Amnesty International, and International and British media have drawn attention to the cause of a 27-year-old Sudanese woman, a doctor, who has been sentenced to death for adultery for being a Christian, and marrying a Christian, which is contrary to Islam’s Sharia Law.
Refusing to renounce her faith she faces execution. She will apparently be allowed two years to nurse her newborn child before being hanged. All three British Political Leaders have protested and called for her release.
According to al Jazeera, Sudan is not in line with the rest of the Islamic world, or in line with Islamic law on death for women. And there are those who give a counter view to the Islam as expressed in Sudan.
Nesrine Malik, a Sudanese writer for the Guardian, gives a very insightful picture of the current Sudanese government for us outsiders. Christians face a difficult time under the new Islamic government.
We can only pray that the appeals for her release will get a positive response. Can we be optimistic? The Christian Post reports that the charity, “The Barnabas Fund has rescued over 8,000 Christians fleeing Islamic persecution in Sudan.”
Going back 2000 years we can read of another woman who was caught in a real act of adultery. There was a call for her to receive the death penalty. The story is in the Gospel of John, chapter 8 and verses 1-11.
The story begins at verse 2 of John chapter 8, “At dawn he (Jesus) appeared at the temple courts.”
The last part of verse 2 tells us that, “all the people gathered around Him, and He sat down to teach them.” That sets the scene. There are lots of people around him to witness this incident.
Verses 3 to 5 introduce the plot: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4 and said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5 In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?’”
We might ask, where is the other person involved? Perhaps he was part of the plot! The woman was the unfortunate bait. Jesus is the intended victim of the plot.
If Jesus told her accusers to let the woman go the Pharisees would accuse him of breaking the Law of Moses. That would discredit him in the eyes of the people as a Teacher of the Law.
On the other hand, although there is no historical record of it ever happening in the Bible, if Jesus told them to stone the woman, then he would be reported to the Roman authorities. Only the Romans had the right to impose capital punishment. Either way, as verse 6 points out, this would draw Jesus into the trap they had set for him.
One thing that stands out for me in this story is not just the way Jesus responds to the accused, but also the way he responds to the accusers! In the Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew 5:44, Jesus told His followers to “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
How do we learn not to hate those who wish us harm? That is where Jesus found himself.
Jesus was the long-looked for Messiah. He was the very Person who came to this world to give us peace and eternal security. And yet they want him dead! Jesus was taking away their control over the masses. He was giving people a freedom they had not known before.
It says in Luke 4:16-21 that on one Sabbath he stood up to read the scroll of Isaiah in the synagogue, “‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has Anointed me to proclaim the good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”
The masses were being drawn to him and the Pharisees were aggrieved by it. We read in John 7:31, “Still many in the crowd put their faith in Him, When the Christ comes, will he do more miraculous signs than this man?” And in verse 32 we read, “The Pharisees heard the crowd whispering such things about Him. Then the chief priests and the Pharisees sent temple guards to arrest him.”
They resented Him greatly. Did they think before Jesus came along that they would ever harbour such a resentment that it could lead to feelings and thoughts of hate to the point of killing the Messiah?
In this story we see Jesus responding differently from those who have gone so far down the road of resentment that they had become his enemy. He didn’t ignore them. He didn’t just tolerate them; he actually focused on his enemies; but not in the way his enemies focused on him – with suspicion, resentment and hatred. The Apostle Paul says in Romans 5:8 “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” This was the Divine love he had for humankind, irrespective of race, gender or status (John 3:16). It is what the Bible calls grace (Ephesians 2:8).
In his defense of the woman we see Jesus also showing love towards her accusers. Whatever Jesus revealed in the coded language he wrote in the dust on the ground, his enemies knew that he knew they had serious defects of character to put right in their own lives! And yet, whatever he knew about them could be erased if they repented, just as easily as scuffing the ground with his feet over whatever was written on the ground.
What I see Jesus doing in this story is not just saving the woman’s life; what I see is Jesus caring for both her and her accusers. He wants them in his kingdom too!
Jesus refuses to become the judge over the woman’ conduct; he places the responsibility for judgment on them. But there is a proviso. Whoever throws the first stone, must be blameless.
That should have challenged her accusers! Instead of repenting, Jesus’ words sent them off in their different directions to smart and regroup for another day.
But it did not have to be that way. In whatever Jesus was writing he gave them opportunity to see themselves as they really were. We are all sinners at the foot of the cross! We are all in need of his forgiving, saving Grace. Her accusers did not have to reject the conviction about themselves – and about who he was. Jesus wanted them in his kingdom too. That is what I see in this story. “God so loved the world that he gave his one only Son, that whoever believes in him, shall not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). And that meant his enemies too!
Jesus did not approve of their sinfulness any more than he approved of the woman’s adultery. But in not blurting out in public what he knew about them, he was telling them that he cared about them. He gave them opportunity to acknowledge their ill-intentioned motives and to accept their need of changed lives (1 John 1:9).
It’s a challenge for us today, isn’t it? We read in Acts 17:30-31; and Hebrew 9:27-28, that there will be a judgment, will Jesus find us blameless because we are imbued with the love he had for others, – even for our enemies? And, will he find us blameless because we welcome his gift of righteousness that covers our own unworthiness?
While we may see ourselves not quite as good as some people, there is a natural tendency in us all to see ourselves not as bad as others? It is somewhat like we read in Luke 18, where the Pharisee congratulates himself before God that he is not a sinner like others he could point out (Luke 18:9-14), but the tax collector acknowledges he knows his place, and prays to God in verse 13, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” And Jesus says in that story that it is the sinner that goes home justified, or made righteous by God.
In this story in John 8:1-11, we see Jesus refusing to be her judge before her accusers. Instead, he became her defence council and saviour, which left her accusers with no chance of succeeding in prosecuting their case against her. That is why Jesus came to this earth to become our defence council before the bar of the great accuser, Satan (Revelation 12:9-10).
Even Jesus’ enemies could have had that same protection in the judgment too, if they would have allowed him to become their Saviour! Here says Jesus is the mark of one who belongs to me. Be like me. Love your enemies, and do good to those who despitefully use you (Matthew 5:44).
But that can only be through the work of the Holy Spirit (John 3:3-8). The Apostle Paul writes in Galatians 5:22-23, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” That is a description of what Christians are to aspire to, through God’s grace.
It doesn’t come naturally. What Jesus is saying in this story of the woman taken in adultery, it is not what you know about salvation, but whom you know and how you express that salvation towards others which counts in the kingdom of God (John 17:3).
A saved person can afford to be generous to others just as we have seen God is generous to us.
When I see Jesus behaving the way he did towards his enemies, I know I can’t be like that naturally. I am as human and as fallible as the next person. But the Apostle Paul found the answer when he said in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” Whatever Jesus asks of us He promises to do for us and in us, if we let him.
In the Lord’s Prayer Jesus taught us to say, ‘forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.’ It is only when we see ourselves against the perfect Jesus that we see our own imperfections and our need of forgiveness. It is when we are forgiven that we find it possible to forgive, – through God’s grace.
We sometimes hear or read about horrific stories of criminal abuse – unforgivable. Forgiveness is difficult. But we do come across horrific stories where crime and abuse has been forgiven, even though the perpetrators have to accept the legal consequences of their crimes. But that has to be through God’s grace, whether it is recognised or not. That is when we can experience what that woman experienced when Jesus said to her, neither do I condemn you, “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
When Jesus frees us from our sinfulness we are then able to free others from our judgments; we won’t want to sin against Jesus anymore by holding prejudices or scores against others. That’s the difference in the way the Pharisees looked at the Law of Moses and the way Jesus looked at the Law of God.
Jesus saw the Law, whether the Law of Moses or the Ten Commandments, as friends and not the enemy. The Apostle Paul points out in Romans 7:7-13 that it is sin that is the enemy, not the Law. As the One who gave the Law of God to Moses in the first place, Jesus knew its intention. It was to guard and protect His people. When asked which was the greatest law, Jesus answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and your neighbour as yourself” (Mark 12:30-31). As a summary of the Ten Commandments Jesus saw the Commandments as guides to keep us on the right track; to keep us from hurting ourselves as well as from hurting others.
When all her accusers retreated under the scrutiny of the Law Giver himself, Jesus told the woman, ‘neither do I condemn you, leave your life of sin.’ Jesus saw the Law as being remedial – rather than punitive. Jesus didn’t come to this world to be punitive. We read in Luke 19:10 that “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” The Laws given to Moses by God were about him and his forgiving grace.
If only the interpreters of Sharia Law could see their laws that way too.
The Ten Commandments might be best termed the Ten Principles. They have a double role. When we break them they point us to a need of a Saviour and the need for forgiveness.
The 20th Century Evangelical preacher, Dr, Martyn Lloyd-Jones said in his exposition on the Book of Romans, ““The Apostle Paul never makes light of the Law, he never disparages it… A man who speaks disparagingly of the Law merely shows he is a defective and ignorant Christian… If you do not see the Law being honoured on the cross of Calvary you have never seen the true meaning of the death of Christ: it is essentially an honouring of the Law.”
That is how Jesus used the Law of God with this woman. Condemned by her actions, the Pharisees, unwittingly became agents in bringing her to Jesus, where she found pardon. Said Jesus, “Neither do I condemn you, go sin no more.” The commandments are guides that when observed keep us from harming ourselves or harming others.
For the Pharisees that should have been a new way of looking at both Laws, the Law of Moses and the Law of God. And because Jesus saw those Laws that way, that woman found a forgiving friend in Jesus.
The irony in this story is that while Jesus sent the woman on her way sinless: without condemnation; the Pharisees disappeared one by one carrying their sins that Jesus had exposed, with them, unrepentant – and unforgiven.
Interesting to see Jesus application of the two laws in this story, the Laws of Moses and the 10 Commandment Law of God (Exodus 20:1-17). The Law of Moses would be the 5 first five books of the Bible, which includes the 10 Commandments. The woman had broken the 7th commandment. She had met Jesus and went home like she hadn’t broken any; she was forgiven. The Pharisees had met Jesus too, but he had provided enough evidence written in the dust of the ground of what they were really like, but they went away unrepentant, and guilty before God. It is a surprising twist to the story; the Pharisees’ expectation to see the Law carried out, and then to see how Jesus applied it.
But that is where Christian belief is so different from any other belief. There is no force used in the Christian faith. God doesn’t force people to love him. If he did it wouldn’t be love. The Apostle John tells us in his 1st Epistle (4:19) that the power of the Gospel is that “we love, because he first loved us.” There is the drawing power of the Christian faith. We call it, “Grace, God’s Marvellous Grace.”