The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery.
They said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?”
“Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”
They went away one by one, beginning with the elders. So he was left alone with the woman before him.
Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
She replied, “No one, sir.”
Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more.” (John 8:2-11)
Let’s step into this gospel passage. Let’s get into it ourselves, like a scene on a stage. Where do we fit into the scene? Let’s find ourselves in it. The Lord Jesus, the Pharisees, the adulteress, the bystanders…where are we?
First, let’s remember some important facts. The ancient Israelites were governed by the Law of Moses. The first five books of the Bible were their Constitution and their law-book.
Adultery was a capital crime.
The book of Deuteronomy explained the requirements for a criminal trial.
According to these rules, two witnesses were required for a death sentence. If someone was condemned to death, then the witnesses had to throw the first stones. No one else could throw a stone at the guilty party until the witnesses threw stones. If the witnesses thought better of what they had said and did not throw stones, then there was no death penalty.
This rule showed the great responsibility the witnesses had for the justice of the case. If they had lied—if they had perjured themselves to get the accused person convicted–then they had to add to their secret crime by covering their own hands with innocent blood. They couldn’t just lie and walk away. The Law forced the witnesses to choose: Either tell the truth in the service of justice, or lie and murder. Truth, or utter darkness.
The scene unfolds. The adulteress is presented to Christ.
“Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone at her,” the Lord said. No one picked up a stone. Then He observed: “Has no one condemned you?”
Okay: Let’s put ourselves there. The Lord Jesus has been given control of this court case. He stands ready to apply the Law fairly. We are in the courtroom with Him. He quietly takes in all the facts of the case. He says, Let he who is without sin cast the first stone. Then He says to the woman: “Has no one condemned you?”
“Has no one condemned you?” Silence fills the moment. We have to ask: Lord, what kind of question is that? Yes, we human beings are a race of cowardly liars. But are we going to lie to you, and try to pick up a stone here?
You know we can’t lie to you. You are God; You know it all. Are we going to stand up like brazen Pharisees and try to pass ourselves off as righteous? Are we going to lie to Your Face? No–none of us is without sin. We can’t pick up any stones to throw at anyone.
Have we found ourselves in the scene yet? Not quite. Let’s go one step further. Let’s admit where we really belong. We are not in the courtroom with Christ as innocent bystanders. We have to face it. We are the adulterers. We are the shamefaced adulterers. We belong on our knees, begging for His mercy.
Why? We are the beloved apple of our Lord’s eye. All of His eternal thoughts are bent on loving us. And yet we trifle with Him like distracted party girls. We lay our hands on all kinds of little boyfriends who give us a thrill for a few minutes. We flitter hither and yon on a hazy joyride. We ignore the One Who really loves us.
Then somehow we stop for an instant–and we catch a glimpse of our true Love looking down with pure, patient affection at us–and we are ashamed.
God is the true witness. He has seen it all. He has seen each and every one of our little self-indulgences. He knows we cheat on Him. He sees us for the desperate, flighty, bubble-headed party girls we really are. He has every right to pick up the stone and throw it at us.
But He does not pick up a stone. He just stands there. “Has no one condemned you?” “Has no one condemned you?”
Lord, when You ask this question, are you torturing us? Of course no one has condemned us—if You haven’t. You are the only one who really can condemn. You are just. You have the right.
“Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” You alone are without sin, Lord! You can cast a stone. We practically want you to stone us, to put us out of our adulterous misery.
But instead the Lord just stands there, patiently, gently staring at us with pure love. We can hardly take it, Lord–this withering stare of Your absolutely faithful and constant love that refuses to pick up a stone to throw at us, even though we deserve it.
“I do not condemn you,” He says. “Go and sin no more.”