The Third Sunday After Pentecost June 29, 2014
23, 384, 32, 244
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
To Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.
But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Now early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people came to Him; and He sat down and taught them. Then the scribes and Pharisees brought to Him a woman caught in adultery. And when they had set her in the midst, they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do You say?” This they said, testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him. But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear. So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.” And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, “Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.”
In the name of Jesus Christ in whom we are justified, dear fellow-redeemed:
Courtroom dramas have always held a niche in the imagination of Americans. Recently, there’s been a resurgence of them on TV and in movies. Many of us wouldn’t miss the old reruns of Perry Mason. The only problem is, most courtroom dramas are rather predictable. The judge is typically a wise-looking older man. The defense attorney is brilliant and cares deeply about his client; and the defendant…well, you always find out later that the defendant has been completely innocent right from the beginning. It’s all very predictable.
In today’s text we’re presented with something of a courtroom drama too. Only in this case, nothing is predictable. In fact, things are kind of upside-down! In this case the judge is a young Man—Jesus of Nazareth. In this case, the lawyers—the scribes and Pharisees—prove to be just as guilty as the defendant; and in this case the defendant—a woman caught in the act of adultery—is guilty beyond a shadow of a doubt. Yet, amazingly, the defendant is declared, “not guilty,” in the end.
Why should you care about this case? Because no matter who you are, you have a place in this unique drama too. If you feel you’re good enough to look down on sinners who are “worse” than you, then you need to hear Jesus’ scathing words to the Pharisees. If you recognize your own guilt and feel the weight of your sins pressing down on your shoulders, then you need to hear the comforting words of pardon that Christ spoke to the woman. In either case, I invite you to COME TO JESUS’ COURTROOM. I. Here everyone is guilty and II. Here anyone can be pardoned.
It was the Feast of Tabernacles and Jerusalem was bustling with activity. A lot of out-of-towners had come for the festival including Jesus and His disciples. The Jewish religious leaders were envious of Jesus’ popularity and skeptical of His claims. The scribes and Pharisees decided that this might be a good time to try to take Jesus down a peg or two. So they approached Him with what turned out to be a rather cleverly-laid trap. They “brought to Him a woman caught in adultery. And when they had set her in the midst, they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do You say?”This they said, testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him.” [vv.3-6a]
Do you get the picture? Jesus said He was from God, and He strictly upheld the sanctity of God’s Word. So if He told them not to kill the woman, they could accuse Him before the people of denying the Law and voiding the Word of God. On the other hand, Jesus was known to be gentle and merciful—one who welcomed sinners and offered them forgiveness. So if He told them to go ahead and kill the woman—especially by the brutal method of stoning her to death—He would show Himself to be unmerciful and cruel, and the people would turn away from Him. They decided to make Jesus a sort of “judge-for-a-day,” with a case that would spell disaster for Him no matter which verdict He rendered. Or at least that’s how they had imagined it would go. The only problem is, when you come to Jesus’ courtroom, things are never quite that predictable!
I saw a courtroom drama once that had an unexpected twist. In the middle of an important trial, the defendant was suddenly released and the prosecutor was accused of committing the crime! This is just what Jesus did to the Pharisees that day. He turned the tables on them. One moment they were vigorously prosecuting the adulterous woman and the next moment they found that they were ones being accused! “Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear. So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.” And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground.” [vv.6b-8]
Yes, in Jesus’ courtroom things are just a little bit different! In other courts there is always the possibility that an injustice may occur, but not here. Here the real truth always comes out, and real justice is always done. One thing we find is that in Jesus’ courtroom everyone is guilty.
A preacher named Emerson Ross was visiting the office of a fellow-pastor and noticed a small smoothly-polished rock on his desk. He was surprised to see an inscription on it that read, “The First Stone.” When he asked his colleague about it, the pastor replied that he kept the stone on his desk to remind him of John 8:7, “He who is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone.” It was to remind him that the first place for a Christian to look for sin is in his own heart.
Jesus led the Pharisees to recognize the true facts of the case, namely, that no one is innocent of sin before God. In Jesus’ courtroom, everyone is guilty. John says, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:9). Jesus confronted the Pharisees with their own sin very clearly. So clearly, in fact, that the conclusion was inescapable even for them. The older men got the point a bit more quickly, but eventually they all figured it out. They realized that they were sinners too; and so, one-by-one, they all walked away from Jesus.
Before God, everyone is guilty of sin. As Isaiah said, “We are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). When you are confronted with your own sin, you can do one of two things: You can do what the Pharisees did. You can turn away from Jesus in frustration and anger. Or, you do what that woman did. You can turn toward Jesus in repentance and faith.
As a pastor, I see both of these reactions. The toughest thing any pastor has to face in his ministry are those times when he must confront one of the sheep of his flock with sin. Frankly, it makes me extremely uncomfortable when I have to do it. If there was any way to avoid it I would. But it must be done. It must be done, not in the self-righteous way the Pharisees did it, but rather with God’s Word in a loving and concerned manner.
Jesus’ exhortation not to cast the first stone does not release us from our Christian responsibility to condemn sin when we see it. Nor do Jesus’ words suggest we should not warn those of our fellow-Christians whose eternal salvation is endangered by their sin. In fact, it is just the opposite. Scripture says that if you see a fellow believer sinning and don’t say anything about it, you’re showing hatred and not love for that person. God says, “You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall surely rebuke your neighbor; and not bear sin because of him” (Leviticus 19:17).
How do people react when confronted with sin? Some react like the Pharisees and turn away from their Savior and His Word. They immediately deny their sin and go on the defensive. They get angry. They try to change the subject. They may even start “throwing stones” at the pastor or at other church members.
Thankfully, most Christians react differently. Most believers react as did the woman in our text, by turning in repentance to their Savior. You talk to them, not as a pompous holier-than-thou, but as one sinner to another. You warn them in a loving and concerned way that their behavior could threaten the most precious thing they have—their Christian faith. When you do that, very often Christians will freely acknowledge their guilt and seek the Lord’s forgiveness, and that’s a beautiful thing because they always discover the same thing that the woman in our text discovered. She discovered that in Jesus’ courtroom anyone can be pardoned!
After the Pharisees filed out one-by-one, “Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her,‘Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?’She said, ‘No one, Lord.’ And Jesus said to her, ‘Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.’” [vv.9b-11]
Was it a question of guilt? No, the defendant was guilty beyond the shadow of a doubt. The only thing left was to pass sentence. In her case, we’d expect to hear a harsh and immediate condemnation. Instead, we hear the merciful words of Jesus, “Neither do I condemn you. You are pardoned. You can go free!”
Now right about here another question might arise in your mind: “Is this really justice? Is it fair for God to let guilty sinners completely off the hook?” Yes, it is. For God has earned the right to let sinners go free. He earned it by sacrificing His own Son in their place! Every sin must indeed be punished, but the Lord punished Jesus instead of us. When Jesus suffered on the cross of Calvary, He bore the complete punishment for every last one of our sins—yours and mine. He paid for them all! It doesn’t matter who you are. It doesn’t matter what sins you have in your background or how black your record is. You can hide yourself in the wounds of Jesus Christ. The precious blood that flowed from those wounds is the currency with which He paid for your pardon.
Bear in mind that this doesn’t come naturally. Our first impulse is to flee from Jesus’ courtroom. It makes us uncomfortable to have our sins exposed. We don’t like it when our faults are brought under the unblinking scrutiny of God’s Law. But think of that woman in our text—they had to drag her into Jesus’ courtroom that day, but what was the result? If you’d have asked her later, she probably would have said that it was the most blessed day of her life! Think of it! She was interrupted while walking this perilous path of sin. God’s Law was applied to her sin and she repented, and was able to hear the Son of God Himself pronounce her forgiveness! What blessed pardon! And the most wonderful thing is that this same forgiveness through faith in Christ is available to you every day of your life.
I’m urging you, my fellow Christians, come to Jesus’ courtroom. Here anyone can be pardoned! Bring your sins to Jesus, confess them, forsake them, and drink in the comforting words your Savior: “Neither do I condemn you!”
We have a law in United States jurisprudence; that states a person cannot be tried for the same crime twice. Once you’ve been acquitted, you remain acquitted and no other court has the right to bring you to trial on the same charges. Similarly, in Christ, the great problem of your sin has been solved once-and-for-all. Once you are pronounced, “not guilty,” in Jesus’ courtroom, no one else has the right to condemn you—not God or the Devil, not your fellow man or your own conscience. “Where are your accusers?” Jesus asks. Who can possibly condemn you, now that Christ Himself—the judge of all the universe—has granted you a pardon? No one can. The very idea is absurd when you think about it. Paul concludes: “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). That is why we say that in Jesus’ courtroom anyone can be pardoned. That’s why we sing in one of our communion hymns:
“Who can condemn me now, for surely
The Lord is nigh Who justifies.
No hell I fear; and thus, securely,
With Jesus I to heaven rise!” (TLH 315:13)
Do you want to memorize a Bible passage? I recommend these five words from John 8:11: “Neither do I condemn you.” That’s what Jesus told the sinful woman. What precious words!
If you are a weary sinner like I am. If you have a burden of guilt and failures and shortcomings like I do. If your past sometimes seems to you— like it does to me—to be one long series of failures to serve your Lord Jesus as you should. If any or all of these are true, then come to Jesus’ courtroom! Bring all of those sins, repent of them, and forsake them. Then hear your Savior’s sweet verdict: “Neither do I condemn you.”
As you leave this meditation, I hope you’ll take those words with you. They’ll be a comfort to you every day of your life. Most comforting of all is the knowledge that you will hear them again, for the last time, when you reach the right hand of God’s throne of judgment on the Last Day: “Neither do I condemn you…’Come you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world’” (Matthew 25:34). Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.