they just turn and walk away.  As they move others are able to move closer for a clear view.  Soon they too understand and they also turn and leave.  Soon all the men have left but the woman is still staring at Jesus completely oblivious to the fact that her theater troop has gone.

Jesus stands up and again looks her in the eye and says, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”  The woman wakes from her daze and looks around and stammers, “No one, sir.”  But she is not afraid.  She has no fight or flight reaction because she is engulfed in peace.  In fact, she doesn’t want to leave.

Jesus smiles at her and says, “Then neither do I condemn you,  go now and leave your life of sin.”  

It’s as if Jesus said to her heart, “I know you were part of this ruse but you have now seem me for Who I AM, the Light.  Your eyes are opened.  You are free.”

This is the story the best friend of Jesus would have told to help us see Jesus for Who and What He really was and to help us to believe in Him.

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May 2012
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