John 8 is a story about judgment, law, mercy, and guilt. It’s a story about one person who has done something terrible and feels horrible regret and shame.
It’s about another group of people who have done something equally terrible, but they feel no guilt at all. They’re so concerned about the awful moral erosion in society that they can’t see the rot in their own souls.
Then it’s about Jesus! It’s about Jesus breaking the rules because he loves you so much. It’s about Jesus breaking the rules because he wants your death to became his death so his life can become your life.Read full sermon transcript
For those of you who are new guests, I’m Matt VanCleave, the teaching pastor here at Blue Oaks.
If this is your first time in church and you feel out of place because you think we’re all good people and you’re not so good… you need to know you’re surrounded by people who have out-sinned you by a long shot.
Don’t let all the pretty faces fool you.
Well, today is the start of our series, “Jesus Breaks the Rules.”
We’ll begin by reading John 8 today.
If you would like to follow along in your bible or bible app, turn to John chapter 8, starting at verse 2.
Or you can open the Blue Oaks app, click sermon notes and follow along that way.
At dawn he (Jesus) 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.”
This message today is for everyone who ever broke the rules, who ever did anything wrong, or who ever felt guilty.
If you do wrong things but you never feel guilty, that’s actually called being a psychopath, so this would be a good message for you.
If you feel guilty all the time even when you haven’t done something wrong, that’s called being neurotic. We have a lot of those at our church.
If you do wrong things and you feel guilty, that’s just regular old sin, and you’re in the right place.
If you never do anything wrong and you never feel guilty, you’re a fundamentalist and you’re in the wrong church, but you might know someone who needs this message.
This is a story about judgment, law, mercy, and guilt.
It’s a story about one person who’s done something terrible and feels horrible regret and shame.
It’s about another group of people who have done something equally terrible, but they feel no guilt at all.
They’re so concerned about that awful moral erosion in society that they can’t see the rot in their own souls.
Then it’s about Jesus.
This woman had to ask herself, “How did I ever end up here?”
We know she was a married woman.
The Old Testament law mentioned in this text specifically referred to married women.
She had at one time been a young bride with dreams about married life, about having a husband who loved her, praying and worshipping with him, and maybe about having children and raising a family, carving out a life together.
Somehow, things didn’t turn out the way she had planned. She was disappointed in her marriage.
Maybe it was her husband; maybe it was her. It probably was some of both… which is usually the case.
Somewhere along the line, she met another man.
He seemed to notice her.
He seemed to want to listen to the things she had to say.
That’s a powerful force in an aching heart.
The woman in this story met a man who seemed to care.
At first, it was all quite innocent. That’s how these things go.
Then one day, they crossed a line.
Maybe it was a touch that lingered a little too long.
Maybe it was a shared look that implied a kind of illicit promise.
Maybe it was the sharing of secrets that violated her husband’s confidence and trust.
But one day, she crossed a line.
Maybe she didn’t even notice it or think about it at the time.
The Evil One always prefers to keep those kinds of moments dark and hazy, so we’re hardly even aware of what we’re choosing… but we choose. She chose.
Then she crossed another line.
Then she crossed a whole bunch of lines until eventually this became a full-blown affair.
Then she entered into a state of spiritual despair.
She probably didn’t even realize it yet.
As long as this was secret, it was kind of like she was living two different lives in two different worlds.
I’ve seen this happen with so many people… and I don’t want it to happen in yours.
When she was in one world, she could pretend like the other world didn’t exist.
She kept herself from thinking about what this might do to her children when they would find out.
She kept herself from thinking about how this was damaging her soul.
Here’s the thing about sin — sin unchecked always leads to more sin. It always does.
She probably used to be a truthful person.
The first time she lied to her husband about where she was going so she could be with this other man, her heart was pounding. She was blushing. She was sure her husband would be able to tell.
Eventually, she became such an expert at deceiving her husband and her children that now she could lie without showing it. She doesn’t even notice.
She’s become a liar.
The first time she slept with this man, when she went to the synagogue afterward and heard the Scriptures read, she was sure everyone could see the guilt on her face.
She thought they would all find out.
She thought God would strike her dead with a bolt of lightning.
She vowed to God she would never see that man again.
But no one found out.
There was no lightning.
God did nothing.
Heaven was silent.
Now she’s able to go to the synagogue and hardly think about her affair at all. She doesn’t think much about God either. She tries to think about other things when they pray.
The truth about her is she’s become a hypocrite. As long as her secret is intact, she hardly thinks about these things.
Every once in a while, she wakes up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, but it usually passes. She doesn’t notice, really, what is happening to her mind and her heart…
Until this night.
She is with this man that she has been with we don’t know how many times before, only this time, it happens.
The door opens — there had been men outside waiting and watching. Now they come into the room, and they seize her.
She begs for mercy.
She would give anything if she could go back to where she first crossed the line, but she can’t.
You can never go back.
She would kill herself right then if they would let her… but they do not. They wrap her up in sheets and lead her away.
This vague haze she has been living in for so long is ripped away.
As happened at the fall, her eyes are opened, and she sees herself naked… and she’s ashamed.
She wants more than anything to hide, but there’s no place to go.
Suddenly she realizes how she got here. She chose it. She chose this life.
That’s not all there is to it. She was hurt. She was wounded. She had needs that went unmet, but she’s not just a victim. She made a thousand little choices that inevitably led to this moment.
I want to pause here for a moment in this story because I know some of you are wrestling with a sin right now.
Maybe it’s this one.
Maybe it’s anger… or greed… or cheating.
Maybe you’re still pretty good at keeping it hidden.
Maybe no one knows… not even the person sitting next to you right now, and you’ve convinced yourself no one will ever find out.
Some of you aren’t to a full-blown affair yet, but you’ve started crossing lines and you know it, and it’s just a question of how far you’re going to go.
I’m asking you today, will you end it? Will you make the call? Will you do whatever you need to do to put a stop to it?
You have to do that.
Some of you are here, and you’re wrestling with addictive sexual behaviors. Often this involves men. Increasingly it’s troublesome for women as well.
Maybe you’re sitting there today, and you were on a business trip recently. You ended up in a room, watching movies that you shouldn’t have watched.
And you felt so guilty afterward. You feel guilty right now as I’m saying these words.
You’ve promised yourself and God a hundred times, “I’m going to quit.”
Every time, you break that promise… and something is happening in your heart.
Some of you are scared right now because you have a computer that got issued to you by the company you work for, and you’ve been using it to visit websites you know you shouldn’t, and you’re afraid you might lose your job.
Or you do this late at night when everyone in your family is sleeping.
Your spouse thinks something else is going on. Your spouse doesn’t really want to know, and you don’t want your spouse to find out.
As someone gets up in the house in the middle of the night, and they see you at the computer, you lie to avoid being found out.
When you come to church, like today, and there are people just worshipping God, pouring their hearts out, you want so much to do the same, but you can’t.
I want to do a mass confession for a moment. I’m not going to ask about sexual sin. I recognize that could be a little threatening, so I’ll broaden that out but I’ll ask for a show of hands.
How many people here have ever wrestled with a bad habit of any kind?
Raise your hand really high right now. Look around the room.
If anyone is not raising their hand right now… they’re a psychopath. They need this message.
How many of you who have ever wrestled with a bad habit found that it just spontaneously went away all by itself one day?
See, as a general rule, those habits that get embedded in our bodies do not just spontaneously go away.
Not only that; when they get to a certain degree of strength, when they’re deeply embedded in our bodies, just deciding by willpower to change them is not sufficient either.
At that point, I’m going to need help. It’s going to require coming into the light, confessing to God and to myself and maybe to some other followers of Christ who I love and trust, maybe to a Christian counselor.
When those problems get really deep, I’m going to need some support. I’m going to need some accountability. I can’t do this by myself.
That’s why we have to be part of a small group — to deal with this kind of brokenness.
But you’re going to have to choose.
Okay, now back to the story.
There’s another reason why this woman is here before Jesus. There’s another set of characters.
Again, we have to picture the setting.
In verse 2, we’re told Jesus sat down to teach them.
There’s a reason for this.
In those days, the way a rabbi signaled that the formal teaching time had begun was by sitting down.
In our day, usually teachers stand up, and everybody else sits. In that day, the teacher sat down.
That way, the teacher could go on talking for hours and hours and hours and never get tired. It was a wonderful arrangement.
We should try it sometime.
It’s in the Bible.
Anyway, the point John wants make is — this is not a private conversation to try to figure out constructive action on a confidential issue.
Jesus is teaching, and then this group of men drags this woman here.
These men are more than willing to humiliate this woman publicly… because frankly, it’s Jesus they’re after, and this woman is just bait for their trap. She is hardly a person to them.
They approach Jesus. “Teacher,” they say, as if they wanted to honor him. “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act.”
“This woman broke the rules, she broke the law.”
And there were requirements behind this — the law was very clear about what was required to be “caught in the act.”
Circumstantial evidence did not cut it.
One witness was not enough to convict those accused of any crime or offense they may have committed.
We’re told in Deuteronomy 19 that a matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.
That means at least two (maybe more) of these men had to be hanging around her house — had to be watching through her window.
How long do they watch? How much do they see? We don’t know.
There’s an obligation to help someone if you see them about to commit a sin. They don’t do that.
You notice too, if you think about it, the other man she committed adultery with is not brought here before Jesus… even though the law says the other man should be stoned too.
This is a classic double standard.
The woman was the most vulnerable character in that society, and therefore, she’s the one most easily used. She’s just a prop. She’s just an object.
They don’t care about her; they’re just using her.
They think to themselves, “We have Jesus now. If he shows mercy to this woman, then we’ll get him for being soft on the law. If Jesus says, ‘Stone her,’ the crowds will never forgive him.”
Plus, the Romans had forbidden the Jews from executing anyone. We read about that later on in John 18.
If Jesus says, “Stone her,” he would be in serious trouble with the Romans.
Here is this woman, trembling with guilt and fear, wishing she could die, believing she’s about to, and they don’t even see her. They don’t care about her.
All they can think of is, “We have Jesus now.”
So they stand there. They’ve appointed themselves judge and jury. They stand there with stones in their hand, just waiting for the word.
Now, before we go on, before we judge them too quickly, I just want to ask all of us a question.
Have you ever had a stone in your hand?
It’s a strange thing that can happen to a heart that was once tender.
I wonder for these teachers of the law if when they first signed up as young men to devote themselves to a life of service to God, they had hearts that were soft and warm and loving toward God and toward other people…
I wonder if they were motivated by love at the beginning.
Then, over time, something happened — something bad happens through something good.
All their learning about the Scriptures fills them up with pride.
All their efforts at obedience and diligence and righteousness fill them with disdain for the less committed.
All their giftedness fills them with impatience… and then contempt for those who are weaker, until one day, they are as enslaved by a cold heart as any addict ever was by a drug.
What’s so dangerous about judgmentalism and pride and arrogance and moral superiority, which are sometimes called the sins of the spirit, is that when they get ahold of you… they blind you to the truth.
You just walk through life as if it were a courtroom, and you’re the jury, and you have a stone in your hands — judgmental thoughts, superior attitudes, impatient words, bitter resentments, and little love.
I wonder about this a lot.
I’ve been in the church my whole life, and I love the church, but I wonder — why do churches seem to produce so many stone-throwers?
For some reason, in the church where I grew up there were so many people (not all) who were just kind of cold. That’s not the whole truth about them, but it’s part of the truth.
They didn’t dance.
They didn’t laugh.
They had so little capacity for just love and embracing people.
There was one thing they enjoyed. They enjoyed passing judgment on the spiritual inferiority of others.
Someone’s kids were a little wild; they would pick up a stone.
Someone’s marriage wasn’t working; they would pick up a stone.
The worship pastor chose the wrong kind of song and played it too loudly; they would pick up a stone.
Someone crossed a line, violated a code, dressed the wrong way, had a problem; people picked up stones.
The truth is — gathering stones energized them. They looked forward to gathering stones.
And to be completely honest, this happens to me too… especially if there’s someone that I don’t particularly like for some reason. Then I hear something bad about them. They might fall while I’m left standing. I do this.
So there they stand, these so-called “lovers of God.”
Here is this woman, trembling, waiting to die… and her judges, with stones in their hands… and this strange man, the man who will not go away, this Jesus.
They ask him, “What do you say?”
Jesus does the most amazing thing. He bends down to the ground, and he starts writing in the dust.
This bothers them. This is odd behavior on Jesus’ part.
He doesn’t seem to be paying any attention at all.
The text says they didn’t just question him; they kept on questioning him. “You’re the rabbi; make the call. What do you say? What should we do? Obey the law?”
Finally, Jesus stands up.
“Go ahead and stone her. That’s what the law says. Just one rule: Let the one without sin go first.”
Then Jesus kneels back down and starts writing in the dust again.
It’s a fascinating little detail in the story, that he’s writing in the dust.
Everyone wonders about this.
Teachers would do this sometimes.
In the ancient world, when you think about it, there was no other way for visual illustration — no PowerPoint, no flipcharts, no whiteboards.
The only technology available to a teacher back then was writing on the ground.
Maybe he’s writing the Ten Commandments.
Maybe he’s writing a list of the sins that the men in that little circle were guilty of… so they could see them.
John doesn’t tell us.
However Jesus did it, he confronted the men in that circle —
“Go ahead. Throw your stones if you want. Pass judgment. Condemn her, guys. Your call. Just make sure you are sinless yourself. Just make sure you remember that sinful people, fallen people are really in no position to throw stones.”
Because when sinful people start passing judgment, they end up passing judgment on themselves before a sinless, holy God.
They could see her sin; they couldn’t see their own sin. I can see the sin in your life. I can’t see the sin in my life.
Suddenly, the truth about them is revealed.
They’re not what they thought they were.
They’re not champions for God.
They’re not fighters for morality.
They’re a cold-hearted, arrogant little circle of stone-throwers.
That’s what mean little kids do. They just throw stones to hurt you.
Jesus says, “Go ahead guys. Just make sure that whoever goes first is without sin.”
Jesus is writing in the dust, and again they just stand there.
Then someone lets go of their stone, then somebody else, then a third…
I just want to pause here to ask, does anyone here need to let go of any stones today?
Maybe you came carrying a stone against your mom or dad or against an ex-spouse or a boss or a coworker, someone who really hurt you.
Maybe you’ve carried it around so long you don’t even remember life without it, and your heart is getting a little colder every day.
This could be the day you put down the stone.
Maybe putting the stone down will require some action that has a little cost to it.
If you’ve been gossiping about someone, maybe you need to go to that person you gossiped about or that you gossiped to and apologize and set things right.
If your heart is hard toward someone, maybe you need to do an act of service for them. Don’t tell anyone about it; ask God to just see it in secret and just change your heart.
If you behaved badly toward someone who is right here in this room where you are, go to them today and ask forgiveness. There is no room in Jesus’ community for stone-throwers. We are all too broken.
One by one, they all set down their stones until finally, in verse 9, it says it’s just Jesus and a woman and a bunch of stones.
The throwers are gone… just stones.
Now, of course, the woman is wondering — what’s going to happen next, because Jesus could be the stone-thrower. Jesus is without sin. Jesus has the right.
Jesus does a wonderful thing. He asks her a question.
Jesus asks questions all the time, and this is one of his greatest. He says to the woman, “Where are they?”
In other words, “Is there no one here without sin?”
In other words, what Jesus is really saying to her is, “You understand you’re really no different, you and they. They are broken sinners, and you are a broken sinner. For all of their spiritual superiority, you’re really all in the same boat. Is no one left?”
She says, “No one, sir.”
In the Greek text of the story in John, that could be translated as the word for Lord. “No one, Lord.”
Maybe it’s the beginning of faith for her.
It’s the most wonderful moment of her life… It could be your moment too. It could be your moment today.
Jesus says, “Okay, then I don’t condemn you either. How would you like to start all over? How would you like a do-over? How would you like to have the slate wiped clean and be completely forgiven and have a new birth and be a different story? How about if we get rid of that old sinful woman who has been killing you and you become a new creature?”
This is really important to this story.
The woman understands the cost of this offer.
See, at the beginning of this offer, she was going to die, and Jesus stood up for her. Jesus stood between her and the crowd.
Because he stopped them, she is saved…
But now they want Jesus to die… and he will die.
She will live because Jesus will die in her place.
This is deep at the core of the gospel.
Deep at the core of this church is the idea that the offer of the divine do-over comes to us because there is a man named Jesus, and he says, “I’ll die in your place. I’ll take it all on me.”
That’s who we are.
The healing power of grace at this church is so powerful.
I want you to hear one such story. This is Jordan’s story.
— Video — Jordan’s story of grace.
I don’t know what your story is.
Maybe you got damaged by legalism, you got all caught up in materialism and workaholism and success, and that was a train wreck.
Or you gave in to doubt.
Or you ran down wrong roads.
Or you were unfaithful, you betrayed someone.
Or you were addicted.
Or you became judgmental and messed everything up.
And then God gave you a do-over.
God still does that. God wants to do that for you today.
I want to tell you — everyone in the Bay area who doesn’t know Jesus needs that. I don’t care how smart or sophisticated or rich they are.
I just think about so many people in the Bay area who need God and don’t know him.
Who is someone in your life you can invite to Blue Oaks next week? Maybe that’ll be a key step toward their do-over.
There is this offer to this woman of the divine do-over.
But Jesus doesn’t stop there. He has one more thing to say —
“Just one more thing. Before you go away, just one more thing.”
Then he says the words that were with her until the day she died. “Go and sin no more. Go and leave that old self behind. Go and die so you can live.”
I want to say this — for her to receive forgiveness from Jesus and then to go back to her old ways, to her old life of sin, was unthinkable.
She couldn’t do that to herself. She couldn’t do that to him.
See, grace does not mean you don’t have to repent; grace is what gives you the power to repent.
She still had great pain before her:
She would have to tell her lover, “It’s over. I’m done. We’re through.”
She would have to go back and face her husband and ask forgiveness. No guarantees. Maybe he will forgive her. Maybe he will not.
She’ll have to face her children. We don’t know what happened to any of that stuff.
What we do know about her is now she wouldn’t go alone.
From this day forward, she would never be alone.
From now through eternity, she has a friend, and her friend will always be with her, and he would sacrifice his life for her life…
And her friend can be your friend.
Jesus broke the rules because he loves you so much.
Jesus broke the rules because he wanted your death to became his death so his life can become your life.
Put down the stone.
Alright, let’s pray as the band comes to lead us in a closing song.