Recently in Bible Study Fellowship we studied the story of the adulterous woman found in John 8:1-11. There is so much to learn from this story, from Jesus’ example. Let’s take a look at the characters found in this scene: The teachers of the law, the woman caught in the act of adultery, and Jesus.
The teachers of the law were trying to trap Jesus. In the previous chapter of John, ‘The Jews there were amazed and asked, “How did this man get such learning without having been taught?”’ Jesus’ teaching stirred up the crowd to ask who is this man, and Jesus proclaiming to be God’s son, caused division among them leading the Jews to want to kill him. Their jealousy and unbelief that Jesus was the Messiah led to so much hatred that they were willing to use a woman to try to trap Him. They had no compassion for the woman, and the man who was caught in the act, he was callously indifferent to her plight. His name wasn't even mentioned in Scripture.
The woman who was used by the religious leaders wasn’t named in Scripture either. She was defenseless before the men who judged her, and her fate rested in Jesus’ hands while she endured condemnation and humiliation from the crowd. We could say that she deserved it … that she made her bed and now she must lie in it.
Thankfully, Jesus didn’t see it that way.
Jesus didn’t respond in haste to the religious leader’s accusations of the woman. He paused while his opponents waited for his response, and what they hoped would be the undoing of His ministry. Jesus’ response teaches us to stop and think before acting in haste. His example challenges us to pause when we want to rush into situations thinking we know what exactly should be done.
Jesus quietly stooped down and started writing in the sand. What did he write? Did he list the names of those standing there and their sins? We don’t know what he wrote, but as he was writing, the leaders continued to question Him, goading him into giving them an answer. Jesus used great restraint in not responding. We can learn from this, too … that when Jesus was reviled, He didn’t revile back. He used wisdom and discernment of when to speak, and when to be quiet.
Then Jesus stood back up and looked at the men. His penetrating gaze must have made them uncomfortable while they were waiting for a verdict of condemnation, waiting for permission to throw the first stone at the woman. Instead, Jesus said, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” John 8:7
Such wisdom from the Son of God. Jesus didn’t excuse the woman’s sin, nor did he excuse the religious leaders’ sin. He didn’t dispute their accusation against the woman. Instead, he placed her sin in context. She was standing in a crowd of people who were also sinners. Every one of us deserves God’s judgement. We’ve all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Rom. 3:23 Thankfully, God made a way for us to be saved from our sin by sending Jesus to earth as a baby. And that by believing in Him ... that He lived, died, and rose again, we can be saved.
After Jesus made this last statement, He bent down again and started writing in the sand. During this next pause, the hard hearts of the religious leaders was exposed. They recognized their sin, and one by one they dropped their stones. They began to leave … the oldest first. I wonder why the oldest left first. Was it because they saw a lifetime of sin flash before their eyes, and they recognized they had no standing before God? That they had no right to accuse the woman of adultery when they had their own long list of sins?
As the crowd began to disperse, Jesus turned to woman and said, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” John 8:10 What grace Jesus gave her. There was so much He could have said to her. He could have berated her, been angry with her, listed all of her sins, gone around to other people gossiping about her. He could have walked away from her, letting her know she wasn’t worth His time. He could have let the stones fly at her. Instead, He gave her grace, questioning her.
I wonder what led her to this desperate place she was in. Was it the excitement of the Festival of Booths? I always thought it was a house that she was dragged out of, but it was a booth made out of reeds. Not a very quiet, private place. Did she think she would go undetected? Did she think at all? Why did she have an affair in the first place? Was her marriage failing? Was she was looking for a way of escape? Did the man pay her to sleep with him? Did he make promises to her and proclaim that he loved her? Did he manipulate her to get what he wanted? Was the man paid by the religious leaders to do this to her? What lies of Satan was she believing?
We don’t know what led her there, but I can imagine all kinds emotions that she was experiencing while standing before the crowd. Shame, humiliation, fear, fear of the pain of the first stone that would hit her, fear of death as the stones would pile upon her, anger at the religious leaders who trapped her, anger at the man who used her, anger at her husband and those who deemed her unworthy and judged her. Did she want to speak up and defend herself? Yet she stood there silently. Was it with resignation of being caught? Was she relieved that her life was coming to an end?
We don’t know what brought her to this desperate place, but we do know that there were people who thought her life had no value or worth. They were willing to use her, disregard and discard her. How quickly we judge people, preferring to be spectators of the drama in their lives, rather than coming alongside them, asking questions, and offering them a hand up. When we look at how they treated her and consider the situation she found herself in, perhaps we gain a little bit of understanding and maybe even some compassion for her.
Jesus didn’t excuse her sin, and neither should we, but he did speak to her directly about it, “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” John 8:11 He spoke life-giving words of grace to her. He gave her a second chance, redemption, and restored her dignity. He mercifully saved her life.
Again, Jesus gives us another example to follow. Just a few chapters earlier in John 4, Jesus mercifully saved another woman’s life. He spoke directly to the Samaritan woman at the well about her sin. She too was discarded and disregarded by the people in her life, but He cared enough about her to speak to her, and then reveal Himself as the Messiah.
Jesus champions women. He extended grace to both of them. He met them where they were at, and gave them life-giving words of grace. He extended the second chance of redemption. This is the example we want to follow. Woman are deceived into believing that their life has no value or worth, and that lie extends to the life they carry in the womb. As the effects of Prop 3 are felt, woman are going to find themselves in desperate places. They are going to need to hear the life-giving, grace-filled words of Jesus. Rather than words of condemnation and judgement from us about the situations they find themselves in, let’s have direct, compassionate conversations that remind women of their value and worth, and point them to the Redeemer who gives them second chances.