The Woman Taken in Adultery
God and Our Sin
Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote a fictional novel in 1850 entitled: 'The Scarlet Letter.' It is set in 17th-Century Puritan Massachusetts during the years 1642-1649. The novel is about Hester Prynne, who conceives a daughter through an affair and then struggles to create a new life of dignity and repentance for herself.
Through scorn and judgment from the public and Roger Chillingworth (Hester's husband) she remains married. However, Hester is subject to the condemnation of the public for the remainder of her life.
At the beginning of the novel, after giving birth to a baby of unknown parentage, a crowd gathers to witness Hester's punishment. We find that her sentence is to stand on a scaffold for three hours, exposed to public humiliation, and then to wear a scarlet 'A' on her dress for 'Adultress' the rest of her life. As she enters the scaffold, many of the other women are angered by her beauty and dignity and the crowd demands that she reveal the father of her child. Hester refuses.
As Hester stands on the scaffold, she sees a small misshapen man whom she identifies as her husband. He had been presumed lost at sea but shows up for the sentencing. After finding out what has happened, he angrily demands that the man who was the co-conspirator in the adultery, the baby's father, be found out and brought to trial as well. And he vows to destroy this man who ruined his life. He also chooses a new name, Roger Chilingworth, to hide his identity as Hester's husband, to aide him in his plan.
Hester never reveals her lover, whom we find out to be Arthur Dimmesdale, the minister of her church. Dimmesdale, tortured by a guilty conscience, confesses his sin years later, on the same scaffold that Hester was made to stand upon, as he dies in her arms. Later most people thought that they saw a stigma in the form of a scarlet 'A" upon his chest as he confessed, although some denied it.
Chillingworth, having given up all thought of revenge dies shortly after, leaving Hester and her daughter Pearl a substantial inheritance. Hester later goes back to her cottage, continuing to wear the scarlet letter on her dress, and later dies and is buried next to Arthur Dimmesdale.
'The Scarlet Letter' is a brilliant tale that reveals a lot about sin, public condemnation, stigmatization, and guilt. And although we don't treat the sin of adultery in such a public way today, we, nonetheless, have our pet sins that we treat as unforgivable, while we minimize our own sins and think ourselves superior because ours are "not as bad" as another person's sins.
But how does God look upon sin? Or, perhaps just as important, how does God see the sinner? And are some sins more angering to God than others? How does he see the sin of adultery for instance, as compared to the sin of lying on your income taxes? There is an incident in the New Testament that involves a woman caught in the act of adultery that may give us some clues.
I. The Setting
The account of the woman, before Jesus, is found in John 8:1-11. In the early morning, Jesus is at the Temple, teaching. when a group of Jewish leaders brings a woman found guilty of adultery before him in order to trap Jesus and get him in trouble. Adultery is a capital crime according to Jewish law and they wanted to see if our Lord would condemn her or let her go.
The truth is that the Scribes and the Pharisees hated Jesus because they saw him as a threat to their position in society as the traditional authorities and also he disregards the ritual laws about eating, by sitting down with known law-breakers. They had worked hard to get where they are and aren't about to give it up to some Galilean rabble-rouser.
And of course, one of their jobs, as they saw it, was to maintain the peace, which was hard to do in that society where a lot of mayhem constantly was happening. And if Rome had to do it, they would strike down any rebellion and ask questions later.
The challenge is that if he told them to follow the Law of Moses he would be going against Roman law. And the Roman government had stripped the Jewish leaders of the ability to execute anyone for a capital crime. The Romans had authorized their appointee, the Governor, as the only person who could impose the death penalty on anyone.
And of course, if he freed her, he would be going against the Law of Moses and would himself be in trouble of disobeying God's Law. So they were using this poor woman to get Jesus in order to cause Him to make a bad move, allowing them to have a chance to condemn the Savior.
II. The Encounter
Jesus was likely teaching in the court of the women in the temple when a group of Scribes and Pharisees comes, bringing a woman and they throw her at the feet of Jesus.
Of course, they feign to have respect for the Lord, calling him 'didaskale', which in English means 'teacher'. They say to him:
"Teacher, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses in the Law commanded that such should be stoned. But what say you?" (8:4-5).
However, Jesus wasn't playing their game. He knew that they were trying to trick him, so he stooped down on the ground as if he hadn't heard them and began to write. It isn't told what Christ wrote. Maybe it was the ten commandments. Perhaps he began to list the sins of the men that were accusing the woman of adultery. Whatever it was, it didn't stop the men from continuing to ask Jesus what he would say about the situation (6-7).
It was then that Jesus got up from the ground and said to them:
"He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.".(7).
And again he stooped down on the ground and continued to write (8). You can imagine how convicted each of these men must have felt. They were remembering the times when they had done things that, if they'd become known, would have had them beside this fearful and sobbing young woman and people would have been throwing stones at them.
I can imagine hearing thuds as rocks started hitting the ground with each man slowly turning and walking away. The Scripture tells us:
"And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even to the last: And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst." (9).
Jesus then rose from where he was kneeling and saw that there weren't any accusers left. He then asked the woman:
"Where are your accusers? Has no man condemned you?"
And the woman said:
"No man, Lord."
Then came some of the most beautiful words a sinner could ever hear from our Savior: He tells her:
"Neither do I condemn you. Go, and sin no more."
Many people, when they think of God, think of someone in Heaven waiting to zap you when you sin. The truth is, God does hate sin. And he doesn't take it lightly. But he loves the sinner and wants them to repent and turn to Him for salvation.
John 3:17 says:
"For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world but that the world through Him might be saved."
And, before Christ came, we were already condemned and separated from a Holy God. However, Jesus came to die to make it possible that we could be saved from eternal condemnation.
Jesus, the only one who could rightly stone this poor woman, dealt patiently and kindly with her and had compassion on her. He didn't condone her sin. But He didn't condemn her. He set the sinner free and told her not to sin again.
III. The Missing Piece
A careful reader would realize that there is one missing piece to this story that no one among the religious leaders was telling Jesus about. The obvious point and the one that makes it quite apparent that the whole situation was a set up was the fact that only one person was brought before the Savior. Anyone knows that it takes two people to commit adultery. So, where was the man? It is apparent that these leaders didn't care about justice at all. If they did, they would have taken the man and sought his punishment as well.
These religious leaders cared solely about trapping the Savior and getting rid of Him once and for all. They were simply using the woman as a pawn in the religious game that they were playing. They didn't think about her at all. Nor did they care about her as a person.
Jesus, on the other hand, loved her and cared about her soul. He, came to seek and save her because she was lost (Luke 19:10).
The sad thing is that many Christians, in encountering sinners, are more like the Pharisees and not like the Savior. They don't see a soul that is lost and in need of a Savior. They simply look at the sin and automatically condemn them for it.
Since all of us are sinners (Romans 3:23). then without Christ, we would all be condemned just as this lady was. If we saw everyone the way Jesus does, we'd have less condemnation and more compassion on those who are steeped in sin.
The sad and honest fact is that we are all that woman, caught in the very act of sin. None of us who know the Lord Jesus Christ can rightly throw stones at anyone. We can all say: "There but for the grace of God, go I."
IV. The Condemnation for Sin
The only reason that Christ could have compassion for the woman caught in adultery was the reality that He was going to take her sin upon Himself in a few short days from that encounter with her. God hates and is angered by all sin. His standard is perfection. And we are told in the book of James:
" For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of all of it." (2:10).
Further, the Bible tells us that we have all sinned and fallen short of God's glory (Romans 3:23). Sadly, those who don't know the Son as Savior will one day know Him as their judge. The wages of sin will be satisfied. Either it will happen through Christ on the Cross of Calvary or through an eternity spent separated from God in Hell.
The Scriptures say of Christ that:
"He, (God the Father), made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." (II Corinthians 5:21).
Though none of us deserves the compassion of Jesus Christ, by God's love and grace, we can all receive it through faith in our Lord and what He did on Calvary. It was through this one act that both God's wrath for sin and His love of the sinner could be shown at the same time. This leaves God free to have compassion on all who call upon Jesus' name.
It was F.B. Meyer who said that:
"When we see a brother or sister in sin, there are two things we do not know: First, we do not know how hard he or she tried not to sin. And second, we do not know the power of the forces that assailed him or her. We also do not know what we would have done in the same circumstances."
Jesus, while on earth, was called a friend of sinners (Luke 7:31-34; Matthew 11:16-19). He came to those who were downcast and who knew that they needed a Savior. They were the ones who heard him gladly.
It has been said that we are all just beggars telling others where they can find bread. May we never be self-righteous like the Pharisees and the Sadducees but freely acknowledge that we, like the woman caught in adultery need desperately for someone to tell us: "Neither, do I condemn you. Go and sin no more!"
If we are able to acknowledge that, then we will be free to extend that same grace and compassion to our fellow sinners. And with that, we will both make this a better world to live in now, and we will also lead more lost souls to the true and eternal life found only in Jesus Christ. May we all follow our Lord's example of love and compassion for a dying world, caught in the cruel grip of sin. Not condemning them, but lovingly leading them to the Savior!
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© 2019 Jeff Shirley