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Why did He write in the sand?

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Why Did He Write in the Sand? (John 8:1-11)

A daily and common experience is that of judging and being judged. The Lord Jesus could not speak to life as it is without a word about condemners and those they condemn. John 8 may be the most dramatic episode in the Gospels. We are brought to face with one judged and those who judged her. She is guilty without doubt. They judge her and call on Jesus to join in their judgment. How does Jesus respond? He instructs those who are judgmental and offers a stern mercy to the guilty.

Beware the Motives of Those Who Condemn

Those who condemn misunderstand Jesus' message. This act of condemnation interrupted the teaching of Jesus. In a beautiful scene, God's Son was at God's house teaching God's word. That teaching included, "Stop judging by mere appearances and make a right judgment. You judge by human standards; I pass judgment on no one" (John 7:24; 8:15). At the center of Jesus' message is a word of mercy, but not tolerance for sin. If your tendency is to judge and condemn, you are not in touch with Jesus' heart.

The method of those who condemn is unmerciful. The religious establishment dragged a woman before Jesus and the crowd. She had been caught in the very act. This was needless. Jesus could have judged the question in her absence. This was vindictive. It would only harden her in her sullen defiance. This was unfair. Where was her lover? He should have been there, too. The method of condemners is to expose. The method of Jesus is to redeem. Are you a redeemer or a condemner?

The message of those who condemn often appears to be religious. They came quoting a text (v. 5). God's law did indeed call for stoning those caught in such sin (Lev. 20:10; Deut. 22:23). Condemners are often technically correct. The judgmental recognize that the letter of the law does kill. They do not recognize that the Spirit gives life.

The motive of those who condemn is hidden. These judges used the woman as a pawn in order to trap Jesus. They had no concern about her, the law of God, or truth. They were concerned to make Jesus look bad in order to make themselves look good. No Jewish court could pass a death penalty. No Roman court would convict the woman. If Jesus said nothing, they would take it as permission to lynch the woman. If Jesus enforced Moses' law, he would challenge the authority of Rome, which alone had the power to execute. If Jesus refused Moses' law, He would appear to question the very Law of God. Their motive was to trap.

Observe the Method of the Master

Observe Jesus' method with the judgmental. His method is one first of hesitation. Those who judge hesitate at nothing. He waits. Why did He write on the ground? Surely He did so out of anger, embarrassment, and a refusal to speak. He may have written the sins of the accusers. He did write in the dust. This may have implied His willingness to let the wind of forgiveness blow away what they wished to make permanent. We would do well to hesitate in situations of judgment.

Jesus' method is one of instruction. They asked Him to deliver a legal verdict. He lifted the entire episode up to the level of abiding spiritual principle: "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her" (v. 7). Moses' law called for the witnesses of a crime to throw the first stone. For many reasons they were not without sin. They owed the woman a warning before her shameful act. They could have stopped the act before she committed it; they could have intervened redemptively rather than reacted judgmentally. There is strong evidence that they had entered into a plot with her husband to trap her with her lover. Further, they had the witness of their own hearts that were not free from the same strong passion. The innocence of many results from lack of opportunity, not lack of desire. Only the sinless One has the right to execute; He refused to do so.

Jesus' method leads to conviction. They marched out of the temple, beginning with the eldest who had the most experience with their own hearts. Jesus cuts through to reality. Are you really free of that which you condemn?

Observe Jesus' method with the guilty. Ultimately, every sinful one of us has to do with Him alone; "only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there" (v. 9). The judgment of others is not what matters. Only His word about my sin stands.

We are without excuse. Nothing in this story justifies this woman's act. She only speaks once, and then with no excuses (v. 11). Nothing about Jesus' attitude lessens the damning seriousness of sin.

We are given another chance by His grace. Jesus did not pronounce her worthy of stoning. However, His words are not those of forgiveness. There is no evidence of repentance or faith on the woman's part. He does release her in another opportunity for grace. "God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world" (John 3:17). We are living in the time of His mercy.

Jesus gives us a stern mercy. "Go now and leave your life of sin" (v. 11). Amend the whole of your life, Jesus' stern mercy is not soft stuff. The only One who could condemn us does not do so (Rom. 8:33-34). But what His lordship commands His power does enable.

You live under the opportunity for that stern mercy. Do not despair; He does not condemn. Do not presume; those who receive forgiveness also repent—life is never the same again.

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