2 April, 2023

March 5 | Application (‘The Older Ones First’)

by | 27 February, 2023 | 3 comments

By David Faust 

Do you remember the story about Jesus’ encounter with a woman caught in adultery? In many English Bibles, the account in John 8:2-11 appears in italics to show it’s supported by weak manuscript evidence. Personally, I’m content to let scholars debate the textual questions while I ponder what the story tells us about Jesus’ wisdom and courage. 

The Scribes and Pharisees wanted to trap Jesus, so they brought a woman they had caught in the act of adultery. (Question: Why didn’t they also bring the man?) This was a tricky situation. If Jesus went against the Law of Moses and let adulterers off the hook, he would appear weak and unrighteous; but if he agreed to stone the woman, it would seem harsh. Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with his finger, and then stood up and gave his famous answer: “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7). The accusers left one at a time. When only Jesus and the terrified woman remained, he said, “Neither do I condemn you. . . . Go now and leave your life of sin” (8:11).   

Blending Justice and Mercy 

An unholy part of us—with a careless attitude about sin—wants to do whatever we please, hoping God will overlook our misdeeds. On the other hand, a guilty conscience makes us wonder if our sins are unpardonable, and that leads to despair. Jesus addresses both sides of the equation. “Go and sin no more” upholds God’s righteousness and calls us to obedience. “Neither do I condemn you” underscores God’s mercy and relieves our guilt. 

Another detail in the story stirs my curiosity. After Jesus’ words about casting the first stone, the bystanders stood in silence, wondering what to do. Finally, they “began to go away one at a time, the older ones first . . .” (John 8:9). The younger ones in the group followed the example of the older, laying down their stones and walking away. Why do you suppose the older accusers left first?  

Insight That Comes with Age 

We can only guess what was in their hearts, but it’s clear that something vexed the consciences of the older men and tugged at their hearts.  

Could it be that with age, we become more aware of our own frailties? 

Is it possible that the longer we walk with the Lord, the more we recognize our need for grace? 

Might it be that the longer we live, the more compassion we can show to others as we recognize our own struggles and weaknesses? 

If the Scribes and Pharisees read the book of Hosea, they knew that God compares himself to a loving father who bends down to feed his children (Hosea 11:3-4). Hosea’s marriage to an unfaithful wife illustrated God’s persevering love for his wayward people. The Lord longed to “heal their waywardness and love them freely” (14:4).  

The longer we follow the Lord, the better we should grasp both God’s justice and his grace. Christ died for our sins, and through the Holy Spirit, he empowers us to die to sin and live godly lives (Romans 6:1-7; 8:1-13). He calls us to pursue righteousness, receive mercy, and be more tenderhearted toward others. Maybe it’s time for us to lay down some stones ourselves. 

Personal Challenge: What do God’s righteousness and mercy mean to you? Do you live in fear of judgment, wondering if he will forgive you?  Does your attitude toward others lean more toward mercy or toward judgment?  


  1. Bob Stacy

    I believe that David is absolutely right about “the older we get.” Yes, we become more aware of God’s grace as we become more aware of our own helplessness in the face of temptation and sin. Yes, we become more aware of the needs of others as we become more aware of our own needs. And so it is time that we “olders” go first; that we become examples to those younger than we. It is not time to “sit back,” nor time to “leave it up to the younger generation,” and not time to “retire.” Instead it is time to “go first.” Thanks, David Faust, fo this reminder!

  2. Gary Henline


  3. Loren C Roberts

    Yes, at the ripe old age of 82 I find myself more self aware of my shortcomings and more loving, merciful and gracious. God certainly extended these to me, an unworthy man. I must do the same to others.

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