Most Jewish religious leaders were offended by Jesus and His claims to be equal with God. They plotted and schemed, devising ways to seize Him and have Him killed. But they had to get the timing just right, for they feared the people, and they feared Rome. Little did they know that it was actually God’s timing that they were waiting for. God’s plan was perfect. They could not take Jesus until God said it was time. And when God said it was time, then Jesus would give Himself freely to them. For our sake.
While waiting (for God’s timing!), they dreamed up ways to trick Jesus and catch Him in some kind of crime, whether against their laws and religious rules, or against Rome. But, of course, it never worked. Jesus just kept right on healing and teaching and saving and proclaiming His deity. How dare He!
“Now early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people came to Him; and He sat down and taught them. Then the scribes and Pharisees brought to Him a woman caught in adultery. And when they had set her in the midst, they said to Him, ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do You say?’ This they said, testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him. But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear.” ~ John 8:2-6
This passage in John is chock full of things that amaze me. First of all, the temple was FULL of people listening to Jesus teach. Wow. And then the religious leaders grabbed a woman caught “in the very act” of adultery and set her down in the middle of the crowd. Can you even imagine the humiliation and shame – and fear – this poor woman must have felt? And can you imagine the shock and outrage – and judgment – the crowd must have felt? What a bold thing for the scribes and Pharisees to do. Wow.
But the religious leaders didn’t really want Jesus to tell them what to do in this situation. If they had been truly, righteously upset by this sin, they would have brought the man along, as well. Because we all know that two people had been caught in the act. Instead, the leaders were hoping to trick Jesus into saying “something of which to accuse Him”. And Jesus knew that.
If Jesus had said not to stone her, He would be going against the Mosaic law, but if He had said yes, she should be stoned, He would be going against Roman law. What a pickle, for you and me. But not for God. Instead of answering, Jesus “wrote on the ground with His finger”. What??
We aren’t told what Jesus wrote in the dirt. But there is great significance here. For there is another time recorded in Scripture where God wrote with His finger.
“And when He had made an end of speaking with him on Mount Sinai, He gave Moses two tablets of the Testimony, tablets of stone, written with the finger of God.” ~ Exodus 31:18
The very law the leaders were challenging Jesus on, had been written by God’s finger, the Ten Commandments. Perhaps this was what Jesus was now writing in the dirt. We don’t know. However, it is one more way Jesus was showing the people that He and the Father were One.
“So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, ‘He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.” And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, ‘Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?’ She said, ‘No one, Lord.’ And Jesus said to her, ‘Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.’ ” ~ John 8:7-11
God’s perfect wisdom is astounding to me. Jesus knew that He was the only one without sin in the group. He knew the Holy Spirit would gently prod each man’s conscience, reminding them that “there is none righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10b). I find it interesting that they left in order of age, oldest to youngest. Perhaps this was in part a thing of honor and respect, but I suspect it also was because, as we grow older, we are quicker to recognize how evil we truly are.
“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” ~ Jeremiah 17:9
Jesus was the only one without sin. He alone could condemn this woman. Instead, He chose to give her grace ~ unearned, undeserved love and mercy and kindness and forgiveness. Remember: “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” ~ John 3:17
The One who carved out His commandments in the stone tablets with His finger, the One who is truly without sin, the only One who has the power to condemn us because of our sin, instead chose to give us grace. Will you accept His gift of grace?