11. Redemption

Short Meditations in John 8:  11. Redemption

Jn 8:11 “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

And so we draw near to the end of this interloping account (as seen by some), an account which presents us with possibly one of the sharpest conflicts within the Gospels and one which surely highlights the crucial foundation of the Gospel itself – Jesus came to save sinners.

Yet there are aspects behind what follows here about which we need to be careful. Jesus has asked has anyone condemned her and she acknowledges that no one has. Now be careful. This does not mean that she is not a sinner and that her act of adultery is excused. She is, and it is not!  Condemning is about pulling another down, which is what the Law may do but which we should not. But that is different from acknowledging the truth of failure – sin. Her act was sinful, her behaviour with a man was wrong and God would not turn a blind eye – the Son of God would die on the Cross to take the punishment that justice would demand for this sin and every sin like it.

Jesus’ death would buy back the life that should be sentenced to death by dying in her place. This is what ‘redemption’ is all about. When you redeem an item from a pawnbroker you buy it back to reclaim possession of it. In heaven the song was sung, “you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.”  (Rev 5:9)

But something I saw when I wrote a series of studies on Redemption a while back, is that redemption doesn’t just apply to the moment we turn to Christ, it applies throughout our entire life. Throughout the whole of my life God is working to get me back on the rails, so to speak, get me back in line with His will, recover and restore me from the messes I make in life. It is an ongoing process that covers me generally as a sinner being redeemed, but also it means He is there working to salvage me from various specific mishaps, messes, calamities,  catastrophes, that I might get myself into. Now how does He do that?  First He looks for my repentance, my willingness and desire to turn away from that sin and put my life right. He then acts into me and my circumstances to restore both me and them. This doesn’t mean He pretends they didn’t happen but it does mean He works with me to change the outcome.

And with the woman? “Go now and leave your life of sin.”  That’s it, is what Jesus is saying, enough has been said but that doesn’t mean you carry on as before. God’s will is righteous living and that does not include having an adulterous relationship. Stop it, bring it to an end. You are redeemed, live like it. Hallelujah!

10. And so?

Short Meditations in John 8:  10. And so?

Jn 8:10  Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

All the while, as the antagonists, one by one acknowledge the truth and slip away, Jesus appears to keep doodling in the dust. Easy to miss this, but don’t. He is not glaring at them to rub in their guilt; it is almost as if he pretends nothing is happening. It has gone quiet, no one has replied and said anything. The Pharisees have quietly slipped away, and the hushed onlooking crowd wait with anticipation, and Jesus appears oblivious of all that is going on before him – but he’s not, he knows exactly what is happening.

But here’s the amazing thing: he does not capitalize upon it, he does not jeer at their retreating backs as we might be tempted to do, he does not turn to the crowd and make a point that scores off the discomfort of the retreating religious remnant. No, Jesus leaves them to quietly go away and ponder on what has happened. No doubt some would have gone in great fury at having been shown up yet again by this young preacher from the north, but hopefully some of them at least might have the grace to face the truth of what has just happened: they had used a woman as an act of attack on Jesus, seeking to put themselves in a place of moral superiority to score points off Jesus, but instead had been forced to publicly acknowledge a universal truth – we are all less than perfect and that means none of us can hurl stones of condemnation on others. Yes, they are sinners – but so are we. Hopefully all that had sunk in.

It is only when the last ones have gone that Jesus looks up from his doodling in the dust and looks around. He’s not bothered with the religious attackers, he doesn’t call after them, and for the moment he ignores the crowd. There is only one person who needs his attention at this moment, the woman. She has been through a most grueling time, shamed and disgraced, presumably caught in the act, hauled before the authorities, condemned and sentenced and then, to make it even worse, dragged out into the temple precincts where the crowd had gathered with Jesus, and made a public spectacle.

Jesus leaves nothing unclear; he makes the point: “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”   It is time she is given a voice. He wants to speak with her but he always wants a two-way conversation. That way he knows we are listening, we are taking in the reality of what is going on. Again, as we see so often in Scripture, Jesus (and God) doesn’t ask questions because he needs to know the answer but that we might face the truth of the situation and speak it out. We’re the ones who need to face the answers.

9. Truth

Short Meditations in John 8:  9. Truth

Jn 8:9   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.

Religious people don’t like being confronted with the truth that comes out in this verse – we are all sinners. “Don’t you call me a sinner, I’m a good person!” hotly declares the suited or well-dressed pillar of the community as they step out of church to be seen by all on a Sunday morning.

Now listen to the teaching of the great apostle Paul: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.” (1 Tim 1:15) Observe the present tense, and if you didn’t catch it first time round, he repeats it: “I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience.” (1 Tim 1:16). He makes the same point to the church at Rome: “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom 5:8) If you think it was just Paul, listen to the apostle John’s teaching: “I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ.” (1 Jn 2:1) i.e. we shouldn’t be sinning but we still are capable of it!

In this unique account, Jesus calls the human race to account: OK, if you can say you are not a sinner – have never thought, said or done things that are less than perfect – you can be the first to condemn everyone else. We need to understand that this does not legitimize sin, but simply recognize it for what it is – something we are all tainted with – whoever we are.

Of course this truth is thoroughly unnerving for the Pharisee, the Chief Priest or, for that matter, any great civic dignity or celebrity who wants us to think the best of them. These ‘upholders of the Law’ put themselves forward as such paragons of righteousness and yet, just like the rest of us, they fell short – but never say that to their faces if you want to avoid their wrath!

But that’s the point, Jesus isn’t concerned to uphold our false sense of moral superiority, especially when it gets in the way of redeeming another sinner. Luke wrote, “the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Lk 19:10) John declares, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (Jn 3:17)

Note what happens here: first the older, wiser, and perhaps more honest ones, left, then the rest. At least they have the grace to acknowledge the truth. So only Jesus and the woman are left. How will he deal with her? She is a sinner after all!

8. Pause for Reflection

Short Meditations in John 8:  8. Pause for Reflection

Jn 8:8   Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

In v.6 Jesus paused, bent down and wrote something on the ground. They continue to question him so he straightened up and challenged them as we saw in the previous verse. But now, he bends down and starts writing on the ground again.

Preachers often tend to give way to the temptation to speculate what he might have written. It might have been just one word – Deuteronomy – because he knew that Deut 17:7 says, “the hands of the witnesses must be the first in putting that person to death, and then the hands of all the people.”  Where were the witnesses? Had they done anything to prevent the sin taking place, had they tried to dissuade the couple from doing wrong? But the truth is that we really don’t know and so it is purely unfounded speculation.

But my heading above suggests that I think is possibly the more likely reason he may just be doodling on the ground, is that he is giving the accusers time to take in the reality of the challenge he has put before them. They had put the onus on him to answer but instead he pivoted it around so that they were put on the back-foot and now had to either declare they were sinless or they should shut up. Who could make that claim?
So he doodles in the dirt and allows them thinking time. That’s all it needs. The options open to them are few and Jesus just wants to give them time to think it through and then act accordingly.

There is an interesting challenge here for life in general. Often we find ourselves confronted by difficult circumstances and, indeed, sometimes it involves others who require an answer from us. The temptation is to think that that answer must come immediately but actually it is often better if we go away and think things through. The instant answer is often a demonstration of our own self-centred thinking or reasoning and we would do better to emulate Jesus and seek for a word of wisdom from God which, as we’ve seen here, often produces a different way through the maze of conjecture than we might have previously thought.

There is another lesson here in the way Jesus acts.  He could have just blazed at them for their hard-hearted and callous use of this woman to try to bring him down, and that would have been legitimate, but he didn’t. Instead he sets up a reasonable and yet impossible standard to be considered and then very gently gives them time to ponder it and then quietly back away. That was subtly being gracious. I wonder, when we have people who are acting badly, do we show them up or allow them to face themselves and quietly back away?

7. Challenge

Short Meditations in John 8:  7. Challenge

Jn 8:7  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.”

So, we have said, the trap has been laid by these religious antagonists of Jesus, to get him to either let this woman off and thus deny the Law and appear a law-breakers, or condemn her along with them and incur the displeasure of the crowd who thought so much of him. Those appear the only two options open to him – and the authorities know that and so that it is why it is a trap.

He apparently sits there quietly not saying anything for “they keep on questioning him.” John doesn’t record any more (if this is John writing) but they press him further for an answer.  He appears to have been looking down, not facing them confrontationally, for “he straightened up.” Little details but significant. His time has come, the time to give them an answer. Perhaps there is a silence as everyone waits with bated breath to see which one of the two options he is going to take, but he takes neither. He simply addresses these accusers with a simple statement: “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”

There it is, an answer has been given, not the one they expected, but it is an answer. Instead of putting himself in a difficult position Jesus places the onus for a decision upon them. It is like he says, “OK yes she clearly does deserve to die because she is a sinner, but let’s just check this out: whoever of you can say they are not a sinner, it’s OK you can be the first to cast a stone.”  Wow!

Now here’s another reason why I would want to include this ‘questionable passage’ in our studies: it feel like Jesus, the way he so often came up with a word of wisdom that floored his opponents. But there is another reason as well. This story, I believe, almost more than any other story in the Gospels  goes to the heart of the Christian faith and should undermine any Pharisaical attitudes that may be found in modern-day Christianity.

The truth is that we have been redeemed and hopefully we are living lives that are more righteous and godlier than our neighbors, but therein is a danger: we can feel superior! And in some senses we are – but it is not of our doing! As the apostle Paul said, “it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Eph 2:8,9) Our salvation is a gift from God and not because of anything good we have done. Our calling is to reach out with compassion and humility to others around us, to redeem not to condemn.

6. Trap

Short Meditations in John 8:  6. Trap

Jn 8:6  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.

John comments on just what was happening. It’s as if he is saying, “If you don’t realise what is going on here, let me explain: they are out to get the Master!” “They were using this question as a trap.” Why? “in order to have a basis for accusing him.”

We have already touched on this before but let’s reiterate what is going on. The woman is clearly guilty of adultery. There appears no question about that. The Law demands that such people caught in adultery should be stoned to death. Now perhaps in the light of the lax social moral prevailing in the West today, we should comment upon this. Was this an unduly harsh law? It must be in the light of the attitudes of many people in the West today!  But when we come across these laws requiring capital punishment we should remember two things.

First, what we have are laws applying to Israel, a nation created by God to reveal Him to the world, not only in word but in the way they live. Their existence and their very character are dependent on them adhering to the laws that God gave Moses. If they were broken and then treated casually, the whole fabric of this particular society would deteriorate as we have witnessed in the West in the past sixty years and no longer would they stand out in the rest of the world.

Second, the other reason is that this particular manner of execution required the local people, the people who (in this case) knew the adulterous couple, to actually stand in front of them and hurl stones at them until they beat them unconscious and then to smash their skulls to guarantee death.  So horrible was this that in the local psyche it would we never be forgotten – and never repeated. I believe there are only two stonings recorded in the whole Bible. Stoning is, therefore, primarily a deterrent to anchor the Law.

But back to the trap.  The Law clearly demands death for this women. If Jesus agrees with it he will thus be siding with the authorities and receiving negative feelings from the crowd who so often disliked the religious authorities. If Jesus says the woman should be spared, he is going against the law and would appear a law-breaker and thus be strongly censured by the authorities.

What we are about to witness is what the New Testament calls a word of wisdom – a word that cuts across the two apparently (and only) opposite possibilities to provide a yet third possibility that has not been seen before. Jesus was a master at this and in so doing revealed the hypocrisy of these ‘representatives of the Law’.

5. Question

Short Meditations in John 8:  5. Question

Jn 8:5  In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?”

The lynching party has gathered. Jesus’ teaching has been halted. The crowd stands back watching. No doubt the Pharisees and teachers of the Law stand there arrogantly challenging Jesus. And of course there is the woman. Probably with face looking down, possibly with tears running down her face. Shamed and made a public spectacle, the object of challenge to Jesus.

She is guilty; there appears no question of that and the Law is quite specific: “If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife—with the wife of his neighbour—both the adulterer and the adulteress are to be put to death.” (Lev 20:10) [Note again, both of them – where is the man?] If the Law is to be applied then the outcome is quite clear. She will die. If she is not to die then the only apparent path to that is to disregard the Law, disregard the will of God. These appear the only options that are available in this situation.

Then comes the crucial question to Jesus: “Now what do you say?” we have commented before that this really isn’t the business of the visiting preacher, it is the business of the town elders. Jesus could have turned around at this point and declared, “This is nothing to do with me, this is the prerogative of the city elders. Let them deal with it,”  but this would have done three things.

First, it would have shown to the crowd that he was someone who wanted to opt out, take the easy way out, and that wasn’t the sort of person he was. Second, he would have abandoned this woman to her fate at the hands of these heartless men.

Third, he would have failed to take the opportunity of speaking into this situation and challenging the truth that undergirds it – that the Lord says, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” (Hos 6:6). Again and again when I write these studies I have to remind us of such verses as Ezek 18:23,32, 33:11 & 2 Pet 3:9 that challenge us and tell us that God doesn’t look for death but for repentance, He wants mercy to prevail and would take no joy in the sacrifice of this woman’s life, as guilty as she may be.

The word ‘Now’ at the beginning of their question seems to be a pivot; it is like they are presenting this woman to the crowd as a guilty sinner and then they spin the situation around and point it at Jesus as if to say, “OK Preacher, how orthodox are you? What do you say? Do you agree with the Law or have you cast God’s laws to the wind in all your fancy preaching? Come on what do you say?” Will Jesus condemn her and appear as hard-hearted as them …. or what?

4. Indictment

Short Meditations in John 8:  4. Indictment

Jn 8:4  and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery.

So this group of teachers of the Law and Pharisees drag this helpless woman into the Temple courts where Jesus is teaching the gathered crowd. They push their way to the front of the crowd where, I suggested, a circle forms in front of Jesus as the crowd draw back and the antagonists and their sacrificial lamb stand before Jesus who no doubt has stopped speaking the moment they arrive.

They address Jesus. They call him teacher. They are putting on a mock respectful face. They are coming as guardians of the law, after all, upholders of the morals of the people of God. They have found sin in their midst and they are presenting it to Jesus. Now perhaps we have heard or read this story so many times that we have become over-familiarized with it so that we do not question what is going on but pause up and think about this for a moment.

We have considered already that they are out to get Jesus and that we assume from the whole tone of the Gospels, but in everyday life, why should they bring this woman to Jesus? He is just an out-of-town preacher, there for the Feast, and he’s not part of the authority structure of Jerusalem. Why should he be dragged into this sordid situation?

Presumably the Sanhedrin or maybe the city elders have checked out the facts of this case and, as we suggested in the previous study,  listened to the evidence of at least two witnesses that the Law required, and having done that, condemned her. She is guilty. So when they come and say, “This woman was caught in the act of adultery,” presumably there is no question about the truth of that. That is what happened. So case closed. Facts established, sentence passed! So why extend the process and drag her before Jesus. If it had been any other teacher with whom they had no quarrel there is no question that they would not have interrupted his teaching with this case.

But it is Jesus and already from the Gospels we know they have a problem with him and so are looking for any opportunity to interrupt and stop his teaching and show him up for who they think he is – an impostor, a charlatan, a mocker of the Law and of the establishment. So arguing with him yesterday did no good, so let’s try something completely different today. Let’s present him with a truly guilty sinner and let’s see if we can upset his popularity with the crowd by getting him to condemn this woman. She IS guilty, so let’s see if we can make him declare that publicly – as he ought to do?  Got him! This is going to be good!

3. A Lynching

Short Meditations in John 8:  3. A Lynching

Jn 8:3  The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group

I titled this study ‘A Lunching’ because if this was the old West, this is what was coming; these teachers of the law and Pharisees (no doubt sent by the authorities in the Temple in whose precincts these things took place) were out for someone’s blood, if not the blood of two people. They were willing to sacrifice this woman to get Jesus; that was their goal. The day before Jesus had thwarted them and so now they were trying another approach, but the goal was still the same – get this preacher from Galilee, bring him down, stop him showing us up!

It seems there are various religious groups and the one thing they all have in common is their hatred for Jesus – because he showed them up for what they were – hypocrites who were more concerned with their own social standing and religiosity than with the truth and with people. So here the description is the teachers of the law and the Pharisees, but sometimes it was the Sadducees (who were also Temple-focused) and sometimes the priests or chief priests attached to the Temple. One way or another it was the entire religious establishment who were upset with Jesus. Not only did he show up their hypocrisy, but he also challenged the truth and reality of their beliefs about the Law, as well as their pride which was so often on show. There were the Roman overlords and Herod as their underling, but institutional Judaism was the main ruling force in Jerusalem and that is what is coming against Jesus as he purposefully sits in the Temple courts teaching the crowds who came to him.

But now the opposition brings into the arena this woman who has apparently been caught in adultery. Now it is often mentioned that it takes two to commit adultery but there is no sign of the man involved. A woman is weaker, more pliable, more vulnerable and possibly more likely to pull on heart strings as we shall see as we move on. Her adultery does not seem to be in question so presumably the authorities have got two witnesses as required by the Law who have somehow discovered what went on.

Now they bring her into the Temple courts and frog-march her up to Jesus. The crowd no doubt draw back and a big circle is formed in front of Jesus. There he sits where he had been teaching. Now the crowd stand hushed and watching as this group of religious men manhandle this woman into the circle before him. They come as a group to Jesus – this is not a one-man job – and they push this woman out in front of the group and so the next conflict is about to begin. The pseudo-righteous before the truly righteous. No competition!

2. A new day

Short Meditations in John 8:  2. A new day

Jn 8:2  At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them.

I don’t know if you have ever seen the ‘Flashmob’ phenomena where a group materialize in a shopping mall and either sing or perform a dance routine and people stop and gather to watch. I catch a slight sense of a similar thing in this verse here today. “At dawn he appeared.” No fanfare, no big announcements, he just appears. It is early morning – dawn – Jesus is making the most of the day. Of course depending on the time of the year, it may be that he got under way before the sun got really hot. I have family in the Caribbean and the children on sports day start very early and it is over by eleven in the morning – simply to avoid the heat of the day. I don’t know if there was anything of that in Jesus’ thinking or simply that he wanted to get under way as early as possible.

It is in the temple courts, the area surrounding the main area of activity and it is the place where people had free access and could come and go and, of course, it was the place where, yesterday, he had been teaching and was confronted by the authorities. It is clear he is not put off by them; they had not bested him in the debates yesterday and so he has nothing to fear. He comes back to the place of confrontation, fearlessly.

And very soon, as presumably he stood there with his disciples around him, the word went out that he was back and the crowd formed. It is unclear how many of them understood the import of the things he had been saying the day before but he has appeared as one who isn’t afraid of the religious authorities and the crowd had obviously liked the way he had stood his ground yesterday and although temple guards had been sent to arrest him – and that would have been known – nothing had happened. He had stood his ground and they returned to their religious masters having failed at their commanded task. There is nothing like seeing disliked authority rebuffed for good street entertainment and so, although it is only speculation, it is probably a main reason why the crowd gathered so quickly.

And then he sat down. The show is on. This is how the teachers taught, sitting down and their pupils or disciples either sat or stood around listening. The scene is set for the next round in the game (at least that is how the crowd might have thought about it).  He starts teaching (we’re not told what) and people in the crowd no doubt looked behind them. How long would it be before the religious authorities turned up again to try again to bring down this preacher from Galilee. It’s about to start. What form will it take today?