From the House of The Nazarene. This will be a very in-depth deep dive study of the Book of John.
What we will see here as well is that when we forget our true condition, before we knew Christ, when we forget the condition of sin, when we can forget what we are capable of doing, that grace also diminishes in our lives.
The contrast we have, between the self-satisfied religious police on the one hand and the idea of a woman who recognizes her true condition, is the contrast between those who will accept or reject Christ. We see that people who have an experiential grasp of their needs are the same people who will grasp grace. People who do not understand their true condition or after a while become smug and self-satisfied and don’t understand grace are people who often won’t give it as well. We become a people who are so focused on our self-righteousness that we can no longer focus on our own condition, they say: “thats subjective.” I think, in that regard, this is an illuminating story.
Let’s look at the first few verses. What we see is Jesus going up to the Mount of Olives and “Early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people were coming to Him and He sat down and began to teach them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery, and having set her in the center of the court, they said to Him, ‘Teacher, this woman has been caught in adultery, in the very act’.” There are a couple of problems that we have in this. They pushed the woman into the midst of the crowd and according to the law, we have a problem. What does the law require when both parties are caught in adultery?
Both parties are also to be condemned, the man and the woman. So, where is the guy? They basically violated the law by not bringing him before Jesus and they also violated the law when they set up a trap in the first place. In either case, they are so concerned with the law that they are ready to violate it in an attempt to trap Jesus. In the end, when we think about it, we get all these encrusted traditions and suppose God is really concerned about all of it. We ‘major in the minors and minor in the majors’, don’t we? We get our priorities inverted.
So, this trap was set to put Him on the horns of a dilemma. Here is the problem. If Jesus condemned her to be stoned, what would that have done to His message? It would have made Him look uncompassionate and ungraceful and also that He was no longer someone whose message of forgiveness could be taken seriously. What is the opposite extreme? What if He set her free? Then it would be a violation of the law. So, here is what they are trying to do; they are pitting Jesus against Moses.
Typically, this will be a ploy that they use. When people want to make it happen there are a variety of ways they can use to make it happen. Even when it is not true, there are ways of accomplishing it. So, in looking at our text, then, they are saying this to Jesus: “Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women; what then do you say?” You can almost see that smug, satisfied look on their faces and “They were saying this, testing Him, so that they might have grounds for accusing Him. But Jesus stooped down and with His finger wrote on the ground.” That is a very intriguing little text, isn’t it, the idea of writing on the ground?
There is a tradition about this, Jeremiah 17:13, and it was this verse which Jesus wrote on the ground, “Those who turn away from You on earth will be written down, because they have forsaken the fountain of living water.” Another option that some people think He may have written is Exodus 23:1: “Do not join your hand with a wicked man to be a malicious witness.” Others think He was writing a portion of the Law and the idea would be, from Exodus 31, that He was reminding them about the Ten Commandments. How were they originally written?
Remember what it says in Exodus about the Ten Commandments? They were written by the finger of God. So, it was with His finger that He was writing in the sand and it would be an allusion to that imagery. It would be an indirect, but visual, claim to His deity. These are all possibilities and we can’t know for sure. He never wasted motion and there was something going on there but the text chooses not to reveal it. 2,000 years later we can enjoy our speculation, just as we always wonder what was Paul’s ‘thorn in the flesh’. They are fun to speculate about. The point is this; instead of passing judgment on this woman we see that He turns it back on the judges. “But when they persisted in asking Him, He straightened up and said to them, ‘He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her’.”
Now, what He is really doing here is looking at Deuteronomy 17:7. Flip back with me and look at Deuteronomy 22:22 first and there you will the mosaic requirement. “If a man is found lying with a married woman, then both of them shall die; the man who lay with the woman and the woman; thus you shall purge the evil from Israel.” That was the situation and here they violated that very text. Yet, they are asking Jesus if He is going to be following the Law. You see the idea there? Now turn to chapter 17, verse seven, and it says, “The hand of the witnesses shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people.
So you shall purge the evil from your midst.” What Jesus is saying is that if they are claiming to be the witnesses then, they must be the first ones to do it. So, they are applying the Law to the woman but are not applying it to themselves. He is trying to show them that they are hardly different from the woman in this regard. The case was more difficult because she knew she had a problem and they did not.
This reminds me of Matthew chapter 21, where we have a passage that refers to this very dilemma we are facing here. In Matthew 21:31 we see Jesus saying, ““Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you that the tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the kingdom before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him; but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did believe him; and you, seeing this, did not even feel remorse afterwards so as to believe him”.” That is a very strong statement. He is telling these very righteous people, and they are from an external point of view, that they are behind the tax collectors and the prostitutes.