Encounters with Jesus:
The Adulterous Woman…Love Rather than Condemnation
This morning, I want us to look at another encounter with Jesus by a female figure in the Gospel of John. Two weeks ago, we looked at the exchange between Jesus and the woman at the well. We saw a person who had three things going against her: (1) she was a half-breed, part Jew and part Canaanite; (2) she was a female in a patriarchal culture where women were considered as much property to be held as they were productive members of society; and (3) she was a woman with a sordid reputation, having had five husbands and now living with a man outside of marriage.
Because of her past, she had to wait until the hottest part of the day to draw daily water. It was because of her marginalized condition that she found herself at the right time and place to encounter the Messiah. Jesus KNEW all that about her yet chose to speak to her…to REALLY have a conversation with her. He did so by asking HER for help. Ultimately, she learns his identity, the great I AM. In fact, she of all people, was the first to hear Jesus declare himself as I AM. He would go on to make that declaration 7 times in the gospel of John.
And because of her encounter with Jesus, the entire community of Sychar came to learn of Jesus’s identity and many came to believe in Him as the Son of God! Jesus can take every messy life and make it into a message for the King!
This morning I want us to look at another challenging encounter of Jesus with a woman of sordid character. It’s found in John 8. Let me mention at the outset that most biblical scholars question the authenticity of this section of scripture, claiming that none of the original manuscripts contain the story. Experts are not claiming it never happened; they are claiming that John the evangelist likely didn’t include it in his original testimony about Jesus.
In addition, scholars affirm that any teaching that comes from this passage that can be confirmed elsewhere in scripture is valid for edification of the body of Christ. For that reason, I believe God has some things to teach us about kindness (to borrow last week’s topic), forgiveness, and godly living.
With that introduction, let’s read John 7:53-8:11.
In context, the Festival of Shelters or Booths had just ended. Jesus had shown up in the Temple about halfway through the 7-day festival, inviting Jews to believe in him and receive living water. The crowds were divided about his identity…liar, lunatic, or Lord. Meanwhile the Pharisees had sent guards to arrest Jesus, but his hour had not yet come. Even the guards pointed out that they had never heard a man teach with such authority. Thus, no arrest.
The next day, Jesus makes his way back to the Temple to again preach the kingdom of God to anyone who will listen. But the teachers of the Law (scribes) and Pharisees had a different plan: to trap Jesus so they could rightfully arrest Him and end this seditious, radical movement once for all.
So, they bring in a woman caught in the act of adultery. Truth is, they didn’t much care what happened to her. I’m not convinced they even cared that she had been caught sinning against God or the Law of Moses. They just wanted to catch Jesus either breaking the Law of Moses or breaking Roman law. Here’s what the religious leaders said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?”
They were referring to two different OT references. First, Leviticus 20:10 says “‘If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife—with the wife of his neighbor—both the adulterer and the adulteress are to be put to death.” And Deuteronomy 22:22 says, “If a man is found sleeping with another man’s wife, both the man who slept with her and the woman must die. You must purge the evil from Israel.”
The passage in Deut. gives many different scenarios by which only the woman should be stoned or both parties committing sexual sin should be stoned to purge the evil within Israel.
We don’t know the context of her being caught in the act of adultery. Was she unmarried but complicit in the act? Or, was she a married woman caught cheating on her husband? Because of Jesus’s later command to leave her life of sin, we can assume that she was not a victim of rape? She knew what she was doing and almost certainly knew it was wrong.
We also know that the MAN was not brought before Jesus, even though he most certainly was just as guilty of a sin deserving of death as she was. How unfair! But we will never know why the leaders failed to bring him forward. Maybe he was one of the accusers standing in the circle!
That was then. Adultery was a crime worthy of death. How about now? Is sex outside marriage a sin? Or only sex with a married person not your spouse? Is it acceptable in our culture? Even if it is acceptable in culture, what should the Christian attitude be toward the practice of fornication and adultery? How do WE Christ-followers view sexual promiscuity? Are we okay with it so long as it doesn’t violate the will of an innocent victim and especially a child?
What about those who are guilty of sexual sin? How do we see them? The teaching of Jesus is as relevant now as it was 2,000 years ago. It seems to me that we’ve “moved past” the debate over sexual sins of consenting heterosexual couples and only narrowed our judgment down to those who commit sexual acts with same-sex partners. But aren’t they BOTH a violation of God’s design for human sexuality?
Aren’t the heterosexual acts of sex outside of marriage damaging to our relationship with God and others? And isn’t the practice of homosexuality inconsistent with Judeo-Christian teaching? In the OT, nearly all sexual sin was worthy of the sentence of death by stoning. Harsh, but true. Why? Because such sin left in the camp corrupted the entire community.
In the NT, Paul addresses the tolerance of sexual sin within the church of Corinth in his first letter when he says, 1I can hardly believe the report about the sexual immorality going on among you—something that even pagans don’t do. I am told that a man in your church is living in sin with his stepmother. 2You are so proud of yourselves, but you should be mourning in sorrow and shame. And you should remove this man from your fellowship.
It seems that, today, we have “progressed” in human development. We must not deny human pleasures, for this denies the human to reach his greatest potential in personhood. We are all free to choose our own sexual identities. Only when human beings are set free from the shackles of conventional, archaic, draconian societal norms will we be all we were intended to be. Right?
Take that thought to its logical conclusion, we might be required to yield to the pedophile who claims that he is only reaching his greatest personhood by acting on his impulses to molest boys or girls. Or the serial adulterer who claims he can only be all he was created to be by taking other men’s wives. Absurd, right?
And yet, the point of God’s prohibition to take another man’s wife, or sleep with one’s mother-in-law, or lie with another man is to preserve the beauty and sacredness of the gift of human sexuality. In other words, the Law is like guardrails meant to keep us from running off the cliff of good and right relationships down into relational and spiritual ditches.
Back to our story. The religious leaders wanted to trap Jesus. How? If Jesus had said, DON’T stone her, He would have been guilty of violating Mosaic Law and they would have had reason to arrest him.
If he authorized them to stone the woman, Jesus would have violated Roman law which prohibits Jews from carrying out their own executions. [That’s why the Romans had to crucify Jesus instead of the Jews.]
Instead, Jesus bends down and begins to draw in the dirt. We have no idea what he wrote. Some speculate that Jesus was writing down all the sins of her accusers! Others suggest he is writing out the Ten Commandments. Still others think He may have been writing out his verdict, “Let he who is without sin, cast the first stone.” Or, maybe Jesus was just a doodler!
After some badgering on their part, Jesus addresses the religious leaders with his challenge: “Okay, stone her. Only, let the one who has no sin go first.” Brilliant answer! This doesn’t violate the Law. She is guilty since she was caught in the act with witnesses. The Law says stone her. Jesus agrees with the Law.
However, by saying that the sin-less one should throw first, Jesus is highlighting the importance of kindness, compassion and forgiveness. To forgive someone’s offenses is NOT an admission that what the offender did was acceptable…tolerable. No, to forgive someone is to release them from the penalty of their sin.
This is EXACTLY what Jesus has done for us! When Jesus took our sin upon the cross, He was not saying we were innocent of our crime of sinning against God and others. He was saying that we are not under the penalty of death for our sin. He paid the death penalty for us!
Last weekend, I was privileged to spend four days with 42 convicts at Marshall County Correctional Facility. The state of MS convicted them for various crimes—some for murder; others for violent acts against women; others for drug-related crimes. They were all found guilty and all are paying their debt to society for their societal crimes.
But Jesus Christ has offered them a full pardon, spiritually speaking, for their crimes. And NOT just the ones they were incarcerated for. Jesus has offered forgiveness and freedom for ALL their offenses! And I witnessed four men confess they had surrendered their lives to the lordship if Jesus and received forgiveness of their sins. Praise God!
So, after having bent down to doodle some more, Jesus stood up to find he was the only man standing with this adulterer. Is there no one to carry out the death penalty? No one to condemn you?
That word, condemn…Katakrinoà means to judge down, to issue a penalty; to judge someone “decisively as guilty.” While the religious leaders had decidedly and rightly found this woman (and, one would assume the man who got off scot free)guilty of adultery, they could NOT execute her because they, too, recognized they were not free from sin.
This gets to the heart of the matter. All of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Who are we to condemn others for THEIR sin? The apostle Paul makes this point in his letter to the Romans. In chapter 1, Paul was speaking about unbelievers in his day…the lost sinner who does not acknowledge God or their sin. Listen:
28Since they thought it foolish to acknowledge God, he abandoned them to their foolish thinking and let them do things that should never be done. 29Their lives became full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, quarreling, deception, malicious behavior, and gossip. 30They are backstabbers, haters of God, insolent, proud, and boastful. They invent new ways of sinning, and they disobey their parents. 31They refuse to understand, break their promises, are heartless, and have no mercy. 32They know God’s justice requires that those who do these things deserve to die, yet they do them anyway. Worse yet, they encourage others to do them, too.
We like to use Romans 1 as a compelling argument against homosexuality, because it clearly states these unnatural acts are sinful and against God’s natural purpose for humanity. But if we’re not careful, we can come across as self-righteous and judgmental quoting only certain parts of God’s Word. Notice some other sins of omission that should never be done: envy, quarreling, gossip, pride, promise-breaking. Anybody every been guilty of any of those sins? Yeah, me too.
Well, in chapter 2, Paul drops the other shoe. This is the part I really want ya’ll to hear. Paul is speaking to his own tribe, the Christians in Rome (Romans 2:1-4 NLT):
1You may think you can condemn such people, but you are just as bad, and you have no excuse! When you say they are wicked and should be punished, you are condemning yourself, for you who judge others do these very same things. 2And we know that God, in his justice, will punish anyone who does such things. 3Since you judge others for doing these things, why do you think you can avoid God’s judgment when you do the same things? 4Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?
As the NIV puts it, “God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance.”
Here’s the deal: Jesus did not condone her sin of adultery. He didn’t say, It’s alright, sweetie. You were just acting on your impulses. Nor did he regard her actions as unforgivable. Jesus, the only one in the crowd who WAS without sin and thus justified in casting the first stone, instead forgives her! “I don’t condemn you either.
Jesus demonstrated how easy it is to condemn others while being guilty of the same sins in our own hearts. Before we criticize others, it’s worth asking ourselves whether we are ‘without sin’ in that area that we are about to criticize in another.
When we judge, accuse and condemn others, we project on to them what we refuse to see in ourselves. Just yesterday I heard a brother at MCCF say, “If you spot it, You’ve got it.” As the saying goes, “People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.” In the context of the debate about sexual ethics, as we look at our own hearts there is often a lot of glass around. Do you watch TV content that poisons your mind and heart? Do you gaze lustfully at someone other than your spouse? Do you demean others by telling sexually risqué jokes or point out their physical features to others? “People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.”
Jesus could not be more clear that adultery is sin. Yet he does not condemn her in any way. This is the message of the New Testament. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). As a result of Jesus’ sacrificial death and resurrection, you and I can be totally forgiven, however far we may have fallen.
Yet, this is not a reason to go on sinning. Jesus tells the woman, “Go and sin no more.” Or as some translations put it, “leave your life of sin.” Jesus does not condemn us. But he does say to us, ‘Leave your life of sin.’ Jesus’ words, as always, are motivated by love and compassion. We are to follow His example.
It is easy to fall into one of two opposite extremes. Either we condemn people, or we condone sin. Love does not condemn others, nor does it condone sin. If we love, like Jesus, we will neither condone sin nor condemn people, but lovingly challenge people (starting with ourselves) to leave sin behind.
The Greek word for ‘to forgive’ also means ‘to liberate.’ Jesus came to liberate you by His blood and through his Holy Spirit. You are liberated to love as God loves you. Forgiveness is at the heart of every relationship. It is the essence of love.
So, what about you? Who are you bitter toward because of their offenses either at you or others close to you? The love of Christ compels you to forgive. Who do you look down on because of their sinful lifestyle? The love of Christ compels you examine yourself first. If you spot if, you’ve got it! First take the log out of your own eye; then you can help others with their speck. And your motivation for them to leave their life of sin is the same as for yourselves: FREEDOM! Freedom to live as God intends…to LOVE as God intends.
Maybe you feel like the woman caught in the act of adultery this morning. You feel shame and regret over your sins. Here this: Jesus paid the price for your sins. Confess them to Him and hear Jesus say to you, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and leave your life of sin.”
The altar is open if you want to do business with the King of kings. AMEN.