Caught in the act of adultery, dragged naked by force into a public gathering place, humiliated by her sin, separated from anyone or lover to protect her, judged and sentenced to death without trial by self-righteous leaders, and placed before the King of Kings who is pure and holy - this is how the apostle John describes the opening scene of one of the most poignant and theological significant passages of Scripture.
Though the story reads like modern soap opera with immoral activities in which the affluent or privileged escape while the less fortunate are punished (Remember she was caught in the act, but only the woman was brought to judgment), at the core of this incredible story is what happens when a sinner is placed at the feet of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is the place where every person who calls themselves a follower of Christ has been and needs to go often. It is also the place where every person must go in order to experience the incredible promise of eternal life.
To which voice are you listening?
In the text John clearly identifies two different voices that speak to our situation in life—critics and Christ. The voice of critics condemn criticize, destroy, mock, and humiliate. Their method is to use any means available to exploit your weakness and your failures. It is obvious that the Pharisees did not accidently catch a woman in the act of adultery. This was planned attack to destroy her life and create a trap for the ministry of Jesus.
John also exposes their motive. They were not really concerned about her adultery and protecting the purity of society in their town. They wanted to trap Jesus by creating a situation where He would have to choose between His message of forgiveness and obeying the Old Testament laws handed down from Moses. Just as this adulterous woman had been used by her lovers for selfish reasons, these critics used her for their own personal agenda. They recognized that Jesus was a threat to their little empire that they had built by exploitation of people and false teaching for personal gain.
This story reveals that we all face situations where different voices compete for our attention. We fail to recognize that the world or the crowd from which we so often seek approval and affirmation really doesn't care about us. We are just tools to be used and discarded as needed to advance someone's personal gain. Like the Pharisees we are all guilty of pointing out the failures of others while ignoring our own in order to advance up the invisible ladder of social status.
I recently read a book about the circus when it traveled to small towns by train. The author described in detail the unofficial hierarchy of the traveling circus. From the ring master through various performers down to the roadies who set up the tents, everyone knew their place on the food chain. Even the freak show performers or side show acts created a system of evaluating their peers. The three legged man out ranked the bearded woman who trumped the man with crab claw hands.
As I read the book I couldn't help thinking that you don't have to join the circus to experience the cutting edge of judgment; just go to church! We judge people by the color of their skin, the brand names of their clothes, type of car, their accent, athletic prowess, education musical ability, religious background, and the list goes on and on. Are you a tither? Do you have a daily quiet time? Do you watch R rated movies? Do you attend a Christian school or the pagan public schools? Have you ever looked at pornography? Are you Republican or Democrat? Are you spirit filled? Do you speak in tongues? Are you divorced? Are you one of the good looking people, or did you get hit with the ugly stick a few times?
When you face situations where the labels we place on certain people instead of the love Christ determines an outcome how do you respond? I am not nor does this story suggest that we ignore sin and the damaging affects upon people's lives, but the Scripture does teach that using other people as a stepping stone is offensive to a holy God. The most offensive sin described in this story is not the adultery; it is the malice, arrogance, and ignorance of the Pharisees to use the sin, of another person for personal gain while ignoring the sin that resides in their own heart.
The voice of the critic seeks to condemn you by exploiting and exposing all your failures. In contrast, the voice of Christ confronts our sin with love and provides a better way to live.
How should we respond to sin?
This passage has often been quoted by those who want to justify their sin. When their sin has been exposed they arrogantly say, "Who are you to call me a sinner? Don't throw stones at me unless you are without sin." The attitude expressed by the above statement totally misses the point of the story. The woman in the story was guilty. The depravity of the Pharisees did not make the woman any less guilty. The Law of Moses did call for strict punishment for adultery, but the Law also provided a way of forgiveness. The Bible contains examples of sinners who repented and received forgiveness. King David is perhaps the most recognized example, but he is not the only one who escaped the death penalty for failing to keep God's moral code. God even established cities of refuge for people who had committed murder.
Please note that Jesus tells the woman to stop sinning and walk in His light. He does not excuse her sin by referring to her difficult childhood or for having an abusive husband. Jesus does not defer to the victimization that is so dominant in our culture where no one takes responsibility for their sin. He doesn't even ask who the man was with whom she was committing adultery, so the punishment would be fair. He doesn't call what the woman did a personal choice that is just different than what He would prefer. The Lord Jesus identifies her actions as sinful.
We learn from this story that our response to sin should be to admit our sinful condition before a holy God. The Bible is clear on this point. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). Second we learn that we should acknowledge the consequences that sin is destructive. Some attempt to present sin as no big deal. It is just having fun. They say, "My sin is my personal business and does not hurt anybody else. Shame, embarrassment, and destroyed lives are not laughing matters. How many marriages did this woman destroy? I wonder how the children of parents who divorced because their daddy was having affair felt about this woman. This story allows us to see the harmful effects of sin.
The third lesson revealed on how to respond to sin is to accept the compassion offered by Christ. Jesus is the Savior who rescues us from our sin. He declared that He was the light of the world. I believe that John must have remembered this story when he wrote 1 John 1: 7, "If we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another. And this we know, the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all our sin." The only one with the power and authority to condemn declared that He would not condemn her, but He extended to her holy compassion.
This compassion was not just a one time free pass that enabled her to continue her previous lifestyle. It was not a get out of jail card, so she could continue playing the sin game. The compassion of Jesus gave her a new life. She was not the lowest ranking member of the freak show any more. She was no longer living by the standard of critics who make arbitrary rules about a person's worth. She was a child of God freed from the bondage of sin and society's ranking system to walk in the light of Jesus Christ.
I love the story of a young lady who migrated to the United States from Cuba. Being a devout Catholic she wanted to attend confession, and she wanted to confess her sins in English to the priest. She had a friend translate her list of sins in English by writing the words out phonetically, so she could say them using her limited knowledge of the English language.
Taking her place in the confession booth, she said the first phrase that she had memorized. With a thick Spanish accent, she said "Father, forgive me for I have sinned." Then she looked down at the list, but it was too dark in the booth for her to read it. She said again hoping her eyes would adjust to the dim light, "Father, forgive me for I have sinned." Then in obvious frustration, she said in Spanish, "I cant' see my sins." To which the priest said in Spanish, "You are forgiven. Go and sin no more."
It was the apostle John who also wrote, "If you will confess your sins, (the Lord Jesus) is faithful and righteous to forgive us and to cleanse us for all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9). Dear friend accept the forgiveness offered by the Lord Jesus. Then go and sin no more!