53 [[They went each to his own house, 8:1 but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2 Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. 3 The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst 4 they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. 5 Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” 6 This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. 7 And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. 9 But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10 Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”]]
Tonight we are in John 8, as we just continue through the book of John. Just as a side note, I think after we finish John, we’re gonna do Proverbs, and then we’re gonna do 1 Corinthians. But that’ll be like 15 years, and so, we’ll just continue in John. This section – if you look in John 8 tonight, you should have in your Bible a footnote or an insertion beginning around chapter 7, verse 53, that says that the oldest and most reliable manuscripts do not have this next section of Scripture in them. You guys see that in there? I wanna explain that to you a little bit before we get into the Scripture tonight.
The story that we’re dealing with tonight in John’s gospel is the woman who was caught in the act of adultery and brought before Jesus. There is, however, surrounding that a real sort of contentious debate among scholars in Johannine literature about whether or not that should be in your Bible. Reason is – I’ll explain to you how we got Bible in its current form, and maybe that’ll help give you some understanding. We are told in Scripture in Isaiah, I think it’s 55, that God’s ways and thoughts are higher than our ways and thoughts and that we are completely separated in our understanding from God. So, what God needs to do is God needs to reveal himself to us, or God desires to reveal himself to us. So, the way God determines that he would do that is through Scripture. This is how we got the Bible. God is here and we are here, and so, what God does is reveal himself to one of his servants – one of the prophets, one of the apostles, someone who loves him and is chosen by him to serve at his discretion. So, God reveals himself and somehow reveals what it is that he wants to communicate to the world to one of his servants.
What he does is he inspires that servant to write down exactly everything that God inspires them to write. It’s this concept that we get from 2 Timothy 3:16 where it says that all Scripture is God-breathed, that God is inspiring. It says in Peter that no one who wrote Scripture wrote it from their own self-interest, but they were carried along by the Spirit of God. So, God reveals himself and then inspires someone, his servant, to write that down. Sometimes it was dictated word for word from God, as in the prophets; sometimes it was inspired in the course of normal communication, like in Paul’s letters. But in all of it, we know that what was written down was exactly what God wanted, without error. Once that is written down, there is obviously a desire among a great number of people to read what it is that God has communicated, so, then comes the necessity of transmission, meaning that someone sits down and hand copies what God had inspired the author to write. This happens over and over and over, and lots of manuscripts or lots of copies get distributed to lots of people so that they can read it.
What happens over a bit of time is that people in other languages now want to read the Scripture as well, but they don’t have access to it because it was originally written in a language that is foreign to them. So, what happens at that point is translation occurs. People sit down and translate from one language to another. The Bible we’ll read tonight is a translation. Originally, the Old Testament was written in Hebrew; New Testament, in Greek; and some smaller sections, in Aramaic. We don’t know those languages, but we would still like to study the Scriptures, and so we have a translation. What happens then is that we sit down with that translation and we interpret it. We open it up to figure out what it means. Having figured out what it means by God’s grace through God’s Spirit, we then apply it to our lives and go live in light of the teaching.
So, it begins all the way with God’s thoughts being revealed, him inspiring people to write that down, those people then making copies of that, and then other translations being made off of those copies, you and I reading them, interpreting what they say, and then applying that to our life. All this to say that some have suggested that maybe we shouldn’t trust the manuscripts or the copies that we have. I’ve got this in your notes. Throughout the Old Testament and the New Testament and the teaching of Jesus, when they taught, they taught off of manuscripts, they taught off of copies. But Jesus treated them as authoritative and so should we. When Jesus begins his ministry, he walks into the synagogue and he opens the Scripture and he reads a section of Isaiah. The section that the read was a copy handed down over the course of hundreds of years.
All of that to say that this section that we’re going to study tonight in John’s gospel does not appear in the earliest manuscripts. It shows up later, maybe three, four, five hundred years into church history, but it does not show up initially in the first and earliest manuscript copies, and so, people are wondering: Should that be there? Why do the early copies not have this story and the later copies do? How do we explain that? I’ll give you two suggestions. The first is from a gentleman named Jerome. Jerome was one of the first Bible translators. He took the Hebrew Old Testament, Greek New Testament, and translated them into something called the Vulgate, which is – it was Latin – it was a Latin translation. What had happened in the early church is that the predominant language of the day shifted from being Greek to being Latin. It’s almost like what’s going on in southern California right now. There was a day where English was dominant and primary language. Spanish is quickly becoming a very popular and second language, and it is entirely possible that within a few years, Spanish could become primary and dominant language and overtake English.
The same thing happened in the course of the early church. There was a transition from Greek to Latin, and what Jerome did is he made the first full Latin translation of the Bible, and he included this section of John’s gospel. It may have been, the reason that he had done so is because he believed that it was an accurate, truthful portrayal of an actual event that did occur, and so, he placed it in there. So, possibly this section was not originally part of your Bible but was included later on. As transmission and translation occurred, it may have been inserted here, but that shouldn’t disturb us because I believe it’s still an accurate portrayal. It still is in complete agreement with all the rest of Scripture, and, in addition to that, there’s no debated doctrine. There’s nothing there of contention to cause us any grief.
The second possibility as to why it is there is inferred by one of the early church fathers, a gentleman named Augustine. Augustine infers that in the early church, a lot of people were committing adultery and were very sexually promiscuous. What they would do is they would commit adultery and then they would come into the church for discipline as people uncovered their sin, and they would go to the story and say, “See? Adultery didn’t really bother Jesus. He just let a woman off the hook. Why don’t you just do likewise and let me continue in my adultery?” So, people (Augustine is inferring) were using this section to condone and advocate adultery. So, what may have happened in the early church is that they may have taken this section out of John’s gospel because people were abusing and misusing it, and later on, when they were no longer abusing and misusing that section of Scripture, maybe it was included back in. That may explain why there’s a gap in some of the manuscripts why this is not there.
All of that to say I believe it should be there, and I believe Augustine’s answer may be the most accurate, that it was originally part of the Scripture, the church pulled it out because people were abusing it, but then later on, they realized that they didn’t have any right to be messing with Scripture in that way, and so, it was reintroduced into some of the manuscripts and continues on in its present form. Either way, we’re going to study it. All that so you know what that little footnote is that’s in your Bible, how you got that there and why it is such.
So, here we go. I will read the section and then we will just launch right in. John 7:53. “Then each went to his own home. But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them.” Just a real quick note: This is a customary Eastern way of teaching. This last year, when I went to India, that’s how some of the churches had us teach. They would make us sit cross-legged, sort of guru style, to teach. I prefer this much better. If you notice my physique, I’m not built for long periods of sitting in some sort of cross-legged position, so, Jesus, though, apparently was very limber, and so, he taught that way.
“The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?’ 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. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, ‘If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.’ Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. 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. Jesus straightened up and asked her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ ‘No one, sir, she said. ’Then neither do I condemn you,’ Jesus declared. ‘Go now and leave your life of sin.’”
That’s the story – very simple story. What I want to do for you now is I want to reconstruct some of the historical events that were going on there so you can get a framework for exactly what is going on. The first is, is that among God’s people, adultery is a grievous sin. I cannot overstate the severity that God views adultery with. Adultery is so significant to God that he includes it in one of the Ten Commandments, that we are not supposed to commit adultery. It is a capital offense in the Old Testament. Adultery robs God of his glory in its offense to God because we come into covenant relationship, and adultery is the most severe breaching of that covenant that we have made one to another in God’s sight. In addition, we are told that our bodies (in 1 Corinthians 7) do not belong to us, but they belong to our spouse. That you are supposed to, as a single person, take good care of your body, and wait to give it to your spouse because your body is indeed not your own. It is on loan to you, and you are supposed to tend to it until you can give it to the person that you’re going to marry.
Adultery has many practical consequences on a society. It destroys families. It has negative implications most obviously on children. In destroying families, it also rips away at the fabric and the foundation of the church and of the society that is built on those families. So, you cannot overstate how grievous a sin adultery is. To define adultery for you, adultery is any sexuality outside of the bonds of covenant marriage. Unless a man and a woman come together and become husband and wife, any sexual activity outside of that is adultery. In its most obvious form, it includes (if you are married) having sex with someone that you are not married to – any form of sexual activity. If you are single, it may also include fornication, which is having sex outside of the marriage bond previous to your marriage because even though you do not yet have a spouse and you’re not in covenant, if you intend to be, you are cheating against them. You are taking their body and giving it away to someone that it does not belong to. You’re violating 1 Corinthians 7.
It is such a grievous sin that it was a capital offense in the Old Testament. If a woman committed adultery, she was to be stoned to death, meaning that her accuser would throw the first stone and that everyone else would grab a rock and throw rocks at the woman until she was bloodied and beaten and left for dead. The Mishnah, which was the Jewish law that was prevalent in Jesus’ day, had a particular way of putting to death men who were guilty of committing adultery. They would take a man in a public place and they would bury him at least up to his knees in dung – you’ve gotta love this – and then they would take a large towel and they would put it around his neck, and there would be one man on each side, and they would pull as hard as they could until they literally sucked the life out of him. They would choke him to death publicly and then let go of him and let him fall in a heap in the dung and leave him there for dead, and if anyone cared for him, they would pick up his dead corpse and would clean him up and bury him. That’s how they dealt with a man.
So severe was it in the Old Testament that even if you committed adultery during your betrothal, you could be put to death. The betrothal was the one-year contractually obligated arrangement of marriage prior to the actual wedding day, meaning we would get engaged, for example, my wife and I would get engaged, and a year later, we would have the wedding. That one-year period in there for preparation for the marriage was our betrothal, and in that time, we were legally married though we had not consummated our relationship and become one flesh. Even if we were to commit adultery during the betrothal, it was a capital offense that would cost us our life. That’s why you see in the beginning of Matthew’s gospel, when Mary is found to be with child, Joseph is concerned about her. He seeks to divorce her even though they’re not legally married yet. They are betrothed, and he seeks to put her away silently – I believe because he wanted to spare her life.
So serious is this in the Old Testament, as I was studying Deuteronomy this week, if a young girl went out and had sexual relations with a married man, she committed adultery with a married man, or if a woman was betrothed to be married and she went out and committed adultery on her betrothed, they would kill the woman by stoning, but where would they kill her? Where would they kill her? On the steps of her father’s home. But they would take her to her father’s home, they would place her on the porch of her father’s house, and they would stone her to death right there in front of her father and likely in front of her brothers. Why? Because it’s his responsibility. He is the head of the home, and that is his daughter, and it is his obligation before God to govern and oversee and protect her to make sure that she is not out committing adultery, destroying families, and ruining lives.
It couldn’t be more different in our own day. In this culture, adultery is a virtue. It is a form of self-expression and freedom and liberation. In Biblical understanding, it is a grievous sin that the wage for which can only be death. I had a grievous situation this week. I was flying – I went down to L.A. to try and raise some money for some more church planting endeavors that we’re pursuing globally, and I was on my way back, and I sat next to this woman in God’s providence. She was about 18 years old, and she was an attractive, intelligent, very sweet young woman, and we were talking, and I said, “So, what are you doing?” She says, “Well, I’m coming to visit a college campus.” I say, “Why?” She says, “Well, I wanna be with my boyfriend.” I say, “Well, what do you want to study?” She says, “I have no idea.” I said, “Then why are you going to college?” She said, “So I can get a good job and take care of myself.” I said, “Well, tell me about your boyfriend.” She says, “We’ve been dating for a little while, and I really love him, and I really want to be with him, so, I plan on graduating and moving up here to go college with him.”
So, I had not yet dropped the pastor bomb on her. I always – when you’re flying, the best thing to do is get all the information from the person that you’re seated next to, and just before the plane lands, if at all possible, then drop the pastor bomb. If they try to ask you things like, “What do you do for a living?” you just – you become very evasive, and you change the topic very quickly; otherwise, you’ll never get anywhere with these people. But I figure if you’re locked in for a two-hour flight, something good could happen as long as they don’t figure you out. So, I’m speaking with her and I said, “Well, do you need a place to stay?” She says, “No, no, no. I’m gonna stay in his dorm.” He’s in a guys’ dormitory, and she’s coming up to stay with him, and she’s gonna stay in a guys’ dorm for a few days. So, automatically I’m thinking that she’s just ruined her reputation with all these guys because it’s a dorm full of guys, and she’s rooming with a guy and showering with a guy in a guys’ dorm – it’s pretty obvious what’s going on here – and I said, “Well, when you graduate and you move up, where do you plan on living?” She says, “Well, we’re gonna get an apartment, and we’re gonna live together.”
I said, “Well, does he intend to marry you?” She says, “No, no. He’s still got a lot of years left in school, you know, we’re not in any position to be married, but we’re going to live together, and we’re gonna sleep together.” And I said, “Well, how does your dad feel about all this?” She says, “Well, my dad, you know, he’s a nice guy, and he’s still at home, and he loves me, and he figures, you know, I’m an 18-year-old woman, I’m an adult now, I make my own decisions. It’s really none of his business.” Being a father, you know, I’m grabbing for the motion sickness bag, about ready to lose it. I say, “Well, he doesn’t have any opinion about this guy? He doesn’t have any –?” She says, “Well, he doesn’t really know him that well, and it’s really none of his business, you know. After all, I’m a woman now, and I make my own decisions.” And she’s thinking, “Well, aren’t I liberated? Aren’t I free?” and I’m thinking, “Isn’t this a disaster? The father is just handing over this young woman to a man who doesn’t want to be in covenant with her, doesn’t likely love her, isn’t really that committed to her, but would love her to live with him and have sex with him and do his laundry and do his dishes and cook his meals and then when he gets tired of her, trade her in for someone else – and break her heart.”
And so, we were talking for a little bit, and then I finally did drop the pastor bomb on her, and she put her headphones on to listen to music, and the conversation sort of stopped at that point. She was reading a woman’s magazine and it was, you know, how to drive ‘em wild in bed, how to show enough skin, how to keep ’em interested, how to manipulate ’em with sex, all these sort of things. She’s paying really acute attention reading this, thinking that she’s really this woman that’s so free, and I thought, “My goodness. This is not a free woman. This is an abused woman who’s living under an illusion.” We got off the plane, and we were going, and I said, “Well, do you need my phone?” because our flight was running late. “Do you need to call him, let him know you’re running late?” She says, “No, that’s okay. He’s not picking me up anyways. I’m taking a cab.” I said, “Why is that?” She said, “Well, he’s busy, and he doesn’t like to drive in traffic.” I was thinking, “This is a great guy right here.” He’s the kind of guy that would cause me to do prison ministry from the inside.
All that to say that in Scripture, there is no understanding that people just get to go out and do whatever they want if they claim God, and especially if it’s a young woman and her father is supposed to be there to love her, to protect her, to care for, and to make sure that married men don’t prey on her and that other men don’t prey on her, either. And so, adultery in this context is so serious. Can’t overstress the severity of the sin and the situation.
So, what they do, the religious leaders in that day, they know that if they have a possibility of tripping up Jesus, this is one of the greatest issues they could do it with. So, what they do is they catch a woman in the very act of adultery. They bring her to Jesus, and what they want to know is what will Jesus do, but they’ve got him locked on the horns of a dilemma because Jewish law commanded that she be put to death for committing adultery, but Roman law said that if the Jews sought to impose capital punishment, they were breaking Roman law. So, it was against the law. So, here was Jesus’ dilemma. Old Testament says she must be put to death, but Roman law says you cannot invoke capital crime and punishment as a Jew. John 18:31 says that. So, they bring this woman to Jesus, and they say, “Now, what are you going to do?” Jesus is in a losing proposition.
If he says, "Okay, let’s obey the Old Testament law and put her to death, then the Romans will come and arrest him, throw him in jail, and likely execute him for violating Roman law. Because now Rome is overrunning Jewish law. The Jewish people are living under Roman rule. If he says, “Well, I can’t put her to death because of Roman law,” then he’s violating the law of Moses. In so doing, according do Deuteronomy 18, he’s a false prophet. What they’re seeking to do is break the popularity of Jesus. It’s a dilemma. He can’t win. They bring this woman to him, and so, I love what Jesus does. They come to Jesus, here’s the dilemma, “What will you do?” – losing proposition. What Jesus does, first thing he does is he ignores them, which is always a great place to begin with legalists. He ignores them, he bends over, and he begins to write in the ground.
As far as I can recall, it’s the only thing we’re told that Jesus ever wrote, and he writes in the dirt on the ground, and we have no idea what he writes. Lots of speculation has been given. I’ll give you my speculation. Deuteronomy 9:10 says that when God the Father wrote the Ten Commandments, what did he write them with? With his own finger. I believe you have the same thing going on here. Jesus is taking his finger, and I believe he is doing as God the Father did, and he is writing the law in the ground. I am speculating that possibly what he wrote was the first line of the tenth commandment, “Thou shalt not covet your neighbor’s wife.” Because you have to think about it. If you have a bunch of heterosexual guys looking through a window, watching a naked woman have sex, they’re lusting in their heart. If you say, “No, they weren’t,” then you’re either not attracted to women, you are lying, or you’re really lying. Those are your only options.
It is impossible for a man to watch a young woman having sex and that man not covet that experience. So, I believe Jesus may have been writing in the ground, “Don’t covet another woman.” They had already been guilty, I believe, of adultery in their own heart. In addition, Jesus may have been writing down the other commandment that just simply stated, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.”
What Jesus does then is he tells them, “Okay, fine. We will impose Old Testament law, and we will put her to death. Someone needs to step forward now, and they need to cast the first stone.” Jesus is simply true to Scripture here. It was demanded in the Old Testament that if you brought an accusation before someone, then you had to be the first one to impose the penalty. So, if you wanted someone put to death, you brought the accusation, you had to throw the first stone. But you had to be very careful with that because if you brought a false accusation, they would be able to do exactly to you what you had sought to do to them. So, you didn’t mess around with this. You wouldn’t falsely accuse people because then they could put you to death, and you didn’t want to play that game. So, Jesus tells them, “Fine. We will impose Old Testament law. He who is without sin casts the first stone.”
I do not believe, in saying this, that Jesus is saying that you must be perfect to bring judgment upon people for their sin. In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul tells us that we should judge those who are in the household of God, that we have to. In Peter, we are told that judgment begins with the people of God. Jesus has told us on another occasion that we can judge, we just cannot judge hypocritically. He uses this illustration that if I’m pointing out a little speck of dust in your eye and I have a two-by-four in my own, I’m judging hypocritically and I should get my own house in order before I lay some sort of condemnation on you. I think that’s exactly what’s going on here. Jesus is not saying you must be perfect to point out sin in the life of another person; otherwise, no one would be able to point out sin in anyone’s life because no one is perfect. But what he is articulating is that these men are hypocritical. They are judging this woman. My guess is they have at least committed adultery in their heart. At the very least.
Secondarily, they may have also been guilty of the same act. Jesus may have known that these are men that are unfaithful to their own wives and are self-righteous hypocrites. And lastly, it is possible that since this woman, Jesus will say in a moment, has a life of sin, that she may have been sort of the town whore that most of these men had been with themselves. And so, Jesus is saying, “Well, if you want to put her to death, how many of you have slept with her? How many of you have been unfaithful to your wives? And how many of you voyeuristic peeping toms while looking through the window didn’t at least commit adultery with her in your own heart?” And so, what we’re told then in the story is they leave, from the oldest to the youngest, possibly because the oldest knew the Scripture the best and were most cognizant of their own sin.
There are a few problems that come up, though, in this scenario. The first problem is, the woman should have never been brought to Jesus. According to Old Testament law, where should she have been brought? The Sanhedrin – to the rulers, not to an itinerant teacher. Jesus is not sitting there as a full representative for the nation of Israel to give judgment over all conduct and capital crimes. She should have been brought to the Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin was the ruling and governing and legal body. They should have seen the case. They should have tried the case. The other thing that is glaringly missing is what is missing in this account. What are we not seeing here? The guy. “Yeah, Jesus, we caught this woman committing adultery all by herself, and we would like you to punish her. You know, those women that commit adultery by themselves, they’re really a problem.” By definition, adultery requires someone else to be there. The question is, where is the guy? We are guy free. We have no guy, which I would say makes it accurate to speculate that whomever this guy was that was cheating on his wife, committing adultery on his wife with this woman, that it was a set-up.
In all likelihood, they knew that this was a loose and promiscuous woman, and they found a guy who would love to cheat on his wife, and they told him, “Look, we will cut you a deal. There’s this woman, you go pick her up, you go to this place, you have sex with her, we’re all gonna stand there doing research as witnesses, and then we will come and take her. But don’t worry – we’ll give you some sort of cash pay-off, hush money, we’ll take her in, no one will know what you’ve done. Here’s what you get: You get to commit adultery on your wife and get money for it and get off the hook.” Guy takes the deal. Lotta guys would take that deal. So, they grab this woman, half naked, to prove the case that she has been caught in the very act of adultery, and they bring her before Jesus. And it’s a beautiful thing that Jesus says, “Anyone who has not committed this same sin can begin the crucifixion,” and the men depart. And there’s only one man that is remaining standing with this convicted woman, and that is Jesus.
Now, could Jesus have put her to death? Does Jesus have a right to put her to death? He does. Jesus is without sin. Jesus hasn’t had illicit sexual experience. Jesus is in fact without sin. If anyone could ever invoke capital crime and punishment, it would be Jesus. He has every right. He’s God, he can take life. He’s the author of life. And Jesus doesn’t. Jesus is the only man in the story that does not take advantage of and abuse this woman. Every other man she’d ever been with used her for sex. The religious leaders used her, not as a person, but as a piece of evidence for their case, to take down Jesus Christ. All the other men in the equation are seeking to rob this woman of her dignity and use her for their own selfish gain. Christ is the only exception. Jesus is the only one that does not do that. Jesus is a – early thirties young man who is standing there with a half naked woman who is morally loose, willing to do anything to get out of her predicament, and Jesus does not think, like the average man, “How can I use this woman to my own advantage?”
Jesus instead looks upon her with compassion. Jesus forgives her for her sin. But does Jesus let her off the hook? Does Jesus wink at her transgression and her indiscretion? He does not. He says, “Go and leave your life of sin.” You cannot just turn this woman, though she is in a grievous situation, into a complete victim. You can’t. She was set up, but she went willingly. She has a life of sin, which seems to indicate that this is a pattern of conduct for this woman. This is a woman who loves to destroy marriages. This is a woman who loves to degrade wives and to rob children of their father. This is a woman who has devastated a multitude of homes, and now she’s simply been caught in doing it. The reason she was chosen was because they knew that she would sin – because she always does. She’s a sexually loose, promiscuous, adulterous woman. So, you can’t look at her and say, “Oh, poor lady. She’s a victim. We should let her off the hook.” She is a willing participant.
Some of you have felt that. “Oh, I was set up.” “My friends handed me too much to drink.” “My friends handed me the car keys.” “My friends put me together with that gal.” “That guy really came on to me strong.” All of that true, maybe we are set up, but we willingly participate in our sin, and we have to take responsibility for that. We can’t abdicate ourselves of our own responsibility. What I don’t wanna do is turn this woman exclusively into a victim. She’s been sinned against, but she is not an innocent victim. And so, Jesus tells her to leave her life of sin, and in so doing, I love how Jesus refers to this woman. He does not call her a whore. He does not call her a slut. He does not call her a prostitute. He does not call her a homewrecker. What does he call her? Woman. It’s the same term that he used in the second chapter of John’s gospel to refer to his own mother. Don’t you love that? He speaks to her with dignity. He speaks to her with respect. He speaks to her with honor and grace and love. “You are a woman. Leave your life of sin, and go live like a woman. Like a dignified, forgiven, cleansed woman. Go live that life.” This may have been the first time in a great number of years that any man has spoken to her in a tone of love, with dignity and with affection, not seeking to manipulate that to use her body. Tremendous dignity.
But Jesus does not wink at her sin. He addresses it. And so, the question we are left with is, out of all of this irony, they bring this woman to Jesus to be judged, he judges her and he judges those who seek to judge her – he judges everyone. But the question is, why could Jesus forgive her of her sin and let her go on her way and not invoke the Old Testament penalty of death? Why could Jesus do that without violating Old Testament law? What’s he going to do for her sin? He will die for it. Paul tells us that the wage of sin is death. Death is a form of punishment that is a logical consequence of sin. There’s a physical death, and there’s a spiritual death. Cessation of life; cessation of life with God. What Jesus will do is this amazing gift that he gives to her, is that Jesus will continue his life of perfection without sin in glory and honor to the Father, and he will ultimately be murdered. And in that moment, 2 Corinthians 5:21 tell us that God made him (Jesus) who knew no sin to become sin so that in him, we might become the righteousness of God.
There is this exchange that happens on the cross. You’ve heard it said, “Jesus died for your sin.” What that means is every time you have told a lie. Every time you have had sex outside of marriage. Every time you have lusted in your heart. Every time you have been greedy or covetous or gluttonous – anything that you have done that is an offense and a transgression against God, a violation of the body and the life he has given you, for each and every one of those things, Christ paid penalty in your stead if you were his child. What that means is that as Christ hangs on the cross, suffering, beaten, broken, bleeding, and dying, it’s because that woman went to bed with that man. That’s why he’s there. And he will pay in his own body and with his own blood for her sin. And so, the Old Testament will be upheld. Her sin will be punished with death. But not her own death. Jesus is punished in her place, and so, Jesus can forgive her. Jesus can love her. Jesus can give her the opportunity to leave her life of sin and go live this new eternally governed life because Christ will ultimately pay for her sin.
And you know how the story goes, that Jesus was God incarnate, that he lived a perfect life, and he died, he was murdered, not for anything he had done but for – for me and for those like me who belong to him. And then three days later, he arose from the dead and he ascended into heaven. He’s seated at the right hand of the Father, and right now, he’s interceding for his children. And it says that he will come again to judge the living and the dead. And when Jesus comes again, Zechariah 14:4 tells us exactly where Christ will come. When Christ returns and we see him again, where will he descend to? The Mount of Olives. Where did all of this happen, this forgiving of this adulterous woman? The Mount of Olives. The woman is standing on the very ground where Christ is promised in Zechariah to return and land upon his second coming. It’s beautiful. I don’t know for sure – I wonder if when Jesus returns if his feet won’t set on the very place that he forgave that woman and sent her to be his daughter.
What she experienced is true and did happen and is real, but is a picture and a portrait and a foreshadowing of what will happen to all of us who know Christ and whom Christ knows. See, the Pharisees and the teachers of the law came to this woman thinking, “We have caught her in her sin, and we will take her to Jesus, and that will be the end of her.” What they did was the kindest thing that had ever been done to her. They exposed her sin and they brought her to Jesus. It’s beautiful. It’s the nicest thing anyone had ever done. They didn’t intend it that way. It’s like at the end of Genesis where Joseph looks at his brothers and says, “What you meant for evil, God used for good.” What they intended for evil, Christ used for good. What they intended for death, Christ used for life. What they intended for wrath, Christ used for mercy and grace. It’s just sort of scandalous that in God’s great irony, everything this woman had done was brought to a culmination whereby she was forgiven, and you and I will have that same experience.
When Christ lands again on the Mount of Olives, when he descends and returns to set up his kingdom and his rule ultimately over all the earth, he will do the same thing, and he will send us into his kingdom as his beloved and forgiven children, apart and departed from our life of sin. We will experience exactly what this woman has experienced. Ultimate forgiveness, face to face with Christ, sent into his kingdom, to live new life. It’s unbelievable.
And so, if you’re here tonight, all of this to say you have been caught. Most of us spend a great majority of our time just seeking not to stop sinning, but seeking to not be caught in our sin. And I don’t know what your sin is. Maybe it is sexual. We live in a perverse age. Homosexuality, bisexuality, pornography, lust, masturbation, whatever it is. Maybe your sins are just the run-of-the-mill pride or greed or gluttony, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, the boastful pride of life, the bragging about what you have and how great you are and how much you possess. I don’t know what your sins are, but you’ve been caught. God knows all. He is omniscient. His eyes have seen everything that you have ever done. And it may be terrifying, but in a bittersweet way, as this woman experienced, it’s God’s grace to you. It’s God’s means of exposing who you are so that he can address your sin, forgive you by his grace, have your sin placed upon Christ, have Christ’s righteousness placed upon you, and send you out for a completely new life.
And so, where we’ll close this evening is I want you to take a few minutes in confession. Confession is this recognition of our sin. It’s owning it and agreeing with God and then coming to Christ and saying, “You’ve got me, you’ve caught me – here’s where I am.” Throwing yourself upon him, receiving back in kind his forgiveness because he has died for your sin. And then asking him to give you the grace to move forward, to live new life, without those besetting things that have ruined your reputation and brought you to this place whereby you know that you have been found and caught and exposed as this woman was. And that’ll be our goal in our transition tonight, and then I’ll close this.
Dear Jesus, we thank you that you’ve caught us in our sin. We thank you that we come before you tonight and that you don’t simply wink at us or give us legitimacy that we’re all victims, it’s not our fault, that you can understand, that it’s not a big deal. We thank you that you are full-strength with the weight of the law. Thank you, God, that you, in Christ, are also full-strength with the weight of grace. That you speak very clearly about our sin, but you also speak all the more loudly about your loving affection, your grace, and what Christ has done to forgive us of our sins and to give us new life so we can leave the patterns of deadly action and thinking that have so plagued us. God, we thank you for the story of this woman. God, we look forward to walking into your kingdom with her after your descent upon the Mount of Olives, getting to meet her and hear how the remainder of her life went, what kind of woman she became, what kind of life she lived, what kind of restoration and healing and power and grace and love was bestowed upon her.
God, I pray that same thing tonight for all of our friends gathered here, God, that we would leave our life of sin, not by our own will or work, but by the grace and the Word of Christ. And, God, we thank you tonight especially that you do discipline us, but as your children, you do not seek simply to punish us, but you seek to correct us. And we thank you that Christ is our head. That he has owned all of our sin. That even though he was without sin, he has taken ownership of our sin. He has taken upon himself all of our offenses. That he has taken the rock in his own hand, and he has cast it upon himself because he loves us. And so, God, we come to you tonight with hearts of gratitude and repentance. In Christ’s name. Amen.