Caught but Not Condemned

The Gospel of John  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  39:44
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See yourself through the perspective of the three different characters in the account of the woman caught in adultery, found in John 8:1-11.

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This morning’s passage is incredibly unique.
One of the unique features of this section is that it is not found in the earliest manuscripts, or copies, we have of the Gospel of John.
In fact, a few manuscripts place it in different parts of John or even in Luke.
It sounds like something that Jesus would do, but it doesn’t read quite like John’s writing.
However, as Warren Wiersbe and others point out, it fits well in the context and helps transition from chapter 7 to the rest of chapter 8.
Although we could get deep in the weeds on this, for this morning, we are going to operate on the assumption that these events are put exactly where they are supposed to be.
John is continuing to show that Jesus is encountering opposition from the Jewish leaders, and this time, they are intentionally setting a trap.
There are three main sets of characters in this story, and we want to take time to look at each one. First, there are the scribes and Pharisees. Then, we will notice the woman caught in adultery. Finally, we will look at Jesus and his actions.
Let’s go ahead and read the entire account. Start with me in verse 1-11.
Although we are going to cover a few different aspects of this passage, the main idea I want you to walk out of here with this morning is this: In Christ, we are caught but not condemned.
Before we see that point clearly, let’s talk about the first group of people in the story: the scribes and Pharisees. We could describe them as...

1) Correct, but not concerned.

As we start with the scribes and Pharisees, we have to acknowledge that they aren’t exactly the best guys, are they?
They were supposed to be. They were the ones who knew God’s law better than anyone!
In fact, that is where they are stuck; they can’t accept what Jesus is doing because they have built their entire belief system around the ‘do’s’ and ‘don’t’s’ in the Law of Moses.
By the way, when you hear them talking about “Moses,” they are referring to the Law that God gave through Moses. We find that in the first five books of the Old Testament.
These men were experts on what God’s law said you should and shouldn’t do. They had even gone beyond what God said and added all kinds of rules that were supposed to keep you from breaking any of the commandments.
However, in their drive to know God’s word, they had lost sight of who God is! In fact, God was right there in front of them, and they were fighting against him.
Jesus is in Jerusalem, though, and the Pharisees catch a woman in the act of adultery.
They bring her to Jesus, but the Scripture says their goal was to trap him.
We have to acknowledge something off the bat here: If these men are telling the truth, then according to the Old Testament laws that God had given to govern the nation of Israel, she was to be put to death:
Leviticus 20:10 CSB
“If a man commits adultery with a married woman—if he commits adultery with his neighbor’s wife—both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death.
Notice, however, that the command said that both the man and the woman were to be put to death for adultery. So, where is the man?
One commentator suggested that he likely was able to run away faster than she did, so he may have escaped into the crowd.
We don’t know why the woman was the only one brought to Jesus, but we do know that the heart of those who brought her were not in the right place.
Their goal was to trap Jesus by putting him in a Catch-22 situation. If he refused to stone her, they could accuse him of disregarding the Law.
If he did participate in her stoning, they could use that to tarnish his reputation of being a “friend of sinners.” They also might have been able to get him in trouble with Rome, because the Jews don’t seem to have had the authority to put anyone to death since they were under Roman rule.
There are a few instances where an angry mob attempts to or actually succeeds in stoning someone to death, but that seems like an exception to standard practice.
Whatever their end goal, their hearts were in the wrong place.
They may have been technically correct, but they were not concerned about the right things.
For us to understand this, we need to take a minute and talk about why sin is bad in the first place.
Ultimately, anything that is sin is sin because it goes contrary to God’s moral law, which is derived from who God is.
One author summarized the concept of sin by saying:
“Sin is failure to live up to what God expects of us in act, thought, and being.” (Millard Erickson)
Sin is wrong, then, because it goes against who God is and what he has told us to do.
It is a big deal, which is why God set laws in place in Israel with strong punishments for sins.
These punishments were put in place so people would remember how holy God is and how bad sin is and what damage it does to us and others.
If that had been their motivation—to carry out the punishment God prescribed in order to demonstrate God’s holiness, to protect people from additional pain from sin, and to keep others from sinning in the same way, perhaps this scene would have looked differently.
However, they weren’t at all interested in preserving the holiness of God or limiting the damage of sin to the community.
They were trying to trap Jesus, who is actually the holy God who set these standards in the first place!
They wanted to prove that they were right, and they were better—better than this woman, and better than Jesus, who everybody was impressed with.
Now, let’s bring this home to us.
Many of you have grown up in church, or you have been around long enough that you know what is right and what is wrong in a lot of different areas.
When you realize that someone is caught in a sin, what is your reaction?
What about when someone sins against you personally, and then something bad happens to them?
“Serves them right! That’s what they get.”
You know what God says about that?
Proverbs 24:17–18 CSB
Don’t gloat when your enemy falls, and don’t let your heart rejoice when he stumbles, or the Lord will see, be displeased, and turn his wrath away from him.
Sin should make us angry. Sin should break our hearts.
However, it isn’t because we are right and they are wrong.
Instead, our heart for justice should be motivated by the fact that every individual is born with intrinsic worth and value because they are created in the image of God.
When people sin, they are damaging those made in God’s image, both themselves and others.
They are sinning against a holy God, a God who loved them enough to save them, and they are throwing that back in his face.
That should anger us! We should call for justice when we see people being abused, repressed, or taken advantage of.
That’s not what the Pharisees and scribes did, though. They weren’t concerned about the glory of God or the damage sin does to those created in his image.
They just wanted to trip Jesus up!
What motivates your frustration with other people? Is it because they aren’t doing what you want, or because you know there might be some truth to what they are saying and you don’t want to think about that?
You might be right—they might be completely out of line and wrong.
However, is your heart genuinely motivated by love for God and a concern for other people, or are you correct but not concerned?
Ask God to search your motives to see why you get so upset about certain things.
If it isn’t because of God’s glory and concern for others, you are missing the mark, just like these Pharisees.
In fact, you will see as we look at the woman, we are all...

2) Caught, but not condemned.

In your mind’s eye, turn your attention from the angry crowd to the woman in the middle.
In verse 4, the Pharisees said this woman had actually been caught in the act of adultery.
Some have suggested that they may have been making this up, and the charges were fake.
I don’t think so. One, the text doesn’t give us any reason to think so.
In fact, the strongest evidence of her guilt is the last statement Jesus makes to her in verse 11… “Go, and from now on, do not sin anymore.”
Why would he tell her not to sin anymore if she hadn’t been sinning to start with?
Actually, even if this was the first act of adultery this woman had committed, it wasn’t the first or only time she sinned.
In fact, if we are honest with ourselves, we all have sinned.
Look back at the definition of sin we gave a bit ago:
“Sin is failure to live up to what God expects of us in act, thought, and being.” (Millard Erickson)
Can you say that you have always done exactly what God expects of you? That every action, that every thought, that every part of your being has always done the right and not done the wrong?
Every single person alive has sinned!
Romans 3:23 CSB
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God;
That means you, me, the best person you know, and the worst person you know; all of us have sinned.
Don’t think that God has somehow missed that; we are all caught by God, and he knows everything we have done and thought and ever will do!
Just like this woman, we are caught in our sin.
There is no way to wiggle out of this; we are all guilty.
In fact, whether we have committed adultery or not, our sin debt before God is so great that we all deserve the same punishment she did that day:
Romans 6:23 (CSB)
For the wages of sin is death...
We all deserve to die.
Interestingly, so did all the scribes and Pharisees that day.
That’s what they were missing at first. As J.D. Greear says, “We are sinners first before we are ever sinned against.”
Pick back up in verses 6-9.
I have so many questions about what happened here. What did Jesus write, and why did the oldest leave first?
We don’t really know—perhaps they left first because they were more mature and could recognize the guilt in their own lives, where the younger men took more time to catch on.
Regardless, they all leave; it is just this woman and Jesus.
That sets up an interesting scenario. Jesus is God, so if she really did commit adultery, he knew it and needed no other testimony.
He was also the only one qualified to actually throw the first stone, because he is the only person in history who was completely free from sin.
However, the Law God gave through Moses said that you could not be put to death on the testimony of only one witness:
Deuteronomy 19:15 CSB
“One witness cannot establish any iniquity or sin against a person, whatever that person has done. A fact must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.
Now, there are actually no witnesses to the crime, and even if you count Jesus as a witness, it is just him.
The law of Moses, what the Pharisees seemed so intent to uphold, dictates that she now can’t be put to death.
She cannot be condemned to death because all her accusers are gone.
Remember, we have already said in our study of John 4 that a Jewish man wasn’t supposed to talk to a woman in public.
However, how does Jesus respond here?
In a tender conversation with her.
He asks a couple of questions, highlighting the situation.
Then, he responds with words that sound too good to be true— “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on, sin no more.”
She was caught, but she wasn’t condemned.
In the same kind of way, although we are caught in our sin, we need not be condemned to bear the punishment ourselves.
Let’s be clear about this, though—how can that happen?
Does God just give us a mulligan and throw out our sin? Does he simply act like it never happened?
No—our freedom from condemnation comes at a much greater price than that.
We see that as we look at Jesus, and realize that he is...

3) Compassionate, but not condoning.

Don’t misunderstand Jesus’ response to the woman here.
He isn’t excusing her sin, acting like this was no big deal.
Jesus wasn’t one to mince words when it came to talking about sexual sin. In other passages, he is crystal clear about where God stands on it:
Matthew 5:27–28 CSB
“You have heard that it was said, Do not commit adultery. But I tell you, everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
He showed us that in God’s understanding of sin, adultery starts in the heart, so if she had been caught in the act, she had certainly moved past the heart stage and full on into sin.
In that passage in Matthew, Jesus talks about taking extreme measures, to the point of gouging out an eye or chopping off your hand to keep from falling into sexual sin.
How can he just let this woman off like that?
What is Jesus doing here?
He is displaying incredible compassion.
In fact, he is doing the very thing he came into the world to do:
John 3:17 CSB
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
In an unimaginable act of compassion, he is offering her a way out.
However, as he extends compassion to her, he is not condoning her sin.
Are you feeling the tension yet? How can God still be God and just let her off the hook?
How can God look at any of our sins and extend compassion? We are all worthy of death, and there is no escaping that.
Our modern world wrestles with justice, so let’s use an analogy: Imagine a judge’s wife was accused of a crime punishable by death. They would never let him preside over the case, but let’s say they did. When the evidence was presented, it was clear beyond any shadow of a doubt that she was guilty, and that she deserved the death penalty.
As much as he loves her, he cannot let her go free because he must uphold the Law.
In a similar way, God is compassionate and gracious, but he cannot turn a blind eye to sin or he wouldn’t be just anymore.
Think about how he described himself to Moses:
Exodus 34:6–7 CSB
The Lord passed in front of him and proclaimed: The Lord—the Lord is a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and abounding in faithful love and truth, maintaining faithful love to a thousand generations, forgiving iniquity, rebellion, and sin. But he will not leave the guilty unpunished, bringing the consequences of the fathers’ iniquity on the children and grandchildren to the third and fourth generation.
He is gracious, but he is also just.
So, how can Jesus be just in letting her walk free?
More personally, how can we, who deserve to stay separated from God and punished for our sin, escape condemnation?
Because the one telling her that she was not condemned is the one who would be condemned for her.
The one who looked at her and said, “Neither do I condemn you,” was going to bear my condemnation and yours himself.
That’s what God had promised through Isaiah years before all of this:
Isaiah 53:5–6 CSB
But he was pierced because of our rebellion, crushed because of our iniquities; punishment for our peace was on him, and we are healed by his wounds. We all went astray like sheep; we all have turned to our own way; and the Lord has punished him for the iniquity of us all.
How could he let her go? Because he was going to take her punishment on himself!
2 Corinthians 5:21 CSB
He made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
He became sin, he bore my condemnation, and he died in my place on the cross.
The same is true for any who come to him today—you can experience the compassion of God, not because he simply excuses or condones your sin, sweeping it under the rug. You can enjoy God’s compassion because Christ took your condemnation.
If you are in Christ, then you can join with the apostle Paul in saying,
Romans 8:1 CSB
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus,
You and I are the woman, caught and ready to be killed. We are the scribes, more concerned about being thought correct than about being truly right with God.
And yet, if we are in Christ, the only one who had a right to condemn us has instead freed us by sending his own son to take my condemnation and death and die in my place so that I could have his righteousness.
He didn’t let the woman off the hook, nor did he exonerate the Pharisees—he died for the sins of the world, offering grace and forgiveness in place of the righteous condemnation we deserved.
How should we respond?
We should respond to sin like Jesus did—offering compassion where we can without condoning, and pointing people to the one who can save them from their sin.
We should remember that we too were caught in our own sin and condemned without Christ, yet God in his mercy saved us.
That should keep us from being like the Pharisees and scribes, acting in pride instead of a concern for God’s name and God’s people.
Which of these do you most need to rest in today?
The fact that you have been caught but Jesus has been condemned for you?
The fact that you can show compassion without condoning sin?
The fact that you can be technically correct while still not concerned about the right things?
What do you need to do differently? Come to Jesus this morning.
[1] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd ed (Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Book House). 596.
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