#castthefirststone

October 9, 2016

Have you ever had a song or a part of a
song stuck in your head?  You know like,
. . .  “Mahna Manhna.”   You’re welcome.
Back in the early eighties I heard a song
once, only once as far as I can remember. 
It was in the kitchen of our family home on Golden Grove Rd. in Saint
John.  We were that family that always
had a radio playing in the kitchen.  And
one afternoon I hear a song, didn’t catch the name of the artist but the words
of the chorus stuck in my head.  For over
thirty years they have lived there, and every once in a while I’d try and track
down what the song was.  And low and
behold the other day thanks to the power of the interwebby I found it.
The song was recorded by a young Christian
artist by the name of Robyn Pope who had limited success for a few years in the
United States.  Why it was played on a
secular radio station in Saint John New Brunswick is beyond me.  But the line that has been stuck in my head
for the past thirty years, is “Cast the first stone
if you think you’re so hot, if you think that she’s wicked and you think that
you’re not.”
To put it into context, here is first verse
and chorus song by Robyn Pope. 
Maybe you know the story and maybe you
don’t.  It was read this morning from the
book of John Chapter 8 the first eleven verses. 
It’s pretty self-explanatory; really all you have to do is read it to
get a sense of what is happening.
And today I’m sure that if someone was
tweeting about this event the hashtag would be #castthefirststone.  We are in our second week of our “Hashtag
This” series, and over the next few weeks we will be looking at various words
and phrases from the bible that deserve a hashtag.
A woman had been caught committing
adultery, a sin that was considered a crime under Jewish law.  As a matter of fact the Rabbis said “Every Jew
must die before he will commit idolatry, murder or adultery.”  A view that obviously wasn’t shared by
everyone.  In particular, a view that
must not have been shared by this woman, at least not in practice.
You’ve either heard the story or you’ve
heard the phrase “Cast the first stone” which is the central part of what
happened that day.  This morning we are
going to look at the characters who made up the story.
1)
The Accused
Let’s start by clearing a couple of
things up right away.  First you ever get
the impression that the woman here was an innocent spectator? You kind of get
the idea that she was just standing on the side of the road and they grabbed
her and dragged her to Jesus.  I don’t
know how many times I’ve heard this message preached and I’ve always gone away
feeling sorry for the woman.  Hold
it.  The woman was an adulteress.  The Bible says that she’d been caught in bed
with a man who wasn’t her husband.  Now I
don’t know for sure what she was doing in bed with the man who wasn’t her
husband but I’d be willing to bet they weren’t playing checkers. 
Now in 2016 Adultery may not seem all that
serious.  Across the border in the
presidential race one candidate is an adulterer and the other candidate is
married to an adulterer and it hasn’t seemed to hurt either of them.   And
all most of us probably know at least one adulterer or adulteress, but in Jesus
day it was a pretty dangerous accusation.
The second impression that you get from
hearing some of these sermons was that she was just caught in the act right
then and dragged from the scene and thrown at the feet of Jesus, but it doesn’t
even imply that it had just happened. 
So we probably should presume, because we
don’t know any different that the woman was fully clothed and her husband or
her partner’s wife or whoever had caught them, had reported them to the powers
that be and now action was being taken.
The third impression that you get is that
the man got away with it.  You hear
preachers asking that question “Where was the man”?  And then saying things like “She couldn’t
have been alone.”  As if this was some
grand conspiracy where only the woman involved in adultery was punished.  And then the preachers start speculating that
the person that she had been caught with was one of the religious leaders or
someone important.
Maybe, but according to one source the
Mishnah, or Jewish codified law states the penalty for adultery would be
strangulation and it even lays down the method.
It then reiterates that death by stoning is
the penalty for a girl who is betrothed and then commits adultery.  So, maybe the guy had already paid the price.
We know nothing else about this woman other
than the bare facts laid down in John’s narrative.  She was caught in adultery and was being
sentenced.  There was no defense for her;
she couldn’t appeal to a higher court. 
She had started writing the story and her
accusers would finish it for her.  As a
Jewish woman, in a Jewish culture, raised in a knowledge of the Jewish law she
would have known the consequences of her actions. 
We might ignore the words of the law laid
down in the Old Testament but for her that wouldn’t have been an option so she
would have known that Leviticus 20:10 “If a man
commits adultery with his neighbor’s wife, both the man and the woman who have
committed adultery must be put to death.
When she started down that path, she would have
known the ultimate destination if she got caught.  She may very well have thought that she
wouldn’t get caught but she knew what the law dictated would happen if she did
get caught.
We might feel sorry for her, we might feel
that the punishment didn’t fit the crime, after all what would happen today if
adulterers & adulteresses were put to death.  Other than the fact that the unemployment
problem would be solved with all those jobs opening up, Hillary would be a
widow, the Donald Trump question would have already been answered, Hollywood
would be a virtual ghost town and most of us would lose some friends.
And as much as we might feel that this was
extreme and unjust action, in her country, under her religion according to her
traditions and customs she was simply getting what she deserved no more no
less.
Which brings us to 2) The Accusers The scriptures tell us they were the teachers of
religious law and Pharisees.  These men
were the court of Israel.  They were the
legal experts of the day.  When you had
an issue that needed to be resolved this is where you brought it. 
And so it was to these men that the woman
was brought.  Probably by her husband who
explained the situation and presented the witnesses.  You see it wouldn’t be enough that he had
caught her in the act because the law may have been harsh but it tried to be
fair and so it said in Deuteronomy 17:6 But never
put a person to death on the testimony of only one witness. There must always
be two or three witnesses. 
That is reiterated in Deuteronomy 19:15-19 You must not convict anyone of a crime on the testimony of
only one witness. The facts of the case must be established by the testimony of
two or three witnesses. “If a malicious witness comes forward and accuses
someone of a crime, then both the accuser and accused must appear before the
Lord by coming to the priests and judges in office at that time. The judges
must investigate the case thoroughly. If the accuser has brought false charges
against his fellow Israelite, you must impose on the accuser the sentence he
intended for the other person. In this way, you will purge such evil from among
you.
Now that’s the bare bones of the situation,
but it’s not all the story.  To put a
wrinkle in the story these men did not have the right to put this woman to
death, and they knew it. 
“But Denn, you said”, I know what I
said.  I said that the penalty for her
crime was death under Jewish law. 
Right?  Right. 
But they weren’t under Jewish law, remember
they were an occupied country and they were under Roman law, and under Roman
law nobody but the Roman Authorities could impose the death sentence.
You might recall that is why the Jews took
Jesus to Pilate to be condemned to death; they didn’t have the authority to do
it.  I don’t know what they were going to
do with the woman, but it wasn’t going to be death.  Or at least there had been a pretty good
chance that it wouldn’t be.
But then they started spouting off things
like John 8:5 “The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?” And
that’s when the reality of the situation started to sink in.  She knew that the penalty for adultery was
death but it had been a while since the penalty had been carried out and she
wasn’t really all that interested in seeing a return to tradition.  But why now? 
What was happening here? 
Well, to be truthful I don’t think that
this woman or what she did was all that important to the Pharisees and the
teachers of the Law of Moses.  Oh they
would have looked at her with contempt, and probably made some rude comments
about her private life. 
They may have granted her husband a divorce
and made life pretty miserable for her. 
But she was just a secondary concern; they had bigger fish to fry.
The woman was just an excuse; she was bait
for the bigger fish.  You see this young
carpenter from Galilee, Jesus was getting on their nerves and they were looking
for some way to discredit him.  It wasn’t
the first time nor would it be the last; remember these were the same guys who
asked him in Luke
20:22
“Now tell us—is it right for us to pay
taxes to Caesar or not?”
And in Matthew 19:3 Some
Pharisees came and tried to trap him with this question: “Should a man be
allowed to divorce his wife for just any reason?”
and in Mark 8:11 When the
Pharisees heard that Jesus had arrived, they came and started to argue with
him. Testing him, they demanded that he show them a miraculous sign from heaven
to prove his authority.  Kind of a
recurring theme wouldn’t you think?
And so the question they pose to Jesus is
this, “Will you side with the Jewish law, the law of your forefathers or will
you side with the Roman oppressors?”   
It was really a lose, lose situation for Jesus. 
If he said “stone her” then they could go
to the Romans and say, “Look here’s a man who’s challenging your
authority.  On the other hand, if he says
“don’t stone her” then they go to the Jew’s and say “See, he’s challenging the
authority of scripture.
The woman was a nothing to the Pharisees
and rulers of the law, she had no name, no personality, no feelings, and she
was simply a pawn.  A piece to be played
in the game they waged against Jesus. 
They were using her the same way they would use a tool.
3)
The Forgiver
And so it’s in this little soap opera
that we see Jesus at his best.  Because
unlike the Pharisees, Jesus knew the woman, he had been there when she was
created, he knew her when she was being knit together in her mother’s womb, he
knew the numbers of her hair and he knew the condition of her heart. 
And unlike the Pharisees he cared about the
woman, it was for her that he left heaven and came to earth, it was for her
that he was willing to live as a mortal for thirty-three years, and ultimately
it would be for her that he would allow himself to be nailed to a cross and
die.
You gotta get the picture.  Jesus is teaching a crowd of people, and as
was the custom of the day when a Rabbi had something very important to teach he
did it sitting down with people gathered all around him.  And so there he sat, and there they
stood. 
A woman who if not full of remorse was
almost certainly full of shame, her head bowed, her eyes looking at the dirt,
knowing that she was guilty.  Surrounded
her were the religious teachers, her judges, the ones who had her very life in
their hands.  And they were demanding an
answer. 
And he didn’t say a word, he just bent over
and started doodling in the dirt, and they stood there looking down on him
demanding that he make a decision concerning this woman’s life.  And he continued to write in the sand, kind
of an interesting reaction. 
Wonder why he did that?  There have been at least four
suggestions.  1) To give him time, he
didn’t want to be rushed into a rash statement, so this was a little bit of a
time out.  Perhaps he was thinking things
through and more importantly taking time to ask his Father what he should
do. 
2) Perhaps by doing this he was forcing the
Pharisees and scribes to repeat their charges, so they could hear exactly what
they were saying. 
3) Maybe he did it so that he wouldn’t have
to look in their eyes.  The leering,
lustful looks of the religious leaders, the morbid curiosity of the crowd, and
the shame of the woman all combined to twist his heart in knots.  So he hid his eyes.
4) 
The most interesting suggestion by far is that as he sat there doodling
in the dust, he was actually jotting down the sins of the men who stood before
him.  This goes a little deeper than mere
speculation.  Again let’s remember that
the Bible wasn’t written in English, it was written in Greek which was a much
more expressive language then English. 
English is kind of a lazy language. 
We’ll take one word and make it mean half a dozen different things. 
Like the word fast.  It can mean quick, it can mean go without
food, it can mean to tie something up, it can mean that the colors won’t fade,
it can mean to be loyal, it can mean to be sexually promiscuous or it can mean
that your watch gained time. 
The Greek word that would normally have
been used here for writing should have been graphein which simply means to
write.  But John adds the prefix of Kata
to the word which means against.  Making
the word katagraphein
which meant to write down a record against someone. 
And so some have suggested that Jesus was
confronting the men with their own sins. 
Bob beat his wife last week, Fred cheated on his taxes, Joe stole from
his neighbor, and Jacob slept with Marks wife. 
I’ve also heard it suggested that he was writing the names of their
girlfriends in the dust for all to see.
But whatever he was doing the leaders
continued to demand an answer and so Jesus gave it to them John 8:7-8
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.
 Maybe this was when they noticed what the
words actually said that he was writing out, I don’t know but something struck
a chord because the Bible says John 8:9-11 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.”
Now as a side bar to our sermon, you may
have noticed in your bibles a footnote that says that this particular story was
not included in many of the early manuscripts that have been found of the New
Testament. 
And that is true; the earliest manuscripts
don’t include this story.  However, some
scholars feel that it wasn’t included in the earliest manuscripts because those
who edited the text of the New Testament thought that this was a dangerous
story, a justification for a light view of adultery and therefore omitted
it. 
None other than Augustine said that the
story was removed from text of the gospel because some were of slight faith and
to avoid scandal.
William Barclay who wrote the daily study Bible Commentary had this to say “We may be sure that this is a real story about Jesus,
although one so gracious that for a long time men were afraid to accept it.”
Now back to the message.  It’s easy to draw the wrong lesson here and
to get the impression that Jesus took the woman’s sin all too lightly, as if it
didn’t matter.  He didn’t say “I am not
going to judge you”.  What he said was “I
am not going to judge you just now, go and sin no more.” 
Jesus was asking her if she was an
adulterer or if she had simply committed adultery, and there is a world of
difference.    It was Richard North
Patterson who wrote  “No one should
be judged
by the worst moment of his
life.”
So what he was doing wasn’t so much
abandoning judgment as much as deferring judgment.  He was saying, “Go and prove that you can do
better” Jesus attitude to this sinner and to us as sinners involves a number of
things.
1) It
Involved a Second Chance
, it was as if Jesus was
saying, “I know that you’ve made a mess of things, but life is not finished
yet, I’m giving you another chance a chance to redeem yourself.”  Let it be known in Jesus is a gospel of
second chances. 
Jesus was always interested not only in
what a person was but in what a person could be.  He didn’t say that what people had done
didn’t matter, broken laws and broken hearts always matter but he knew that
people not only have a past but they have a future.
And isn’t that what Jesus has done for all
of us, give us a second chance?  Where we
can come and ask him to forgive our sins and repent, that is turn from our sins,
and through his help seek to do better.
2)
It Involved Mercy
The basic difference between
Jesus and the Pharisees was they wished to condemn the woman he wished to
forgive the woman.  If we read between
the lines of the story we can see that they were taking great pleasure in what
they were doing and would relish in being able to stone the woman.
3) It
Involved Challenge

Jesus confronted this woman with the challenge of a different life.  He wanted her to know the reality of 2 Corinthians 5:17 This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a
new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!  But what he didn’t say was “It’s all
right, don’t worry: just go on as you are doing.”  he said “it’s all wrong, go out and fight and
change your life from top to bottom, go and sin no more.”
It wasn’t an easy forgiveness, instead it
was a challenge which pointed a sinner to heights of goodness which she
couldn’t even imagine.
4)
It Involved a Warning
.  It may not be said but it is certainly
implied.  Here we are face to face with
the eternal choice.  Jesus confronted the
woman with a choice that same choice he gives each one of us, either to go back
to our old ways or to reach out to the new way with him.  This story is unfinished, for every life in
unfinished until it stands before God.
So where are you at?  If you can’t put yourself in the woman’s place,
then you are putting yourself in the Pharisees place. 
Listen to me very carefully.  There isn’t any sin in the world that you
aren’t capable of.  I had a friend of
mine who told me he couldn’t imagine how anyone could commit adultery and today
he is living with another man’s wife while his wife lives alone.  You best be careful before you pick up a rock
and throw it. 
Maybe you’re standing where the woman stood
and you know that you’ve done wrong and you can’t imagine what Jesus would want
with the likes of you, and he’s saying “The story’s not over yet, go and sin no
more.”  That doesn’t just involve being
sorry for sinning it involves being so sorry that you turn from your sin and
that is called repentance.  listen to the
message that Jesus has for you today “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.”