[Nov 02]--Stones In The Light of Dawn

John 8:1-11

            John chapter 8, my favorite in the Gospel, starts out with one of the more mysterious passages in Scripture. It’s a very compelling story, partly because it has quite a few unanswered questions and partly because it is so beautiful in its portrayal of our Savior’s compassion.

            Jesus was teaching at dawn at the temple, and that’s a testimony to the compelling nature of his lessons. I don’t know about you, but there are very few teachers I would wake up at dawn for. His teaching was interrupted by a crowd of people, as they brought a woman before him and threw her at his feet. Let’s make some observations.

  • I can’t for a moment imagine the utter cruelty of these men. They were blinded by their hatred for Jesus, and they didn’t care about whom they hurt in the process. John made a point of noting that they “made her stand before the group.” Apparently her public humiliation was a small price to pay for their vendetta against him.
  • They were famous for observing the Law of Moses, but they certainly didn’t pay much attention to it in this case. True, the Torah instituted the death penalty for adultery, such as Lev. 20:10. But there were at least two problems here. First, Moses was very clear that both the man and the woman were to be executed. This punishment for adultery might seem harsh to modern hearers, but you need to keep this in mind: The Torah actually was a great leap forward. During most of recorded history, women usually were killed or at least severely punished for adultery, but the men commonly got a slap on the wrist, if that. There were to be no double standards in God’s law. So where's the man in all this?
  • The other problem is something we call due process. No one was to be condemned for a capital crime unless they were tried and there were at least two or three witnesses. This was not a court, nor were the Jews even allowed to mete out capital punishment anyway: This was reserved for the Roman courts. Friends, this was not a court of law we see in the passage; it was a lynch mob, and it had a specific agenda. Obviously it was there to discredit Jesus.
  • What were they hoping to accomplish? Jesus had a reputation for preaching about grace and mercy and forgiveness, and he was known to associate with known sinners. So if Jesus said to let her go, he could be accused of being soft on sin. If he advised them to stone her, then he could be accused of plotting rebellion against Rome, since the Jews had no authority to do so.
  • What was he writing in the sand? There are several answers to this, but no one can claim to know for sure. Some say he was just doodling, while other say he was listing the secret sins of the ones picking up stones.  I lean towards this explanation, since it fits well with Jer. 17:13: “Those who turn away from you will be written in the dust because they have forsaken the Lord, the spring of living water.” Jesus had just proclaimed himself the source of Living Water in the last chapter.
  • Once they pressed him, he responded verbally, and of course he had the perfect answer for them. The older men, the ones who'd been sinning the longest, had their consciences pricked first, and so they were the first to leave.
  • Does this passage mean that Jesus was against capital punishment, or that he was turning a blind eye to adultery? No on both counts. As I mentioned before, this wasn't a legal court but a lynch mob which wasn't following the Law at all. Just as he provided the perfect answer to the mob, he also provided the perfect response to the woman. There are two aspects here, and they're held in perfect tension. He told her to “go,” meaning that her sins were forgiven. But he also told her to “leave [her] life of sin.” As Beuchner said, he wouldn't condemn her because he would be condemned for her.

I think his last words to her constitute a neat summary of the Good News. No matter what we’ve done, he stands ready to forgive, and once that's done he'll never bring up our sins again. But at the same time, he also calls us to leave our life of sin. I need both aspects in my life, and so do you. If you’ve really messed up, and think he could never forgive that, you need to hear his word of forgiveness: “Go.” But when we grow complacent about our remaining sinful habits, we need to be reminded about the second half of what he said.

Now for your edification, here's "Forgiving Eyes" by Michael Card

Lord Jesus, you always have the perfect word for me, at exactly the right time. I need your grace so much, to forgive and to change.

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