The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say” (John 8:3–5, esv)?
The early morning quiet was broken as a mob burst into the courtyard, dragging a barely dressed woman behind them. What filled her eyes—shame, horror, terror? What thoughts raced through her mind as she scrambled to keep her feet? How her face and neck must have burned red as neighbors stuck their heads through open windows—staring, gawking, judging.
With holy strides, the mob stormed through the city into the courtyard to confront Jesus. “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?”
Let’s pause the story for some legal analysis. Did the woman deserve to be stoned? The scribes and Pharisees were technically correct. According to the Law, adultery was punishable by stoning, and she’d been caught in the very act of adultery. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, she was guilty.
But so are we. We can’t begin to make sense of this story until we grasp this uncomfortable idea: We all deserve to be stoned.
Under the Law, adultery wasn’t the only sin that warranted the death sentence. Breaking the Sabbath—not taking one day a week to rest, per God’s instructions. Sorcery—accessing the spiritual world through a medium or wizard. Blasphemy—taking God’s name in vain. Idolatry—treating anything as more important than God. Disrespect—rebelling against one’s parents. Lust—an expansion of adultery, in Jesus’ words: “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). Every one of these sins was also punishable by death.
If you’d lived under the Law, and all your attitudes and actions were openly exposed, would you have deserved to be stoned too?
We can’t understand this story until we cultivate a sense of our place in it. As we look on this dramatic scene, we don’t get to identify with Jesus. He’s the only one who’s innocent and the only rightful authority. As long as we fail to see our own guilt, we force ourselves into the corner with the religious leaders, with a harsh opinion of others and a high view of ourselves.
If we don’t relate to the sinner in this story, then we don’t yet understand the gospel. All of us are under the justifiable wrath of Almighty God for our rebellion, stubbornness, selfishness, and sinfulness. Some might argue, “I don’t believe anybody deserves to go to hell.” More accurately, nobody deserves to go to heaven.
We all deserve to be stoned.
Yet we aren’t. We’re not dragged outside the city and forced to atone for our bad choices. Jesus was taken outside the city. Jesus was wrongfully put to death for your sin and mine. And you cannot fully appreciate His sacrifice until you grasp that you’re the one who should have been stoned. You should have been on that cross. That’s the power of the gospel.
May we live every day with the humility to realize we deserve nothing; we’ve been given everything. That’s grace—God’s unmerited favor.
Father God, forgive me for my self-righteousness. Like the woman in the story, I’ve done wrong. I deserve to be punished. This bitter realization makes the gospel message all the sweeter: Jesus in my place. Jesus took my punishment, and by His wounds I am healed. Thank You. May I live today with the sense that I deserve nothing, and You’ve given me everything through Jesus. In His name, amen.