Jesus and Judgement?
Remsen Bible Fellowship, 08/25/19
Do you know what it’s like to feel desperate? Like you’re in dire need of someone to rescue you from your situation? Perhaps it’s a situation for which you are responsible: you’ve made a big mistake at work; or at home you’ve overspent your budget and an unexpected bill hits; perhaps you’ve lied to a friend and now they’ve found out. Desperate situations come in all shapes and sizes, sometimes of our own making, sometimes not. We are going to meet a woman in our passage this morning who is in a very desperate situation. A woman needing rescue.
Read: John 7:53-8:11
1: Difficulties and Approach
Before we dive into the text itself, we need to address the oddity of what we find in our Bibles here. If you’re looking at a bible in your lap or on your phone, you’ll see that these verses are either placed in brackets, or even relegated to a footnote. Then there is bracketed explanation saying that the earliest manuscripts do not include 7:53-8:11. What’s up with that? I’m going to try to explain it in the clearest way that I can, and I’ll give a fairly lengthy quote from DA Carson’s commentary on John, which I think summarizes the evidence helpfully.
As some of you know, the New Testament was written in Greek. And while we do not have the original copies, what scholars refer to as the original autographs, of the New Testament books, we do have over four thousand full or partial copies of these books. Because all of this copying took place before the time of the printing press, all of these copies had to be made by hand. And as you might imagine, within those thousands of handwritten copies we occasionally will have discrepancies. This would be a really bad deal if we only had three or four copies, because in that case it would leave us to totally scratch our heads and maybe be stuck flipping a coin to decide which one contains the right word or phrase in a particular place. However, because of the massive amount of evidence available, scholars are able to compare them, weighing such things as number of representatives for one difference over another, looking at the time frame in which certain changes seem to happen, etc, to the point where the vast majority of the New Testament text (over 99%) is in no question at all. When you pick up a reliable modern translation of the Bible (eg, NIV, ESV, NASB, CSB, etc) you can have full confidence that what you are looking at is a faithful translation by competent scholars of the very words written by John, or Paul, or Peter.
So what’s with this note here in John 7 and 8? In the words of Carson, “These verses are present in most of the medieval Greek minuscule manuscripts, but they are absent from virtually all early Greek manuscripts that have come down to us...All the early church Fathers omit this narrative: in commenting on John, they pass immediately from 7:52 to 8:12. No Eastern Father cites the passage before the tenth century...Moreover, a number of (later) manuscripts that include the narrative mark it off with asterisks or obeli, indicating hesitation as to its authenticity.” In other words, this story is present in many of our Greek texts-but not the earliest ones, the ones closest to John’s original writing.
Furthermore, when it is included, it isn’t always in the same place. In those texts which include this story, it is most often placed here, but sometimes comes after 7:44, 7:36, 21:25, or Luke 21:38. There are also numerous style and linguistic differences between this section and the rest of John's gospel; and finally, the narrative flow of chapters 7-8 makes more sense if you skip from John 7:52 down to 8:12. All of this adds up to most modern scholars, like Carson, arguing that this story is not original to the gospel as John wrote it.
Does this mean we can't trust the Bible? Is translating an ancient text where we don’t have the original copies just a super long game of telephone and we're at the end catching gobbledygook? No. As noted earlier, this story (along with the end of Mark’s gospel) is a notable exception to a very clear rule: that through the preponderance of evidence available we can know what was originally written down by the inspired authors. And in the cases where there is any question, the translators aren’t hiding it! It’s not like there is some conspiracy here, it’s placed in brackets for all to see. So all of that to say, you can and you should-indeed, to understand Jesus you must- trust the Bible he has given.
But back to our passage: why are we looking at this? If the scholars are right and this isn’t original, why don’t we just skip on? Because I don’t believe in accidents. Even if the story isn’t part of the inspired text, it nonetheless is an important story for us to consider. Even scholars who doubt its place in John's Gospel nearly all agree that it is most likely a true story (Carson, Leon Morris, Bruce Metzger, etc). This story was preserved for a reason. It doesn't show us anything that contradicts what we know of Jesus from the rest of the Bible; rather, it provides a beautiful illustration of the type of person and the type of Savior Jesus is. So while I would be wary of basing any doctrine or belief on this passage alone, I think it is certainly worthy of our consideration this morning. In this story we are going to see the relation between Jesus and Judgement. How do Jesus and Judgement relate to the law, and how do Jesus and Judgement relate to mercy?
2: Jesus and Judgement in relation to the Law
What is Jesus relationship with the law? That can be a thorny question, even for Christians today. What did Jesus think of the Old Testament? Did he rely upon it, trust it, follow it? Some prominent Christian leaders have suggested we ought to “unhitch” from the Old Testament and just focus on Jesus. And yet, I was pointing out to my kids last night, the fingerprints of the Old are all over the New. The last third of this book makes no sense apart from the first two thirds. Jesus changes the relationship with the law of God in the Old Testament, that is for sure. But he doesn’t do so by unhitching from it, or abolishing it. Jesus came to fulfill the Old Testament.
Matthew 5:17-20, 17 p“Do not think that I have come to abolish qthe Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but rto fulfill them. 18 For truly, I say to you, suntil heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 tTherefore whoever relaxes uone of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least vin the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great vin the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds wthat of the scribes and Pharisees, you xwill never enter the kingdom of heaven.
He didn’t come to relax or abolish, but to fulfill. Hold that in your mind.
Again, the setting of our passage probably doesn't rest in the flow of John 7-8. But in 7:53-8:1 we see a contrast between most people heading to their homes, and Jesus heading up on the mount of Olives. Jesus had no home in Jerusalem. You might remember his words in Matthew 8:20, Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.
I don’t know about you, but where I’m camping, especially sleeping on bare ground, I find it normal to wake up early. Part of that is enjoying the morning, but it really can be hard to sleep in when your back hurts, the sun is glaring in your face, and you can feel bugs crawling all over you. Apparently Jesus has a similar experience, because we see in verse two that he is up early in the morning. Some translations say at dawn, so we’re talking real early. But Jesus didn’t just wake up to get the coffee brewing; he heads down to the temple and begins to teach. It was very customary for rabbis, or teachers, to go to the outer court of the temple, sit down, and their disciples or followers would gather around to listen. And that’s precisely what we see in v2. He sat down and taught them.
Now imagine you have gathered early in the morning in a space dedicated to worship and teaching. You are listening to your rabbi unfold truths about God, about yourself, and about how to live life in light of who God is. This rabbi speaks with authority, and you’re hanging on every word. And then, bursting into the middle of this scene, come some of the religious elite, dragging a disheveled woman who looks like she was just pulled out of her bedroom. And when they start talking, you realize that she was pulled out of her bedroom-or at least someone’s bedroom.
V3-5, The scribes and Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?”
As a bystander, what are you feeling here? Shock? Concern? If nothing else, you certainly have one question on your mind: how in the world is Jesus going to answer? As a bystander, a good temple-going Jew, you know the law. In Deuteronomy 22:22 the death penalty is perscribed for those who break the 7th commandment, thou shalt not commit adultery. The verses following specify stoning if she is a betrothed or engaged bride. But you also know what’s said of Jesus. Jesus is the friend of sinners. What’s he going to do?
This is precisely what the leaders want. Do these men actually care about the law, about what Moses wrote down? No. Where is the man in this scene? How did they catch the woman in the act, with multiple witnesses, and somehow fail to bring in the other party, who would be equally guilty? Is it possible that this was all a set up and the offending man is one of their own? We don't know. We do know that this looks like something other than genuine justice being sought.
Verse six makes this clear, This they said to test him that they might have some charge to bring against him. They simply want to call Jesus out, to put him between a rock and a hard place. One commentator puts it this way, “The authorities in this case are less interested in ensuring that evenhanded justice be meted out than in hoisting Jesus onto the horns of a dilemma.”
It seems their thinking goes something like this:
- On the one hand, he might say, yep, stone her. And he not only seems to be contradicting what people think of him (that he is a friend of sinners, Matthew 11:19), but moreover condemning the woman might put him at legal odds with the Romans who did not permit their subjects, like the Jews, to exercise capital punishment (John 18:31).
- On the other hand, he might say, no, don't stone her. And in doing so seem to be loosening or even rejecting the Mosaic law, thus discrediting himself as a teacher from God. So either of these, whether Jesus sets himself up against Cesar or Moses, would be a win for his enemies.
We see similar setups in the other Gospels. For instance Mark 12:13-17, where the Pharisees try to trick him into criticizing taxation. These men are setting a trap for Jesus, and the woman here seems to primarily be a bystander (though not an innocent one) caught in the crossfire.
Is Jesus so easily drawn in? Does he immediately engage their obviously disingenuous question? It doesn’t seem so, Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. What did he write? We have no idea. There are speculations that might have written the relevant scriptures in the sand, that perhaps he was simply scribbling to stall. We just don’t know. Whatever it was, they found it annoying, V7 says they continued to ask him. They are less than satisfied with whatever he was writing, and they want an answer to their question. But they probably weren’t ready for the answer he was going to give.
Jesus stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” Mic. Drop.
“Jesus’ simple condition, without calling into question the Mosaic code, cuts through the double standard and drives hard to reach the conscience.” They thought they could get Jesus to question Moses or be placed in a precarious spot. But he’s flipped the table on them, not through cunning but simply by knowing the law better than they do.
Deuteronomy 19:15-21: 15 “A single witness shall not suffice against a person for any crime or for any wrong in connection with any offense that he has committed. Only on the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses shall a charge be established. 16 If a malicious witness arises to accuse a person of wrongdoing, 17 then both parties to the dispute shall appear before the Lord, before the priests and the judges who are in office in those days. 18 The judges shall inquire diligently, and if the witness is a false witness and has accused his brother falsely, 19 then you shall do to him as he had meant to do to his brother. So you shall purge the evil[a] from your midst.
Were these men legitimate, non-malicious, witnesses? Hardly. So, having dropped the mic, he once more bent down and wrote on the ground. He hasn’t excused adultery, but he has said that witnesses and jury need to be legitimate. By saying he who is without sin Jesus isn’t saying that judgement of sin or punishment of crimes is impossible, but he is saying that if you are going to condemn someone, you had better not have the same log in your eye. They were in no place to condemn her because they were obviously complicit either in the same sin or one of similar nature. Jesus reminds them that according to Moses in Deuteronomy, if they threw a stone at her while guilty of the same crime, they would be signing their own death warrant. And they realize it. After Jesus bends down, we read that when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones. Presumably the older ones had more self-awareness.
V9bff, Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”
Carl Laney writes, “Lacking credible witnesses, the law of stoning could not be applied. Jesus was not modifying the law or demonstrating the overly gracious condoning of sinful behavior. He was simply upholding the Law that demanded credible witnesses...Jesus was not relaxing the moral standards of God. Rather he was carefully applying [them].”
Jesus doesn’t overthrow anything. Jesus upholds the moral seriousness of a holy God. The sin this woman has committed was grievous. But Jesus demanded that her accusers stare their own sin in the face. They weren’t comfortable doing that.
Who are you condemning this morning? Who do you drag before the feet of Jesus in your mind? Who do you think, their sin is offensive? What of those same sins do you see in the person you look at in the mirror?
The scribes and Pharisees assumed a selective application of the law in their Jesus trap. Jesus demands a thorough obedience. Jesus will judge based on the whole law. Which brings us to our final point.
3: Jesus and Judgement in relation to Mercy
Jesus dealt with the scribes and Pharisees by demanding adherence to the whole law. How does Jesus deal with the woman? Will he have the same standard for her, or will he make an exception because life has been tough on her?
After everyone walks off, Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” Jesus reply strikes us: Neither do I condemn you. On the one hand we readily acknowledge what was said earlier, that Jesus is simply taking the whole law into consideration here, and if there are not any witnesses left who are fit to bring testimony, then Jesus is simply acknowledging something built into the law: it is better to let a guilty person walk than to have an unjust conviction.
But Jesus’ words here seem broader than a simple acknowledgement that the legal case is gone. Jesus stands here as the Son of God, the one who knows all of her actions, , all of her thoughts, all of her guilt. He stands as the one to whom all authority to judge is handed by the Father. And yet he chooses not to condemn this guilty woman. This draws us to the very heart of Jesus mission on earth: Luke 19:10 tells us that the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.
Does Jesus condemn this woman? No. Is this because sexual sin is no big deal? To the contrary! Jesus standard for this woman is the same as his standard for the Pharisees is the same as his standard for us: perfect holiness and obedience to every last past of the law. Remember Jesus’ own words from Matthew 5, that the one who relaxes the least part of the law or teaches others to do likewise will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. Based on this standard, this woman stands fully condemned. So do you. So do I. We all owe God an eternity in hell for our failures and our rebellion. We deserve his condemnation.
But Jesus came to bear that condemnation for us John 3:17 says, For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
Jesus extends mercy to this woman because that is the very reason for which he entered human existence. Jesus came to save sinners by being condemned for them, by being condemned for us. 1 Peter 2:24 tells us that he bore our sins in his body on the tree that we might die to sins and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. And the second part of that verse draws out something important.
Jesus also tells the woman, go, and from now on sin no more, or perhaps the best way to understand this is, go and leave your life of sin. Genuine repentance always leads to a changed life. Has your life been changed by Jesus?
I wonder if you ever feel unable or unworthy to follow Jesus. You’ve made too many mistakes, you’ve sinned too much. This woman was brought to Jesus fresh out of a bed she shouldn’t have been in. And Jesus offers her mercy and forgiveness. Do you know that’s where all genuine obedience to Christ comes from? Following Jesus isn’t something we can grit out by sheer will-power. Genuinely following Jesus flows from first having received his grace and forgiveness in salvation.
The relationship of Jesus and Judgment to mercy is that Jesus came to bear the curse of the law on our behalf, so that the One who stands as our Judge might instead be our Savior and Friend. He offers that same mercy to all who trust in him alone.
Do you resonate with this woman’s need? Do you need a rescuer? Fly to the same Savior who extended mercy to her. Cling to Jesus.