The online journal of Luke Dockery

Tag: Jesus (Page 1 of 7)

Jesus, Lighthouses, and Seeing Through the Fog

I recently finished Seeing Jesus from the East: A Fresh Look at History’s Most Influential Figure, by Ravi Zacharias and Abdu Murray. I thought it was a helpful read, though perhaps not as good as Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible by E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien, which covers similar, though not identical, ground.

In short, Seeing Jesus from the East seeks to put Jesus back into His original context, and shows how this middle-eastern teacher whose ideas form the foundation for much of Western society appeals to both East and West, addressing the shame and guilt of humanity. Again, it is a helpful read.

For me, though, one of the most compelling aspects of the book was not directly connected to the East/West issues related to Christianity at all, but rather, was the conveying of a simple parable:

“The story is told of a little seaside town where the fog was sometimes so thick that ships were prevented from making it safely into port. The townsfolk decided to build a lighthouse. On the day that lighthouse was finished, they celebrated with bands playing, bells ringing, and trumpets sounding. The mayor cut a ribbon to inaugurate the lighthouse. 

That night, a huge fog descended once again. Two visitors who had attended the ceremony said to one another, “The light shines, the bells ring, the horns blow, but the fog comes in just the same.”

They missed the point. The lighthouse was never intended to keep the fog from coming in; it was designed to guide ships safely into harbor through the fog. 

The Son of God came not to keep the fog from descending, but to help the human heart see through the fog.”

I think this conveys a powerful truth related to the way the gospel is presented (or, too often, misrepresented). Sometimes, the impression is given that if someone becomes a Christian, all of their troubles will disappear and life we be happy and easy. While it is true that being in Christ, having the Holy Spirit working in our lives and living in community and fellowship with other Christians are wonderful spiritual blessings, both eternally and in the here and now, being a Christian doesn’t inoculate us against the hardships of life. The fog comes in just the same.

But Jesus helps us see through the fog. He doesn’t tell us that the pain does not hurt or that the world is not broken, but He does promise to hurt with us, and ultimately, to heal the brokenness.

The Christian life is not painless, but it is hopeful.

Why Are You Afraid?

In Matthew’s gospel, he follows the Sermon on the Mount in chapters 5-7 with his account of some of the extraordinary miracles that Jesus performs in chapters 8-9. The power of Christ overcomes a variety of maladies: He cleanses lepers, heals paralysis, casts out demons, restores the blind and mute, and brings a little girl back from the dead.

It is in this context that Matthew tells the story of Jesus miraculously calming a storm:

And when He got into the boat His disciples followed Him. And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but He was asleep.

And they went and woke Him, saying, “Save us Lord; we are perishing.”

And He said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then He rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey Him?”

(Matthew 8.23-27)

There are several lessons we could take from this remarkable event, but I just want to focus on one. Jesus’ disciples are so terrified that they wake Him up in fear of their lives. His response is astounding: “Why are you afraid?” He asks. At first glance, it seems that Jesus is being incredibly obtuse—a great storm had arisen and the boat was being swamped by the waves; obviously the disciples are afraid because of the storm!

But Jesus was not obtuse; indeed, He was the most perceptive of all men. He certainly understood why His disciples were afraid, and so His question must have been about something else. He wasn’t seeking information; rather, He was prompting transformation.

The second part of Jesus’ statement is telling, as He calls His disciples “you of little faith.” Tied to His question in this way, the implication is clear: if the disciples had more faith, they would not be afraid! Jesus’ disciples had just witnessed His marvelous power in a variety of different situations. This should have bolstered their faith and enabled them to realize that their Teacher was more powerful than the storm which threatened them!

Currently, our world is under siege by a viral pandemic. Millions are sick; hundreds of thousands have died. Millions more have lost jobs, or at least had their incomes diminished. Virtually all of us have had our lives altered in some way. Our plans have been canceled, we are stuck in our homes, we are having to distance ourselves from family and friends. Our worship routines have been disrupted.

What is unique about the current situation is only the scope of the storm; the reality is that, in a variety of ways, we are constantly buffeted by the storms of this life, and the waves threaten to swamp us:

  • A middle-aged man learns that he has been laid off from his job and is plagued by financial uncertainty as he wonders how he will provide for his family.
  • A woman learns that her husband of twenty years, the love of her life, has been carrying on an affair with another woman.
  • Two young parents learn that their infant son has a genetic condition which will greatly limit his life.
  • A single mother of two teenage boys is diagnosed with stage four cancer and told that there is no hope.
  • A house fire destroys a family’s home and all of their earthly possessions.

When the storms of life come, like the disciples, our tendency is to run to Jesus and ask Him to save us. And I wonder if He responds similarly: “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?”

It’s not that Jesus doesn’t understand our storms—the good news of the Incarnation is that Jesus stepped into the human condition in a unique way. He understands our fears, our trials, and our heartaches. He sympathizes with our weaknesses (Hebrews 4.15). But the same Jesus also says, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16.33b).

The Christ who calms storms knows what frightens us, but He also asks us to realize: truly, ultimately, with Jesus on our side, the scary things of life aren’t scary! He is more powerful than the storm!

Lord, increase our faith!

The Full Tomb

Christianity is, fundamentally, about an empty tomb. Following His crucifixion, Jesus was raised from the dead, and as I have written before, this changes everything. This is the central feature of the Christian faith, and the veracity of any of Christianity’s claims depend upon this, first. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15 that if Jesus wasn’t raised from the dead, then our faith is worthless.

Having said all of that, I think we are sometimes so quick to emphasize the empty tomb that we fail to truly appreciate that there was a time—even if it was a relatively brief time—when the tomb wasn’t empty. It was occupied. It contained the beaten, battered body of Jesus, and the shattered hopes and dreams of His followers.

We like to rush from the crucifixion to the resurrection, and I guess that makes sense, because the in-between time wasn’t easy. For those who had left all they had to follow Jesus, a Jesus in the tomb meant that they had backed the wrong horse; they had gambled everything and lost. The One who they thought was the long-awaited Messiah was just another in a long line of failures.

We live in an in-between time, too, and it isn’t easy, either.

The resurrection of Jesus is the first-fruits of our own, and points ahead to a time when sin, Satan, and death will be defeated, and every tear will be wiped from our eyes. But in the present, many of us mourn beside tombs that are as full as the tomb of Jesus was prior to His vacating it. Many of us stumble through our days, staggering under the weight of shattered hopes and dreams.

Just as Sunday came for the disciples of Jesus, and Jesus Himself was vindicated as the risen Savior when it did, so, we, too, await the coming of a Someday when our faith will become sight, and all of God’s faithful will rise as Jesus did.

But until then, it is worth reflecting on the fact that there are many full tombs, that evil maintains a foothold in our world, and that we weep with those who weep.

Resurrection is coming, but you have to wade through the in-between time first.

Scripture As Story: Jesus, the New Moses

Introduction

Today we continue our series on Scripture As Story, where we are emphasizing that the Bible is literature, and that we read the Bible better and more faithfully when we keep that in mind.

Last time, we looked at some specific techniques that we see the authors of Scripture using to help them tell their stories and share their teachings about God in a more compelling way. Today, I want to apply that understanding by using a case study to show how reading the Bible as literature and paying attention to the literary techniques that the Biblical authors use can actually help us to better understand the important lessons they are trying to teach us.

Specifically in this post, we are going to look at the connections that the writers of the Gospels (especially Matthew) make between Moses and Jesus, and what we can learn from those connections.[1] In Deuteronomy 18.15-16, Moses says that God was going to “raise up a prophet like me from among” Israel, and the Gospel writers go out of their way to connect Jesus to this prophecy, and claim that Jesus was, indeed, the prophet like Moses.

In John 1.21, 25, John the Baptist is asked if he is this prophet, and he says he’s not, but that he is preparing the way for Someone who is greater than he. In John 1.45, Philip tells Nathanael about Jesus, and says that He is the One “of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote.”

In Acts, Luke is even more explicit. In Acts 3.19-22:

“Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago. Moses said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers. You shall listen to him in whatever he tells you.”

Matthew doesn’t explicitly connect Jesus back to Deuteronomy 18, but he actually goes to greater lengths than the other Gospel writers to show the connections between Jesus and Moses. It is generally acknowledged that Matthew is writing to a primarily Jewish audience, and that He is concerned with connecting Jesus to the story of Israel, and one of the way’s he is going to do that is by repeatedly making comparisons between Jesus and Moses. 

Comparing Jesus and Moses

As we look at the way that Scripture presents the lives of Moses and Jesus, what are some similarities that we notice? I don’t claim that this is an exhaustive list, but take a look at the significant overlap between the way Scripture portrays their lives:

Moses Jesus
An evil king (Pharaoh) killed all the male Hebrew babies, but he was saved (Exodus 1.22) An evil king (Herod) tried to kill all the male babies around Bethlehem, but He was saved (Matthew 2.16)
He was hidden from Pharaoh (Exodus 2.2) An angel said to hide Him from Herod (Matthew 2.13)
Fled from Egypt, but later returned (Exodus 2.15; 4.18) Fled to Egypt, but later return to Israel (Matthew 2.13-23)
Gave up the riches and benefits of Egypt (Hebrews 11.24-26) Gave up the riches and benefits of Heaven (John 1.1-3; Philippians 2.5-8)
Became a shepherd (Exodus 3.1) Described Himself as the Good Shepherd (John 10.11)
His mission: redeem Israel from slavery to Egypt His mission: redeem humanity from slavery to sin
Often rejected by his own people Often rejected by His own people
Judged the people (Exodus 18.13-23) Will judge all people (Matthew 7.21-23; 25.31-46)
Goes up on a mountain to receive God’s law (Exodus 20-31) Goes up on a mountain to give God’s law (Matthew 5-7)
Fasted for 40 days on the mountain (Exodus 24.18) Fasted for 40 days in the wilderness (Matthew 4.2)
Performed signs/miracles Performed signs/miracles
Mediator of the covenant through the blood of young bulls (Exodus 24.8) Mediator of the covenant through His own blood (Matthew 26.28)
Delivers the five books of the Torah (Genesis-Deuteronomy) Delivers five extended sets of teaching/instruction (Matt. 5-7, 10, 13, 18, 24-25)
Lifted up the bronze snake in the wilderness (Numbers 21.9) In a similar way, He Himself was “lifted up” (John 3.14)
Commissions Joshua Commission disciples

Perhaps you find yourself thinking, “Well, that this is an interesting list, but what does it mean? How does this list of comparisons help us better understand who Jesus is?”

Why It Matters

What all of these comparisons help us to see is that, similar to Moses, Jesus is a multi-faceted character, and we better understand who Jesus is and what He came to accomplish if we can appreciate the many different roles that He fulfilled.

Liberator

The primary reason that we know about Moses in the first place is that God recruits him to liberate the people of Israel, who are helplessly trapped in the bonds of Egyptian slavery. Moses is a liberator.

Jesus, too, is a liberator, who came to earth on a mission to set people free from slavery, a slavery not from some oppressive foreign government or tyrant, but slavery from sin (Romans 6.6-7, 17-18).

Jesus liberates us from the power of sin.

Prophet

We actually began our discussion in Deuteronomy, where Moses says that a prophet like himself would come, and that this is Jesus.

Jesus was the ultimate prophet. A lot of times, when we hear the word “prophet” we think of someone who has a crystal ball or something and who can predict the future, but really, that is not a very helpful image when we talk about prophets in the Bible. Sure, at times, they predicted future events, and certainly Jesus did that, but the primary job of a prophet was to deliver a message to the people on behalf of God. Most of the time it wasn’t about the future; it was about what was going on right then that God wanted them to know.

And Jesus was the ultimate prophet; in a way that had never been done before or since, He fully revealed the message of God: who God is, what God is like, and what God wants from His people. 

Jesus was the prophet of prophets.

Lawgiver

Of course, one of the main things we associate with Moses is the giving of the 10 Commandments. God passed His law on to Moses on Mt. Sinai, and it was Moses’ job to share that with the people.

As we have already discussed, in Matthew 5, Jesus goes “up on a mountain” and there, He delivers teaching/instruction/law to His disciples.[2] He tells them that He did not come to abolish the Old Law but to fulfill it, and then He goes on to present Himself as the ultimate Lawgiver: “you have heard that it was said, but I say to you…”

Jesus is the One with authority—final authority—to interpret God’s Law. He is the Lawgiver—the One to whom we must listen.

Shepherd

Certainly Moses was literally a shepherd before God recruited him to lead the people of Israel, but after he became their leader he did so as a shepherd, willing to offer his own life up for them.

Similarly, Jesus is our Good Shepherd. He guides us, and provides for us, but also takes care of us and protects us, ultimately offering up Himself on our behalf.

Miracle Worker

Through the power of God, Moses accomplished great signs and wonders: the plagues in Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea, getting water from the rock. These were miracles that showed the great power of God, proved the identity of Moses as God’s representative, and brought about relief to suffering people.

Jesus, too, is presented as a great worker of miracles. He fed the hungry, healed the sick, cast out demons, stilled storms, and brought people back from the dead. These miracles showed God’s power, they testified to Jesus’ identity as the Messiah and Son of God, and they brought about relief to suffering people. They showed people what God’s kingdom was like, and they were a taste of New Creation.

Jesus was a Miracle Worker.

Intercessor

We noted earlier about Moses mediating the covenant through the blood of young bulls. More than that, after the people of Israel sinned by worshipping the Golden Calf and God wanted to wipe them out, Moses directly interceded with God on their behalf, offering to take punishment for them.

Jesus is portrayed as the ultimate intercessor. He mediates the covenant through the sacrifice of Himself and intercedes for us. The wages of sin is death (Romans 6.23), but Jesus takes that payment for us. As 2 Corinthians 5.21 says, “God made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf…”

Jesus is the intercessor.

Commissioner

When I hear the word commissioner I think of the chief official of Major League Baseball or the NBA or NFL because that is the title that they use, but that’s not the idea here. A commissioner is someone who gives a commission—a task to be completed by those who come after.

At the end of his life, Moses commissions Joshua to carry on his mission. He tells Joshua to lead the people into the promised land and take possession of it and to keep the commandments when they are there. Joshua is assured that he can carry out this commission because God will be with him.

Jesus relays the ultimate commission. He tells His disciples to go into all the world—the Christian mission is a great one, it knows no geographical limits or bounds. As Christians, we are not told that we will inherit a small strip of land in Palestine, but rather, that we will inherit the earth. The kingdom of God is to be spread in all parts of the world. Further, Jesus tells them to observe all that He has commanded, and Jesus gives His disciples confidence that they can complete this mission, telling them that He Himself will be with them.

Jesus is the ultimate commissioner.

Judge

In Exodus 18, we have the story of Moses judging the people. When the people had a dispute, they would bring it before Moses and he would apply God’s law to these situations. But the task of judging the people is overwhelming for Moses, and his father-in-law Jethro actually advises him to get some help to share the burden.

Jesus is the judge in the ultimate sense—not settling the petty earthly disputes between people, but instead determining their eternal destinations. He says that not all who call Him Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven, but rather, they who do the will of God (Matthew 7.21). He further states that the way we treat other people, especially the “least of these”—the poor, the outcast, the oppressed—reflects how we treat Jesus, and affects our eternal destinies.

Jesus is the ultimate judge.

Conclusion

The Gospel writers—especially Matthew—go to great pains to make comparisons between Jesus and Moses. This is not a coincidence; by comparing Jesus to Moses, a man who fulfilled so many different roles in the early days of the history of the people of Israel, the New Testament shows us the many different roles Jesus plays.

There are many, many people in the world today who want to hold Jesus up as a great moral teacher or a man with brilliant insight, maybe even a prophet in some sense, but who want to stop at that point. But the Gospels go to great literary lengths to establish that Jesus is much more than this:

  • Jesus is the liberator who sets us free from the slavery of sin.
  • Jesus is the prophet who fully revealed the message of God.
  • Jesus is the lawgiver who has the final authority to interpret God’s law.
  • Jesus is the shepherd who guides us, provides for us, and lays down His life for us.
  • Jesus is the miracle worker who shows the power of God and brings relief to those who are suffering, giving them a taste of new creation.
  • Jesus is the intercessor who mediates the covenant for us, and receives the punishment that we deserve.
  • Jesus is the commissioner who extends to us the mission of expanding the borders of God’s kingdom throughout the world.
  • Jesus is the judge who determines the eternal destinies of all people.

In addition to all of these roles, the Bible goes even further: Jesus is God’s Son, God in the flesh Himself. In this sense, Jesus cannot be compared to Moses, nor to anyone else. He is absolutely unique.

In the Story of Scripture, this is the character of Jesus, and His characterization has radical implications for our lives: Jesus is God’s Son, He is the one who interprets God’s law, He died on our behalf, and He is the One who will judge how we have lived our lives and will determine our eternal destinies—how we respond to Jesus makes all the difference.


[1]I am by no means the first person to notice the connections between Jesus and Moses, and in fact, several books have been written on the topic.

Some articles that were helpful to me in the composition of this blog post include Garrett Best, “Jesus As The New Moses,” Ministry of Study, https://ministryofstudy.wordpress.com/2014/10/06/jesus-as-the-new-moses/ (accessed October 9, 2018); Cale Clarke, “Is Jesus a “Second Moses”?,” Catholic Answers, https://www.catholic.com/magazine/online-edition/is-jesus-a-second-moses (accessed October 9, 2018); “In what ways was Moses like Jesus?,” Got Questions, https://www.gotquestions.org/Moses-and-Jesus.html (accessed October 9, 2018).

[2]We typically translate the Hebrew word torah as “Law”, but a better translation would probably be something like “teaching” or “instruction.” It feels weird to say that Jesus was delivering “Law” in the Sermon on the Mount, but He was certainly giving teaching and instruction. Like Moses, He was delivering Torah.

Pardon, Not Acquittal: Jesus and the Woman Caught in Adultery

Introduction

One of my favorite stories in Scripture is found in our modern Bibles in John 8, and is generally referred to as something like “Jesus and the Woman Caught in Adultery.” I love this story because it is a good example of how Jesus was so different from what people expected, and how He always did the right thing in any given situation.

Maybe you are like me: there are so many times in life when I find myself in a situation where I simply do not know what to do. Maybe I don’t know how to answer a certain question, or respond to a problem that someone is having, or face a crisis in my own life. I want to do the right thing, I want to do the thing that honors God, but sometimes, in the moment, it can be hard to have the wisdom to know what that thing is.

But not with Jesus. He often had people intentionally trying to put Him in impossible situations, but He would always know the right thing to do or say.

And that is certainly the case in this story.

Does This Story Belong In the Bible?

Before we launch into examining the story itself, we first need to answer the question, “Does this belong in the Bible?” And that might seem like a crazy question at first, because, after all, it is in our Bibles, so surely it belongs there…right?

We don’t have the original editions of the Bible. Instead, what we have are thousands and thousands of handwritten copies called manuscripts. We have fragments that date back to the early second century, but the best comprehensive manuscripts we have that contain most or all of the New Testament date back to the fourth and fifth centuries.

Compared to other ancient works, this is incredible. There are some ancient works of famous philosophers or poets of which we may only have a handful of copies, but there are thousands and thousands of biblical manuscripts. There are a lot of differences between the different manuscripts because they were copied down by hand, but since there are so many copies, we can compare them and with a very high degree of accuracy, determine what the original text said.

The study of these manuscripts is called textual criticism, and the earlier manuscripts are better, because they are closer to the original copies of the books of the New Testament, and thus give us a more accurate picture of what the original documents said.

The vast majority of differences between manuscripts are differences in things like spelling (basically the modern equivalent of a typo) where it is still very obvious what is supposed to be said. There are only a handful of places in the New Testament where there is a whole verse or verses that we are not sure about, and even in those, there is no point of doctrine that is compromised either way. So the biblical text that we have is very reliable.

But the story of the Woman Caught in Adultery, found in John 7.53-8.11, is one of those instances where different manuscripts disagree with one another. In most modern Bibles, John 7.53-8.11 will be included in brackets with a note next to it that says something like, “the earliest manuscripts do not include John 7.53-8.11.” What’s going on here?

The problem is that the earliest and best manuscripts we have do not put this story after John 7.52. Some do not contain the story at all, other manuscripts place it after John 21.25, one manuscript puts it after John 7.36, and some actually put it in the Gospel of Luke, after 21.38 (keep that in mind). So in this case, textual criticism tells us that this story about Jesus and the woman caught in adultery was almost certainly not originally at the end of John 7 and beginning of John 8.

But just because we don’t think this story is in the right place doesn’t mean that it isn’t a true story. It seems authentic; it certainly seems in keeping with the character of Jesus as we read in other places. It is referred to in other writings outside of the New Testament, so we know that it was a very early story, known in the second century.[1]

Some have suggested that this was preserved as a true story about Jesus, but wasn’t attached to a specific gospel, so different scribes who copied the manuscripts by hand added it at different places.

I think there is pretty good evidence that it was originally written by Luke. If you remember, earlier I mentioned that this story is included in some manuscripts of Luke, after Luke 21.38 (and if you look, it actually fits quite well there). But also, the theme, vocabulary, and style of writing in this story are more common to the books of Luke-Acts than they are the rest of John.[2] Luke’s gospel reflects a special interest on women, as this story obviously does, and there are various words and expressions used in this story that don’t appear elsewhere in John, but appear multiple times in Luke-Acts.[3]

But if Luke wrote this, why is it not in the earliest and most comprehensive manuscripts?

Well, Luke tells us at the beginning of his gospel (Luke 1.1-3) that he compiled his account of the life of Jesus based on the testimony of eyewitness accounts and that he took what he had collected and wrote it down. Luke would have compiled notes that he later collected and collated into a full text, sort of like if you can imagine having a folder with all of these stories of miracles and teachings of Jesus that you take and then compile together on one scroll.

This particular story fits in very well after Luke 21.38 (where it is in some manuscripts) but this point in Luke’s Gospel is also right before his telling of the betrayal, death, and resurrection of Jesus—the central elements of the Jesus story.

Luke’s Gospel in its current form is just about the right size for a typical ancient scroll, so it’s possible that Luke removed this story from his Gospel simply for the practical reason that he saw that he was running out of writing room, and he wanted to make sure that he covered the most important stuff.[4]

The story of Jesus and the Woman caught in adultery was still preserved as important and authentic, and was apparently widespread, which is how it got added to so many manuscripts in different places. None of this should make us uncomfortable or worried about the accuracy of our Bibles, but it should remind us that while the Bible is inspired by God, it is also a human product that God uses to reveal Himself to us.

The True Colors of the Pharisees

So while this story doesn’t really fit in the Gospel of John, I feel very confident that it is authentic, and that it fits in our Bibles. Let’s examine it more closely:

Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them.

The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?”

This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him.

Here the Pharisees, the supposed keepers of the Law, slip up and show themselves to be less concerned with the integrity of the Law than they are in trapping Jesus in a difficult situation. You see, the Law of Moses did require that a woman caught in adultery be put to death, but it also required the same punishment for the man (Leviticus 20.10; Deuteronomy 22.22). Since the woman was “caught in the act of adultery,” the Pharisees clearly knew who the other guilty party was, and by not bringing him forward for punishment, showed that they weren’t too concerned with what the Law said.

Furthermore, despite what the Law said, “there is little evidence that it was carried out very often in first-century Palestine, especially in urban areas.”[5] Part of the reason for this is that the Jews were under Roman authority, and didn’t have the legal authority to execute people on their own (we see this again in the execution of Jesus).

So the Pharisees likely had no intention of executing the woman and weren’t really concerned about the Law of Moses. Instead, they were trying to trap Jesus between a rock and a hard place, forcing Him to either disregard the Law of Moses, or be the one who pronounced the woman’s death sentence (and thus, likely cause problems for him with the Roman authorities).

Jesus has been placed in a hard situation; out of nowhere, He is surrounded by an angry mob, asking Him to perform some on-the-spot biblical interpretation with massive implications. What is the right thing to do? How will He respond?

Writing on the Ground

Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground.

Twice in this passage, it specifically mentions Jesus stooping down to write with His finger on the ground. It’s an interesting detail that is included, and helps the scene come to life for the reader. It is also one of the little characteristics of this story that make it seem genuine. Seeing that Jesus wrote on the ground but not necessarily knowing what it is that He wrote—this is the sort of detail that an eyewitness would remember and share.

Scholars and commentators have pounced on this little detail over the years and offered various interpretations of it:

  • Some have suggested that Jesus was writing out the 10 Commandments.
  • Some have argued that this was a direct reference to Jeremiah 17.13, where those who forsake God are “written in the dust”, and that Jesus is making a specific judgment against the Pharisees.
  • Some have proposed that the words Jesus writes are actually the specific sins of the scribes and Pharisees who have brought the adulterous woman before Him.

All of these suggestions (and others have been made as well) are interesting and, I guess, possible, but ultimately, we aren’t told what it is that Jesus writes on the ground. Personally, I’ve always been inclined to think that perhaps Jesus didn’t write anything of consequence on the ground at all, but just the act itself and the pause it produced helped to diffuse the energy and volatility of the situation and made the Pharisees more prepared to hear and respond to what Jesus says.

Sometimes when we find ourselves in a difficult situation, or perhaps when someone says something to us that just sets us off and makes our blood boil, the most important thing that we can do is to do nothing right then. Instead, the wise course of action is to take a deep breath and slow our heart rate before we respond (if we respond at all!).

Jesus says that He who is without sin is to cast the first stone. This is a reference to Deuteronomy 13.9 and 17.7—it is the witnesses of the crime who must be the first to throw the stones, and they cannot have been participants in the crime itself.[6]

So Jesus puts it back on those who were trying to trap Him: which of the woman’s accusers felt confident enough in their own sinlessness that they would take up the stone and begin the execution?

Pardon vs. Acquittal

But none of them do.

But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him.

Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

She said, “No one, Lord.”And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”

The story of Jesus and the Woman caught in Adultery ends on a high note, as Jesus’ response to the Pharisees leaves them speechless. Seemingly, He awakens their consciences, and in shame, the slink away, realizing that they are in no place to pronounce judgment upon the woman.

“Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

“No one, Lord.”

“Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”

Of course, Jesus is the One who is without sin, and is the One who actually has the right and authority to pronounce judgment. But He doesn’t condemn her. In fact, this is in keeping with the reason Jesus came into the world:

“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

(John 3.17)

Jesus came on a rescue mission to seek and save those who were lost.

And what Jesus says here is incredibly important—Jesus pardons the woman, but He doesn’t say that her sin doesn’t matter or that it isn’t a big deal. Instead, He specifically addresses the sin—by telling her to “sin no more,” He indicates that He knew that she was indeed guilty of adultery and that she needed to change her life.

Which leads to an important idea that is central to the Gospel—Jesus offers us pardon, not acquittal:

  • If someone is acquitted of a crime, then they are declared to be “not guilty.” No punishment is due that person, because no sentence of guilt was passed.
  • If someone is pardoned of a crime, then they have been found guilty, but the punishment for the crime is taken away.

This is a central element to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus doesn’t come to us and say, “Your sin is not a big deal; no crime has been committed, you are innocent.” Instead, He says, “Your sin is significant; it must be paid for, but you don’t have to pay the price.

Our sin is such a big deal that Jesus paid the price for it on the cross; because of that sacrifice, pardon can be offered to the adulterous woman, and to the rest of us as well. And when we receive that pardon for our sins and appreciate it, we should be motivated, as Jesus told the woman, to go and sin no more.

Conclusion

The story of the woman caught in adultery is an interesting one. It presents textual problems, and we may be unsure of exactly where it fits in Scripture. But what a powerful story it is, and what important lessons it teaches us.

It teaches us about the nature of Jesus’ enemies. They were less interested in keeping God’s word than they were in trying to entrap Him. And in a similar way, we may find ourselves at times in difficult situations not because other people are trying to do the right thing, but because they are actively trying to cause problems for us.

This passage also teaches us something about how to respond to difficult situations. Jesus, the wisest of all men, doesn’t explode or react impulsively. Instead, He takes His time and calmly responds, diffusing the situation while applying biblical truth with clarity and grace.

And perhaps most of all, it shows us something about the kind of judge that Jesus, the Judge of all the World, is: He is looking to save, not to condemn. I think many people have an idea of God where He is distant and removed, watching us closely and just waiting for us to mess up so He can zap us. But this is not the picture of God that the Bible repeatedly offers. God is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. God does not wink at sin or pretend that it doesn’t matter, but He is eager to pardon it, and He paid the price for it, Himself.

Each of us stands guilty in the sense that we have been convicted of sin in our lives. That is unquestionable. So the only real question is, have we received the pardon that God offers?


[1]Frank Pack, The Gospel According to John, Part I, The Living Word Commentary (Austin, TX: Sweet Publishing, 1975), 136.

[2]Ibid., 136; D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary Series (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 334; http://www.tektonics.org/af/adulterypericope.php

[3]“Mount of Olives”, “scribes and Pharisees,” “eldest,” “accusers,” “early,” “all of the people”

[4] http://www.tektonics.org/af/adulterypericope.php

[5]Carson, 335.

[6]Ibid., 336.

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