March 11, 2018
The phrase has appeared online millions of times since October 15, 2017. I’m referring to the phrase, “Me Too.” Actress, Alyssa Milano said, “If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote, 'Me too' as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.” Since then many women and some men have used the phrase along with telling their story of sexual harassment or assault. But this is only the tip of the ice berg. Think of all the women who have been sexually abused, assaulted, and mistreated throughout all of history and it is staggering. Yet this is only one expression of sin.
Think about the various ways in which people are manipulated, taken advantage of, abused and mistreated in the world and one has to wonder if there is anything good about humanity at all. And we are just talking about sins against other humans. What about the fact that every sin against another is a sin against God who created all people? Ultimately we answer to God. Thankfully God has graciously provided a means for our sin to be forgiven. This morning as we consider the woman caught in adultery we will see that Jesus longs for you to receive his loving forgiveness.
I. THIS WORLD IS GIVEN TO CONDEMNATION. Jn.8:1-6a
Last week as we looked at Jn.5 we noted a verse that did not appear in the earliest manuscripts of John’s gospel. The verses that we are looking at this morning also do not appear in the earliest manuscripts of John’s gospel. The early church Fathers knew of this story but did not refer to it because it seems to be soft on sin! Those who copied the scriptures were not sure where to put this story. Some put it after Lk.21:38. Others put it after Jn.7:44 or Jn.21:25. Most put it at the beginning of Jn.8. New Testament scholars suggest that while the story is not part of John’s gospel, it has an authentic ring about it. In Jn.21:25, John writes, “Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” Clearly there were numerous true stories circulating about Jesus, but not all of them were included in the gospel accounts.
There was plenty of space in the outer courts of the temple complex for scribes to sit and teach their students. When he was in Jerusalem Jesus did the same. On this day he was sitting and teaching a group of people when suddenly his teaching was interrupted by some scribes and Pharisees. Most, but not all, of the scribes would have been Pharisees. Scribes could read and write and were very learned in the Law of Moses. They took on the roles of lawyers, theologians, religious teachers, etc.
They interrupted Jesus by bringing a woman whom they claimed had been caught in the very act of adultery. They brought this woman into the midst of those gathered around Jesus. They explained to Jesus that the woman had been caught in adultery and they reminded Jesus that in the Law of Moses such women are to be stoned to death. They asked Jesus to give his view about what should happen to this woman. And John tells us that they were testing Jesus in order to bring a charge against him. It was a trap.
In his commentary on John, D.A. Carson points out that if Jesus had not sided with the Law of Moses he would lose his credibility and could be charged with disobeying the Law of Moses. But if he said that the woman should be stoned according to the Law of Moses, he would be taking a position that would have been unpopular with the people because rarely was this law enforced during the days of Jesus. Think about it, Jesus was one who hung out with tax collectors and sinners. He was known for his compassion.
Not only this, but in those days capital punishment could only be imposed by the Roman administrator. If Jesus said the woman should be stoned perhaps he would have gotten into trouble with Rome. So there’s the situation.
From what I can see, this passage has much to do with condemnation. Our first thought is, “Will Jesus condemn this woman.” But before we get to Jesus, let us consider the condemnation of these Pharisees. What exactly does the Law of Moses say? In Lev.20:10 we read, “If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.” Then again in Dt.22:23-24 it says, “If there is a betrothed virgin, and a man meets her in the city and lies with her, then you shall bring them both out to the gate of that city, and you shall stone them to death with stones….” Perhaps you immediately see the problem here. Where was the man? If the woman was caught in the act there would have been a man. Obviously, somehow the man got away.
These Pharisees were so intent on finding a way to condemn Jesus that they had no problem whatsoever exposing this woman to public humiliation and condemnation. They cared nothing about the woman and they hated Jesus.
The world traffics in condemnation. In fact, condemning others comes naturally to all of us. When we condemn other people we are conforming to this world. Think about it. The devil is called the accuser of the brothers and sisters. We condemn people who disagree with the views we hold. We condemn people in order to justify and exonerate ourselves. We condemn people just because they have a different skin color, culture, or ethnicity from our own. We write them off in a dismissive way. Such condemnation promotes antagonism and hostility that breeds contempt and violence.
And condemnation runs deep. Many of us are self-condemning. Perhaps you were raised by a parent or relative who knew just how to bring condemnation upon you so that you often felt shame and disapproval. You could never measure up. You felt guilty even though you didn’t know what you even did to incur the guilt. And you have learned to condemn yourself. You speak words of self-condemnation. It does not bode well for your soul or for the soul of anyone else.
Now you may be thinking, “Wait a minute. There is a place for condemnation. When people commit wrongdoing they need to be judged. I get that. We will come back to that thought. But for now I want for us to recognize that a spirit of condemnation resides in many of us. Given the right circumstances we could be part of this group of Pharisees. The world is given to condemnation.
II. JESUS IS GIVING SALVATION. Jn.8:6b-11
So here is this guilty woman standing in front of Jesus. And in more than one sense, her life is in Jesus hands. We read in v.6 that Jesus bends down and begins to write with his finger on the ground. From what I can tell, Jesus is silent. In v.7 we read that the Pharisees continued to goad Jesus into saying something.
There is a great deal of speculation about what Jesus wrote on the ground. Many different ideas have been suggested. No one knows what he wrote. Was he buying time for himself? I don’t think so. Maybe he wrote something similar to what he said. In v.7 Jesus stands up and says to the Pharisees, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her." Similar words are found in the Law of Moses. For example, in Dt.17:6-7 it says, “On the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses the one who is to die shall be put to death; a person shall not be put to death on the evidence of one witness. The hand of the witnesses shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people.”
After speaking, Jesus again bent down and wrote on the ground, allowing time for his words to sink in. It was a brilliant response. Jesus didn’t have to decide for or against the woman. He didn’t have to compromise the Law of Moses. What he did was to use the Law of Moses to silence the condemnation of these Pharisees.
In saying, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her," it does not mean that these Pharisees had to be sinless. Rather, as Carson points out, it means that they themselves could not be guilty of this particular sin. Where is justice in this situation? It would seem that Jesus’ words, brought shame into their own hearts. While the woman was, no doubt, guilty of adultery, these men were guilty of entrapment with ulterior, unjust motives. And who knows but they themselves may have been guilty of adultery or other kinds of sexual immorality. Beginning with the older men, her accusers all melt away.
But this doesn’t solve the problem. The woman was left standing there. It says, “and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him.” Was she guilty? She was. She was surely a sinner. I love what Augustine says about this. “The two were left alone, the pitiful and Pity…They left the woman with her great sin in the keeping of him who was without sin. And because she had heard, ‘He that is without sin, let him cast the first stone at her,’ she most likely expected to be punished by one in whom no sin could be found.”
“Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?" She said, ‘No one, Lord.’ And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more."
Perhaps you can see why the early church Fathers shied away from this story. It sounds like Jesus is a little soft on sin. It sounds like Jesus is saying, “Well we will give you a pass on this today. Just don’t do it again.” Nowhere in this passage does Jesus dismiss her sin. He doesn’t even say, “Your sins are forgiven.” What he does say is, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on stop sinning.”
In Jn.3:17-18, John writes, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” Jesus Christ did not come to condemn us. He came because we were already condemned by virtue of our sinful hearts which are set against God and his kingdom life. Because of our selfish, self-directed hearts we have effectively shown ourselves worthy of his judgment and we are in need of his forgiveness.
Notice something in v.10. It says that Jesus stood up and spoke to the woman. I am reminded of a verse in Is.30:18. It says, “Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion. For the LORD is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him!” Jesus stood up to show this woman compassion. “Neither do I condemn you.”
Now men and women, the reality is that all of us stand in the place of this woman. We may or may not be guilty of adultery, but we are all guilty before God of something worse than adultery. We are guilty of rejecting God and his Son, Jesus, in order to pursue our own life, life apart from God our creator. Adultery doesn’t keep a person out of the kingdom of God. Failure to believe in and embrace Jesus Christ is what keeps us out of the kingdom of God.
Something else! In this story this sinful woman was standing in the midst of Jesus for judgment, but no judgment was given. In the gospel story, Jesus stands in the midst of humanity and hears the words of judgment. “Crucify Him.” Jesus willingly experienced the condemnation of our sin when he died on the cross in our place.
In 1Pt.2:24-25 we read, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
And here we are at the Lord’s Table. At this table we come to the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls. We come to the Lord’s Table and in coming we show that we acknowledge our need for forgiveness and life with God in Jesus Christ. We renew our faith and trust in Jesus and are strengthened in our life with Jesus.
Charles Spurgeon wrote a hymn for the Lord’s Table. Listen to the words. 1) Amidst us our Beloved stands, and bids us view His pierced hands; points to the wounded feet and side, blest emblems of the Crucified. 2) What food luxurious loads the board, when, at His table, sits the Lord! The cup how rich, the bread how sweet, when Jesus deigns the guests to meet! 3) If now, with eyes defiled and dim, we see the signs, but see not Him; O may His love the scales displace, and bid us see Him face to face! 4) Thou glorious bridegroom of our hearts, Thy present smile a heaven imparts! O, lift the veil, if veil there be, Let every saint Thy glory see! Let us come to the Lord’s Table. Amen