The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery and having set her in the midst of the courtyard, they said to Him, ‘Teacher, this woman has been caught in adultery, in the very act. Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such a woman; what then do You say?’ They were saying this, testing Him, so that they might have grounds to accuse Him. But Jesus stooped down and with His finger wrote on the ground. But when they persisted in asking Him, He straightened up and said to them, ‘He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.’ Again, He stooped down and wrote on the ground. When they heard this, they began to go out, one by one, beginning with the older ones, and He was left alone and the woman, where she was, in the center of the courtyard. Straightening up, Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?’ She said, ‘No one, Lord’. And Jesus said, ‘I do not condemn you either. Go. From now on, sin no more.’ John 8: 3-11
In this account in John 8, Jesus confronts a band of cold, self-righteous religious leaders and a woman who was guilty of sexual sin, and He handles both with such wisdom and grace that we marvel at Him.
While some scholars argue over this passage, how much more important it is to meditate on ‘the Red Words’.
He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.
Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?
I do not condemn you either. Go. From now on, sin no more.
It is clear the Pharisees and Judges of the Law felt that they have Jesus trapped by this; they have an airtight case, this “let’s get-Jesus” committee!
You cannot read this, however, without asking yourself, “Where is the man in this adulterous union?” They had been caught “in the very act,” and yet only the woman is brought before Jesus. Some of the commentators suggest that perhaps they knew the man and let him go. We do not know. But this indicates that a double standard was very much in effect in those times just as it is today.
These scribes and Pharisees referred to the law in the book of Leviticus in which God, speaking through Moses, had said that adultery was to be punished by stoning. They knew that Jesus was “The Friend of Sinners,” that He was always on the side of the unfortunate and that He spent His time, not with the righteous, the wealthy or the respected, but with publicans and sinners. They obviously expected Him to forgive her and the minute He did, they would accuse Him of contradicting the law of Moses. They were sure they had Him trapped.
What he did was to stoop down and begin to write with his finger on the ground. Wouldn’t you love to know what He wrote?
Some have suggested that perhaps Jesus wrote a verse from Jeremiah: ‘O Lord, the Hope of Israel, all who forsake You will be put to shame. Those who turn away on earth will be written down because they have forsaken the fountain of living water, even the Lord.’ Jeremiah 17:13 . This could be but we don’t know for sure.
Whatever he wrote, the scribes and Pharisees apparently misunderstood him. They thought he was stalling for time, and they kept pressing him, asking him again and again to answer them. So, standing up, Jesus looked them right in the eye and stunned them when He uttered these famous words, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” Actually the word he uses is “sinless,” “let him who is sinless…” This is the only time Jesus ever used this word.
Jesus does not minimize the seriousness of the sin, but He refuses to align Himself with the harsh and arrogant attitude of the Pharisees toward the sin. What He says, in effect, is, “You are no better than she is. Your hearts are filled with murder and hatred.”
The haughtiness and hatred for Jesus that was evident in their eyes and demeanor clearly revealed that they were willing to use this woman in order to ‘get’ Jesus. They really cared nothing about her sin; she was a convenient means to their evil agenda.
Jesus saw right through them and addressed the corruption of their hearts. When He stooped down to write, could it be that He quoted from the book of Daniel? “You are weighed in the balance and found wanting,” (Daniel 5:25-29).
Whatever it was that He wrote, it utterly derailed their carefully laid out plot. One by one, they started walking away.
And you know the rest of the story. With no one left to condemn the adulterous woman, Jesus uttered these remarkable words: ‘Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.’
Notice how Jesus calls her attention to the fact that she has no human accusers. He has dismissed the jury; their own malice disqualified them to judge her.
As the only Sinless One, Jesus alone fulfilled the qualifications to stone her. But He did not do so because He clearly forgave her.
Without forgiveness, justice must be satisfied. God never dismisses sin as trivial. His own truth, his law, his holy character, demand that any deviation from righteousness be punished. Justice must be satisfied — unless sin is forgiven. So it is clear that the basis on which our Lord said these words is that he had found a way to forgive this woman her sin.
A legalist will protest, “How could he do this? There was no basis for it. In fact, she doesn’t even confess her sin, or repent of it, or even say she’s sorry. Didn’t Jesus himself go about preaching, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”? What do you say to that?
The answer is, “Yes, there must be repentance.” God is not a grandfatherly type who says, “That’s all right. Forget it. I won’t hold it against you.” There must be repentance. Even God cannot forgive sin which is not acknowledged.
But when you say, “Yes, I did it. It’s wrong. I agree with you,” that is repentance. Then forgiveness can come. “But where does this woman do that?” someone may ask.
The answer has to be, “Within her heart!” Remember we are dealing with One who knows the hearts of men. He knows what is going on in the inner thoughts. He knew her heart. Somewhere in the course of this incident she had to have repented.
Perhaps it was when she saw how Jesus handles this crowd of hypocritical judges, and she sensed the mercy and love that was in His face. Perhaps it was then, in His presence, that she realized how wrong she was, that she had sinned, and she repented. When she did, Jesus forgave her, obviously anticipating his death upon the cross for her.
The cross is always an eternal event in the mind of God. In anticipation of that cross, Jesus forgave her sin. The proof of it is in the words he next said, “Go, and do not sin again.”
If we have acknowledged our guilt, and received God’s forgiveness, the Lord is saying to us, “Go, and do not sin again.” He could never have said that to this woman unless something had happened within her.
This amazing scene speaks to all of us. When our sins are forgiven it is to free us that we might begin to live a different lifestyle; never to go back to the things that we have left behind. Forgiveness is always designed to set us free. That is why it is given.
Mark this truth: When Jesus forgave this woman that is what he did: He set her free to be a different kind of person than she had been before.
He does the same for you and for me. Sin is sin; it will always be sin and the only remedy we have is to sincerely repent, receive God’s forgiveness because of what Jesus did on the Cross of Calvary and re-commit ourselves to the Lord and to His Word.
I love the chorus written several years ago by Bill Gaither:
Something beautiful, something good,
All my confusion he understood.
All I had to offer Him was brokenness and strife,
But He made something beautiful of my life.
Perhaps it was a sentiment like this that lived on in that woman’s heart for the rest of her life.
If we have found forgiveness from the Lord, remember always that we are forgiven so that we, too, might “Go, and sin no more!”
Thank God for His amazing love!