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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:Believe in the compassionate and merciful Jesus
Text:John 7:53-8:11 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Amazing Grace

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 100

Psalm 40:5 (after the law of God)

Psalm 103:1,2

Psalm 103:4,5

Hymn 81

Scripture reading:  Daniel 5

Text:  John 7:53-8:11

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of Christ,

Perhaps you can imagine how she felt.  Completely humiliated and ashamed.  Caught in bed with a man who wasn’t her husband.  And not just one man caught her, but at least two of the scribes and Pharisees, the Jewish religious leaders.  They caught her right in the act.  On that early morning, they dragged her out of bed, threw some clothes on her and hauled her to the temple.  Put yourself in her sandals.  Feel your shame.  People from the city are staring and shaking their heads at you because you’re a wicked woman.  Now you’re in the temple.  There’s a crowd.  There’s Jesus teaching them.  Suddenly, you’re standing in front of this famous rabbi with all these people looking on.  What’s he going to say about you?  What’s he going to say to you?  It can’t end well.

Now let’s step back from the scene.  It’s one of the most remarkable encounters not only in John’s gospel, but in the entire Bible.  What really makes it amazing is what it tells us about Jesus.  Yes, there’s a woman here who’s being badly treated.  She’s sinful, but she’s also being sinned against and quite badly.  We need to pay attention to her, but even more so our eyes are being directed to Jesus and how he reacts in this whole situation. 

Remember that the purpose of the Gospel According to John is to point you to Jesus.  The purpose is to call you to faith in him, so you would trust in him personally as your Saviour.  In this passage, Jesus is shown to be the complete opposite of the scribes and Pharisees.  They’re hateful, ruthless and merciless.  He’s loving, compassionate and merciful, even to broken sinners.  So I’ve summarized the point of our passage with the call to believe in the compassionate and merciful Jesus.

We’ll consider:

  1. The plot of the scribes and Pharisees
  2. The reaction of our Saviour
  3. The forgiveness our Saviour granted

Our passage starts in the evening.  Jesus had been at the temple in Jerusalem for the Feast of Booths.  Earlier in chapter 7, he had caused a division among the people.  There were those who thought he was the Christ, others thought he was dangerous, evil.  The religious leaders thought that he had to be stopped and they tried.  They sent the temple police to arrest him, but they couldn’t.  They needed to find other ways.

So as the sun was setting that day, Pharisee minds were plotting.  How could they trap Jesus?  How could they end him? 

In verse 53, the crowds dispersed – everyone going home for the evening.  Jesus goes to the Mount of Olives – perhaps to pray, or perhaps the home he was staying at was in that vicinity.  The sun goes down and dark settles over Jerusalem.

Somewhere in the city is a house.  In that house a man and a woman are committing adultery, sin against the seventh commandment.  As morning dawns, a surprise gets sprung.  The religious leaders have been waiting in the dark to catch them in the act.  How did they know the couple would be in bed together?  It seems rather convenient that morning comes and some religious leaders are there to witness the act of adultery.  Too convenient, really.  It has the smell of a set-up.  Under God’s law, for someone to be charged with something like adultery, there had to be at least two witnesses.  They had to actually witness the adultery in progress.  It doesn’t take much imagination to figure out that under normal circumstances that would be difficult to achieve.  But in this scenario, it all just worked out.  As I said, a little too conveniently for the scribes and Pharisees.

It’s also a little too convenient that the man involved is nowhere to be seen.  It takes two to tango, right?  Where’s the adulterer?  He conveniently disappears and he doesn’t get hauled before Jesus.  It’s just the woman.  It really does smell like a set-up, doesn’t it?  It’s a set-up for the woman, who in turn is being used to trap Jesus. 

The exact details of the plot of the scribes and Pharisees are lost to us.  But it seems to me they knew what kind of woman this was.  They were looking for a woman with her reputation.  Then it wouldn’t have been difficult to arrange for an unscrupulous man to seduce her.  Maybe a little bribe, a promise of a good time for an evening, and the plot would have been all neatly in place.  He would get off scot-free and they would have their adulteress to trap Jesus and end him.  If that’s how it went down, it would have seemed like a brilliant plot. 

But also a wicked plot.  Even if it was just a matter of waiting to catch the woman, they were out looking for a sinner to catch in the act so they could catch Jesus in his words.  They were looking for a sinner so they could use that sinner to destroy Jesus.  Are you starting to see the twisted and perverse sin of these religious leaders?  They wanted to use someone else’s sin in order to commit an even worse sin.  And if it’s true that they organized the first sin to begin with, that’s even more wicked.  They’re supposed to be leaders among God’s people, but the only thing they’re showing leadership in is how to be evil. 

Loved ones, let’s learn from this something important about sin, and also our own sin.  We can look at this passage and we can easily see the perverseness of the sin of others.  I see it clearly and I think you do too.  It’s not just the sin of adultery, bad enough as that is.  No one should think this passage is minimizing adultery or any sexual sin.  It’s not.  Sexual sin is wicked, whether it’s adultery or anything else.  But our passage is more concerned with the sin of these religious leaders.  They somehow think they’re doing God’s work by hiding out in a bedroom to catch a woman in adultery so they can take her and weaponize her against Jesus.  They’re so blind.  They think they’re being good religious people by using a fellow sinner to take out Jesus – but they can’t see that they’re the worst sinners in all this.  Sin blinds you to your own sinfulness.  It blinds me.  It blinds you.  Don’t look at these religious leaders without looking at yourself and seeing something of their perverse wickedness in your own sinful heart.  Their wickedness lives in your heart too.  It’s why you need Jesus as your Saviour.  It’s why you need his Holy Spirit to transform your heart throughout your life.  When you see yourself in this twisted picture, hate it, brothers and sisters.  Hate sin, hate your twisted sin which destroys yourself and other people with you.  Despise your own sinfulness, turn from it, and again look to Christ for forgiveness and healing.  As we’ll see, he is a compassionate and merciful Saviour and stands ready to forgive.    

So all of that perverse plotting was going on in the evening and into the early morning.  We’re at verse 2 and Jesus arrives back at the temple.  He’s in the outer courts and the people gather around him.  He sits down and begins to teach, just as he did before.  The people listen intently to his words.  Remember what the officers said in 7:46, “No one ever spoke like this man!”  Everyone knew there was something different about Jesus. 

Then in verse 3 the scribes and Pharisees come roaring back onto the scene.  They have the woman they caught in adultery.  They thrust her into the middle of the crowd right in front of Jesus.  All eyes are focussed on this shameful woman.  If you were in her shoes, you’d be trembling and afraid, not to mention embarrassed.  Everyone is going to know what you’ve done. 

The religious leaders make sure everyone does know.  In verse 4, they announce it for everyone to hear.  They trumpet her sin of adultery for everyone in the temple to hear.  But they’re especially pointing out her sin to Jesus.  For added effect, they flatter him by calling him “Teacher.”  They don’t regard him as a teacher.  This is insincere, but they say it because the crowds regard him highly.  They need to be seen as treating him respectfully even though that’s the furthest thing from their minds.  Their insincerity adds to their sin.

Now comes the clincher, the whole point.  Look at verse 5.  These wicked men appeal to God’s good law, given through Moses.  It’s true the law spoke against adultery – the seventh commandment.  It’s true that the Law of God given to Israel said that those committing adultery should be put to death.  It’s in Leviticus 20:10 and Deuteronomy 22:22.  According to them, God says this woman should be stoned.  Then they put it to Jesus:  what do you say?

Notice the commentary in the first part of verse 6.  Here the Holy Spirit gives us insight into what’s really going on.  He says that they were testing him to try and find a way to accuse him.  It’s a trap.  So what’s the exact nature of the trap here?  They’re trying to impale Jesus on the horns of a dilemma.  The dilemma is this:  if Jesus says the woman shouldn’t be stoned, he’s turned against the law of God.  He’ll be in trouble with the Sanhedrin and they’ll have legitimate grounds to end him.  But if Jesus says the woman should be stoned, he’ll be in trouble with the Romans.  The Romans were in control and the Jews couldn’t just execute anyone they wanted without the Romans’ permission.  The Romans didn’t allow the Jews to stone people for adultery.  It hadn’t happened in Israel for a long time and if Jesus said they should do it, he would be viewed as a rebel against the Romans and they could finish him off for the Jews.  They figured they had Jesus trapped good and proper.

Now look at the next part of verse 6.  Instead of responding to them with his mouth, Jesus wrote something in the sand.  What did Jesus write?  Bible commentators have several different answers to that question.  But in the end, they’re all theories and can’t be proven.  The fact of the matter is we don’t know what Jesus wrote here or in verse 8.  There’s just zero evidence to tell us.  But that doesn’t mean it’s meaningless.  We read from Daniel 5.  It’s a great story, but it also connects to this passage.  Belshazzar sees a finger mysteriously appear and start writing on the walls of his palace.  Whose finger was it?  It was the finger of God.  The writing was announcing judgment on the Babylonians for their pride.  So there we have a passage where there’s a finger writing something mysterious.  The finger of God.   Moreover, in Exodus 31:18, we’re told that the Ten Commandments were written on the stone tablets “with the finger of God.”  Regardless of what Jesus wrote, his writing said that he was God come with true and just judgment.  Jesus is God come in the flesh.  They were about to be confronted with God’s assessment of the whole situation.  Jesus is revealing to them how God regarded what they were trying to do.         

Verse 7 says that they continued pestering him to give them a verbal answer.  He finally stood up and said some of the most quoted words of Jesus, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”  Those words are often quoted, but they’re also often misapplied.  Jesus isn’t saying that since no one is perfect, no one can judge others.  He’s not saying, for example, that because police officers are sinful, they should never arrest anyone.  He’s also not saying that because office bearers are sinful, they’re never allowed to put anyone under discipline.  He’s not saying that you should never admonish someone who’s living in sin because you’re a sinful person too.  Jesus isn’t saying any of those things and anyone who makes him out to be saying those things is dead wrong.

Can you guess what’s crucial here?  Context.  Context is everything.  Here you have Jesus, the Son of God, God come in the flesh.  He’s not an ordinary human being.  He’s also God.  As God, he knows what’s really happening here.  He may have been at the Mount of Olives while all that drama in the bedroom was unfolding, but as God he still knew what was happening.  He knew what the scribes and Pharisees had done.  Jesus knew how they had conveniently found a woman caught in adultery and were now going to weaponize her against him. 

That’s why he says, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”  He’s not approving of her adultery.  He’s not setting aside the law.  He’s not saying that only sinless people can admonish or deal with other sinners.  What he is saying is that these scribes and Pharisees in front of him in the temple are far more wicked than the woman they caught.  He’s exposing them.  He’s condemning them.  As God, he is judging their wickedness.  They want the woman condemned, but the God they think they’re serving condemns them.  They’re way more evil than the woman for the way they tried to plot and conspire against him, even to the point of humiliating this woman in public.  Jesus gets to the heart of the matter – and their hearts are the matter.  Their wicked, sinful hearts are bent on the destruction of the Messiah God sent into the world.

So, brothers and sisters, don’t ever use the words of Jesus in verse 7 to say that no one is allowed to point out sin.  It doesn’t mean that.  What it does mean is that when we do point out sin and try to deal with it, we better be sure we haven’t been part of it.  We better be sure that we didn’t engineer it or plot it out in order to destroy someone.  We better be sure to approach a fellow sinner with true humility and sincere love.  That’s what the scribes and Pharisees weren’t doing.  They didn’t care about that woman.  They had no heart for her at all.  They just saw her as a means to an end.  She and her sin of adultery were just means they could use to get to Jesus.  But when we find a brother or sister caught in some sin, we ought to deal with it not to further our own agenda, but because we care about that brother or sister.  We care about their well-being and where they’re going to spend eternity.                            

Now look at verse 8.  Jesus again writes on the ground.  Again, we don’t know what he wrote.  But his writing was meant to prick their conscience.  God was there to prick their conscience in a powerful way.  It was as if he was saying, “You prideful, wicked men, how could you do this?  Don’t you see that you’re in the wrong here?” 

Amazingly, at some level they do.  In verse 9, we see them all going away one by one.  The older scribes and Pharisees see it first and soon the others do too.  Before long, they’re all gone.  The crowd is still there – they’re still in the temple.  But otherwise, it’s just Jesus and the woman.  Now everyone must be wondering:  what is Jesus going to say to this sinful woman? 

He stands up and says, “Woman, where are they?  Has no one condemned you?”  When he says, “Woman,” that’s not a disrespectful way of speaking.  He spoke to his mother in the same way in John 2 and the Samaritan woman in John 4.  That’s just a standard way of addressing a woman in those days.  No disrespect at all.  Then with his questions he just draws attention to the fact that her accusers have been dismissed.  The case against her has fallen apart.  Jesus graciously made it fall apart.  She was guilty, but without any witnesses, her case is over.  Don’t you see the gospel in this?  You’re guilty too.  There’s a case against you.  There are witnesses.  But if you place your trust in Christ, the case falls apart.  You can walk out of the courtroom justified.  The accusations don’t stick and you’re considered righteous by the Judge.  All because you have a compassionate and merciful Mediator, one who intervenes for you, just as he intervened for this woman.

In verse 11, she briefly replies to Jesus, “No one, Lord.”  That word “Lord” can sometimes just mean “sir,” but it can sometimes mean that someone has become a disciple of Christ and a believer in him.  In John’s gospel, almost every time someone calls Jesus “Lord,” that person is a disciple and believer.  Is that true of this woman here?  It would appear so, especially in view of Christ says next. 

He says, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”  As someone once said, the only one who was in a position to throw a stone didn’t.  That’s mercy.  Remember that this is Jesus, the Son of God, God come in the flesh.  As God, he has every right to say “You’re not condemned.”  Moreover, these words reveal God’s compassion and mercy.  We hear words coming straight from the heart of God.  When Jesus says, “I do not condemn you,” what he means is the opposite:  she is forgiven.  She’s released from her debt to God’s justice for her wicked behaviour.  She deserves hell, but Jesus releases her from what she deserves.  The wages of sin is death.  But he says, “I’ll take your wages for you.”  That’s what Christ does for all who believe.  He offers full and free forgiveness for all sins, past, present, and future.  Forgiveness – what a beautiful word, a word that when applied to us should make our hearts leap and sing for joy!  Release from everything I owe to God for my sin.  It’s all wiped away with the blood of the cross.  I’m free from the chains of hell and eternal suffering.  I’m forgiven.  If you’re a Christian, you’re forgiven.  Don’t you want to praise God?        

Again, Jesus is not saying, “Go ahead and commit adultery and it’s all fine.  I’ll look the other way while you have your fun.”  He’s not saying, “I don’t condemn sexual immorality.”  Let’s be abundantly clear about that.  The Bible elsewhere says that Jesus is coming to judge the living and the dead.  In 1 Corinthians 6, we read that if you live in sexual immorality, you’re going to hell.  Young people, young adults, everyone, listen:  if you live in the sin of having sex outside of marriage (any kind of sex), if you keep on doing that sin and you think it’s okay, you’re not a Christian and you’re not going to heaven.  Jesus will condemn you at the last day.  The Bible is clear about that.  This is what it says in Revelation 22:14-15 [read].  So if you’re living in sexual sin, you need to repent.  Right now.  Repent right now before it’s too late.  You need to turn from that sin, hate it, and ask God’s forgiveness through Christ.  

Whenever there’s faith and repentance Jesus says, “I do not condemn you.”  He will receive all repentant sinners with compassion and mercy.  And then he urges us on to a life of continuing repentance.  That’s what he does with his last words to the woman, “Go, and from now on sin no more.”  It’s one thing to get caught in a sin.  It’s another thing to continue in sin after having been forgiven.  Once we’ve experienced the compassion and mercy of Jesus, we can’t go back to living in sin.  We have to strive for a life of repentance.  A life where we hate sin and flee from it.

So let me ask you brother, you sister, have you experienced for yourself the compassion and mercy of Jesus?  Do you have the confidence that because of him you’re not condemned?  Are you 100% sure that forgiveness is yours because of what Christ did for you on the cross?  I pray that all of you can answer those questions positively.  But then, I also speak to you God’s Word, “Go, and from now on sin no more.”  Don’t be one those people who thinks they’re a forgiven Christian, yet their life doesn’t show it.  Don’t be one of those people who deceive themselves into thinking they’re a heaven-bound Christian, when they keep going back to their sin like a dog to its vomit.  If you really know the compassion and mercy of Christ, hate all the sin in your life and flee from it.  Wage war against sin, brothers and sisters.  Pray for God to help you with his Holy Spirit in doing that, because you can’t do it on your own.

We began with trying to put ourselves in the sandals of this woman as she was caught in her sin of adultery.  As we finish, try putting yourself in her place as she heard these words of Jesus.  Her sin was exposed publicly, but so was her forgiveness.  Jesus forgave her in front of all the crowds.  Can you imagine the emotions that must have overwhelmed her?  There must have been relief, a burden lifted, shame vanquished.  But there must also have been great joy, rich deep gospel joy as she left the temple that day.  Jesus had personally forgiven her in front of everyone.  Perhaps some years later she would have been worshipping in a Christian congregation.  Perhaps the scroll would have been unrolled.  The pastor would begin reading from Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  She would have said, “That’s my story.  Praise God, that’s my story.”  Loved ones, let it be the story for each one of us, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” for he is indeed our merciful and compassionate Saviour.  AMEN. 


Our compassionate and merciful Jesus,

How we love you and praise you for who you are and what you do.  Your heart loves us.  You give us abounding mercy.  We worship you as our compassionate and sympathetic High Priest.  You understand us.  You know how we are so prone to sin.  Yet you promise not to condemn us when we come to you with faith and repentance.  Lord Jesus, we do.  We place our trust fully in you, asking that all our sins and wickedness would be washed away with your blood.  Some of us have sinned against the seventh commandment in various ways, just like the woman you forgave.  We confess that to be wicked and sinful, Lord.  We’re sorry and we ask you to remove all our sin, wipe it away with your blood shed on the cross.  Please give us all the assurance that there’s no condemnation for us as we trust in you.  Also, Lord, we ask for your Holy Spirit to strengthen us for a life of repentance.  We want to hate all sin and fight against it.  But in ourselves, we know we’re spiritual weaklings.  We get defeated so easily on our own.  Lord, send your Holy Spirit to fill us more and more so we can and do go from here and live in our sins no more.  Please give us your indispensable help.                       

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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