The text for this lesson is John 8:1–11.
- God forgives our sins and leads us to live a new life in Him.
- Law: I sin when I ignore Christ’s forgiveness and continue in my sin.
- Gospel: Christ forgives me completely and strengthens me through the Holy Spirit to leave my life of sin.
By the time of this encounter with the Pharisees and scribes, Jesus had already completed a great deal of His earthly ministry. His miracles included changing water to wine, healing an official’s son, and feeding more than five thousand people. More significantly, as relates to today’s passage, Jesus had also done things to provoke the jealousy and resentment of the Jewish religious establishment: He had cleansed the temple of dishonest salesmen and money-changers, spoken publicly to a Samaritan woman, and healed on the Sabbath. Cleansing the temple may have cut into the income of the Pharisees, scribes, and other religious leaders. It was forbidden for Jewish rabbis to speak to women publicly, especially women from Samaria. Work on the Sabbath was expressly forbidden.
Wicked though it was, the resentment of the Pharisees and scribes is understandable. They had a great deal to lose. Through His miracles of healing and provision, Jesus drew large crowds. This robbed the religious leaders of attention and prestige. Jesus’ teaching was fundamentally different from theirs. He spent time with elements of society typically rejected: tax collectors, prostitutes, those ritually unclean, and those labeled “sinners.” Perhaps most important, Jesus claimed to be the Son of God, which was tantamount to claiming to be God Himself, an offense punishable by death!
Seething with such jealousy and bitterness, the Pharisees and scribes were vigilant to find an opportunity to bring an accusation against Jesus and have Him arrested, shunned, or at least discredited.
One such opportunity was when a woman was caught in adultery, as we read in today’s passage. The religious leaders drew on passages from the Old Testament as support for stoning her. Interestingly, these verses also call for stoning the man involved in the sin.
Their plan was to place Jesus in an untenable position. If He agreed to stone the woman, He would lose credibility with the people. If He ignored the Scriptures of the Old Testament, He would lose credibility as a rabbi.
Jesus’ response was perfect. Avoiding their trap, He said, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” With this simple statement, our Lord diffused the tension and turned the attention from Himself to the Pharisees and scribes. If they had chosen to proceed with stoning the woman, they would have run the risk of conflict with the Romans, who did not allow unsanctioned death sentences. What’s more, casting the stone would have been a public proclamation of innocence before God. With regard to the meaning of Jesus’ marking on the ground, we can only guess.
It’s important to notice that Jesus did not ignore the reality of the woman’s sin nor her need to repent and discontinue. His words emphasized His complete forgiveness and the imperative to sin no further.
God’s Word teaches that the forgiveness we receive in Christ is complete and unconditional. It was earned by Jesus’ perfect life and innocent death. What’s more, Jesus’ resurrection demonstrates that God demands nothing more as payment for humanity’s iniquities. Despite this reality, sinners fail to embrace the fullness of God’s forgiveness in Christ and walk away from confession unsure of His absolution. God’s Holy Spirit encourages us toward sure peace in that our forgiveness was earned outside of ourselves and is not dependent on our merits, works, or strength. God did it. We can trust it.
In this certainty, God calls us to new life in Him. Like the woman caught in adultery, we are forgiven freely by God’s grace, not by how we will do in the future. In this freedom and empowered by our Baptism, we flee from sin and embrace obedience to God and love for other people.