It is a familiar passage. One that almost every Christian has become well acquainted with. A woman caught in adultery is brought to Jesus, to serve as bait. The pharisees and the scribes wanted to see if Jesus is going to break the Law of Moses. He seems to have broken too many laws by now. Working (healing) on Sabbath, eating and drinking with sinners… among others. Somehow, he has managed to cleverly get himself out of their entrapment tricks. But this is a big one. To speak against a law that required capital punishment would be outright heresy. There is no way that Jesus was possibly going to get himself out of this one. The law was black and white on adultery. Jesus had to agree with the law on this one:
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. 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. 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.” [John 8:4-11]
Jesus did not condemn the woman. At first, this may seem like a good, Christian, gracious thing to do. But what we often tend to miss in this passage is the sheer scandal of what just happened. No, the scandal was not that everyone, including the pharisees, turned out to be a sinner. The greater scandal was that Jesus did not obey his own command. He had said, “let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” Of course, Jesus was not literally among the crowd, so we can say that he did not include himself in that statement. But even so, there’s another fact about Jesus that makes his words worth revisiting; Jesus was without sin. Why didn’t He stone the woman? Why didn’t He cast the first stone?
We can argue that, not stoning the woman was the loving thing to do. It was the merciful and gracious thing to do. But what about justice? Was it just to let the sinner go unpunished? It would be unjust to let the sin go unpunished. But you see, the sin did not go unpunished. Even though Jesus did not cast the first stone, justice was still served. The sin was still punished.
The right punishment for the adultery was death. Jesus did not condemn the woman because he took her condemnation upon himself. He did not punish the woman because he took the punishment for her sin upon himself. He did not kill the woman because he gave his own life in place of the woman.
The one who was without sin did indeed cast the first stone; but the glorious message of this story is that He also intercepted it.
“The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)