“Soar Like Eagles” The gospel of John #10 Not Guilty – Overcoming Shame John 8:1-11  

23 Mar

In a scene from East Auburn Baptist Church production of "The Event," Jesus, portrayed by Shawn DeGraff, writes in the dirt and asks the accusers, "He who is without sin, let him cast the first stone," when a woman caught in the act of adultery is brought before him, portrayed by Lisa Roy.

In a scene from East Auburn Baptist Church production of “The Event,” Jesus, portrayed by Shawn DeGraff, writes in the dirt and asks the accusers, “He who is without sin, let him cast the first stone,” when a woman caught in the act of adultery is brought before him, portrayed by Lisa Roy.

This chapter may contain many people’s favorite story in the entire Gospel of John. This text gathers into eleven short verses the heart and soul of Jesus’ ministry. Although it probably was not originally part of the Gospel of John, it is a powerful passage which leaves us with an unforgettable picture of Jesus.

Like most modern translations, the NASB, ESV, NIV and ASV places 7:53-8:11 in brackets, with the notation that it is not found in most of the ancient manuscripts. This passage appears only in some of the later Greek manuscripts, and, even then, it appears in different places: following John 7:36; 7:44; 7:52; 21:25; and Luke 21:38. In fact, only one Greek manuscript prior to the ninth century has the story.

None of the church fathers who wrote in Greek commented on this passage until the 12th century, although many of them made reference to the passages which immediately precede and follow it. While it is likely that the story actually did occur, it’s also certain that it was not part of John’s original gospel.

Because these verses are known by most Christians, and have often been mistaught and misapplied, we want to take the time in this study to discuss the meaning.


“But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. {2} At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. {3} The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group {4} and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. {5} In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” {6} They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. {7} When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” {8} Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. {9} At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there.”

The story begins with Jesus’ going to the Mount of Olives, something that became His routine during the final week before the Crucifixion. Luke 21:37 indicates that Jesus would teach in Jerusalem during the day and retire to the Mount of Olives at night. This was probably at the home of Mary and Martha in Bethany, which was on the eastern slopes of the Mount of Olives.

Early the next morning He returned to Jerusalem and entered the temple. As people gathered around Him, He sat down and began to teach. At some point while this was happening, the scribes and the Pharisees brought to Jesus a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery.

The educated religious Pharisees and scribes present Jesus with a dilemma. Here is a woman caught in the act. She stands in the midst of a murderous mob. She wonders if she will survive the incident. This all happened so suddenly.

She is publicly disgraced and standing alone without so much as the support of her lover. By the way, where is he? If they were caught in the act, why is he not here to receive his just punishment of stoning. Leviticus 20:10 (NIV) “‘If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife–with the wife of his neighbor–both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death.

Jesus knew that their motives were wicked (8:6). After all, where was the man? Adultery is not a sin which a person can commit alone, and yet only a woman was brought to Jesus.

They care neither for the sin nor the woman. She is merely a tool to get at Jesus.

In the eyes of the Jewish law adultery was a serious crime. The Rabbis said: “Every Jew must die before he will commit idolatry, murder or adultery.” 

Adultery was one of the three gravest sins and it was punishable by death, although there were certain differences in respect of the way in which the death penalty was to be carried out. 

The dilemma into which they sought to put Jesus was this.  If he said that the woman ought to be stoned to death, two things followed. First, he would lose the name he had gained for love and for mercy and never again would be called the friend of sinners. Second, he would come into collision with the Roman law, for the Jews had no power to pass or carry out the death sentence on anyone. If he said that the woman should be pardoned, it could immediately be said that he was teaching men to break the law of Moses, and that he was condoning and even encouraging people to commit adultery.

At first Jesus stooped down and wrote with his finger on the ground. 

What did He write on the ground? Could He have been reminding them of a passage of warning found in Jeremiah 17:13: “O LORD, the hope of Israel, all who forsake you will be put to shame. Those who turn away from you will be written in the dust because they have forsaken the LORD, the spring of living water.”

It was required by Jewish law that the accusers cast the first stones: Deut. 17:7:  “The hands of the witnesses must be the first in putting him to death, and then the hands of all the people. You must purge the evil from among you.”

One attractive suggestion is that he wrote accusations against the various Sanhedrin members. Another says he wrote a list of their names. Still another supposes that he just doodled to show his disinterest. We’re curious about what he wrote. But apparently it doesn’t matter. The emphasis is on the act of writing, not what was written. While Jesus scribbles in the sand they keep pressing him for an answer. They get more of an answer than they bargain for.

Jesus stands up, adding force to his response. Without disregarding either the law of Moses or this precious person, he simply says, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” Jesus is not saying that her accusers have to be sinless. That would spell the demise of all legal proceedings. He is merely suggesting that they be adequate witnesses.

Deuteronomy 19:16-19 (NIV) If a malicious witness takes the stand to accuse a man of a crime, 17  the two men involved in the dispute must stand in the presence of the LORD before the priests and the judges who are in office at the time. 18  The judges must make a thorough investigation, and if the witness proves to be a liar, giving false testimony against his brother, 19  then do to him as he intended to do to his brother. You must purge the evil from among you.

Exodus 23:1-3 (NIV) “Do not spread false reports. Do not help a wicked man by being a malicious witness. 2  “Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong. When you give testimony in a lawsuit, do not pervert justice by siding with the crowd, 3  and do not show favoritism to a poor man in his lawsuit.

Exodus 23:6-8 (NIV) “Do not deny justice to your poor people in their lawsuits. 7  Have nothing to do with a false charge and do not put an innocent or honest person to death, for I will not acquit the guilty. 8  “Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds those who see and twists the words of the righteous.

Jesus exposes their devious sting operation. They’re trying to nail Jesus, not this woman. Now they, along with this woman, have been caught in the act. Furthermore, those who would throw the first stone, according to Jewish jurisprudence, must be witnesses of the crime. These guys are at the center of this vicious trap. Bull’s-eye! Jesus, with one sentence identifies, criticizes, and dismantles this whole dirty business. He then stoops down and continues to doodle in the dust.

The older ones leave first, their wisdom and moderation having been forged by time. The others follow reluctantly. By and by this whole inner band of accusers disappears, leaving this woman alone with Jesus in the center

The first duty of authority is to try to understand the force of the temptations which drove the sinner to sin and the seductiveness of the circumstances in which sin became so attractive. No man can pass judgment on another unless he at least tries to understand what the other has come through. 

The second duty of authority is to seek to reclaim the wrongdoer. Any authority which is solely concerned with punishment is wrong; any authority, which, in its exercise, drives a wrongdoer either to despair or to resentment, is a failure. The function of authority is not be banish the sinner from all descent society, still less to wipe him out; it is to make him into a good man. The man set in authority must be like a wise physician; his one desire must be to heal.

This incident shows vividly and cruelly the attitude of the scribes and Pharisees to people.  They were not looking on this woman as a person at all; they were looking on her only as a thing, an instrument whereby they could formulate a charge against Jesus.  They were using her, as a man might use a tool, for their own purposes.  To them she had no name, no personality, no feelings; she was simply a pawn in the game whereby they sought to destroy Jesus.

It is extremely unlikely that the scribes and the Pharisees even knew this woman’s name.  To them she was nothing but a case of shameless adultery that could now be used as an instrument to suit their purposes.  The minute people become things the spirit of Christianity is dead.

God uses his authority to love men into goodness; to God no person ever becomes a thing.  We must use such authority as we have always to understand and always at least to try to mend the person who has made the mistake; and we will never even begin to do that unless we remember that every man and woman is a person, not a thing.

Further, this incident tells us a great deal about Jesus and his attitude to the sinner.

Someone has written the lines: “How I wish that there was some wonderful place Called the Land of Beginning Again, Where all our mistakes and all our heartaches And all our poor selfish grief Could be dropped like a shabby old coat at the door, And never put on again.”

In Jesus there is the gospel of the second chance.  He was always intensely interested, not only in what a person had been, but also in what a person could be.  He did not say that what they had done did not matter; broken laws and broken hearts always matter; but he was sure that every man has a future as well as a past.

It involved pity.  The basic difference between Jesus and the scribes and Pharisees was that they wished to condemn; he wished to forgive.  If we read between the lines of this story it is quite clear that they wished to stone this woman to death and were going to take pleasure in doing so.  They knew the thrill of exercising the power to condemn; Jesus knew the thrill of exercising the power to forgive.  Jesus regarded the sinner with pity born of love; the scribes and Pharisees regarded him with disgust born of self-righteousness.

It involved challenge.  Jesus confronted this woman with the challenge of the sinless life.  He did not say:  “It’s all right; don’t worry; just go on as you are doing.”  He said:  “It’s all wrong; go out and fight; change your life from top to bottom; go, and sin no more.”  Here was no easy forgiveness; here was a challenge which pointed a sinner to heights of goodness of which she had never dreamed.  Jesus confronts the bad life with the challenge of the good.

It involved belief in human nature.  When we come to think of it, it is a staggering thing that Jesus should say to a woman of loose morals:  “Go, and sin no more.”  The amazing, heart-uplifting thing about him was his belief in men and women.  When he was confronted with someone who had gone wrong, he did not say:  “You are a wretched and a hopeless creature.”  He said:  “Go, and sin no more.”  He believed that with his help the sinner has it in him to become the saint.  His method was not to blast men with the knowledge-which they already possessed-that they were miserable sinners, but to inspire them with the unglimpsed discovery that they were potential saints.

It involved warning, clearly unspoken but implied.  Here we are face to face with the eternal choice.  Jesus confronted the woman with a choice that day-either to go back to her old ways or to reach out to the new way with him.  This story is unfinished, for every life is unfinished until it stands before God.

He Treated Her With Dignity

Have you ever been present when people were talking about you? Perhaps as a child or as a patient in the hospital, you have had the terrible experience of hearing others talk about you as if you were not even there.

It is a dehumanizing experience. That is what the woman had been subjected to at the hands of the scribes and the Pharisees. She had been an object, a problem, nothing more. When Jesus had faced down her accusers, He turned and spoke to her. The fact that He spoke to her instead of about her was perhaps the most precious gift this woman had ever been given.

Jesus did not view her as an embarrassing failure or an irritating difficulty; He saw her as a person, a creation of God who possessed tremendous God-given worth.

He Treated Her With Compassion

Not only did Jesus treat the woman with dignity, but His behavior toward her also demonstrated amazing compassion. His first compassionate act was writing on the ground. Suddenly, no one was looking at the woman. Diverting the stares of the crowd from the woman to Himself was Jesus’ first precious gift of compassion to her.

He Treated Her With Frankness

He was kind but frank in addressing her sin. Her sin had to be confronted. Today we have many ways that we try to avoid confronting our sin. We try to ignore sin (“1 will not think about that”), deny sin (“I did not do anything wrong”), or even justify sin (” I did that because of my parents, my job, or my culture”).

Jesus, by contrast, insisted that the woman face her sin. He called sin “sin.” We are constantly in need of the same treatment today. Jesus does not respond to our sin by saying, “Don’t worry about it! It’s no big deal!” Instead, He says that sin is His greatest concern, a concern as big as the cross!  In order for redemption to take place, we must first face the reality and the guilt of our sins.

Forgiveness is free but it is not cheap! Jesus perfectly fulfilled the Law so that no one could justly accuse Him of opposing its teachings or weakening its power. by applying the Law to the woman and not themselves, the Jewish leaders were violating both the letter and the spirit of the law. And they thought they were defending Moses!

He Treated Her With Grace and Hope

Nothing in this passage indicates that Jesus forgave the woman of her sin, but He refused to condemn her to death. In this story we are not told how the woman was influenced by what Jesus had done for her. Did she believe? Was she moved to repent of her sin? We cannot be sure of the answers to these questions.

We can be sure, however, that Jesus offered her hope for the future. The sin all too easily becomes his identity. Jesus’ words to the woman shout the message “There is more to your life than just your sin. You can turn from sin!”


Sometimes your shame is private. Pushed over the edge by an abusive spouse. Molested by a perverted parent. Seduced by a compromising superior. No one else knows. But you know. And that’s enough.

Sometimes it’s public. Branded by a divorce you didn’t want. Contaminated by a disease you never expected. Marked by a handicap you didn’t create. And whether it’s actually in their eyes or just in your imagination, you have to deal with it—you are marked: a divorcee, an invalid, an orphan, an AIDS patient.

Whether private or public, shame is always painful. And unless you deal with it, it is permanent. Unless you get help—the dawn will never come.

Jesus says, “I also don’t judge you guilty. You may go now, but don’t sin anymore” (vv. 10–11).

If you have ever wondered how God reacts when you fail, frame these words and hang them on the wall. Read them. Ponder them. Drink from them. Stand below them and let them wash over your soul.

Or better still, take him with you to your canyon of shame. Invite Christ to journey with you. Let him stand beside you as you retell the events of the darkest nights of your soul.

And then listen. Listen carefully. He’s speaking. “I don’t judge you guilty.”

And watch. Watch carefully. He’s writing. He’s leaving a message. Not in the sand, but on a cross. Not with his hand, but with his blood. His message has two words: Not guilty.

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Posted by on March 23, 2017 in Gospel of John


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