Caught in the Act
Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. At dawn He appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around Him, and He sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing Him. (John 8:1-6)
This shows how much women had been degraded and demeaned by society at the time, even by the religious society. The guy is not here, although it obviously takes two people to be “caught in the act of adultery.” John told us that this all happened during the Feast of Tabernacles (John 7:2), a weeklong celebration of thanksgiving for God’s goodness. The people lived in tents for a week in remembrance of the way God cared for their ancestors in the desert. But only the males were actually required to participate. There is no way to know how many families came with them, but sadly there would have been potential for promiscuity, and it would have been an opportune time for prostitution.
We don’t know who Janice was (Let’s rebrand this poor woman as Janice.), but as the text tells us, the Pharisees were trying to trap Jesus into refuting the law of Moses, which required that she be stoned to death. It’s possible that she was selling herself. It may even be implied that this wasn’t the first time she’d been in this situation. Perhaps they just caught her, but if this was truly a trap, the only foolproof way for the plan to work would be to use a guy who was in on it.
Where is the guy who volunteered as “tribute” for that job? And can we throw some rocks at him?
I feel so bad for Janice. I can’t discount the “act,” but she seems like a victim to me. I have a deep heart for women who have been trampled by society and have to stoop to using their bodies to survive. Maybe I’m reading way too much into this, and these church leaders just knew that someone was “carrying on” and had a secret camera. But it doesn’t seem fair that there aren’t two people standing half-naked in judgment in front of Jesus.
So, please give Janice the benefit of the doubt for a moment, and let’s watch Jesus be Jesus.
According to the Old Testament law, Janice should be stoned for the sin of adultery. Let me try to quickly answer the question some of you may be thinking at this point: What’s the deal with the Old Testament law? Right? I mean the whole Old Testament is full of these laws, and this one seems pretty extreme, especially today.
God hasn’t changed. Jesus said,
Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father. — John 14:9,
and John and Paul said Jesus was God in flesh (John 1:1, John 1:14; Colossians 2:9; 1 Timothy 3:16). But sometimes the God who made up the Old Testament law doesn’t sound like Jesus. I understand your concern, but I don’t have the time in this book to help you figure it all out. Actually, I don’t think anybody does have it all figured out. Nobody has God figured out. If they say they do, don’t buy their book.
This is what you need to know. Jesus plainly said He came to bring a new covenant (Luke 22:20). That’s the bottom line. The God of the Old Testament may be hard to understand, so watch Him work through the person of Jesus.
Janice was thrown at Jesus’ feet, guilty as charged. Jesus had been teaching in the temple courts when it happened. It’s so easy for me to get distracted when I’m teaching. I can’t imagine trying to keep my train of thought if a hysterical, resisting, disheveled woman was dragged into the auditorium.
The Bible tells us they made her stand. (I really do not like them.) This much we know: she was in trouble, but all they cared about was using her to test Jesus. Although Jesus is not angry per se in this story, it fits into our thesis because of all the other information we have about his interaction with these hypocrites. But, hey, I’m angry for this woman, so let’s do this.
This story always makes me wonder what was going through Jesus’ mind. We don’t have any record of it. But think about this: Jesus grew up in a town where they thought His mother had committed the same sin, because they didn’t believe the miraculous virgin birth story. In at least one instance, the people accused Him of being an illegitimate child (John 8:41).
When we celebrate Christmas each year, we usually take time to remember the hardships that Joseph and Mary went through as she gave birth to the Son of God, but I doubt we fully comprehend the one hardship they could never live down. The long trip to Bethlehem came and went, but the looks of people back home never did. Only a select few believed the incarnation story. In the eyes of everyone, Mary had broken the law: she was pregnant with Jesus out of wedlock whether with her fiancé or someone else. I believe Jesus’ childhood experience gave Him a unique filter as He dealt with situations like these. Prostitutes used to be referred to as “women of ill repute.” Jesus’ mother was a woman of “ill repute,” even though she deserved the opposite reputation.
I’m honestly amazed at Jesus’ composure in this situation. I don’t know if you’re feeling my emotion here, but if I were Jesus, I would have gone spider monkey on these guys! It’s one of the reasons why I know that when Jesus did direct His anger, it was not an emotional reaction. He kept His emotions in check, allowing Him to deal more proactively with His anger, which is something He does in every situation. Something you and I should do more often.
Adultery breaks up families, which is one of the reasons for God’s harsh penalty in the first place. I know some of you would like to go spider monkey on an adulterous man or woman who broke up your own family. And I can understand that. But I still can’t help but feel for Janice. She was just a pawn in a bigger chess game, a trap to capture Jesus.
What could Jesus say? If He had set her free, He’d be violating the law of Moses. If He had said to stone her, well, that’s just not who Jesus was. He came to connect people to His Father; He was there to help Janice connect to her Father. The Bible says,
But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with His finger. — John 8:6
What did He write?
My guess is that the reason we don’t know exactly what He wrote is because it doesn’t matter. He may have just been doodling or starting a game of tic-tac-toe for one of the kids in the crowd. Who cares? What I want you to do is picture the situation and understand the brilliant compassion He created in this moment. Jesus was creating a diversion.
Janice was standing, after being caught in the act of adultery. Most network television programs dress women in something presentable when filming a bedroom liaison. I applaud that, but that’s not usually how it works in reality. Janice likely wasn’t still wearing a negligee when they busted into the room. And it’s doubtful they allowed her to put on her jeans and hoodie before they dragged her out. One way or another, she was not presentable, and everyone’s eyes were on her — that is, until Jesus made them look down.
When they kept on questioning Him, He straightened up and said to them,
Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. — John 8:7-8
During this time of awkward quietness, conviction began to settle in their hearts:
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. — John 8:9 ESV
Instead of playing their stupid game, Jesus basically said, “I think you need to check the rules and make sure you are even allowed to play this game. And, by the way, you’re not.”
A few years ago, a survey raised the question, Who deserves to go to Heaven? and listed several names. A well-known former sports star who appears to have gotten away with murder took last place with only 19 percent voting to give him a shot in eternity. Mother Teresa received 79 percent. But this is what cracked me up: 87 percent of the participants believed they themselves deserved to go to Heaven. We’re not great at self-evaluation, are we?
In case you’re wondering, the answer is, 0 percent deserve Heaven, no matter how many starving kids you saved or murders you got away with:
All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. — Romans 3:23
Amazingly, though, Jesus took a lose-lose proposition and turned it into a win-win. He upheld God’s law, while throwing the accusation they had placed on Janice directly back on them. I’m certain the Pharisees brought this situation to Jesus knowing that He would love this woman. His greatest crime in their eyes was His love for the unworthy of society. They thought they had Him in checkmate, but instead He forced them to quit the game.
Which is, by the way, what we all need to do when we start getting judgmental. We need to take our eyes off “them” and drop our rocks.
They Started for the Doors
The older ones left first. Even judgmental hypocrites can get wiser in their old age.
I love the last part of this verse:
… until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. — John 8:9
This is exactly where I hope we all land in our spiritual journeys: alone with Jesus.
I know for some it’s an incredibly difficult place to land, precisely because the church’s fallback position always seems to be a place of hypocritical judgment. I hate that. And I apologize for the many, many times I’ve been a judgmental hypocrite. I’m sorry for all the barriers I have created between you and God. I would love for everyone to end up like Janice:
no religion, no religious people, no games — just Jesus.
Being alone with Jesus is a game changer.
I don’t care where you have been or what you’ve done. If you could just be alone with Jesus, it would change everything.
Once they were alone, the Bible says,
Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” — John 8:10
I love how Jesus refers to Janice. He doesn’t call her a whore or a home-wrecker. What does He call her? Woman. Unfortunately, this translation may sound a bit derogatory to you. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. The Greek word woman used here is better translated as “miss” or “ma’am.” It’s actually very respectful. And it’s the same word Jesus used to refer to His own mother (John 2:4). Don’t you love that? He speaks to her with dignity and respect. He speaks to her with grace and love.
The story continues:
“No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” — John 8:11
He is saying basically, “You are a woman who is loved by both Me and your Father in Heaven. Leave this life and go live like that woman, the dignified, forgiven, new woman. Go and live that life.”
I can’t help but wonder how long it had been since she had a man speak to her with such love.
Excerpted with permission for Devotionals Daily from What Made Jesus Mad? By Tim Harlow, copyright Tim Harlow.
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Alone with Jesus. Isn’t that a beautiful thought? He would speak to you with love, with compassion, with tenderness, with acceptance, and with a charge to live the life you were born to live. ~ Devotionals Daily