John 7:53-8:11

After the sermon we will be singing a song by Jonathan Butler.

Falling in love with Jesus
Falling in love with Jesus
Falling in love with Jesus
Was the best thing I’ve ever done

In His arms, I feel protected
In His arms, never disconnected
In His arms, I feel protected
There is no place I’d rather be

I have talked about a time when I was in seminary and overwhelmed with papers to write, exams to take. I’m not sure, but I think I had just broken up with a girlfriend. The pressure on me was too great and what I most wanted to do was to put a pair of jeans in a backpack and head out the door, hitchhiking to somewhere nobody knew me, without telling anyone where I was going. I wanted to run away from all my responsibilities.

I curled up in a comfortable chair and pulled a knitted blanket over my head that my grandmother had made for me. It was like I went back into the womb. I prayed, telling God about all the things I was feeling, all the things that were making me feel pressured. I talked until I had nothing more to say and then was silent. In the silence I sensed the presence of God with me and affirmed the truth that God is sovereign over me, over the world. I felt his arms around me, holding me, telling me I was safe with him, that everything was going to be ok.

Whenever I doubt, whenever I question the love of God for me, I remember this time when I was falling in love with Jesus.

Falling in love with Jesus
Falling in love with Jesus
Falling in love with Jesus
Was the best thing I’ve ever done

We enter this morning into the season of Lent, the forty days before Easter. The forty days are a reminder of the forty days Jesus fasted in the wilderness after his baptism. So it is a time for preparation. In many traditions it is a time for fasting. Here at RIC we use these Sundays to focus on the gospels for our preaching. In some years we have focused on the parables Jesus told. Other years we have focused on questions Jesus asked, or on his encounters with people.

This year we are focusing on what we read in the gospels that makes us fall in love with Jesus. I have asked you to let me know what you read in the gospels that makes you fall in love with Jesus. I ask you again to email me or tell me what makes you fall in love with Jesus so we can focus one of the Lenten sermons on that part of the gospels.

I was talking with a young woman who told me that it is the way Jesus cared for broken people that made her fall in love with Jesus. In particular, she mentioned the woman caught in adultery – which is a passage I had thought of when I considered what made me fall in love with Jesus.

The Mel Gibson film, The Passion of Christ, was filmed in 2004 and my favorite part of that film is the scene where the woman caught in adultery is brought to Jesus. The bulletin cover shows that scene as the woman raises her head to look at Jesus who extends his hand to lift her up from the ground. It is a powerful scene.

How can you not love Jesus when you see how he treated this woman?

When you read your Bible, at the end of John 7 you will read something like this.

[The earliest manuscripts and many other ancient witnesses do not have John 7:53–8:11. A few manuscripts include these verses, wholly or in part, after John 7:36, John 21:25, Luke 21:38 or Luke 24:53.]

The text for this morning is not found in the earliest manuscripts of John’s gospel. There was a manuscript containing sayings of Jesus that circulated among the churches in the earliest years of the church, before the four gospels in our Bible were written. Not everything written about Jesus in those early years made it into the Bible.

This account of the woman caught in adultery is written in a style that resembles what Luke wrote in his gospel. It does not fit the style of what John wrote in his gospel. It is clearly an insertion into John’s gospel. If you take it out, the text flows easily from John 7:52 to John 8:12.

Despite it not being part of what John wrote in his gospel, it is clearly a historical account of Jesus’ interaction with this woman. There are multiple references to this account in the early centuries of the church. Is it an account Luke wrote but did not have room for it in his gospel? We will find this out, I hope, when we get to heaven.

I think the reason this story endured and was eventually inserted into John’s gospel is because it is such a powerful story, too powerful to be discarded. It is clear that there were many other stories about encounters people had with Jesus that are not included in our Bibles. John wrote at the end of his gospel, (John 21:25)
Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.

I am glad this story eventually made it into our Bibles and am very much looking forward to hearing other stories people will share in heaven about their interactions with Jesus.

So let’s take a look at this encounter.

It begins with the Pharisees trying to test Jesus. Jesus was gaining in popularity and the Pharisees and teachers of the Law tried to trap Jesus, trick Jesus, get Jesus to say something that would get him in trouble with the Roman authorities or the people who were following him.

(Matthew 19:3)
Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”

(Matthew 22:15–17)
Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. 
Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?”

(Matthew 22:34–36)
Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

After Jesus challenged the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, Luke writes, (Luke 11:53–54)
When Jesus went outside, the Pharisees and the teachers of the law began to oppose him fiercely and to besiege him with questions, 54 waiting to catch him in something he might say.

So this encounter fits with the attacks of the Pharisees, trying to trap Jesus.

At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. 

In the temple the acoustics must have been good enough that he could sit with the people around him able to hear what he was saying.

As Jesus sat, teaching the people, the Pharisees arrived, dragging a woman.

The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 

Who was this woman? Was she a prostitute? Prostitution was common. Jesus was sitting in the home of Simon the Pharisee when a prostitute came in while Jesus was reclining at the table, sharing a meal. She washed his feet with her tears, dried them with her hair, and anointed them with perfume. Simon did not say that she should be stoned to death for her prostitution. He challenged Jesus who allowed this woman to touch him.

Was she a married woman who was caught having sex with a married man who was not her husband? If so, then how did they catch this woman in the course of having sex with a married man? Did the Pharisees and teachers of the Law stumble on this case or did they go looking for it so they could use it to test Jesus? Was she set up? Did the Pharisees and teachers of the Law pay attention to something they normally ignored?

We don’t know the backstory of this woman. All we know is she was caught and brought unwillingly to Jesus. The Pharisees and teachers of the Law “made her stand before the group.” It does not seem she calmly walked with them. She was dragged through the streets, fell in a heap in front of Jesus, and was forced to stand up before the group.

What was she feeling? In an honor/shame culture she was shamed. Everyone saw publically what she had been doing privately. She was publically humiliated. If she was a prostitute, now that was being broadcast in the temple courts. If she was married and had sex with someone not her husband, that secret act was now on public display.

Men and women who have affairs are not emotionally and spiritually whole people. Perhaps she was looking for someone to love her because her husband was not loving her. Perhaps she was being taken advantage of by a married man.

Prostitutes are deeply wounded people and although they learn to harden themselves against the abuse they experience, whatever part of her that was wounded had now been dragged out into the open. What she had done in secret was now being shouted from the rooftop.

They made her stand before the group 4 and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5 In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?”

The teachers of the Law and the Pharisees did everything by the book. Deuteronomy 19:15 says,
One witness is not enough to convict anyone accused of any crime or offense they may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.

They knew they had to have two witnesses and so certainly there were two witnesses to testify this woman had been having sex with a married man who was not her husband.

The Law of Moses in Leviticus 20:10 says,
If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife—with the wife of his neighbor—both the adulterer and the adulteress are to be put to death.

If I had been there I would have asked, “Where is the man?” The Law of Moses is clear, “both the adulterer and the adulteress are to be put to death,” so where was the adulterer?

It takes two people to have intercourse and if she was caught in the act, where did the man go? If he ran away, it is hard to believe that he was not known and could not be found.

So adding to the public shame and humiliation the woman was experiencing was the injustice of being judged without the presence of the man who was involved. The disgrace and huge injustice done in much of the world today and in the culture of this story is that women face the consequences for their sexual sin while the men walk away without any responsibility or shame.

This is the age old hypocrisy. In popular culture men are free and even encouraged to be sexually promiscuous without consequence, but women are pressured to be pure and are judged for their sexual relationships.

The teachers of the Law and the Pharisees were doing everything by the book, but by bringing the woman to Jesus, but not the man, they revealed their own hypocrisy.

The woman was embarrassed, humiliated, hurt by the injustice of what they were doing to her, but she was also terrified.

If she didn’t know the law, then she had received an education as she was dragged from place to place. When she was taken to the religious leaders, she undoubtedly heard them talk about the Law and that she would be stoned for her offense.

As she was dragged from place to place, she began to realize that she did not have long to live. The reality that they were going to stone her began to sink in. Did she have any children? If so, she thought of them and the probability she would never see them again. She thought of her parents and brothers and sisters and friends. She would not be permitted to say goodby to them. She was being dragged away and taken to her death and now all that stood between her and her death was this teacher sitting in the temple courtyard.

As the woman stood in front of Jesus, surrounded by her accusers, she was embarrassed, humiliated, hurt by the injustice of what was being done to her, and terrified that these were the last moments of her life.

They Pharisees and teachers of the Law faced Jesus with the woman in front of them and demanded he respond, “Now what do you say?

They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. 

They knew that women who had been prostitutes were now followers of Jesus. Would Jesus defend what this woman had done? If so, they could accuse him of not following the Law of Moses. Would Jesus say that this woman should be stoned? If so, they would undermine the reputation Jesus had gained as a man who forgave women who had been unclean because of their sexual relations.

Jesus did not respond.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. 

This is a curious detail and has created a lot of speculation. What did Jesus write on the ground with his finger. Was Jesus stalling for time until he could think of what to say? Was he drawing shapes? Drawing a picture? Writing words?

As he wrote on the ground the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees continued to question him.

I can imagine they were feeling stronger and stronger. They had set the trap and Jesus was stalling because he had no way out of the trap. They began to feel very satisfied with themselves. The woman stood there and as the religious leaders felt more and more confident, she felt more and more certain that her death was just moments away.

The teachers of the Law and the Pharisees tossed the stones they brought from one hand to the other. One of the stones dropped with a thud and a Pharisee picked it up with anticipation. The seconds passed by, but to the woman it seemed an eternity.

Jesus did not respond to their questions. Finally he stood up, looked them in the eyes, and challenged them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” And then he stooped down and began again to write on the ground.

All of a sudden there was silence. Why were the Pharisees and teachers of the Law suddenly silent? They prided themselves in their obedience to the Law. Why did they not begin to stone her?

Some have speculated that when Jesus was writing on the ground, he was writing down a list of sins these accusers had committed. Perhaps he was writing down names of the Pharisees and teachers of the Law who had committed adultery themselves.

Perhaps it was words of knowledge that came to Jesus and he wrote in the dust information about the sins these men had committed. Perhaps the Holy Spirit spoke to the Pharisees and teachers of the Law about their sins.

The reason I think this to be the case is that the accusers who were publically known as upright and righteous men and who prided themselves on being righteous and upright were silent. Telling them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her,” I don’t think was enough to silence them.

Do you remember the story of Jesus healing the man born blind? As the Pharisees investigated the case, they made a big deal about Jesus being a sinner and the man who was given his sight being a sinner. When the man who was given his sight began to lecture them, they responded: (John 9:34)
“You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!”

With this unreflective arrogance, the accusers of the woman would have competed with each other to see who could throw the first stone. But what Jesus wrote on the ground destroyed their public facade of righteousness.

At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there

One by one, they dropped their stones and walked away. “The older ones first.” Age has a way of diminishing arrogance and certainty. With more life experience under their belt, the older Pharisees and teachers of the Law remembered their own mistakes, their own missteps, their own failings, their own sins. As the older men walked away, the younger men’s enthusiasm for this stoning weakened and they too walked away.

 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 
11 “No one, sir,” she said. 

With the silence, for the first time, the woman began to feel a ray of hope. When the first of the accusers left, she couldn’t believe what was happening. But then, one by one they left and as each one left, she had more reason to hope and gradually experienced the euphoria of having been given a death sentence and then being pardoned.

They continued to leave. Picture the scene: She stood there watching the Pharisees and teachers of the Law drop their stones and walk away. She looked intently at Jesus who didn’t look at the men who were leaving. He continued to write on the ground. When the woman’s accusers had all left she had eyes only for Jesus.

Finally, the woman’s savior – that’s what she felt about him at the time but didn’t yet know that he could save her from more than this physical death. Finally, the woman’s savior looked up and addressed her for the first time.
“Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

She had been seconds away from the pain of the first rock hitting her head, seconds away from a painful death, and now she was free.

Her euphoria was mixed with reverence for this man, her savior who had rescued her from certain death, and she replied.
“No one, sir.”

And then came life-giving words that went deep into her heart.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

Jesus was the one man among all the men standing around her in the temple who was without sin and could have thrown the first stone, but Jesus spoke tender words of forgiveness and life. “Neither do I condemn you.”

These words of Jesus anticipate what Paul wrote in Romans 8 in talking about life through the Spirit. (Romans 8:1–4)
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.

The Law of Moses required that the woman be stoned to death, but Jesus went willingly to the cross to die the death required for our sinful natures. The woman standing before Jesus in the temple court heard these words as words of life. We need to hear them in the same way.

We too are set free to live and the words that rang in the ears of the woman caught in adultery should ring in our ears as well. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

How does the story end? Did she leave her life of sin? We don’t know. She still had to face the cultural embarrassment of her friends and neighbors. If she was married, she still had to face her husband who,perhaps, had dragged her to the religious leaders. If she was a prostitute, she had to leave that life and find another way to make an income.

Did she become one of the followers of Jesus? We hope so, but will have to wait until we arrive in heaven and then try to find her and hear the rest of her story.

I suspect she did become one of the followers of Jesus which is why her story became well known and made its way into copies of Luke or John and other early compilations of stories about Jesus. I suspect she told her story many times in church, just as Mary Magdalene told her story, just as Simon Niger told his story.

What about this story makes me fall in love with Jesus?

The Pharisees and teachers of the Law saw the woman as an object; Jesus saw her as a person.

The Pharisees and teachers of the Law didn’t care about this woman; they used her for their own purposes. They did not have any compassion for her. All they cared about was protecting obedience to the Law of Moses. If anyone got trampled in the process, that was too bad.

Who or what is the focal point of the story? When you read this story realize that there are two people on trial here. The woman is obviously the one who faces imminent death, but Jesus is also on trial and the Pharisees and teachers of the Law are trying to find some way to eliminate Jesus.

In Matthew 12 Jesus healed a man with a withered arm. The man’s arm was restored right in front of the eyes of the Pharisees. But because Jesus did this on the Sabbath, Matthew writes,
“the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus.”

So Jesus is also on trial in this story. Jesus knows the hearts of the accusers of this woman. Jesus knows these leaders want to get rid of him. It is the life of Jesus that is at stake here. There is a lot of pressure on Jesus and yet he never treats the woman as an extraneous figure. Jesus loved this woman enough that he was willing to die for her. The accusers did not care about this woman. She was not a person to them, in fact. She was an object being used to serve their purposes.

This is how the Pharisees and teachers of the Law treated people. They did not see the man with a withered arm have his arm miraculously restored by Jesus; they saw a violation of the Sabbath law. They did not see a blind man who had received his sight by Jesus; they saw a threat to their own power and influence.

The Pharisees and teachers of the Law used the woman caught in adultery to try to trap Jesus. But to Jesus, no person is ever an object to be used. In the cosmic battle taking place between God and Satan, the devil uses people as pawns in his scheming to hurt God. Satan flatters and lavishes attention on a person only so that person can be led away from God and then when the devil’s goal has been accomplished, that person is discarded like yesterday’s newspaper.

In this cosmic battle taking place, God places highest value and importance on each person and seeks to win them to himself. He shamelessly pursues each person without forcing his will on any person, doing all he can so they will open their hearts to the love and grace he wants them to experience.

The focus in this story may be on the conflict between Jesus and the religious leaders, but Jesus’ heart was never distant from the woman. He loved her and sought to restore her to wholeness.

Jesus always cares for the person because people are the reason he was born on earth. He came to provide a way for us to be united with him for eternity in his kingdom. He came to earth to rescue us. He does not want anyone to be lost. He wants every person to choose to be in relationship with him.

I love Jesus because he sees me as a person. I am not one of a mass of people. Whether I stand alone in an open field or am one of the masses in a crowded city, I am a person to him and he knows my name.

Jesus knew the backstory of every person he met. Jesus knew the history of the people he met. We don’t know the backstory of the woman caught in adultery but Jesus did. We don’t know if she was a prostitute or not. We don’t know what caused her to be a prostitute or to have sex with a man who was not her husband. But Jesus knew all about her. He knew about the pain in her life, the injustice she had experienced in her life, the reasons she made the choices she did.

When Jesus saw a funeral procession coming out of the village of Nain, he knew that the woman was a widow and burying her only son. He knew how desperate her circumstance was and had compassion for her. He raised her son to life, not for the sake of the son, but for the sake of the widow.

We are so different from Jesus. When we meet someone or hear about someone who is a disagreeable person, someone who cannot be trusted, someone who say nice things about you when you are present and then speaks against you behind your back – when we meet someone like that we make judgments about that person and keep our distance.

When we hear about someone who abuses young children we don’t have compassion for that person. We want them to be locked up and suffer for what they have done.

But Jesus knows the backstory of disagreeable people and even abusers. He knows how difficult a life they have lived. He knows what was done to them when they were young. He knows what has shaped them to be who they are. He knows that abusers were once little children who suffered abuse at the hands of older people. He may hold them accountable for their actions, but he has sympathy we do not have because he knows their story.

Jesus knows my backstory and he knows your backstory. He knows all about what it was like for us growing up as children. He knows the defenses we created to protect ourselves, defenses that also prevent us from living the free and abundant life he promises us.

We don’t know the rest of the story of the woman caught in adultery, but we know from other stories that the work of Jesus was not finished when he told her, “Go and sin no more.” If she did become a follower of Jesus, then she experienced the power of the Holy Spirit working in her life, bringing healing to the multiple layers of pain in her life, making her a whole person.

In the decades of my life with Jesus when I have struggled as Paul struggled in Romans 7 “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do,” I often thought that if I were God, I would have given up on me long ago. I have often been so frustrated with my inability to live the life I want to life. My insecurities have so often gotten in the way of my being able to love people and care for people the way I want to. When I do help people my ego keeps rising wanting others to know what I have done.

But God never gave up on me. As I have aged, I have received healing through counselors and through the work of the Holy Spirit in my life. I am better able to love people well than I was in earlier years.

I love Jesus because I have been so consistently and so wonderfully loved by Jesus. I love Jesus because he is making me into a whole person.

Jesus has been patient with me and he is patient with you. He knows your backstory. He knows everything about you and he still loves you passionately. He wants you to open your heart to him. He wants you to grow in love, faith, and hope. He is eager to have you experience the delights of his eternal kingdom.

When you stumble, he will pick you up. When you embarrass yourself, he will hold on to you. When you move out into your family, your work, your daily life and do your best to be his arms and voice, letting people know they are loveable and loved, he will cheer you on.

I love Jesus because I am broken and he knows my brokenness. I love Jesus because he is at work to heal my wounds, heal my memories, and make me whole. I love Jesus because I can trust him to do what is best for me.

My prayer for me and for you is that as we increasingly experience the passionate love of Jesus for us, we will fall deeper and deeper in love with Jesus.