Neither Do I Condemn You
Can you remember the sweetest words anyone has ever told you? Maybe it was some encouragement you received when you were going through a rough time. Or perhaps it was that first declaration of love from your now spouse. Chances are you remember those words often.
John 8 records perhaps the sweetest words anyone can hear. They were spoken to a woman, caught in the very act of adultery--by religious leaders no less. Her sin is no longer a secret, and the man whom she was with is strangely absent.
Can you imagine the shame?
She has broken the seventh commandment. There are witnesses, and she must pay the consequences for her actions. Which of course is death. Marriage is a very sacred covenant in the Hebrew Scriptures--both in the Old Testament as well as the New. Tainting the marriage bed requires punishment, and the Pharisees are conveniently close enough to perform the sting operation.
Imagine the scene. This naked, scorned, ashamed woman is at the mercy of the religious leaders and there is no doubt they will uphold the law. But instead, they take her to Jesus. Here is a test for that "False Prophet" which he will never pass. His talk of "forgiveness" and "rest for the weary" didn't seem to jive with their interpretations of the Scriptures. Will he recant his views (stirring up trouble through stoning this woman)? Or will he "forgive" her--breaking Deuteronomy 22 in the process? The perfect snare.
So the woman is brought before Jesus in her shameful state. She is worthy of death and she knows it. She does not have a hope; But Jesus doesn't really answer the question poised at him by the Religious elites. Instead, He just starts...writing in the dirt. The Pharisees are not too sure what to make of it; then He speaks: "He without sin, throw the first stone." Then he proceeds to write in the sand.
And one by one--the accusers begin to leave. The adamant enforcers of righteousness drop their bricks. And walk away.
Eventually it is just the woman and Jesus. Alone. Her in her humiliation, before the incarnate Son of God. The One in whom the fullness of God dwelt. The Author of the commandment she had previously broken. If anyone was without sin, it was Jesus, and if anyone was worthy to bring this sinful woman to justice--it was Him. And yet Jesus asks in his Socratic style, "where are your accusers? Has no one condemned you?"
"No one, sir," she answers perhaps still expecting the worst.
"Neither do I condemn you. Go now and sin no more."
These are the sweetest words this woman will ever hear in her life. The words of grace. Such a gift is bigger than a mere overlooking of a wrong doing. Grace is a call to something more--to a Holy life. The gift can never be separated from the call; and for this woman how could it ever be! She was lost and now is found. She was dead and now has been given life.
But for Jesus these are heavy words. They are words of pain, as He knows forgiveness of sin always requires atonement. That is the only way He can be both just and the justifier of the ungodly. Someone must pay, and in a short time after John chapter 8 comes John 19. The cross. The place where He will take the punishment for this woman on himself.
That is the gospel.
We, like this woman, are worthy of judgment and death. We do not have a hope of escape. We have offended God over and over again--even taking pleasure in our rebellion against Him. But the same words "Neither do I condemn you" are spoken to us today. Not because we are good enough. Not because we have earned it. But because Jesus offers it through His death and resurrection.
How will you respond to such a gift?
I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. --Isaiah 61:10