(408) 779-0697 | info@westhills.org

John 8:1-11 Study Guide: Merciful God

Community Group Study Guide — Merciful God
John 8:1-11

Study Information:
The text of John shifts away from the Feast of Tabernacles, briefly, at the beginning of John chapter 8. You  may notice in your Bible that there is a note above this section informing us that the earliest manuscripts do not contain this section as “scripture.” Some have examined it and think that it is not actually an inspired text in the Bible, others think it is placed rightly and others think it may be an example of what John tells us towards the end of his gospel of the many things Jesus did that could be written down (John 20:30). 

Some of the textual issues here include how it breaks away from the flow of the Feast of Tabernacles, which seems to resume in John 8:12 when he talks about being the Light of the World. Another theme of the feast were variouslighting ceremonies. Likewise, this is the only place in the whole bible that recorded Jesus as writing down something. It adds new information on Jesus, which may seem trivial, but it is worth noting. Some arguments for including this in John point to how it is consistent with Jesus’ action towards sinners and how the Pharisee’s tested him. 

Since this text is consistent with Jesus’ character we want to use this opportunity to focus on the attribute of God’s mercy. 

The Test: Is Jesus Consistent with the Law?
John 8:1-6
This passage opens with Jesus going off to teach around the Mount of Olives and the crowds coming to him to learn. During the middle of his teaching he is interrupted by the religious leaders. The Pharisees and Scribes bring a woman caught in the middle of the act of adultery and place her in the midst of the crowd and Jesus to see what he would do and how he’d interpret the Law of Moses. They’re confident that the Law says they should stone her to death, which was execution by the community throwing rocks at her unit she died. The episode is inhuman and humiliating for this woman. Notice, that the man she was committing the act with was not there and she is being used as an object to test Jesus whom the Pharisees and Scribes were trying to catch in an act of blasphemy. 

This was not a new thing for the religious leaders. They constantly tried to test Jesus and catch him in some sort of inconsistency. They tested Jesus about paying taxes, what was the greatest commandment, how he’d handle Gentiles and various other ways they thought he was breaking their laws. Yet, here the religious leaders are inconsistent in how they were trying to apply God’s Law. This was not new for the religious leaders. In John 7 we saw Jesus pointed out how they were inconsistent with applying the Law. The example he used was, if a child was born 8 days before the Sabbath, which Law would they keep; the Law saying they shouldn’t work or the one saying they should circumcise the male child 8 days after their birth (John 7:21-24)?

What we see from the Pharisees is legalism and injustice. Legalism being a picking and choosing of which laws apply to you and which apply to others and evaluating someone’s worth and standing based on their outward ability to conform to these laws. Certain laws apply to everyone else but you (see John 7:19). This is also an act of injustice, notice they take the woman in adultery and not the man. The Law would say that both needed to be judged and executed. But power dynamics take effect and the man takes off while the woman is brought before Jesus as the “one caught in sin.” 

How would Jesus respond to legalism and injustice? He exposes their universal sinfulness and the overflowing mercy of God towards repentant sinners. 

Merciful God
John 8:7-11
When it comes to God’s mercy, Jesus wants us to understand the reality that we all have sinned and are subject to condemnation apart from God’s mercy. In this text, Jesus tells them that anyone who is without sin can begin the execution. Jesus was the only sinless person among them, meaning that justice and mercy were in his hands. Anyone who’d be saved from judgment for their sin would need to look to Jesus’ for compassion and mercy. A.W. Tozer talks about God’s mercy as “the goodness of God confronting human suffering and guilt.” God seeing our suffering, and responding to our guilt with a covering of his mercy. Jesus’ words feel very much like Paul’s in Romans 3:23, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Paul goes on to tell us that we are justified by God’s grace and that God has passed over former sins to show us that Jesus is both the just (completely righteous) and the justifier (the one who forgives sin and gives righteousness). If the religious leaders wanted Jesus to consistently apply God’s Law to all of them, they’d all be at a place of judgement, none of them were spotless.The religious leaders in John 8 are said to have left one by one, beginning with the oldest. We do not know why that unfolded that way, some speculate that they were more acquainted with their sin than the younger among them. Jesus is left with just the woman and he drew her attention to the empty space around them and how everyone that brought her to his feet was likewise a sinner. Legalism would have us think that others are worse sinners than we are. Injustice would have us unfairly apply God’s Law. Jesus dismantled both legalism and injustice with her mercy. His parting words to this woman “neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more.” The mercy of God is not an excuse to sin, but is a recognition that when we do, we can look to Christ to forgive and cover our guilt. 

At your community group:

Take 15-20 minutes to share about how God has been at work in your life, prayer concerns and pray for one another.

How did God speak to you through the scripture and the sermon this week? 

Discussion Questions:
Read John 8:1-11

How would you define legalism? How were the Pharisees acting out of legalism and injustice? Can you recall examples of them operating this way earlier in the gospel of John?

What does Jesus do in this passage to communicate their universal sinfulness? Would the religious leaders want Jesus to universally apply the Law to all of their sin? (We typically want mercy for ourselves and justice for everyone else).

How would you explain God’s mercy to someone who was not raised in the church?

Read Romans 3:23-25. How does Jesus respond to your personal sin? How do these two passages, John 8:1-11 and Romans 3:23-25, personally convict or encourage you?