I love preaching verse by verse through the bible for a couple of reasons.
I’m not smart enough or creative enough to come up with a different sermon series every few weeks.
God’s word dictates what I will preach.
This means that it will steer me away from pet peeves, hobby horses, and soap boxes.
But also when preaching through books of the bible, I am sometimes confronted with difficult topics, texts, and teachings.
I can’t avoid them b/c they are the next few verses.
This is specifically difficult in this next passage.
The story we are going to look at in a few minutes is one beloved by Christians.
We get to see the grace, mercy, and compassion of Jesus.
We get to see that sin can be forgiven.
It’s a beautiful picture of the gospel of Jesus.
Now I will admit that this sermon is going to be a little different than other ones I have preached.
It’s going to be a little more academic.
So put your thinking caps on and bear with me.
This will all make sense in a minute.
Have you ever thought about how your bible got to you?
Not who purchased your bible, but how we got from the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek Text to the English bible you hold in your hands?
This is something that bigger nerds than I have a field day with.
The Bible that you hold is the result of the hard work of translators and scholars.
They spend years pouring over the original languages to bring us a readable and understandable copy of the bible in English.
It’s a great amount of time, work, and effort that goes into this process.
This process happened not just now, but in the centuries before.
We don’t have any of the original manuscripts.
Meaning that we don’t have any of the writings that John, Paul, Matthew, Luke, etc wrote on.
What we do have are copies of those original manuscripts.
I don’t want you to think that these are haphazard copies.
The scribes who copied these original documents were precise and careful with their copies.
And Scripture was hand copied from its original writing until the invention of the printing press.
For some 1500 years, people trained in copying would pour over the scriptures that had been handed down and copy them.
Now over time, there may be some scribal errors.
Or even Scribal insertions.
And that would be a problem if we only had one manuscript.
But we don’t have only one manuscript.
We have over 5,700 Greek Manuscripts.
If we include manuscripts that are in other languages like Latin, Syrian, Armenian, etc there are more than 25,000 manuscripts.
To put that in perspective lets’ talk about some works that were written around the same time as the NT
I am borrowing this from another Pastor who already had these number compiled.
There are ten existing manuscripts of Julius Caesar’s Gallic Wars (composed between 58 and 50 BC). And all of these date from the tenth century or later.
There are twenty manuscripts of Livy’s Roman History written roughly during the time when Jesus was alive.
Only two manuscripts exist for Tacitus’s Histories and the Annals, which were composed around AD 100 — one from the ninth and one from the eleventh century.
There are only eight manuscripts of the History of Thucydides who lived 460–400 BC.
These works may mean nothing to you, but the number of manuscripts should.
Just know that the Bible is the most attested to and rigorously copied book that has ever existed.
Okay, so now we have all these manuscripts that all of these scribes copied down.
How can we be sure that they are correct?
If you think about it. The more manuscripts you have the more opportunity there is for error.
The more danger there is of a rogue scribe going ahead and inserting his own theology or teaching into the text.
The more variations of letters or small words that may change the meaning of the text.
Here’s where we come a study called Textual Criticism.
This is the study of comparing texts to make sure we have the most accurate representation of the bible.
What these Textual Critics do is analyze the text and determine what is the most accurate and authentic word to be used in any given text.
You’ll see this if you have one of the bibles that has footnotes or end notes.
They’ll be a number or letter next to a word or phrase that will lead you to a note that says something like other “manuscripts say xyz”
If the Textual Critics see something that seems off they compare it to other manuscript evidence to see if it is accurate or not.
So if a rogue scribe went off and wanted to write his own thing, then the textual critics would look at different manuscripts to verify if what this rogue wrote was original or authentic.
And these textual critics can do this b/c they have a pool of manuscripts to draw from.
Now where there are legitimate discrepancies in the text it never impacts or changes core theological doctrine.
The bible you hold in your hand can be trusted.
Why am I talking about this?
Because I want to assure you that you can have 100% faith in the bible.
Even though we don’t have the original documents we can be sure that we have an accurate representation of what the original authors wanted us to have.
Now you may be thinking, why is this important to me?
Well, the reality is there are opponents to our faith that use these discrepancies as ammunition to conclude that the bible can’t be trusted.
And they believe in saying that the bible can’t be trusted then it nullifies the truth about God.
And I want you to be ready for that task.
Especially the younger generation.
You will run into these arguments from angry atheists on TikTok, Instagram, and even in college.
They will try to convince you that there is no truth to be found in the Bible by using this type of argument.
They will want you to doubt the authenticity and truth found in the Bible.
But I want you to know that there are answers to each of their questions.
There are people who have devoted their lives to sifting through and making sure that we have the right information.
Any of these variations and discrepancies in the manuscripts do not affect any core or essential doctrine of Christianity.
Now, I do have a more immediate reason for talking about Textual Criticism this morning.
There are some questions about the authenticity of the story we are going to look at this morning.
Many scholars and Textual Critics believe that the account of Jesus with the adulterous woman isn’t original to John where we find it now.
I don’t want you to accuse me of not taking the bible seriously.
If you’ve been around for any length of time you know that I love God’s Word.
I teach God’s Word.
I am convinced that God’s Word is divinely inspired.
And yet all evidence of this text points to it not being originally written by John.
What evidence do we have that it isn’t original?
This is evidence is from a scholar.
The evidence goes something like this:
The story is missing from all the Greek manuscripts of John before the fifth century.
All the earliest church fathers omit this passage in commenting on John and pass directly from John 7:52 to John 8:12.
In fact, the text flows very nicely from 7:52 to 8:12 if you leave out the story and just read the passage as though the story were not there.
No Eastern church father cites the passage before the tenth century when dealing with this Gospel.
When the story starts to appear in manuscript copies of the Gospel of John, it shows up in three different places other than here (after John 7:36; 7:44; 21:25), and in one manuscript of Luke, it shows up after 21:38.
Its style and vocabulary is more unlike the rest of John’s Gospel than any other paragraph in the Gospel.
And this may shock or surprise many of you.
This is a very beloved story that demonstrates Jesus’ mercy, grace, and compassion on a sinner.
How can this not be original to John’s Gospel?
So what am I to do?
There are a few options.
I preach this the same way I would preach the rest of scripture.
I skip over it and leave you all asking why I did that.
I spend 10 minutes talking about academic work and then we look at the scripture together as a truth about who Jesus is.
Now here’s some good news.
I’m going to spend some time talking about the passage.
And one of the reasons is b/c many scholars agree that this is an actual retelling of something that did happen.
They just don’t believe that it belongs here in John 7:53-8:11.
One commentator said that it is a text looking for context and that’s why we see it floating around in different places in different manuscripts.
And I agree with these assessments.
This story aligns with the ministry of Jesus.
This story aligns with the person of Jesus.
This story aligns with the character of Jesus.
This story points us to the glory, grace, mercy, and goodness of our God.
And not only that, It has been preserved by the HS for thousands of years.
And If our sovereign God didn’t want this account to be here he would have removed it long ago.
This paragraph is a beautiful picture of the Grace found at the feet of Jesus.
So without further ado let’s take a look at the beauty of grace.
53 [Then each one went to his house. 1 But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2 At dawn he went to the temple again, and all the people were coming to him. He sat down and began to teach them. 3 Then the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery, making her stand in the center. 4 “Teacher,” they said to him, “this woman was caught in the act of committing adultery. 5 In the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” 6 They asked this to trap him, in order that they might have evidence to accuse him. Jesus stooped down and started writing on the ground with his finger. 7 When they persisted in questioning him, he stood up and said to them, “The one without sin among you should be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 Then he stooped down again and continued writing on the ground. 9 When they heard this, they left one by one, starting with the older men. Only he was left, with the woman in the center. 10 When Jesus stood up, he said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 “No one, Lord,” she answered. “Neither do I condemn you,” said Jesus. “Go, and from now on do not sin anymore.”]
We read that Jesus was at the temple again.
Sitting down to teach.
He was instructing at the temple as one with authority and insight.
As he was teaching, the scribes and pharisees bring a woman to him that had been caught in the act of adultery.
They wished to humiliate this woman.
They wanted to cast shame on her.
They wanted to make a spectacle out of her sin.
Let’s not over look this in verse 2, it tells us that “all the people were coming to him”
This was no small crowd.
This woman would have been marked for the rest of her life as one who stood on trial guilty of adultery.
But not only that they wanted to test Jesus.
They were still trying to catch Jesus.
They were looking for any way or excuse that they could disregard his teaching.
They could undermine his authority.
They could make him less credible.
They wanted to accuse him so that they could arrest him and shut him up.
And one of the ways they tried to do this is by confronting Jesus with a seemingly impossible situation.
John 8:5 “5 In the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?””
Here’s the thing, they thought there were only one of two answers to their problem.
Jesus tells them to stone her, and then he would be in trouble with Roman Authorities
Because the Jewish People had no right to commit capital punishment.
Jesus tell them not to stone her and be considered a false prophet b/c he doesn’t uphold the truth of the Torah.
But as we’ve established in the rest of John’s gospel the ruling authorities don’t really care about what the Scriptures say.
They bare false witness against him.
They seek to arrest and seize him without actually listening to what he says.
They want to kill him which goes against their own law.
Not only that, we can know that they don’t care about their law b/c the law they are trying to trap Jesus with here specifically states that both of those caught in the act of adultery are to be put to death.
Lev 20:10 “10 “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.”
And yet the man isn’t here.
He mysteriously isn’t present to be accused.
They caught this woman in the act of adultery, but the man isn’t anywhere to be found.
It takes two to commit adultery and the man is just as guilty as the woman.
And yet he’s no where to be found.
This just goes to show us that they don’t love the law, they hate Jesus.
They want to get rid of him no matter the cost.
He is a thorn in their side, a rock in their shoe, a sticker in their britches.
They are not afraid to lay aside the spirit of the law to protect their own perspective and tradition.
Here’s where I want to caution us as followers of Jesus.
And I know you have heard me say this before, but it is easy for us to fall into the same trap.
We can use what we know about Jesus as a club rather than as a measure of grace.
One of the things that Jesus and the author of this story is pointing out is the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees.
They are willing to violate their own law to make Jesus and this lady look bad.
And this hypocrisy really shows itself when we set other’s sin against our own.
We can be just as bad as these Pharisees and scribes.
And Jesus points this out to them by how he confronts their sin.
As these scribes and Pharisees are trying to trap him, he stooped down into the dirt and starts writing on the ground.
There have been a myriad of things that people have speculated he was writing.
These are all speculation, meaning that the text doesn’t tell us people are only guessing at what he was writing.
Here are a few:
a. He was writing the names of those present and the sins they have committed.
b. He was copying the way the Roman government would pass judgement on someone.
A ruler would simply write down what he was going to say and then say it to the one condemned.
c. Or was he writing some scripture down to convict those present of their wicked deeds?
Jer 17:13 “13 Lord, the hope of Israel, all who abandon you will be put to shame. All who turn away from me will be written in the dirt, for they have abandoned the Lord, the fountain of living water.”
or Ex 23:1 “1 “You must not spread a false report. Do not join the wicked to be a malicious witness.”
The reality is it doesn’t matter what he was writing to us the readers.
If it did then the author of this account would have told us
But we do know that they continued to persist in asking Jesus to answer their question.
What should they do with this woman?
And so he does.
He answers in a way that convicts their heart.
He answers in a way that only Jesus could.
John 8:7 “The one without sin among you should be the first to throw a stone at her.””
Unlike this verse has been used before, Jesus isn’t just being cheeky when he says this.
There is a reason why he tells them to throw the first stone.
In Deut 17:7 “7 The witnesses’ hands are to be the first in putting him to death, and after that, the hands of all the people. You must purge the evil from you.”
So again according to their law, they were the ones that were to put her to death.
But Jesus does go further than the law. He wants those who were there to that were without sin to start first.
If they truly believed that they were blameless before God then they could through the first stone.
Like I said earlier, this is an example of hypocrisy.
Let’s take a modern day example.
By many June is celebrated as Pride Month.
People celebrate the LGBTQ+ community.
Now imagine that there is a pastor or church leader who confronts a homosexual individual and tries to heap condemnation upon them.
He tries to shame them, humiliate them, or make a spectacle of their sin in a big way.
But at the same time this pastor is abusive.
He’s addicted to Pornography.
He genuinely doesn’t love his neighbor.
In that instance who’s wrong?
They both are, but I would argue that the pastor who is bashing this man or woman is heaping more condemnation on himself b/c he is being a hypocrite.
He doesn’t love the law of the Lord.
He doesn’t love the instruction of the Lord.
He simply hates the homosexual.
He simply wants to build a case for his superiority.
Now obviously this isn’t a one to one example of what’s going on in this passage, but we get the idea.
So after confronting them with their own moral issues.
Jesus sits back down and starts drawing in the sand again.
And the men start leaving. One by one, they start walking away.
From the oldest to the youngest.
The oldest leaving first starts to show that their case doesn’t hold any water.
Their society revered their elders.
They were the ones long trained in the law.
They were the ones that were the most revered.
They were the ones with the most authority.
And as they start leaving, the others around them start noticing in that the accusation is going to go no where.
They were realizing that even though they tried to trap Jesus, he had shown them their own sinfulness.
He had shown them that they were not going to catch him off guard.
He was and is still in control.
And they all depart.
Their self-righteousness was exposed so they went away like dogs with their tale stuck between their legs.
So the story shifts over to an interaction between Jesus and this nameless woman.
John 8:10-11 “10 When Jesus stood up, he said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 “No one, Lord,” she answered. “Neither do I condemn you,” said Jesus. “Go, and from now on do not sin anymore.”]”
This is a beautiful exchange.
And this is at the heart of the story.
This is the part of this account that really shows Jesus’ compassion, grace, and mercy.
This woman humiliated, shameful, and disgraced is looked at by Jesus.
She is seen.
And Jesus talks to her.
Let’s not gloss over how scandalous this interaction would have been.
Jesus was at the temple.
He was teaching.
He was just put on trial and asked to defend the fate of this woman.
And the crowd was watching.
Remember during this time, most Jewish men wouldn’t even talk to their wives in public much less any other woman.
And this woman was just humiliated and made a spectacle of in front of a great crowd of people.
And Jesus simply asks where are those who condemn you?
They had all gone away.
So Jesus, says neither do I condemn you.
She has been forgiven.
She has experienced grace.
She has felt and encountered the mercy of God almighty.
The sin that brought shame on her name.
The sin that would ostracize her from her community.
The sin that came with a death sentence.
This lady had gone from condemned to Not condemned b/c of the grace of Jesus.
But this wasn’t a cheap grace.
This was one that was costly.
Jesus when he forgave her told her, “Go, and from now on do not sin anymore.”
Here Jesus is focusing solely on this sin of adultery.
Don’t go around and sleep with people who aren’t your husband.
She had been caught.
She had been condemned by the law.
She had been humiliated by her sin being exposed, but she encountered the Grace of God and was changed.
Your sins can be forgiven.
I’m not sure we always understand that.
We know it.
We say it.
We think it.
But do you really believe that Jesus will forgive your sin.
That he will cover your shame.
That he took your sin, shame, humiliation, and condemnation upon himself at the cross.
And that he wants to clothe you with the righteousness of God.
And that’s a key point in the gospel message.
When Jesus forgives your sin.
When you encounter the grace of God.
When you truly understand the depth of God’s grace and forgiveness, you won’t want to go back to the sin that once ensnared you.
Grace is amazing.
But Grace isn’t cheap.
Grace cost Jesus his life.
Grace cost Jesus’ blood.
Grace cost Jesus a horrendous death.
And Jesus paid it all.
You can’t add to it, you can’t take away from it.
So recognize that if you have encountered Jesus’ grace like this woman did you should go and sin no more.
Don’t willingly go back to the sin that he saved you from.
Know that if you believe and trust Jesus he no longer condemns you.
Under the law you are condemned.
But under grace you are forgiven.
When we trust Jesus we are transformed.
When we recognize that his death, burial, and resurrection completed our forgiveness we need to flee from sin and cling to Jesus.
That when we trust in Jesus, our old selves die with him and we are given new life.
And if we are given new life we should no longer desire to sin.
We should desire Jesus.
Listen to what Paul said.
1 What should we say then? Should we continue in sin so that grace may multiply? 2 Absolutely not! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Or are you unaware that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 Therefore we were buried with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too may walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have been united with him in the likeness of his death, we will certainly also be in the likeness of his resurrection. 6 For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be rendered powerless so that we may no longer be enslaved to sin, 7 since a person who has died is freed from sin. 8 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him, 9 because we know that Christ, having been raised from the dead, will not die again. Death no longer rules over him. 10 For the death he died, he died to sin once for all time; but the life he lives, he lives to God. 11 So, you too consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
I want you to know that it doesn’t matter how much you have sinned.
It doesn’t matter how far you have gone.
If you come to Jesus. He will forgive you.
If you run to him he will make you whole.
Just like that song we sang earlier.
His grace is greater than all our sin.
All you have to do is surrender to him.
Trust in him and you will no longer be condemned.
You will be set free.