The final day of the celebration was full of tension and confused wonder in the nation of Israel. Would they accept that Jesus had power and authority from God, as He claimed? Would they accept Him as the Messiah? These were the concerns on everyone’s minds as they began to pack up and head back to their homes.
Meanwhile, Jesus went to the Mount of Olives to stay for the night. This was a large hill across from the mount that Jerusalem sits. The Kidron is the small valley in between.
Early the next morning, Jesus went to the Temple. People began to gather around Him to listen, and so the Lord sat down and began to teach. Imagine the people gathered around listening to Him. Imagine hearing the Words of Jesus, spoken by God Himself, directly to your heart. In the midst of the calm morning lesson, the scribes and Pharisees came with a great interruption. They brought a woman through the middle of the crowd and tossed her before Jesus. “‘Teacher,’” they said, “‘this woman has been caught in adultery, in the very act.”
“‘Now, in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women; what then do You say?’”
They were trying to set Jesus up. They were trying to get Him in trouble. They knew that Jesus was a Man who sat down and ate with tax collectors and sinners. This woman was a sinner. What would Jesus do? Would He act out of His normal compassion and grace, or would He honor the Law of God?
These men didn’t understand that the Law of God and the compassion of Christ were of the exact same Spirit.
Some questions we can ask at this point in the story are: If this woman was caught in adultery, where was the man she was caught sinning with? Why wasn’t he there, bearing the same accusation? Had he pursued the woman so that she could be used in this attempt to trap Jesus? And why did they have to bring the woman out and accuse her in front of everyone?
Once again, their trickery wouldn’t work.
Jesus stood up. As the religious leaders questioned Him, instead of responding, He stooped down and began writing something on the ground with His finger. The leaders continued to badger and question Jesus, demanding an answer.
Jesus straightened up and said, “‘He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.’” Then He bent back down to the ground and began to write some more.
Imagine that moment. The crowds were watching. The woman stood there: imagine her shivering in terror and shame. Her very life was hanging in the balance. The religious leaders who were meant to lead her to God were using her for their own corrupt agenda.
To whom could such a woman turn in such a situation?
The angry religious leaders were blind to their repulsiveness. They watched as Jesus silently wrote in the dust. One by one, all of them turned and walked away.
What do you think Jesus wrote? The Bible doesn’t tell us, but it had an interesting effect on the religious leaders. Had Jesus written the names of their sins in the dust? Had their own secret weaknesses flooded their minds? Was the fear of accusation upon them…the very accusation they made against the woman? Whatever happened in those moments, it was powerful. The older men left first, and then the younger ones followed. After they were all gone, Jesus turned to the adulterous woman. “ ‘Woman, where are they?’” He asked. “ ‘Has no one condemned you?’”
“‘No one, Lord.’” she answered.
“‘Then neither do I condemn you,’ Jesus declared. ‘Go now and leave your life of sin.’”
There are so many things to admire about Jesus in this story…His grace under pressure, His refusal to sink to the level of the religious leaders, His immediate ability to assess the situation and respond in a way that divided truth from lies. But perhaps the more remarkable and wondrous part of this story is the way it exhibits the grace of God. Adultery is a serious sin. It breaks apart families, draws people into deeply unhealthy relationships, and creates bonds that are only meant to be formed within the beautiful, remarkable covenant of marriage…of permanent commitment of steadfast, disciplined, never-ending love. This woman violated the splendid, exquisite plans of God for humanity when He created the wonder of marital love.
It is important to see that Jesus didn’t tell her it was okay to continue in her sin. Jesus knew that her sin was destructive to her. It hurt her relationship with God because it taught her to violate His will. It was also destroying her chance for hope and peace in her life. Now was her chance to receive the loving grace of the Lord and make a new set of decisions. Would her experience of grace make a difference?