A Stone’s Throw Away
“The movie Les Misérables, based on the novel by Victor Hugo, opens with a vagabond curled up on a stone bench on a desolate French street corner. His bedraggled appearance makes him seem dangerous and causes the townspeople, from whom he sought food and shelter, to snub him. Finally, he slumps over in dejection—until a passerby points to a place where he can find refuge.
He goes to the door and knocks. The homeowner, the town's bishop, is startled by the late-night visitation but attentively listens to his story. His name is Jean Valjean, and he reveals that he is a recently released convict and marked by the authorities as dangerous. Even so, the bishop welcomes him into his home and serves him dinner.
Later, in the middle of the night, despite the bishop's kindness, Valjean double-crosses him. Valjean remembers the sparkling silver spoon he used to eat his soup at dinner and sneaks to the dining room to steal the bishop's valuable silverware. The clanking of metal arouses the bishop, who rises to inspect the clattering below. When they meet face to face, Valjean strikes the bishop, leaving him unconscious, and escapes with a heavy knapsack of silver.
The following morning the bishop's domestic servant laments the loss of her silver, but the bishop seems unperturbed, telling his domestic servant, ‘So we'll use wooden spoons. I don't want to hear anything more about it.’ Moments later, authorities appear at the bishop's manor with the stolen silver and Valjean handcuffed.
Looking deeply into the thief's eyes, the bishop says, ‘I'm very angry with you, Jean Valjean.’ Turning toward the authorities, he asks, ‘Didn't he tell you he was our guest?’
‘Oh, yes,’ replies the chief authority, ‘after we searched his knapsack and found all this silver. He claimed that you gave it to him.’
Stooping in shame, Valjean expects the bishop to indict him. A new prison sentence awaits him. But the bishop says, ‘Yes. Of course I gave him the silverware.’ Then, looking intently at Valjean he asks, ‘But why didn't you take the candlesticks? That was very foolish. They're worth at least 2,000 francs. Why did you leave them? Did you forget to take them?’
The bishop orders his domestic servant to hurry and fetch the candlesticks, while the authorities stand dumbfounded. They ask, ‘Are you saying he told us the truth?’
The bishop replies, ‘Of course. Thank you for bringing him back. I'm very relieved.’
The authorities immediately release Valjean, who is shocked by the turn of events, and the bishop thrusts the retrieved candlesticks into Valjean's knapsack.
Once the authorities leave, the bishop drops the heavy bag of silver at Valjean's feet. After peeling away Valjean's hood, which was cloaking his guilty face, the bishop sternly looks him in the eyes and orders Valjean, ‘Don't forget don't ever forget you've promised to become a new man.’
Valjean, trembling, makes the promise and with utter humility asks, ‘Why are you doing this?’
The bishop places his hands on Valjean's shoulders, as an act of blessing, and declares, ‘Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belong to evil. With this silver, I've bought your soul. I've ransomed you from fear and hatred. Now I give you back to God.’”
Les Misérables, rated PG-13, released 1998, based on the novel by Victor Hugo; written by Rafael Yglesias, directed by Bille August; submitted by Melissa Parks, Des Plaines, Illinois
The bishop could have condemned Jean Valjean instead of showing him compassion. He was probably a stone’s throw away from doing just that, but he understood the power of forgiveness.
Ford Bronco II
My father bought a Ford Bronco II brand new, perhaps a year or two before we moved from PA to AL
He really liked the style of the vehicle
It was the vehicle I learned to drive in, because it was stick shift and not automatic
That was perhaps the greatest thing my father could have done for me in learning to drive – starting me off in a stick shift
When I worked for Chick-fil-A in AL we had to park in the upper parking lot of the mall
We were the last ones to leave the mall, because we had to clean the entire restaurant before we left
The security guards would lock the gate to the upper parking lot before we were finished working
So, they would send one person out to bring everyone’s vehicle down to the lower parking lot
One evening they asked a young lady to bring the vehicle down
I asked her if she knew how to drive stick shift
She promised me that she did
Long story short, she drove the Ford Bronco II forward into the cement base of a light post that I was parked in front of
I was scared to death to call my father, because I knew how much he liked that vehicle
His response to my phone call was one of forgiveness and compassion – he was more concerned that I was alright and that the young lady was fine
I’ll never forget the compassion I received when I expected condemnation
Compassion instead of condemnation
Think of a time when you received compassion instead of the expected condemnation
The narrative that we’re going to look at today is not found in the earliest and most reliable manuscripts and other ancient witnesses. The writing style is more like Luke than John. Borchert calls it “a text looking for a context.” [Borchert, The New American Commentary, John 1-11, 369]. With that said it has been included in most modern translations with a side note or footnote. The principles found in this narrative are in line with Jesus’ teachings and heart. He will be challenging the religious leaders to examine themselves. They have “examined” the woman and have passed judgment on her without first examining themselves. Their focus was on trapping Jesus, so they could arrest Him. They thought that had the perfect scenario to trip Him up, but forget about their own sin. John wants us to understand, through this narrative, that . . .
BIG IDEA – Self-examination protects us from self-righteousness.
We’re just a stone’s throw away from doing the same thing the teachers of the law and Pharisees did with the woman caught in adultery – self-righteous condemnation.
GOD (John 7:57-8:11)
Accommodations (vv. 5:53-8:2)
This was a regular pattern for Jesus
Luke helps us to understand the pattern
Luke 21:37, Each day Jesus was teaching at the temple, and each evening he went out to spend the night on the hill called the Mount of Olives, and all the people came early in the morning to hear him at the temple.
Because this narrative is “a text looking for a context,” we can’t say that this happened right after the previous narrative in John 7:32-52
It may have happened at a later time, so we have to take it as a separate unit of thought
With that said, we are told that each person, in the crowd at the temple courts, went to his or her own home
These were residence of Jerusalem and, therefore, they were able to return to their own homes after listening to Jesus preach
Their accommodations were nearby, probably within the city limits
Jesus did not have a home in Jerusalem, so we see that He went to the Mount of Olives
Matthew and Luke both record Jesus’ teaching on the cost of following Him
“Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” (Matthew 8:20; Luke 9:58)
Two thoughts about going to the Mount of Olives
He certainly could have just slept on the Mount of Olives, perhaps under the cleft of a rock
It’s possible that He may not have slept at all, but rather prayed
He did that often as Luke records, But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed (Luke 5:16)
He prayed all night before calling the apostles (Luke 6:12-18)
He prayed at night in the Garden of Gethsemane prior to His arrest (Luke 22:39-46)
It is also possible that He stayed with Lazarus, Mary, and Martha in Bethany
He knew that He was always welcome in their home
Bethany was only 1.5 miles east of Jerusalem on the south-eastern slope of the Mount of Olives [show map]
So, everyone had gone home for the evening, but they were up early, at dawn, and back at the temple courts for more of Jesus’ teaching
It wasn’t unusual for the teachers of the law and the Pharisees to be hanging around, since they were the “religious professionals,” charged with teaching the law to the crowds
On this day they were there to challenge Jesus and hopefully entrap Him
Accusations (vv. 8:3-6a)
There are a couple of key indicators in the text that help us know certain things about the woman
She was probably betrothed (engaged) to be married
Deuteronomy 22:22-24, If a man is found sleeping with another man’s wife, both the man who slept with her and the woman must die. You must purge the evil from Israel. If a man happens to meet in a town a virgin pledged to be married and he sleeps with her, you shall take both of them to the gate of that town and stone them to death – the girl because she was in a town and did not scream for help, and the man because he violated another man’s wife. You must purge the evil from among you.
Notice that there is a distinction between a married woman and an engaged woman
In both cases the man and the woman are to be put to death, but with the married woman the form of death is not prescribed
With the man, and the woman pledged to be married, the form of death is stoning
The Mishnah was the oral law in Jesus’ day and it differentiated between an engaged woman and a married woman, “the offence in the first instance [adultery with an engaged woman], is punishable by stoning (it is viewed as the more serious of the two), and the second by strangling.” [bracketed text added, Carson, The Pillar New Testament Commentary, The Gospel According to John, 335]
So, it is probable that this woman was engaged to be married and had been unfaithful to her fiancé
She was guilty
She did not deny the charge
She did not try to plead her innocence
She was not valued by the religious leaders
This was not unusual in the 1st Century, because women were not considered trustworthy to testify in a court of law
It’s evident in the fact that the religious leaders didn’t bring the man to Jesus also
She was simply a pawn in their scheme to trap Jesus
They were not concerned about fairness at this point
We already know this to be true about the religious leaders
Last week we saw how they treated Nicodemus when he challenged them with their own law about “innocent until proven guilty” (John 7:51)
They were so blinded by their desire to eliminate Jesus that they would compromise their own laws in order to arrest Him and put Him to death
Fairness didn’t even have a seat at the table
If the woman had no value to them, then it wouldn’t be difficult to see how this was another trap set by the religious leaders to accomplish their goal
She was probably set up by the religious leaders
My guess is that the act of adultery was the same in the 1st Century as it is today
It’s not something that’s flaunted in public for all to see
It takes place behind closed doors in a location where perhaps neither of the parties involved are known
All attempts are made to conceal the sin of adultery, so that it will not be found out
Two witnesses required
The religious leaders are recommending death by stoning
This would have required two witnesses to the act of adultery
Deuteronomy 17:6, On the testimony of two or three witnesses a man shall be put to death, but no one shall be put to death on the testimony of only one witness.
Deuteronomy 19:15, One witness is not enough to convict a man accused of any crime or offense he may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.
“Boice claims, ‘Under such circumstances it is almost self-evident that the rulers must have arranged the liaison somewhat as a trap, having stationed the witnesses in the room or at the keyhole. It is a situation quite similar to the use of private investigators and photographers in order to prove adultery today’ (Boice, II, p. 315).” [Gangel, Holman New Testament Commentary, John, 159]
This guilty, devalued, engaged woman is brought before Jesus in an attempt to trap Jesus
The religious leaders tell Jesus that, the woman before Him, was caught in the act of adultery
I find it interesting that they quote only part of the Law that was given to Moses
They forget to mention that Moses told them that both the man and woman were to be stoned
Jesus is God, so He is the One who gave the Law to Moses
This again shows that the religious leaders did not recognize or did not want to acknowledge that Jesus was the Messiah – that would destroy their theology of the Messiah and everything they had learned and taught to others about the Messiah
The religious leaders are working so hard to find grounds to arrest Jesus that they are allowing a huge hole to remain in their accusation against this woman
Notice that Jesus doesn’t address the gaping hole or the woman at this point, but rather begins writing on the ground
Awareness (vv. 8:6b-11)
Writing on the ground
There’s all kinds of speculation about what Jesus was writing on the ground
We’re not going to address that this morning, because it just doesn’t enhance the narrative or help with the principles that are found in this passage
The religious leaders are persistent
When someone thinks they have set the perfect trap they are eager to see it sprung
The Pharisees were confident that regardless of Jesus’ answer to their question, He would alienate Himself from one side or the other – He was caught!
If He said that the woman should be stoned, He would alienate Himself from sinners, which are the ones He came to save
He was known for His “compassion for the broken and disreputable, His quickness to forgive and restore, and His announcement of the life-transforming power bound up with the new birth” [Carson, 335]
His influence with sinners would be damaged, because they would not trust Him after this
If He said that the woman should not be stoned, He would alienate Himself from the Jews and the religious leaders
They would accuse Him of being light concerning the Law of Moses
While He was able to “argue” His way out of breaking the Sabbath law, He would not be able to do the same with the law concerning those caught in adultery
The law was clear!
What the religious leaders didn’t know is that their “perfect plan” was about to unravel
Jesus stood up and challenged them to examine themselves
We saw in Deuteronomy 17:6 that there had to be two or three witnesses before someone could be sentenced to death
Deuteronomy 17:7, The hands of the witnesses must be the first in putting him to death, and then the hands of all the people. You must purge the evil from among you.
It was a requirement that those who witnessed the evil/sin had to be present to throw the first stones
If anyone of you is without sin (fault), let him be the first to throw a stone at her
“They thought they could trip Jesus up due to his compassion. Jesus ignores their plan. He doesn’t address the law or this woman’s condition. He just tells them to go ahead and stone her, with one condition: as long as they were not guilty of breaking the law.” [Carter & Wredberg, Christ-Centered Exposition: Exalting Jesus in John, 184]
They had already broken the law, by not bringing both the man and woman together to be sentenced and stoned
If the witnesses were there and didn’t say anything to stop the couple from breaking the law, they would be guilty of corroborating with them
Carson claims, “It means, rather, that they must not be guilty of this particular sin.” [Carson, 336]
So Jesus could be saying to them, “you can throw the first stones if you’ve never committed adultery yourself.”
It’s so easy for us to recognize the sin in others that we struggle with in our own lives (lying, gossip, hatred, mistrust, pornography, disunity, stealing, etc.)
Michaels brings another important facet, of the heart, into the mix when he says, “. . . whoever takes on himself the role of witness-executioner must be confident before God that he is doing the right thing – hardly an unreasonable demand.” [Michaels, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, The Gospel of John, 498-99]
We have to make sure that our accusations of others are done for the right reasons and with the right heart attitude
Matthew and Luke record Jesus’ teaching about criticizing others
Matthew 7:1-5, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
Jesus is teaching the same principle in Matthew and Luke that He is teaching here in John
PRINCIPLE #1 – God desires that His people examine themselves first.
The teachers of the law and the Pharisees had to stop at this point and examine themselves
Were they able to say that they were without fault when it came to adultery in their own lives
Were they able to say that they had never broken any of the Law
Were they able to say that they were bringing this woman forward for the right reasons
I don’t know where you are today in your own life, but if you’re like me then you’ve struggled with judging others
We’re all probably just a stone’s throw away from condemning someone
We have to stop and do some self-examination so we can protect ourselves from self-righteousness
It’s easy to point the finger at others and blame them for the same things we’re prone to do ourselves
“So of all things, Christianity isn't supposed to be about gathering up the good people (shiny! happy! squeaky clean!) and excluding the bad people (frightening! alien! repulsive!) for the very simple reason that there aren't any good people … This goes flat contrary to the predominant image of [Christianity] existing in prissy, fastidious little enclaves, far from life's messier zones and inclined to get all ‘judgmental’ about them. Of course there are Christians like that … The religion certainly can slip into being a club or a cozy affinity group or a wall against the world. But it isn't supposed to be. What it's supposed to be is a league of the guilty.”
Francis Spufford, Unapologetic (HarperOne, 2013), pp. 45-48
Take a moment to think about an area of your life, right now, where you are condemning someone else
Take time to pray and ask the Lord to reveal any self-righteousness that needs to be confessed to Him
My Next Step Today Is To: Take time to do self-examination with the Lord, so I will be protected from self-righteousness.
Jesus gave the religious leaders and the crowd time to process His challenge
He gave them time to examine themselves
He stooped down and began writing on the ground again
Self-examination proved to be profitable
Those in the crowd, including the religious leaders, began to leave one at a time beginning with the older ones
This showed the wisdom and maturity that came with age
When confronted with their own sin and self-righteousness, they were able to see that they were at fault
We’re not told if the religious leaders repented at this point, but knowing the rest of Jesus’ story, we can only imagine that this self-examination only lasted a short while and self-righteousness returned
That doesn’t have to be the case with you
You don’t have to live a stone’s throw away from condemnation
You can repent and turn away from your self-righteous attitudes, actions, and feelings
PRINCIPLE #2 – God is pleased when His people confess and repent of their sin and self-righteousness.
My Next Step Today Is To: Confess and repent of my own self-righteousness.
Repentance opens the way for compassion instead of condemnation
What we see next is compassion instead of condemnation with Jesus and the woman
Jesus was the only One in the crowd that could condemn the woman caught in adultery
PRINCIPLE #3 – God is the only righteous judge.
Since He was only one person, He could not, by law, condemn her to death (there had to be two or three witnesses)
In His human state, He had not personally witnessed her act of adultery, therefore, He could not throw the first stone
The woman is aware that all of her accusers have left
Jesus asks her two questions
“Woman, where are they?”
“Has no one condemned you?”
Her reply is that no one has condemned her
Jesus tells her that He doesn’t condemn her either
PRINCIPLE #4 – God is compassionate and forgiving.
When we repent from our own self-righteousness we are able to be compassionate and forgiving
Perhaps there is someone or a group of people that you need to forgive today
If you’ve confessed and repented of your own self-righteousness, the next step is to show compassion for those you’ve been condemning, and forgive them
My Next Step Today Is To: Forgive the person or people I have been condemning.
Jesus challenges her to leave her life of sin
While Jesus is compassionate and forgiving towards the woman, He doesn’t let her off the hook
He isn’t judging her at this point, but He is holding her accountable
She was caught in the act of adultery, which is sin, so Jesus challenges her to leave that lifestyle and pursue a life of holiness and purity
The ball is in her court – what will she do?
Perhaps you’ve been struggling with self-righteousness and are a stone’s throw away from condemning someone and you need to confess and repent of that today
Maybe you’re ready to leave your self-righteousness behind and move towards compassion and forgiveness
That’s what the Lord has called every one of His people to do
During the closing song, I want to invite you to come forward and confess and repent of any self-righteousness you may be struggling with and ask the Lord to give you the power to forgive those you may be condemning or judging unfairly.
Gary M. Burge in his commentary explains that the woman caught in adultery “moves with shocking speed from death to life.”
“The sort of profile I have in mind is like that of Karla Faye Tucker, Karla Faye was twenty-three years old in June 1983, when she and her boyfriend (Daniel Garrett) broke into a Houston home in order to ‘case’ the house for a robbery. High on drugs for days, Tucker and Garrett ran into a couple in the home and murdered them with a hammer and a pickax. Both bodies had more than twenty stab wounds. Following their trial and conviction (which was widely reported around the United States), each received the death sentence. Garrett died in prison in 1993, but Tucker remained on death row for many more years.
Karla Faye Tucker’s story is more than one more senseless homicide because three months after her imprisonment, she became a Christian. A puppet ministry team came to her cell block, and since everyone else was going, she joined the crowed out of boredom. She stole a Bible at the meeting (not knowing they were free) and secreted it away that night in her cell. Later that night, she accepted Jesus into her heart. ‘When I did this,’ Karla wrote later, ‘the full and overwhelming weight and reality of what I had done hit me. I realized for the first time that night what I had done. I began crying that night for the first time in many years, and to this day, tears are a part of my life.’
The transformation of Karla’s life was tangible. Christ was alive in her. For over fourteen years she was a powerful Christian presence in the prison, in 1995 marrying the prison chaplain who worked with her (Dana Brown). Her life was gripped by the horror of what she had done. ‘I feel the pain of that night and I feel the pain that goes on every day with others because of what I did that night. I know the evil that was in me then, and I know that what took place that night was so horrible that only a monster could do it.’ Her life was hallmarked by the radiant joy of experiencing Jesus’ forgiveness.
In 1997 a date was set for Karla Faye’s execution: February 3, 1998. At once she was a media sensation. Was this conversion real? Would Texas execute its first woman since the Civil War? On January 14, 1998, Karla Faye was interviewed by Larry King on CNN. King tried to exploit the gruesome details of the 1983 murder (which Tucker resisted) and could not believe this was anything more than a ‘jailhouse conversion.’ Perplexed by her positive attitude weeks before her death, King asked, ‘Are you still up? You have to explain that to me a little more. It can’t just be God.’ Karla Faye responded simply, ‘Yes, it can. It’s called the joy of the Lord.’ Tough questions pressed Karla Faye to explain her feeling about the impending execution. She said she was calm and peaceful, and she hoped that the families of her victims would see her love and forgive her. Her only regret was that she could not continue a life of ministry within America’s prison systems.
On February 3, 1998, in Gatesville, Texas, Karla Faye Tucker was executed by lethal injection. Her final words spoke of love and forgiveness. Final appeals to the governor of Texas, George W. Bush, were fruitless. Appeals from Christians around the world fell on deaf ears.
Karla Faye’s conversion is poignant and helpful because the power of her Christian life was so directly tied to the power of her sin. She did not live a day without reflecting on her sin and on God’s forgiveness. She did not deny the crime any more than the woman caught in adultery denied her wrong-doing. In each case the possibilities for freedom from sin were the result, not of threat and law, but of forgiveness and love. Karla Faye was a changed person, and she demonstrated that change for fourteen years. The woman caught in adultery would be changed too because Christ set her free. Sadly, the parallel stops there. Jesus understood the power of grace and released the woman; the state of Texas did not, and Karla Faye was killed.”
[Burge, The NIV Application Commentary, John, 246-47].