When the Light Meets Moral Darkness
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When I was growing up, I was aware of many adulterous relationships and consequently broken marriages and families. Since I did not believe in God then, I had mixed feelings about marriage. Moreover, during my teenage years I was going through what psychologists call “identity search”. There were times I wanted to be different from those adulterous people and be married only once. At other times, I wanted be married at least 10 times so I could get into the Guinness book of records and be famous for being the most married woman. Actually, if any of you wonder who is married the most times, I did look at the Guinness book. Glynn Wolfe, who was a Baptist minister and resided in Blythe (not Blythwood, it’s Blythe, California), had the largest number of monogamous marriages. He was married 29 times and his final marriage was to Linda Essex, who is the record holder for the women. She was married 23 times. So, wanting to be married 10 times would not have qualified me for the Guinness book of records. Nonetheless, this is not how God sees marriage and that is not how I have seen marriages since I became a Christian over 16 years ago. Genesis 2:24 is clear that the man and his wife become one flesh. Any sexual relationship outside of one’s marriage is adultery.
In John 8, we read a story known to many of us as “the adulterous woman”. Earlier manuscripts and other ancient writings do not have this story. Nonetheless, many scholars agree that this text is the inspired Word of God because it is consistent with the rest of the Scriptures, and our church fathers agreed that this text is authentic. This text was used to accept penitents as far back as the 3rd century. Most importantly, God preserved this text in our Bibles and we read it today for our edification.
Since we established the validity of these verses, let us go into the text. Verse 53 says, “Then each went to his own home.” “Then” refers to what happened during the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles. This was one of the feasts that Jews had to observe. Deuteronomy 16:16, “Three times a year all your men must appear before the Lord your God at the place he will choose: at the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the Festival of Weeks and the Festival of Tabernacles…” To celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles, Jewish people erected booths outside of Jerusalem and lived there for 7 days, but now are returning to their homes.
At dawn Jesus came back to the temple. People gathered around him and Jesus sat down to teach. But his teaching was interrupted. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. In Greek we read that they “made this woman stand in the midst of them”. I wonder what she thought and what she felt. Her heart was probably pounding and she was probably terrified knowing that her life was in the hands of these men.
Actually, some way I can empathize with her. I remember 16 years ago in Abu Dhabi, I was wearing a sleeveless shirt and shorts while walking with my husband with our first baby in a stroller. As we turned the corner, there were about 150 men all dressed in white. They stared at us as we were passing by. The way some looked at me made chills go my spine; I thought they were going to rip me to pieces. I remember the feeling of terror like today and how my heart was pounding. I was feeling what psychologists call today fight or flight response. Thanks God that we were able to leave the place unharmed. But this adulterous woman could not leave. She was surrounded by all these men, was waiting for her verdict.
The teachers of the law and the Pharisees said to Jesus, “Teacher,” “Rabbi.” They pointed to the woman and said: this woman was caught in the act of adultery. According to the Law of Moses women like her must be stoned. Jesus, what do you say? However, they had misquoted the Law of Moses to fit their purpose. Leviticus 20:10 and Deuteronomy 22:22 say that both guilty parties are to be executed but it doesn’t say to stone them. In the same chapter we see that stoning a couple was justified when a man sleeps with a woman who was engaged to marry another man but did not scream for help (Deuteronomy 22:23-24).
We know that adultery is a voluntarily sexual intercourse between a married person and a person who is not their husband or wife. In Judaism, adultery also meant sexual relations outside marriage. However, this applied to married women only. If married men had sex, it was not regarded as adultery unless the sexual partner was married. Since this woman is accused of adultery, it means that she is married.
When people commit adultery, they go to a private place. So, adultery is hard to prove and especially in Judaism because two witnesses were required. It was not enough to see them coming out of the room where there were just two of them. It was even not enough to see them lying in a bed beside each other. The proof that was needed is that both witnesses saw these people in the sexual act. Today, this would be much easier to prove because of the availability of various recording devices. However, there were no cell phones, cameras, iPads or other recording devices then. But, since this woman was brought in, we should assume that there were two witnesses, whether they were truthful or not the Bible is silent on this.
However, do we really think that the teachers of the law and the Pharisees cared about justice? Actually, with the influx of pilgrims the immorality was prevalent during the Feast of Tabernacles and religious leaders often overlooked it. But what was different this time? We see from verse 6 that the teachers of the law and the Pharisees were using this question to trap Jesus. They wanted to have reasons to accuse him. They thought, yes, we finally got him! They were sure that Jesus was in a no-win situation. If he does nothing about the Law of Moses, what kind of Rabbi is he? But if he says ‘let’s stone her’, Jesus could be in trouble with the Romans because nobody can execute anyone without their permission, but the Romans would not give permission to execute for an offense such as adultery.
We also know it is a trap because there was no man with the woman. There should have been a male offender. It looks that this trap was for the woman, and the man was allowed to escape. Isn’t it ironic? The woman is trapped. Now, they are trapping Jesus by using the trapped woman. Actually this is not the first time that Jesus is being trapped. In Matthew 22:18 Jesus says to the Pharisees, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me?” Can we relate to the woman and to Jesus? I am not talking about adultery, although that is what she is guilty off. I am talking about entrapment. Have we ever been trapped? Did we ever trap anyone?
Jesus bends down and starts to write something on the ground with his finger. There are many speculations by scholars what Jesus wrote. But since the Bible is silent about it, we will not focus on it. The important part in here is that Jesus wrote with his finger and not with a branch or anything else. The word “finger” appears over 30 times in the Bible and the image of a finger usually brings mercy and grace or judgment. In Exodus 31:18, “When the Lord finished speaking to Moses on Mount Sinai, he gave him the two tablets of the covenant law, the tablets of stone inscribed by the finger of God.” The Law of God was inscribed by God’s finger! And now Jesus is writing on the ground with His finger. Does Jesus’ finger represent here judgment or mercy and grace?
As Jesus is writing with his finger, the teachers of the law and the Pharisees kept on questioning him. So, Jesus stands up and says to them in verse 7, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Jesus is not saying do not stone a woman. He is also not saying any one who is not adulterous to throw the stone. Instead, he says, any one who is without sin. “Without sin” is the Greek word, “anamartetos” which really means “sinless, innocent.” Let us think for a moment. Any one who is sinless or innocent should be the first to throw a stone. But who can be innocent and sinless except our Lord Jesus?
When they first brought in the woman, they were eager to throw the stones at her but now Jesus’ words made them think. Their conscience must have reminded them of their sins and how they were far from sinless or innocent. I wonder if we were there, how would we react to the words of Jesus?
Again as in verse 6, Jesus stoops down and writes on the ground. He stays in that position until all the accusers are gone. The older ones leave first. Often people think that the older people have more sins, so they left first. But that is not necessarily the case. It is possible that they left first because they were wiser and understood Jesus’ words.
When all the accusers are gone, Jesus stops writing, stands up and asks her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” Jesus addresses her as “woman”. In Greek the word for “woman” is “gune.” Jesus addresses this adulterous woman the same way he addressed his mother in John 2:4, the Samaritan woman in John 4:21, and again his mother at his crucifixion in John 19:26. In Greek, calling female a woman “gune” does not denote disrespect like it is today. Actually, addressing all three women as “gune,” shows that Jesus loves all people regardless of their background or sins. We see that Jesus did not shame her, did not embarrass her and did not humiliate her because that is not who Jesus is and that is not why He came to live on earth. John 1:17, “The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” Jesus is full of grace.
The woman responds to Him, “No one sir.” Jesus says to her, “Then neither do I condemn you”. However, these are not Jesus’ final words to her. We know that Jesus is not okay with sin, He never was and He never will be. Nonetheless, Jesus does not condemn this woman and the same way He does not condemn us for He is love. Romans 8:33b-34, “It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.” Although Jesus does not condemn, He does not want us to live in sin.
Jesus declares, “Go now and leave your life of sin.” These words show that this woman has been living a sinful life. She is adulterous and Jesus knows it. However, now since she is not condemned by the accusers and by Jesus, she has to leave her life of sin. She cannot do what she has been doing before. Actually, the literal Greek translation would be: “Go and from now on no longer (never again) sin or do any act contrary to the will and law of God”.
The words that Jesus said to the adulterous woman apply to us too. We should sin no more and not commit any acts contrary to the will and law of God. Let us never make a mistake that we can become as sinless and innocent as Jesus- but we cannot because our sinful nature is still in us. However, we are able to leave our life of sin and shame because of what Jesus did for us on the cross. He bore our sins and our depravity. As Jesus told this woman to leave her life of sin, He also told me to leave my life of sin and follow him; and so I did. I know that I wouldn’t be standing here today if I did not. My dreams and desires changed. Instead of wanting to be famous for married many times, my desire is to be known as passionate for Jesus and being His servant.
Although the adulterous woman story ends in Jesus’ command to ‘sin no more’, in the next verse we see Jesus teaches people again and says, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” This verse connects to the story we looked at and we see Jesus for who He is in this story. Jesus is the light in the moral darkness. Jesus is the center and the light in this story. It is by Jesus saying any one who is without sin to throw the first stone at the woman who exposes the flaws of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law. It is Jesus who shows the sins of the woman by asking her to stop sinning. But in spite of their sins and iniquities, He does not condemn or shame any one of them. As stated in John 3:17, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”
What a contrast between Jesus and the teachers of the law and the Pharisees, who knew the law very well! Jesus does not condemn, but the Pharisees and the teachers of the law condemn. Jesus is humble and meek whilst Pharisees and the teachers of the law are self-righteous. The purpose of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law is to entrap Jesus, while Jesus’s purpose is to set captives free.
Do we see ourselves as more like Jesus, or like the Pharisees and the teachers of the law? Do we ever behave self-righteous by exposing other people’s sins? Do we ever ask somebody a question when we know the answer to it? Do we ever condemn people who has too many facial piercings? Rainbow hair color? Tattoos? Maybe even the clothes people wear? The list can go on… Jesus in Luke 6:37, 41, “37Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven… 41Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?”
We know God’s greatest commandment given to us is to love God with all our hearts, minds and souls and to love our neighbor as ourselves. The question is, do we do it? Do we love others the way God would want us to love others, or do we judge them and/or trap them even when we have a plank in our own eyes? What is it that makes us feel better about ourselves if we put others down or expose other people’s sins?
This woman was guilty of adultery but Jesus forgave her by letting her go and asking her to stop sinning. How about us? Are we guilty of adultery? Does adultery have a grip on us? Do we ever watch pornography or go into any other sites that we would not want others to know and see? Jesus in Matthew 5:28 says, “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” This verse applies to both men and women.
Adultery is nothing new in our generation. This is God’s 7th commandment. Exodus 20:14, “You shall not commit adultery.” Although in this chapter adultery is sexual, in the Old Testament, Israel is called an adulterous faithless spouse who turned away from her spouse, Yahweh. There are numerous verses that speak about Israel’s adultery. We see it in Jeremiah 2, Jeremiah 5, Ezekiel 23, Hosea 1, Hosea 40, and in many other books. Their adultery has to do with idolatry.
How about us then? Are we guilty of adultery by committing idolatry? Our idols today are everything that we put first before God. Do we spend more time with God, loving Him and loving our neighbors, or doing something else? There is nothing wrong in watching TV, sports, news, or being in the computer and Facebook, or eating healthy and exercising and the list of our hobbies and pastimes can go on. However, if we become consumed or obsessed with these activities, it could become idolatry.
Nonetheless, some things are non-negotiable, for they are idolatry in itself. Colossians 3:5 says, “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.” It says to put to death all of the things that belong to our earthly sinful nature. This is exactly what Pastor David has been speaking in this series, “dying to ourselves” and “putting to death our earthly nature”. This is a perfect time to do this as we walk through this Lent season. This is the time to remember and embrace the words of Jesus, who is the light in the moral darkness, and to go and sin no more; leave your life of sin!
1 John 1:5-10, “God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; 7 but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”
My brothers and sisters, let us live by God’s truth in the light for we are the children of the Light.