John 18:1-27 Study Notes

This morning I had the privilege of teaching on John 18:1-27.  This is a passage I had preached a sermon on some time ago, so the notes were the same and can be found by clicking here.

In addition to the notes, there was a sermon that proved very helpful by C.H. Spurgeon called ‘Human Inability’ and that can be located by clicking here. 

I hope you enjoy the notes!

PJW

1/20-1/27 Study Notes

Chapter 11

11:1 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. [2] It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill.

The Bethany mentioned here is not the one across the Jordan. Carson gives us the background:

This Bethany, lying on the east side of the Mount of Olives less than two miles from Jerusalem along the road to Jericho, has not been mentioned in the Fourth Gospel before, and must be distinguished from the Bethany of 1:28 and that alluded to in 10:40-42. That is why John characterizes it as the village of Mary and her sister Martha.

John’s editorial note in verse two that “it was Mary who anointed the Lord” helps us understand that John is assuming his readers would have heard of this story from the synoptic gospels. It could also be a literary/stylistic devise he is employing to prime the reader for more to come (namely in chapter 12).

11:3 So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.”

Boice makes a good point that the sisters don’t directly make an appeal to the Lord here for help, though that is almost certainly what their goal was..

I do not think that it is fair to say on this basis that no request was implied. Clearly there was the implication that they would like Jesus to come to their aid, and there was certainly the suggestion that he might help them by healing Lazarus. If this is not implied, there was no point even in sending Christ the message. But at the same time, we cannot miss feeling that when they phrased the report as the did – “Lord, the one you love is sick” – they indicated by the form of it that they were seeking his will rather than theirs in the matter.

I suppose it is also necessary to address the fact that some say that by the way Mary and Martha address Lazarus as the one “loved” by Christ, that Lazarus is perhaps the author of this gospel and not John – there are other times, of course, when the author refers to himself as the “beloved” of the Lord. But this argument unravels in several ways, not the least of which is that the word “love” here is phileo whereas the word the gospel writer uses to describe the Lord’s affection for him is agape.

Lastly, I think what is instructive about this verse is that the Lord spent His days on earth loving others. This was so apparent that it practically dominates the opening sections of this chapter. Christ called us to love our enemies (Matt. 5:43-48), and to love our neighbor/others (Mark 12:31). He was not a hypocrite in His teaching, He lived out this love – it was this love that motivated His every action and controlled His every move. It was out of love that He was sent to earth in the first place (Eph. 1:5 indicates His will for our adoption as sons).

11:4 But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

The Meaning of “Glorified”

What does it mean that God would be “glorified” through it? We see that Jesus is saying that the reason why Lazarus has been sick (at this point he has not died) is so that “the Son of God may be glorified.”

Usually we think of giving God glory by praising Him. But here Jesus is almost certainly referring to the revealing of His person/deity and not specifically seeking praise. To put it another way, He is not going to do the miracle so that He can receive praises from men, but rather to show men that He is praiseworthy. It is to provide further revelation of His character and being as the true Son of God.

D.A. Carson comments:

…the raising of Lazarus provides an opportunity for God, in revealing his glory, to glorify his Son, for it is the Father’s express purpose that all should honor the Son even as they honor the Father…The Father and the Son are mutually committed to the other’s glory.

Is that not fantastic?! MacArthur also finds this to be the central theme of the text in front of us:

The most important theme in the universe is the glory of God. It is the underlying reason for all God’s works, from the creation of the world, to the redemption of fallen sinners, to the judgment of unbelievers, to the manifestation of His greatness for all eternity in heaven…Everything God created gives Him flory – except fallen angels and fallen men. And even they, in a negative sense, bring Him glory, since He displays His holiness by judging them.

It is this revealing of God’s character through created things, through His plan, and through His Son that we are to focus on here. Specifically, of course, on the revealing of the glory of the Son, which MacArthur says, “blazes in this passage against a dark backdrop of rejection and hatred on the part of the Jewish leaders.”

The great signs (of which this is the 7th and final in John’s gospel) of this book point to the character of Jesus Christ and His true identity as the Son of God. They also provide us with a solid reason for faith in His word and in our future with Him. Likewise, the miracle that we’re about to read of bolstered the faith of the disciples and those who were near Christ. The primary reason for the miracle (to bring glory to God and Christ Jesus) leads to the secondary reason, the bolstering of our faith.

How Lazarus Points Forward to the Pleasure of God in Christ

Certainly one of the most difficult things for us humans to deal with is the truth that God, in His eternal purposes, has allowed, yea even willed, for terrible calamity to befall those whom He loves. Spurgeon once preached a message on this passage in John and said this:

The love of Jesus does not separate us from the common necessities and infirmities of human life. Men of God are still men. The covenant of grace is not a charter of exemption from consumption, or rheumatism, or asthma.

We see here that God’s purpose was to use the suffering and death of Lazarus to reveal the glory of His Son. And likewise He can use sickness and death in our lives to both refine us (Ps. 119:71), and glorify Himself. His character is certainly made known in many ways through suffering – just think of all the times that men and women who have endured sickness have testified to the great and glorious character of Jesus Christ.

Certainly the most glaring example of suffering and death being used for God’s pleasure is the example of Jesus Christ’s own passion and death. The story of Lazarus was not included for no reason at all in this gospel. Rather it is put here to point us to Christ, and how Christ ultimately triumphed over the grave. We’ll talk more about that parallel in the coming texts, but for now I want to see how God was going to be glorified in the death and resurrection of Lazarus, and how He was glorified and even “took pleasure” in the death of His Son (Is. 53:10). In that Isaiah passage we read:

But the LORD was pleased To crush Him, putting Him to grief; If He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, And the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand. (NASB)

It is so difficult to understand how God can possibly have taken pleasure in the “crush(ing)” of His one and only Son. We can see how possibly the Father could be glorified at the end game, but to actually be “pleased” to crush Him…that takes on a whole new difficulty for us. It’s applicable to what we’re looking at here, because I believe it will show us something of the character of God, and if we can see some of this we can perhaps see some of what it is that He is working in our lives through the difficulties and storms.

John Piper explains this passage in the following ways:

One part of the answer is stressed at the end of verse 10, namely, that God’s pleasure is what the Son accomplished in dying…God’s pleasure is not so much in the suffering of the Son, considered in and of itself, but in the great success of what the Son would accomplish in his suffering.

Piper continues…

The depth of the Son’s suffering was the measure of his love for the Father’s glory. It was the Father’s righteous allegiance to his own name that made recompense for the sin necessary. So when the Son willingly took the suffering f that recompense on himself, every footfall on the way to Calvary echoed through the universe with this message: the glory of God is of infinite value! The glory of God is of infinite value!

…the Father knew that the measure of his Son’s suffering was the depth of his Son’s love for the Father’s glory. And in that love the Father took deepest pleasure.

Scripture backs up what Piper is saying. Just a few weeks ago we read from John 10:17 the following:

“For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again.”

Piper closes his thoughts on the matter this way:

When Jesus died, he glorified the Father’s name and saved his Father’s people. And since the Father has overflowing pleasure in the honor of his name, and since he delights with unbounded joy in the election of a sinful people for himself, how then shall he not delight in the bruising of his Son by which these two magnificent divine joys are reconciled and made one!

The reason I bring this up is because it shows the deeper purposes of God in Christ for you. He took pleasure in bruising His Son, and takes pleasure in allowing you to face difficult trials for both His glory and for your refinement and sanctifications sake. He does not glory in your pain, but sees past that and rejoices in the glory to be revealed to you – His glory.

11:5-7 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. [6] So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. [7] Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.”

The reason this verse (verse 5) is here is because John wanted to ensure that we understood that Christ’s reasoning in verse four in no way interfered with how we understand verse six.  In other words, it was the love of Christ that compelled him to stay away for another two days, and it was the love of Christ for His Father that motivated His obedience to wait another two days. Also, it was the love of the Father for us that He allowed Lazarus to get sick because through this He would reveal more of His Son’s glory to His creatures.  God reveals Himself to us out of love for us and a desire for us to be ushered into a love relationship with the Trinity as adopted sons and daughters of God.

Specifically, we see in the word “so” at the beginning of verse six, that Christ’s motivation for staying is born out of verse five’s “love” for the Bethany family. This is a bit mind bending, but I think it correlates well with the idea we find in other parts of Scripture that God’s ways are not our ways, and that He does many things that at the time we may not understand.  This could even be discipline or difficulties.

As I was thinking on this passage this week, one of the great passages about love reminded me of Christ’s character here.  Take note of 1 Cor. 13: 3-7:

Love is patient and kind;

Note the patience of Christ.  He does not rush off to see the family of Lazarus, does not run to comfort them, does not run to perform the miracle. He waits patiently for God’s plan. In His speech to the disciples He is patient and kind.  He abides their foolishness and lack of understanding. He deals with their lack of faith and misunderstanding and selfishness.

love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant [5] or rude.

Perhaps this is obvious, but Christ never boasted in Himself but allowed His truthful teaching, His actions and the testimony of others to glorify Him. Instead of being rude, He is sometimes short and to the point.  But this is not rude.  He is never seen interrupting others, but rather He is always putting others first.

It does not insist on its own way;

We might say that Christ was the one person who deserved to insist on His own way, and yet He submitted Himself to the will of the Father.

it is not irritable or resentful;

Christ was omniscient, and yet the human side of Him never was bitter for what He knew in explicit detail would one day be His demise.  He looked around Himself and was constantly surrounded by incompetence, sin, rejections, and idiotic behavior.  He could have said to Himself ‘I am really dying for this?’ but He did not. Such was the natre of His patience and longsuffering.

[6] it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.

Christ was never happy when something horrible happened, but often used difficulties to share the good news of the Kingdom (Luke 13:1-5).

[7] Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7 ESV)

Not only did Christ trust in the will of His Father and in the plan they had formulated from before the creation of the world, but He also looked forward in hope (Heb. 12) so that He was able to endure the torment of the cross.

In these ways and many more, Christ is the suffering servant; He is the very heart of love. That is why John can say that ‘God is love’ (1 John 4:8), because He saw it embodied first hand.

Jesus obeyed the sovereign timing of the Father rather than His emotions.  We know that He was fully human and we know He was emotional (had emotional ties to Martha and Marry and Lazarus) about this situation. But He never allowed His humanity to prevent Him from making absolutely perfect and righteous decisions.  We know His motivation, as discussed earlier, for this was love. He knew the Father’s will; He sought the Father’s mind on all things through prayer.

In our own lives this means that we need to emulate Christ.  We need to ask for His help to change our desires.

How many times have you been prevented from getting something, doing something, going somewhere because of situations or circumstances beyond your control?  I’m sure you can look back at times in your life when you wanted so badly to fly here or go there or do this or that but you couldn’t and perhaps as you look back on it now, it was for the better.  Presently, Kate and I would really like to sell our house.  We’d love to move closer to church and to my work. But there are many reasons beyond our understanding that prevent that right now. I do not think that anything is a coincidence or that anything is out of the control and plan of God Almighty.  Therefore I must patiently wait for His plan to unfold even amidst trial. He waited to come to them out of love, remember.

Lastly, and I touched on this a moment ago, in revealing the nature and character of the Son in this moment we also see His sovereignty. The Father has a sovereign plan, and the Son knows that all things are in the hand of the Father – this is illustrated all the more in verse 9.

11:8-10 The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” [9] Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. [10] But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.”

We should recall that the tension between the Jewish religious leadership in Jerusalem and Christ was at a boiling point at this time. The Jews were so angry and threatened by Christ’s ministry that they were seeking to kill Him.

So when Christ says, “let us go to Judea again” we can perhaps understand the nature of the disciples concern…they knew full well that going back to the Judean area meant extreme danger.

Carson comments on the disciples’ response “they are frankly aghast.” But Christ’s response is to remind them that as long as the Father still have work for Him to do, as long as there is life in Him, He will continue to boldly (and obediently) carry out His mission here on earth.  The specific meaning, therefore, of, “are there not twelve hours in the day” is to remind them that the fullness of the days work (His ministry) had not yet faded.  “These verses metaphorically insist that Jesus is safe as long as he performs his Father’s will. The daylight period of his ministry may be far advanced, but it is wrong to quit before the twelve hours have been filled up” Carson comments.

This certainly reminds of 9:4 where Christ says, “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work.”  And 9:5 actually ties nicely in with verse 10 here, “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

Christ once again uses the situation to remind them of a spiritual truth that He is the light of the world. All goodness, all illumination as far as truth is concerned comes from Him. He is the source of truth and understanding of that truth is also a supernatural gift from God.

Lastly, I am personally reminded of the nature of light and how it sort of symbolizes purity and cleanliness – a sort of antitheses to darkness and sickness. When we live one day with Christ forever after this world has been remade and renewed, there will be no sickness and no darkness. In fact there will be no sun because the Son will be our only necessary light.  Apart from the Son there will be only darkness.  These comments foreshadow a truth that is so brilliant and so wonderful that we could linger all day upon their glories.

11:11-15 After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” [12] The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” [13] Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. [14] Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, [15] and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”

It wasn’t a terribly common thing in second temple culture to use the euphemism “fall asleep” for death, but if we scan the entirety of Scripture we see it is actually a very common phrase/word overall – especially in the books of Kings and Chronicles (examples: 1 Kings 22:40, 50; 2 Kings 8:24, 10:35)

The Patience of the Son

Interesting how Christ had to explain to the disciples, at this sensitive moment, what He meant by His words. I can just see Him now patiently repeating Himself so as to make them understand His meaning, and I wonder how many other times He had to do this same thing. These are the kinds of things that make lesser men frustrated to the point of boiling over with anger. Not Jesus. He is as patient and longsuffering as ever.  What an amazing display of forbearance.

This really puts me to shame. I like to think of myself as a patient man – except, of course, when the kids or the co-workers, or someone (anyone) else has really pressed my nerves or my buttons repeatedly. Only then do I feel like I have an “excuse” to lose my temper.  This, to my own shame, was not the example of Christ.

So that You May Believe

The main thing we should take note of in these verses is that what Christ was doing was for the purposes of bringing glory to God (as mentioned earlier), and the phrase above “so that you may believe” does not modify that purpose or even add to it, but rather it explains more specifically how He will be glorified. These are not two separate items. Believing in the Son glorifies God because it gives proper due to who the Son is, and it magnifies Him.

John wrote this entire book for this purpose (John 20:30-31), and Christ’s entire mission was centered on this fundamental goal.  I hope that anyone reading this now understands that Christianity is all about Christ. He is the center of the Bible and indeed of all human history. Life (of the abundant kind) is about believing in Him, in placing full confidence in His words and surrendering to His leadership and direction.

Christ knew that He was going away soon. He knew that soon His great passion would be upon Him. Before He endured the cross, He wanted to shore up the faith of those disciples who had for so long been following His words and His teaching. He knows that they might not fully understand His words, but He knows that His words will never pass away (Matt. 24:35).  He knew that millions and millions of Christians would read these words and meditate on His character, and bring Him glory.  Remember, He is not speaking to those who do not believe, but rather to those who love Him. But He wants them to have utmost confidence that He is who He says He is, and so that for years to come they would look back on this moment and fall on their faces with thanksgiving in their hearts.

11:16 So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

Thomas is called “Didymus” in the Greek, which means “twin” – Thomas is Hebrew for “twin” as well…though no one really knows who his twin was.

I think that so often we underestimate Thomas.  This is the same man who we call “Doubting Thomas”, but we see here that there is more to this man than simply cynicism (though that certainly seems to be a dominant characteristic of his nature).  He has a strong courageous streak about him, and the fact that he was willing to die for/with Christ says a lot (even though we see later that, like the other disciples, he deserts Jesus).

This also sets in sharp relief once again just how dangerous it would have been for Jesus to go back to the Jerusalem area.  This is the moment in which life and death decisions are being made.  Christ can either stay beyond the Jordan and enjoy a vibrant ministry (10:40-42), or He can fulfill the will of the Father and accomplish His ultimate destiny and mission here on Earth.  He can save Him own life, or the lives of countless millions.  Had He been but man, a mere mortal, there’s no way we’d be even discussing this right now. The choice would be obvious. No man would put themselves in harms way of this kind (almost certain death) for the lives of people who weren’t his family. Ironically, Christ did this very thing in order make those who weren’t His family part of His family by sovereign adoption.

Study Notes 10-21-12

Chapter 8

CONTEXT NOTE: There is a great deal of discussion amongst scholars as to whether or not the first 11 verses of John 8 are part of the Canon of Scripture.  After consulting with our own pastor, and with commentators from every age of the church, I believe that it is part of the Canon, although it was not perhaps originally part of John’s gospel and may have been meant to go in Luke’s gospel, or may have been meant to be placed elsewhere.

Nevertheless, while men across church history seem to agree that this was not a passage in the original manuscripts, they almost all equally agree that the passage should be included in the canon.  Here are a few thoughts from wiser men than myself on the matter, and why we ought to still consider this passage as inspired by the Holy Spirit and therefore worthy of our consideration and reverence:

Calvin says this, “…it has always been received by the Latin Churches, and is found in many old Greek manuscripts, and contains nothing unworthy of an Apostolic Spirit, there is no reason why we should refuse to apply it to our advantage.”

Our own Pastor Gabbard said, “Even though this passage is not found in the earliest manuscripts, my recollection is that it is in enough later manuscripts to still give it some credibility. I have always taken the position that since God in his sovereignty allowed this passage to be in our Bibles for hundreds of years and it is a beautiful story which is consistent with the character and ministry of Christ, I teach it as the word of God.”

D.A. Carson says, “On the other hand, there is little reason for doubting that the event here described occurred, even if in its written form it did not in the beginning belong to the canonical books.  Similar stories are found in other sources. One of the best known, reported by Papias (and recorded by the historian Eusebius) is the account of a woman, accused in the Lord’s presence of many sins (unlike the woman here who is accused of but one). There narrative before us also has a number of parallels with stories in the Synoptic Gospels.  The reason for its insertion here may have been to illustrate 7:24 and 8:15 or, conceivably, the Jews’ sinfulness over against Jesus’ sinlessness (8:21, 24, 46).”

MacArthur, speaking to the external evidence says, “The external evidence also casts doubt on the authenticity of these verses. The earliest and most reliable manuscripts, from a variety of textual traditions, omit it.”  But then goes on to say, “It contains no teaching that contradicts the rest of Scripture. The picture it paints of the wise, loving, forgiving Savior is consistent with the Bible’s portrait of Jesus Christ. Nor is it the kind of story the early church would have made up about Him.”  Finally he comments, “The story was most likely history, a piece of oral tradition that circulated in parts of the Western church. (Most of the limited early support for its authenticity comes from Western manuscripts and versions, and from Western church fathers such as Jerome, Ambrose and Augustine.)”

Leon Morris has this to say, “The textual evidence makes it impossible to hold that this section is an authentic part of the Gospel (of John)…In addition to the textual difficulty many find stylistic criteria against the story. While the spirit of the narrative is in accordance with that of this Gospel the language is not Johannine.”  Morris continues, however, by stating, “Throughout the history of the church it has been held that, whoever wrote it, this little story is authentic. It rings true. It speaks to our condition. And it can scarcely have been composed in the early church with its sternness about sexual sin. It is thus worth our while to study it tough not as an authentic part of Jon’s writing.”

James Montgomery Boice says this, “The difficulty, simply put, is that the majority of the earliest manuscripts of John do not contain these verses and, moreover, that some of the best manuscripts are of this number…Interestingly enough, very few scholars (even man of the liberal ones) seem willing to do this (omit the passage), and the fact that a good case can be made out for the other side, should make one cautious in how he deals with it. I am willing to deal with the story as genuine – though perhaps not a part of the original Gospel as John wrote it (then he lists several reasons which I will not take time to list here).”

Finally, R.C. Sproul says this, “The overwhelming consensus of textual critics is that it was not part of the original Gospel of John, at least not this portion of John. At the same time, the overwhelming consensus is that this account is authentic, it’s apostolic, and it should be contained in any edition of the New Testament…I believe it is nothing less than the very word of God, so I will treat it as such in this chapter.”

I know that John Piper, John Calvin, Ambrose, and many other great pastors and theologians also lay out good and convincing cases for including this passage in Scripture.  And so the task before us is no longer to question the veracity and authenticity of this text as apostolic, but to agree that it is the “very Word of God” as Sproul says, and submit ourselves to its teaching and authority.

The Text

7:53-8:1 They went each to his own house, but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.

The first thing we note here is that Jesus went up on the Mount of Olives after everyone else went home.  This is significant for a few reasons.

First, this is the only reference to the Mount of Olives in John – perhaps a reason to doubt the manuscript here should be included in John and not in Luke or one of the other synoptics.

Second, it reminds us that Jesus was homeless.  In Matthew 8:20 we hear Christ say, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” MacArthur notes that we cannot note for certain that He slept out under the stars or whether He went a short distance on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives at the home of Lazurus, Martha and Mary, however, I think it’s a good reminder of the humiliation of the incarnation.  MacArthur also agrees and cites the famous passage from Phil. 2:7-8.

Third, Boice points out that what Jesus normally did on the Mount of Olives was commune with His Father in prayer.  This is something to keep in mind as we head into the text ahead of us.  While Jesus was communing in prayer with His Father, the Pharisees and Scribes were laying a sinful plot to trap Him. Boice says that from a practical standpoint, if we are to imitate Christ in His handling of the situation before us in all the difficulties we face in our own lives, we must also imitate Him in His devotion to prayer.  “Where does this compassionate attitude toward other persons come from in practical experience? It comes only from communing with our heavenly Father. We are personal with others only when we know ourselves to be persons (as opposed to “things”).  We know ourselves to be persons only when we see ourselves as persons before God.”

8:2 Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them.

In classic Rabbinic style, Jesus sits down to teach.  Note also that all the people were coming to Him on their own.  Truth draws people in who have a desire to learn about God – something many modern day pastors would do well to remember as they lay out their church “marketing campaigns.”

8:3-4 The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst [4] they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery.

Several scholars take time to note how the author puts together “the scribes and the Pharisees” here.  This isn’t a very Johannine phrase – but is one used a lot in the synoptic gospels.

Scribes were also called lawyers and they were experts at reading and writing opinions about the law of Moses.  We ought not to be confused here into thinking that the scribes and Pharisees were one in the same, for they were not.  Scribes were simply lawyers – that was their training and trade.  It is how they made their living.  Pharisees were a political type of party (at least that’s the best way I can describe it).  Not all Pharisees were scribes, and conversely, not all scribes were Pharisees.  In fact, my scribes had strong alliances with the ruling class of the Sadducees.

Now, we note here that this group of people says that this woman has been “caught” in the act of adultery.  What they are inferring is that she has been caught in the very act – not in simply a compromising situation.  Jewish scholars (note Morris, Boice, and Sproul) are clear that in order to be seized on this matter, it would require at least 2-3 witnesses, and all the details of the witnesses had to match exactly.  Thus it was very hard to get into this situation.  For one had to be caught in the very act, and there had to be several witnesses, and their testimony had to agree in every part down to each detail.

8:5-6 Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” [6] 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.

The Evil Trap for a Young Woman

The text that these guys are referring to is found in a few places.  First, the most notable text for this would have been in Deuteronomy 22:22, which says:

“If a man is found lying with the wife of another man, both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman, and the woman. So you shall purge the evil from Israel.

The first thing we note here is that someone is missing from the scene.  Who?  Why the man who committed the act along with the woman!  Perhaps the man got away, though this is unlikely if he was caught in the very act (a requirement of the law as mentioned above) of adultery.  It is also possible that the man was an important person – perhaps on the Sanhedrin council – and the Pharisees didn’t want to arrest him.  There is also the very dark and nefarious possibility that James Boice is right on this and that the man (whoever he was) was involved in the plot to setup this young woman by the Pharisees, and therefore have something with which to trap Jesus.

I can’t think of a more dark and sinister thing than this.  But as we read on here, it becomes apparent, at least to me, that this is probably what these evil men had done.

Now, looking at the language that the Pharisees’ use here, we note that they have a specific intent in mind, a specific form of execution that they believe that Moses commands them to follow – namely stoning.   If we read further on in Deuteronomy 22 we read this:

“If there is a betrothed virgin, and a man meets her in the city and lies with her, [24] then you shall bring them both out to the gate of that city, and you shall stone them to death with stones, the young woman because she did not cry for help though she was in the city, and the man because he violated his neighbor’s wife. So you shall purge the evil from your midst. (Deuteronomy 22:23-24)

So we see that this method of execution was reserved only for those who were betrothed and fell into immorality – most of whom were young women and men, probably 13-15 years old.  Therefore, it’s very likely that this young woman was not a prostitute, but a teenage girl that was lured into a terrible trap by these evil men.  They were using her for their own evil purposes.

The Legal Trap for Jesus

Now that we see what this group of evil men had been working on with regard to this poor young woman, we turn our attention to the legal trap that they had concocted for Jesus.

R.C. Sproul explains, “The Romans permitted significant self-rule in the nations they conquered, but they did not allow vassal nations to exercise the death penalty in capital cases…If Jesus were to say, ‘Stone the woman,’ they would run to the Roman headquarters and say, ‘This teacher is advocating that we exercise capital punishment without going through the Roman system.’ That way they would get Jesus in trouble with the Romans. But if He were to say, ‘Don’t stone her,’ they would run back to the Sanhedrin and say, ‘This Jesus is a heretic because He denies the law of Moses.’ No matter how Jesus answered the question, He would be in serious trouble.”

In addition to the issue with Him getting into trouble with the Romans if He were to pronounce the guilty verdict, some Scholars (MacArthur, Boice, Morris among others) think that Jesus would also undermine His ministry which was marked by compassion – and would perhaps even contradict what He said in John 3:17, “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.”

Though this might be the case, I don’t think it is necessarily what the scribes and Pharisees had in their minds.  I don’t think their mission at this stage was to simply undermine His ministry, but to find a reason to put Him to death.

Jesus Write in the Sand

The reaction of Jesus to their question is odd – very odd indeed!  There are so many theories on what it is that Jesus wrote that I can’t even begin to list them all here.  Most scholars that I respect say that we simply cannot know what He wrote, and that, as Sproul says, “We have to be careful about speculation. As John Calvin said in his commentary on Romans, when God closes His holy mouth, we should desist from inquiry.”

So I will not spend time on what He might or might not have said.  Needless to say, it further provoked His enemies, who continued to pester Him for an answer.

8:7-8 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.” [8] And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground.

Jesus’ words are masterful.  He doesn’t vacillate between Moses and Roman law (as Sproul notes), but sides with Moses, and upholds the law of the Old Testament without directly engaging in the judgment Himself, and therefore not incurring any legal issues with Rome.

But His words are masterful in other ways as well.  He is actually shedding light on a problem – namely that we are all guilty of sin, we have all fallen short of God’s glory and high standard (Rom. 3:23), and that there is only one righteous judge of the universe who is fit to issue the verdict.  But at the same time, if we are all guilty, and we all deserve to die, how can the law of Moses be upheld while still believing in a God that is good and merciful?

This is the problem that Paul addressed in Romans 3:26 – As Boice points out, “Ho can God be both just and the justifier of the ungodly? From a human point of view the problem is unsolvable.”

But because with God “all things are possible” there is a solution.  Namely that Jesus bore our punishment in His body on the cross.  So that God would be just and not wink at sin (as Sproul is commonly saying) and still punish sin and therefore remain just, while providing mercy for those whom He has predestined to salvation (the elect).  Our punishment has not been excused and forgotten.  That sentence has been carried out – Jesus bore our sentence for us on the cross.

8:9 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.

These men thought they had trapped Jesus, but now they were so utterly undone by the overpowering nature and truth of His words (and perhaps even His presence) that their hearts melted within them.  One minute they had stones in their hands ready to physically kill someone, the next they were so struck in mind and heart that they had to flee the scene.

James Boice comments “Think of the efforts they had gone through! Think of the plotting! Yet there were destroyed in a moment when they were confronted by the God who masters circumstances.”

8:10-11 Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” [11] She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”

How can we explain the reaction of Jesus here?  Boice says that His response was characterized by understanding, compassion, forgiveness, and a challenge.  I think he is right on the money with this breakdown (MacArthur offers a similar, though less compelling outline as well).  I will use his outline here but add my own thoughts under each section:

He is Understanding: Jesus knows all circumstances, all hearts, all minds.  There is nothing about this situation that Jesus doesn’t fully comprehend or understand.  He sees the hearts of the scribes and Pharisees, and He sees the heart of the young woman here.

He is Compassionate and Loving: The best way to think about the love and compassion Jesus had for this young lady is to think about how you love your own children.  It’s an unconditional kind of love.  You don’t love them because they are good, or because they are yours (they could have been adopted), or because they are talented or handsome or pretty.  There is an almost divine and unexplainable love you have for them.  Your heart is knitted to theirs in an almost supernatural way.  That is the way Christ sees people.  That’s how He saw this young lady, and that’s how He sees you and me.

Furthermore, that’s how we are called to see others.  We aren’t to use people like these Pharisees did.  What they did was so evil and so dark that we think we never act this way.  But as Boice points out, we are all guilty of using people from time to time.  We treat others as less than human, and we forget how God loves them, and how He loves us despite our deep sinfulness.

Boice says this, “Love is unexplainable. The best you can say is that love is divine and that you love him (others/your children) because God himself has loved us.”

Christ is Forgiving:

I think it may well be said here that Jesus forgave this young lady – for he says that He does not condemn her.  However, we aren’t told specifically if she sought repentance.  I do think, though, that He would not have issued these words if He had not already looked into her heart and seen her repentance.  I don’t want to get too far down the road of speculation here though, for no one can know what is in a man’s (or woman’s) heart.

The most important principle here is that of Christ’s forgiveness not merely for the specific sin in view, but for sin of any kind.

Now matter how disgusting, evil, or hateful, our sin can still be forgiven by the Lord of lords.  Interestingly enough none of the commentators talk about Christ’s view of the Pharisees and scribes at this juncture. Surely if there was ever a group that could have been called Christ’s “enemy” it was this group of men.  But what does Christ tell us about our enemies?  He tells us to love them (Matt. 5:44).  And so none of His enemies receives a stinging rebuke by Jesus in this instance – though they deserved it. Rather He goes right to the heart of the matter, piercing their souls and pricking their consciences with truth that could not be warded off even by the stony defenses of a hardened heart.  What is amazing to me is the thought that not only did Christ love this woman, but He probably had a love for those who were accusing Him (Luke 23:34) – perhaps even some in that group would later repent of their sins and follow Him (Acts 6:7).

Christ Issues a Challenge:

He says, “go, and from now on sin no more.”  Forgiveness is followed by a challenge, and we receive the same admonition as well from Paul who says:

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? [2] By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? [3] Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? [4] We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

[5] For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. [6] We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. [7] For one who has died has been set free from sin. (Romans 6:1-7)

As followers of Jesus Christ, we have had our sins atoned for and we are no longer slaves to sin. This is an important final point. In the garden Adam could choose to sin, or choose not to sin.  We know which way he went.  But he was not a slave to sin as most of the human race is today. When Adam fell into sin, all men born afterwards were born into slavery.  We couldn’t not choose to sin.  We were sinners by our very nature. Such was our state prior to Christ!  Now we, like Adam originally, can choose either to sin or not to sin.  Often we follow the flesh, but as we become more and more conformed into the image of Christ, we choose to sin less and less.

The challenge we face is to crucify our desires of the flesh, and put on the Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 13:14). This challenge is one we can meet with gusto because we have motivation that most people don’t have – we have hope for a wonderful eternity in heaven, and we have the enjoyment and communion with God right now.  In short, we are motivated by the gospel and by His love for us.