Sermon notes on John 8:1-11.
Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women.Now what do you say?” 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. (Jn 8:1-6)
“Well, kill her of course” would be a proper Phariseic response to this question. Many witnesses had seen her commit this sin, and the Old Testament punishment for adultery is death (Lev 20:10). There is obviously a gender-based injustice here since only the woman is supposed to be punished, while the man she had sex with is nowhere to be seen, but many Pharisees would not care so much about that.
Jesus’ response, though, is revolutionary and unexpected:
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.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
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. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
“No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,”Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” (Jn 8:6-11)
Many of you probably know that even though this story is brilliant, it wasn’t part of John’s original script. The oldest versions of the Gospels do not include it, sometimes the story has been found in the Gospel of Luke. Still, that does not mean that it didn’t happen – only that it was a Jesus story that floated around in the early church for a while before it found its home in the canon – and it is not by any means contrary to the rest of the New testament but illustrates some important principles in a powerful way, like that everyone has sinned and that we should not judge and kill.
To require the executors to be without sin is genius. It showcases the infamous hypocricy of the Pharisees without excusing the sin of the woman. Remember though that Jesus is sinless – and yet even He choses not to judge her. He says that it is because nobody else did, but they were about to and only changed their mind when He pointed out their sins – realizing that God will judge them.
Many have speculated what Jesus wrote in the sand, and for my part I have not paid much interest in that until I found this article by Julie Barrier. She points to Jer 17:13 as being a key when interpreting John 8:
Lord, you are the hope of Israel; all who forsake you will be put to shame. Those who turn away from you will be written in the dust because they have forsaken the Lord, the spring of living water. (Jer 17:13)
This makes so much sense. A common theme in Jesus’ preaching is that if people reject Him they reject the Father. Most of the Pharisees did precisely this, and so with this text in mind Jesus may very well have written their names in the sand as He contemplated on their sins. Jer 17:13 also provides a good reason for why the text was placed where it was placed, since Jesus just had been talking about hor rivers of living water fill flow from within those who believe in Him (Jn 7:38).
It’s extremely clear in the New Testament that the Messiah is a game-changer, that the New Covenant is better than the Old has Hebrews 8:6 puts it. One of the most fundamental aspects of this is when Jesus says that we should not judge (Mt 7:1-2), which is repeated time and again by different New Testament authors. I’d say this is really where Jesus’ nonviolence is rooted. Enemy love is one important aspect, yes, but most Old Testament violence was based on punishment and vengeance. Jesus abolishes that.
If you feel like you have done some very sinful things that makes you worthy of punishment, remember Jesus’ words. He does not condemn you, He calls you to a life free from sin. He died for your misdeeds so that you may have eternal life. Isn’t that amazing?