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The Adulterous Woman

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
March 20, 2024 12:01 am

The Adulterous Woman

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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March 20, 2024 12:01 am

The compassion and righteousness of our Savior are never at odds. Today, R.C. Sproul considers Jesus' encounter with the adulterous woman, reminding us that it is only by Christ's mercy that sinners can stand in the presence of God.

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He who is without sin among you cast the first stone.

Beloved, there was a person in that crowd who was without sin and who was qualified to carry out the law of Moses. He had every right to execute her. She had violated the Ten Commandments, thou shalt not commit adultery. But he didn't do it because he had the sovereign right to have mercy upon whom he would have mercy. And he said to this woman, Neither do I condemn you.

Go and sin no more. One of the most beautiful displays of Jesus' compassion and His sovereign right to exercise mercy upon a sinner is found in the account of the woman caught in adultery. And you and I, for Christians, have also experienced the divine declaration that we're no longer under the condemnation of God. This is the Wednesday edition of Renewing Your Mind.

I'm Nathan W. Bingham. All week we have been meeting individuals who encountered Jesus face-to-face. Seeing what these biblical accounts teach us about Jesus and what they reveal about us.

You can request the entire 13-message series, both the DVD and digital editions, when you give a gift of any amount at The scribes and the Pharisees set out to trap Jesus when they brought this woman to Him. Instead, we have a gracious picture of the mercy that we enjoy as redeemed sinners.

Here's Dr. Sproul. One of the customary things that takes place in churches all over the country on Sunday morning is that when it comes time for the reading of the Scripture, it's a simple matter for the minister to say, turn in your Bibles to Luke chapter 10, verse 1, and so on. And everybody in the room could be on the same page. However, today when we look at another person in the series of those who came face-to-face with Jesus, I have a little problem with that particular custom because I'm not sure where to ask you to open the text of Scripture because the narrative that we're going to be concerned with today is found at different places in different Bibles. It may be astonishing to you, but it raises a question, a side question, before we get to the topic of this person who comes face-to-face with Jesus of what we call textual criticism. Textual criticism, sometimes called lower criticism to distinguish it from higher criticism, has to do with the science of reconstructing the original texts of the Bible.

And I use the word science deliberately because this is quite a pedantic dimension of Biblical studies that requires close, careful sifting and careful analysis of literally hundreds and hundreds of extant manuscripts that are copies of one sort or another of the original documents of Scripture. For example, we don't have a full copy of the original Gospel of John. Well, in fact one of the earliest portions of Scripture we do have is the Rylands fragment that dates perhaps into the first century, a tiny little piece of that original Gospel of John, but for the most part we have to rely upon subsequent copies of manuscripts that date back to the early centuries. Well, we have a passage in the New Testament that is highly disputed in terms of where it should actually go, and it is that narrative that teaches us the story of the woman who was caught in adultery. Usually it's found somewhere in or around the eighth chapter of John's Gospel. In some English versions the whole thing is an extended footnote and not even considered part of the text, and that reason for that is simple, that some of the earliest manuscripts that we have of the Gospel of John do not include this passage, but later manuscripts do. And if there is a consensus among textual critics it is this, that this story about the woman caught in adultery was in all probability not part of the original Gospel of John and was not penned by John at all. And yet at the same time the consensus among those scholars is that even though perhaps John didn't write it and was not part of John's Gospel, it is most probably apostolic in origin and certainly belongs in the New Testament.

The only question is where? Well, I don't know if it's going to help you, but in the Bible I'm using we find this record in the eighth chapter of John beginning at the first verse. And of course that Bible is the new Geneva study Bible, the preferred Bible of the elect. We read in chapter 8 of John's Gospel beginning at verse 1 in my text, But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Now early in the morning he came again into the temple, and all the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. And then the scribes and Pharisees brought to him a woman caught in adultery.

And when they had set her in the midst, they said to him, Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery in the very act. It's so easy to read over this quickly, dispassionately, and miss the existential import of this text. One of the most difficult things for any of us at any time is to experience authentic empathy. That is to try to project ourselves into the skin of somebody else and try to feel what they are feeling and to think what they are thinking. And yet in the New Testament we are called as part of Christian virtue to weep with those who weep and to rejoice with those who rejoice and to be people who manifest a spirit of compassion. If there's any sense in which the Christian is called to imitate God, it is at this point to be people of compassion, because were it not for the compassion of God, none of us could possibly stand in his presence. And literally the word compassion comes from the prefix com, which means with, and from the root posio, which means to feel.

And it has the intensity of passion. What is passion but intense feeling. And compassion is entering into the feelings of another person. Now, usually we are not exercised or offended if somebody says that we should show compassion for somebody in pain or in great suffering and try to feel what they are feeling. But sometimes we resist the idea of having a sense of compassion for someone who's involved in gross and heinous sin. We don't want to feel sorry for somebody who is wicked. And yet if there's any place where we should have the ability to have like passions, it is with the wicked. It should be easier for us to relate to the wicked than it is to the virtuous, because of who we are. And we could, like the Pharisees of the day, look at this woman who is caught in the very act of adultery with absolute, abject contempt and say she deserves anything that she gets. Obviously this was the compassion or the feelings of the scribes and the Pharisees. The scribes and the Pharisees were the theologians and the clergy of the day. They prided themselves in their morality. They prided themselves in their singular virtue. And they were disgusted when they came upon a woman involved in the very act of adultery. And they used this occasion to put Christ Himself on trial, because that's the dynamic of what is going on here, which I'll get at in a few moments.

But I don't want us to hurry over this matter of how that woman felt. I once talked to two men who were elders of a Presbyterian church in Ohio, and they told me of an experience they had where they were in this wonderful hotel, and the hotel had a health and sauna center, and these men had gone down to this health center in the hotel and had taken a sauna, and they had left their clothes on another floor. And there was a private elevator that went from this one floor to the other, and when they were finished, they were in the buff altogether, and they were talking in conversation. They got on an elevator, pressed the button, weren't paying close attention to where they were. They continued their conversation. The elevator's doors opened, and they walked out without any towels, without anything. And as they were talking, the door closed behind them, and the elevator continued, and they opened their eyes, and they saw that they were standing right there in the lobby of the hotel, and there was no retreat. They listened to these men tell us, I was dying laughing.

I had no compassion whatsoever. I thought it was the funniest thing I ever heard. And they did, too, as they were recounting it later. But can you imagine their mortification?

To be caught naked is one of the most embarrassing things that can happen to a human being, to be caught in flagrant delecting, to be caught naked involved in an illicit sexual act publicly. It's one thing to have to wear a scarlet A on one's chest as Hester Prynne was required to do in the scarlet letter, but this woman is dragged physically into the public place of the temple itself by the religious authorities of the day and placed at the feet of Jesus. Now one has to ask the question, where was the man? Why wasn't the man brought here? Probably the Pharisees were afraid of him. Who knows who he was?

He might have been a man of status in the community, and they didn't want to fool with him. But they used the woman in her brokenness, in her shame, in her helplessness at this moment, and make of her a public spectacle. But they brought her to the wrong man. Now let's see what happens. They set her in the midst, and they said to him, Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery in the very act. Now Moses in the law commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do you say? This they said, testing him, that they might have something of which to accuse him.

Do you hear what's going on here? They weren't interested at all in this woman, in her guilt, in her sin, in her punishment, or in her rehabilitation. That's not why they dragged her into the public square to humiliate her. They were using this woman to put a test on Jesus.

And what was the test? Remember that the Jewish nation at this point in her history was under Roman subjugation. The Roman government ruled over Palestine. And the Romans were noted for the somewhat gracious manner in which they treated subjugated nations, that they allowed a certain measure of home rule in those nations that they conquered. Most other conquering nations in the ancient world didn't do that.

But one thing was essential in a Roman province or a Roman satellite that had been conquered by the armies, and that was that Roman law would rule supreme. And though the Romans gave the Jews the right to have their own religion, the right to have their own Herodian king and so on, the one thing they didn't allow was the exercise of the death penalty by the Jews according to Jewish law, but only the Roman government could exercise the death penalty according to Roman law. That's why Jesus was crucified and not stoned to death.

We know that. But on this occasion, here's the test. The law of Moses prescribed the death penalty for adultery. The Roman law didn't. So they dragged this woman to trap Jesus, and they throw the woman at his feet and say, okay, give us your verdict. The law says to stone her, the law of Moses. What do you say?

Do you see the trap? If he says, stone her, what are they going to do? They're going straight to the government authorities. They're going straight to Pontius Pilate, and they're going to say, this guy's a rebel.

He's an insurrectionist. He's out here advocating the overthrow of the Roman government and the Roman legal system by saying that we should execute this lady who was caught in adultery. And now what if Jesus says, don't stone her.

Now where are they going? They're going back to the Sanhedrin, and they're going to say, this Jesus who's supposed to be a teacher and a rabbi and an expert in the law of God has just publicly denied the law of Moses. So they trap Jesus on the horns of a dilemma and test him to see what he'll do. Now the irony of this event and the thing that I find that countless people miss when they read this text is that Jesus made a decision. He took a stand. He didn't just try to dodge the issue and avoid both horns of the dilemma. He sided with one over the other.

And what did he say? Let the law of Moses prevail. Stone her. That's what the law says. She's guilty.

No doubt about it. Stone her. But then he proceeded to appoint her executioners. And listen to how he does that. This they said, testing him, that they might have something of which to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with his finger as though he didn't hear them. And so when they continued asking him, he raised himself up and said to them, He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first. And again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. And those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest, even to the last, until Jesus was left alone and the woman standing in the midst.

What a fantastic story. This is the only place in Scripture where we hear that Jesus ever wrote anything. And he wrote twice. But we don't know what it is that he wrote. Oh, I wish that the Bible would tell us what he wrote in the ground. Let me guess. I mean, that's the preacher's prerogative to take a crack at it here. And this is vintage sprawl. This is pure speculation. That's all it is.

But it's an educated guess. I mean, I'm trying to imagine, what was Jesus doing? These guys are screaming for this woman's head, and they're waiting for Jesus to answer the test. And he acts as if he doesn't even hear what they're saying. Instead, he stoops down and he starts doodling in the dirt. He starts writing on the ground. It doesn't say what he wrote. Then he stands up and says, let him who among you who is without sin cast the first stone, and he starts writing again.

And now we are told they all fall under conviction from the eldest to the youngest, and one by one they meekly drop their stones and go on home. Now what kind of writing would cause them to do that? The only thing I can think of is that Jesus said, okay, stoner. And he looks at this one old guy in the crowd and writes in the dirt, surely. That guy drops his stone and goes home.

He looks at another man and writes embezzlement. He drops his stone, and away he goes. I think that Jesus could read the souls of every person there, and I think what he was writing on the ground was the last thing they wanted to see him write, the hand of God, the finger of God writing in the ground the sins of those who were there. And when Jesus wrote those sins in full view, in matters that were undeniable, the guilty in the crowd dispersed until no one was left.

Now what happens? When Jesus raised himself up and saw no one but the woman, he said to her, woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you? And she said, no one, Lord.

And Jesus said to her, neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more. Don't miss this.

Please don't miss this. Remember the terms of execution. He who is without sin among you cast the first stone. Beloved, there was a person in that crowd who was without sin and who was qualified to carry out the law of Moses, to execute the law to its fullest measure.

And had he done it, beloved, he would have been acting justly. Our Lord loved the law of Moses, and Jesus was not playing light with the grievous sin of this woman. Had Jesus, after everyone had dispersed, said to this woman, where are you accusers? Then she said, well nobody, Lord.

He could have said, oh, there's one. I accuse you. You are guilty, and you must die. Had Jesus done that, and I know this flies in the face of everything that we hold in our culture today, Jesus would have been despised by us. But had Jesus said, I accuse you, and Jesus threw the stone and killed that woman, he would have been perfectly just to do it under the law of God. He had every right to execute her. God had every right to execute her. She had violated the Ten Commandments. Thou shalt not commit adultery. But he didn't do it, because he had the sovereign right to have mercy upon whom he would have mercy. And he said to this woman, neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.

That was R.C. Sproul, and you're listening to the Wednesday edition of Renewing Your Mind. You heard Dr. Sproul mention the New Geneva Study Bible in today's message. That study Bible is now called the Reformation Study Bible, and under Dr. Sproul's leadership was thoroughly revised and carefully crafted to give you an unparalleled reading experience as you study God's Word. It contains over 1.1 million words of verse by verse and topical explanations, and this new edition has over 20,000 new revised or expanded study notes. You can learn more or order a copy at And when you support Renewing Your Mind and Ligonier Ministries with your regular donations, your generosity is also helping take this study Bible into other languages. For example, it's currently being translated into Arabic, and there are additions available in Spanish, Portuguese, and other languages. When you give a donation of any amount at, as our way of saying thank you, we'll send you the series you heard from today, Face to Face with Jesus. It's 13 messages, and you'll receive the DVD and digital access to the messages and study guide.

So I encourage you to give online today at, or by calling us at 800-435-4343. Here's a preview of what you'll hear tomorrow. I want you to understand that the light that the disciples see in Christ is not a reflection.

It is a light that is coming from inside of him, bursting through the shell of his body and of his garments as the glory of his deity now explodes on the sea. And when they see this, what's their reaction? It's the same reaction all of us would have. They were terrified. That's tomorrow here on Renewing Your Mind.
Whisper: medium.en / 2024-03-20 03:16:44 / 2024-03-20 03:24:39 / 8

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