A brief overview for Sunday school teachers and Bible study leaders, of Lifeway’s “Explore the Bible” lesson of John 8:3-18, for Sunday February 5, 2023. A video version of this overview is available on YouTube at:
INTRO: There’s a pretty good intro in the Student book about the darkness at Mammoth Cave – and then you might ask your group to share times of darkness they’d experienced/when they needed light – and you might share one too.
OR I might personally focus more on the first part of this lesson with the adulterous woman; if so I would begin with a story like this (If you did not use it in our lesson on Hosea 1)
Major General Dan Sickles served in the Union Army in the Civil War. “Sickles had been a state senator and then member of Congress … he had his sights fixed on the presidency … And then he killed Philip Barton Key. Son of the man who wrote “The Star-Spangled Banner,” Key … handled certain legal business for Sickles, and Sickles in turn helped to persuade President Buchanan to reappoint Key as United States attorney when his term expired. Key became friendly with Mrs. Sickles, had assignations with her in a shabby flat on Vermont Avenue in Washington, and one day was shot dead by Sickles on the sidewalk bordering Lafayette Square, across from the White House. Having killed him, Sickles walked down he street and surrendered his revolver and his person to Attorney General Black.
His trial was a circus. It belonged in the 1920s, in the era of sob sisters and flashlight bulbs. … They raised for the first time the plea that Sickles was not guilty because of temporary insanity brought on by the shock of discovering that his wife had been untrue to him with his best friend. Like the plea, the verdict set an immutable precedent. Sickles was triumphantly acquitted.
So far, so good. The unwritten law ran strongly in predominantly Southern chivalry Washington of the 1850s, and it was hard to think the worse of a man who killed by it.
But Sickles then put himself beyond the pale by the simple act of FORGIVING his wife and restoring her to his bosom. It may be that after his own fashion he loved her.
This was a shocker. Washington was scandalized to the eyebrows … not that he had killed his friend but that he had (FORGIVEN her!). Sickles wrote a defiant open letter to the press remarking. “I am not aware of any statute or code of morals which makes it infamous to forgive a woman …”.
(Bruce Catton, Civil War Trilogy, p. 313)
This is an amazing story of forgiveness.
Then ask your group: ??? What’s the greatest example of forgiveness you’ve ever personally seen???
(For example, I’ve known of several men whose wives did what General Sickles wife did — and like him, they forgave them. They had Biblical grounds for divorce and no one would have blamed them if they had taken that course — but they didn’t. They forgave, and took them back. It IS amazing forgiveness.)
You/other class members can share stories of forgiveness you know of, then share: that is what we see demonstrated in our passage today, about Jesus and the adulterous woman.
It is still during the Feast of the Tabernacles, as we saw last week. After the division that arose from Jesus in John 7, Chapter 8:1 opens saying that Jesus went to the Mount of Olives (just east of Jerusalem, on the other side of the Garden of Gethsemane). It was His pattern in these last days of His ministry, to teach in Jerusalem during the day, but to leave for the night — likely because it wasn’t safe, as He now had many enemies. Jesus often stayed with His friends at Bethany; the Mt. Of Olives is on the way there; or He may have just stayed on the Mountain and prayed (the Garden of Gethsemane is right by it). That would make sense, as :2 says He was right back at the Temple “early in the morning” and He was teaching them. This brings us to our focus passage: :3-18.
I. The Great Forgiveness: (The Story of Us All) :3-11
II. The Light of the World (:12-18)
I. The Great Forgiveness
One of the things that struck me as I read this again was the way that the Pharisees treated this woman. They were looking at her as a “test case,” to see how Jesus would respond to her. They didn’t really care about her; it was just all about how they could “use” her and her situation to trap Jesus.
That still happens a lot these days, doesn’t it? People USE people and situations to “make their point.”
For example: there is a tragedy and people are killed by a gunman. What do people do: they use the victims to try to further the political agenda of gun control. And surely people on both sides of the political aisle do things like that. But they jump so quickly on it — you wonder; do they really CARE for the people involved, or are they just interested in “making political points”?
“Making points” was all the Pharisees cared about here. They evidently had no compassion for the woman at all. But Jesus did, as His response here demonstrated. He responded with amazing grace, love, and forgiveness.
One application here is that we need to ask the Lord to give us HIS attitude towards people: not to regard them as “examples” or “test cases” or “political footballs,” but as people God loves, and wants us to minister to like Jesus did.
Here’s a good principle: we’re probably never going to do the right thing, if we don’t really CARE about the people who are involved! The Pharisees didn’t care about this woman. There was no way they were going to do the right thing. Jesus truly cared about the woman, and He DID do the right thing. Let’s make sure we really CARE. That’ll help us to treat people like Jesus would.
THINK BEFORE YOU SPEAK
And then :5 says they presented the woman to Jesus and said: “What do You say?” But Jesus didn’t answer immediately. Verse 6 says He “stooped down and with His finger wrote on the ground.”
There’s a neat story you may want to use at this point from the life of Sir Isaac Newton in the 1600s: “At Cambridge, Newton could occasionally be seen standing in the courtyard, staring at the ground, drawing diagrams in the gravel with a stick. Eventually he would retreat indoors. His fellow professors did not know what the lines represented, bat stepped carefully around them, in order to avoid hindering the work of the lonely genius struggling to decipher God’s codebook.” (Edward Dolnick, The Clockwork Universe, p. 320)
The other professors did not know what Newton was writing in the ground — and neither do WE know what Jesus was writing. Many speculate: He was writing different scriptures, or their sins, or whatever. Any of these are just that: speculations. I wouldn’t put too much into that because we DO NOT KNOW. Don’t spend too much time on it.
But I think it is significant here that Jesus did not answer quickly. That is often our mistake: somebody says something, or asks something, and we offer a “knee-jerk” reaction, “off the top of our head,” instead of praying and thinking about how God would have us answer. And as a result, our answer is often wrong.
(I have a pastor friend who says this is why he doesn’t carry a firearm, even though he could. He says, my “knee jerk” reaction is often NOT the right one. After a minute or two, my reaction is better. I think he is being wise.)
So Jesus’ example here is a good reminder to us: you don’t have to answer right off, or “off the top of your head.” Think about it; especially PRAY and seek God. Too often we make mistakes because we just do “whatever” without really seeking God about it. Jesus took His time here, and He gave the most amazing answer. We may be able to respond more like He did, if we will take the prayerful TIME like He did as well.
But :7 says “they persisted in asking Him, He finally “straightened up” and gave them His famous answer: “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” This implies several things:
1) The woman IS guilty. He does not dispute that. What she did was wrong. It is important that we understand that and do not minimize that. It WAS sin. She DID deserve punishment.
2) He pointed them back to themselves: “He how is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone.” What is the point here? YOU HAVE SINNED TOO!
Aren’t we so good at pointing out the sins of OTHER people, when we are sinners also?
Our son Paul was putting up Christmas lights at his new home in Goldsby, OK this Christmas season and his son Dawson ran over some of the lights on the driveway. Dawson seemed repentant, so Paul forgave him, but then he thought he’d better gather the boys up and give them a speech on not getting close to the lights. Dawson said: “Dad l saw Flynn get close to the lights!” Paul’s like: “Dawson, you ran OVER the lights — and you’re getting on to Flynn for getting close to them?!”
That’s how we are, isn’t it? We’re so good at pointing out the flaws in others.
But Jesus says: let your focus be on YOU. “He who is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone.” You look to yourself.
And I think that one of the best things we can do with this passage is to SEE YOURSELF IN THE ADULTEROUS WOMAN.
This is an amazing example of Jesus’ forgiveness — but we ALL need to see ourselves in it. I think in a very real sense, if we don’t see ourselves in the adulterous woman, we are going to miss the real lesson here.
We think of this story as kind of an “exception,” or an “unusual case.” But it’s really NOT. This is a common case. This is “the story of us all.” (We could title this “The Story of Us All.”) We have ALL done what she has. Not the exact same sin necessarily. We may have different sins. But the STORY is the same:
— ALL of us have committed sin.
This woman was caught in adultery, “the very act,” it says. But the truth is, we have ALL been caught in some kind of sin — some of us one kind, others maybe another kind. But we have all sinned, Romans 3:23 says, and fall short of the glory of God. ALL.
— ALL of us have accusers against us.
This woman had the Pharisees accusing her to Jesus. You can just picture their ugliness (reminds me of much of the bitter accusation going back and forth in Washington, D.C. these days!)
We ALL have that accuser. “The accuser of the brethren …”
+x Zechariah 2, God showed Zechariah the vision of Joshua the high priest standing before God, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. This is what Satan does. He accuses us to God. (One said his work is to accuse God to man, and man to God.) So we ALL have accusers against us; sometimes people, always Satan. (And often the accusations are right, because as we’ve seen, we HAVE all sinned.)
— ALL of us have a forgiving Savior. Jesus told the woman “neither do I condemn you.” He had forgiveness for her. But we need to see that it’s not only for her, it’s for US too! As we will see later in this very book, Jesus went to the cross and on that cross He cried: “It is finished” — the price was paid in full for our sins. So that “if we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins, and cleanse us from ALL unrighteousness.”
(If you don’t use the Dan Sickles forgiveness story as an introduction, you might use it here/and/or the stories of the greatest forgiveness you’ve heard of.)
And talk to your group at this point about how God WILL forgive our sins — He promised He would. Sometimes we wonder: can God really forgive us? He CAN, He WILL, because of what Jesus did on the cross. And Jesus told Peter in Matthew 18 to forgive “70 x 7” – think about it: if He tells US to do that — HOW MUCH MORE WILL HE forgive US 70 x7??!!! God has that amazing forgiveness for us through Christ.
— ALL of us have been warned to sin no more.
We need to hear Jesus’ message to that woman as a message to US: “Go. From now on sin no more.” It is significant that Jesus did not send her on her way without this instruction. He made a POINT to say it: “From now on, SIN NO MORE.” He’s saying, you’re being forgiven — but don’t take that as a signal that I don’t care about sin. I do. It’s harmful to you and to others. (It’s about to send Him to the cross!) So he says, take steps to make sure this doesn’t happen again. “Go and sin no more.”
We ALL need to hear that about our sin. Is there forgiveness from Jesus for the sin YOU are committing? YES there is, as we just saw! Thank God! He will forgive you. BUT GO AND SIN NO MORE. Take this seriously. Just because He can forgive you, doesn’t mean your sin not a big deal. It IS. Don’t take His grace as an excuse to just keep doing it. NO — “go and sin no more.” That’s not just for her — that’s for US too!
SO: in all these ways, this woman’s story, is OUR story too:
— We ALL have sinned
— We ALL have accusers
— We ALL have a forgiving Savior
— We ALL have been warned to sin no more.
There’s so much here, you may use up all your time with just this first section —and honestly as a pastor I’d say that is ok. Our goal is never just to “finish a lesson;” but rather make sure we are applying God’s word to the hearts of our group. If you’re doing that, it doesn’t matter how much of the passage you cover. Apply the word — and this certainly applies to us all.
II. The Light of the World (:12-18)
:12 “Then Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world.” This is the second of those 7 “I AM” statements that we talked about last week, that Jesus makes in John 1-11. (If you didn’t do it last week, you might show those 7 statements and ask your group which is the most meaningful to them — we had a GREAT discussion in our young adult class on that; and I’ve had some write and tell me that they did too. You can get that list in last week’s lesson on my blog at www.shawnethomas.com)
But the context in which Jesus said “I am the light of the world” is so significant. D.A. Carson reminds us in his commentary on John that the context here was still the Feast of Tabernacles. At this feast, they would light “four huge lamps in the temple’s court of women and of the exuberant celebration that took place under their light (Mishnah Sukkah 5:1-4) ‘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.” (p. 337)
You can see how the glow of all these lights and the celebration would be such a powerful context for Jesus to say: “I AM the light of the world”!
??? You might use an illustration at this point similar to the Student book, and ask you group to share a time in their lives when it was so dark, and they really needed LIGHT, or when they were so grateful for a light.
(FOR EX: I think of two years ago this very month of February, we had a huge storm that knocked power out all over Texas. Our house was pitch black. BUT we had bought some emergency lights, to have in case of a hurricane or whatever, and when all the lights went out, we could still see with those lights. I was so grateful to have that light.) You/your group can share stories like that of when you were grateful for LIGHT.
Then make the point: Jesus says, “I AM THE LIGHT of the world.” This world is a dark place; it is hard; it is confusing; we need light, direction, guidance, the right way, etc.; He says “I AM the light.” HE is the One who will show you the path, the way, the truth — all the different kinds of light you need. HE will be that for you. Psalm 27:1 famously says: “The Lord is my LIGHT and my salvation, whom shall I fear?”
??? BUT you might ask your class here something like: “What does :12 here say about WHO will Jesus as their light?”???
(“He who FOLLOWS Me”! That’s a BIG qualification! It is not just everyone who will have Him as their light. You have to FOLLOW Him!
— HAVE you ever followed Him as your Lord & Savior? A good evangelistic question here
— and also: ARE you following Him, daily in His word & prayer, getting His “light” for your life every day? He will be your light; but YOU have to make the commitment to follow Him every day, in order to have His light lead you.
OK there’s a lot more in this passage, but that’s all the time we have for today. I hope this will at least help you with some ideas, questions & illustrations for this Sunday’s lesson in John 8.
— Remember if you’d like to read a text version of this overview, (to print out the Dan Sickles or Isaac Newton story, or the quote on the lights at the Feast) you can get a print version on my blog at http://www.shawnethomas.com (I’ll put that address in the comments below)
— If you’ll hit “Subscribe” to this video, YouTube will automatically send you next week’s video and you won’t have to search for it.
— And if you write something in the Comments below, I’ll be sure to pray for your and your group by name this week.
Per my licensing agreement with Lifeway:
– These weekly lessons are based on content from Explore the Bible Adult Resources. The presentation is my own and has not been reviewed by Lifeway.
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Thank you so much for your commentary. This will help me very much in my Sunday School class.
I’m so glad it is helpful to you, Vivian! I was praying for you last weekend!
Thank you for preparing each week a wonderful lesson outline which is succinct with much food for thought.
May The Lord bless you abundantly as you help us grow in the Word.
Thank you, Maureen. It’s a blessing to know that it is helpful to you; I appreciate you letting me know. I was praying for you this last weekend!
Your insights into this passage are terrific!!! My academic discipline is economics and you do for scripture what people like Thomas Sowell and Milton Friedman have done for economics.
Thanks for your participation??
Please replace the final ?? with !!
Thank you for posting this…. subbing today for a sick co-teacher and didn’t have the lesson book. You’ve been a blessing to me.
YES that’s a hard assignment! I’m glad the Lord led you to the overview and that it was helpful to you. Thank you for letting me know. I was praying for you; hope all went well!
We had a good SS class time yesterday-your videos are a great help to guide me in structuring the content and life applications. God bless your faithfulness and your ministry. It’s so important for us all to stay in the Word of God—it is a new venture for me to teach. Studying the lesson every week is so exciting.
I/we really benefit from your videos each week. I use them and the WORD as a basis and background for my teaching. My class is made up of older gentlemen, deacons past or present mostly, in our church. I am afraid I probably end up preaching more than teaching. I have to study and prepare by praying and asking God to give me the words to deliver to my class.
James Barlow Countyline Baptist Church in Puckett Mississippi. God Bless your ministry.
I feel God keeps us around to live a life as a witness of who God is and what he means to our life. He can and does use us even until our last breath.