Summary: This sermon is based on the story of the woman caught in adultery recorded in John’s Gospel. The idea behind the sermon is that the way Jesus handled that situation illustrates how grace works and sets the tone for how believers ought to treat one another
THE ART OF GRACE
At a meeting of church professionals, several issues were discussed, especially as these issues impinged upon the church’s ability to govern itself. One of the issues concerned gender relations and the propriety or impropriety of sexual relationships. A pastor in the group insisted that such conduct must be brought to the attention of the local church board. A lady in the group challenged this premise. “What about stealing?” she piped in. “Should that also be brought to the church board?” Unperturbed, the pastor insisted on his view and made this most stirring comment: “Such mistakes are mundane. The church is not concerned with them. The church is only interested in sex!”
While such remarks may not make the grade with everyone, is it possible that they actually reflect the subconscious, if not conscious, belief of many in the church?
John 7:53-8:2 A Story Begins
Prior to this episode, Jesus had survived a slugfest with the religious leaders of his day. In their total frustration with his soaring appeal, they had planned to silence Jesus forcefully. However, their plans had been rudely derailed. This story begins by telling us that they all returned home that day to lick their wounds and prepare for another battle.
Meanwhile, Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. This hill was located just outside Jerusalem and offered sufficient distance and solitude from the hackles of the mob. When dawn came, Jesus returned to his task at the temple, and in doing so rendered himself vulnerable to yet another attack by his detractors.
John 8:3-9 The Duplicity of the Religionists
As expected, it did not take long for Jesus’ protagonists to arrive. Unlike the previous day, there was no frontal assault on Jesus. Instead they launched a backdoor strategy.
Teachers of the Law and Pharisees (vs 3)
The identity of his detractors is made quite clear. The teachers of the law were the theologians of their day. They were the experts on the Torah. They spent all their lives and time studying the Torah, expounding on the Torah, dissecting its most elemental teachings. They were the exegetes of Jesus’ day.
The Pharisees were orthodox religionists. They formed a tightly knitted bunch of men whose religion bordered on the fanatical. They lived in communes and kept away from the rest of the people. The tag, Pharisee, means “separated ones.” They referred to themselves as "chaverim," the brotherhood, and called everyone else "ha‛am" or "laos", the people. They saw themselves as the epitome and guardians of the holiness quest.
Sexual issues were an apparent obsession with these gentlemen. And they saw in this a perfect foil for the gospel of grace that Jesus taught. In an apparent case of entrapment, they brought a woman caught in adultery before Jesus. Their cause seemed so just! “Teacher, we have caught this woman in adultery!” (vs 4)
Their shameless duplicity however is clear for all to see. It takes two to commit adultery, yet no mention is made of the woman’s partner. Where was he? Was he influential? Was he one of them? How do you catch someone in adultery? Were they peeping Toms? We cannot help but smell a rat in this case. Jesus apparently did!
“In the Torah,” they said, and here they were probably thinking of Deut 22, “Moses commanded us to stone such women!” Again we must ask what about her partner? The command in Deut 22 required both partners to be stoned. Their duplicity is revealingly transparent.
Their true intent is evident in the next sentence. “What do you say?” John’s observation in vs 6 is quite insightful: They were using this question as a trap in order to have a basis for accusing him. As the Irish would say, what blarney! They were certainly interested in sex but for a purpose.
Redemption, grace, love, kindness were all forgotten in their pursuit of this one goal. They had entrapped the woman, now they were intent on Jesus’ entrapment.
They were certain that they had Jesus in an unbreakable steel snare. If he said they should stone her, they could turn around and accuse him of contradicting his own gospel. If he said they should not stone her, he could be accused of undermining the Torah, and which self-respecting Rabbi could afford to do that?
Jesus was not about to be outwitted by such narrow-mindedness. Instead of speaking to them, he stooped down and began to scribble on the sand. I would love to know what he wrote down. Some holy imagination might help. Maybe he scribbled gibberish. Maybe he listed sins. Maybe he spelled out what cold-hearted religion looked like. Maybe he simply drew pictures of men and women misbehaving.
At first his opponents did not notice his scribblings. Verse 7 tells us that they continued to press Jesus for an answer, at which time Jesus stood up and spoke: “Whoever is without sin, let him throw the first stone.” Simple yet simply magical! Had they not already done that by how they had treated the woman? Could any of them, in the presence of others who knew them, seriously presume that they were sinless? By saying this, was Jesus not placing the burden of proof back on their shoulders? Did he not also unveil their duplicity?