The story before us is a fairly well known and certainly loved story of the compassion of Jesus. Before we can get into the story, we need to make a quick note about the marking in your Bible concerning this text. Most Bibles will mark either in the footnotes or directly in the text that this story is not in some of the earlier manuscripts. This does not mean that this story is not historical or accurate. There is no reason to doubt the authenticity of this story. What is being noted is that this story is not in this location in early manuscripts. Some think the story was taken out by people because it seems to condone adultery. Some think the story was never in John’s gospel but tradition attached it at this point. We will use our Wednesday night Bible study time to discuss why this text is not at this location in some manuscripts. Either way, the historicity of this text is not in question. It is simply a question of whether this story belong right here, some where else in John’s gospel, or in a location in one of the other gospels.
Jesus is teaching in the temple and people are coming to listen. The scribes and the Pharisees bring a woman and put her in the midst of the gathering as Jesus is speaking. In verse 3 our narrator tells us that she has been caught in adultery. In verse 4 the religious leaders make the charge as well that she is been caught in the act of adultery. They go on to declare that the Law of Moses says that she was to be stoned. Let’s look at what the Law of Moses prescribed under such circumstances.
“If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.” (Leviticus 20:10 ESV)
“If a man is found lying with the wife of another man, both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman, and the woman. So you shall purge the evil from Israel.” (Deuteronomy 22:22 ESV)
The death penalty was the calling of the Law of Moses for adultery. While the Law did not speak of stoning, stoning was the most common way in which Israel carried out the death penalty. There are two key aspects to the story that must be noted. First, twice the text tells us that she is caught in adultery. She is not accused of adultery. It is not that she has a reputation of being an adulteress. She has been caught. Second, verse 6 reveals that the scribes and Pharisees have said these things to test Jesus. They are continuing to look for a charge to bring against Jesus. Nothing in what we are reading about in this text is legitimate. This is not that these men were walking down the street and encountered this woman in the act of adultery and thought they should have Jesus weigh in on the matter. The Jewish leaders in Jerusalem want Jesus killed and they are seeking a charge that will be sufficient to allow them to arrest him and have him executed. All of this is to trap Jesus, not to uphold God’s law. How do we know that the leaders are not trying to uphold the law of God at this moment, besides the fact that the text tells us that they were trying to trap Jesus? Read Leviticus 20:10 and Deuteronomy 22:22 again and consider what the problem is. Where is the man in this story? The law was very clear that both the man and the woman were to be put to death, not just the woman. For the man to not be brought forward with this woman shows us that there is something wrong. Justice is not being served here. Something is off.
Jesus knows the purpose of these leaders. They do not love the law of God. They are not put off by sin. They just want to dispatch of Jesus. They want Jesus arrested and killed. They do not want to deal with this Jesus fellow any longer. But Jesus does not immediately respond. In verse 2 we see that Jesus is sitting while teaching the people. This was the common means of teaching. The teacher sat and the people stood. Rather than looking up toward these accusers and addressing them, Jesus bends over and writes on the ground. This is not what these leaders wanted. They wanted a response from Jesus. Imagine as they continue to press Jesus. “She’s an adulterer!” “The Law says to stone her!” “What do you say, Jesus?”
Jesus stands up and declares, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” Then Jesus bends down and writes on the ground again. Now what Jesus does is important to understand. Jesus is not letting this woman off the hook by any means, which we will see shortly. Jesus is not teaching that only perfect people can bring a condemnation against another person. If that was what the Law of Moses taught and if that was what Jesus taught, could anyone ever bring a correction or rebuke to another person? No! No one could ever bring correction, which is what the scriptures tell us to do. In Matthew 18 we are told that if a person sins against us, we are to take that sin to that person. We are commanded to rebuke, exhort, admonition, teach, discipline, and correct. No one is perfect so Jesus certainly cannot mean this. No justice would ever be brought if judges had to be sinless. Unfortunately, too often when caught in our sins we like to misuse these words and throw mud at other people. “Well, you are a sinner, too!” Jesus is not attempting to redefine social justice. Jesus calls what she did a sin in verse 11. But she is not fighting back. She is not pointing the finger at these people. She is guilty of her sins.
“Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” Jesus makes a reference to the Law of Moses to which these Jewish leaders are also quoting. Deuteronomy 13:9 and 17:7 declared that the hand of the witnesses were to be the first to act. So Jesus calls for the witnesses of this sin who have not sinned in this matter themselves to throw the first stone at her. Though we are not told specifically their sins, we can infer some of what they had done wrong. First, as we have already noted, where is the man? If we are going to apply the law of God, then let us apply the law of God equally and properly. Second, how are these people witnesses to the act of adultery? Evidence of adultery can be cobbled together fairly easily. But to claim that they had seen this woman in the act of adultery! How exactly did that happen? Third, God did not give his laws so that we would become the Bible police. We are not supposed to start lynch mobs and posses going around the town capturing people who have sinned. Think about what has occurred. They have witnessed a woman in the act of adultery, let the man go free, captured her, and placed her in the midst of this crowd openly proclaiming her sins. Do these people care about the law of God? No. Do these people care about the soul of this woman? No. Are the people desiring her salvation so that is why they have captured her? No. There is nothing right about this whole scene.
Consider another problem. Why do we pass judgment? Why do we condemn? Why do we expose darkness? I submit to you that there are two reasons. One is a right reason and one is a sinful reason. The sinful reason for condemnation is to make ourselves feel better. We want to elevate ourselves. “Well at least I’ve never committed a sin like that!” The point is simply embarrassment of the other person and self-righteous thinking for ourselves. The right reason for condemnation is because we want people to know what they are doing is wrong and they need to turn to the mercy and grace of God. No one will find grace unless they know they are in sin. No one can be saved unless they understand they are condemned. We saw this back in chapter 3 when we saw Jesus teaching that we are condemned already. We point out darkness so people will come to the light, not to elevate ourselves and make ourselves feel better. They have been witnesses to this sin but have let the man go free, yet desire the woman to be killed. This is not justice or righteousness at all. These people have made a mockery of God’s law. With this declaration, the men went away one by one.
Neither Do I Condemn You
All that is left now is the woman and Jesus. Jesus stands up and says to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” Remember from John 2:4 that addressing her as “Woman” was the equivalent of saying “ma’am” or “miss” in our society. They have all left. She responds, “No one, Lord.” No one was left to make a condemnation. Clearly something was amiss. Something was fishy because they did not persist in this matter. The accusers have been caught in their own sins. Now listen to Jesus’ words: “Neither do I condemn you.” Jesus comes to her rescue and is her advocate in the face of her condemnation. She is guilty but she has an advocate who tells her that she is not condemned. “Neither do I condemn you.” This is the hope of every human.
1 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 2 He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:1–2 ESV)
Jesus has the power to forgive sins. The woman is not innocent. No one is innocent. Jesus does not say that the sin is nothing. Jesus does not say that he does not condemn her because God doesn’t really care about sins. God absolutely cares about sins. God hates sin. But God sent Jesus to forgive our sins. Go back to what we read in John 3:17. “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.” We do not need condemnation. We need salvation. We do not need Jesus to come and condemn us. We are all condemned. We need Jesus to say such precious words, “Neither do I condemn you.”
How did these leaders become so hateful toward this sinful woman? The hatred comes when we forget our own sinfulness. Jesus teaches us to love the soul of another, not to have hatred toward the violator. We are not called to lynch mob sinners but to display the gospel. We forget that we are just as condemned as everyone else. We so desperately need to hear the same words from Jesus in our lives: “Neither do I condemn you.”
Friends, God forgives all sins. God forgives severe sins. God forgives big sins. God forgives sexual sins. No sin is greater than God’s grace. Unfortunately, we still pay the consequences for our sins while we live on earth. There are repercussions to our life choices. But the great thing is that no matter what we have done, even if we have to go to jail because of the sin we have committed, God forgives through the blood of his Son.
Sin No More
But Jesus says more to this woman. “Go, and from now on sin no more.” This statement shows the severity of sin. Jesus is not blowing off this woman’s sin. Jesus gives the instruction to stop living the life of sin. Sin is not treated lightly. But sinners are offered a new life in Christ. Christ’s mercy drives us to loving obedience. You are forgiven! Make God’s will your will! Steer clear of sin because you have been forgiven. This is one of the greatest tools God has given us to fight the battle against sin. You are undeservedly forgiven. Go and leave your life of sin because you are in the hands of God’s grace. When God takes people like us, rebels deserving of death and condemned in our sins, and chooses to say, “Neither do I condemn you,” how can we not go forward with greater strength to sin no more? You are forgiven. Do not return to your sins. Do not return to a life of sin. Jesus gives you a fresh start. It is a fresh start that each one of us needs. Each one of us is condemned. Jesus has the power for forgive. Let the power of his grace move your life closer and closer to him. “Go, and from now on sin no more.” Live a new life in Jesus — forgiven.