So Many Rocks
Yesterday, I had to dig a hole for a fence post. In many parts of the United States, digging one fence post hole would be no problem. A few plunges into soft soil with a post hole digger, a clam shell device with long pole handles designed to dig deep, and you are done in no time. However, in our corner of the Ozarks, such a tool is virtually worthless. We all know why – ROCKS! I took my pick axe and a shovel out where I needed to dig, and started chipping away. After about an hour of picking at rock, the hickory handle on my pick suddenly snapped. I had to go buy the wooden fence post anyway, so I bought a new handle for my very old pick, and finished chiseling the hole I needed. Digging a hole most anywhere around Branson is no picnic.
In John 8, the apostle recounts the story of the Pharisees bringing a woman caught in adultery to Jesus, asking Him if she should be stoned as prescribed under the Law. As you remember, Jesus did not answer directly, but stooped down a wrote in the dust with his finger. When the Pharisees pressed Him to answer, Jesus turned the situation around on the accusers, saying, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” Then, the Lord casually went back to writing in the dirt. I am sure an awkward silence ensued. Then, in that silence, one by one you could hear the thud of stone after stone hitting the ground as their holders dropped each intended missile and walked away. Jesus looked up, and seeing no one, Jesus asked the woman, “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more.” (John 8:2ff)
This familiar passage appears in brackets in my bible (NASB). We are told verses 7:53-8:11 do not appear in the oldest known manuscripts. Some ancient manuscripts have the story of the woman taken in adultery appearing after John 21; others include the story in Luke. Although most biblical scholars believe the story to be an authentic account from the life of Jesus, there remains some question as to its validity. What cannot be questioned, however, is the force of the principal points made in the account. Rather than falling into the trap laid for Him, Jesus used the confrontation to expose the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. Secondarily, Jesus, knowing the heart of the woman, shows her great compassion by not condemning her for her actions with the admonition that she is to go and “sin no more”. I do not believe the instruction was that she was to go and live a completely sin free life, rather that she was not to continue in the present sin of adultery. Jesus was saying to her, “Don’t sin like this again.” Not because she might be stoned, but because grace had rescued her—and she now possessed a new identity as a beautifully loved child of God. She had experienced God’s compassion and was provided with the pathway of restoration. Obviously, Jesus was aware of her sin and fully understood the gravity of that sin, as well as its consequences under the Law (death). But, he also knows that fallen man is incapable of living sin free under the weight of the Law, and each of us is in need of the love, compassion, grace, and redemption of the Savior.
This need of the Savior, as Jesus cleverly pointed out in this story, was also upon the self-righteous Pharisees who were accusing and preparing to stone the woman, and entrapping the Prophet. They could use the occasion of catching the woman in the act of adultery to rid themselves of the problematical Jesus. These scribes and Pharisees believed they could trap Jesus into overstepping His perceived authority by judging that the woman should be put to death (only Roman authorities could legally so prescribe, although Jewish leaders where known to impose stoning in cases of adultery), or being guilty of subverting Mosaic Law if He stated the woman should not be stoned. Jesus foiled the trap of the scribes and Pharisees by pointing out their hypocrisy and self-righteousness, rather than directly answering their question.
What can we gain from the study of John 8? First, we can learn from Jesus’ reproach of the sanctimonious scribes and Pharisees that, when we see a brother or sister engaged in sin, that we are to gently correct that person privately. If that fails, we are to take one or two more with us. If we still fail to win back our brother or sister, we are to take the matter before the church (see Matthew 18:15ff). Jesus showed this type of discipline laced with compassion in dealing with the woman caught in adultery. Too often in today’s church, we fail to associate discipline with compassion, and want to overlook the sin of a brother or sister in a rush to forgive. Or, we neglect compassion altogether, opting to not forgive, holding the offense ever against the accused. Neither approach is biblical when exercised alone.
Do not ignore the sins of your spiritual brother or sister. Gently correct. Likewise, do not withhold forgiveness for the one with a repentant heart. To do so is to carry around those stones we should have dropped. Like digging holes in the Ozarks, it is all too easy to weigh ourselves down with stones regarding someone else’s perceived wrong in this life. But, who needs the extra burden of all those rocks?
Let them drop.
Kevin Huddleston is an Elder at Fellowship at Cross Creek in Branson, Missouri, An Imperfect Church for Imperfect People