John MacArthur, “Jesus confronts hypocrisy”
John 7:53 through 8:11, as I read you follow closely in your Bible. Beginning in verse 53, John writes:
And every man went unto his own house, Jesus went unto the Mount of Olives. And early in the morning He came again into the temple and all the people came unto Him and He sat down and taught them. And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto Him a woman taken in adultery and when they had set her in the midst, they say unto Him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery in the very act. Now Moses and the law commanded us that such should be stoned. But what sayest Thou? This they said testing Him that they might have to accuse Him. But Jesus stooped down and with His finger wrote on the ground. So when they continued asking Him, He lifted Himself up and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast the stone at her. And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. And they who heard it being convicted by their own conscience went out one by one beginning at the eldest, even unto the last. And Jesus was left alone and the woman standing in the midst. When Jesus had lifted Himself up and saw none but the woman He said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? Hath no man condemned thee? She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee, go and sin no more.
Now these verses that we will study this morning, that is verse 53 of chapter 7 through verse 11 of chapter 8, these verses have been a critical battleground. They have been debated and argued about. And the reason is this, our Bible as we know it, as we have it, is really the result of many many ancient manuscripts. In the early days of Scripture, the original autographs which God dictated to His writers were copied and recopied and recopied and recopied through the centuries. When translators go to put it together a Bible, such as perhaps King James in his time commissioned back in 1600, they would gather the evidence of all the ancient manuscripts to find the right text to translate into English. And so our Bible comes from many ancient manuscripts. Now, some of the ancient manuscripts include this portion of Scripture. Some of them do not. Some of the ancient manuscripts omit verse 53 through verse 11. In fact, some of them just start right off with verse 12. Others of them take this section and put it at the end of John’s gospel and make it like a footnote. Others put it at the bottom of the page like a footnote. Some manuscripts leave it out but they leave a big blank space there as if something belongs there. And so there has been a running debate as to whether or not this passage is in or out, whether the Holy Spirit really inspired it, whether John actually wrote it, whether it is intended to be in our Bible or to be omitted. And I want you to understand this, and there is no conclusive evidence either way since some manuscripts have it and some don’t, but in order for us to justify presenting it, I want to ask a few rhetorical questions.
Question number one, do these verses teach truth that violates other Scripture? The answer is no, they do not. Question two, do they in fact corroborate other Scripture and substantiate it? The answer is yes they do. Third question, is there definite and conclusive evidence that they should be left out? The answer is no.
Now on the positive side these, do they fit the person of Jesus Christ? Yes they do. Do they fit the context? In other words, do they belong in the flow of verses before and after? Yes, it fits beautifully. Then lastly, does this record, or these verses, fit John, the author’s, pattern in writing this gospel? The answer is yes.
And I think too that the beauty and the obvious Christ- likeness of this record leads me personally to believe that it is genuine. It is a magnificent and an important account of forgiveness and condemnation graphically illustrated in this story. You say, “Well why were some of the manuscripts leaving it out?” Well there’s no real obvious answer to that. We don’t know. It may just be that some of the manuscripts left it out because at first glance they thought that it appeared to sanction adultery, or sexually immorality. And so they would rather leave it out than confuse the issue, that may be some of the reason. Legalistic copyists wanting to leave it out, we don’t know. But the fact that it does not violate Scripture and it does fit the context and it does portray a very beautiful and accurate picture of Christ and beyond all question reveals divine insight and divine wisdom, leads me personally to believe that it is genuine. And so I feel that we ought to study it. We certainly will learn and profit by it.
John’s gospel has one reigning continuous never-ending relentless theme, it’s on every page, in every paragraph, it is John presenting Jesus the man as God incarnate in human flesh. That’s the key to everything in this gospel. Now I say that because I want you to realize something. This is not the story of the scribes and the Pharisees. It is the story of Jesus Christ. It is not the story of a woman taken in adultery. It is the story of Jesus Christ that is on every page of John’s gospel. And you see, they are incidental. What John is revealing here is Christ in all His glory.
Whatever is the case, whatever the reason, whatever the purpose, in John’s gospel in every confrontation Jesus Christ is the issue. It’s like a camera, you know, you focus the camera on one object and everything else is blurred. And John’s pen is like a camera and he focuses on the person of Jesus Christ who becomes crystal clear in focus dominant and everybody else sort of fades into a blurred background. My friend, we are not studying the woman and we are not studying the scribes and the Pharisees, we are studying Jesus, God in a human body. And He is ever and always on every page the one in focus in John’s literary camera.
Jesus is in Jerusalem now. He’s finished His Galilean ministry. He’s come back to Jerusalem, six months…less than six months from the time of this incident He’ll be dead, nailed to a cross. But He came back to Jerusalem because once again He wanted to present His claims to the people of Judea that they who might believe would have the opportunity. And so He’s there. And He’s in the temple and He’s been in the temple and He’s been teaching. There He is. Tragically He is the object of hate. He is the object of scorn. He’s the object of ridicule by the leadership. And that’s tragic because at the same time that He was the object of scorn, He was indeed the Savior of the world and they didn’t know it. So there’s the picture. Blurred is the woman taken in adultery, blurred are the scribes and Pharisees trying to trap Jesus. Focus on Jesus. And I want you to see in this confrontation four aspects of Jesus Christ.
Four aspects, His humility, His wisdom, His conviction, His forgiveness. Now mark what I said. This is not the story of a woman, this is Christ and He is being presented in His humility, in His wisdom, in His conviction and in His forgiveness and they are only incidental to His presentation. It’s all in the context and it’s going to be exciting, you’re going to love it, every minute of it.
First of all, look at His humility…this is just beautiful.
There is no humiliation like being with God and stripping yourself and coming down here to be born and to be spit on and to be crucified. That is absolute ultimate humiliation. And Jesus did it. And we see perhaps in three verses here by implication as clearly a revelation of His voluntary humiliation as there is any where in Scripture and you most of the time would miss it and go right by it, but it’s there…it’s there deep and powerful.
You say, “What’s so significant about that?” Nothing until you read verse 1 of chapter 8, “Jesus went unto the Mount of Olives.” Evening shadows were falling. The people went home. But Jesus, the creator of all things, had no home to go to. He was a stranger in His own world. Where did He go? The Bible says He went to Olive. His hearers had their comfortable beds. They had their families. They had their warm fires, for it was October. But Jesus, a stranger in the world He had fashioned with His own hands, had nowhere to go, no place. And so He sought His sleep on the slopes of Olive. And truering(?) the words in my mind in Matthew 8:20 when Jesus said, “The foxes have holes, the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man hath not where to lay His head.” The world didn’t want Him. Everybody went home but Jesus went to Olive…alone, He crossed the little brook Hidron, ascended the slopes of Olive, passed through the tangled olive trees into a garden that would become a great familiar place to Him, the garden of Gethsemane, likely…alone. But you know something? I personally believe that that garden and that bough of olive was the closest place to home that Jesus ever knew. You know why? Because there He could be alone in sweet quiet uninterrupted communion with His Father.
But tragic it is that He was a stranger in His own world, a lonely man with a cosmic kind of loneliness. Exiled by voluntary humiliation. Oh Paul hits that thing right on the head when he says in Philippians 2:6, “Christ Jesus who being in the form of God thought it not robbery to be equal with God,” in other words, didn’t want to hang on to His equality, “but made Himself of no reputation, took upon Him the form of a servant, was made in the likeness of men, and being found in fashion as a man He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” That is voluntary humiliation…to leave the glories that He had with the Father to become a babe in a manger, a man spit on and crucified is humiliation.
Have you ever just let your imagination go with thinking of how Christ could have done it? Oh, He could have had celestial press agents, He could have had great billboards, “Jesus at the temple today,” see. Do you realize that He could have just flown right over the city of Jerusalem, suspended Himself 150 feet up or so and just preached like this….? Do you know, if He wanted to, He could have taken His finger and written it in the sky like a skywriter? Here’s a better one. You know what He could have done? He could have written the whole message on the eyeballs of everybody so they had to see it all the time. But you know what He did? He got up in the morning, He went over to the temple, He sat down and He taught.
He did it the way men did it. He did it the way every rabbi before Him had done it, gone in the temple, sat down, cross- legged and taught, that’s what Jesus did. He’s the God of the universe. Nothing spectacular, nothing flamboyant, no super thrill maker, this Jesus.
So there He is in His humiliation. It’s hard to believe. The ancient of days, the creator of the universe, sitting cross- legged in a temple teaching just those who wanted to hear.
The next time He comes He’s going to come suspended from the sky and the Bible says every eye shall…what?…see Him. That’s His glorification. So we see His humility. Oh, He was humble.
We not only see His humiliation I want you to see His wisdom…His wisdom is astounding.
They have come to trap Him. “And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto Him a woman taken in adultery and when they had set her in the midst.”
The scribes were men who copied the law. They were professional secretaries. They just kept copying scrolls and more scrolls. They also interpreted and taught the law. Naturally they would be bosom buddies with the Pharisees who prided themselves on being the legalists. So naturally the scribes and Pharisees went together arm in arm all the time. The ones who taught, interpreted and copied the law going around with the ones who loved and kept the law…at least said they kept the law. And it was custom in those days that whenever there was a difficult question that came up, it was always to be taken to a rabbi. And so following the pattern, the natural routine thing to do, if they had a question was ask the rabbi. So they approached Jesus as a rabbi and they’ve trumped up a dilemma.
They know what they’re doing. They’ve got it all calculated. And they brought a woman who has been taken in the very act itself of sexual sin and they stick her right in front of Jesus Christ. And this idea of sexual sin that appears to be so terrible to them is no…really no big issue at their time because history tells us, Tholax(?) says, that at the time in which this was happening, the Sanhedrin never enforced the laws of God or of the Old Testament against adultery, not only that, Tholax says many of the leaders of Israel were so constantly involved in adultery that they didn’t dare bring it out into the light.
Now the Jews had serious thoughts about adultery, and rightly so in God’s eyes. And so from a purely legal standpoint they were right, they had a legitimate case and this woman deserved to die. But they don’t care about that, they just want to use her. They want to get to Jesus Christ. So they push her out in the middle of the crowd and they make a display of her before Jesus and the people. Now look at verse 4, “They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery in the very act.” I can just hear them. “O Master, this woman was taken in adultery in the very act,” see. And then they add, verse 5, “Moses and the law commanded us that we should…that she should be stoned.” Oh they’re so sanctimonious.
Then they ask the question, “But what sayeth Thou?” Humm, there’s the real key. What sayest Thou? You say, “Why did they ask Him that?” Verse 6, “This they said testing Him that they might have to accuse Him.” Stop there. All right, now here we meet the hypocrisy of the Lord’s enemies. I want you to see this. They brought this woman to Jesus not because they were shocked at her conduct. They weren’t shocked at all, went on all the time. Not because they were so horrified that God’s holy law had been broken. They were phony from the word go. They didn’t care one wit about her and they didn’t care about the idea of God’s law being violated at that point, they had one thing in mind, they wanted to exploit that sin to trap Jesus. And with a cold-blooded kind of indelicacy they acted, employing the guilt of their captive to accomplish the evil purpose in their soul. They were publicly malicious and they wanted to get at Jesus.
Now let me show you what the dilemma is when they ask Jesus, “What do You say?” Here’s the key, watch this. They said in verse 5, they lined up with Moses. Now Moses in the law commanded us that such should be stoned. Now somehow they had gotten back to the stoning where they had been mixed up in the strangulation somewhere in the middle. Now they’re back to stoning. They said Moses said she should be stoned.
Now this is a very important thing. They ally themselves with Moses. I think they had stones in their hand because of what verse 7 says, and we’ll see it in a minute. I think they were loaded with stones. And in fact I think they were racehorsing the deal. Here’s this woman taken in adultery, Lord, what are we going to do with her…what are we going to do with her? They’re ready to fire. They’re pushing the issue. And they tried to get Christ to make a hasty decision. And this is really exciting. The people revered Moses. There’s a crowd all around, see, and here’s Jesus in the middle with the woman and the scribes and the Pharisees. The crowd revered moses…Moses, honored among the most of all the Jews. Now if Jesus says, “Well I don’t want to go along with Moses’ law,” that disqualifies Him immediately because Jesus has been saying “I came from God, the same God that gave you the law. I am come not to destroy the law but to…what?…fulfill it.” If Christ set Himself right at odds against Moses they’d say, “Wow, You didn’t come from the same God Moses did because God gave Moses that law. And God’s not going to send You to shatter that law.” And the people would just write Him off just that fast. So, if Jesus said, “No, don’t stone her,” He would prove that He was not from God by contradicting God’s law given to Moses, see. And the people would write Him off.
On the other hand, if He said, “Yes, stone her,” two things would happen. Number one, Jesus had been going around saying He was the friend of sinners, right? Jesus said, in fact, “The Son of Man is not come to condemn the world but that the world through Him might be…what?…saved.” I didn’t come to condemn. Not only that, He said, “I am come to bring mercy,” and so forth and so on. Now
if He says, “Yes, stone her,” wow, the people would say….”Hold it, You’re a liar.” Plus here’s really the key to the whole thing. The Roman law had disallowed the Jews to take the life of anybody.
They could not execute. And if Jesus had said yes, stone her, they would have fired those stones so fast she wouldn’t have known what happened. And the Romans would have come and said, “What…” “The rabbi told us to do it…the rabbit told us to do it,” and that would have been it for Jesus. You see, that’s why I believe they were in such a mad dash to get Him to act. They had those stones ready. “What do You say? What do You say?” And as soon as He would have said stone her…voom, that would have been it. And then the Romans would have come.
There’s the dilemma. Either go contrary to God’s laws, or go contrary to your professed love and Roman law. And I can just see them. What’s He going to say? And they’re anxious to fire those stones. They were hoping that He would probably go along with Moses’ law and they could fire those stones and the Romans would capture Him.
Now let me add something here that I want you to get. Footnote and very important, please get this. The problem here confronting Christ, watch it now, by His enemies is no small local issue. Catch it. The problem confronting Christ is the most profound moral problem in the entire universe. You say, “What do you mean?” Just that. The real problem here is not to do with this woman. You know what the real moral problem is here? This, how do justice and mercy harmonize. Do you see it? Profound. That, my friend, is the question of the universe. How do justice and mercy harmonize? The law of righteousness demands punishment, right? God is a holy God and holiness burns against evil and holiness cannot allow that which is defiled to enter its presence. God says you sin, you die, that’s justice, that’s holiness, that’s righteousness.
Now what happens to the poor sinner? I mean, if God says I also have grace and mercy, how do mercy and justice harmonize? How can you…how can you give mercy when the sword of justice is swinging in the way? How can there be grace without destroying justice? How can God look at somebody and say…Okay, you’re forgiven. Wow, He just eliminated His justice, it’s inconsistent with His nature. You see, you have those two things, don’t you? How…this is the greatest question of the universe…how do justice and mercy harmonize?
Now human wisdom has no answer. No answer. But it just so happens that Jesus Christ was the answer. See, the only answer came in the cross of Jesus Christ. You know, that’s where justice and mercy harmonized. God said you’ve sinned, punishment must come. Jesus died on the cross and what was He bearing there? Punishment. Whose? Ours. And substitution, He took our place and God gave Him all His judgment and then was free to give us His…what?…His mercy.
You see, in Jesus Christ justice and mercy harmonize. God says I’ll let Christ take My judgment and give Him justice and I’ll give you mercy. You see, they asked the wrong question to Him. They were questioning the one in whom justice and mercy had kissed each other. Little did they know. Jesus took our punishment, and even though He hadn’t died yet, listen if the cross is good for us who lived two thousand years after, I think it’s good for those who live six months before it. The coming sacrificial shed blood of Christ gathered up the sins of all men and bore it and Jesus was the only one in whom justice and mercy could kiss and they did. He bore our sin and God said your sin is taken care of, here’s mercy, I’ll forgive on the basis of the shed blood of Jesus Christ.
Do you see how profound that question was that they had picked out THE question? That’s it. Oh little did they know that they were about to get devastated. Was grace helpless before law? Oh, not in Jesus Christ. Oh, watch this, the second part of verse 6, oh I love this. You say, “What’s Jesus going to do? Here they are with their stones? What do You say? What do You say? We’re ready to stone her, what do You say?” Look at this, it says in verse 6, middle, “That Jesus stooped down and with His finger wrote on the ground.” What is this? You say, “What’s He doing?” Scribbling in the dirt. You say, “Jesus had better things to do than scribble in the dirt?” Sometimes. The best thing to do right now is scribble in the dirt. You say, “Why would He do that?” Well I’ve heard sermons…Well, He wrote the name of the cities and He wrote the sins of the men and He wrote this and that, and somebody copied it…” It doesn’t say that. All it says, “He stooped down and wrote on the ground.” And the italics, it says, “as though He heard them” isn’t in the original either. He just scribbled in the dirt. You say, “What’s He doing sitting there scribbling in the dirt?” Just waiting until He can capture the moment for Himself.
Verse 7, “He lifted Himself up…just calmly stood to His feet” By this time, no doubt, He had captured the moment. Not only that, by the protracted pleas of these scribes and Pharisees, He had allowed them to reveal their own hatred and their own animosity to that crowd all by themselves. Do you see? Their continued pleading had already revealed the true character of their hearts. And Jesus calmly stood to His feet.
Oh the master of every moment. Stood to His feet. “Lifted Himself up and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” Oh, what a devastating answer. What a fantastic answer. He didn’t minimize her sin, did He? He didn’t get into a debate about Mosaic law, He didn’t get into a hassle with the seventh commandment. He didn’t set aside the Roman law. He didn’t do any of those things, He just stared at them and said, “If you think you have the right to be her judge, you’ve got something else coming.” He devastatingly showed them that they were unfit to be her judges and executioners. He says, “There is a qualification for judging, it is to be without sin.”
To be without the desire to sin. Wow. If you are without the desire to sin, go ahead, throw the stone. Conviction, power, devastation and they were hypocrites. And there they were, He says, “If you are without the desire to sin…” they were the same people that He had earlier said to, “You’ve heard that you shall not commit adultery, but I say unto you, if a man looks at a woman to lust after her he’s committed adultery in his heart.” They must have been thinking about that one.
So He says the question is not whether Moses’ law shall stand, the question is whether you’re foul hearts puts you in a position to be anybody’s judge. So you know what happens? They came…they brought the woman condemned…you know what happened? They got condemned.
Oh great defenders of the law, the question is not should she die but whether you think you have the right to be a judge or not.
In other words, He says, you hypocrites, you go around and find a fault over here with this one and you’re so full of sin you have no right to be this woman’s judge or executioner. You see what Jesus has done? Whose moment is this? Doesn’t belong to the Pharisees. And then I love what Jesus did again, just does something to me. Verse 8, “He just went back and doodled some more on the ground, He stooped down and wrote on the ground.” He was done. He just calmly waited for the reaction. Oh the humanity of Jesus, the master of capturing the moment. And He left that silent gap when He just did nothing in order that the crowd might muse over what had happened.
Look at the third thing, His conviction, quickly. Verse 9, “And they who heard it being convicted of by their own conscience,” that’s not embarrassment, folks, that’s pure conviction, “went out one by one, beginning at the old ones,” they had the most to remember, “even unto the last and Jesus was left alone and the woman standing in the midst.”
What should they have done? They should have fallen at the feet of Jesus Christ in conviction and said, “Christ, forgive me, cleanse me.” They walked away from the only source that could heal their broken souls. They walked right back into their sin. You know, conviction does two things, it drives a man to Jesus Christ or it drives them away.
And that left just Jesus and the woman. “He said unto her, Woman…” that’s good. He gave her back a little dignity didn’t He? He could have called her harlot, many things, “Woman,” the same thing He called He called His mother twice. Once at Cana, once on the cross, “Woman, where are your accusers?” Kind of ironic, isn’t it? A little irony in it. “Has no man condemned you?”
“She looked at Him and said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee, go and sin no more.” You know what that is, my friend? That is divine forgiveness. Jesus gave her something the law couldn’t give her. You know, the law can show you sin, can the law forgive it? No.
You can’t come to me and say, “Would you forgive me my sins?” I can’t do that. You could talk to a little man in a box and he can’t forgive your sins. Nobody can forgive your sins but God. He’s the only one with prerogative for forgiveness.
Wow we, you mean you could just go do whatever you want and you’re forgiven? Terrific stuff.” No, Jesus said, this is important He said this, if He had said, “Neither do I condemn thee, go,” oh, oh, oh, but He said, “Go and…what?…sin no more.” Romans 6, “Shall we sin that grace may abound? God…what?…forbid.” No, no, you don’t trade on God’s grace. Don’t trade on God’s grace. A true believer never takes advantage. You see, there you have a positional statement…I don’t condemn you. Then you have a practical statement…go and…what?…sin no more. You see, there are both sides of your Christian experience. You’re forgiven but that’s no excuse to trade on God’s grace by going out and sinning. No, no, love doesn’t act like that, does it? Love does not abuse the object of its love. So the true believer doesn’t take advantage.
Do you see His humility there? Humiliation, His humanity. Do you see His wisdom? Devastating. Do you see His conviction? One by one they just kind of drifted away. Do you see His forgiveness? That’s the same forgiveness that I’ve experienced. You know, I’m no better than that woman, neither are you. For one day I came to Jesus Christ and you know what He said to me? He said neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more on the basis of the shed blood of Christ, your sins have been taken care of. And by your faith you are forgiven. Now go and live like a forgiven man, don’t sin.
1 John 2:2 says, “If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father…who?…Jesus Christ the righteous.” He just keeps on cleansing us.