“Mercy and wrath met at the cross, and both walked away victorious”
A Princess in peril, an enemy, a valiant Prince who, driven by radical love, risks life and limb to save her. Before these familiar love story themes were ever prefaced by “Once upon a time”, the world already knew them. They resonate so deeply within us because they come from the very heart of God, finding their roots in the story He has been writing since creation. One of my favorite chapters in this epic romance comes from John 8:1-11, in what’s known as “The woman caught in adultery”.
“Jesus returned to the Mount of Olives, but early the next morning he was back again at the Temple. A crowd soon gathered, and he sat down and taught them. As he was speaking, the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. They put her in front of the crowd.
“Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?” They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger. They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust.
When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman. Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”
“No, Lord,” she said. And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.”’
What a beautiful picture of a Holy God’s extravagant love for His creation. Line by line of this woman’s encounter with Jesus, you can see it: The undeserved, nonsensical, radical love He has for us.
“All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” – Jesus levels the field for her. Romans 3:23 says “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” There is no class system for sin. Abortion or drunkenness, gossip or adultery, sin is sin, and not one of her accusers was without it. Jesus makes it clear that The ground at the foot of the cross is level.
“When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman” – Jesus stayed with her when everyone else left. Jesus remains, even in the midst of our sin. He will never leave or forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6).
“Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, ‘Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?’ ‘No, Lord,’ she said.” Jesus didn’t force His reality on her. He didn’t say, “Look around, no one is condemning you, so you should feel better now.” But He, being the perfect counselor, gently led her through good questions to a realization of the truth on her own. Time spent conversing with Jesus will illuminate the truth in our own hearts.
And Jesus said, “Neither do I.” – The only one there who was actually qualified to throw a stone at her extended a hand of grace. Many people judge, condemn, and mistreat us, but Christ, the only Holy one, without sin, pursues us in love, picks us up off the ground, and holds us in His arms. Grace is unmerited favor. That’s what makes it amazing.
“Go and sin no more.” – Anyone who would stop this story at “Neither do I” for the sake not wanting to “ruin” the grace part just prior is missing out on one of the best elements of the story! “Go and sin no more” is not a call to ‘follow all the rules or else’, It’s not a ‘I forgive you this time, but you’d better straighten up now.” When Jesus told her this, He believed in and affirmed her ability to have His best life for herself. He set her free to see herself living in a way she never thought possible. It is a command to have a full, abundant life. It is a command to stay close to grace and let Jesus in to the deepest recesses of your heart to refine you along the way. Within these two sentences lies an important balance. Grace meets the father-heart of God that longs to see His child happy and whole. We can’t neglect this part. It is made possible only because of the work of the Cross.
A lot of factors could have kept Jesus from responding to her the way He did, and are often the same ones that keep us, His people, from responding to others the way He did: Cultural pressure and the low regard for a woman in her situation, being interrupted in His teaching, protecting His reputation, and intense scrutiny from the crowd. But Jesus, the valiant Prince, risked it all to demonstrate the real heart of God.
How, in my life, have I been the woman caught in adultery, and what can I learn about God’s heart toward me from this story?
How, in my life, have I been the accusing crowd, and what can I learn about God’s heart towards others from this story?
How, in my life, have I given into the pressures around me and not responded in extravagant love toward others, and how can I learn to respond the way He did?
“What Would Jesus Do?” is speculation. “What DID Jesus Do” is no mystery. It’s written throughout scripture, in the greatest love story ever written.