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The Greatest Miracle

The Bible contains many miracles. Which is it?

 

Selina was not a typical convert in George Whitefield’s Great Awakening. She was a countess, the wife of the earl of Huntingdon. By the standards of an eighteenth-century aristocratic woman, she had received an excellent education and, after her conversion, applied it to Bible study. Soon she had a following as someone who was an authority on Scripture.

On one occasion Selina was asked a question by a group of Christian seekers. They asked, “What is the greatest miracle in all the Bible?”

 She thought aloud; was it walking on water or feeding 5,000 from a boy’s packed lunch? No. It had to have been one of the healing miracles; perhaps the ten lepers?

Then Selina thought of the Bethany valley and “Lazarus, come forth!”


Standing there, she had thought that life was over. Her story ended here.
However, following further reflection, Selina once again said no, adding thoughtfully, “The greatest miracle in Scripture is contained in the first 11 verses of the eighth chapter of John’s Gospel.” 

Remember the Story?
Recall how a cast of churchmen thrust a distressed, half-dressed adulteress into the presence of Jesus?

The setting was the outer reaches of the temple compound, in those days still a building site with lots of loose masonry around. Useful, perhaps, in a stoning.

Jesus could not win. The churchmen had all the exits covered. If He was merciful to the woman, they could say He was soft on the law. If He agreed that the woman must be stoned, He was in trouble with the Roman authorities. A lose-lose situation. Either He condoned adultery or He took on Rome.

Jesus, you will recall, did not rush to a decision. He knew that it was a setup. He was not about to fall in with the agenda of the hypocritical accusers. At the beginning of John 8 they wanted to stone an adulteress. At the end of the chapter they wanted to stone Jesus. And that showed what they had really, really wanted all along.

So Jesus wrote in the dust, a practice not unknown to teachers in the centuries before chalkboards. The Greek verb translated “write,” however, is a technical verb suggestive of the fact that what He wrote was hostile to the woman’s accusers.

Jesus paused for thought and, maybe, prayer. At the other end of prayer is infinite wisdom. He was showing us what to do when we are invited to condemn.

Jesus, by appearing to ignore the woman’s accusers, was also obliging them to restate their case. By contriving the situation, those churchmen were acting disgracefully. Had they not been such hard cases, they might have considered repentance.

The case against the woman should have been brought by her husband, but he was not mentioned. Any sentence on the woman would have to be passed on the party of the second part, too. Was he permitted to escape … or had he joined the woman’s accusers? 

Risky Strategy
What was Jesus writing, meanwhile, about those accusers?

He had stooped. The words He wrote would have been at their feet. PRIDE? ARROGANCE? MALICE? LUST? ADULTERY?

Whatever Jesus wrote, He made those hard cases very, very uncomfortable.

After straightening up, Jesus spoke for the first time: “If anyone of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7, NIV).*

That was a risky strategy, and not just because of the loose masonry in the Temple compound. Those men were on a self-righteous high. Someone might have thrown the stone he was holding. And if one had done so …

Jesus took the risk to show that He takes the law seriously. The finger that had been writing in dust had once written in stone.

Jesus knew the woman was guilty as charged. He took her sin seriously. Seriously enough to carry it to Calvary.

For the second time Jesus wrote in the dust.

For the second time He straightened up.

“Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” (verse 10).

“No one, sir” (verse 11).

“One by one, with bowed heads and downcast eyes, they stole away, leaving their victim with the pitying Saviour” (The Desire of Ages, p. 461).

When Jesus had last spoken, it had been as if He were giving permission for the stoning to begin. The Desire of Ages says that the adulteress expected her painful death to begin.

Hence she would have been totally unprepared for the pitying Savior’s reply:

“Then neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin” (see verse 11). 

Selina Had It Right
Remember Selina? The greatest miracle in Scripture?

“Neither do I condemn you. Go …” To say those words Jesus had to go to Calvary to buy her pardon. To die the second death.

Standing there, the woman had thought that life was over. Her story ended here.

Not so, Jesus was saying. The story starts here. Start over. Now. Begin afresh.

In that man’s world in which the power belonged to the pious, the woman had thought that life was over. She had seen the size of the rocks those men had been gripping menacingly.

When Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you …” He committed Himself to Calvary. His words encom-passed the miracle of grace. “The greatest miracle of all,” Selina said.  

*Bible texts in this article are from the New International Version.