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Jesus Friend of Sinners

Jesus is clear. Jesus doesn’t condemn me. I stand before Him guilty. I am VERY guilty. I have missed God’s goal (aka sin). It is a big deal.

There I stand, waiting for the hammer to drop. It doesn’t. Jesus shocks me. I don’t see it coming.

At dawn he went to the temple again, and all the people were coming to him. He sat down and began to teach them.

Then the religious elites (aka scribes and the Pharisees) brought a woman caught in adultery, making her stand in the center. “Teacher,” they said to him, “this woman was caught in the act of committing adultery. In the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” They asked this to trap him, in order that they might have evidence to accuse him.

Jesus stooped down and started writing on the ground with his finger. When they persisted in questioning him, he stood up and said to them, “The one without sin among you should be the first to throw a stone at her.” Then he stooped down again and continued writing on the ground. When they heard this, they left one by one, starting with the older men. Only he was left, with the woman in the center. 10 When Jesus stood up, he said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, Lord,” she answered. “Neither do I condemn you,” said Jesus. “Go, and from now on do not sin anymore.” | John 8:2-11 (Christian Standard Bible)

The Feast of Tabernacles had ended, but Jesus took advantage of the opportunity to minister to the pilgrims in the temple. During the feast, word had quickly spread that Jesus was not only attending but openly teaching in the temple. He taught in the court of the women at the place where the treasury was situated. The religious elites knew where He would be, so they hatched their plot together.

They would not be likely to catch a couple in the “very act” of adultery; so we wonder if the man (who never was indicted!) was part of the scheme. The Law required that both guilty parties be stoned and not just the woman. It does seem suspicious that the man went free. The scribes and Pharisees handled the matter in a brutal fashion, even in the way they interrupted the Master’s teaching and pushed the woman into the midst of the crowd.

The Jewish religious elites, of course, were trying to pin Jesus on the horns of a dilemma. If He said, “Yes, the woman must be stoned!” then what would happen to His reputation as the “friend of publicans and sinners”? The common people would no doubt have abandoned Him and would never have accepted His gracious message of forgiveness.

But, if He said, “No, the woman should not be stoned!” then He was openly breaking the Law and subject to arrest. On more than one occasion, the religious leaders had tried to pit Jesus against Moses, and now they seemed to have the perfect challenge.

Instead of passing judgment on the woman, Jesus passed judgment on the judges! No doubt He was indignant at the way they treated the woman. He was also concerned that such hypocrites should condemn another person and not judge themselves. We do not know what He wrote on the dirt floor of the temple. Was He simply reminding them that the Ten Commandments had been originally written “by the finger of God”, and that He is God?

It was required by Jewish Law that the accusers cast the first stones. Jesus was not asking that sinless men judge the woman, for He was the only sinless Person present. If our judges today had to be perfect, judicial benches would be empty. He was referring to the particular sin of the woman, a sin that can be committed in the heart as well as with the body. Convicted by their own consciences, the accusers quietly left the scene, and Jesus was left alone with the woman. He forgave her and warned her to miss God’s goal (aka sin) no more.

We must not misinterpret this event to mean that Jesus was “easy on sin” or that He contradicted the Law. For Jesus to forgive this woman meant that He had to one day die for her sins. Forgiveness is free but it is not cheap.

Jesus perfectly fulfilled the Law so that no one could justly accuse Him of opposing its teachings or weakening its power. By applying the Law to the woman and not to themselves, the Jewish leaders were violating both the letter and the spirit of the Law—and they thought they were defending Moses!

The Law was given to reveal sin, and we must be condemned by the Law before we can be cleansed by God’s grace. Law and grace do not compete with each other; they complement each other. Nobody was ever saved by keeping the Law, but nobody was ever saved by grace who was not first indicted by the Law. There must be conviction before there can be conversion.

Nor is the Messiah’s gracious forgiveness an excuse to sin. “Go, and sin no more!” was our Master’s counsel. Certainly, the experience of gracious forgiveness would motivate the penitent sinner to live a holy and obedient life to the glory of God.

Note: Is the story of the woman taken in adultery a part of Scripture? If it is, where does it belong in the Gospel record? John 7:53–8:11 is not found in some of the ancient manuscripts; where it is found, it is not always in this location in John’s Gospel. Most scholars seem to agree that the passage is a part of inspired Scripture (“a fragment of authentic Gospel material,” says Dr. F.F. Bruce) regardless of where it is placed. To be fair, there are some scholars who reject this notion entirely.

Sources:

  1. Christian Standard Bible. (2017). (Jn 8:1–59). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.
  2. Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 1, pp. 319–320). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
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