The following are the notes from this week’s CROSSROADS lesson. Words in bold identify key phrases from notes pages handed out each week. If you would like copies of our slides, please feel free to reach and request them. As these are from the notes pages for each week, please excuse any typos or grammatical errors.
Whether we’re guilty or not, it doesn’t feel good to be accused of wrong-doing. If you’re guilty, it brings on tons of shame regarding whatever you’ve done and if you’re innocent it causes all kinds of emotions of injustice. Our world is consumed by the idea of accusing each other, often times over things that really don’t matter or things that are far from ‘certain’. Look at politics. If you’re a conservative, you’re told constantly by liberals that you’re a heartless bigot who hates people different from you. If you’re a liberal, you’re told constantly by conservatives that you’re lazy, foolish, and hate your country. The accusations fly back and forth leading to more and more hate. Where does it all stop? Is this how people are really geared? It definitely seems like this is how the world wants us to think.
Jesus came for very different reasons than what the world wants to believe. A lot of people want you to think that the story of the Bible is one of damnation and judgment. That totally misses the point. The story of the Bible is a story of RESTORATION, not one of CONDEMNATION. Let’s look at an example of this in John 8.
1 But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.
An Adulteress Forgiven
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. (John 8:1-6a)
So far, we have the scene of a mob who is bringing a woman who has committed ADULTERY to Jesus. They are asking Jesus to CONDEMN her according to the ‘Law of Moses’. To the casual observer, this all seems very straight forward. The law says that anyone guilty of adultery should be put to death and Jesus is above all things obedient to God’s law. After all, to disobey God’s law would be to disobey HIS law and make him a hypocrite!
The whole thing was a trap.
In this day in age, the Jewish leaders only had limited authority under the law. The Romans actually had ultimate legal authority and under their rule the Jews were not allowed to conduct their own executions. This meant that Jesus either had to seem to disobey God’s law or risk disobeying the Romans which would give the Pharisees reason to have him arrested. What a pickle!
6b 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. (John 8:6b-8)
Jesus had an interesting respond to the line of questioning. First, he bends down and starts writing in the dirt. The Bible doesn’t say WHY he was writing, just that he was writing. He then stands up to address the mob and tells whoever hasn’t committed any sin to throw the first stone. Solid response. He challenges the mob’s desire to exact justice on the sinner with a challenge of whether they, themselves, are actually innocent people.
The question still remains: what was Jesus writing on the ground? There are a lot of theories, some cornier than others. Many theories seem to be people trying to link passages of the Bible together just for the sake of convenience. Other theories sound ‘warm and fuzzy’ but have absolutely nothing factual to back them up. Personally, I have a theory based on what I’ve read of this story and other stories across the Bible and it has a lot to do with JEWISH LAW AND TRADITION.
Jewish law said that when someone was to be condemned, they should be taken before the priests at the temple. The priests would then write the sins of the accused on the ground with the names of the accused. This begs the questions whether Jesus was writing down the sins of the woman and following “proper procedure”, writing the sins of the Pharisees, or writing down something else just to remind the Pharisees that they were not following their own laws. Regardless of what was specifically written down, the Pharisees surely would have realized that they were not following their OWN LAWS and therefore were guilty of HYPOCRISY. How dare they condemn the woman according to God’s law while simultaneously breaking the law themselves?
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,”[a] she answered. “Neither do I condemn you,” said Jesus. “Go, and from now on do not sin anymore.” (John 8:9-11)
There is a lot going on in this simple ending and it’s easy to miss it all. The Pharisees realize they have no basis to accuse the woman because they, too, are sinners and just as guilty of accusations as the woman. Sure, maybe they weren’t adulterers, but they WERE violating the very law they were sworn to uphold. The accusers begin to leave and Jesus addresses the woman in love teaching her two things.
First, he asks her where her accusers have gone. He says, “Who is here to condemn you?” She looks at him and says, “No one.” How freeing must that have been? Put yourself in her shoes. She was guilty of sin. She knew the punishment if she got caught. Just moments ago, she was assuredly going to die. She wasn’t being “wronged” because she knew she had committed the sins those around her were condemning. Jesus never once tells the woman she is innocent, but he does save her from the judgement of her sins at the hands of others. In this act, he teaches her that no one can JUDGE your righteousness but God.
I want to be painfully clear on this point because many people misinterpret this to mean that “no one can judge me but God”. That’s not totally true and we will probably have lessons later on this point. If you are a Christian and claim to be one, your brothers and sisters in Christ are doing you a great service to help you stay accountable. That means that if you’re acting up, you deserve to get called out. There is a right and a wrong way to do something like that, but don’t confuse ‘judgement’ with ‘accountability’. Jesus makes it very clear that we are to keep each other accountable, but the lesson we learn in John is that judgement of our souls and sins is God’s and God’s alone.
Second, Jesus teaches us that his purpose is to SAVE us from our sins and not to judge us. His final words to the woman were, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.” Put yourself in the woman’s shoes one more time. You were as good as dead and, according to the law of man, rightfully so. You sinned and were found guilty of a crime punishable by death. This man said to be the Messiah… God in the flesh… speaks a few words and you now have new life. Don’t you think this woman was grateful and would have done anything for Jesus? If Jesus had told her to abandon everything and serve him the rest of her life, she probably would have. Instead, Jesus simply states that HE does not condemn us and with that, we are saved from sin.
Don’t forget to catch the last part: “GO and SIN NO MORE”. This is such a crucial part of our own lives when we find ourselves going down a bad path or making bad decisions. Jesus is here to forgive and forget the sins we have committed and to let us know that no matter how many people condemn us, He does not. The instruction to us is to GO on in our lives moving on from whatever we’ve done and to SIN NO MORE, growing closer and closer to the God who came to save us.
Sometimes it is this last part that is the hardest. To be forgiven is easy, but to move on from what we’ve done can be difficult. I know in my own life I have found myself literally on my knees by my bed praying to God to forgive me for things I have done, living my life my own way instead of God’s way, and for willingly disobeying his direction for my life. In some cases, I carried that guilt with me for years. Dealing with my ‘accusers’ and those who wanted to remind me of my mistakes was actually the easy part. I knew God had forgiven me and that my accusers were no more righteous than I was, but I could not forgive myself. It is in this moment that I forgot Jesus’s instruction to the adulterer the religious leaders wanted to stone: Go and sin no more. Just go. Stop dwelling on your sin because I do not condemn you. Stop dwelling on your past. Stop dwelling on what you could have done differently. Stop beating yourself up. Go. Look around you. Where are your accusers? No one had the right to judge your soul but me, the one true God and I do not condemn you. Get up as a new creation and live your life.
That is God’s message to us today and it is as vibrant as it was 2000 years ago. Regardless of what you’ve done, who accuses you, or how big the mob is shouting for your head…. Go and sin no more.