Now let's turn to the scriptures to read God's word together, we're turning to John's gospel chapter 8 - and of course this is the account of the woman caught in adultery by the Pharisees, and brought before the Lord Jesus. We're turning to begin to read at chapter 7 and verse 53 so that we get the run in to verse 1 of chapter 8 which is quite important.
"And every man went unto his own house. Jesus went unto the mount of Olives. And early in the morning he came again into the temple, and all the people came unto him; and he sat down, and taught them. And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst, They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou? This they said, tempting", or testing, "him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not. So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her. And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground. And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee? She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more. Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life". Amen.
Now I don't know how familiar most of you are with this portion of Scripture - certainly, for me, it's one of my most loved accounts in the New Testament. But certain so-called Bible scholars, theologians, believe - believe it or not - that this account should not be in the Bible. You only need to go and look at certain commentaries that cast doubt upon this particular story of the woman caught in the act of adultery, who was brought by the Pharisees into the presence of Jesus. Now I'm not going to get into this theological debate, save to say that I believe that not only should it be in the Bible, but it's of intricate importance to the whole message of John's gospel.
Let me just let you into the secret of the train of thought of these so-called Bible scholars. They reason, wrongly, that this story sends out the wrong signals. They think it's almost saying you can live as you please, and plummet your life into all sorts of immorality; and yet Jesus just comes along, wipes the slate clean, and tells you to go away - you're not condemned for breaking God's law, you're forgiven. They say that's too good to be true, it has the danger of misleading people into thinking that they can live as they like, and yet still be forgiven by God.
Now the tragedy of scholars, theologians, even Bible teaches that think like this is: they have made the fatal error that the Pharisees in this story made. 'What is that?', you say. They misunderstood the whole message of the grace of God. The Pharisees missed the point, these so-called Bible scholars and theologians have missed the point - what is that? It is simply that God's grace is free! You don't earn it!
Now, before I go on any further, I have to define 'grace' for you - because a lot of people don't understand what it is. They think it's the way ballroom dancers go around the room, they think it's a thing that's said before they eat their meal - well, those might be definitions of the word 'grace', but not when it comes to what the Bible means. 'Grace' in the Bible simply means 'a free gift', or 'unmerited favour' - God's goodness that is shown to mankind in forgiving our sins, taking away what condemns us in God's sight, and giving us the free unearned gift of eternal life. That was purchased not by our merit, our good lives, or religious affiliation; but by Christ coming as the Saviour of sinners, dying in the sinner's place on the cross, rising again in order that He might give the free gift of salvation to those who believe in Him.
The Pharisees stumbled at that message, because they didn't live by grace, they lived by law. They obeyed the laws of the Old Testament, and of course they added many more - over 600 - to them, man-made rules, and they believed that they somehow could earn God's favour. They were a sour lot because of it: very negative, very ungracious. Mark Twain was not a Christian, but he once made this statement: 'Having spent considerable time with good people, I can understand why Jesus liked to be with tax collectors and sinners'! Religious people can often be hard to deal with, they can be negative - because they are obeying rules and regulations, and they impose them on other people, and they feel: 'Well, if you're not up to my standard, up to scratch, then you haven't a look in as far as I'm concerned, let alone how God is concerned'. Now that was the Pharisees' religious law, and they condemned others who didn't meet their standards, and ultimately they believed that God was condemning them as well. Yet Jesus was the friend of publicans and of sinners, and they couldn't square this with the fact that He also said He was a Prophet of God, yes, even the Son of God - the Messiah of God.
I wonder is their struggle your struggle tonight? Do you understand what grace really is? Mercy is not getting what you deserve - if someone has mercy upon you, that means you deserve to be condemned, but they are withholding that condemnation. Now justice is getting what you do deserve - you're worthy of condemnation, and the judge gives it to you. Now grace is different from those two - grace is getting, positively, what you don't deserve. You deserve to be condemned, and yet God lavishes His love and His goodness upon you. Can I put it very simply? Grace says 'Yes' to the sinner, the law says 'No' - have you got it? The Pharisees said 'No' to sinners, these so-called Bible scholars that want to tear John 8 out of our Bibles are saying 'No, you can't live any way you like and then come to for God's forgiveness, that's too good to be true!'. They say 'No', but Jesus says 'Yes', grace says 'Yes'.
I don't know whether you've ever heard the story about President Thomas Jefferson of the States. He and his men were crossing a swollen river on horseback, and there was a man who had fallen off his horse, and his horse had gone off and he was standing on the bank of the river. He waited while several other soldiers passed over, and then he waved to Jefferson - unbeknown to him that that's who it was - and he asked the president to take him across the river. The president kindly obliged, and when he got over into the camp one other soldier asked him 'Why did you ask the President, of all people, to carry you over?'. He replied, 'Well, I didn't know he was the president. All I know is that on some faces is written the answer 'No', and on other faces there is written the answer 'Yes' - and his face said 'Yes''.
Law says 'No', Jesus and His grace says 'Yes'. John 1:17 says: 'The law came through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ'. The law of God was never given to us as a ten-rung ladder to heaven, it was given to us to show that we are sinners, to show that we cannot get there on our own, to show that we all fall short of the glory of God - and only God's grace can reach any of us!
As was want, the rabbi would sit down and others would gather around him to be taught. Jesus arose this morning, and the Mount of Olives was not far from the Temple, and He went down the Mount, He crossed the Kidron Valley into the city - and He was teaching others. The Scribes were gathering for a religious feast, and they thought: 'We have an opportunity, while there are people gathered around Jesus publicly, to trap Him'. So we see their brutality and their ignorance: they come in and interrupt this discussion and teaching session of Jesus, and they bring this woman caught in the very act of adultery, and they cast her before Jesus.
Now there are two people that I want to concentrate on tonight in this love story of grace. The first is this lonely woman. I want you to see her tonight. Just before we analyse her, can I ask you, perhaps, are you a lonely woman, or a lonely man? Loneliness has reached epidemic proportions in our society today. It leads many to take their own lives out of despair, and if they don't have the courage to do that, they waste their own lives because they feel they just don't connect, they don't belong. Ultimately sometimes that feeling comes from the fact that they are estranged from God, and they don't know why they are here, what the purpose of life is, or where they're going.
Well, this was a lonely woman, let me show you why I know she was lonely. Verse 3 tells us that the Pharisees and Scribes brought this woman taken in adultery, and set her in the midst. I know she was lonely because these religious men made a spectacle of her, she was a woman who was made a spectacle of by others. In other words, she was a topic of scandalous gossip, she was a byword - and they were making an example out of her. I wonder have you ever experienced that? If you have, that can make you feel like the loneliest person in the world - because of something you have done, because of something you have said, something that has been done to you, and others hold it against you, make an example of you.
We see that not only was she made a spectacle of by others, but she was ignored by others. Now you might say, 'Well, that's a bit of a contradiction' - not really, if you've ever been in this position, you will know that there are times that you can be the centre of attention and surrounded by others, and yet feel the loneliest person in the universe. This was her - they weren't treating her as a person, they were treating her as a theological subject. She wasn't important to them. Do you ever feel surrounded by people in your family, among your friends and neighbours, work colleagues, maybe even in a marriage - and yet you feel lonely to desperation?
She was lonely because she was made a spectacle of by others, she was ignored by others, but we see also in verses 4 and 5: she was despised by others, they hated her for her sin! They said to the Master: 'This woman was taken in adultery, in the very act!'. They hated her in particular because she was a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. Where is the man in this account? Do you see him? Is he hiding somewhere in between two lines of this portion of Scripture? He's nowhere to be found! We don't even know who he is, it may well be that he was one of these Scribes and Pharisees - but the fact of the matter is, God's law said that if a man and a woman committed adultery, both of them were to undergo the justice of God's love. Yet here the woman comes off worse - their justice that they prided themselves in was partial, it was inconsistent.
You see, that's always the way with law and legalism, that's always the way with religion - it's inconsistent! You can never satisfy it! You'd have to be perfect to fulfil it! I suspect these religious men had a problem with lust - they seem to be so interested in the sordid details: she was caught in the very act. It makes you wonder how she was caught by them in the very act, if they were not spying on the very act! She was despised by others, ignored by others, made a spectacle of by others, and ultimately she was lonely in that she was used by others. She was just a pawn in a bigger game, she was a means to an end to trap the Lord Jesus. They wanted to tempt, or test Him; they wanted to get the Lord Jesus into a corner. You see, they realised that God's law, the law of Moses did say that to commit adultery was worthy of the penalty of death under certain circumstances. They knew that the Lord Jesus would not contradict the law of Moses, and if He did, He was condemned. Yet they also knew that the law of the Romans forbid them as Jews executing the law of Moses, so they thought: 'We've got Him caught! If He says 'Stone her', He can't stone her because the Romans won't allow it. If He doesn't say 'Stone her', He's breaking the law of Moses'.
You would think it was foolproof. Well, I'll give you how the Lord Jesus answered, in a masterful way, this predicament in a moment or two. But what I do want you to see is that these religious men were talking theology while there was a broken, lonely life in their midst that was screaming out for help - and they were blind to her. Can I just take a moment to address some Christians in this fellowship: that is what is going on in our world today. Sinners are crying out for help and hope, and on their way to hell, and we sometimes can be caught up in little stupid theological secondary debates while their souls perish.
I'm reminded of the politician in America who was fighting a race discrimination case for a young black boy. The wee boy, near the end of the case, just before the ruling, came to his office and met the secretary there, and said to the secretary: 'I'd like to see him'. So she phoned through to the politician, and he said: 'Look, I'm just too busy fighting this young lad's case to have time for the individual concerned'. Do you know what the secretary said back to him? 'Why sir, that's interesting, even God hasn't got to that stage yet'.
This woman was lonely, she was made all the more lonely by being made a spectacle by these religious people, ignored by them, despised by them, used by them - but there is a Man in this story who was not too busy in a theological discussion to meet with her at the point of her need, to deal with her accusers, and to give her the very thing that she longed for most. So I want you to meet not only this lonely woman, but the compassionate Man.
I want you to see first of all His reaction to this attempted entrapment of these religious Pharisees, because the Lord Jesus masterfully - even divinely, I would say - was able to fulfil the law of Moses, and yet still show compassion toward this woman caught in sin. You know how He did it, don't you? Verse 7, He said to them: 'He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her'. Effectively what He is saying is: 'Let's fulfil Moses' law, but let's do it justly. Who among you' - and that 'you' is emphatic - 'who among you is sinless to stand in judgement of this woman, and to cast a stone at her? Whoever it is, let him cast the first one'.
The Bible says that from the eldest to the youngest they all departed, because those men had nothing to say when they faced the reality of their own sin. Oh, their sins mightn't have been as mucky as this woman's, but they were sins nevertheless! You see God doesn't categorise sins, sin is sin - religious sin is as bad as immoral sin. These old men could remember the sins of their youth that they were trying to forget; and for these younger men, they were fresh in their minds. Whether they had committed, literally, adultery in a physical sense or not, Jesus had taught that even if a man or a woman lusts after another in his mind and heart, that is a committal of that sin! So, all of them were condemned.
You see, the Lord Jesus was the only one who was holy and righteous and sinless among them. He was the only one warranted and worthy to judge her, and yet He doesn't. So not only does He fulfil that law, but on the other hand He fulfils His ministry of grace that He had come to give to mankind, and shows to this woman compassion. One by one these men left, and I don't know what Jesus wrote on the ground - so we'll get that out of the way right away! People - I was just saying to someone this afternoon - people can preach a whole sermon on what we don't know in this portion, and the Holy Spirit hasn't even told us because we don't need to know. Yet what we do know is here, and we ignore it! What is that? This woman stayed - now listen to this: these religious men left because of their guilt, every mouth was stopped because they were guilty before God; and the one who was in the midst because of her guilt stayed with Him.
Don't miss that! Why? Because she realised this Man was different, this Man was holy, truly holy - not religious, holy - and yet He was filled with love and compassion for her. The Pharisees called Him 'Master', what did she call Him? 'Lord'. She recognized, 'This is a man unlike any other man I have ever met' - do you know that? The Lord Jesus Christ is different, He's different than the founders of other religions, He's different than the prophets, He's different than the apostles. He is God's Son, God the Son, the One who came from heaven at the right hand of God, came to this earth clothing Himself in the flesh as a baby, to grow to be the Messiah and to preach and teach and heal and do mighty works - but ultimately go to the cross, and to be nailed as the sacrifice for sins forever for you and for me and for the world, that's who He is! To prove that's who He is, God raised Him again the third day, triumphant over sin, death, hell and the grave - so that men and women like you tonight might know that He is the Saviour, and that He is different!
That's what 'holy' means, 'unique' - unique, one and only, none other like. Now let me show you how she knew He was different: this compassionate Man didn't condemn her. Look at verse 11: 'Where are your accusers? Where are your accusers?'. They're not there any more, and then He tells her: 'Neither do I condemn you: go, and sin no more'. The Lord Jesus had come to minister His grace, and He does it, and she hears this voice of tenderness and compassion and pity - she had never heard a man's voice like this. She cries out: 'Lord!' - are you in that place tonight? You're lonely because you're cut off from God, and that's ultimately the reason why every person has that aching void within their breast. Your sins and iniquities have separated between you and your God. Your sins have hid God's face from you. You were created to know God, to worship God, to enjoy Him, to obey Him - but you're not living that fulfilment.
Maybe your sin has caused you to be made even lonelier, a spectacle to others, ignored by others, despised by others, used by others. Well, here's a Man, and He will never condemn you - do you hear that? His ministry is grace, indeed He says in John 3:17 that He did not come into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. That is His ministry now, that is the Gospel. Oh, yes there is a day coming when He will judge the world, but that is not today - thank God it's not today! It's not for you at this moment, He's not condemning you, He's not judging you, He's here by His Spirit in the word - like He was for that woman - to forgive you.
People, even so-called Christians, don't understand this Gospel. You could be a Christian here tonight, and you don't understand this grace. He didn't condemn her, and then He unconditionally loved her. She knew He was different. You see other men had loved her because of what they could get out of her, but He loved her unconditionally. Religious men may have gone to love her if her life met their standard, but it didn't, so they didn't love her - their love was conditional. But this Man's love was unconditional - He wasn't belittling her sin, sweeping it under the carpet, but this is the point that He was making: His grace is greater than every sin! Get that into your head! That's the Gospel! 'All manner of sin and blasphemy will be forgiven of men'.
Sometimes I hear people say: 'This is easy-believism. You're making the gospel cheap!'. It's not cheap, don't ever say that, it cost the precious blood of God's Son on that centre cross where He is bearing the shame of humanity, He's going through hell for you and for me. It's not cheap; but because He paid the price, it's free! It's priceless, but it's free to you unconditionally - and that's why this woman saw all those old boys disappear, and she was left alone, just her and Him. Her, her sin and Him - all excuses away, hindrances gone, her accusers had disappeared - and there she was looking into His gracious loving eyes knowing that He loved her! Do you know that tonight?
There's another woman in John chapter 4, and she had a similar experience. She was racially different from the Lord Jesus, a Samaritan - politically they were different, socially they were different, morally, of course, they were poles apart, eternally. He is the sinless Son of God, this woman in John 4 was married five times, and the guy she was living with, she wasn't married to. Jesus didn't condemn her either, but He give her living water. She was trying to satisfy through sensuality and sexuality, and relationships and feeling that 'I belong with someone', and it didn't work! He gave her eternal life, and she was satisfied to the extent that she went to many - I believe - of the men that she had been with, and she said: 'Come, see a man, which told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ?'. Do you know what she was really saying, if I can paraphrase? 'Here's a man who knows everything about me, and yet He still loves me'. Does that sound like Jesus to you? It sounds like the Jesus of John 8, doesn't it? This gracious, compassionate Man.
I don't know whether you've heard the story of the phone that rang in a high society home in Boston in the States. It was a sort of cocktail party circuit home: wealthy, affluent - but their son was fighting the war in Vietnam. He was due to return home, and here he was on the phone. He said: 'Mum, I want to bring a buddy home with me', and the mum replied, 'Sure you can, in a couple of days time, and he can stay for a few'. 'But Mum, there is something about him that you need to know. He's only got one leg. He's only got one arm and one eye. He's disfigured', and she says, 'That's alright, he can come and stay for a few days'. The lad said: 'No, you don't understand, I want him to come for good'. Then all the excuses started: 'We'd be embarrassed. You know the type of clientele that we socialise with, what would people think?', and they went on and on like this, Mum and Dad, and then the phone clicked. A few days later the police called, and the sergeant says: 'We've found the body of a boy with one arm, one leg, one eye, badly disfigured. He's killed himself, and he answers to the description of your son'.
That was conditional love: 'Become what we want you to become, and we will love you' - that's not the love of Christ. The love of Christ is: 'While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us' - that is grace, it is unconditional, the only thing we need to do to receive it is to believe. He did not condemn her, He unconditionally loved her, and He wiped the slate clean for her: 'Go! Go!'. Did He tell her what to do? He didn't even say: 'You need to confess', He didn't even say, 'You need to do this, that, and the other' - no! 'Go, and sin no more'. She had believed in Him, she had trusted in Him. I imagine her going, and I imagine her telling people, and I imagine people seeing her and also hearing with the tittle tattle of the community what had gone on - that she had been dragged and caught in adultery, and brought before these Pharisees and the Lord Jesus - and here she is, leaping and bounding, and I imagine walking and leaping and praising God with a smile on her face. People are saying: 'What are you behaving like that for? You of all people should be ashamed of yourself!'. What do you think her answer was to that? I'm sure it was: 'I've been at the feet of Jesus, and I have experienced grace'. Do you know what that is? It's too good for you? Grace that is greater than all your sin.
A lonely woman, a compassionate Man. I've told you this story before, but I think it's important. There was a girl by the name of Christina, and she lived in Brazil. She wanted the bright lights of the city, as many teenagers do - and she used to talk about it, and fantasise about it, and torture her Mum about it. One day Maria, her mother, went into the bedroom in the morning to waken her for school, and she was gone - clothes taken with her. This is what Maria did: she went and packed a bag, she went down to the bus station and got a ticket to Rio de Janeiro where she believed Christina had gone. Then she went into a kiosk in the bus station, and took as many photos as she could afford of herself, one after the other and put them in a bag. She got the bus, got to Rio de Janeiro, and spent as many days as she could afford with those photographs, putting them all over the place - in phone booths, foyers of restaurants and hotels, toilet mirrors - with the hope that Christina, somewhere, somehow, would see it.
One day, just like the prodigal son, Christina's money had run out and she had lowered her morals to earn a little more. She was walking down the stairs of one of those hotels, and she saw in the corner of the mirror in the foyer a picture of her mother. Her eyes began to fill with tears as she walked up, plucked it down, turned it round, and on the back were these words: 'Christina, whatever you've done, whatever you've been, whatever you've become, come home. Come home'.
That's not just the love of a mother, but that describes the grace of God. Whatever you've done, whatever you've become, wherever you've been, come home. Believe in the Lord Jesus, you will be saved.
Now I've been, I suppose, addressing this message particularly to unbelievers and the unconverted - and yet I've been inferring that many Christians do not grasp grace, they really don't. Maybe you're a person that calls yourself a Christian, and there's things in your past that you just can't allow grace to deal with. It's even too good to be true for you, and you know all about Jesus dying on the cross and rising again, and the gospel of grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone - but emotionally, mentally and spiritually you have not let go of those things and grabbed hold of God's grace. Would you please, for your sake and for the glory of Christ's sake, do it tonight? Whatever that thing is, whatever it did to you, or has done to you since, God's grace has dealt with it - has dealt with it - if you would only believe that.
Maybe you're not converted? John 1:12 says: 'To as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to as many as believed in his name' - believing and receiving, the same thing. Receive this gift free, nothing is required, receive it. Believe the Lord Jesus as your Saviour, and He will say to you tonight: 'Go, and sin no more' - but please, don't go tonight without God's grace in Christ.
Lord, seal the message of John 8, this love story of grace, with the salvation of a lost soul, the restoration of a backsliding Christian, and the revival of every believing heart. To Your glory we pray, Amen.
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This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Evangelical Church in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the recording, titled "The Love Story Of God's Grace" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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