Another Thanksgiving has passed, and I hope that you had the opportunity in the last week to pause and consider the people and things for which you are thankful. Truly, we have so much for which to be thankful. I’m thankful for many things, and one of those many things is the opportunity to write this blog with my sister. It has been an adventure, and we find ourselves humbled at the gracious response of those of you who read it.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, I could probably stop writing and just let this one speak for itself. However, since this blog is a place for writing, I will attempt to tell you why this picture has been on my heart for the last month or so.
This is a still shot of a scene from The Passion of the Christ. Let’s take a few moments to read about the moment that this picture captures.
“Early in the morning he (Jesus) 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. 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 8:2-11)
This woman was caught in the act of very sinful behavior, and she was hauled by her accusers to the center of a crowd that had gathered around Jesus. She was guilty as charged. We don’t read about her trying to deny the allegations or to justify herself. She was just thrust onto center stage by men who had already passed judgment on her. What they said was true. She was guilty of adultery, and the Mosaic law called for the death penalty.
“If a man is found lying with a married woman, then both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman, and the woman; thus you shall purge the evil from Israel.” (Deuteronomy 22:22)
Interestingly, we read nothing about the man who would’ve also been caught in the act. He is never mentioned here. The scribes and Pharisees seemed to be more interested in what Jesus would do with this woman. Notice that they were testing Him and looking for a reason to bring charges against Him.
Jesus’ response amazes me and captures my heart every time I read this. He didn’t rush to respond in the heat of the moment. He paused, bent down, and began writing on the ground. Don’t you wish you knew what He was writing? I sure do. For now, we don’t get to know. We just see His calm demeanor and His quiet wisdom. Of course, His silence wasn’t what the accusers were looking for, so they continued to press Him for an answer. So, He stood up and said, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” He didn’t overlook the woman’s sin, He didn’t deny the Old Testament penalty, but He sure did challenge those who called for her punishment. Wisdom, mercy, grace, and love on display. Then, He bent down again and just went back to writing.
Starting with the oldest, one by one the crowd left. Starting with the oldest – those who had sinned the most because they had been alive longer. Everyone left. How rare for Jesus to be left alone with someone! He was always pressed by crowds, but this time, they chose to walk away.
There was only one sinless person present that day. He was the One writing on the ground. He could have thrown stones, but that wasn’t what He chose to do. Instead, He asked her a question. Jesus was an expert at asking questions. He asked her, “Where are they? Has no one condemned you?” When she confirmed that none of her accusers remained, He spoke words of compelling grace and direction. “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”
When you ponder this account, with whom do you most identify?
Do you see yourself as one of the scribes or Pharisees who wants to make sure that sinners pay for the things they’ve done? Do you think of yourself as better than this woman – a person who makes better decisions than she did?
Are you one of the crowd? Are you content to watch the smug faces of the scribes and Pharisees as they expose this woman’s sin and hope for her demise? Would you be unwilling to offer your opinion either way and choose to just remain an anonymous bystander? Are you indifferent to another person’s need for mercy?
Do you see yourself in this woman? Are you a sinner, guilty as charged and unable to offer a reasonable defense before the sinless Son of God? Do you throw yourself at His feet knowing that you need His mercy more than anything else?
I know that there are times in my life that I have been in one of the first two groups of people – self-righteous in my condemnation of others in spite of my own sinfulness or indifferent and choosing to avoid conflict instead of taking a stand. Truth be told, I have to guard my heart against self-righteousness and indifference consistently.
That’s why the picture of this scene means so much to me. When I see the broken woman in that picture, I know with all of my heart that I am just like her.
When in the presence of the perfect, sinless Son of God, I am EXTREMELY aware of the guilt of my sins and my absolute need of His mercy. I can’t tell you how grateful I am that the One Who has never sinned also has never picked up a stone to throw at me. Instead, He took my sins upon Himself and paid for them at the cross.
“You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins. He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross.” (Colossians 2:13-14)
Remembering God’s mercy in my own life is a key to avoiding the sinful responses of self-righteousness and indifference. I’m just a sinner who has been rescued; therefore, I have no cause to look down on others as if I am better than they are. I need mercy; therefore, I extend mercy.
When I look at the woman in that picture, I see myself at the feet of Jesus – not afraid and begging for mercy, but FULL of gratitude and worship for His amazing grace. It’s where I want to live my life. At the feet of Jesus. Pouring my love, my gratitude, and my worship out to Him because He has forgiven me. Last week, when I was thinking of all the reasons I have to be thankful, I thought, “Every sin that has been forgiven is one more reason to thank Him.” This, this is why I love Him so much. I love His heart that found me in my sin and offered redemption instead of condemnation. He still offers those compelling words of grace and direction to all who recognize their need for His mercy. “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on, sin no more.”
Jesus, Your love and kindness continue to amaze me. I have many things to be thankful for, but most of all, I want to thank You. I don’t deserve love like Yours, but You love me anyway. You’ve seen every sin, and You’ve paid for them all. Because of Your sacrifice, I am forgiven. Help me to never lose the wonder of what that means. I want to live at Your feet in worship and gratitude. Please help me not to think of myself as better than others, but help me to be quick to extend Your love. Keep me from being indifferent when others are in need of mercy. Don’t let me forget that it was Your kindness that led me to repentance. Thank You for paying the debt that I could never pay. By Your grace, help me to walk in freedom from sin. Amen.