Dear radio friends,
Today we are going to give consideration to an event that took place during Jesus’ earthly ministry. That event is recorded for us in John 8:1-11. Let me read that passage in order that we might have it before us.
“Jesus went unto the mount of Olives. And early in the morning he came again into the temple, and all the people came unto him; and he sat down, and taught them. And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst, They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou? This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not. So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her. And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground. And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? Hath no man condemned thee? She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.”
The account before us serves a twofold function. In it Jesus purposes to put to shame the legalism or the self-righteousness of the Pharisees who felt they had no sin. But in it He also teaches this woman who was caught in her sin of adultery. He confronts her also. And, as He does, He teaches her about her sin, about pardon, and the requirement of a godly life. And it is that instruction in particular that we wish to consider. Even though the two ideas are inseparably connected and, therefore, we must speak of them both, nevertheless, it is Jesus’ instruction to this adulteress that we are more particularly interested in. We consider our life of sanctification as it stands in inseparable union with our justification and the consciousness of the forgiveness of sins.
The woman whom Jesus addresses in the words of these verses was a horrible sinner, no doubt about it. She was not some innocent young girl who had been forced by a man or who was in deep love with a young man and, therefore, sinned by committing fornication. She was an adulteress. This means that she delighted in her sin. She found pleasure in sharing her bed with men who were not her husband. She led others into sin by luring them away from their wives and into her arms. In other words, the woman of our text was nothing more than a harlot, or a woman of the night.
It was not that difficult, therefore, for the elders or rulers of the people to keep careful watch over her, so as to catch her alone with a man. At that time, they must have walked in on her and actually caught her in the very shameful act of adultery. In verse 4 they say to Jesus that she was taken in the very act. Now, that in itself would be enough to shame even the most hardened harlot. They walked in on her in her sin and snatched her from her bed.
But what was, perhaps, even more horrifying to her was the punishment she was now liable to before the laws of Moses and of Israel. The Pharisees knew that law well. But instead of fulfilling that law in humility and the fear of God, they used this wicked woman to fulfill their own malicious purposes. Having caught her in the act of sin, they dragged her before Jesus, who was then teaching the people in the temple. What was their evil purpose in doing so? Their intention was to snare Christ in the laws of Moses. After all, He was the One who preached that the righteousness of the people must exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees. He was the One who preached that to follow after the laws and traditions of the Pharisees led a person only to self-righteousness and, therefore, to death. They were going to ensnare Him—by using the very laws of Moses himself.
So they brought the woman before Jesus and, in the ears of all the people, they directed Jesus to the law of Moses. Notice verses 4 and 5. Indeed, they did refer Jesus to the law of Moses. In Leviticus 20:10we read exactly of that particular sin. “And the man that committeth adultery with another man’s wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbour’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.” And that, of course, by stoning.
So the Pharisees come to Jesus and say, “Master, Teacher, this is what the law says. She has to be stoned to death. What do you say?” Notice how they try to place Jesus in opposition to the law of Moses: This is what the law says, but what do you say?
Obviously this was not a sincere question to which they sought Jesus’ answer. This was a sanctimonious question that sought to engage Jesus in disputation. And Jesus knew that. He refused to be drawn into such foolish and unlearned debate and questioning. He shows this to them simply by not answering them. He, instead, ignored them and stooped down and, with His finger, He wrote in the dirt. He acted like He did not even hear them, or that they were not even there. The foolish Pharisees themselves must have interpreted this response of Jesus as weakness. I suppose maybe they thought that finally they had ensnared Him. He did not know how to answer them.
But, whatever, they kept hounding Him, attempting to force an answer. It finally did illicit a response from Jesus, but not really the one they expected. Jesus, as usual, used the law of Moses now to their shame. You see, it was also true, according to this particular law of Moses, that those who accused another were the first ones to throw the stones that led to that person’s death. So Jesus used this law of Moses. OK, here you are, condemning this woman, you throw the first stone at her. But Jesus also, carefully, prefaced these words with this remark: “He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone.” Then He stooped down and began to write in the dirt again.
By these words Jesus called the accusers before the judgment seat of God and demanded them to look at themselves as God would view them. He forced them to look at their own lack of innocence before God. He forced them to see their own guilt. And then, if they felt no guilt before God, they could pick up the first stone and cast it at her.
This remark served its purpose well. Jesus had now, once again, publicly shamed them before men, even as they had sought to do this to Jesus. They could not cast the first stone, not because they felt any guilt or shame over their own sin, but lest they appear the worst hypocrites of all before the people. So, being convicted of their own evil consciences, they departed from Jesus, starting from the oldest and wisest of the Pharisees to the youngest and more foolhardy.
The result was that Jesus was left alone writing in the dirt as before.
But He was not completely alone. I mean, His disciples were standing there; probably the people He had been teaching were still standing there; and, Oh yes, there also stood in their midst that woman caught in adultery. She did not run away with her guilt. She did not sneak out of the midst of the crowd. She evidently felt she should yet remain until Jesus Himself had passed His verdict upon her.
Now, what would Jesus say to this woman? The people who were standing round about them were waiting to hear what Jesus was going to say. This woman was, after all, a terrible sinner. She deserved the punishment of stoning. What would the Master teach her, and what would He teach them? What, indeed, would be His judgment?
Now, the words that Jesus does say to her in these verses may seem as if He pardons her without the slightest sign that she was sorry for her sin. It may seem as if Jesus did not even care whether she was such a horrible sinner, as if He was now closing His eyes to her sin, as if it was not all that serious of a matter. But such was not the case. We know that God and Jesus never overlook sin, or allow the sinner to walk from Them feeling free to sin. But Jesus, being the divine Son of God, remember, was able to look under the surface and see into the heart of this woman. And, no doubt, what He saw in this woman was that, through her experience, she had become shamefully aware of the horror of her sin and its consequences. She had been jarred into the awareness of the wretchedness of her state of sin before God, and her extreme guilt, both by what the Pharisees had done and by what Jesus had said.
That this is the case is evident first of all by the fact that she did not run away from Jesus, but stood and waited for what Jesus would say. Even though she could have slipped out of the midst of these people now, she did not run. Even after her accusers were gone, she stayed there.
Secondly, it is evident from the words that she said to Jesus. He had asked her, “Woman, where are those thine accusers? Hath no man condemned thee?” Certainly she knew she was guilty. That was obvious to her, to the people, to Jesus Himself. She knew that, even though her accusers had walked away, she was guilty. She did stand condemned. But she only answered the question, making no excuses for herself: “No man, Lord.”
Lord! She called Jesus her Lord! Only the grace of God could have worked in the heart of this sinner to bring that name to her lips. One cannot help but notice the contrast between the sarcastic “Master” that the Pharisees spoke and the sincere “Lord” by which she now addresses Jesus. By it she acknowledges that Jesus was her King and Ruler, the One who had power and authority over all things and over her, too, to forgive her sin. He had power to condemn her in her sin. She recognized Him as the Judge of heaven and earth. By it she acknowledged that her life and salvation were in the hands of this Man who now stood before her, who had exposed the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. What she showed, therefore, is repentance and sorrow over sin. And, and this is the important thing, she recognized Jesus as her only deliverance from that sin in her life. “Lord.”
Her repentance was the same as ours when we acknowledge our sin before God and sorrow over that sin. She recognized the very same thing we do: that Christ is our only salvation from sin. Christ, as the Son of God, had the right to grant her the forgiveness of sin. And He did this by saying, “Neither do I condemn thee.” Oh, she deserved to be condemned. She deserved to be stoned to death for her sin according to the law. She was guilty as guilty could be. No one would deny that, least of all, now, she. She was under condemnation and guilt. But Jesus told her that He would not condemn her.
And if Jesus, the Judge of heaven and earth, will not condemn, that means that the accused is innocent in His sight. This woman’s sins were covered in His blood. She who of herself was unrighteous was now made righteous in Christ Jesus. She was justified by faith. Jesus had not yet gone to the cross; but when He did, her sins would be taken by this Lord and He would bear the punishment for them, and pay the price for them, and free her from guilt and condemnation.
Her sin was forgiven. We rejoice in that too. We do not take the side of the Pharisees and become offended with Jesus. We rejoice because, as horrible a sinner as she was, when we look at our own hearts, we would say that we are no better than she was.
We would say that, would we not? We had better. Or else we, surely, could pick up that first stone and throw it at her. We rejoice, therefore, because our sin, even as the sin of this woman, is forgiven us only for the sake of the death of Jesus Christ. Oh, the joy of being forgiven!
Oh, the seriousness of being forgiven. Being forgiven, you know, is not all of salvation. Being justified in the blood of Christ is not the totality of our salvation. Being saved places upon every child of God a tremendous calling, a calling that can be accomplished only by a daily clinging to the cross of Christ, by a taking up of our cross and following after Him. Jesus laid this calling upon this woman when He added: “Go, and sin no more.”
Let us consider, for a moment, what sin is. The term for “sin” in our text points out to us that sin is deliberate, willful rebellion against God. It is a missing of the mark of God’s righteousness. Let us use this woman for an example. The mark that she had to aim her life at, just as we do, is the law of God. She was called upon in her life, just as we are, not to commit adultery. But her sin was this: Knowing what the law of God said, she deliberately turned away from that law of God and aimed her life in exactly the opposite direction. She deliberately attempted to fulfill her own desires and her own will and her own way, rather than the will and way of God as recorded in the Word of God. It is a missing of the mark of God’s law.
Now, when we scrutinize and examine the sin of the wicked world who are without Christ, then we can well understand how they walk in sin. They have no fear of God before them. There is no love of God and His commandments. Wicked man is depraved. There is no desire to serve God or to hit the target of His law. God simply has not worked in that ungodly man faith and repentance. He has not saved them.
But that was not true of this woman. And we pray that that is not true of us. Christ has performed the work of salvation within His children. We have been delivered from the power of sin and death and, therefore, there is little wonder why Jesus says to those whom He has made righteous in His blood: “Go, and sin no more.” He can say that because never, never, can we separate justification from sanctification. Those whom God forgives or justifies, them He also cleanses or sanctifies. And this is the basis for such a command of Christ to this woman and to us.
He does not demand of us something we cannot do, because He has not only performed a work for us on the cross, but He has performed a work in us. He did not die just to earn forgiveness for us, but He died in order that He might destroy the power of sin and death in our lives. Christ died in order that we might be cleansed, or washed, from the pollution of sin. And when He did this, He broke the bands that sin had on us and set us free. We now live in the liberty of Christ. Sin and Satan have been conquered, and Christ rules in our lives. Through that power and rule of Christ in us as our Lord, we receive the strength to say “No” to sin and Satan, the strength in our lives to go out and sin no more.
Now, I realize that though this is a reality, yet, nevertheless, we still do sin. I know that. I am not a perfectionist. I realize that this work of sanctification will not be complete until the day of our death, when we will shed the old man of sin and enter into heavenly glory and into perfection. While we are yet in this life, there still is sin. We are weak and helpless to defend ourselves. And if we were to stand in our own strength, then we will fall into temptation and sin. Nevertheless, we cling to Christ Himself. And when we cling to Christ, then, through that work of sanctification in us, we are given the strength to fight against sin.
It is on the basis of that work of sanctification that Christ gives us the command, Go and sin no more.
There is another reason, too, why we receive this command: Gratitude—pure and simple gratitude. If a man saved us from drowning, we would be extremely grateful to him, willing to do almost anything he asked of us. Well, people of God, Christ has delivered us from the pits of fiery perdition. He has delivered us from hell and all its agony and darkness, and given us the joy of a place in heaven. How thankful we should be! And, therefore, how we ought to strive and struggle and wrestle and fight with ourselves and our sin.
Jesus knows that we are not perfect. Jesus knew that this woman was far from perfect. He knew that she would still have to fight against that sin and temptation in her life. Yet, in His strength, she could do that. Every one of us has his own pet sin. Every one of us has a tendency to commit that sin over and over again in life. Maybe that sin is of a public nature. Maybe it is a sin that we alone, and God, know. We have our sins. And we are aware of them. Well, Jesus instructs in the words of this passage that we can, through Christ who strengthens us, overcome those sins. They ought not to hold sway over our hearts. We are called to forsake sin. And that, through the power of our Lord Jesus Christ.
We can never do that on our own—even if we make a conscious attempt to do so. I do not care how determined we may be to overcome sin in ourselves. We can say to ourselves, Never again. But on our own, we will never conquer them. To do so takes total dependence on Jesus Christ alone. And that, in turn, takes a continual work of God’s grace in us. Prayer, consistent prayer, living close to Jesus Christ, exercising ourselves in the means of grace—all these are necessary, you see, to draw our strength from Jesus Christ. And when we draw that strength from Christ, we can fight sin.
Then we can turn around and go, just as did this woman, with the joy of forgiveness and with a conviction of faith, and we can fight against sin. We can go forth as conquerors through Christ. In gratitude to God for our salvation, we will go and sin no more.
Let us pray together.
Father in heaven, we thank Thee, for Thou hast forgiven us our sins in the blood of Jesus Christ. If there are those who listen even now whose sins are yet unrepented of, we pray that Thou wilt work in their hearts by Thy power and grace that they may confess their sins before Thee, even as this woman confessed her horrible sin, and that they might see Thee as the God of their salvation in Jesus Christ. And may they seek out that Lord Jesus Christ for salvation alone. And having forgiven us, Father, wilt Thou also teach us to live a godly and a holy life before Thee. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.