Daniel Webster served our country as a congressman and as the Secretary of State under three presidents in the mid 1800’s. Before going into politics he was a well-known and very successful lawyer and public speaker. Dwight L. Moody shared the following illustration about him:
Daniel Webster was such an imposing figure in court that he once stared a witness out of the courtroom. Apparently Webster knew that the man was there to deliver false testimony, so he fixed his “dark, beetle-browed” eyes on the man and searched him. According to the story, later in the trial, Webster looked around again to see if [the witness] was ready for the inquisition. The witness felt for his hat and edged toward the door. A third time Webster looked on him, and the witness could sit no longer. He seized his chance and fled from the court and was nowhere to be found. It was as if Webster could see right through the man, and knew what this witness had been told to do, and what he was to say. With his penetrating gaze, Webster gave this man the opportunity to examine himself, reconsider his mission, and make his getaway. We find a similar action and reaction in this passage of scripture, John 8:1-12.
I. THE SETTING (verses 1-2)
Verse one of John 8 tells us that Jesus went to the Mount of Olives the night before, and probably stayed at the home of Mary and Martha in Bethany. They lived about a mile from Jerusalem, and Jesus often stayed with them when He was attending one of the feasts in Jerusalem. The next morning we find Him back in the temple. Verse 2 says, “And early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people were coming to Him; and He sat down and began to teach them.” A crowd was gathering around Jesus, so He sat down to teach. This was the usual practice of the rabbis. They taught from a sitting position. Often a little stool was provided for them to sit on.
II. THE CONFRONTATION (verses 3-6a)
The Lord Jesus is just beginning to teach the people when He is rudely interrupted. Verse 3 reads, “And the Scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery and having set her in the midst,”. Now what are they up to? Whatever it is, they want the whole crowd to watch and listen to what happens next. On the previous day the multitude was debating whether Jesus was the Prophet or the Messiah, and the temple police officers were so amazed at Jesus’ teaching that they didn’t arrest Him. All the sarcastic remarks directed at the multitude by the leaders accomplished nothing. The people are all assembled again, eager to hear Jesus teach. Have the scribes and Pharisees now come up with a better idea? Let’s see what they have to say. Verses 4 and 5 read: “They said to Him, ‘Teacher, this woman has been caught in adultery, in the very act. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women; what then do you say?’ By asking that question, the scribes and Pharisees have just broken their own law which stated that such cases were to be handled by their own court. They are also lying to the crowd by giving them the impression that they have come to seek His “expert opinion” on this matter.
Does their statement sound suspicious to you? Wouldn’t you say that it’s unusual to stumble across adultery taking place? This is not the kind of offence that can be committed by one person alone. Where is the man? Was no attempt made to arrest him? He was just as guilty under the Law as the woman. Did they let him go? Is he one of the men who are now standing before Jesus?
By their statement and their question, they have purposely placed Jesus in a dilemma. A dilemma is defined as a choice between two equal alternatives. In this case, both of His options seem to be equally dangerous. If Jesus agreed with the law and told them to stone her, He would be disobeying the Roman government which had jurisdiction over such cases, and He would be taken to a Roman court. The Jews could then distort His claims of kingship and possibly have Him executed as an insurrectionist. On the other hand, if Jesus refused to allow the woman to be stoned, He would be disobeying he Law of Moses, thus contradicting His claims to be the Messiah. The crowd around Jesus would be witnesses to His disobedience and the word would spread fast. That would soon be the end of His popularity and His authority as a teacher. The beginning of verse six tells us their motive when it says, “And they were saying this, testing Him, in order that they might have grounds for accusing Him.” It was a well-laid trap. I can picture the smiles on their faces and the glint in their eyes as they waited for Jesus to fall into their snare. They were hoping to bring Jesus before Pilate, the Roman governor, that very day.
III. JESUS’ RESPONSE TO HIS QUESTIONERS (verses 6b-8)
What happens next must have startled and confused them. At the end of verse 6, it says: “But Jesus stooped down, and wrote on the ground.” Try to put yourself in this scene. Jesus is sitting on the steps or on a stool. The scribes and Pharisees have just asked Him a difficult question and immediately Jesus takes His eyes off them, bends all the way forward and starts writing with His finger in the dust on the ground. Do you have a picture of that scene in your mind? Can you imagine what the scribes and Pharisees must have been thinking and saying to one another as they watched this phenomenon? “Is He crazy?” “Is He stalling, trying to come up with an answer?”
Verse 7 begins with the words, “When they persisted in asking Him”. Jesus wasn’t responding to them. He hasn’t stopped what He was doing and looked at them yet, in spite of their repeated requests. The scribes and Pharisees are getting angrier and louder as they demand an answer. Meanwhile, the woman and the crowd are watching and listening in silence. When is this “intermission” going to end?
Finally, in the midst of all the noise and confusion, “He [Jesus] straightened up”, and like Daniel Webster in my introduction, He looked at each one of them with His penetrating gaze, searching their souls. There was silence once again, and then He said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” As He said those words, I believe Jesus looked around at each one of them again, and that the eyes of some of them may already have been lowered. They didn’t want to look at Him eye-to-eye again because of the guilt they were experiencing.
The age-old debate is: “What was the Lord Jesus writing ?” Was He writing the commandments, or was He writing down the sins of His accusers? There are many possibilities, but we don’t know for sure. That information wasn’t given to us by the apostle John. Maybe it’s because the Lord Jesus’ lesson comes, not from what He wrote, but from the act of writing with His finger. Can you think of an occasion in the Old Testament when God wrote with His finger? Exodus 31:18 says, “And when He had finished speaking with him upon Mount Sinai, He gave Moses the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written by the finger of God.” That is my thinking, and the reasons are given in the rest of this passage of Scripture, especially the following verse. After saying those words to the scribes and Pharisees, verse 8 says, “And again He stooped down, and wrote on the ground.” Jesus is doing it again! What’s the significance of that? If His adversaries didn’t get it the first time, they caught on the second time, based on their response. I don’t think Jesus is repeating His actions for the sake of repetition. He’s reminding His audience of the events that happened after God gave the commandments to Moses. There’s more to the story, and as Jesus writes with His finger again, the rest of the story is unfolding in their minds. Let’s take a look at what His accusers are remembering. (MORE TO FOLLOW SOON)
CONSTRUCTION SITE: a work-in-progress
Thank you for visiting this new construction site: John 8:1-12. We are getting ready to see how Jesus solves this dilemma. The work must go on in spite of any obstacles that might be placed in the way. Jesus will now be adding the finishing touches to His lesson.