Go and Sin No More!

This sermon can be watched or listened to at www.templebaptistchurch.ca!

Have you ever been caught doing something wrong? Maybe you had your hands in the cookie jar. Maybe you got caught lying? Your family or close friends know your tells or guilty looks. You can’t hide! I recall when I was 16 years old that I went fishing with my dad, though fishing was not on my mind. We got to the pond and I said to my dad, “I have something to tell you.” Now this was shortly after I got my driver’s license. I then confessed that I was driving along Grand Avenue in Chatham in our little brown Chevette car. The car that my parents bought cheap and slow knowing that their teenage kids would soon ask to borrow it. Well, I was 16 and wanted to see what that Chevette, nicknamed the “Shove It,” could do. I soon found out and was stopped by the police going 18 km or about 10 miles over the speed limit – probably maxing out the Shove It’s top speed. It was horrible and scary to see that flashing light in my rearview mirror. I was caught in my sin of breaking the law and I needed help. So I confessed my guilt to my father. My dad told me that I had to do two things: 1) Tell my mother; and 2) Pay the fine myself. My dad was gracious enough to drive me to the county courthouse so I could pay the fine.

Now it is one thing to get caught in your sin, but it is another to get entrapped in your sin. Police call that a sting operation. It stings more when you are surprised by your accusers! Did you know that there was a sting operation in the Bible? Let’s read about it in John 8:1-11 and see what Jesus does with people caught in sin. Read John 8:1-11!

I picture this story like what often happens in cop movies. A cop is chasing after a bad guy and the cop finally catches the guy red-handed either buying drugs or guns or some other illegal contraband. However, the dealer escapes just before all these other federal agents come flying out of nowhere to apprehend the dealer. There were two sting operations going on at once – the low-level sting operation by the cop to catch the addict and the high-level sting operation to catch the dealer. In John 8, there were multiple sting operations going on. The first one seems obvious: catching a woman caught in adultery. But the second sting operation was to catch a bigger target: Jesus. To set the stage for this sting operation, you need to know what has happened to this point of the story. Jesus had the audacity to heal a man who had been ill for 38 years at the pool of Bethesda on a Sabbath – the holy day of rest for the Jews. We read about this story in John 5. The man, even though he finally could walk again, then outs Jesus to the authorities. The irony being that Jesus healed the man at the pool of Bethesda with Bethesda meaning “house of hesed – loving kindness; covenant loyalty.” Jesus had been so kind and loyal to the man at the pool showing him grace, but no good deed goes unpunished. The healed man sets off a chain reaction despite Jesus giving him a warning to “Behold, you have become well; stop sinning or something worse will happen to you.” (John 5:14) Jesus demonstrated perfect grace and truth (John 1:14), but the religious leaders of that day threw a fit. And so they start to plot how to kill Jesus and Judea becomes dangerous for Jesus, so He goes back to His home region of Galilee. But then the yearly Festival of Tabernacles comes around, which required everybody to live in tents for a week near Jerusalem to remember the Israelites 40 years of living in tents during their time of wandering in the wilderness. So Jesus has to go back to Jerusalem to fulfill the Law. And as we learned in John 7, everybody presumed they knew who Jesus was but were sorely mistaken. They didn’t understand Jesus would become the resurrected Saviour and Satisfier of their souls. Instead of embracing Jesus as their Saviour and Satisfaction, three times in John 7 they try to either arrest or kill Jesus (John 7:1, 32, 44), but with no success.

So they come up with a plan to catch Jesus – a sting operation. Now, let me hit the pause button because some of your Bibles have a footnote in them that says most of the earliest manuscripts do not include this story. I believe this story is true and really happened, even if it wasn’t included in the first edition of John’s Gospel. It is one of my favourite stories because it demonstrates that Jesus perfectly balances grace and truth so unlike the rest of us, especially me. I am either too hard or too soft on people, especially when they are caught in sin. Only Jesus had the Goldilocks approach to sin and handled it “justttt right!”

How did He handle just right? To find out, we need to know that we see people going in opposite directions in this story. John 7:53 says after this attempt to arrest Jesus, “everyone went to his home.” Except that not everyone went to their own home. A woman and a man didn’t go each to their own homes. One of them went to the home of the other and violated their marriage bed. And apparently they were followed. The Scribes and Pharisees were peeping toms. They catch the two in the act of adultery. You see, proving adultery in Jesus’ day was very hard. Everything had to be established by two or three witnesses. Deuteronomy 19:15 requires, “A single witness shall not rise up against a man on account of any iniquity or any sin which he has committed; on the evidence of two or three witnesses a matter shall be confirmed.” So if you think about it, most illicit couples, especially in a shame-based culture like the Jews, would have tried to be discreet. For them to be caught would have most likely been a set up. In fact, I think the adulterous man was a plant. Philip Yancey wonders “maybe she was caught in bed with a Pharisee.”[1] Whoever he was, he prostituted himself for the sake of the Pharisees. Why? Because John 8:3 records, “The Scribes and Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery.” The big question is what? Where is the man? Now, you can get caught in solo sexual sin such as looking at porn, but to get caught in adultery – well, as the saying goes it takes two to tango! But the text makes it clear that only the woman is charged with the crime. This means, as any good lawyer knows, these charges should have been thrown out of court because the lawyer would have asked for the other accused to be charged as well. You have to charge two people with adultery, otherwise the charges don’t stick! But as we all know, “In many societies around the world: when it comes to sexual sins, the woman was much more likely to be in legal and social jeopardy than her paramour.”[2] The religious leaders who were in place to protect the purity of Israel, were actually making people dirty. You see, when we have hatred in our heart like the Pharisees, we manipulate the rules to serve us. We keep only half the rules! But keeping half the rules means you are breaking half of them too. In fact, you are breaking all of them as James 2:10 states, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.” Later on, we will find out that picking and choosing the rules to serve us will in fact condemn us.

What was Jesus doing when all this was going down? If this is a chronological account, then we learn from John 8:1 that Jesus was up on the Mount of Olives. Let that sink in! The Mount of Olives was Jesus’ usual place to pray (Luke 22:39). Jesus was praying for people, while the Pharisees were preying on people. What a contrast! And then Jesus goes into the Temple and begins to teach the people who were coming to Him (John 8:2). Can you envision the picture? Jesus had just spent the night praying for people and wants to teach them in one of the holiest places on earth – the Temple of Jerusalem. Jesus wanted people to know God at this holy place. The Temple was to be the place where people were to meet, pray and worship God. But the religious leaders, who were supposed to be teaching the people, were trapping people and dirtying the Temple by keeping only half the rules. Worse, they were doing all of this to condemn not only a woman, but also her Creator. They wanted to trip up Jesus and also make Him sin. If Jesus were to excuse the woman and be soft of adultery, He could be accused of not keeping the Law and thereby sin. But if Jesus were to join the Pharisees in the execution, He would be in trouble with the general Jewish population who, like our own society, at this time wanted to excuse adultery. Furthermore, if Jesus were join in the execution, He might be in trouble with the Romans who required that only they had the power to exercise capital punishment as overlords and occupiers. Jesus is in a real predicament. In either excuse or execution, the Pharisees wanted Jesus to err on the side of grace or truth and thus have reason to kill Him. What a wicked scheme! Don’t you despise the Pharisees! Until you look in the mirror and see yourself in your robes ready to cast judgment on others without seeing your own sins. As Blaise Pascal, the great mathematician said, “Truly it is an evil to be full of faults, but it is a still greater evil to be unwilling to recognize them.”

So am I teaching that people should get a pass on adultery? I have been pretty hard on religious people. If you have ever been cheated on, you know how devastating adultery can be. You gave yourself to a person trusting them with all your stuff and your soul and they thought it wasn’t good enough so they went after somebody else. This is why adultery was a capital crime and still is in some Muslim countries where adulterers are buried in sand to their waist and stoned. The Old Testament in Deuteronomy 22:22 makes it clear, “If a man is found lying with a married woman, then both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman, and the woman; thus you shall purge the evil from Israel.” This is unlike today, when adultery is no longer a crime, but some have recognized its destruction on society. Vice-President Mike Pence is quoted as saying, “What is real is that adultery destroys tens of thousands of families every year across America. What is real is that adultery scars tens of thousands of children emotionally and psychologically every year. What is real is that adultery is an open wound in a relationship, which more often than not overflows into domestic violence or worse.” We need to be vigilant to keep ourselves faithful and pure as Noel Piper, the wife of the famous pastor John Piper, tweeted this week after reflecting on her marriage of 48 years. Faithfulness requires she says: “Not flirting with others; avoiding people who seem too interested, not meeting alone with others of the opposite sex; and having regular prayer and Scripture reading with your spouse.”[3] I would add what has helped me to stay faithful to Lori these 21 years is to have my affections on her and most of all on my Lord. Avoid adultery at all costs!

But what if you are caught in sin whether it is adultery or any sin? When you catch others sinning or are caught in sin yourself, Jesus says, “Go and Sin No More!” In the story, Jesus isn’t just saying this to the woman, but also to the Pharisees, Scribes and anybody else who will listen. Jesus’ response to their charge against the woman was to do something very peculiar. He didn’t even taken on the role of the lawyer and say, “Where’s the man?” Verse 6 reports, “They were saying this, testing Him, so that they might have grounds for accusing Him. But Jesus stooped down and with His finger wrote on the ground.” Jesus just starts writing on the ground in the sand. What did He write? Scholars speculate but ultimately we don’t know! John, the Gospel writer, doesn’t tell us so we are only left to speculate. I think Jesus wrote down the sins of the Pharisees, possibly sins that they thought were secret. Maybe Jesus even wrote down the names of the women they had lusted after or slept with outside of marriage? My Grampie Stairs, a pastor and preacher, thought that the first thing Jesus wrote was the name of the woman that the eldest Pharisee never wanted his wife to find out about. The second thing Jesus wrote was a date and place. In truth, we don’t know, but whatever Jesus wrote had an effect. Verse 7 records, “But when they persisted in asking Him, He straightened up and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone at her.” And then Jesus went back to writing in the sand again as verse 8 tells us.

They say, “The pen is mightier than the sword.” How much more the Finger of God (Luke 11:20) when He writes out our sins. The powerful become weak! Verse 9 evidences this truth, “When they heard it, they began to go out one by one, beginning with the older ones and He was left alone and the woman, where she was, in center of the court.” They slinked away! William Shakespeare wrote in his play Hamlet, “Conscience doth make cowards of us all.” Jesus with a few swipes of His finger in the sand can undo us. He can convict us of our sin and He can convict of our judgmental hypocrisy. You see, “Instead of passing judgment on the woman, Jesus passed judgment on the judges.”[4] And, “Those who had come to shame Jesus now leave in shame.”[5] Jesus saw the woman differently than the men saw her. Probably beautiful and lonely, the woman was an object of their lust and a tool to gain power. Jesus saw her as someone to appropriately love and to demonstrate grace and truth. It reminds me of the “Scene from the movie Ironweed, the characters played by Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep stumble across an old Inuit woman lying in the snow, probably drunk. Besotted themselves, the two debate what they should do with her:

‘Is she drunk or a bum?’ asks Nicholson.

‘Just a bum! Been one all her life.’

‘And before that?’

‘She was a whore in Alaska.’

‘She hasn’t been a whore all her life. Before that?’

‘I dunno. Just a little kid, I guess.’

‘Well, a little kid’s something. It’s not a bum and it’s not a whore. It’s something. Let’s take her in.’”[6]

You see, we need to see people as broken, but redeemable. When you catch others sinning or are caught in sin yourself, Jesus says, “Go and Sin No More!” Those five words summarize the gospel. Jesus offers the freedom to escape the penalty of sin. He says, “Go!” Too many of us don’t do that. We stay stuck in the sin. We don’t move past the guilt and shame and accept Jesus’ offer of grace. Some of you are completely paralyzed by your guilt and shame. Jesus is saying to you, “Neither do I condemn you! Get up and go!” “For Jesus to forgive this woman meant that He had to one day die for her sins.”[7] This means that every time you and I stay stuck in our sin, we don’t believe in the power of the Cross! You need to get up today from the sin of your past and go forward in your life with a new gratitude for Jesus’ grace to you! Go!

But go where? Back to sin? Back to the muck and mire? Back to mess and wickedness as a dog eats it own vomit? No, go and sin no more! “The proper response to mercy … of past sins is purity in the future.”[8] When we truly understand how Jesus has rescued us from death – the wages of sin – then it should motivate us to obey, to walk in purity.

However, to walk in purity sexually means to walk in purity spiritually. And this starts with our hypocrisy. Part of going and sinning no more is destroying our pride. We, like the Pharisees, need to have our own drop your rock moment as one Bible teacher has said. This is why we gave each of you a rock today. Not to throw it at me or others. Please grab your rock and stand up! Do you feel that rock? It represents all the judgment in your heart. How you see yourself better than others? Maybe you even are your own worst judge and speak words of self-condemnation for the things you have done? You have replaced Jesus on the Judgment Seat. Think about all the times you have judged and condemned people when you yourself have sinned. The size of your stone may be the size of your hypocrisy and stony heart. That is why my rock is the biggest. It is time to recognize Jesus’ perfect and grace and truth in your life. Drop your rock! Drop your rock and go and sin no more!

[1] Philip Yancey, What is So Amazing About Grace? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997, 181.

[2] D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John – The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991), 336.

[3] Noel Piper, “Will You Cleave and Leave Your Man?” www.desiringgod.org (July 17, 2017)

[4] Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary – Volume 1 (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1989), 319.

[5] Carson, 336.

[6] As told by Philip Yancey in his bestseller What is So Amazing about Grace? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997), 280.

[7] Wiersbe, 320.

[8] Carson, 337.

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