Very little is known about the woman brought to Jesus in John 8, except that the Pharisees brought her to Jesus as bait for a trap. Presumably a Jew, for the Pharisees had found her guilty of adultery under Jewish law; she had been caught “in the very act of adultery” (John 8:4 NET). It is not hard to imagine the shame and fear she must have felt as a group of powerful men led her to Jesus for public condemnation and judgment. There are two notable absences in this scene: the man that sinned with her, and her defense. She offers no explanation or reason for her crime, and she is never invited to do so. It didn’t matter that the men assembled cared more about trapping Jesus than they did the fate of the woman, for she stood accused and had little hope of redemption. In light of her imminent fate, she must have been shocked at the clever way in which Jesus evaded the Pharisees’ trap, and then set one of His own. Jesus knew that the Pharisees had no power under Roman law to stone her for adultery, yet they hoped that Jesus’ response would provide an opportunity to accuse Him in front of the Jewish community—for rejecting Jewish law and compromising his allegiance to his heritage. Better yet, they could accuse Him before the Romans by condemning her to die which constituted a violation of Roman law.7 Either way, no matter which side he came down on, they thought they had Him. But Jesus didn’t fall for it. He turned the tables and gave a statement designed to pierce through the external application of law and shine a light on the internal condition of the accusers’ hearts: “Whoever among you is guiltless may be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7 NET).
An Adulteress' Encounter with Jesus
Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
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An Adulteress' Encounter with Jesus
Imagine the “guilty” woman’s shock as she witnessed the great disbanding: each of her accusers slinking wordlessly away, heading directly for the exit, all the while Jesus was bent down, casually writing something in the sand with His finger. She remained and stood before Jesus, God’s own Son, who alone held the power to condemn or forgive. He held her future in the balance, and He passed His judgment: “I do not condemn you . . . Go, and from now on do not sin any more” (8:11).
So far we’ve seen two instances of Jesus’ dealings with women who had made a misstep, and each revealed a great deal of His character. In both the cases of the Samaritan woman at the well and this accused woman, Jesus was exceedingly considerate. And He was always ready to welcome back the prodigal (Luke 15).
We are left to speculate how the story ends for the exonerated woman. Surely she was influenced by her encounter with Jesus, but did she change her course and leave her life of promiscuity behind? Jesus’ words are the fitting capstone to her story. He exhorted her to make the most of her newly bestowed freedom. His forgiveness did not come with a condition; it came with an application: go. To go is not only to leave a place, but to move into another. She was not to carry on in the hopeless state of one mired in sin, but she was to “go” (8:11) into righteous living. Recall a time in your life when you came before Jesus guilty of sin. What were your feelings? Guilt? Fear? Shame? Based on Jesus’ response to this woman, how should you feel? This story teaches us that Jesus’ forgiveness of our sins should liberate us from shame and motivate us to live differently.
How does Jesus’ forgiveness of your sin change the way you live?
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