The voices yanked her out of bed.
“Get up, you harlot.”
“What kind of woman do you think you are?”
Priests slammed open the bedroom door, threw back the window curtains, and pulled off the covers. Before she felt the warmth of the morning sun, she felt the heat of their scorn.
“Shame on you.”
She scarcely had time to cover her body before they marched her through the narrow streets. Dogs yelped. Roosters ran. Women leaned out their windows. Mothers snatched children off the path. Merchants peered out the doors of their shops. Jerusalem became a jury and rendered its verdict with glares and crossed arms.
And as if the bedroom raid and parade of shame were inadequate, the men thrust her into the middle of a morning Bible class.
Early the next morning [Jesus] was back again at the Temple. A crowd soon gathered, and he sat down and taught them. As he was speaking, the teachers of religious law and Pharisees brought a woman they had caught in the act of adultery. They put her in front of the crowd.
“Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the very act of adultery. The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?” (John 8:2-5, NLT).
Stunned students stood on one side of her. Pious plaintiffs on the other. They had their questions and convictions; she had her dangling negligee and smeared lipstick.
“This woman was caught in the very act of adultery,” her accusers crowed. Caught in the very act. In the moment. In the arms. In the passion. Caught in the very act by the Jerusalem Council on Decency and Conduct. “The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?”
The woman had no exit. Deny the accusation? She had been caught. Plead for mercy? From whom? From God? His spokesmen were squeezing stones and snarling their lips. No one would speak for her.
But someone would stoop for her.
Jesus “stooped down and wrote in the dust” (John 8:6, NLT). We would expect him to stand up, step forward, or even ascend a stair and speak. But instead he leaned over. He descended lower than anyone else—beneath the priests, the people, even beneath the woman. The accusers looked down on her. To see Jesus, they had to look down even farther.
He’s prone to stoop. He stooped to wash feet, to embrace children. Stooped to pull Peter out of the sea, to pray in the garden. He stooped before the Roman whipping post. Stooped to carry the cross. Grace is a God who stoops. Here he stooped to write in the sand.
Remember the first occasion his fingers touched dirt? He scooped soil and formed Adam. As he touched the sun-baked soil beside the woman, Jesus may have been reliving the creation moment, reminding himself from whence we came. Earthly humans are prone to do earthy things. Maybe Jesus wrote in the soil for his own benefit.
Or for hers? To divert gaping eyes from the scantily clad, just-caught woman who stood in the center of the circle?
The posse grew impatient with the silent, stooping Jesus. “They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up” (John 8:7, NLT).
He lifted himself erect until his shoulders were straight and his head was high. He stood, not to preach, for his words would be few. Not for long, for he would soon stoop again. Not to instruct his followers; he didn’t address them. He stood on behalf of the woman. He placed himself between her and the lynch mob and said, “‘All right, stone her. But let those who have never sinned throw the first stones!’ Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust” (John 8:7-8, NLT).
Name-callers shut their mouths. Rocks fell to the ground. Jesus resumed his scribbling.
“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” (John 8:9, NLT).
Jesus wasn’t finished. He stood one final time and asked the woman, “Where are your accusers?” (John 8:10, NLT).
My, my, my. What a question—not just for her but for us. Voices of condemnation awaken us as well.
“You aren’t good enough.”
“You’ll never improve.”
The voices in our world.
And the voices in our heads! Who is this morality patrolman who issues a citation at every stumble? Who reminds us of every mistake? Does he ever shut up?
No. Because Satan never shuts up. The apostle John called him the Accuser: “This great dragon—the ancient serpent called the Devil, or Satan, the one deceiving the whole world—was thrown down to the earth with all his angels. Then I heard a loud voice shouting across the heavens, ‘…For the Accuser has been thrown down to earth—the one who accused our brothers and sisters before our God day and night'” (Revelation 12:9-10, NLT).
Day after day, hour after hour. Relentless, tireless. The Accuser makes a career out of accusing. Unlike the conviction of the Holy Spirit, Satan’s condemnation brings no repentance or resolve, just regret. He has one aim: “to steal, and to kill, and to destroy” (John 10:10). Steal your peace, kill your dreams, and destroy your future. He has deputized a horde of silver-tongued demons to help him. He enlists people to peddle his poison. Friends dredge up your past. Preachers proclaim all guilt and no grace.
And parents, oh, your parents. They own a travel agency that specializes in guilt trips. They distribute it twenty-four hours a day. Long into adulthood you still hear their voices: “Why can’t you grow up?” “When are you going to make me proud?”
Condemnation—the preferred commodity of Satan. He will repeat the adulterous woman scenario as often as you permit him to do so, marching you through the city streets and dragging your name through the mud. He pushes you into the center of the crowd and megaphones your sin:
This person was caught in the act of…Immorality…stupidity…dishonesty…irresponsibility.
But he will not have the last word. Jesus has acted on your behalf.
He stooped. Low enough to sleep in a manger, work in a carpentry shop, sleep in a fishing boat. Low enough to rub shoulders with crooks and lepers. Low enough to be spat upon, slapped, nailed, and speared. Low. Low enough to be buried.
And then he stood. Up from the slab of death. Upright in Joseph’s tomb and right in Satan’s face. Tall. High. He stood up for the woman and silenced her accusers, and he does the same for you. He stands up. He “is in the presence of God at this very moment sticking up for us” (Romans 8:34, MSG).
Let this sink in for a moment. In the presence of God, in defiance of Satan, Jesus Christ rises to your defense. He takes on the role of a priest. “Since we have a great priest over God’s house, let us come near to God with a sincere heart and a sure faith, because we have been made free from a guilty conscience” (Hebrews 10:21-22, NCV).
A clean conscience. A clean record. A clean heart. Free from accusation. Free from condemnation. Not just for our past mistakes but also for our future ones. “Since he will live forever, he will always be there to remind God that he has paid for [our] sins with his blood” (Hebrews 7:25, TLB). Christ offers unending intercession on your behalf.
Jesus trumps the devil’s guilt with words of grace. Though we were spiritually dead because of the things we did against God, he gave us new life with Christ. You have been saved by God’s grace. And he raised us up with Christ and gave us a seat with him in the heavens.
He did this for those in Christ Jesus so that for all future time he could show the very great riches of his grace by being kind to us in Christ Jesus. I mean that you have been saved by grace through believing. You did not save yourselves; it was a gift from God. It was not the result of your own efforts, so you cannot brag about it. God has made us what we are. In Christ Jesus, God made us to do good works, which God planned in advance for us to live our lives doing (Ephesians 2:5-10, NCV).
Behold the fruit of grace: saved by God, raised by God, seated with God. Gifted, equipped, and commissioned. Farewell, earthly condemnations: Stupid. Unproductive. Slow learner. Fast-talker. Quitter. Cheapskate. No longer. You are who he says you are: Spiritually alive. Heavenly positioned. Connected to God. A billboard of mercy. An honored child. This is the “aggressive forgiveness we call grace” (Romans 5:20, MSG).
Satan is left speechless and without ammunition.
“Who can accuse the people God has chosen? No one, because God is the One who makes them right. Who can say God’s people are guilty? No one, because Christ Jesus died, but he was also raised from the dead, and now he is on God’s right side, appealing to God for us” (Romans 8:33-34, NCV). The accusations of Satan sputter and fall like a deflated balloon.
Then why, pray tell, do we still hear them? Why do we, as Christians, still feel guilt?
Not all guilt is bad. God uses appropriate doses of guilt to awaken us to sin. We know guilt is God-given when it causes “indignation…alarm…longing…concern…readiness to see justice done” (2 Corinthians 7:11, NIV).
God’s guilt brings enough regret to change us. Satan’s guilt brings enough regret to enslave us. Don’t let him lock his shackles on you.
Remember, “your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3). When he looks at you, he sees Jesus first. In the Chinese language the word for righteousness is a combination of two characters, the figure of a lamb and a person. The lamb is on top, covering the person. Whenever God looks down at you, this is what he sees: the perfect Lamb of God covering you.
It boils down to this choice: Do you trust your Advocate or your Accuser? Your answer has serious implications.
It did for Jean Valjean. Victor Hugo introduced us to this character in the classic Les Misérables. Valjean enters the pages as a vagabond. A just-released prisoner in midlife, wearing threadbare trousers and a tattered jacket. Nineteen years in a French prison have left him rough and fearless. He’s walked for four days in the Alpine chill of nineteenth-century southeastern France, only to find that no inn will take him, no tavern will feed him. Finally he knocks on the door of a bishop’s house.
Monseigneur Myriel is seventy-five years old. Like Valjean, he has lost much. The revolution took all the valuables from his family except some silverware, a soup ladle, and two candlesticks. Valjean tells his story and expects the religious man to turn him away. But the bishop is kind. He asks the visitor to sit near a fire. “You did not need to tell me who you were,” he explains. “This is not my house—it is the house of Jesus Christ.”1 After some time the bishop takes the ex-convict to the table, where they dine on soup and bread, figs, and cheese with wine, using the bishop’s fine silverware.
He shows Valjean to a bedroom. In spite of the comfort, the ex-prisoner can’t sleep. In spite of the kindness of the bishop, he can’t resist the temptation. He stuffs the silverware into his knapsack. The priest sleeps through the robbery, and Valjean runs into the night.
But he doesn’t get far. The policemen catch him and march him back to the bishop’s house. Valjean knows what his capture means—prison for the rest of his life. But then something wonderful happens. Before the officer can explain the crime, the bishop steps forward.
“Oh! Here you are! I’m so glad to see you. I can’t believe you forgot the candlesticks! They are made of pure silver as well…Please take them with the forks and spoons I gave you.”
Valjean is stunned. The bishop dismisses the policemen and then turns and says, “Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belong to evil, but to good. I have bought your soul from you. I take it back from evil thoughts and deeds and the Spirit of Hell, and I give it to God.”2
Valjean has a choice: believe the priest or believe his past. Jean Valjean believes the priest. He becomes the mayor of a small town. He builds a factory and gives jobs to the poor. He takes pity on a dying mother and raises her daughter.
Grace changed him. Let it change you. Give no heed to Satan’s voice. You “have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1). As your Advocate, he defends you and says on your behalf, “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). Take that, Satan!
Wasn’t this the message of Jesus 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” (John 8:10-11, NLT).
Within a few moments the courtyard was empty. Jesus, the woman, her critics—they all left. But let’s linger. Look at the rocks on the ground, abandoned and unused. And look at the scribbling in the sand. It’s the only sermon Jesus ever wrote. While we don’t know the words, I’m wondering if they read like this:
Grace happens here.
Excerpted from GRACE: More Than We Deserve, Greater Than We Imagine by Max Lucado. © 2012 Max Lucado. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson, Inc. ThomasNelson.com