The biblical passage of John 8 captures the famous story of the woman caught in adultery. I’ve read this portion of scripture dozens of times over my lifetime and have always been drawn to Jesus’ grace, clarity of thought and balance.
Interestingly, this passage has been referred a bunch over the last few weeks at West Salem Foursquare Church. My family and I were able to take the whole month of July off as vacation, so I had some great friends come in to share the Word of God with our congregation. I was told, and now have been able to verify it by watching the teaching videos online, that each of the preachers made reference to the woman caught in adultery from John 8.
This wasn’t planned. Maybe if we were more clever, we could have synced it all up into a nice summer teaching series, complete with graphics and a cute jingle. But, alas…we’re simply not that clever.
But, the Spirit of God sure is.
I wonder if there is something the Lord is trying to say to us.
Unfortunately, I think folks are way too quick to jump headlong into the “He who is without sin, cast the first stone” aspect of this story. This has become a mantra of sorts in our permissive culture. We are so prone to quote this verse when we are looking for a “free pass.” It’s almost as if there is nothing more to say when someone drops the “he who is without sin…” It’s like when someone tells you that “God told them” – how do you refute that?
“God told you?”
“Hmmm….OK then, I’ll just keep my mouth shut.”
“He who is without sin cast the first stone.”
“Hmmm…OK then, again, I’ll just keep my mouth shut.”
But this is not an accurate or complete picture of what this is about.
The thrust of Christ’s statement—“He that is without sin . . .”—was this: “None of you is in a position to stone this woman, for you have disregarded the very law you profess to honor.” You see, the Old Testament code demanded that both the adulteress and the adulterer be subjected to the same penalty (see Leviticus 20:10; Deuteronomy 22:22). Where, then, was the man? These sanctimonious prosecutors were themselves in stark violation of the law.
When the Jewish leaders decided to be so specific, by mentioning that the woman was caught “in the very act,” they acknowledged an important point: they absolutely knew the identity of the male participant! In other words: it takes two to tango. If they caught the woman “in the very act” then it’s a given that the man was in that very act as well! But they chose to not haul the man in for stoning, and thereby didn’t follow Leviticus 20 and Deuteronomy 22.
They broke the law.
Guilty as charged.
Aren’t we all? Guilty that is. We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We have all missed the mark.
How does the Lord Jesus deal with us fellow lawbreakers? Here’s how: the same way he dealt with the woman caught in adultery: with grace and truth.
Jesus’ posture was, is and will always be grace and truth. These spiritual postures are so clearly seen in three of Jesus’ physical postures.
Jesus sat down.
Jesus bent down.
Jesus stood up.
When Jesus sat down he was displaying his authority. Famous rabbis of the past would often sit and teach for hours, while their students stood, listening and learning. The students were simply grateful to have the opportunity to hear the words and truths of the “master.” Jesus, the Great Rabbi (which means Teacher), opted to sit down while he taught the people in the temple. It was while he was in this position of authority that the scribes and Pharisees brought the woman caught in adultery to him for his “judgement.” He, being in authority, could have pronounced that she be stoned, but instead he chose another posture, one that integrated seamlessly with truth…that is: grace.
Next in the text we discover Jesus bent down, writing something in the sand. He did this twice. No one, not even the smartest person, is clear as to what Jesus was writing with his finger, but I believe this posture was intended to display humility. Throughout the Gospel of John we see images of Jesus bent low to the ground. The most obvious occurrence is in the John 8 passage. There is also John 9 where Jesus made mud from spit and dirt to smear on the blind man’s eyes. John 13 reveals how Jesus bent down to wash the disciples feet, and finally, in John 21 post-Resurrection Jesus bent low to make breakfast for his bewildered friends.
Each of these references illustrate the fundamental understanding that God, in the person of Jesus, was willing to bend down and reach us where we are.
Authority and Humility.
Truth and Grace.
The final posture in the vignette of John 8 was a display of certainty. Twice Jesus stood up and made bold declarations. First he said the famed phrase, “Let him who is without sin be the first to throw a stone” and then secondly pronounced freedom from condemnation and “go sin no more.” These two statements again add to the tapestry of grace AND truth.
Humility sandwiched by Authority and Certainty.
So, what might the Lord be trying to say to us?
Perhaps it is this:
Jesus is the truth AND the truth will set you free.
The truth is that we are all sinners. Don’t throw stones unless you have an extra one to hit yourself with.
The grace is that we’re not condemned. We are free to go. But we are also free to go…and sin no more.
These are good postures for us to take.