TEXT: John 8:1-11
Aaron Patterson, Sentenced to die for the 1986 murder of a Chicago couple. In one of his last official acts as the Governor of Illinois, George Ryan pardoned Aaron Patterson on 10 January, 2003.
It’s the stuff of movies. The appeal goes before the governor. The prisoner waits on death row as the day of reckoning draws near. Then the word comes that the Governor has set the prisoner free.
In most cases we presume the one with the power to set the convict free has some reason to believe that they might be innocent. But what about a pardon for the one caught red-handed? What about a pardon for the guilty?
That’s exactly what we read about today. The religious leaders bring to Jesus a woman caught in adultery–a capital offense. There are the three characters right there, The religious leaders, Jesus, and the woman. What I’d like to look at with you this morning is, each of these principals and see, what their response to the situation at hand says to us today.
Let’s begin with:
1. THE RELIGIOUS LEADERS DEMANDING PUNISHMENT. (vv. 3-5)
The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?”
These people see the situation as black and white. SHE’S GUILTY, SHE MUST DIE. There’s no concern here shown for the woman. In fact the text says that their whole reason for bringing her to Jesus was to trap Him. They parade the woman out and make her stand humiliated and terrified before the crowd. And we must ask also where is the man?
The motives of these men were anything but pure yet they stretched out accusing fingers. Jesus initially ignores them and gets down to write in the sand. We don’t know what he wrote but I have my guess that it went something like this…(reveal “Thou shalt not commit adultery” animation will run automatic until “Punishment” comes back up) The Pharisees press him and continue to ask him, “C’mon Jesus, what have you got to say?” Jesus says, “Let him among you who is without sin cast the first stone”
Then he knelt to write again we don’t know what he wrote. But the text says that as he wrote they began to leave one by one. First the older ones left. I wonder if as he wrote Jesus paused to look at one straight in the eye, and then wrote again. As he continued to write the younger ones left. When Jesus had finished writing, there was no one left to accuse the woman.
What does this exchange say to us? Well first of all it shows us that we must never forget the fact that each of us are sinners. The Scripture says plainly that all have sinned and no one is righteous. Sometimes as we look at the sins of the world around us it’s easy to think ourselves superior. Saddam Hussein? Why that guy deserves what he’s got coming. Yes, he does and you do too. And so do I.
Secondly, this says to us that though the world may accuse us, Jesus is in our corner. He doesn’t excuse our sin. He doesn’t say it’s unimportant–it was important enough for Him to give His life. But he cares for us and he is not the accuser. Accusation is the work of the enemy, we should neither participate in it directed toward others nor be fooled by it directed toward us. Though we deserve punishment, Christ is not the accuser, He has a different role.
To the woman caught in sin:
2. JESUS OFFERS PARDON. (vv. 10-11)
Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared.
Here was the one man who met the qualification he had laid out–“without sin,” but instead of giving out punishment, Jesus chooses pardon.
- This is what GRACE is: A pardon she did not deserve.
- This is what MERCY is: a punishment she did deserve withheld.
“Neither do I condemn you,” Jesus said.
The words of Jesus that burdensome morning were gifts of forgiving grace. Guilt was not in doubt. The distraught woman had been, after all, caught “in the very act” according to her accusers. (I have occasionally wondered if they were hiding in a closet and under the bed, or peeping through a bedroom window, to have “caught her in the act.”) Those men of caustic judgment and hollow spirits had one thing right. She was indeed guilty — guilty of sin, guilty of disobedience to God’s greatest desire for her life, guilty of trashing her own worth, guilty of violating the best for which God had created her.
Pummeling epithets and pulverizing stones paled in comparison to the consequences of sin and guilt in the woman’s life. That long ago morning in the courtyard of Jerusalem’s temple, Jesus spoke to a helpless and hopeless soul that needed forgiveness. To her He offered the gift of forgiving grace. “No longer condemned,” He said. “No longer condemned.” It was freedom from the condemning consequences of sin and guilt. Ah what we would do to know that sweet release.
If we only had enough money, could do enough good or had the ability to reinvent ourselves, we surely would pay the price, do the deed and take a new lease on life. If only we could. But we cannot. So like the guilty woman before Jesus, we too stand in need of God’s forgiving grace. Grace which cannot be purchased, grace which cannot be earned, grace which cannot be garnered through self-effort, but which can be had only and simply through the gift of God’s Son, Jesus Christ.
“And can it be that I should gain an intr’est in the Savior’s blood? Died He for me, who caused His pain? For me, who Him to death pursued? Amazing love! How can it be that Thou, my God, should die for me?” (“And Can It Be,” v.1, Charles Wesley).
The words of Jesus to the woman before Him were gifts of healing grace. Sin’s ugliness had carved its unmistakable swath through her feelings, memories and habits as well as her soul. She gingerly eyed the One who had given to her the unexpected gift of grace. Without fully understanding how or why, she nevertheless knew the gift was hers. She knew heart-deep and soul-sure that she was forgiven, but there was something more that needed His grace. Beguiling feelings, seducing memories and calamitous habits lingered. How could she ever be truly free from the past?
Often sin’s patterns cut deeply into life. Some struggle well beyond the receipt of God’s forgiveness with consequences formed while meandering through the days and years of wayward living. Feelings, memories and habits fashioned while pursuing wrong-headed ideas, and unworthy gods are tenacious and long-lived. Along with the woman before Jesus, many are in need of God’s healing grace.
- Grace that will set life free from the pull of delinquent feelings.
- Grace that will abate desires aroused by recalcitrant memories.
- Grace that will transform entrenched patterns of behavior.
As was true for her, God’s offer of forgiving and healing grace comes to us — grace that is stronger than any feeling, any memory or any habit.
“Long my imprisoned spirit lay fast bound in sin and nature’s night; Thine eye diffused a quick’ning ray, I woke, the dungeon flamed with light; My chains fell off, my heart was free; I rose, went forth and followed Thee.” (“And Can It Be,” v.3, Charles Wesley).
Richard Hoefler’s book “Will Daylight Come?” includes a simple illustration of how sin enslaves and forgiveness frees. A little boy visiting his grandparents was given his first slingshot. He practiced in the woods, but he could never hit his target. As he came back to Grandma’s back yard, he spied her pet duck. On an impulse he took aim and let fly. The stone hit, and the duck fell dead.
The boy panicked. Desperately he hid the dead duck in the woodpile, only to look up and see his sister watching. Sally had seen it all, but she said nothing. After lunch that day, Grandma said, “Sally, let’s wash the dishes.” But Sally said, “Johnny told me he wanted to help in the kitchen today. Didn’t you, Johnny?” And she whispered to him, “Remember the duck!” So Johnny did the dishes.
Later Grandpa asked if the children wanted to go fishing. Grandma said, “I’m sorry, but I need Sally to help make supper.” Sally smiled and said, “That’s all taken care of. Johnny wants to do it.” Again she whispered, “Remember the duck.” Johnny stayed while Sally went fishing. After several days of Johnny doing both his chores and Sally’s, finally he couldn’t stand it. He confessed to Grandma that he’d killed the duck. “I know, Johnny,” she said, giving him a hug. “I was standing at the window and saw the whole thing. Because I love you, I forgave you. I wondered how long you would let Sally make a slave of you.”
No matter how grave your sins may be, Jesus has paid the price for you. He didn’t go to the cross so that He could hold it over your head, but so that he could release you from its bondage. It was love, not hate, that transformed the life of this woman…
Which brings us to the last part of the story. The part that deals with the woman herself
3. THE WOMAN WAS GIVEN A PURPOSE. (v. 11)
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
The words of Jesus to the woman before Him were words of transforming grace. His final directive, “Leave now your life of sin,” was in no wise a curt dismissal. “Don’t ever sin this sin again, and, while I’m thinking about it, don’t ever let me see you here again,” certainly was not the intent of His heart or final word. The record is silent. She was there and then she was gone. The Bible gives no clue as to how her story turned out. Before she left, however, Jesus said to her words of transforming grace, “What is past is past. What is behind you is behind you. Let God’s forgiving, healing, transforming grace shape who you are and who you become.” That was His last word to the graceless woman who had unexpectedly experienced God’s needed grace.
Jesus offers the pardon to be sure, but he doesn’t just leave it at that, he also gives her life a new purpose. I don’t think these word are just an admonition, I think there is power in these words. He’s not just pardoned her, he’s empowered her to live above the level of her own sinfulness–He’s offered her new life, abundant life.
Toward the world Jesus pointed her again, to the very world from which she had minutes earlier arrived. It was a world she knew well. The streets were the same streets. The bed was the same bed. The neighbors were the same neighbors. The vegetable market was the same market. The town’s shaded well was the same well. The pressures were the same pressures. The temptations were the same temptations.
Back into that world Jesus sent her, a world where everything was the same — except her. Into the world from which she had come and which she knew so well, She would be an instrument of God’s forgiving, healing, transforming grace to others. In her would be seen the meaning of the Christ-life and the power of the Spirit-life. In relationships to her and through conversations with her, something of the love, acceptance, patience and forgiveness of God would be experienced. Into her familiar world she would go as a living testament of God’s desire and ability to transform life.
The forgiveness and grace of Jesus doesn’t just free us from the burden of past sin it frees us from the burden of future sin by empowering us to fight it out.
We are going to be living testimonies of the power of God in our life…the grace that can transform us…a testimony to all the people that the love of God can change a person’s life.
That is our purpose!
Remember this is the same Jesus who said to the cripple in last week’s message “Get up and walk,” who spoke those words with power. He didn’t expect the cripple to do it by his own power but by his own decision, in the same way this woman was not expected to live a sin-free life by her own power–Jesus empowered her with His word “Go now and leave your life of sin.” But like the cripple she had to do so by her own decision.
Karl Menninger, the famed psychiatrist, once said that if he could convince the patients in psychiatric hospitals that their sins were forgiven, 75 percent of them could walk out the next day! (Today in the Word, March 1989, p. 8.)
THERE IS POWER IN FORGIVENESS! Jesus gives life purpose, He transforms us from the inside out and speaks into our life with authority and with purpose “Go now and leave your life of sin!”
When I hear a story like the one I began with today about the pardoned murderer Aaron Patterson, I wonder what that person is going to do now. For the last 16 years he’s been a prisoner. Now the governor has pardoned him and in the photo we saw he was walking on the street as a free man. But free for what? What’s he able to do now? His bondage has likely crippled him in many ways. The same is true of the bondage of sin.
But thank God when we are pardoned by trusting in what Jesus did by dying on the cross to pay for our sin, he doesn’t just set us free, he empowers us to be free. He fills us with purpose.
– Guy Caley
– Today in the Word, March 1989, p. 8.
– “And Can It Be,” v.3, Charles Wesley
– Books of Illustrations