A Ledger in the Sand

Then the meeting broke up, and everybody went home.Jesus returned to the Mount of Olives, but early the next morning He was back again at the Temple. A crowd soon gathered, and He sat down and taught them. As He was speaking, the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. They put her in front of the crowd. “Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery.The law of Moses says to stone her. What do You say?”They were trying to trap Him into saying something they could use against Him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with His finger.They kept demanding an answer, so He stood up again and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” Then He stooped down again and wrote in the dust.When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman.Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”“No, Lord,” she said.And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.” (John 7:53–8:11 NLT)

Your Bible translation may indicate that this passage was omitted from some of the early manuscripts. Augustine wrote that the reason for its omission was because of a prudish fear that it would encourage adultery. However, the passage, as we will see, clearly condemns sin; it doesn’t condone it.

The night before this confrontation, John records that there had been a meeting of the Sanhedrin. The members of the Sanhedrin were divided in their opinion as to whether or not Jesus was the Messiah. Nicodemus had spoken up on Jesus’ behalf, but was abruptly belittled as one of Jesus’ fellow Galileans, and pointedly reminded that no prophet could possibly come from Galilee.

This particular morning Jesus was back teaching in the Temple — and as usual, a crowd had gathered. At an optimum time to create the greatest spectacle, the scribes and Pharisees brought this woman before Jesus. They had caught the woman in the act of adultery — but where was the man? The Law (Leviticus 20:10) required that both the adulterer and the adulteress be put to death. The very fact that they had not brought the man before the crowd makes it apparent that they were not seeking to enforce the Law; they were seeking to trap Jesus so that they could accuse Him. Their goal was not to stone the woman as the Law required, rather their goal was stone Jesus.

The religious leaders smugly said, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery.The law of Moses says to stone her. What do You say?”

Picture the scene. There stood the woman. Having been abruptly dragged before Jesus, she would have been disheveled and disarrayed with a posture that conveyed a mixture of defiance, embarrassment, fear and remorse. Behind her stood her accusers — the religious leaders — with an air of superiority, stiffneckedness, smugness and contempt — probably more directed toward Jesus than even the woman. Surrounding them all was the crowd — leering at the woman and craning their necks to see what was going to happen. In the midst of them all, Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust. He clearly took a posture that distanced Himself from her accusers and did not add to her humiliation. And He began to write, as if He wasn’t paying any attention to what was going on in front of Him and around Him. Talk about peace in the midst of a storm! That time on the boat with the disciples doesn’t even begin to compare with this!

As we look through Scripture, this is the only time we ever see Jesus writing. And we do not know what He wrote. He intended it to be that way. If He had wanted us to know, He would have had John record it. But the prophet Jeremiah may have given us a clue when he wrote, “O LORD, the Hope of Israel, All who forsake Youshall be ashamed. Those who depart from Me shall be written in the earth, because they have forsaken the LORD, the fountain of Living Waters” (Jeremiah 17:13 NKJ, emphasis added).

Who in His midst had forsaken the Lord? The woman? Yes. The religious leaders? Yes. The crowd? Yes. Every one of them! (Every one of us!) And i believe that Jesus began to write — in the form of a ledger, if you will — the very specific sins of those who were now standing there in judgement of the woman. They would have been “secret” sins committed in private that the religious leaders believed no one knew anything about. Sins, that if they were made publicly known, would not only have been a great source of embarrassment, but would have cost these men their position of influence. It may have even cost some of them their lives.

As the religious leaders again pressed the question, Jesus replied, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!”And one-by-one, as they looked more closely at the “ledger” that Jesus had written, they began to realize that Jesus knew! It wasn’t repentance that overtook them. It was fear! And, they turned around one-by-one and left under some pretense. Again, i don’t believe they left out of remorse. I believe they left out of fear. And they left even more motivated to destroy this Jesus — this One who knew everything they had ever done (John 4:29).

Jesus was the only One in the midst of that crowd that was qualified to judge that day — or any day for that matter. He met the qualification — He was sinless. And when He returns, He will return as Judge! But on that day, He was in their midst as Savior. Yes, the woman was guilty. But Jesus had come that day to put the cross between her and her sin. Jesus had once told the Pharisee Nicodemus that “God sent His Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through Him” (John 3:17). Yes, He will return as the Judge. But by God’s grace — to that woman — and to you and me — He first came as the Savior to pay our sin debt — so that when He returns as Judge our debt in the ledger can be marked “paid in full”.

So what is our role as we walk with the Master? Has He called us to be judges of those around us — belittling, accusing, showing disdain and being judgmental? Our name and our sins would be written there in that ledger in the sand if it wasn’t for His saving grace. And as recipients, we are to take the posture of our Savior and be His ambassadors of the gospel of His saving grace. There are multitudes waiting to have their sin debt marked paid in full. Let’s not make them continue to wait!