He that is without sin …
It is truly a stroke of genius. One line from Jesus disarms a deadly mob and turns all our perceptions right-side-up. From the outside it seems like a crowd of righteous Jews are justly using the law of Moses to condemn one unrighteous woman. Yet through this one sentence, Jesus flips it all around. Actually the whole crowd is unrighteous. And, once Christ’s words have had their effect, only the flagrant sinner is left standing before Him. And she’s the one declared righteous!
Let’s see how it happens.
“Early in the morning he came again into the temple, and all the people came unto him; and he sat down, and taught them. And the Scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst, They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou? This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him.” (John 8:2-5)
They think they have trapped Jesus. Either He sides with Moses and condones an unpopular stoning (which would attract the unwanted attention of the Romans), or He saves the woman and appears to dismiss the teaching of Moses. Which would it be?
Well notice first that they aren’t interested in this woman. And they aren’t particularly interested in the law either – for the law would hold the man to account also, but where was he? They simply want to use this woman as a pawn in their game, and the law as a weapon in their war against Jesus. But neither the woman, nor Moses were meant to be used like this! So Jesus refuses to play their game…
“But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not. So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her. And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground.” (John 8:6-8)
It’s one of the coolest moments in all the Bible! If you directed the movie version of this scene, who would play Jesus? I’m imagining Clint Eastwood. Slowly, calmly and with absolute conviction Jesus pierces through the self-righteous pretence of the crowd. And the simplicity of His point is unanswerable. Jesus, the Light of the world, has shone His light into their hearts. He does what the law was meant to do – hold up a mirror to our own guilt. What were they going to do?
Would they turn it all around and confess to Jesus their sham righteousness? No. They just retreat further into the darkness…
“And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.” (John 8:9)
The “righteous” flee away like bats, the “unrighteous one” sticks close, like a moth. This is the perennial response to the Light of the world. The Friend of sinners repulses the “righteous” and attracts the “sinners” in equal measure.
So there she stands before sinless Jesus – the one Person who has a right to stone her! Yet she remains there just as she is, with no right to expect anything other than condemnation.
“When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee? She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.” (John 8:10-11)
This woman was dragged to the Temple courts expecting ritualised shaming and a bloody death. Instead her accusers are shamed and she is justified. The Judge of the whole world exonerates her and she is freed.
Now that she is beyond condemnation, she will want to sin no more. She has stared the consequences of sin full in the face and been spared. The last thing she will want to do now is return to a life of sin. She has been saved from sin and she leaves these temple courts a changed woman.
Maybe it’s because I’m a man, but if I ever imagine myself in this story, it’s always in the shoes of the mob. I never think of myself as the one facing execution. Yet Jesus’ famous saying should point me in just this direction. I am not a just accuser, I’m the accused. I’ve been dragged in front of judge and jury and I’m utterly guilty. I should face death and condemnation. But Jesus has intercepted the judgement and I am saved.
So today Jesus says to me: “I do not condemn you, you are free, go and sin no more.”