The first time you picked up a Bible, as you opened the pages you thought you were studying it. You were encouraged to get into the Bible. But notice, as you grow older as a Christian the Bible is studying you, revealing truths about yourself. The Bible examines you. The book speaks about you. It was written over 2,000 years ago but is scans us inside and out. God knows breathing out this Word, every sin, every thought, every word, everything I have done. There is nothing we can hide from Him. God deals with guilt on the basis of grace and truth.
This scripture passage speaks powerfully to our situations. The Scribes and Pharisees judged the woman according to the law, which clearly condemned her. All of us, like this woman, have been caught in an act of sin and stand condemned in front of God’s holy law. To be caught in the act of adultery meant that the act had to be witnessed, to be actually seen going through the physical movement that could be capable of no other explanation. A compromising situation, such as leaving a hotel room together, would not have been good enough in a Jewish court. It was very likely the Scribes and Pharisees had set a trap to catch this woman so that they could catch Jesus in the horns of a dilemma and get rid of Him. There was a clear motive. Either Jesus would have agreed the woman should be stoned or Jesus would have shown her mercy and would be soft on sin, not upholding the Law of Moses. It was a deliberate trap. They only brought one sinner to Jesus. Why was the man not brought to Him? You can’t commit adultery alone. Maybe he was on the side of the Scribes and Pharisees? We don’t know.
All of us, like this woman, have been caught in the act of sin. We have all had the humiliating experience of getting caught doing something we know was wrong. No matter what the sin, it is always embarrassing. This woman was not only caught in the act of adultery but then dragged into the temple, of all places! All the people would have examined her like a piece of meat. Worse, they accused her in front of Jesus. They were pushing for the ultimate punishment – the act of execution. Even if we manage to keep our sin hidden from others, before God all of our lives are laid bare, ‘And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account,’ (Hebrews 4:13). He knows every simple thought we secretly entertain, every swear word, every hatred – not letting go of those who have wronged us, sin we commit when we’re alone, when we’re away in another city, He knows it all. The reality is every single one of us is caught in the act by God.
Religious people are just as guilty of sin as openly immoral people. We tend to look on the woman in the story as a great sinner and overlook the fact that the Scribes and Pharisees are just as evil, even more so. Clearly, they didn’t care about this woman at all. They could have held her in private custody but they didn’t. She was just a pawn. Their concern is not for holiness in society but to get rid of Jesus. Even more serious, these religious leaders were sinning against the sinless Jesus. They weren’t concerned about God’s honour, but in all they did they sought to kill and get rid of the Son of God. What could be worse? They weren’t using scripture to judge themselves, just pointing the finger against the woman and Jesus. Religious people are just as guilty of sin as openly criminal people are. Paul builds such a case in Romans, ‘For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,’ (Romans 3:23). Who do we identify most with in this passage – the adulterous woman or the self-righteous Scribes and Pharisees?
If God is full of love and grace how can He show mercy to sinners and uphold His justice? Nowhere in the story does Jesus condone this woman’s sin, but He shows grace. He applies God’s law and truth to them. The Scribes and Pharisees came armed with the law to test Jesus. Jesus responds by stooping down and writing in the ground with His finger. This is the only place in the Bible where Jesus actually writes anything. What did He write? No-one knows. When He says, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her,” (John 8:7) He wasn’t saying judges need to be sinless. Rather, Jesus was applying what He taught in Matthew 7. The Scribes and Pharisees were hypocritical and were sinfully using this woman and Jesus to condemn her.
The starting place for receiving mercy is to be convicted by God’s holy law so that you are able to say, with the apostle Paul, that you are the chief of sinners. Jesus gives the law to the self-righteous but offers grace to broken sinners who repent. The law reveals your sin but the law cannot offer grace and forgiveness. We can infer by Jesus’ gracious words to the woman that He offered her grace. Are we gracious and show compassion? God’s justice is upheld. He can be both gracious to sinners and uphold justice at the same time. Jesus was a sacrifice for sin so that God’s justice could be satisfied, ‘It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus,’ (Romans 3:26). His death satisfies God’s wrath on our behalf.
The only sinless person in the temple that day who would have legitimately thrown a stone at the adulterous showed mercy. Trust in Jesus.
God’s grace then is the basis of a holy life. Jesus said to the guilty woman, “Go, and from now on sin no more,” (John 8:11). He doesn’t say, ‘Go your way, sin no more and I will not condemn you.’ There’s nothing you can do to make yourself righteous. Her pardon was the motivation to change. There’s nothing you can do to obtain justification. God grants forgiveness as a free gift, free grace becomes the motive for living in holiness. ‘What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?’ (Romans 6:1-2). God’s amazing grace is the greatest motive for living a holy life.
I was guilty. I was condemned before Him. But rather than condemning me, the Son loved me enough to die in my place and offer a full pardon. Since it cost Him so much, I want to please the One who love me and sacrificed Himself for me. There are no conditions. Just grace available to every sinner whose been caught in the act.