Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered outside the gate. Therefore, let us go forth to him outside the camp, bearing his reproach. For we have no continuing city here, but we seek one to come.
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by George C. Clark
“Then, as they persisted in questioning him, he stood up and said to them, ‘Let him among you who is without sin throw the first stone at her.’ ”
Hoping to entrap Jesus in a point of law, certain scribes and Pharisees brought to him a woman whom they had caught “in the very act of adultery.” These religious leaders were prosperous and respected. They would have agreed with the popular judgment that they were morally clean and models of faithfulness to their religion, but inwardly they were, as Jesus told them, “full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” They were envious of Jesus’ popularity (Mt. 27:18) and were trying now to force him to speak words contrary to God’s Law. If they succeeded, they knew, even his disciples would forsake him. The degrading plight of the soiled young woman is heart-rending, and the arrogance of her accusers is deplorable. At the time, however, only Jesus could penetrate the veil of appearances and see these things.
Obviously, the unclean, but repentant woman in our story was humiliated, being hauled into the midst of the multitude which had gathered around Jesus in the temple. She must have felt the barbs of sarcasm directed at both her and Jesus by her accusers. She must have trembled as she, along with everyone else, waited anxiously for the Master’s response to the demand for a verdict. Finally, Jesus answered, “Let him among you who is without sin throw the first stone at her.”
In stunned silence, the scribes and Pharisees, “One by one, starting with the oldest, went out, convicted by their conscience”, leaving our Lord to mark his disgust by writing on the ground. The blessing from which the scribes and Pharisees walked away, the poor and humble woman stayed to receive. She expressed her gratitude for another chance at life the only way she knew – by remaining silent until Jesus inquired of her, “Where are those accusers of yours? Did no one condemn you?” Her only recorded words are contained in the response, “No one, Sir.” Jesus then gave his memorable reply, “I don’t condemn you either. Go, and don’t sin any more.”
It is the sick, Jesus taught, who need a physician, but so long as one considers himself spiritually well, or righteous, he will feel no need of forgiveness. The adulterous woman knew she was sick, and she knew she could not cure herself. Her accusers, too, were desperately ill – not with the woman’s disease, perhaps, but ill nonetheless, yet they did not realize it. Their hearts were encased in a hard shell of self-righteousness. They wanted an earthly king, not a heavenly Savior. They saw no reason to ask God for mercy. They were so spiritually blind that they rejected the Messiah, and then, to justify themselves, they used this pathetic, sinful woman in an effort to make him appear foolish. Their behavior is sad evidence to the truth that there is no hatred so cruel as religious hatred, no guile so cunning as religious guile, and no pride so blinding and destructive as religious pride.
These scribes and Pharisees thought, in their wicked pride, that they were very shrewd by calling for Jesus’ decision in this case; however, for them, it resulted in disgrace before the people. What utter folly to bring a sinner to Jesus to be condemned! He had no condemnation in his heart; therefore, he had no condemnation to give. Everyone there, especially the frightened young woman, listened attentively to her accusers, whose case against her was rock solid. But to everyone’s complete amazement, the Master’s compassionate answer caused those revered elders of Israel to abandon their demands for the letter of the law to be executed against her. The price of throwing the first stone was too costly for their slim spiritual purses. Oh, how they, as well as the unnamed woman, needed forgiveness! And how readily Christ would have given it, had they only asked!
If we do not acknowledge our need of God’s mercy, we deceive ourselves. Once we discover our need of a Savior, it is easy to humble ourselves before God in repentance, and we are no longer comfortable on a pedestal of self-righteousness, nor are we satisfied to be considered righteous by those around us, whoever they may be. “If we say that we do not have sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us,” wrote John (1Jn. 1:8). Paul agreed: “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). If we see the crass sins of others, we know that we have our own secret sins. They may not be so obvious as adultery, but they are there – pride, hypocrisy, worldly ambition, greed. If we know ourselves, we can never pray, as one Pharisee did, “O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of men.”
The issue is not whether we have sins, but where are the sins we have? “The sins of some men are known beforehand,” Paul said, “going on ahead to judgment, but the sins of some men follow behind” (1Tim. 5:24). May God help us to confess our sins, so that they will go on before us and be blotted out before we arrive at the judgment seat of Christ. And may He help us not to forget that if we stand justified in His sight, it is only by His mercy that we do so (2Pet. 1:9). With this truth living in us, we gladly see all repentant, forgiven sinners as our brothers and sisters in Christ and rejoice that their sins, too, are washed away. It is only when we begin to take credit for our own right standing with God that we become unwilling to forgive those who have done wrong.
This story of the forgiven woman exemplifies the willingness and power of Christ to forgive, when all hope seems lost. When she was taken to trial, and facing certain death, she found mercy and compassion. With all the force of God’s law against her, she found peace with God and guidance for her confused life. She was helpless, until her accusers unwittingly brought her to the only help for condemned men. The unfaithful wife saw in Jesus her only hope of life. Her destiny lay solely in his loving hands. She had sinned. She had been caught. She was worthy of death. What she found was not a man who contradicted the law; on the contrary, Jesus agreed that she deserved to be stoned. He merely insisted that the one who cast the first stone should be without sin.
My precious friend, we all stand naked and guilty before the Creator. The only question is, are we the guilty who confess it, or are we the guilty who deny it? Are we in the woman’s place, with no defense and no hope but Christ? Or do we stand in the Pharisee’s sandals, confidently condemning those whom we consider less righteous than we?
It should be emphasized that God never ignores or excuses sin, and neither should we. Jesus, you will remember, commanded the woman to “sin no more.” In the Final Judgment, every person who has continued in his own way, refusing to obey the word of God, will be cast into the fire “prepared for the Devil and his angels.” But at this time in human history, pardon is being extended to all who confess their sins and turn from them. Let us then go quickly to Jesus for mercy, and then let us humbly “go and don’t sin any more,” and wait “for the blessed hope, even the manifestation of the glory of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ.”