Neither Do I Condemn You For Your Sin
1. What we are given for today is the well known story recorded in John's Gospel. I suppose many people have noticed it but this narrative is bracketed in parentheses in the New Interconfessional Version of the Bible. These parentheses mean that this narrative is missing in numerous ancient manuscripts. In some manuscripts this story is not even in John but it is included in Luke. Also, in another manuscript it is posted at the very end of John's Gospel. One might conjecture based on this [history of textual repositioning and omission] that the early church had been troubled by the treatment of this story; because, one might suppose that according to the way one reads it the teaching in it might have the effect of sanctioning the sin of adultery through this text.
2. This narrative seems easy to understand at first glance and its message also seems clear because the words in verse seven by the Lord Jesus are strong and they make an intense appeal to the readers. "The one who has not committed a sin among you, please throw a stone on this woman first." I think there are many who have experienced a reconsideration of who they are in light of these words. "Until now, I have found fault with other people's sins, criticized and condemned them. But, since even I have sins I am not qualified to throw stones at anyone else. I should not blame the sins of any person in such a severe way." As we read this narrative, many people will think like that. Or, there may even be a person who justifies himself or herself through this tale. "If I'm bad there ain't no one qualified to find fault with my sins. There is no reason for anyone to complain against me; because everyone is the same. There ought to be no one with the right to throw stones." So, as I mentioned earlier, according to the specific situation there will arise through this story a kind of approval for the sin of adultery. However, even with just a story that is easy to understand at first glance we must take a careful and considerate look in our reading of this narrative. Is this really a story with an element of endorsement for sin? Or, even if that is not so, is this really just a story with a moral to it teaching us "not to get harsh with your neighbors for their sins?"
The Woman Brought Before Jesus
3. Well then, let me read you once more from verse one to the first section of verse six. "Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. In the early morning when he entered the temple area again, as everyone came up to him he was sitting and began to teach. The scribes and the Pharisees came to Jesus and brought a woman arrested in the very act of adultery and made her stand in the midst of them all and said to Jesus, 'Teacher, this woman was arrested while committing adultery. [We say] this woman is to be killed by stoning as Moses commanded in the law. So then, what do you think regarding this matter, [sir]?' They were tempting Jesus and talked to Jesus like this in order to get an excuse for an accusation against him," (verses one to six part a).
4. One woman was witnessed at the scene of adultery and arrested. That woman was brought to Jesus who was teaching early in the morning at the temple. The ones who brought her were the scribes and the Pharisees. They had her stand in the center and pitched a question at Jesus. This is how we see it at first.
5. If you give it a bit of thought, we would see this as quite an unnatural scene. First, why was only the woman brought forward? Deuteronomy 22:22 says the following, "If you discover a man in the process of sleeping with a married woman, kill both the man who slept with the woman and also the woman, so you must remove evil from the midst of Israel." As far as we read in this text the first person who ought to be given the death penalty should be the man who slept with the married woman. But, they did not bring the man along with them. Something wrong is going on here.
6. Secondly, it was also unnatural for the scribes and the Pharisees, that is the men who opposed Jesus to come in full force lining up so early in the morning. The picture in this event reveals that they arrested a woman at the scene of the crime of adultery and brought her just like that to the temple. But, why would the scribes be together at that hour? Doesn't it seem as if they knew the woman was committing adultery and formed to arrest her on that morning? Also, doesn't it seem that they had decided long before to use her to get an excuse to accuse the Lord Jesus [in court]?
7. Beside that, the question that they had was even more unnatural. This is clearly not the kind of question that would come from a woman caught in adultery that morning by mere chance. It was a question they had thought through previously and had meticulously prepared before hand. They asked, "Teacher, this woman was arrested while committing adultery. [We say] this woman is to be killed by stoning as Moses commanded in the law. So then, what do you think regarding this matter, [sir]?" If the Lord had said, "You ought to stone her to death according to the law of Moses," what would happen next? In those days Judea was under the government of Rome and there was not any what you might call lynchings [on the spot without Roman trial], and the right to carry out the death penalty based on the due process of law belonged to Rome alone. So, if Jesus had emphasized the death penalty, it would be be a terribly serious matter according to the way they would take it; because that would amount to his emphasizing in public that the law of Moses is an authority above the political power of the Roman state. That would have given the Pharisees an excuse to accuse the Lord Jesus as a person working treason against the Roman empire. However, if he had answered the other way, what might have happened if Jesus had said, "That woman should not be stoned to death"? That would amount to his repudiating the authority of the law of Moses in public. Even though they did not have the authority to carry out the death penalty in that era of time, if he had denied the law of Moses in public, that would become a problem even under those conditions. They could either accuse the Lord Jesus with a false accusation as "a person ignoring the officials and the law," or they could cause the public to lose confidence in him based on his answer.
8. The scenario has been set up like this. When we put these unnatural chain of events together we can only think that even more than saying this woman was stopped by chance in the act of adultery she was instead put in as an arranged trap. This person would have surely continued committing the sin of adultery. However, since the woman was taken it was clearly for the purpose of entrapping the Lord Jesus. Perhaps the male partner might have been an agent for the scribes. If so, we can understand that a male was not even there at all. At any rate, this woman is the the one utilized by their sinister design, marched off into the center of the crowd, and had her shame exposed.
9. Was she just down on her "luck" or just experiencing a bad turn of events? We could certainly make that assertion; but, we should not overlook one important fact here, which is the fact that no matter what's up the truth is she is [standing] in front of the Lord Jesus. What we ought to say about her misfortunate turn of events is this woman was placed in a relationship with the Lord Jesus. This person might not have had any interest or concern for Jesus. However, somehow or other she was forcefully brought before the Lord. So, in actuality, the grace of God was there behind the scenes at work.
10. Just as this person did we often experience our sins brought out in the open and have to bear the effects of our sin. The effects of our own sin bring on troubles, distress or embarrassing feelings. In those times we usually groan, "What bad luck is this!" Even though a person acts something like that, one still usually thinks that he or she is adept at struggling through the dilemma. They just like grumbling "Why me..."
11. But make no mistake about it. Our reaping of the effects of our sin has nothing whatsoever to do with bad luck. Instead, it is of necessity. That is a time of grace which God bestows on us. It is a time of invitation to repentance and an opportunity to meet Christ. If her adultery had not been brought out to the open, this woman might not have felt shameful feelings and she would have probably sunk more deeply into the quagmire of sin. The future coming at her was certainly one of the final judgment of God and destruction [in hell]. This lady was pulled out of the quagmire of such doom and disaster. Although she had felt feelings of agony and misery, the fact is she was in the process of getting touched by the grace of Christ in this story and she alone.
Neither Do I Condemn You For Your Sin
12. Next then, let's take a look at how the Lord dealt with this woman. I will read you from the latter half of verse six. "Jesus stooped down and began to write something on the ground with his finger. But, as they obstinately persisted in asking their question, Jesus lifted himself up and said. 'The person who has never committed a sin among you, please cast a stone on this woman first.' Then again he stooped himself down and continued writing on the ground. The ones who heard this left one by one starting from the elders and the woman remained in the center with only Jesus. Jesus lifted himself up and said. 'O woman, where are those men? Didn't any of them condemn you for your sin?' When the woman said, "O Lord, no one [did],' then Jesus answered. 'Neither do I condemn you for your sin. Go. After this you should not commit any more sin,'" (verse six part b through verse eleven).
13. We're not sure what the Lord was writing on the ground. Whatever he wrote is not the main issue of importance. In brief, I think he was ignoring the words of the scribes. But, they "continued asking obstinately." The message of verse seven was the message which the Lord spoke after raising himself up. "'The person who has never committed a sin among you, please cast a stone on this woman first." Thereupon, verse nine [says], "The ones who heard this left one by one starting from the elders and the woman remained in the center with only Jesus." That's how the Bible reveals it.
14. Of course, when he said, "The person who has never committed a sin," there wasn't a one of them able to throw the first stone with any self-confidence. And if we ourselves could have been there, I suppose we would have snuck away quietly. After becoming sensitized to the blame of our own hearts like they felt, as I said earlier, we'd end up thinking that the story was teaching that "you shouldn't blame others harshly for their sins because you are a sinner, too." But, if this were merely a morality tale, an ending with the words "they left one by one" would have been good enough. Yet, this narrative did not end here. The Lord's words continue on. [In] verse ten [he says,] "O woman, where are those men? Didn't any of them condemn you for your sin?" [In] verse eleven [he says,] "Neither do I condemn you for your sin. Go. After this you shouldn't commit any more sin." Why did he continue his message? I feel we must carefully weigh this point.
15. To do this we probably need to listen once again with deep attentiveness to the words Jesus used earlier. "The one who has never committed a sin among you, please throw a stone on this woman first." The Lord did not say "you had better not throw stones on her." The words of the Lord were basically a command, "throw stones." When it comes to the punishment of stoning [an individual] it's a matter of casting the stones all at once by the signal of the first one thrown in. So, the Lord was designating the one to throw that first stone. He was saying it ought to be "the person who has never committed a sin." The Lord was not saying, "Adultery is not a sin." He was not being vague on sin. The Lord was not saying, "Don't judge sin." All the more he was telling them, "judge sin." However, there was not even one person present there able to cast the first stone. That is the scene here.
16. No, in that particular scene it was not a case of there not being a person present who could cast a stone. There was but one person who could have. It was the incomparable Lord himself. There was but one person alone without sin and consequently there was one person who could judge sin and according to the law of God there was one person who could condemn a person for sin. The woman was present right there with that One. She also could have departed that place. But she remained in that place [before Jesus]. She remained behind and didn't take off from the presence of the sinless One. Then only the woman who had remained heard the astonishing words at the location. "Neither do I condemn you for sin."
17. The focus of this story was not on "they left one by one." That wasn't the focus one bit; rather, the focus of this story was on when the sinless One said to the sinner who was in the Lord's presence, "Neither do I condemn you for sin." And at that point is the good news of the gospel which we ought to hear. She had heard this message in the midst of her shame and misery. "Neither do I condemn you for sin." And this is the word of the gospel which we are allowed to hear as well as long as we don't depart from the Lord's presence.
18. During Lenten Season what we are hearing in the Lord's word here is of great value. That is to say, when we hear it as the Lord's message as he was on the way to the cross, we will start to know the full weight of his words. The one who said "Neither do I condemn you for sin" was heading for the cross to be condemned by sin on our behalf. The one who spoke forgiveness of sin was heading for the cross to bear on his shoulders the sins of others [like you and I]. During this life which is filled with stress and shame for us, if we choose to hear the message "Neither do I condemn you for sin," it will be none other than the message given to us through the sufferings of the one who bore our sin for us and the sufferings of the one who was nailed to the cross. Whenever we have thoughts on this point, these words spoken by the Lord in the following way will urge us on with the same weight of importance, "Go. After this don't commit any more sin." If read correctly, this story ought not to produce an individual who sanctions sin. Rather, the word of grace from the Lord turns a person who used to be enslaved to sin into a person who wages war on sin. As we go on meeting every week like this and hear the Word of the Lord's grace we take part in the forgiveness of sin. That means that as a new person living in response to his grace it starts from here.