Judgment and Grace
Our text this morning is John 7:53-8:11. Its no doubt a familiar story to you, and we’re going to dig into it in our time together. But first lets make sure we’re all on the same page, and since most of us have not memorized the New Testament yet, let’s read it so what it says is fresh in our minds.
They went each to his own house, but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”
As I said, this is for many a very familiar passage, for many it is a favorite. And yet there is controversy over this passage. You may have noticed that it is in italics, or brackets in your Bible. My bible actually has it in brackets and has a notation: “[THE EARLIEST MANUSCRIPTS DO NOT INCLUDE 7:53-8:11.]”
There but not there.
There but not there.
So, the immediate thing I’m faced with as a pastor is that it is in many of our current Bibles, but it is not in the earliest manuscripts. So…why is it still there? You may remember that we had a verse missing in our text earlier in this series - there is no John 5:4. Why is that verse missing? Because it was apparently added after John wrote the Gospel, and was not original to the text.
So why is this one still there?
The ESV Study Bible notes say this:
There is considerable doubt that this story is part of John’s original Gospel, for it is absent from all of the oldest manuscripts. But there is nothing in it unworthy of sound doctrine. It seems best to view the story as something that probably happened during Jesus’ ministry but that was not originally part of what John wrote in his Gospel. Therefore it should not be considered as part of Scripture and should not be used as the basis for building any point of doctrine unless confirmed in Scripture.
Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 2039). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
I believe the reason it remains is because it summarizes not only John’s Gospel, but the entire Gospel in a very clear way - it separates Jesus righteousness from that of man’s, and once again shows his power and grace over the Law.
Now, I’m not going to use this passage to establish any point of doctrine, but want to show how it summarizes Jesus ministry.
Teaching in the Temple
Teaching in the Temple
The early morning was when Jesus typically was teaching at the temple. It’s interesting that this is where the whole story takes place. Several things that stand out to me:
Jesus is teaching and the people come to him.
The Scribes and Pharisees come to him and they say to him (v. 4) “Teacher...” In other words, the teachers of the Law are conferring upon him the title of their teacher. Last chapter they were saying, “this man hasn’t studied anywhere,” and asking, “Where did he get his learning?”
The Scribes and Pharisees should both have known the law. The Pharisees were the teachers of the law, and the scribes were the ones that wrote it down. So they both would have had a good knowledge of the law.
The Legal Claim Against the Woman
The Legal Claim Against the Woman
The Pharisees - the teachers of the Law and the Scribes come to Jesus with a woman caught in adultery. They say to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. so what do you say.”
We almost don’t need the next sentence in our passage: “This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him.”
It’s nice when the Scriptures tell us the motives.
Gary Burge in the NIV Application Commentary on John comments on this passages saying:
“The Greek construction of the sentence makes it clear that these men are making a legal claim: They possess the evidence the law requires to convict the woman.”
So that begs the question, “What evidence do they need?” Burge goes on to say that “the law required two witnesses who saw the couple in the context... [and] the two witnesses had to see these things at the same time and place so that their testimonies would be identical. Such evidence virtually required the witnesses to set a trap.”
Burge provides several insights into problems with the charges.
“The law…expected that if a person witnessed another about to commit a sin, compassion required them to speak up.
Did they speak up? It doesn’t sound like it.
Is the woman married? “A Woman who is sexually unfaithful to her fiancé was to be stoned to death along with her lover (John 8:5; cf. Deut. 22:23-24). Unfaithful wives were likewise killed…but the law did not indicate the method of death.” It would seem this woman is engaged since they give the mode of death she must suffer. “Where is her lover?”
“These witnesses bring the woman to Jesus before a crowd and heap public shame on her. They could have kept her to one side and brought her case to Jesus privately. But their approach to the problem indicates they wish to trap Jesus, and her personal life is incidental. They have no interest in a trial.”
In our culture we’re so quick to judge. We see a person do one thing, or hear that they said one thing and we are ready to condemn them entirely. We know not to judge a book by its cover yet we do it all the time.
Years ago I was up at Snoqualmie Summit - I was a ski instructor at the time. I sat at a table in the lodge with a group of boys all decked out in the latest ski gear. Obviously they came from families of means…or at least wanted to present themselves as such.
As we sat enjoying our lunch an old man with messed up hair, baggy pants, and a sweater that looked like it’d been hanging on a cat scratching post walked by. He was picking up trash in the lodge, and seeing something on one tray put it in his pocket. One of the boys remarked, “I can’t believe they have people like that up here.”
“What do you mean?” asked one of his friends.
“That guy over there. He’s a bum.”
I couldn’t help but over hear, and I couldn’t help but chime in. I knew the man they were referring to. I leaned in and said, “You may think he’s a bum but that man could take your season passes away if he wanted to.”
All of them got wide eyed and the first boy said, “He’s not getting my pass.”
“You don’t understand,” I said. “He owns the ski area.”
We live in a culture that will destroy a person’s life based off of 140 characters used in a tweet, where the news media will rile us up using soundbites that take comments out of context. A culture that is ready to tear down anyone who has achieved any kind of wealth or status.
Brothers and sisters, we’re guilty of the same thing.
James reminds us in his book, Chapter 4:10-12:
Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?
Who am I to be your judge? Who am I to condemn you? And even John records the purpose of Jesus coming:
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount said,
“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.
Our call is to be like Jesus. What does Jesus do in our passage here today?
He offers grace, not only to the woman, but to the crowd as well.
These pharisees and scribes they’re all “Aaaaah, we got you!” Ha-ha. You can only imagine how high and mighty they felt because they thought they’d trapped Jesus. Again, as Bruge reminded us, never mind the fact that they were destroying this woman’s life in the process - that wasn’t their focus. It was all about them, and all about them beating Jesus.
They were all puffed up in their knowledge of the law but were not at all able to demonstrate the love they would want to be shown them if/when they’d failed. Love, builds up (cf. I Corinthians 8:1).
Jesus doesn’t lash out. In fact he’s not quick with an answer (something we can all learn from). At the end of verse 6 we read,
“Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground.”
We don’t know what he wrote, there are all kinds of theories. Since it’s recorded as “wrote with his finger,” we can assume that Jesus wrote something. Was it Scripture? That’s the consensus, but what?
The Pharisees and the scribes continue to ask him their pressing question, “What do you say?” Are you going to be in agreement with the Law!
And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”
And then he goes back to writing!
There is such grace in that offer. He does not condemn them directly for their judgment. He does not point out each of their sin the way they are eagerly pointing to this woman’s. He asks them a question that forces them to look in the mirror.
He forces them to not just look at the one sin of this woman that they know of, but to look inwardly at the totality of the sin that is in them - all of those things that they would never share publicly or want shared in public.
He forces them to look away from the speck in their sisters eye and look at the log that is in their own.
Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
As if he doesn’t know where they went. Sometimes it’s good not to share all you know.
She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”
He raises the bar for her. No doubt she understood at that point that the wages of sin is death as it has been throughout the Scriptures. And in the saving of her life she got a glimpse of the promise that we read in Romans 6:23.
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Jesus demonstrates the grace that is unearned and unmerited. Paul wrote of it in Ephesians 2:8-9
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
Even our faith is a gift.
he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior,
Thanks be to God.