We all know the story of Christ and the adulterous woman (John 8: 1-11). Our Lord was teaching in the temple, and the wicked religious leaders of Judaism, who were always trying to tangle Him in His words, brought in a woman who had been taken in the very act of adultery. Now they stood before Christ and asked what was to be done. The law said that the adulterous was to be stoned (Leviticus 20: 10; Deut. 22: 22). The Pharisees figured that if Christ refused to call for her death, they could use that against Him; alleging that He spoke contrary to Moses and God Who gave the law. That would have surely discredited Him before the people. But Christ didn’t answer them with words. Instead, He wrote something in the ground.
What did He write? This has been a matter of speculation among professing Christians. A few years ago, I heard one preacher say that Christ inscribed in the dust the sins of each of the woman’s accusers, with times and dates. Well, I really doubt that. Sounds a bit goofy, doesn’t it? Actually, the answer is not so hard to come by, if one knows the Gospel. Although Christ had not the leisure to etch such a detailed list of each man’s sins, He wrote something which served much the same purpose. With His finger, He wrote the ten commandments in the ground.
How do I know this? Well, firstly, from the fact of Jesus Christ’s divinity. We recall that the Decalogue was originally inscribed on tablets of stone with the finger of God (Exodus 21: 18). So the act of Christ writing with His finger becomes significant. Most importantly, however, because the Pharisees were convicted of sin in their own hearts. And only the law can bring that conviction (see Romans 7: 7, 9). The religious teachers dared not call for the adulterous woman’s condemnation. If they had done so, equity would have demanded that they call for their own deaths as well. For the curse of the law is death (see Galatians 3: 13). And Christ emphasized His act by saying: “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her” (John 8: 7). So the Pharisees, being convicted by their own consciences, filed out one by one, starting with the eldest (John 8: 9).
Now Christ shows the woman that His is a mission of mercy; not a ministry of condemnation (as was that of Moses), but of salvation. The law came to condemn man, but grace reveals a better way. How was it that no man condemned her? Well, how could they — without condemning themselves? What Christ wrote in the sand was the same law that had been written in tablets of stone many centuries before. It’s purpose was not to justify — for if so, there would have been a law that had given life (Gal. 3: 21) — but to show the whole world guilty before God (Romans 3: 19). Yes, the whole world: from the pompous, self-righteous Pharisee, right down to the seediest back-alley boozer. All men are in need of the salvation which flows from the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ.
Once a person is saved, and been sprinkled by the blood of Christ through the regenerating work of the Spirit (remember the blood and water of John 19: 34), that person receives the work of the law written in his/her heart. For that is what the New Covenant is all about (see Hebrews 8: 10). Under the New Covenant, what was previously etched in stone, and become a matter of “do or die,” has now been made spiritual, and becomes “Believe, and live.” This is the “work of God” (see John 6: 29). The law, as interpreted under the New Covenant, speaks thuswise:
“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commendment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matt. 22: 37-40).
Nevertheless, how can any man love God or his neighbor, except he first have the love of God in him? We love Him because He first loved us. Which brings us to realize, that until a person is regenerated he must needs hear the thunderings of Sinai, so his conscience convicts him of sin. Moses’ plough must break the hardened ground ere the Sower casts in the seed of the kingdom. Before we can preach God’s grace, we must preach a broken law and God’s resultant wrath.
Hence, the law still avails; not for “righteous men” (i.e., those who have been made righteous by faith), but for sinners (1 Tim. 1: 9). The law shows men how sinful they really are; so that instead of pointing fingers at other sinners — like the Pharisees did with the adulterous woman — they might see their own condemnation, repent, and seek shelter beneath the blood-stained wood of Calvary’s cross.