The Savior and the Adulteress (John 8:1-11)
An unmarked tombstone outside of Sydney, New York has but one word on it: “Forgiven.”
There is no more beautiful word than “forgiven.” Scripture speaks of the blessings of forgiveness. Psalm 32:1. Ephesians 1:7.
The episode of the woman caught in adultery highlights God’s forgiveness; this morning, we want to examine that story to see what lessons we can learn.
The Connivers, vv 1-4
Early in the morning, Jesus was teaching the people in the temple. The outer court served as a place where scribes could gather their students and teach them. Jesus is following that practice of teaching his students.
The accusers: A group of Jewish leaders approached Jesus.
The scribes and Pharisees came before Jesus. Scribes were those who studied the law and taught it; many of them were Pharisees.
The Pharisees were a group known for their legalism. The highest qualification for membership was strict adherence to the law—oral or written. Josephus, the Jewish historian, describes them as “a certain sect of Jews that appear more religious than others, and seem to interpret the laws more accurately.” This was the group that pledged the highest allegiance to the Law. Because the Pharisees were so strict, they often unevenly applied their laws (Matt 23:23).
The accused: They put before him a woman caught in the act of adultery.
There is much wrong with adultery. It is a sin against the body (1 Cor 6:18). It is a sin against the home. It undermines the sanctity of the home. It is the only sin which permits divorce and remarriage (Matt 19:9). It is a sin against the soul (Prov 6:32). Adultery sends the soul to hell (1 Cor 6:9-10).
This woman and her partner likely thought what we all think—”No one will ever know what I did.” Yet, that’s not always the case (Num 32:23).
The Conniving, vv 5-6a
What they said: “The Law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?”
The Law of Moses did teach that she should be stoned. Leviticus 20:10. Deuteronomy 22:22. However, the Law of Moses also taught that both she and the man with whom she was committing adultery were to be stoned. The scribes and Pharisees disobeyed the Law of Moses by only bringing this woman.
The scribes and Pharisees wanted to know what Jesus thought on the subject.
Why they said it: They wanted him to say something that they could use against him.
There is little evidence that stoning for adultery was very often carried out in first-century Palestine, especially in urban areas. The scribes and Pharisees purposefully put Jesus between a rock and a hard place. If Jesus disavowed the Law of Moses, his credibility would have been severely undermined, and his teaching would have been rejected. If he upheld the Law of Moses, he would get in trouble with the Roman authorities; only the Roman governor had authority to impose capital punishment.
These Jewish authorities weren’t interested in carrying out the Law of Moses. Had they been interested in fulfilling the Law, they would have brought the woman’s partner with her. They just wanted Jesus to make a fool of himself.
The scribes and Pharisees were terribly harsh with this woman. They did not care about her as a person; they simply used her for their own purposes. They exploited her sinfulness and made a public example of her. We dare not exploit a person’s sinfulness. When Joseph thought Mary had been sexually unfaithful to him, he did not want to make her a public example (Matt 1:19).
The scribes and Pharisees were judgmental with this woman. They outright condemned this woman without a second thought. We can do the very same thing. A teenager becomes pregnant and we ostracize her instead of attempting to help her. A couple in the church is getting a divorce and instead of caring for them we just cut them off.
We dare not be judgmental. Matthew 7:1. Romans 14:4. James 4:12.
Just because we aren’t to be judgmental doesn’t mean that we are to condone sin. God does not condone sin. Romans 1:18. In this episode, Jesus doesn’t condone the woman’s sin; he tells her to go and sin no more.
We dare not condone sin. Galatians 6:1—If we are to restore someone caught in sin, we can’t condone his sin; we must recognize his sin. 1 Timothy 5:20.
When someone is in sin, we are to help, not condemn. Sometimes this will mean tough love—such as in cases of disfellowship. Yet, we should always have the person’s best interest at heart.
The Challenge, vv 6b-8
What Jesus does: Twice he bends down and writes in the dust.
There are several traditions about what Jesus wrote in the dust, but we have no way of knowing. This was probably a delaying tactic on Jesus’ part; he was giving the Jews time to think about what they had done.
What Jesus says: “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.” he Law of Moses stated that the witnesses should throw the first stones (Deut 17:7).
This does not mean as some allege that these individuals had to be sinless to stone this woman. It rather means that they could not be guilty of this particular sin. Sometimes we condemn individuals for doing the same thing we’ve done. Perhaps we’re in a store and see a mother screaming at her children. We think to ourselves, “I can’t believe she’s being so cruel.” Then we go home and yell at our own children. Perhaps we hear of someone taking money from his workplace. We say, “I’d never do that.” Yet, we make personal long-distance calls from work.
We can’t condemn those who commit the same sins we commit. Romans 2:1. Matthew 7:3-5.
The Convicted, v 9
The Jews all walk away in shame.
They, too, had sin in their lives, and they could not rightfully pass judgment upon this woman.
We have sin in our lives as well. Romans 3:12. 1 John 1:8. Are we convicted of our sins? Do we realize that we are all sinners?
The Cleansed, vv 10-11
This woman experiences no earthly condemnation. Her accusers have disappeared. There is no one who can condemn us, either. Some people will try, but they have no right to do so.
This woman experiences no heavenly condemnation. Jesus does not condemn this woman, either. Jesus did not come to this earth to condemn, but to save. John 3:17. John 12:47.
If we come to Jesus, he will not condemn us. John 5:24. Romans 8:1. If we are abiding in Jesus, all our sins are forgiven.
There is only one way to get into Jesus—we must be baptized. Romans 6:3. Galatians 3:27. Have you been baptized into Jesus where there is no condemnation? Are you abiding in Jesus?
This sermon was originally preached by Dr. Justin Imel, Sr., at the Alum Creek church of Christ in Alum Creek, West Virginia.