In our Bibles today, you’ll find our text today, John 7:53-8:11, either in a footnote outside the text or surrounded by brackets within the text with a little note that says, “The earliest and most reliable manuscripts omit this passage.” At first a comment like this can be quite jarring. You mean something in the Bible may really not be in the Bible! Do not fret, all this means is that the earliest and best copies of Scripture do not include this passage, and because of this it is likely not something John the apostle himself wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.[1] Yet, rather than leave it out altogether we still find it in our Bibles, why? Well, though the earliest copies leave it out some of the later copies keep it in, placing it in a variety of locations. Some put it in various locations within John 7, others put it at the very end of John’s gospel, others even put it at the end of Luke 21.

The bottom line is this – “the overwhelming consensus of textual scholars is that this was not an original part of John’s gospel, but at the same time there is an overwhelming consensus that this account is authentic and should be in every edition of the New Testament.”[2] Because it’s location within the canon of Scripture is difficult to place it means it most likely did not occur during the annual Feast of Tabernacles found in John 7-8. So now that we’ve worked through the Feast of Tabernacles section, we’re returning to this scene today, to see what we can learn from it. If you’d like to dive further into the debate surrounding this text, whether it should be in or out, please see me after service, I can tell you more and point you to some helpful resources.

Now, as we approach this text here’s what I’d like to do. I want to simply walk us through it, pausing here and there to point out some gospel wonders for us to see.

The scene unfolds for us in the first five verses. We see in v1-2 that on a particular morning Jesus had come from the Mount of Olives to the temple. As He approached the temple, people continuously kept coming to Him, so He did what He so often did and began teaching them. Nothing is quite unique about these circumstances, we’ve seen them before in His ministry and we’ll see this scene happen again. What is unique is what we learn in v3. As Jesus began teaching, what was probably a very sizeable crowd, we’re introduced to the scribes and the Pharisees. These two terms do not describe the same people. In their day the ability to write wasn’t as common as it is today, so to be a scribe was to be a skilled writer, it was a particular profession, and for Jewish scribes the chief concern of their writing was the Law of God. The Pharisees on the other hand were a specific conservative religious party, devoted to being separated from the rest in their zealous pursuit of obedience to the Law of God. Many of the Pharisees were scribes themselves but not all the Pharisees were scribes, just as not all scribes were Pharisees. But, as you can imagine the Jewish scribes and the Pharisees had much in common, and here in v3 they show up together.[3]

In the rest of v3-5 we see what they showed up to do. They cause an abrupt interruption by bringing a woman they had caught in adultery into the midst of this crowd saying, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act adultery. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” Pause right here. Have you ever been in a situation where you were trying to be sold a bill of goods, whatever it may be, and you knew something was off? Last year we were shopping for a new mattress. We knew what we wanted and what kind of price we wanted to pay, so I began going to different stores to check prices. I will never forget what happened in one particular store I entered. I walked in to check prices, the salesman welcomed me, asked me what I was looking for, disregarding all I had told him, and took me straight to the most expensive mattress he had, the Beauty Rest Black mattress. Anyone heard of this? It’s a $5700 mattress! Well, we walked up to it, he got this confident look in his eye, and no joke said the following words, “Tom Brady sleeps on one of these.” As if he fully expected me to say, “Say no more! Tom Brady? I want 3 of them!” C’mon man. All this to say, this salesman seemed highly suspicious to me, and no doubt, when we get to v4-5 and see what the scribes and Pharisees have done in bringing this woman into their midst, we feel a similar suspicion about their intentions.

How so? It takes two to tango, so, where was the guy? You don’t commit adultery alone. Did they not take him? If so, why not? If they did take him, did he escape? Was this anonymous man someone these Jews knew? If he was, did they not take him to protect his reputation? Or worse, did they just single out the woman as the guilty party, ignoring the man? We don’t know the answer to any of these questions, but that he’s not present with her leaves us feeling suspicious.[4] v6a clears this up for us, “This they said to test Him, that they might have some charge to bring against Him.” There we have it. They weren’t concerned with her behavior, they weren’t really concerned her at all. They weren’t concerned about upholding the Law, or concerned about Jesus cleaning up the scandalous behavior in town. No, they weren’t concerned with any of this. v6a leads us to believe that they knew of a certain woman with a promiscuous reputation, and set up a trap for her in order to trap Jesus.[5] Our suspicions are now confirmed, these scribes and Pharisees are seen to be the vile men they are, and we discover the great sin of this passage isn’t adultery, but the attempt of destroying a woman to bring down Christ.[6]

But what trap are they trying to catch Jesus in? In this time Israel was under Roman occupation. And though all the nations Rome conquered experienced much freedom in their day to day life, they could not administer capital punishment to anyone without going through the Roman system. Remember they had asked Jesus, “Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” On one hand, if Jesus gives the green light to stone her, they would run off and tell the Roman officials that He is seeking to execute capital punishment out from under Roman rule, which would get Him in trouble with the Romans. On the other hand, if Jesus forbids her from being stoned, they would accuse Him of denying the Law of God, which would get Him into trouble with the Jewish people.[7] It’s another one of those ‘heads I win, tails you lose’ kind of question crafted cunningly intended to deceive. A.W. Pink describes this problem well saying, “The problem presented to Christ was…the profoundest moral problem which ever could or can confront God Himself…how could justice and mercy be harmonized…how can mercy be exercised when the sword of justice bars her way?[8]

So what does Jesus do? Look at v6b, “Jesus bent down and wrote with His finger on the ground.” Despite numerous attempts to clarify and confirm, no one knows what He wrote on the ground. Was it their sins? Was it their His judgment of them? Was it His answer regarding the woman? Was it the Law of God? No one knows, we’re not told, so we shouldn’t linger. What we do know is that Jesus recognized the dilemma and responded accordingly by not even looking up but bending down, content to simply write on the ground, He shows a calm and peace amid the storm of suspicious activity around Him. So much so that it prompts the accusers to ask Him again and again and again until He finally spoke.

And when He spoke He simultaneously affirmed the Law of God while accusing those who sought to corruptly accuse this woman. v7-8 tell us, “And as they continued to ask Him, He stood up and said to them, ‘Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.’ And once more He bent down and wrote on the ground.” They had meticulously and shamefully set up a sinful woman and cunningly crafted a question intended to deceive and trap Jesus, yet He disarms all their plotting them with a phrase. He acknowledged her guilt was deep, that she had broken the Law, that a stone could indeed be thrown because she deserved it. But by limiting who could throw a stone at her He prevented any harm coming her way.[9] With just a few words He relieved the accused woman and rebuked the accusers. R.C. Sproul is so right on here in his commentary on John when he says, “They were hypocritically bloodthirsty in their desire to shame and punish woman…while it is not wrong to punish criminals for their crimes. But it is wrong to convene a kangaroo court, drag a person before such a court, and add insult to her injury.”[10] See how they respond to this in v9, “But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before Him.” This is a reversal of epic proportion. The scribes and Pharisees had come, publicly using and embarrassing this woman hoping to publicly embarrass Jesus…yet now they leave publicly embarrassed themselves. They had come accusing this woman of sin and hoping to accuse Jesus of forsaking either Roman authority or God’s Law, yet now they leave accused of sin themselves.

This coming July I will, Lord willing, turn 35. Some of you will say I’m still a young man, and to a certain degree I am. But, having lived through my twenties I now have come to believe the error of youth is arrogance. Pride is the oldest sin in the book, it is the root of all sin in general, and it is the sin especially present in the youth of every culture. Pride cast Adam and his bride out of the garden. Pride built the tower of Babel. Pride caused the people of God to long to be like and greater than all the pagan nations around them. Pride makes us high-minded, impatient of counsel, and rude to others. The theologian J.C. Ryle once said it is a deep and independent prideful streak in young men and women that causes them to be like young horses who cannot bear to be tamed by the rope of another. It is this pride that functions like a large boulder in the soul. The longer it’s allowed to exist unchallenged and untamed the faster it roles and the faster it roles the quicker it brings destruction to all around that individual.[11]

This is shown to us here in the v9. Who drops the stones and abandons this shameful scene first? The older men. Who drops them last? The younger men. Why? Because the older you are the more tuned in you are to your own sin, and the younger you are the more blind you are to your own sin. You are never smarter, stronger, or more invincible than when you’re 23. Beyond 23 is nothing but an increasing awareness of your limitations, folly, and weakness.[12] And with an increased awareness of your own sin comes wisdom. So pause again with me here and allow this to sink in. There are a growing number younger people here at SonRise these days, and praise God there are also a growing number of older people at SonRise too. Do you remember what Scripture commands you older folks about these younger folks? You’re the ones who’s supposed to be discipling them, teaching them, pouring into them, and warning them of these things. Why? You’ve been there, done that, and gotten the t-shirt. They haven’t. Here me clearly: if you’re older it is sinful of you to not be discipling someone younger than you. If you’re a younger it is sinful of you to not be seeking discipleship from someone older than you.

These scribes and Pharisees are wicked through and through, but here in v9 I think they challenge us greatly and have much to teach us.

So, when the power of Jesus words hit these scribes and Pharisees they were no longer interested in their deceptive plans or the sins of this woman, they were concerned with their own sins. Confounded they were, yet unconverted they remained.[13] So they all left her where she was. Through the tears, shame, guilt, see v10-11, “Jesus stood up and said to her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ She said, ‘No one, Lord.’ And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.’” Church, behold the shocking kindness of Christ to sinners. You’ve got to see this. You’ve got to be moved by this. You’ve got to be hit with our Savior’s scandalous grace to sinners. Why? Because we fear shame, we fear guilt, we fear being publicly outed and exposed for all to see. This fear is what that little voice inside of you constantly tells you. That if everyone knew who you really were, they wouldn’t be friends with you, they wouldn’t look at you, and wouldn’t even let you in the doors of this church. We say we believe in the grace of Christ to sinners but we live as if Christ acts differently with us. Our lives and anxieties tell a different story. Your small voice whispers, ‘Sure, He told this woman ‘Neither do I condemn you’ but in my case He says ‘I am still here to condemn you.’

I know this is you, I know you function like this, I know you feel that God is always disappointed by you. Be reminded of Romans 8:33-34, “Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the One who died – more than that, who was raised – who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.” In other words, Christians, there is nothing anyone could tell God about you that He doesn’t already know and hasn’t already paid for and atoned for through Christ. Jesus is the only One in our story today who could’ve thrown a stone and condemned this woman, but He didn’t. Rather, by rebuking the Jewish leaders and sending them off He got rid of the Law’s demands and extended grace to her. This is the heart of the gospel. That Christ could rightly condemn us, but in bearing the curse for us He silenced the Law’s demand, and gave us mercy. Only in the cross do we see justice and mercy meet, and only there can man become new.

The shocking kindness of Christ is in these words “Neither do I condemn you.” But notice He doesn’t stop there. He also says, “…go, and from now on sin no more.” He does not condemn her, but He also does not condone her sin. She is forgiven that she might become holy. Do not forget that order. We do not become holy in order that we may be forgiven. No, a life of holiness is the fitting response to such gospel kindness. Yet, some of you too quickly claim such forgiveness and show you don’t get it because you keep living in your sinful habits. Scandalous gospel grace to sinners is never to be used as a license to sin. Rather, if we’ve truly been transformed by such grace we’ll endeavor to leave behind sinful habits, shameful lifestyles, and we’ll want to walk in step to the tune of a new song.

Conclusion:

This story may not belong to John’s gospel, but the point of it is unmistakably true.[14] The holy God sent His holy Son, to bear the curse for sinful man, so that we would holy be. Come to Him for grace, and set your face to sin no more!

 

 

Citations:

[1] John’s gospel was written around 80-90 AD, yet the earliest John 7:53-8:11 shows up is in one 5th century manuscript, then in one 8th century manuscript, and four 9th century manuscripts. See Herman Ridderbos, The Gospel of John, page 285-286.

[2] R.C. Sproul, John – St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary, page 149. See also Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John – NICNT, page 882-883.

[3] See Morris page 884, and Sproul page 149-150.

[4] Sproul, page 150.

[5] Morris makes a good case for this interpretation, see page 885.

[6] Richard Phillips, Reformed Expository Commentary – John 1-10, page 500.

[7] F.F. Bruce, The Gospel of John, page 415. See also Sproul page 151.

[8] A.W. Pink, quoted in Phillips, page 502-503.

[9] Morris, page 889.

[10] Sproul, page 152, emphasis mine.

[11] J.C. Ryle, Thoughts For Young Men, page 19-21.

[12] Matt Chandler encouraged his young church members in this manner recently on 1.21.18, accessed via podcast.

[13] Johann Wild, Reformation Commentary on Scripture – John 1-12, page 297.

[14] John Piper, Neither Do I Condemn You, sermon given on 3.6.11, accessed via desiringgod.org.

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