1999-10-21 - Like a Moth to a Flame
Originally Published 1999-05-27
John 8:1-11 But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. And early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people were coming to Him; and He sat down and began to teach them. And the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery, and having set her in the midst, they said to Him, "Teacher, 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?" And they were saying this, testing Him, in order that they might have grounds for accusing Him. But Jesus stooped down, and with His finger wrote on the ground. But when they persisted in asking Him, He straightened up, and said to them, "He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her." And again He stooped down, and wrote on the ground. And when they heard it, they began to go out one by one, beginning with the older ones, and He was left alone, and the woman, where she was, in the midst. And straightening up, Jesus said to her, "Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?" And she said, "No one, Lord." And Jesus said, "Neither do I condemn you; go your way. From now on sin no more." (NAS)
Jesus is teaching again. I have to think He loved to teach the people. Helping the people to better understand God and His nature open doors to new facets of relationships between the Father and individuals. The more we want to learn about God, the more there is to develop a deeper relationship. These people listening to Jesus came and spent their own valuable time to hear what He had to say. The Mount of Olives is a nice place to visit for some peace and quiet, but this group was not here for the view.
Enter the Pharisees. We are not told how they treated the woman they accused, but the impression is not a good one. This is the first of many contrasts between the Jewish leadership and Jesus. The woman is accused publicly of adultery by the Doctors of the Law. When Jesus dealt with the sin of an individual, it was done quietly and privately. This woman's reputation would have been ruined whether she was guilty or not by this public proclamation. The group declares the prescribed punishment adding the weight of the Law of Moses to their argument. They are judge, jury and perfectly prepared to be the executioners - if Jesus will condone their actions.
Jesus does not even want to dignify their accusations with an answer. They badger the Lord until He is forced to publicly show them the error of their ways. The picture is not a pretty one. A terrified woman, perhaps only clad in the sheets she could grab cowering at Jesus' feet. A group of angry, politically motivated men ready to grab the biggest rock they could find. Notice too that the man in question is not present. It is not certain, but his absence is significant since they both should have been stoned if they were guilty. It smacks of a setup to trap Jesus in a place where He could not please the people or go counter to Moses.
The Master stoops and begins to write in the dirt. What did He write? The Ten Commandments? The names of each man present and the woman he had lusted after secretly in his mind? We will never know, maybe not even when we get to Heaven. It was a private matter between Jesus and the accusers. The Creator of the Universe displays His omniscience and reminds them that the one who is sinless may execute the judgment against the accused. The men file out one by one until it is only Jesus and the woman and the stunned group who had gathered to hear Jesus teach. It is interesting that the older men left first. It is not that the older men had more time to sin. But that they had more time to recognized their sinful nature and their inability to control it under their own power. Paul reminds Timothy:
2 Tim 2:22 Now flee from youthful lusts, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. (NAS)
Jesus is sinless and has the right to execute the sentence. He turns to the surprised woman looking as her last accuser walks out. He asks her a question to help her from her shock. "Did no one condemn you?" Her answer is important. "No one, Lord" This is the same word that a few chapters earlier Peter ascribed to Jesus when he said, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life." (John 6:68) She recognizes Jesus in what is at least a very respectful way. Some translate the passage, "No one, sir". As she comes to realize that her life is now in Jesus' hands alone, the Lord forgives her of her transgression. As publicly as she was accused, she is forgiven. "Go and sin no more." She had entered expecting to die, and left forgiven and free.
Who would not be drawn like a moth to a flame to this kind of kindness? Would Jesus have been within His rights to have the woman executed? Yes! Each one of us standing before Jesus Christ in our own strength would stand equally guilty. Notice there was never any argument over the guilt of the woman, just as we would have no defense. But Jesus did not come to condemn mankind, but to open the way back to God. He came to sweep aside the trappings the Pharisees and Sadducees had layered over the Law. He came to expose the harsh, hypocritical judgment of all mankind against his fellow man - showing us the log in our own eye that needs much more immediate attention than the speck in our brother's eye. When we can see our own need, the failings of others fade in significance. When we see God's righteousness, we cower and hide fearing the justice we know we deserve. When Jesus forgives us, again and again, we are irresistibly drawn to that flame of forgiveness and mercy fueled by the power of His grace.
If you want to draw others to Jesus, learn this love.
Lord Jesus - gently teach me my failings, so that I can see others as better than me. Help me forgive the trivial issues that I might hold against them, as You have forgiven me a debt beyond counting. Amen.
Grace & Peace,