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.
It was after a church service one morning in which the minister had preached on spiritual gifts that he was greeted at the door by a lady who said, "Pastor, I believe I have the gift of criticism." The pastor looked at her and asked, "Remember the person in Jesus' parable who had the one talent?" The woman nodded her understanding. "Do you recall what he did with it?" "Yes," replied the lady, "he went out and buried it." The pastor suggested, "Go, thou, and do likewise!"
The Pharisees and Sadducees apparently felt they too had the gift of criticism. Frequently they attempted to ensnare the Lord Jesus. As was the Master's habit, He entered Jerusalem, crossing 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" (John 8:2). His reappearance in the temple provided an opportunity for the Pharisees and scribes to lay a subtle snare for Him. They brought a woman taken in the very act of adultery. The Feast of Tabernacles had just been celebrated, and acts of immorality during that festive week were not unusual. The scribes attempted to put Christ in a dilemma by quoting the law of Moses. They knew that if He answered that the woman should be stoned, He would violate the Roman law, which forbade such acts. However, if Jesus answered that the woman should not be stoned, He would be violating Moses' law (Deuteronomy 22:24).
The religious leaders were not so much interested in the adulterous woman as they were in Jesus' response to her situation. Their criticism of her was motivated by their desire to entrap Him. But Christ knew well how to repel such attacks by an appeal to higher principles. The same law that adjudged the guilty to be stoned to death also required the witnesses to cast the first stones. Jesus' statement, "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her," was sure to bring an end to their criticism. The crowd, one by one, stealthily left the scene. Ironically the only one who was left was the Lord Jesus, the only one of the crowd who had lived a perfect life and had a right to condemn her.
This very teaching is reiterated by the Apostle Paul in Romans 8. Paul asks the hypothetical questions, "What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? . . . who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us" (Romans 8:31, 33-34). Only the mind of God could conceive of a plan whereby the one person who lived a righteous life and had the right to condemn us was the very person who laid down that life to die for us. The woman taken in adultery was speaking to the one who did not come into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world.
One businessman keeps a fairly large stone on his desk. The stone is mounted and lettered with one word: "First." This acts as a constant reminder to him of Jesus' words, "He that is without sin . . . let him first cast a stone." When his employees enter his office and there is reason to criticize them for their lack of achievement, the man looks at the stone and recalls his own shortcomings. He deals with his employees in mercy and grace.
This passage of Scripture does not teach us to look the other way when people sin. It does not teach us that we ought to condone adultery or any other crime. What it does teach us, however, is that it is not the responsibility of a Christian continually to be on the lookout for sin in other Christians--or anyone else for that matter. If we have lived a perfect life, we can be watchdogs on others who have not lived a perfect life. But we have enough trouble keeping ourselves in line; we need not constantly be critical of the way others live. Jesus was teaching the critical religious leaders of His day that although the woman was a great sinner, she was no greater a sinner than they were. We must remember the same as we meet others today.
More like the Master I would live and grow,
More of His love to others I would show;
More self-denial like His in Galilee,
More like the Master I long to ever be.