Go and sin no more

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Date: 04/10/2009

Place: CACC English Sunday Service

Topic: Go, and sin no more

Bible Passage: John 8:1-11

This morning we look at a very famous passage. I am sure that many of us have heard this story many times since childhood. However, every bible story would have a lesson for us to learn. Therefore my hope is that by the end of this service you will not just “hear this story again”, but will able to find something applicable in your own life.

What is stoning? Stoning refers to a form of capital punishment whereby an organised group throws stones at the convicted individual until the person dies.

It is a pretty cruel death. Jews and Christians have stopped using this method long ago. However, in recent years we see fundamental Muslims have started using it again.

The most recent case was in October last year. In Somalia, a 23 year old woman was buried up to her neck at a football stadium, then stoned to death by 50 men in front of more than 1000 people. The stoning occurred after she had allegedly pleaded guilty to adultery.

However, Human rights group Amnesty International later learned that the girl was in fact 13 years old and was gang-raped by three men. When the family tried to report the rape, the girl was accused of adultery and detained.

Horrible, isn’t it?

Let’s put that story aside for a moment and move back to John chapter 8.

We see that Jesus went to the temple early in the morning and teaching the Scripture to the crowd.

Suddenly, a group of Scribes and Pharisees stormed into the temple, dragging a woman with them. They squeezed through the crowd, forcing the woman to stand in the middle. Then they said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?”

Verse 6 told us that these people were using this question as a trap. Question: Why did they choose this adulterous woman as a trap? Why didn’t they choose a murderer or a thief or people who committed other kinds of crimes? Why did they choose someone who committed sexual sin?

Well, the fact is that sexual issue is something that people find it hard to have agreement. It is a best topic for debate, whether you are young or old. It is forever a hot issue in religious circle. The common ones we hear in church include divorce, remarry, co-habitation (de facto relationship), sex before marriage, birth control, abortion, homosexuality.

This is probably why many churches find it easier to accept a pastor who is ex-murderer than a pastor who is divorced. I am not saying that we should then accept a homosexual pastor. All I am saying is that sexual issues are forever hot hot hot topics in religious circle. It is something that is really difficult to judge, and is the best type of trap that these religious leaders could find in order to accuse Jesus.

How did Jesus respond to such trap? Jesus said nothing. He bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger.

It is very interesting. No where can we find Jesus ever written anything, except this passage, and we don’t even know what he wrote.

Anyway, Jesus took his time, and his silence drove those people crazy. They kept on questioning him, giving pressure to him, forcing him to give an answer. It was a hard work for them to catch a woman in the act of adultery. They just can’t waste such opportunity to get Jesus.

Finally Jesus straightened up. Everyone was looking at him in silence, waiting for his answer. The adulterous woman also listened nervously, waiting for the verdict.

Jesus opened his mouth, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”

Everyone was stunned. They looked at each other, the younger ones looked at the older ones for advice. They didn’t know how to react to Jesus’ words.

In the mean time, Jesus stooped down again and continue wrote on the ground.

Slowly, the older people step backwards and silently slip away. The younger ones realized that the tide has turned, so they followed their leaders one by one and left the temple.

Then Jesus straightened up and asked gently, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She replied, “No one, sir.” (the word “sir” can also translate to “Lord”) Then Jesus said this really famous sentence. “Neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin.”

Wow, this woman is freed. No condemnation, no punishment, no community service, no fine, no jail term. Freed! Jesus forgave her totally.

Now, what can we learn from this story?

When I had a chat with pastor Eddy last week and I told him that I was going to preach this passage. He said, “Good. Young people need to know about chastity.”

To be honest, I was quite surprised, because I thought that this passage is not about chastity but about forgiveness. However, as I began to study bible commentaries, I found something interesting.

Look at your bible. Can you see those little words printed right before chapter 8? It says, “The earliest and most reliable manuscripts and other ancient witnesses do not have John 7:53-8:11.”

Isn’t it shocking? One of the most popular bible stories was not in the Bible. Bible scholars try to find out what had happened and whether we should teach and preach this passage.

Some said we shouldn’t because the historical background of this passage is ambiguous. Others say we can preach and teach this passage because it seems to align perfectly with the life and work of Jesus.

Anyway, the questions many people asked is, “WHY wasn’t this passage included in the earliest manuscript?” A very popular suggestion was that “it may have been removed by ‘enemies of the true faith’ who feared ‘that their wives be given impunity in sinning.’”

If ancient men worried about the application of this passage on their wives, how much more would we worry about the application of this passage on young people in the 21st century? All of the sudden, pastor Eddy’s suggestion does not sound so out of place anymore, but become quite relevant to us today.

However, if we treated this passage as a permission of sinning, then we really did not understand God. After Jesus said “then neither do I condemn you”, he continued with “go now and leave your life of sin.”

Jesus did not say, “Go in peace, and enjoy your life, do whatever you want.” Instead, he expected that woman to have radical change of her life.

Romans 6:1-2 says, “Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin: how can we live in it any longer?”

6:6, “For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin.

6:11, “In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin bout alive to God in Christ Jesus.

When that Somali girl was stoned to death last year, the witnesses said it was very cruel. However, out of those 1000 people, none of them were brave enough to come out and stop this execution.

Imagine, if someone did come out and stopped the stoning and saved the girl’s life, what would happen? If you were in a situation where you believe that you would definitely die, and yet you are saved in the last minute, how would you view your life from that moment onwards?

In fact, that is exactly our situation. We are all sinners and all deserved to die. But Jesus died on behalf of us, “the righteous for the unrighteous” (1 Peter 3:18). This is why Paul said in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.

So, should we go on sinning because Jesus forgives us? The answer is no.

Jesus forgives that woman. He could have condemned the woman because he has the authority to judge. But he chose to forgive, because he also has the authority to forgive.

God loves us too much to see us die in sin. Therefore, if you have not received Jesus as your Lord and Saviour and allow him to pay your penalty of sin, the death sentence, please do so as soon as possible. Talk to me or talk to your Christian friends. We can help you. You do not have to die in sin!

Now let us take a look of today’s story again.

The Bible said that the teachers of the law (Scribes) and the Pharisees tried to find faults in Jesus in order to accuse him and get rid of him.

Who are these people? The teachers of the law are also called the scribes. Their lives are devoted in copying the Scripture. Since they spent their whole life with writing and studying the bible, they naturally become the teachers of the bible as well.

The Pharisees are a group of people who devoted themselves to obey the laws of Moses. If they would not want to make any mistake and break the law, they would ask the Scribes to help them and instruct them.

In other word, these two groups of people are very religious, and people did respect them highly back in those days.

However, because of their knowledge of the laws, they also became “religious police”. If they saw someone breaking any religious laws, they would go and tell them to stop. So, their conflict with Jesus began when Jesus broke the Sabbath, especially healing many people on the Sabbath day.

In this story, they asked Jesus a tricky question, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?”

This is the dilemma. The woman was guilty, and under the Law of Moses she would be condemned to death. If Jesus refused to confirm the death penalty, he could be charged with contradicting the law of God and would be liable to condemnation.

On the other hand, if Jesus had said to stone the woman, he could lose his reputation for compassion, and would have run counter to Roman law, which did not permit Jews to carry out their own executions.

It is a tough call. But Jesus knew exactly what’s in their mind. He replied, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”

What kind of sin is Jesus mentioned here? It is not about the Original Sin that all human being have inherited. Because if it was, then there is no way that any law or justice able to be enforced.

Instead, Jesus was talking about the sin that those men committed when they try to trap him.

Adultery is not a sin that people would do publicly. It is normally done in secret and normally would have no witnesses. Suspicious husbands could not accuse their wives unnecessarily. The law required strong testimony from two witnesses who saw the couple in a sexual context. Basically, adultery couple can be caught through accident or through a trap.

However, there is a problem in this particular case. The law also expected that if a person witnessed another about to commit a sin, compassion required them to speak up.

Obviously the witnesses did not speak up this time. Instead, they stood silently, waited for the woman to commit the sin, and then catch her and use her.

Adultery cannot be committed with only one person, therefore, the absent of the male offender creates suspicion of the injustice nature of this case.

The witnesses also could take the woman to a corner and call Jesus over to have a private talk. But they pushed the woman in the midst of the crowd, humiliated her publicly. Obviously they didn’t really care about her as a human being. She was just the bait.

According to Jewish law, those who witness a crime and bring home a successful accusation must be the first to stone the victim. (Deut 17:7)

As I have said earlier, the witnesses do not have to be sinless people, or justice can never be carried. Nevertheless, they must be innocent in the case, or their witnesses are false and they are subject to judgement.

Jesus was able to say, “If any one of you is without sin…”, shows that he knew that the whole group was guilty. No one was innocent in this case. Therefore, none of them was qualified to throw the first stone.

If this story was a typical Hollywood movie, we would expect that the teachers of the law and the Pharisees be caught and charged guilty on something else, and probably be executed at the end of the movie. The bad guys must die.

However, the fact is that Jesus did not condemn them either. Instead, it was their conscience brought the verdict in their hearts.

That’s right. The phrase “Neither will I condemn you. Go and sin no more” also applies to them. Jesus also died on the cross for them, and he also forgives their sins. Jesus also hopes that these people would repent, continue loving God, and learn to love others more, show more compassion and mercy to others.

You see, the Pharisees are not crazy people. They actually understood the mercy and grace of God, though they struggle with its application. However, they expected people to obey God’s law with passion once they are redeemed. They are theologically correct for not seeing righteous living as a prerequisite to grace. Instead, they see it as a necessary and enforceable feature of the godly person’s life.

By the way, this is a very similar view in evangelical churches. Old Christians walk around and try to correct new Christians, often not realising that they have enforced things beyond what the Lord requests. We sometimes try really hard to keep the church pure, and forgot to let sinners come it. We work hard to maintain righteous, and forgot to leave space for mistakes and repentance.

When church becomes a “holy club” only, then evangelism becomes ineffective, even a “threat” to the so called purity of the church.

If we fall into such condition, we need God’s mercy to help us. So that we can learn from the mistakes of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, and remember the phrase “go and sin no more”.

The good news is that these people (the Scribes and the Pharisees) stopped persecute Christians after the resurrection of Jesus. In the book of Acts, we no longer see them having conflict with the disciples of Jesus. Apparently they came to realisation and probably became followers of Jesus too.

How do we apply this aspect of lesson in our lives?

There will be AGM meeting this afternoon. AGM meeting is a place where people report the progress of the past year, as well as decide what to do in the future.

In the past few years we see people using this meeting to raising questions. A healthy and constructive question can build up people and the church. However, when the questions become challenges, it can bring harms to others and to the church.

As I was preparing today’s sermon, I realised that we often treat ourselves as investigators in AGM. We question and challenge. I am not saying that we have to remain silence in AGM. However, we tend to presume others guilty, presume that they would not try their best to obey God.

Whenever we have such attitude, we make the same mistake as the Pharisees. We becomes religious police, holding rocks in our hands, try to make sure that no one dares to make any mistake. And if we find fault on others our rocks fly out of our hands and stoned them.

I do not know what will happen to the AGM meeting this time. But my prayer is that this year it will be different. I hope that people will be able to respect each other; asking questions with an attitude of learning, not of investigation, so that we will not end up throwing stones at each other.

May God help us learn to forgive one another, and let grace, not legalism to encourage us to live a righteous life that bring all the glory to our God.

Let us pray:

Lord Jesus, thank you for your amazing love. Whether we are like the Pharisees or the Scribes or that woman, you love us all. Please forgive our sins, wash us clean by your blood. May your Spirit also guide us and help us to live a righteous life that is the result of our love to you, not as a duty that has been forced upon. Guard our hearts and our mouth today as we gathered for AGM. May you be the chairman of the meeting, and protect us from harm. May your love overflow in each one of us, that we will feel so loved, and will able to love others with your love. In the name of Jesus I pray, amen.

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