90 Days with Jesus, Day 36: John 7:53-8:11: The Sound of Grace

John 7:53-8:11

53Then each went to his own home. 1But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. 3The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. 7When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. 9At 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. 10Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11″No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

You know, as well as I do, that people are mean. People have very little conscience most of the time. It has been seared, corrupted, abused, and conquered by ourselves in complete cooperation with the Enemy. People will use any means at their disposal to attack and vilify Christ—or His church. I have always wondered about the man in this story. I’d like to know how it is that a woman was ‘caught in the act of adultery’ but a man was not. This alone shows that they have no real regard for the law. Sadly, we see a lot of this in our own culture. You might say it is a double-standard. Really, it’s a blatant disregard for the law, a thumbing of the nose at righteousness, an unmitigated scoffing at true justice.

That said, this particular pericope does not revolve around these mean, arrogant scofflaws. If they had read the law they would have seen this: “‘If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife—with the wife of his neighbor—both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death’” (Leviticus 20:10). They also would have read in the 10 Commandments that the command ‘do not commit adultery’ has no particular sexual identity attached to it. In other words, it does not say ‘a man shall not commit adultery’ or ‘a woman shall not commit adultery.’ It says, pardon the archaic KJV language, ‘thou shall not commit adultery.’ They were quite wrong that day to bring only the woman before Jesus. (Sort of makes one wonder if the very man she was caught with was among those wanting to stone her.)

They understood the Law: They were, in fact, required to stone the woman and the man. Jesus doesn’t deny that the woman should have been stoned. On the contrary, he issues the command: Stone her. Jesus was not going to abrogate the Law just because they were trying to trap him. However, neither was he going to allow them to abridge the Law just because they were trying to trap him. The Law is the Law—the Law cannot be done away with. ‘Go ahead. Stone her. Who will be the first? Don’t hesitate.’ Jesus has no qualms about the punishment of the guilty: ‘Go on. Stone her.’

So, why does Jesus do what he does? Why does he say what he says? Why does he allow this woman to escape unscathed by the smooth stones and jagged rocks they were about to hurl in her direction? (Can you imagine this woman laying there in the dirt: ashamed, dishevelled, hair matted and gnarly, tears cutting wadis across her skin, eyes bloodshot, afraid to look up, afraid to take her hands away from her face? Perhaps she had heard of Jesus—there was whispering and rumors of him all around (see chapter 7). Can you imagine how she felt when she heard Jesus say, ‘Go ahead. Stone her.’ I well imagine that a chill went up her spine.) But I think that is not entirely what she heard. Maybe it was more like: thud, thud, thud, thud, thud. One by one. One after another. Then some murmuring. Then some shuffling. Then some rustling of garments. What does forgiveness sound like? How do we hear it? What sound echoes through our ears when that water washes us clean? Annie Dillard wrote that man catches grace like filling a cup under a waterfall. It’s an overwhelming thing. A torrent of mercy. A waterfall of grace. A tsunami of forgiveness. It’s more than we can handle; it’s more than enough.

What does grace sound like? Can we hear it? Can we see it? Can we taste it? Can we feel it? Can we smell it? Thud. Thud. Shuffle. Murmur. Shuffle. Thud. Thud…

Amidst her crying and sniveling, amidst her weeping and whimpering, the sound of rocks and stones was heard. Those boulders hauled on carts to Jesus had miraculously turned to tiny pebbles when they hit the ground and yet their thud was heard—not least by those who had gathered around Jesus that morning to listen to him teach. Those stones carried in their hands and pockets had become giant boulders these men could no longer hold on to under the weight of their own perjury. I don’t suppose for a minute those men who accused her actually forgave her. I don’t suppose they were willing to extend grace because they did not want to experience grace themselves. They walked away because they had no choice: Jesus had vanquished them. Theirs was a grace not given freely but begrudgingly. My point is that they didn’t walk away because they were forgiving her but because the Bird had caught the fowler in his own snare.

If the LORD had not been on our side—let Israel say-
2 if the LORD had not been on our side when men attacked us,
3 when their anger flared against us, they would have swallowed us alive;
4 the flood would have engulfed us, the torrent would have swept over us,
5 the raging waters would have swept us away.
6 Praise be to the LORD, who has not let us be torn by their teeth.
7 We have escaped like a bird out of the fowler’s snare; the snare has been broken, and we have escaped.
8 Our help is in the name of the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth. (Psalm 124)

Man catches grace like filling a cup under a waterfall.

But the story did not end just there either. There’s one more scene that takes place after the accusers had gone and Jesus was left alone with the sinful woman and those who had gathered that morning to listen to him teach. Jesus again acknowledges that this woman was guilty although he does not condemn her. Maybe this goes back to John 3:17: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” Yes. The mistake, however, is in thinking that Jesus did not judge this woman. He did, in fact, judge her. What he didn’t do was act in accordance with the judgment he leveled. He was perfectly ready to allow her to be stoned—on a certain condition. In this act, he also judged those men who wanted to stone her. Jesus did judge, but he did not condemn. This in no way means, however, that he approved her actions or condoned her indiscretion or applauded her sin. No. She was guilty.

Here’s what he did: He showed her grace and forgiveness. Still it did not end there because he also said: “Go now and leave your life of sin.” I take this mean this: Forgiveness and grace sets us free to a new life. Once forgiven, we can no longer remain in our old way of doing things. We can longer continue in the decrepit filth of sin. Once set free, we are no longer slaves. Free to live a new life, free to take on a new character, free to to pursue righteousness and holiness. There is no longer a sin life for the one forgiven. “Release from a life contrary to the will of God is always with a view to life according to the will of God” (Beasley-Murray, John, 147).

PT Forsyth has said this same thing rather beautifully in his book The Cruciality of the Cross.

“The feeble gospel preaches, ‘God is ready to forgive’; the mighty gospel preaches ‘God has redeemed.’ It works not with forgiveness alone, which would be mere futile amnesty, but with forgiveness in a moral way, with holy forgiveness, a forgiveness which not only restores the soul, but restores it in the only final and eternal way, by restoring in the same act the infinite moral order, and reconstructing mankind from the foundation of a moral revolution. God reconciles by making Christ to be sin, and not imputing it (2 Cor. v. 21). The Christian act of forgiveness at once regards the whole wide moral order of things, and goes deep to the springs of the human will for entire repentance and a new order of obedience.” (51-52)

Here is a beautiful thing: Set free. Go and leave your life of sin. If you have been set free by the Son, you have been set free indeed. From what do you need to be set free?

Just what does grace sound like to you?

Soli Deo Gloria!


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