Neither Do I Condemn You
John 8:2-11 TNIV: At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
The apostle Paul says: But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment (1 Cor 11:31).
They came before the son of God and asked him to pass judgment. I am not sure they knew what they were doing. This was the son of God, the creator of heaven and earth, the omnipotent, the one with all power over life and death. He appeared as a human being with no obvious power, but he was the one who could silence the storm and the sea and who could raise the dead. He is the omniscient, the one with all knowledge about every creature, about their thoughts and deeds. They came to him and asked: will you please pass judgment.
Sometimes we think like that, don't we? When we have an argument with someone. Maybe someone at work. Maybe someone in our family. If only there were an impartial judge that knew everything about this argument I am having and its prehistory, then I would be vindicated. If only there were someone who knew about all the things I had to take into consideration and who knew why I acted the way I did and who also knew how unjustly I am being treated by this person with whom I am having this argument. Then this impartial, all-knowing judge would surely say that I am in the right. If only there were someone who knew it all.
I remember when I was a young man, when I was an undergraduate student. Admittedly, it is hard for me to remember so far back into the past, so I can't guarantee that all the details that I'll tell you are accurate. Anyway, I lived in the dorms at the time, and there was a lot of social activity going on. There was especially one girl that liked to prepare some good tasting food and have people over. And for some reason, I usually got to be invited too. And I always gladly accepted. Later in the year, it was my birthday and I decided that I wanted to invite some people myself. So I invited a few of my friends, but not this girl whose hospitality I had been enjoying for quite a period of time. When she found out about this she got a little upset and let me hear about it.
This incident made me think about why I had not invited her in the first place. And the reason stood clear in my mind: I did not think that she was good enough to be brought together with my friends. Of course, I never had any doubts that I was good enough to be brought together with her friends. But she was not good enough for my company.
But what became so clear to me was that in passing a judgment on her, I really condemned myself. My attitude was revealed as egocentric and self-righteous.
In a way this pathetic incident reminds me of our text for today. Those who were interested in passing a judgment on someone else were the ones that were condemned. They did not know what they were doing when they came to Jesus, the one that knows everything about us, everything that we have done, everything that we have said, everything that we have thought, everything that we have wished, he knows it all. They came to him and asked for judgment. And they got it. It was just that the judgment was the exact opposite of what they had anticipated. Instead of passing a judgment on the woman, as they had expected, Jesus turns the tables and directs the judgment against themselves:
“Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7). Now they had to answer for themselves. Not only for their actions but for their heart.
To the woman, who was caught in the act, with no way to escape, Jesus said: “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.” Very often I think that we are not getting the full impact of this. These verses from the Bible are very often quoted and they are very often used to say that we need not take sins and trespasses so seriously. Because there is no condemnation.
But wait a minute. How many sinless persons were present at this incident? Obviously, no one, except Jesus himself. How many sinners were present? Obviously, quite a few. To how many was it said: neither do I condemn you? Only one.
Imagine the woman. She was caught in the act of adultery. There was no denying the fact. And the law of God was crystal clear: the one that does this, shall die. When the scribes brought this woman to Jesus, it was one of their vicious ways of presenting him with an impossible dilemma. Jesus claimed to be coming from God, not only that, but to be the son of God. If he said anything other than passing a death sentence on the woman, he would be caught in contradicting the very word of God. And how would that square with him being the son of God?
If, on the other hand, he did pass the death sentence, he would be guilty of rebellion against the Roman emperor. The land of Israel was under Roman rule at the time and under Roman jurisdiction. Judging in legal cases rested with the Roman governor. More importantly, if Jesus passed a death sentence on this woman, how would that square with his ministry of compassion with the unfortunate and forgiveness of sin?
Although the law of Moses prescribed the death sentence for adultery, there is no evidence that this ever took place, certainly not in Roman times. Sometimes, some zealous Jews would take the law into their own hands and executed people that they found to be guilty by the law of Moses. But this was mostly done in cases of blasphemy, such as the case was with Stephen, whom we read about in the book of Acts. Adultery was never punished like that, as far as we know.
When the woman was led before Jesus, she almost certainly did not expect to be faced with an execution. She might have had mixed expectations. What would Jesus do? She had no defense. She knew that. What punishment would he see fit? After all, he was known to forgive sins and show compassion.
When it Jesus' first words were "Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her," I believe the woman must have heard him saying: go ahead, execute her. We must remember that this was a very different culture from the one we are living in. If anyone today would say: I am without sin, I am sinless, it would be ridiculous. It would be arrogant, to the point of rudeness. It is part of normal politeness to show some modesty and not to claim perfection for oneself. Even the most self-righteous person you have ever met will be the first one to say: of course, I know that I am not perfect. If you ask the same person for an example that shows that they are not perfect, they may be hard pressed to come up with something. But it is still considered polite to say: I know that I am not perfect.
In Israel in the first century, this was a little different. Religious people took the law of God very seriously and they actually thought that they could keep it. Paul says about himself that he had been blameless as to righteousness of the law. The rich young man that came to Jesus to ask what he had to do to inherit eternal life professed that he had kept all the commandments since he was a young man. Nevertheless, people would hardly claim that they were actually without sin. They knew that they were not perfect, but they believed that God was merciful. But you see that they would not display as much false humility as we like to do today.
So I believe that the woman that was caught in the act must have felt quite certain that among all these religious people there must be at least one that thinks of himself as sufficiently free from sin that he will start the execution.
Curiously, no one did. One by one, the accusers disappeared. But the woman remains. She does not take the opportunity to get lost while the crowd dissolves. She waits. To hear what Jesus had to say. By his own words, Jesus would be the one to throw the first stone. He is the one without sin.
The text does not say anything about it, but I believe that the fact that the woman waited, to hear Jesus' verdict, shows that she had accepted the judgment. She knew that she was guilty and she had passed the judgment on herself and she accepted Jesus' right to do the same.
The apostle Paul says: But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment. (1 Cor 11:31)
All these other men were also condemned by Jesus' words: “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” But they took off. They thought that the best way to escape the judgment would be to hide.
Isn't that how we are thinking? As long as nobody knows, we are OK. We believe that we can hide from God's judgment, that we can conceal our sins. Probably the best job we're doing is the job we're doing at hiding our sins from ourselves. Because God sees them. No matter what. But we are only hiding them from ourselves. We make excuses and we tell ourselves. It was not really my fault. There was nothing I could do differently, really. And we believe that the ones that really are to blame are everybody else. The people that made us do whatever it is that we do. The person that provoked us. The insensitive, ungrateful people we have to deal with in our everyday life. The stubborn person that is always annoying me. They are to blame. Not I. And we are doing such a good job at hiding our sins that we actually believe that they do not exist.
The judgmental men ran away from Jesus' judgment. But there is no escaping the fact that we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad (2 Cor 5:10). As we say in the confession of faith: he shall come again to judge the living and the dead.
The woman remained with Jesus, knowing full well that her sins were obvious. She got to hear the wonderful words: neither do I condemn you. This must have been the greatest day in her life. She was guilty. It was no longer possible to make any excuse, there was no escaping the fact. She was caught. She had cheated on her husband or her fiancée. It was all in the open. And she receives the verdict from the one that is the judge of heaven and earth: neither do I condemn you.
And that is Jesus' word to you who come to him today. Neither do I condemn you. No matter what you have done. The things that you have never told anyone and you hardly have admitted to yourself. The things that you have covered up for so long. What Jesus has to say is: neither do I condemn you.
These words were not easy for Jesus to say. Because the wages of sin is death, and there is no escaping it. When Jesus acquitted the woman he knew that he would have to answer for it with his own life. He acquitted her, but he himself had to pay. He paid for it with his life. He gave his life as a sacrifice for the sins of the world, so that he could say to everyone that comes to him: neither do I condemn you. A few verses later in this chapter in the gospel of John, Jesus says: “I pass judgment on no one.”
He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2).
When you pray to Jesus, he wants you to feel free to tell him everything that is on your mind. Above all, he wants you to tell him about your sins, so that he can say: neither do I condemn you.
The apostle Paul says: But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment(1 Cor 11:31).
© Sigurd Grindheim