I'll confess. I have favorite Bible stories, favorite books of the Bible, favorite writing styles among Bible authors. I know it's all God's Word, but some verses or stories just really hit right between the eyes. Today, I'll be talking about one of those stories, archived in John 8. There are some stories in the gospels that come across as so completely contrary to how I would picture God. Jesus isn't the upstanding, popular, well-to-do citizen of Jerusalem, preaching in the synagogue on Sundays and encouraging His fellow Jewish citizens to vote on election day, that I would probably select as the perfect man (sarcasm included free of charge). But, oh, how happy I am that I didn't choose who the Son of God was!
In Jesus, we see someone so completely out of the ordinary that He cannot be ignored. Jesus wasn't the type of Messiah one could ignore. Look at what He demanded of His followers in Luke 9, or of the rich young ruler in Mark 10. These weren't summons that you could side-step, or half-heartedly follow. You either sat in the synagogues, under the teachings of the religious elite, or you followed Him around the country, penniless and homeless. You could live your normal life, following the rules of the Pharisees, or you could follow the Messiah to the lepers, and the homeless, and the sinners.
In John 8:1-11, we see a perfect example of the Jesus of the gospels, the God/man who responded with love toward those in rebellion against Him. The Pharisees, who cannot stomach the teachings of Jesus throughout the whole of the gospels (except for a few, like Joseph of Arimathea, or Nicodemus), have the perfect opportunity to trap Jesus. He, through the whole of His earthly ministry, walks a mysterious line that the Pharisees cannot understand. On the one hand, Jesus had a perfect understanding of the law, responding several times to their own accusations with recitations of Scripture (Matt. 15:2-9). On the other hand, Jesus seems to make plenty of allowances for people who are in rebellion to the law (Mark 2:15-17), visiting sinners, recruiting both a zealot (a Jewish political assassin) and a publican (a Jewish turncoat to the Romans) into His inner circle of disciples.
So the Pharisees' attempts to trap Jesus shouldn't come as a huge surprise. Not only had he directly challenged their authority and leadership on several occasions (Lk. 11:39-52, 20:45-47), he was leading people away from their leadership by these continued assaults on their leadership. So whether in an effort to just trap Him, or to more fully understand His position, in this particular case, they did so in an effort to find more information with which to trap Him. (v.6)
The trap? The Pharisees had caught a woman in the very act of adultery, an action punishable by stoning under the Levitical Law. They had apparently delayed passing sentence until after they had used her as a trap for Jesus. His response, however, floors me 2000 years later almost as much as it did them.
After telling Jesus the whole story (minus the part about trying to trap Him), I have no doubt the Pharisees were sitting on the edge of their seats waiting to pounce on whatever answer Jesus gave. But Jesus didn't fall for it. Instead, in v.6, he begins acting very strangely. He reaches down, kneels in the dirt, and begins scribbling in the sand.
Take a second and analyze that action. In kneeling down in the dirt, notice what he did. He lowered Himself from the position of judge above her, down to her level. He, the spotless lamb of God, lowered Himself to the level of a woman caught in adultery. That's what the beauty of the gospel is. Here we have a miniature copy of God's incarnation from heaven to manger. Here we see Him lower himself from the level of Judge, which coincidentally, he had more right than anyone else present to be, to her level. That's amazing grace!
But the Pharisees pressed the point. And Jesus finally responded with yet another interesting response in v.7. "But when they persisted in asking Him, He straightened up, and said to them, 'He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.'" This verse is a striking commentary into the heart of Jesus. Because of our own guilt, we have no right to demand adherence to the law by others. Only Jesus has the right to demand absolute subservience to the law, and He chose to forego the right and show grace, a concept so foreign to the Pharisees that we see them leave in silence.
In v. 10, we see the accusers gone, leaving Jesus and the woman alone. Here is His opportunity to condemn her, right? His point to the Pharisees has been made, and now justice will be done, right? No! Even now, when nothing except her is at stake, He shows grace, He shows mercy.
What better picture is there of the gospel of grace than this? Jesus, deserving to be the Judge, condescends to kneel at the level of a sinful woman, then forgives her, before she even asks! This is the grace that many pastors tell us to calm down about, and quiet down about. This is the grace that these pastors call "license." It's what Jesus would have called "love". He, the only person on earth with an actual right to judge the woman, skipped His right.
If Jesus decided not to judge, shouldn't we also? Shouldn't we live a life, not of judgment, but instead of love and grace to our neighbors? Doesn't that reflect the attitude of Christ even more than our fine, upstanding standards and rules, not that there's anything wrong with those standards?