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John 8:1-11



        The legal system of the United States recognizes that there is a time for forgiveness and restoration.  A district court ruled that a company had mistreated an employee by firing him for alcohol-related misbehavior that took place before he received treatment.  The judge decided that the man should have been forgiven for the wrong he had committed before he got help and that holding pretreatment transgressions against him violated the spirit of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

        Praise God there is another Rehabilitation Act.  The "Rehabilitation Act of A. D. 33" calls for even more mercy.  Because Jesus died on the cross for the sins of mankind around A. D. 33, God offers complete forgiveness to repentant sinners.  Christians should never hold confessed sins against a fellow believer.  We are to restore one another in the same way God restores us to Himself.

        Paul puts it this way in

Colossians 3:12, "And so, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you."

        Christ demonstrates the love, compassion and restoration of Jehovah God in the passage of Scripture before us today.  Would you turn with me to John 8:1-11 please.  Follow along with me silently as I read this aloud for us.

        Even though the word compassion does not occur in the passage, in the light of my biblical, although controversial stand on marriage, divorce, adultery and remarriage, it seems expedient that I cover this situation for those who have been caught in adultery, or those who have been accused of any sin.  "In distinction from the scribes, who as lawyers give definitions and relativise the divine commandment by assimilating it to the actualities of life (interpreting the law as they saw fit), Jesus as a religious teacher tries to make men realize how absolute is the divine requirement."[1]  Jesus doesn't ignore the divine commandments, neither does He administer them without love.  Ephesians 4:15 contains the phrase, "...speaking the truth in love."  That phrase can be translated, "...holding the truth in love."  Some hold the truth, but they do not hold it in love.  They have a gleam in their eye and seem to enjoy beating someone with the truth.  Others do not hold the truth, but ignore the truth under a whitewash of sentimental feelings.  They say, "It doesn't matter that you have sinned, the love of God will cover it."  Well, we are to hold the truth in love.

        "The great seriousness of Jesus in the face of the sin of adultery goes hand in hand with his mercy for the sinner and His resolute rejection of hypocritical self-righteousness, as is shown by the story of the woman taken in adultery which, even if is does not belong originally to John, rests on an authentic tradition."[2]

(Let's look at the circumstances of this narrative.)


When Jesus was in Jerusalem, he usually rested at the Mount of Olives.  He went to the temple early in the morning to teach as was His custom to do.  The teaching was interrupted by scribes and Pharisees who brought before Jesus a woman who was caught in the act of adultery.  Angered by Jesus' success and frustrated by their inability to discredit him or kill him, the scribes and Pharisees seized this opportunity to try to discredit Him once more.

        They reminded Him of the Law of Moses and then asked Him for His judgment on the matter.

(To get the full flavor of this narrative, we need to know more about the characters.)


The antagonists are the scribes and Pharisees.  The Pharisees were a religious party or school among the Jews at the time of Christ.  The scribes were Pharisees who were interpreters and teachers of the Mosaic Law.  The word `Pharisee' means `separated'.  This was one of the chief religious parties among the Jews.  The Pharisees believed in being separated from anything that was common or unclean.  They considered the tax-gatherers and sinners as unclean.  The Pharisees were Legalists who multiplied the demands of the law.

        The protagonist in this narrative is Jesus Christ.  We shall see this clearly as we examine the action, plot, or conflict of this narrative.

(Let's move on to:)


The conflict of this story revolves around how Jesus will respond to this test.  The narrative is clear that they were testing Him.  They were looking for any possible grounds to accuse Him or discredit him.  They hoped to trap Jesus by bringing only one party.  The woman was taken in adultery, so according to the law, she was guilty and deserving of death.  But the law also prescribes that both parties should be punished.  So, if Jesus called for her stoning He was wrong, and if He let her go He was wrong; according to the existing interpretation of the law.

        Jesus simply stooped down and wrote with His finger on the ground.  I don't know why He did this and I don't know what He wrote, but He doesn't seem to be bothered or concerned about their constant tests.

        We must learn to respond to these types of situations the way that Jesus responded.  He was not bothered, worried, or upset.  I believe there are two reasons why Jesus was not upset with the scribes and Pharisees;  (1)  He knew what to expect from them.  He knew they would constantly try to trap Him.  He knew what motivated them.  There were no unrealistic expectations about the scribes or Pharisees.  (2)  He knew what He was going to do.  So, He had insight and foresight.

        In similar situations that seem to upset us so badly, we need to know who we are dealing with, have realistic expectations, and take responsibility for our own action!!!

        Even though Jesus wasn't bothered, the scribes and Pharisees were.  They persisted in asking Him.

        The suspense of the great stories of the Bible is often copied by television shows.  Take for instance:  Batman.  This is about the time they would interject a commercial and leave us hanging with questions such as, "Has Batman met finally met his match in the Penguin?  Will the Caped Crusader and the Boy Wonder be frozen to death?"  This is exactly how the suspense of this story is constructed!  How will Jesus get out of this one?  What will His response be to this knotty problem?

        But we can go one step further and ask, "What would your response be?"  We are often put on trial by the secular world and the religious world that they might have some grounds to accuse us of lying, fraud, or hypocrisy.

(This is so exciting.  Let's move on and consider:)


The climax is the action and answer of Jesus Christ.  His action and His answer were brilliant.  First He straightened up.  I don't want to read too much into this, but I believe He straightened up to look them in the eyes.  The eyes of Jesus Christ must have been piercing.  Peter had experienced the piercing power of the eyes of Jesus Christ when He denied Jesus in the courtyard of the High Priest

        Secondly, He makes only one statement,

"He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her."

        Thirdly, he stooped down and began to write on the ground again.  I believe he did that to leave the next action in their hands.  It was now their responsibility to respond to this situation.

        To me this was a bad thing to do.  Certainly, these self-righteous scribes and Pharisees would pick up stones and begin to fling them.  But mysteriously, this is not what happened.  One by one, beginning with older ones, they began to walk away until only He and the woman was left alone.

        The older ones were first to face their true selves.  When they looked in the mirror of Christ's eyes and their own knowledge of the Law of Moses, they knew that they were not without sin.  Their conscience began to bother them.  It took the younger, more idealistic, angrier ones longer to come to the same realization.

        The older I get, the more I realize that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God!  Those who are older than I am must surely recognize this same truth, with even more conviction.  It has taken some of us, those who are younger, more idealistic, filled with anger, and legalistic, a much longer time to realize, that none of us is without sin.  None of us can throw stones at anyone else, because all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.  There is none righteous, no not one!  There is none who seeks after God!  When we find a brother or sister overtaken in a fault we must restore that person in the spirit of meekness while considering ourselves.  We must restore that person saying to ourselves,

"That could have been me!  But for the grace of God, there go I."

When you see a prostitute, you should say, "But for the grace of God, there go I."

When you see an alcoholic on the streets, you should say, "But for the grace of God, there go I."

When you see someone strung out on crack cocaine, you should say, "But for the grace of God, there go I."

When you see someone less fortunate than you, in any way, you should say, "But for the grace of God, there go I."

When you see the sin that your husband has fallen into, you should say, "But for the grace of God, there go I."

When you see the mess your wife has made of her life, you should say, "But for the grace of God, there go I."

When you see someone in misery or suffering, you should say, "But for the grace of God, there go I."

There in lies the root of compassion!!!

        Then, Jesus straightened up and asked her,

"Woman, where are they?  Did no one condemn you?"

And she said,

"No one, Lord."

And Jesus said,

"Neither do I condemn you; go your way.  From now on sin no more."

        Although the word "compassion" is not used here, it is obvious that Jesus felt compassion for this woman taken in adultery.  Compassion is "a deep feeling for and an understanding of suffering with an accompanying desire to relieve that suffering"  (Webster's Third New International Dictionary).  He knew what it was like to be condemned by men.  The Pharisees, scribes, Sadducees, chief priests, and elders were constantly condemning Him.  But He relieved her suffering by granting her forgiveness.  Yes, God can forgive adultery.  Yes, God is a forgiving God.  No, there is no sin that is too great for God to forgive.  This magnificent truth is not all that easy to realize and apply to ourselves, nor to others.  Why?  Well, let's look at the narrative again!

        Not one of these Pharisees could throw a stone at this adulterer, who was caught in the very act.  How can so many of us, modern Pharisees, throw stones of unforgiveness at our brothers and sisters on the basis of heresay and speculation?  Even though the answer is starring us in the face, it is not obvious.  The answer is in doing what the Pharisees were forced to do!  We need to realize how sinful we really are!!  We need to recognize how committed to self-centeredness we really are!!!  We need to to repent of the attitude of sanctified superiority that many of us have, which is bolstered by the belief that others have sinned more grieviously than us.  We need to face the fact that we feel good about our self-righteous, self-centered, self-justifiable anger.  And it is that anger which short-circuits our compassion.

        We must face our sinfulness.  You are saying, "And what will that do?"  If we face the utter ugliness of our own sin, we will become so aware of our pain and hopelessness that we will seek the only thing that can help us:  God's forgiveness.  We will repent of our self-centeredness, accept, experience, and begin to celebrate God's forgiveness.  Celebrating God's forgiveness will generate thankfulness in our hearts for God's grace.  When we develop a thankful attitude concerning God's grace, it will issue into compassion and extending the forgiveness and grace that so many in this world desperately need!  Larry Crabb in his book, Men And Women, says that forgiveness is the most basic human need.  Experiencing forgiveness is certainly essential to our ability to live the Christian life from our hearts, rather than our heads.

        In counseling, I am working on forgiving others in my life, but primarily myself.  I am filling my self-talk with the truth of the Word of God, "Jesus died on the cross for my sins.  Jesus has forgiven me of my sins.  Jesus does not remember my sins.  Therefore, I can stop being depressed.  I can rejoice in the joy of my salvation.  I can get up and minister to others who need God's forgiveness."

        But notice, He does not deal with her marriage.  He does not grant her a divorce.  He does not tell her that her sexual sins have broken her marital bond.  He tells her to go and sin no more.  He tells her, in essence, to go and be a good wife.  He does not do away with the truth of the law, He simply forgives her and tells her to live up to all she knew, where she was.

        This is also a moral/spiritual conflict over adultery.  This needs to be highlighted in view of my recent teaching on divorce and adultery.  Even though a person may be guilty of adultery, that does not prohibit Jesus from extending compassion and forgiveness to this woman.  Even though I may teach God's truth concerning divorce and adultery, that does not prohibit me from extending God's compassion and forgiveness to those involved at the same time.

        God is the same, yesterday, today, and forever.  If you have been caught in adultery, God will forgive you; but He does not do away with His law of marriage in that case.  We don't understand forgiveness.  Forgiveness releases me from the debt of sin, but it does not abrogate or nullify God's laws!!!  There are still laws that must be kept and consequences of the sin.

        Let me illustrate.  Let's say that you were speeding through a school zone, hit and killed a child, and sentenced to 20 years in jail.  Suppose someone who love you volunteered to take your place in jail and you didn't have to serve the 20 years..  You are forgiven from the debt of breaking the law and killing a child, but you are not now free to drive any speed you want through that same school zone.  The traffic laws still apply to you, even though you were graciously released from your previous debts.

        In addition to the traffic laws will be the consequences of the community, not to mention your own conscience.  Because God forgives someone of adultery, does not mean that they are freed from their marriage vows.  They have simply been forgiven from the debt of adultery!!!  But that in itself is remarkable!!!

        If you have been rightfully accused of any sin, all you have to do is repent and confess the sin to Jesus Christ and He will forgive your of that sin.  Hallelujah!

        The foil in this narrative is the attitudes and actions of the scribes and Pharisees as opposed to Jesus.  The scribes and the Pharisees were religious, refined, and exegetically right, but they were uncompassionate and biased with respect to their application of the laws.  Jesus required compassion, not sacrifice.  Isn't that how many of are today?  We are Biblically right when we exact legalistic payment from struggling sinners, but we are not compassionate and forgiving towards their plight.  Why?  Because we are self-righteous!  We don't realized How much God has forgiven us!

        We can gather from the parable then, that what really matters in life is compassion!  We are not to be out of balance and do away with the law, but we are to deal with people who are facing the penalty of the law, i.e. those who stand accused and those who stand guilty, with compassion.  Jesus desires compassion, not sacrifice.  He desires love, not legalism.  He desires relationship, not ritual.  Jesus had taught the truth throughout the region, but He demonstrated His compassion in His personal dealings.

        This is an admiration story.  We must admire the way Jesus handled this situation.  Jesus, our hero, again successfully handles another threat or trap of the scribes and Pharisees.  May we likewise pass the tests that we face on behalf of Jesus and Christianity, because we are guided by compassion.

(Now is the day of Salvation.  Come to Jesus, now!)


Call to Discipleship


[1] Gerhard Kittel, Theological Dictionary Of The New Testament, Volume IV, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1967, p. 734.  

[2] Gerhard Kittel, Theological Dictionary Of The New Testament, Volume IV, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1967, p. 734.

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