It opens like any other Bible story. Jesus is teaching on the temple grounds and the Scripture says, “All the people gathered around Him.” It was standing room only. Necks were craning. People were on their tippy-toes. Everyone was hanging on His every word.
Suddenly, there’s a scuffle in the back of the crowd. Soon the scuffle morphs into a major uproar. The religious leaders of the people are carrying a writhing, biting, scratching, scantily-clad, red-faced woman in their arms. When they get to Jesus they dump her at His feet. Then one of them raises his voice and shouts, “Teacher, we found her in bed with a man who’s not her husband. Our law says stone her; what do you say?”
It’s a set-up, and John knows it. Not only is he the only gospel writer to record this incident, he tells us their motives. He says, “They were doing all this to trap Jesus.” In other words, this woman is a pawn in their plot to get Jesus. How do we know? Well, first, where’s Romeo? Everybody knows that it takes two to make adultery a reality, so where is he? He’s as guilty under the law as she is. Second, the law required the stoning of a virgin woman caught in adultery. Does she fit that description? Again, where’s the man? He’s equally culpable.
If Jesus agrees that this woman should be stoned to death – something that was never enforced in Israel – then there goes His ministry to the lost, the sick, the sinner.
But, if He disagrees with the Pharisees and goes against the holy law, how could He claim to be the Messiah of Israel? Not to mention the fact that Rome prohibited those they occupied to execute capital punishment.
They had Him: The Pharisees, the woman, the most volatile of all, the crowd. The truth is, nothing would have pleased these God-fearing, outwardly righteous, Saturday-go-to-meeting crowd than to execute this woman.
What an opportunity for Jesus to uphold the law. What an opportunity for Him to send a clear message against sin. Nothing would have made this crowd think of Jesus as the true Messiah more than acting as Elijah on Mount Carmel. But He doesn’t. In fact, He does nothing of the sort!
This Sunday is the first Sunday of Advent when we will gather around the table of the Lord to celebrate His body broken and shed blood. I can’t think of a more appropriate text to examine this Sunday than this one. Thankfully, the Holy Spirit moved John to include this story in his gospel. For some, this account is a sore spot. Many times it’s seen as even sub-canonical; i.e. shouldn’t be in the Bible. But thank the Lord it is, for here we get a profound view of the heart of the gospel of grace.
In preparation for a message entitled, “A Matter of Devotion”, you may wish to consider the following:
1. When does this incident occur?
2. Why does Jesus go to the Temple on this occasion?
3. Do you think this woman was set up?
4. What’s the law say about stoning adulterers?
5. What would Rome think of it?
6. What do you make of Jesus’ response in verse 6?
7. What do you think He wrote on the ground?
8. What’s Jesus mean in verse 7?
9. Why stoop to write a second time?
10. What’s Jesus asking and saying in verses 10 & 11?
See you Sunday!