Written In Sand, Written In Stone

     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.

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Written In Sand, Written In Stone

3 thoughts on “Written In Sand, Written In Stone

  1. Hi, I’m sorry, I have to reply to this, because I was thinking about this just yesterday, and the prominence of this story in Pentecostal/Charismatic type Christianity, and its function in the formation of such communities. Charismatic Pentecostalism is my own background. I’m not going to Church anymore (read my blog) but I am still a Christian, still sing and speak in tongues and want to please God and will start reading the Bible again as soon as I get my new glasses, which I keep forgetting to do!

    It’s about purity and reprieve and not taking the rap and turning the tables on your accusers. This feeling of falling short and wanting reprieve and to see our accusers disabled and put in their place is at the core of every one of us, and great motivators in the formation of a strict and exclusive community which, in spite of disclaimers, these places often appear to be.

    I was immediately struck by your assertion that we all know this story. I have to assume that not every Christian denomination majors on this story as much as we do and that not all Christians DO know this story, because the need to identify with it is not so much felt to be a personal or community need.

    This comment is all out of my own thinking about this very story yesterday. Until yesterday I hadn’t thought of this at all. I realise that most Church leaders may not see it in terms of its function in forming and maintaining community, and if they do it might not be adopted with deliberate cynicism. For many it is a part of their tradition which they have grown up with and never questioned or thought about, as it was for me. i can’t even remember why I started thinking about it yesterday now. But I did, and this is where I ended up with it. It’s a place that makes sense to me.

    Also (I’m not trying to pull the story down) I understand it doesn’t even appear in some original texts. That in itself obviously doesn’t lessen any importance or significance it might have in the texts where it does appear, or its reliability. Just as the Gospel writers chose what was important to them for inclusion (this only appears in John’s gospel), different communities will also have chosen what they thought important in constructing the ‘original texts’, of which it is obvious, from the footnotes about exclusions, that more than one exists. I think it is obviously the same with modern day communities. Jesus said at one point, ‘anyone who is not against us is for us’, and told the disciples to leave the man alone who was doing miracles in his name and not denounce him just because he wasn’t part of His group. I’m not saying you’re doing any of that, I’m just thinking.

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