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. Sin vs Grace



John 8:2-8:11 (ESV) 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.””



John 8 verse 1-11 contains one of the most well-known and one of the most misused verses and that is verse 7 “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” This verse is not only abused by Christians, but it is abused by the world as well. They love to quote this verse especially to believers. You will often hear “if you are without sin then stone me, or cast the first stone.” Now there are textual issues regarding this text as it does not appear in the earliest manuscripts, but for time sake I am going to ignore those issues and deal with the text before us.


Now the story before us is very intriguing. It is so easy to miss the plot here and to be side-tracked by many issues. It is not a story given to us so that I can preach this major sermon on adultery. What we are confronted with here is once again the amazing Saviour that has been given us and our focus must be on Him. This text reminds me of a photographic term which is well known to me which is called depth of field. Based on the aperture a camera is set on we can make one part sharp and blur the foreground and background. When you look at this text, the part that is pin-sharp is Jesus Christ and the rest is a blur.


Join me this morning as we look at 4 characteristics of the life and ministry of Jesus as He encounters this exceedingly difficult situation.


Point 1. The test confronting Jesus.


John 8:2-6 (ESV) 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.”


It is early in the morning and once again we find Jesus teaching a large crowd of people. Verse 2 says that “All the people came to Him,”. So, while we focus on Jesus as He teaches the people, suddenly we get distracted in the blur of the picture as the Scribes and the Pharisees drag a woman right into the midst of Christ and the people He is teaching. Now we know that these guys except for Nicodemus were out to get Jesus, so what is unfolding here?


Now look at this mock politeness that they exhibit as they address Jesus as “Teacher”. You can read a kind of slur into their address, “Teacheeeer”. We do not believe you are one because you are not one of our Rabbis but okay, we will greet you as such. Not only do we see their mock politeness but look at their pride: “this woman has been caught...” or “we caught this woman...”


But not just their mock politeness or their pride shines forth in the blur, but we see their ungodly challenge to the Saviour of the world as they firstly challenge Him with their knowledge of the law but then also with an emphatic clause which can be translated: “so what do you say?” or let’s join the thoughts: “but you oh teacheeer, we know, but let’s see how much you know.”


I can just imagine the clown among them, you know we always get that guy, jumping up and down clapping his hands and saying “man, we’ve got Him now guys, He is between a rock and a hard place, let’s all sit back and revel in His embarrassment and shame.” So, is Christ between a rock and a hard place? Now imagine this picture. His teaching opportunity is rudely interrupted. Let us keep our focus on Him. And in the blur of this picture we see the Scribes and Pharisees and in the middle this woman and then on the side the crowd who is observing all of this.


Now what are we dealing with here. At face value we are dealing with an adulterous woman who according to the Law of Moses needs to be stoned to death. Now let us see how accurate these guys are and then we will ask a few questions regarding the fairness of the event. Why do they think that Jesus is between a rock and a hard place? Because if Jesus says, “stone her”, well then, He is not the friend of sinners that the crowd believes Him to be. Then His message would be as one commentator put it: “come to me you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will stone you.”


Look how He treated the Samaritan woman. If He said, “stone her” He will also be in trouble with Rome because by law she needed to be dragged in front of the Sanhedrin who then needed Rome’s permission to execute her. If He said “don’t stone, her” then He is going against the Law of Moses.


Now the Law of Moses did call for death in the case of adultery as it did for many other sins. Leviticus 20:10 (ESV) 10 “If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbour, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.” The laws under Moses for Israel were very radical. Look at some examples.


Deuteronomy 22:20-24 (ESV) 20 But if the thing is true, that evidence of virginity was not found in the young woman, 21 then they shall bring out the young woman to the door of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her to death with stones, because she has done an outrageous thing in Israel by whoring in her father’s house. So, you shall purge the evil from your midst. 22 “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. 23 “If there is a betrothed virgin, and a man meets her in the city and lies with her, 24 then you shall bring them both out to the gate of that city, and you shall stone them to death with stones, the young woman because she did not cry for help though she was in the city, and the man because he violated his neighbour’s wife. So, you shall purge the evil from your midst.”


So, this is what Moses says. The question is now, what does Jesus say? Now what we know from the text is this. Their issue was not so much the woman. Their issue was not so much the law. Their issue was Christ as verse 6 tells us: “This they said to test (trap) him, that they might have some charge to bring against him.”


So, it should be clear to us what the issue is here. This is a trap. Now I don’t know if they really caught the woman in the act, or if they set up a trap for her with another man or what the deal was, what we know is that the issue here was Jesus and nothing else. By the way, it was extremely difficult to carry out the death sentence in this case because by law you had to have two or three eye witnesses and they were to be the first ones to cast the stones. Deuteronomy 17:6-7 (ESV)6 On the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses the one who is to die shall be put to death; a person shall not be put to death on the evidence of one witness. 7 The hand of the witnesses shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people. So, you shall purge the evil from your midst.”


There are a few irregularities here showing that this was a trap to simply set Jesus up for failure.

Firstly, why did they bring her to Jesus? The logical process would have been. They caught her so why not take her to the Sanhedrin, try her, get Rome’s permission, and stone her? Why bring her to Jesus? No Rabbi was required to act on his own with regards to judgment. What is interesting here is that this trap says something incredibly positive about Jesus. If you must dream up ways to discredit Him, then you have nothing of any substance at all. It speaks of the perfection of Jesus. This trap also speaks of the exceeding wickedness and hypocrisy of these leaders. Let us ask another question and you will see what I mean.

Second question. Now remember that they claim to have caught her in the act, so where is the man? Was this maybe a kind of a sting operation where this woman was manipulated into this deed so that they could drag her before Jesus?  If they let the man go – they are the ones who are violating the Law of Moses.

Third question we may ask is where their concern was for the wellbeing of this woman? Let me explain. If you were to set her up like this, either as a willing or an unwilling partner and the man is not going to be dragged along with her, where is their concern as spiritual leaders for the soul and life of this woman? Surely, she is scarred for life.  Whatever is happening here, they think they have Jesus between a rock and a hard place.


Point 2. The wisdom of Jesus.


What these leaders did not know is that they were giving Jesus a chance to display His divinity. What did Jesus do? Look at verse 6: “Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground.” What was Jesus writing? Some say that He was writing a verse of Scripture from the Old Testament, some even feel that they know which verse; others say that He was recording the sins of the Jewish Leaders in the ground. Others suggested that Jesus was just doodling in the ground, that kind of ‘you bore me attitude’.


I think the answer is quite simple. No one knows and no one needs to know. If we needed to know this, believe me, the Holy Spirit would have told us. We cannot and may not speculate. What do we know from His action? Well we do know that He initially did not respond. Their question is clear, “what do you say?”, and Jesus Christ stoops down and writes on the ground as if they were not there.


Then we see what they did. According to verse 7 they kept on asking Him. Look at verse 7: 7 And as they continued to ask him.” So obviously what Jesus did in the sand did nothing for them because they keep on questioning Him. I believe that what Jesus was doing was to show contempt for the situation. He knows them, He knows what is going on in their hearts, and the friend of sinners who came into the world to die for our sins is not going to play the game their way. I know that Jesus knew that it was a trap; He knew how the woman was caught. Remember Christ is omniscient, and He knows that all this is despicable and contemptuous.


You need to look at the venom of this bunch of vipers as John the Baptist so nicely labelled them. They cannot handle the silence of Jesus. Their ungodly zeal is to nail Jesus through the means of this woman, and so they keep on badgering Him for an answer. So, after that we see Christ issuing them with a challenge so clear that I am sure that they were sorry they went to Jesus, because this challenge would cause them to run away with their tails between their legs.


Look at verse 7b “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.”


This is an amazing picture of Jesus. I can picture it in my mind as if I were there. Now what was Jesus saying here? Is He saying that the only people who could execute the Mosaic penalties had to be sinless? It is like, can I as a parent only admonish my child if I never sinned before, or can I as a pastor only preach if I am perfect and without sin?


Or can we say that God never intended those penalties to be carried out in the Old Testament for His people Israel, because no one could carry it out because they are sinners themselves? We all know that this verse in John 8:7 is the most abused verse by believers and unbelievers as well. There is an attitude of: ‘You cannot admonish me because you have sin in your life. Only those without sin can throw the first stone’.


The other favourite ones are “take the beam out of your own eye” and “who are you to judge?” Is that what Christ is saying? This was judicial law, and it was only for the nation of Israel and it had to be obeyed. Remember the law stipulated that the eyewitnesses had to carry out the sentence as we saw earlier in Deuteronomy 17:6-7.


So what Jesus is saying is that if they are the eyewitnesses – then stone her, but here is the condition. They cannot be guilty in the very thing they are about to punish. Now He knew they were either not the eyewitnesses or they were eyewitnesses of a set up, so they are all guilty of the sin of the moment. So, they are not sinless in this matter of the woman so how can they pick up a stone and kill this woman. So, Christ upholds the Law of Moses by telling them that they are welcome to stone her, so the issue is theirs not His. But Christ clearly forces them to look at their own sinfulness in the situation.


There is another view and that is: What Christ is saying is that if they are sinless as far as the same crime is concerned then they can throw the first stone. Remember in earlier dealings with the Pharisees who were so easy to condemn others for physical sin, what did Jesus say to them? If you have lusted, you have committed adultery. If you hate your brother, you are a murderer. So, guess what, none of them are innocent.


We know for sure that they did not expect an answer like this.


Point 3. The power in the Words of Jesus


How did they respond? John 8:9 (ESV) 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.” What you see here is that while Jesus spoke to them as a group, His challenge searched their hearts individually.


I have always wondered why the oldest first. Again, we were not told. Maybe they were simply the first ones to own up to the fact that they were defeated. Sometimes young people are not willing to give up as they go through a stage where they feel they have all wisdom, when older people realize the battle is over. Maybe it is because they saw the comment of Christ related to their total sinful state and they had more to reflect on. What we do know is that one by one they left and soon they were all gone.


So, all you have left is Jesus in pin-sharp focus and the woman who now will move into focus and the crowd in the blurry part of the picture.


Point 4. The compassion of Jesus.


What we are going to see now is the compassion and forgiveness of Jesus. Do we realize that in the sovereign plan of God this event was her appointment? Now remember that God did not author her sin, God did not take pleasure in her sin, but God in His sovereign wisdom was at work even in this horrible situation. What a way to come to your Saviour? You are brought to Him to be judged by Him and instead of judgment you receive forgiveness.


Look at John 8:10-11 (ESV) 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.”


Now I want you to realise this. What Jesus had said and what He did was not just for her accusers, but for her, because He means to save this woman. What do we learn here?

Firstly there was no man left among them to condemn her. There is a lesson in this that we are all sinners, and while we do not have to be sinless to admonish a fellow believer, we need to caution against this attitude where we highlight a few sins of others as the primary ones and we are continuously onto the back of those people forgetting about our own sinful state. Today churches will make big issues only of things like adultery, births out of wedlock and divorce and we ignore the myriad of other sins.


I have heard people say, well, you know the more public the sin is the more public the rebuke must be, or this particular sin impacts people more. What is our chapter and verse for that? Imaginations 8:9? No, my friend, while we cannot condone any sin, we must realise that we are all sinners, we just too often want to stone the select few. I want to tell you that more churches have been split through the sin of slander than the sin of divorce and yet we are gracious towards the slanderers and we stone the divorcees.


We are all sinners and we are all in need of salvation from birth. We have not only inherited the nature of Adam in his sin, but also his guilt. So, we are sinners by birth, but do you realize that we all are sinners by choice as well. Who of us can stand before Holy God based upon our virtues? No one could be her condemner, because they were all in the same boat, she was in.


Now before you think that my opinions here are unjustified. There is a second lesson here. I want you to see something interesting here. This woman is now standing before the one who could condemn her. He is the Messiah, He is the great Judge, He is her creator, he must pay for the penalty of her sin, but what does He say? “Neither do I condemn you.”


Jesus is separate from her other condemners. I want you to see what the woman says to Jesus when He asked her where her condemners are. The NIV renders her as saying: “no one sir”. The ESV I am using says: “No one, Lord.” That is what the Greek says? It says: “no one Kurios” which means Lord. She recognizes that Jesus is different. She has seen something of His divine wisdom. She has an understanding that He is the Lord.


And then look at these wonderful gracious words that can only be spoken by a friend of sinners. “Neither do I condemn you.” The only one that could condemn her is willing to forgive her. Always think about the forgiveness you have received from the very same Christ before you make it your task to want to stone everybody.


There is a third lesson. He does not leave her as she is. Look at verse 11: “go, and from now on sin no more “ The same one who does not condemn her is the same one who is going to do what is necessary to bring that to pass.


This is not cheap grace or some superficial dealing with her act. This is the one who is going to go to the cross and die in her place. He is going to die for the sin that she has just committed. He is going to take her penalty. He will not be stoned for her, but He will suffer for her on the cross so that she can be forgiven. It is quite probable that this woman would have been there the day Jesus died for her on the cross of Calvary and she would have seen what He meant. She would have seen why she was not condemned. It is because He was. There she would see Him die for the sins of all those who would trust in Him. This is the reason why we do not take our own sins lightly, and it is the same reason why we do not overtly try to focus on the sins of others. We were forgiven in the same manner she was.


But notice this: The one who shows her grace. Also calls her to a new life. I believe that this woman was redeemed otherwise Jesus would not tell her to go and sin no more. If she was not redeemed, what does it matter? This says something about the grace of God. God’s grace never denies sin. God’s grace never acts like the sin did not happen. God’s grace never desires sin. Jesus by forgiving her and not condemning her does not condone her lifestyle.


We all know that based on Romans 5 we are taught that the more we sin the more the grace of God becomes, but let me say this, God’s grace never encourages sin. Grace has never set us free to live in sin. God’s grace never diminishes sin. God’s grace forgives sin, but it also delivers from sin. Christ did not come to die, just to forgive people. He died to set us free. Jesus says: “go, and from now on sin no more.” Not just this sin, but a life of sin.  Now we know that He is not saying that she is able to live a sinless life. The Bible does not teach perfection for the saints of God, this side of heaven. But the lesson is that she must turn from the way that she has been living and to live a new life.


What does grace teach us? Titus 2:11-14 (ESV) “11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works”.


We live for God right now in this life. Why did Jesus die? Jesus died to take us off the shelves of the slave market of sin and to buy us for Himself. That is the reason why we must with zeal and urgency pursue good works understanding that we are God’s procession.


And so, we see that this ungodly trap became in the wisdom and sovereignty of God, one more display of the glory of His Son. Those who came to Jesus to put Him to shame, left ashamed, those who came to condemn the woman, left condemned, and she who was to be condemned left forgiven, all because of Jesus.


I trust that this morning presented to you a pin-sharp image of Jesus and the way He deals with sinners. You will either walk away condemned or forgiven.




Soli Deo Gloria

Logos Community Church - 27 September 2020