Our epic tour around the globe (and through the Gospel of John) now brings us to St. Peter’s Basilica. This architectural colossus is the world’s largest church; with a capacity of 60,000, it dominates the physical landscape of Vatican City and the spiritual landscape of the West. St. Peter’s has been called “the greatest of all churches of Christendom.” It’s impossible to behold without an overwhelming sense of awe.
John 8 finds us in the courts of Jerusalem’s vibrant temple complex during a holiday. Religious fervor is high, and so is the unfolding drama between Jesus and the Jewish rulers. Let’s sneak in the back and grab a seat to see what will happen.
Scripture writing: My favorite passage to write out using The Message was verses 50-51. I love how startling, simple, and world-shifting this truth is in Jesus’ mouth:
I am not trying to get anything for Myself. God intends something gloriously grand here and is making the decisions that will bring it about. I say this with absolute confidence. If you practice what I’m telling you, you’ll never have to look death in the face.
Studying: The most significant discovery for me was a note regarding the scene of the woman caught in adultery, courtesy of Abby Hutto’s God for Us:
Surely this was the perfect conundrum—a cunning trap for this ‘sinner-loving’ Rabbi. If Jesus upheld the Old Testament law and demanded the woman’s life as payment for her sin, He would lose the favor of the crowds who had been following Him. All would see the limits of His love and compassion, and His message of grace and forgiveness would be tainted by the woman’s blood. But if He forgave her rather than demanding the penalty that her sin deserved, He would prove Himself to be what the scribes and Pharisees had suspected all along: a lawless teacher come to lead the people astray. They would finally have the evidence that they needed to execute Him for heresy … Jesus could pardon the guilty woman’s sin because He would soon take her place … As He talked with her in the temple, Jesus knew what it would cost Him to say, “Neither do I condemn you.” It cost Him everything He held dear. It cost Him “the hell of Calvary.”
I never really understood how Jesus’ response to this particular situation fully satisfied God’s demand for justice and our need for grace at the same time. When I’ve read this story before, it seemed like Jesus was just overlooking her sin (which would have been graceful but not just). But now I see that He wasn’t turning a blind eye, letting her off the hook—He was putting Himself on the hook instead. What an amazing Savior we have!
Commentaries: Matthew Henry drops the gospel mic in his explanation of verse 9:
Those whose cause is brought before our Lord Jesus will never have occasion to remove it into any other court, for He is the refuge of penitents. The law which accuses us, and calls for judgment against us, is by the gospel of Christ made to withdraw; its demands are answered, and its clamours silenced, by the blood of Jesus. Our cause is lodged in the gospel court; we are left with Jesus alone, it is with Him only that we have now to deal, for to Him all judgment is committed; let us therefore secure our interest in Him, and we are made for ever. Let His gospel rule us, and it will infallibly save us.
There are so many courtrooms I run to on a daily basis: one where I judge myself (guilty or innocent), one where other individuals judge me, one where culture judges me. But the best courtroom I could ever land in is full of rocks Jesus has caused to drop. He alone is the One without sin who could cast the first stone, and He is bent not on throwing stones but on rolling them away.
D.A. Carson’s perspective on the setting of John 8 is also illuminating (pun intended):
‘He who has not seen the joy of the place of water-drawing has never in his life seen joy’: this extravagant claim stands just before the description of the lighting of the four huge lamps in the temple’s court of women and of the exuberant celebration that took place under their light. ‘Men of piety and good works’ danced through the night, holding burning torches in their hands and singing songs and praises. The Levitical orchestras cut loose, and some sources attest that this went on every night of the Feast of Tabernacles, with the light from the temple area shedding its glow all over Jerusalem. In this context Jesus declares to the people, ‘I am the light of the world.’
It might just be me, but this picture helps move Christ’s statement from letters on a page to living color, motion, and passion. Jesus took full advantage of His dizzying and jubilant surroundings to point to the best news ever.
Sermons: Mark Driscoll makes a quick statement that has rumbled around the back of my mind over the past few weeks: “God’s not looking for perfect people—He’s looking for honest people.” Perfection demands an impossibly high standard for fallen humans in a fallen world. Honesty, on the other hand, requires its own kind of courage, but is so much more accessible. Changing my expectation in every relationship from perfection to honesty would turn my life upside down in a beautiful way.
John MacArthur’s take on verse 31 has a nice bit of shock value to it. He says, “If you have doubts about the legitimacy of your faith, pray for persecution and suffering and hardships—the greatest gift will be knowing it’s the real thing.” I appreciate how his statement meshes with reality; while our culture is all about avoiding pain, believers know that discomfort here is not the worst-case scenario. Better to press into the fire now and come out shining like gold than to mistakenly believe we’re gold and find out otherwise once it’s too late. Hard? Maybe. True? Absolutely.
Journaling: My biggest takeaway from the journaling process was realizing that “to the surprised disappointment of the religious rulers, the presence of the Holy One of Israel was the safest place to display a heart in all its neediness.” Before Jesus arrived on the scene, holiness held brokenness at arm’s length. Holiness had to separate itself from the unclean. Holiness was a shield against us. But then this Rescuer—perfectly holy—wrapped up our dirty selves in His arms. He brought us close, invited us in, defended us. There’s no more need to pretend we’re whole when we’ve been split down the middle. We can come just as we are and find refuge.
Meditation: Verses 10-11 go like this (TPT):
Until finally, Jesus was left alone with the woman still standing there in front of him. So He stood back up and said to her, “Dear woman, where are your accusers? Is there no one here to condemn you?” Looking around, she replied, “I see no one, Lord.” Jesus said, “Then I certainly don’t condemn you either. Go, and from now on, be free from a life of sin.”
As I pondered this exchange, it occurred to me that Christ cared about the woman’s sin more deeply and genuinely than the accusing leaders ever could have—He’s the One who created and instituted marriage to be a picture of Himself and the Church. But He also cared about the woman more deeply and genuinely than even her lover did—He had knit her together in her mother’s womb. He saw her glorified, finished form. He was holding her atoms together at that very moment. When I sense shame pound my heart for a wrong I have committed, I can remember the freedom He’s purchased for me with compassion in His eyes. What relief!
Chapter 8 is packed with beauty, and I really enjoyed exploring it with you. But now it’s time to hit the road again. So long, St. Peter’s!
*Following the study schedule right along, my binder is thickening up with doodles, prayers, and tons of background information on the text. This summary is just the condensed version, the highlights of each approach—you can find my full binder notes for John 8 here.