Sin, Self Righteousness, and Grace

The scribes and the pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst, they say unto him, “Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses in the law commanded us that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou ?”

This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down and with his finger wrote on the ground….

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.”

…. and they which heard, being convicted by it, went out one by one …

When Jesus …. saw none but the woman he said unto her,

“Woman, where are those thine accusers ?” Hath no man condemned thee ?”

She said, “No man, Lord”

And Jesus said unto her, “Neither do I condemn thee: go and sin no more”

The account of the woman taken in adultery is uniquely recorded in the Gospel of John, chapter 8, verses 1 to 11.

It is a powerful example of the teaching of Jesus Christ, and provides a particular insight into the sinfulness and hypocrisy of us human beings.

It is well worth considering for a few moments from each of the three perspectives at work.

Let’s start with the woman.

She had broken one of the ten commandments, the fundamental and God given rules handed down by God to Moses on Mount Sinai in circumstances of frightening awe.

A law given directly by God almighty to Moses their Prophet, had been flagrantly transgressed, and the penalty to be imposed was beyond dispute.

Yet Jesus lets her off – or does he ? We will come back to that.

It is a mistake to see this event only for what it is. It needs to be seen for what it represents.

The woman does not represent women, nor this event the sin of adultery.

The woman represents her entire people, for their history demonstrated beyond all doubt that despite the manifest favour of God since their deliverance in Egypt centuries before, the Jews had persistently sinned. That’s why they were now under the rule of the Romans !

And let’s not now condemn the Jews, either. Just as we cannot condemn the woman, nor can we condemn the Jews. For their entire history was known to God, in advance.

God knew the Jewish nation would fail him…

God had already taken account of it. Indeed God uses it to set the stage for the ministry of Jesus Christ.

Because, as Jesus and his apostles taught, none of us is guiltless before a holy God.

We all deserve the death penalty before a God of faultless Purity, just as the woman here clearly did deserve death according to the standard of Jewish Law.

WE are all sinners, which is why we all need a Saviour from our sin. Which is why Jesus came …

And the self righteous Jewish men here ? And we must point out here that they were all men, and men steeped in the technicalities of Law. They brought the woman – but what of the man who had her, who was undoubtedly aware that she was married, and equally aware that she would pay with her life should they be caught out  ?

He must have been single, and therefore guiltless, technically. Or they would have brought him too, being so keen about the letter of the law…

Why did they not bring him to Jesus for judgment, however, given that he had been party to an act which brought the woman’s life under threat ?

And why is it that we want to condemn these hypocrites ?

Well, because they are hypocrites.

But Jesus does not condemn them. He knows their hypocrisy and their double standards. He gives them permission to stone her.

Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.

It only needed one sinless man, and the rest could have joined in !

But none can see himself as such, not  in the presence of Christ – the God Man whom the Evangelist John describes as “full of grace and truth” back in chapter one, verse 14.

When they took hold of her, they were full of religious zeal. And we know from the other elements of this account, that they were more concerned to catch Jesus out than to stone the woman.

As so often happens with the powerful and those who have rule, they use the errors of others to serve their greater purpose, callously heedless to the misery of the person they use.

But can we condemn them ?

Are we not all just like that ?

Have not every one of us acted in such a way in our lives ?

To see the flagrant faults in others, and ignore our own.

To use the failings of others to our own ends, heedless of their anxiety ?

We all have the capacity to behave like the woman, like the un-mentioned man who committed sin with her, like the scheming religious/political leaders who condemned her.

That is why Jesus acts and speaks as he does.

That is why Jesus came.

He pointed out both to the woman and to her accusers, that they were sinners. But he does not condemn them, any of them.

What he does say – and he effectively says it to the men as well – You have sinned. Stop sinning, and do as God says.

But he knows, and they all now know – indeed as we should now know – that it is only by God’s forgiveness and by his grace that we can stop sinning and start obeying God’s perfect standard.

It is only by accepting his judgment of us that we are sinners  and  slaves of the devil, that we can realise our position, our helplessness as sinners to cure ourselves, and our desperate need of Him.

And that is what Jesus is explaining  in the words John records here in  his Gospel.




By Christianity

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