“Jesus went unto the Mount of Olives. 2 And early in the morning he came again into the temple, and all the people came unto him; and he sat down, and taught them. 3 And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery ; and when they had set her in the midst, 4 They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery , in the very act. 5 Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou? 6 This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not. 7 So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her. 8 And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground. 9 And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. 10 When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? Hath no man condemned thee? 11 She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more” (John 8:1-11).
The crowd was listening intently to Jesus as He sat teaching in the Temple area. Suddenly there was a commotion in the assemblage. Men were pushing and shouting as they shoved a woman through the crowd, dragging her into the presence of Jesus without common courtesy. Their voices were as rough as their hands on the woman. Finally, the men and the woman were in front of Jesus who was still sitting. What was the matter?
The men turned out to be scribes and Pharisees, numbered among the religious leaders in Israel. As such, they felt they were the guardians of public and private morality. Somehow, in some manner, these men had discovered a woman whom they barged in upon with her lover in the act of committing adultery. With moral outrage they thought of bringing this woman to Jesus to see what He would say about her.
Their intention in dragging this woman through the streets of Jerusalem to a public gathering to be exposed in shame and humiliation, was not so much about her, but about them.
The scribes and Pharisees had a secret agenda at the public expense of someone else. Such is the nature of mean-spirited religious people. They are angry, they have a secret agenda, and they do not care who they use or hurt to advance their cause.
The secret agenda of the scribes and Pharisees was to put a question to Jesus that would put Him in opposition to Moses, thereby providing a basis for them to accuse Christ of violating the Law. To the Pharisees, this situation provided a perfect opportunity for them to accomplish their objectives. All they had to do was to ask the right question, and thus a word of warning is raised. Be careful of people who ask questions who have proven themselves to be your enemies.
Over the years I have received more than one phone call from a person in the congregation pretending to be seeking information. What they really wanted to do was to accuse me, or find a basis for accusation. Beware of questions.
The scribes and the Pharisees posed a question to Jesus. “They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. 5 Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?” To their eternal astonishment Jesus said nothing. “Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not.”
From His sitting position Jesus simply stooped over and began to write letters in the sand. Meanwhile, the scribes and Pharisees asked him again and again what He had to say about the situation. They were not going to be ignored, or denied, and something else is learned about religious people who are out of control themselves morally.
Not only are they mean spirited, not only are they clever by asking questions with hidden agendas, but they are relentless in their determination to accomplish a specific goal.
While the scribes and Pharisees continued to press with angry determination their question on Christ, Jesus continued to write letters in the sand. This is the only occasion recorded Jesus wrote something. But what did He write? One can only speculate but it is possible He wrote the words of the Decalogue, for the Bible says that after a while the scribes and Pharisees stopped talking, and they looked down to see what Jesus was writing.
Perhaps the Lord wrote the word “idolatry” in the sand. The first commandment says, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3).
It is possible the Lord traced the letters for “blasphemer.” Exodus 20:7 says, “Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.”
While the scribes and Pharisees initially clamored, Jesus wrote words designed to arrest their conversation, and bring conviction to their own hearts.
Suddenly Jesus stood up. The scribes and the Pharisees wanted Him to speak, then say something He would.
“He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her,” said Christ. Then He stooped again towards the earth. More letters were traced into the sand: sabbath breaker, disobedient to parents, murderer, fornicator, thief, false witness, coveter.
While Jesus traced His words, a holy hush fell over the crowd. The Bible says something very unusual and strange began to take place, for they which heard the words of Jesus, “being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.”
The order of conviction seems to be significant, for John observed that conviction came first to the eldest, and then to the youngest. It is a sign of maturity to be honest about one’s own moral failures in life. The youth are not easy to convince of the evil they are doing or have done.
There is irrationality to the behavior of young people. All they know is they “want what they want” and they will say and do anything and everything to have their own way no matter who they have to trampled on, no matter what values they have to trample, and no matter what argument they have to conjure up. They will have their way. And so conviction is slower in coming but if God is present, conviction can and must come.
“Beginning at the eldest, even unto the last” the scribes and the Pharisees began to go away confronted by their own conscience by the letters in the sand. Finally, the sound of silence was broken as the crowd around Jesus began to speak in low voices once more over what they had just witnessed. The religious bullies were gone. Jesus stood up. “Woman”, He said, “where are those thine accusers? Hath no man condemned thee?”
The woman caught in adultery, in the very act said, “No man, Lord.” The scribes and Pharisees called Jesus “Master”, but she called Him, “Lord.” What do you call Christ?
“The angels called Him Jesus,
but I call Him Lord.”
“And Jesus said unto her [the woman taken in adultery], Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.”
Oh, how the heart of the woman must have leaped with joy when she heard Jesus say, “Neither do I condemn thee.” But wait! Was the woman not guilty of the vilest of relationships among humans? Was she not caught in the act of committing adultery? Indeed, she was. Why then did Jesus not condemn her?
Jesus did not condemn her because He did not need to. Christ did not need to condemn, because the situation was condemning enough. When God the Father designed the universe, He built into it an intrinsic moral code reflecting His own essence. The Moral Law is summarized in the Ten Commandments, part of which says, “Thou shalt not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14). This includes mental as well as physically inappropriate relationships.
It does not matter what society one lives, in or under what form of government, be it primitive or sophisticated, the Moral Law is universal. No attempt to dismiss the Moral Law will ultimately succeed.
Political parties such as Communism may mock the Moral Law as being bourgeoisie (owner class), legal groups such as the ACLU may try to outlaw the Moral Law, and divorce religion from government, and religious groups may arise to suggest a New Covenant has terminated the Moral Law but it is all to no avail.
Long after the last Communist State has crumbled into the dustbin of history, long after the godless American Civil Liberty Union has tried its last case and closed its branch offices, and long after the New Covenant theologians have apologized for confusing God’s people, the Moral Law will remain as part of the code of conduct in the universe of divine design. All of this means that individuals who break the Moral Law of God will find themselves in a state of condemnation till sin is no more.
Jesus did not condemn the woman because He did not have the heart of a Pharisee. The heart of a Pharisee is mean spirited. The heart of a Pharisee is hard hearted. The heart of a Pharisee is judgmental. The heart of a Pharisee is critical without consideration of personal shortcomings and past transgressions.
The heart of a Pharisee demands that others be better and different than self. The heart of a Pharisee has no mercy, only a personal agenda. The heart of a Pharisee sets itself up as the guardian of public virtue and private morality, but without compassion.
Jesus did not have such a heart. He looked at a woman condemned by her own actions and in need of a Savior. She needed to be brought out of her state of condemnation. The woman called Him “Lord”, and the heart of Christ was touched, for Jesus knew in that moment she was ashamed and wanted to be fundamentally and forever different. Jesus looked beyond the actions of the woman to see her deepest need. Today the Lord knows your deepest need, and is willing to meet it without condemnation.
What no condemnation means specifically is a new opportunity to live a moral and virtuous life. Jesus said to the woman, “Go and sin no more.” On the other side of divine forgiveness is an opportunity to be different. It is like being born again.
No condemnation means there is a basis for reconciliation. If life is lived contrary to the Moral Law there is no basis for fellowship with Christ. But, let the heart call Jesus “Lord”, and suddenly there is a basis for fellowship with God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.
No condemnation means there is freedom to face the future without fear of punishment or divine retaliation.
There is no need to fear God.
There is no need to fear death.
There is no need to fear the Day of Judgment to come.
The past is forgiven.
The future is fantastic.
There are two practical applications of this passage.
The first application is for the church. The word of exhortation is this. Look at people who have been caught in a transgression through the eyes of Jesus, and not through the eyes of a Pharisee.
When we see a soul through the eyes of Jesus, we will see a person as being under a terrible burden of condemnation and in need of being freed from that judgment. Tell others of a Savior’s love and heart without condemnation. Then, perhaps someone else will want to sing the words written by Charles H. Gabriel.
“In lovingkindness Jesus came
My soul in mercy to reclaim,
And from the depths of sin and shame
Through grace He lifted me.
From sinking sand He lifted me,
With tender hand He lifted me,
From shades of night to plains of light,
O praise His Name, He lifted me!
He called me long before I heard,
Before my sinful heart was stirred,
But when I took Him at His word,
Forgiv’n, He lifted me.
His brow was pierced with many a thorn,
His hands by cruel nails were torn,
When from my guilt and grief, forlorn,
In love He lifted me.
Now on a higher plane I dwell,
And with my soul I know ’tis well;
Yet how or why I cannot tell
He should have lifted me.”
The second part of the message applies to that person who has been caught up in a great transgression of the Moral Law and has finally been caught. Public shame may be part of the price of sin but that too is only a manifestation of God’s mercy if it leads to calling Jesus, “Lord.”