This is an unexpected story of grace
John 8:2-11 begins with three main characters: Jesus, a sinner, and a group of saints.
Jesus was teaching when suddenly a woman caught in adultery was brought in front of Him by a group of scribes and Pharisees. The Bible notes that the woman was “caught in the act of adultery”, so it is no doubt that the woman was guilty – she was indeed a sinner. This sinner was brought in front of Jesus by a group of saints: scribes and Pharisees. The sinner was brought to Jesus not to be judged or to be reconciled, but to be used to test Jesus. The saints demanded, “Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?”
The saints expected a “yes” or “no” answer. If Jesus had said “Yes, condemn her to die”, the Pharisees would have said that Jesus is a false teacher by showing the hypocrisy of Jesus’ teaching. If Jesus had answered “No, don’t stone her”, the Pharisees would have said that Jesus was a false prophet by dismissing the Law of Moses. The Pharisees thought they got Jesus but it was Jesus who had the last words.
Jesus did not answer “yes” or “no”. Instead, He answered with a heart-piercing revelation: “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” After a while, the saints left the sinner without a single stone thrown at her. The Pharisees have realised that they are sinners. Jesus has revealed that the saints are nothing but sinners.
Friends, we are all sinners. No amount of moral goodness, religious achievements, and perfect obedience can make us holy. Even the holiest men in Jerusalem left convicted of their sins. Jesus revealed that the saints are actually sinners.
After all these fake saints had left, it was just Jesus and the sinner. “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” I want you to stop here and imagine for a moment. It was just the sinner and Jesus – oh what a beautiful moment! What a beautiful picture when Jesus is alone with a sinner like this woman. What a beautiful moment when Jesus stayed where everyone had left. This is a moment of grace: When Jesus stayed with a sinner like this woman – with a sinner like you and me. But what comes next is even more beautiful.
Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”
Now only Jesus can say such words. No other religious teachers or belief systems can say those words. Why? Look at the order. Jesus first said, “Neither do I condemn you” before telling the sinner to go and sin no more. Other belief systems are saying, “Sin no more, then you can go and I would not condemn you”. Jesus gives us freedom to go and sin no more. Others demand us not to sin so that we can have freedom. But how can we achieve this freedom outside of Jesus when even the holiest of men in the holiest city live in the holiest time cannot be without sin? The answer is: we need the freedom that Jesus gives in order for us not to sin. Not the other way around. Those words of Jesus are the essence of Christianity. If you swap the order, you destroy Christianity. “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”
Jesus can say such words, not because He belittles the woman’s sin or that she does not deserve punishment. No. Jesus does not condemn the sinner because Jesus is the one who receives the condemnation instead of her! On the cross, Jesus received the full condemnation of her sins. On the cross, Jesus received the full punishment of your sins and mine. On the cross, Jesus received death so that we all can live. Jesus does not punish the woman, because on the cross Jesus received her punishment instead. That’s why only Jesus can give us such freedom: “Go, and from now on sin no more.”
This story begins with three main characters: Jesus, a sinner, and a group of saints. But the story ends with Jesus, a saint, and a group of sinners. The Pharisees who came to Jesus as saints, left as sinners. The woman caught in adultery came to Jesus as a sinner but left as a saint. In the middle of this story is Jesus. Because of what He has done on the cross, only Jesus can change our status from sinners to saints. Sinners become saints because Jesus has received our punishments on the cross instead of us.
Only Jesus can give us the freedom not to sin. Jesus is the unexpected story of grace.