Questions Jesus Asks Us: “Has No One Condemned You?”
On this fifth Sunday of Lent, we continue our series Questions Jesus Asks Us. The question we consider us today focuses on condemnation: “Has no one condemned you?”
Before I read the Scriptural text for today, I want to call your attention to a note that is probably included in your Bible. The note, which comes before Verse 53 of Chapter 7, reads, “The earliest manuscripts and many other ancient witnesses do not have John 7:53-8:11.” That statement is true; nevertheless, the early church regarded the passage as a part of God’s Word.
Follow along as I read John 8, beginning at Verse 1. Hear now the Word of God.
…but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.
2 At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. 3 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?” 6 They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.
But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. 7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
9 At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
11 “No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
When I worked at a church in North Carolina, a couple, clearly beleaguered by life, walked into my office. As they sat down, I asked the question, “What can I do for you?”
“We have marriage problems,” the wife confessed softly.
Her husband added, “We got married in a fever, hotter than a pepper sprout.”
I looked at them and waited for more explanation. I knew the song the man was referring to, one that Johnny Cash and June Carter sang. I waited and then asked, “Have you been to Jackson?”
“Both of us,” the wife answered, weeping.
“We have made a mess of things,” he said. “I’m not sure how we will ever get over this.”
“I was unfaithful first,” the woman explained. “He was out-of-town on a golf trip with his buddies. I went out with my girlfriends. One thing led to another, and I met one of his friends, recently divorced.”
The husband added, “When I found out what she had done, I got mad and decided to get even with her. I went out with one of her girlfriends, recently divorced. But that did not make me feel better. I had several more one-night stands.”
“Do you still love each other?” I asked.
They both nodded yes. “I feel so guilty,” the woman said.
“Of course you do. You both feel guilty.” That is the way it is with sin.
The Bible takes the sin of adultery very seriously. Exodus 20:14, one of the Ten Commandments, says, “You shall not commit adultery.” Leviticus 20:10, part of the Holiness Code, says, “If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife – with the wife of his neighbor – both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death.” David confessed, after the prophet Nathan confronted him with his sin with Bathsheba, “Against Thee, and Thee only, have I sinned and done that which is evil in Thy sight” (Psalm 51:4). The book of Proverbs offers several stern warnings against adultery.
Though biblical advice is always given to a young man, it could just as easily be given to a young woman. Consider poor Hosea, the prophet who married the prostitute named Gomer. Hosea was broken-hearted by her unfaithfulness, just as God is broken-hearted by our sin. Hosea not only took his wife back, as God directed, but he also had to buy her back because she had sold herself to another man. The book of Hosea compares the sin of adultery in marriage with the sin of idolatry among the people of God.
In the Gospel of Matthew during the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus traces the dragon of adultery back to its lair: “I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28).
Here in John 8, Jesus encounters a woman who has been caught in adultery. Though this sin is vile, the Scriptures teach that it is no worse than any other sin – gluttony, for example. In fact, if we never committed a sin with our body or with our mind, we would still be guilty before the Lord. Scriptures clearly teach that we have “all sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). “There is none righteous, no not one,” Romans 3:10 states. If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
Sin is part and parcel of every life except one – the life of Jesus Christ. Do you think that Jesus was tempted in this way? Do you think he was tempted to commit adultery? A woman came in from the streets, weeping, and wiped his feet with her hair. He encountered a Samaritan woman who had been married multiple times but was living with yet another man. Many women surrounded Jesus throughout his ministry. The Bible says that even Jesus was tempted in all ways that we are tempted. Temptation is not the same as sin. He was tempted, yet he was without sin.
In an attempt to humiliate and embarrass this woman in our text today, the men expose her in the most public place of all, the temple courts. Everyone can hear the public accusation, the public disclosure, of her sin. The truth is that there is no secret sin. We may think our sin is a secret, but sooner or later it will be fully disclosed.
Nobody gets away with sin. R.G. Lee said there will be payday someday. The penalty always comes due. In Romans 6:23, Paul writes, “For the wages of sin is death.” He is talking about eternal death, but sin always results in death of some sort. Our only hope comes from Jesus.
The men – yes, all men – bring this woman to the only one who can deal with her sin – Jesus. The plan is simple. These men want to discredit Jesus, to entrap Jesus. The punishment the woman is to receive is absolutely correct. Scripture says she should be put to death by stoning. Scripture also says the man should be put to death in the same manner. Both were supposed to die for this sin, but where is the guilty man? Nobody knows for sure. It may be that he was part of the scheme. The men who gathered to stone the woman may have decided to turn a blind eye if he would help them trap Jesus.
Consider Jesus’ options of responses to their question, “Now what do you say?” He sees, of course, that these men are quite legalistic. They really care nothing about this woman, about her sin, about the state of her soul or her eternal destiny. If Jesus answers “Let her go,” he will seem to be easy on sin. It will appear as if he is dishing out cheap grace. He can be arrested for the violation of the law. If, however, he says, “Go ahead and kill her,” Rome can accuse him as being an upstart, a seditionist leading an insurrection. What if he had suggests, “Turn her over to the Roman authorities”? The Jews will view him as being complicit with the army of occupation, currying their favor. Jesus really is in a trap with very little wiggle room.
Jesus also recognizes their very scornful attitude, their judgmental spirit. That approach is just as prevalent now. Almost daily I get very critical e-mails about one topic or another. Recently, a popular news commentator made a very derogatory comment about a law student. Is the church supposed to respond with a critical attitude? No. Galatians 6:1 states, “If anyone is caught in a sin, those of you who are spiritual should restore that person in a spirit of gentleness and look to yourselves lest you, too, be tempted.” Why? Nobody comes out clean when we look at ourselves. We have all sinned.
Jesus pauses before answering the men, which is a good idea, then kneels and writes in the sand. He must have been thinking about their pettiness, their critical spirit, their lack of love and compassion. What did he write? Scholars have debated that question for 2000 years. Maybe Jesus wrote the commandment “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” Maybe he recorded their names or the names of their mistresses. Maybe he inventoried their sins. Maybe he simply wrote, Where is the man who is a part of this sin? Whatever Jesus wrote got their attention.
Jesus responds to the group by doing exactly what Nathan did for David. He holds up a mirror and asks, “Do you see what I see?” His response exposes their sin and their critical spirit. He answers, “Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone.” Basically, he tells them, “You hypocrites! Look at your own life. Look at your own sin.” It is a bad idea for people who live in a glass house to throw stones.
With Jesus’ reply, all of the shouting in the crowd of men ends. The only sounds to be heard are stones thudding on the ground and feet scuffling away from the temple. The older men are the first to leave. They have more mileage on their odometer, more sin in their lives. The younger men follow. All those who had condemned the woman and considered her as good as dead – the judgmental men – leave.
We now see this sympathetic Savior, tempted in every way that we are tempted but without sin, standing face-to-face with this adulterous woman. The only one qualified to throw a stone at her – Jesus – refuses to do so. The only one without sin – Jesus – shows compassion. Caught in sin, she faces the ultimate judge.
Of course, we must all face judgment eventually. Sooner or later we will stand before the Judge with our sins exposed. Because Jesus sees in this woman a life worth loving, a life worth salvaging, she receives two great blessings from him. First, she gets a Lord. When she leaves there, she knows the Lord. Second, she receives a new life. Jesus unlocks her shackles with forgiveness but sets her free with the admonition, “Do not sin again.”
A jailhouse confession does not reduce the sentence. A confession – the acknowledgement of sin – and acceptance of forgiveness deal with the ultimate penalty of sin, the eternal penalty. The sin still has consequences. We reap what we sow. Friends suffer because of sin. Sometimes the church suffers. Families suffer.
I know a family that is suffering terribly because of the sins of the father. He gambled away all of the money that had been saved for the education of his two children – both high school students. Will that family suffer? Will those children suffer? The Bible says that the children to the third and fourth generation will suffer for the sins of their fathers and mothers. Who needs to forgive here? Many people need to forgive.
The Bible says that before we worship, we must deal with the issue of forgiveness. We need to seek forgiveness from someone or grant forgiveness to someone, whatever the situation. Some kinds of forgiveness cannot be settled in just a one-time expression of forgiveness. Forgiveness may require seventy times seven, over and over and over again, until the matter is finished.
I often hear people say they cannot forgive themselves. I have not found any evidence in the Bible that we can forgive ourselves. Trying to forgive ourselves is like trying to kiss our own elbow. We must receive forgiveness from someone else. In the little book of I John 3:20, we read, “If our hearts condemn us, God is greater than our hearts and he knows everything.” Ultimately the forgiveness must come from God. I John 1:9 makes it clear that “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Let’s return to the issue of including this text in the Scriptures. It is clear that the early Christian church thought this story was a part of Scripture. We know of early sermons preached on this text. Originally, this story was unattached to any particular Gospel. Some manuscripts include it in the Gospel of Luke. Most manuscripts that contain the story place it right here in the Gospel of John.
Why does Jesus’ encounter fit best here? It falls at a point in Jesus’ life when he is on his way to the cross. Here he gives this woman a foretaste, a head start, on what will soon be true for the whole world. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declares. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” Romans 8:1 tells us, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” The Lord Jesus Christ, the very one this woman encounters, paid the ultimate price for sin for all time, for all people, and for all places on the cross of Calvary.
Do you know what Jesus said from the cross? “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing.” That statement applies to every person, every person – you and me. Sin is serious business. The only remedy is our Savior Jesus Christ.
The couple who admitted they had been to Jackson counseled with me for about eight months. Dealing with that sin takes a long time. The church where I worked at that time erected a cross during Holy Week, just as we do here. At the couple’s appointment during Holy Week, I took them into the Sanctuary. They knelt at the foot of the cross together as husband and wife and confessed their sins. They were restored, and their marriage was restored.
Jesus specializes in grace. It is free, but it is not cheap. It is very, very costly. It cost him his life. When we accept that grace, everything changes. Paul writes in II Corinthians 5:17, “If anyone is in Christ, that person is a new creation. Former things pass away and all things become new.”
Perhaps you know these lyrics: “Something beautiful, something good, all my confusion he understood. All I had to offer him was brokenness and strife, and he made something beautiful of my life.” Has he “made something beautiful” from the conflicts in your life? Come to Jesus. Simply acknowledge your sin. Receive from him, not condemnation, but the saving grace that only he can give. You are invited to make that decision this morning.Kirk H. Neely © March 2012