Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. 3 The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst 4 they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. 5 Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” 6 This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. 7 And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. 9 But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10 Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”] (John 8:2-11 ESV).
Today we are going to consider the story of a woman who was made to feel her guilt in a very public way. A woman, who according to her accusers, was caught in the very act of adultery.
What are you most ashamed of? How do you handle guilt? What are we to do with guilt?
What is guilt?
Some say that guilt is a social construct to make people conform to public expectations and values. It functions with shame as society shames people for stepping out of line, for failing to conform to the norm and expected behavior.
We are told the society breeds guilt. That we inhale guilt in the air we breathe.
Ever since psychiatrist Sigmund Freud, much of secular society has tried to bury guilt. We repress guilt. We suppress it. We deny it. Dr. Albert Mohler says,
the modern secular worldview demands that guilt be understood as the lingering residue of the Christian conscience, an experience merely forced upon us by a society that imposes oppressive moral judgments. It is to be overcome and denied, never heard.
Is that what guilt is? An experience, a feeling or sentiment that is imposed upon us from the outside? A feeling of failure of some kind that is forced upon us by society or those around us? Is guilt simply the shame that one feels because he or she has failed to live up to the expectations of others? Is it simply the expectations of others, of culture, of custom, or of society at large – those things that are outside of us – that produce a sense of guilt and shame?
Or is there something in us that recognizes that some things are right and some things are wrong? Is there rather something in us that recognizes that sometimes we do what is right and sometimes we do what is wrong? Is there something in us, some moral compass, some sense of morality that indicates how we should live in this world?
Much of the world argues today that there is no right or wrong, that everything is relative. What is right for me might be wrong for you, and what is right for you might be wrong for me.
In the final analysis, according to this way of thinking, I could never say that what you do is wrong and you could never say that what I do is wrong. No judge could ever pronounce the verdict “Guilty as charged” because there is no moral law, no right or wrong. Everything is culturally and even individually conditioned.
But that idea does not hold water. We may argue and justify our own behavior. We may, for example, rationalize and justify our adultery with another man’s wife in arguing that it is a private matter between two consenting adults and that it concerns no one else. But when the shoe is on the other foot, when another man commits adultery with our wife, we know that it is wrong. I may be able to rationalize stealing 10.000vt from you and pretend that nothing wrong has been done, but when you steal 10.000vt from me, I recognize that stealing is wrong.
In our heart of hearts, we know that there is right and there is wrong. It is built in us. It is part of the image of God in us. So when we do what we know we should not do, we feel guilt. When we fail to do what we know we should do, we feel guilt.
…the Christian worldview affirms that guilt is inescapably moral, and that our experience of guilt comes from the fact that we are made in God’s image as irreducibly moral creatures. We cannot not know of our guilt, which exists as God’s gift to drive us to the knowledge that we are sinners in need of a Savior.
We need a Savior. The power of the cross. Christ became sin for us. He took the blame. He bore the wrath. We stand forgiven at the cross.
MUSIC: KRISTYN GETTY – The Power of the Cross
Guilt in the Garden
Guilt and shame were experienced by Adam and Eve, the first couple. God had created them and placed them in the Garden of Eden to tend it and to enjoy every kind of fruit that he had placed there. With one exception. They were not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. It was a tree like any other. It was only of that one tree that they were not to eat. God was simply giving them the choice to love Him and keep His commandments or to disobey and to separate themselves from God.
It was a fruit tree and nothing more. God had already told them to be fruitful and to multiply. He had told them to procreate and have children. That was part of the blessing that God had given in creating us male and female. God gave them everything that they needed. And He had given them each other.
They had everything that they needed but there was one thing that they did not have, something that God could not give them, but something that God could only give them the opportunity to develop: godly character. That character would come from choosing to do what was good and right. God would not have robots serving Him. He wanted creatures, created in His image, who loved Him of their own free will and chose to obey Him.
Adam and Eve had known good, but not evil. Disobedient to God, they chose to know evil. With evil came shame and guilt. They knew that they had betrayed the love of their Creator. They knew that they had disobeyed Him. They knew that they had willfully and foolishly chosen their own way instead of God’s way. They tried to cover their shame. They tried to hide themselves, but they could not escape the voice of One coming into the garden:
“Adam, where are you?”
And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” 11 He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” 12 The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate” (Genesis 3:10-12 ESV).
Guilt. Shame. Blame. “It was not my fault. It was the woman that you gave me.”
Freudian psychology teaches us pretty much the same. It’s not your fault. It’s someone else’s fault. Blame your wife. Blame your parents. That’s the best way to deal with guilt and shame: blame others.
Except that it is not true. Healing and wholeness cannot come until we accept responsibility for our actions.
Guilt. How should we deal with it?
The Woman Caught in Adultery
This story in John 8 is the story of a woman who in the words of one translation “has been caught in adultery, in the very act” (John 8:4 NAU).
Shame and guilt are written all over this story.
Early in the morning [Jesus] came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. 3 The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst 4 they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. 5 Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” (John 8:2-5 ESV).
Can you imagine the setting? Here Jesus is in the temple. There is a crowd of people listening to him as he teaches. Suddenly, there in the temple is a commotion as a group of men, scribes and Pharisees, come barging in, dragging a woman in front of the crowd. Everything stops as she is placed there before Jesus and the onlookers.
Just moments before, she had been in the arms of a man who was not her husband. The doors flung open. She was seized and dragged through the streets of Jerusalem. Suddenly, she was thrust in front of a young man.
“Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of adultery. Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women to death. What then to you say?”
God’s verdict was clear:
“If a man is found lying with the wife of another man, both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman, and the woman. So you shall purge the evil from Israel (Deuteronomy 22:22 ESV).
“Both of them shall die.” Both of them. But where was the man? Why had they not brought the man? Had he paid them off? Had it all been a trap? Had he simply been too fast for them? They scribes and Pharisees say nothing about the man.
This was hypocrisy, pure and simple. The scribes and Pharisees were not concerned with justice; they were exploiting this woman. They were using her to try to trap Jesus:
“In the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” (v. 5).
“They were tying to trap him into saying something they could use against him…” (v. 6).
They hated Jesus. They were jealous of the influence that he had over the crowds. They were angry that he did not conform to the type of Messiah that they wanted. In John 5 the Jewish authorities wanted to stone because he had made himself equal with God. In chapter 7 we read that they were already plotting to kill him. Here in John 8 they are setting a trap for him: “Moses said that this kind of woman should be stoned. So what do you say?”
What could Jesus say? Well, he could tell them not to stone her, but then he would be found in contradiction with the Law of Moses and would be disqualified as the Messiah. Jesus himself had said in Matthew 5:17,
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them (Matthew 5:17 ESV).
Jesus had come to fulfill the Law. In fact, the Law and the Prophets, the entire Old Testament pointed to Christ as the fulfillment of the Scriptures.
Had Jesus told the scribes and Pharisees not to stone the adulteress woman, he would be abolishing the Law that he came to fulfill.
His other option would be to agree with them that the woman should be stoned. But the Jews were under Roman domination. The Jews did not have the legal right to put anyone to death. If Jesus agreed with the scribes and Pharisees, they would stone the woman and blame Jesus before the Romans: “The rabbi told us to stone her.” And they take care of their “Jesus problem.”
But the real problem was how justice and mercy could come together. Jesus came not to condemn, but to save:
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him (John 3:17 ESV).
It was a trap, and Jesus knew it. John has already told us that Jesus “knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man” (John 2:24-25 ESV). These self-righteous Pharisees were exploiting this woman in order to trap Jesus. What would he answer? At first, he said nothing.
“Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground” (v. 6b).
This poor woman! Who knows what she looked like? She had been dragged out and placed in the midst of these men whose eyes were full of condemnation and hatred toward her and toward Jesus.
But Jesus is full of compassion for the woman.
He will not crush the weakest reed or put out a flickering candle…(Matthew 12:20 NLT).
Jesus’ harshest words are not for sinners but for the self-righteous, for those religious people who think they are better than everyone else. Jesus is called the “friend of sinners” (Matthew 11:19). At another point, the Pharisees asked his disciples,
“Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 12 But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13 Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:11-13 ESV).
A man here in Port Vila once told me that he was too wicked to be saved. ***Jesus came to save the most wicked among us. That is the Good News of the gospel. Our God Is Mighty to Save.
MUSIC: LAURA STORY – MIGHT TO SAVE
Jesus bends down and begins writing with his finger on the ground. He takes the attention off the woman. In mercy, he bends down and draws the attention of the men away from this woman that they want stoned. He begins writing on the ground.
What does he write?
Does he write the names of the men and sins they have committed?
Well, we don’t know what he wrote, but it is interesting that this is a question about the Law. In the Old Testament, the Law was written on tablets of stone with “the finger of God” (Exodus 31:18). Now Jesus bends down and writes in the dust with his finger. The woman’s accusers were claiming Moses’ authority. Jesus was claiming a greater authority than that of Moses. He was writing with the finger of God. Jesus himself would do what the Law could not do.
The scribes and Pharisees kept demanding an answer. Jesus stood up straight. He looked them in the eyes and with a clear voice said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” (John 8:7 NLT).
“Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust” (John 8:8 NLT).
These men who enjoyed humiliating a woman and attempted to trap Jesus were now being accused by their own hearts.
“Let the one without sin cast the first stone.”
They once directed Jesus to answer their questions and now he is the one giving orders.
But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him (John 8:9 ESV).
One by one, they drop their stones. One by one, they walk away. The older ones first, perhaps because they had lived long enough to be more aware of their own failures. Perhaps their conscience had been pricked. Perhaps they were simply embarrassed that they had fallen into their own trap.
Alone with Jesus
Jesus writes in the dust again as the accusers slither off, one by one. The woman is now alone with Jesus: “Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him” (John 8:9 ESV).
Again Jesus stands up, this time looking at the woman:
“Woman, where are they?”
They had come to accuse. They had come to entrap. But now they were gone. Those accusing men who had dragged her through the streets and put her on public display in the temple, demanding that Jesus pass sentence on her… they were gone.
“Has no one condemned you?” (John 8:10 ESV),
“No one, Lord.”
“Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on, sin no more” (John 8:11 ESV).
Did you hear what Jesus said? “Go and from now on, sin no more.” The woman was guilty as charged. She had sinned. She was covered with guilt and shame. But Jesus does not condemn her, neither does he allow her to continue a life of sin: “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on, sin no more.”
“Let him who is without sin cast the first stone,” Jesus had said. There was only one there without sin: Jesus himself. The Scriptures are clear about this. Three times in John’s Gospel, Pilate declares, “I find no guilt in him” (Jn. 18:38; 19:4, 6).
2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
1 John 3:5 ESV You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin.
1 Peter 2:22 ESV He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth.
Hebrews 4:15 ESV For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.
“Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” Jesus could have, but he did not.
God through Moses had commanded her death. Now God the Son simply says, “Neither do I condemn you.” If God violates his own commandment and lets the guilty go unpunished, then God is unjust. How could God possibly let her off?
This sin of adultery would be punished to the full extent of the law, but the adulteress would not bear the punishment. The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29) would take her place. Jesus, the spotless Lamb, the sinless Son, the one who had no sin of his own, would take upon himself the sins of the whole world. He would bear our sins in his own body on the cross. He would bear this woman’s guilt and shame and punishment.
What had he written on the ground? Perhaps he had written the prophecy that Isaiah had written about him
Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed (Isaiah 53:4-5 ESV).
Neither do I condemn you, Jesus says. “No condemnation.”
MUSIC: HOSANNA MUSIC: NO CONDEMNATION
Paul says it this way in Romans 8:
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1 ESV).
For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit (Romans 8:3-4 ESV).
No condemnation. That does not mean that Jesus condones the sin, that he accepts it. He clearly tells the woman, “Go and sin no more.”
The Good News that we preach is that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. The Good News that we preach is that the One who had no guilt came to bear our guilt.
God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21 NIVO).
What Do You Do with Your Guilt?
The world says that you need not feel guilty. Deny it. Repress it.
The Christian worldview is that guilt is a gift from God to lead us to the Savior. Guilt is a recognition that there is right and there is wrong. There is good and there is evil. My conscience tells me that I have sinned against the knowledge that I have had. I have done things that I knew not to do. I have taken from the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. I have been found out. I have been discovered. “When the Holy Spirit is come,” Jesus said, “he will convict the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment” (John 16:8-10).
When the Holy Spirit convicts us of sin, what are we to do? When our conscience condemns us, how do we get rid of our guilt?
We come to Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. We give our guilt to Jesus.
If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. 9 But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts.
My dear children, I am writing this to you so that you will not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate who pleads our case before the Father. He is Jesus Christ, the one who is truly righteous. 2 He himself is the sacrifice that atones for our sins– and not only our sins but the sins of all the world (1 John 1:8-2 NLT).
Jesus is the one who bears our sin and shame. He is the one who bears our guilt.
“There is now therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).
Notice that Jesus did not first tell the woman, “Go and sin no more, and I will not condemn you.” He did not tell her that she would be forgiven if she did not sin anymore. He said first, “Neither do I condemn you.” Then he said, “Go, and from now on, sin no more.”
Does the burden of guilt weigh you down? You were not meant to carry your guilt. Come to Jesus. Cast all you care on him, for he cares for you (1 Peter 5:7).
Lay your burden down “At the Foot of the Cross.”
MUSIC: KATHRYN SCOTT – AT THE FOOT OF THE CROSS
We were not made to carry guilt. Bring your guilt, your shame, and your sin to Jesus.
See also “Gospel of John”:
- John 12:01-19, “The Triumphal Entry in the Shadow of the Cross”
- John 11:01-45, “When God Is Late”
- John 10:30-42, “Jesus, the Most Controversial Person in History”
- John 10:22-30, “Missing the Obvious: Jesus is the Christ”
- John 10:07-21, “The Good Shepherd, Part 2”
- John 10:01-06, “The Good Shepherd, Part 1”
- John 09:01-41, “Blind Man Seeing, Seeing Men Blind”
- John 08:48-59, “Who Does Jesus Make Himself Out To Be?”
- John 08:31-47, “Children of God, or Sons of Satan?”
- John 08:31-36, “Life’s Greatest Freedom!”