7:53 [[They went each to his own house, 8:1 but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2 Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. 3 The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst 4 they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. 5 Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” 6 This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. 7 And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. 9 But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10 Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”]] 12 Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 7:53-8:12 ESV
My kids all love legos and so do I. I don’t get the opportunity all of the time, but I still like to get down on the floor and play with logos every now and then.
It’s funny, though, watching really little kids play with legos. My kids are all old enough that they build things with at least a vague resemblance to what they are supposed to be. Bigger kids tend to make some sort of design in their head before they start hunting for their pieces.
But, little kids will throw together a bunch of random legos and then try to figure out what they think it is. So, you can never really tell what it’s supposed to be.
Well, Anthony did this a lot when he was little. He would throw some legos together—and they were usually super fragile creations. And he would come running to show it to me and it would fall apart in his hands.
So, by the time he gets to me, he could care less about showing off his creation. Now, he wants me to fix it. I don’t even know what it is and he wants me to fix it.
I can’t fix it.
I didn’t make it.
I don’t understand how it’s supposed to work. And when I try, I get told, “No, You’re doing it wrong!”
There’s just no fixing it.
I think most people are willing to admit that the world we live in is fundamentally broken.
Some people will say that there is no master-builder behind the creation of the world, it just didn’t come together perfect when whatever happened, happened.
Others will say that there is a master-builder and probably call Him God. And they blame humanity for the brokenness of our world.
And that’s where I land, because that’s what the Bible teaches. The Bible teaches that God made a perfect world and a perfect universe, but humanities persistent sin has brought the world under a curse, so now everything and everyone suffers from the brokenness of human beings.
And just like my sons legos, we can’t fix it.
We didn’t make it.
We don’t really understand how it’s supposed to work.
There’s just no fixing it.
In the story we just heard from the book of John in the Bible, we see, really, two different kinds of brokenness that people deal with. One type of brokenness is easy to identify. I’m calling it public brokenness, because it’s the sort of thing you can’t hide, at least not for very long.
In our story it was a woman who was caught in adultery. Presumably, there was a man whose sin was made very public as well, although we can only speculate why he is not in the story. I imagine the affair started very quiet, very private. But, one day someone saw her follow the man into his house and rumors began. Rumors stirred up suspicions of all kinds until someone actually caught them in the act and brought their sin out in public.
Public brokenness is the kind of brokenness that might start private, but inevitably gets out so that everyone knows what is going on.
Private brokenness is something different. Private brokenness isn’t usually secret behaviors so much as secret thoughts. Behaviors get out, whether it’s adultery or pornography or alcoholism. But, envy, bitterness, pride, those sorts of things can hold on for a lifetime without every getting out.
And you might say, ‘Who cares?’ If it’s secret, then it’s not hurting anything.
But, Jesus would disagree. Notice, the Scribes and Pharisees seem to have understood Jesus’s point that their private brokenness was just as bad as the public brokenness of the adulterous woman. That’s why they walked away.
It seems pretty clear that the guilt and shame that a publically broken person deals with is not so different than the guilt and shame a privately broken person endures.
So, today, I want to walk through these ideas of public and private brokenness and explore the ways that Jesus gives hope to those that are broken. We’ll start by talking about…
Publicly broken people
It’s hard to tell exactly what is happening in parts of this story. There’s questions.
Why does Jesus stoop down to write in the sand? Where did the woman come from? Did they drag her from home? Was she just caught in adultery, or is this part of her reputation of past sins? And where’s her partner in crime?!
There’s a lot of details we have to guess about, but I’ll tell you what seems most likely to me.
Under Roman rule, the Jews were not always allowed to carry out the laws of God as recorded in the Old Testament. When it came to capital punishment, they had to respect the Roman laws first.
So, even though the Law of Israel says,
If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death. (Leviticus 20:10, ESV)
…under Roman law, they cannot just stone this woman…or the man, wherever he is.
About the only way to get away with murder in ancient Rome would be to incite a riot, which the scribes and Pharisees were certainly not trying to do at the Lord’s the Temple—which is where this story takes place. But, if you can insight a riot and the unruly mob kills the woman, then no one is held responsible for the death. But, inciting riots is also super illegal under Roman law, so you have to be really, really crafty if you’re going to do that so you don’t get caught.
So, I don’t think the woman’s life was really in danger, here. On a cold read, you almost get the sense that they just pulled the woman from her lovers bed and brought her to the temple to be judged by Jesus. But, there’s a couple reasons that doesn’t make sense.
I mean, no one knew Jesus would be there. The previous day, Jesus was out with the disciples teaching somewhere in Jerusalem and then the first verses of our text say,
They went each to his own house, but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. (John 7:53–8:2, ESV)
After teaching the previous day, Jesus separated from the disciples and came back to the temple the next day by himself.
So, what I see happening here is something a little different. See, the scribes and Pharisees, several times seized opportunities to try to trap Jesus in his words. And I think this situation isn’t any different. I think the woman had a reputation in the town as an adulterer. I think her sin happened a long time ago and because the Jews couldn’t stone her according to their law, she continued to live, wearing her shame as she goes out into the town every day.
Have you ever had that kind of shame? that shame that reminds you of your sin and brokenness every time you go around certain people? that bad decision that never seems to go away?
That day, the adulterous woman found herself at the temple and she was reminded of her shame. When the scribes and Pharisees saw her, they seized the opportunity. They grabbed her and brought her to Jesus to see what his judgment would be.
It was bad enough that she had been used by her lovers, now she’s being used by the scribes and Pharisees, the supposed righteous men of Israel. She’s worthless to them. They don’t see her as one who images God’s righteousness and love so they use her to accomplish their purposes without even considering how their actions effect her.
They care only for themselves. She has no value to them. They make her feel completely worthless.
And it’s hard to believe you are any better than people perceive you to be. It’s hard when everyone looks down on you to believe you are worth anything more. So, shame effects your self-esteem. You start to believe you are as worthless as everyone else thinks you are because of the way they treat you. Your self-esteem gets so damaged that you don’t even try to get out of your circumstances, because you no longer believe you deserve to live a better life.
That’s where this woman is at…You can see it…She doesn’t fight back. She stands in the middle of the circle and doesn’t speak a word. She doesn’t defend herself. She doesn’t plead for mercy. Her self-esteem is so damaged that she doesn’t even speak; she believes she deserves condemnation.
So, she stands and awaits her judgment. You can see the picture. Even when all the scribes and Pharisees are walking away, one-by-one, she’s still standing there waiting for Jesus to cast judgment. Maybe he will cast the first stone.
Not only have the people in her town judged her, and the scribes and Pharisees judged her; but she’s even judged herself. And she’s ready to be condemned. She knows that’s what she deserves and she’s ready.
She’s done. She’s tired of being the town whore. She’s ready to die for her sins. She is ready to die for her defiance of God’s law.
And I think that’s interesting, because her condemnation in life had become so great that the thought of meeting her maker and suffering from His eternal condemnation paled in comparison. The pain of her brokenness in life made entering into eternity more palatable than continuing in life, now.
We talk about heaven and hell and eternal judgment, where those who die in their sins will suffer eternal separation from God and live in torment for eternity, because of their sins. But, if I’m honest, many of you are suffering the consequences of the broken world now, and eternal hope does not give you hope for today. The abstract notion of eternal peace with Jesus might keep you coming to Church on Sunday, but it doesn’t give you hope for this life and so you continue to suffer from your brokenness now.
But, Jesus gives hope for now.
I wonder what happened to the adulterous woman after this encounter. Jesus didn’t condemn her. And the scribes and Pharisees acknowledged that they too are broken, which we’ll talk about in a minute. So, they don’t condemn her.
And I think when people see this woman after this encounter with Jesus, they’re going to see her in a new light. Especially as the story of Jesus continues to unfold in history and the people realize that Jesus is the Messiah, the one anointed by God to bring salvation from sin and brokenness to the world. When Jesus forgives her sins, the people must recognize that to some degree.
In some ways, her shame is turned in the direction of honor. When Jesus forgives her, her shame begins to turn to honor. And honor doesn’t come all at once. That’s a process. But, she has the ability now, because of Jesus to see her shame fade and honor grow in her life.
But, I think the bigger hope is what happens in her own heart and mind. This woman of low self-esteem who has counted herself worthless and shameful stands now under the forgiveness of Jesus Christ. She teeters on, this pinnacle moment, what is probably the most crucial moment in her life.
She has to decide to continue to live in the patterns of brokenness that she has become so comfortable with or to believe Jesus.
And I think Jesus tells us why so many of us continue to suffer from our brokenness now, even though we believe in Jesus.
Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” (John 8:10–11, ESV)
Do you see what I see here in this text?
For Jesus, ‘Go, and sin no more’ is inextricably tied to ‘Neither do I condemn you.’ If the woman believes that her condemnation has been removed, that her sins have been forgiven, then and only then can she move forward in the charge to ‘go and sin no more.’
If she doesn’t believe in Jesus’s forgiveness then why would anything change?
If she doesn’t believe in what Jesus says then she is still an adulterous woman, the worthless dregs of society, cursed to live in shame and guilt for the rest of her life.
But, if she believes Jesus then she is offered actual escape from the brokenness that has landed her in this very place. Believing Jesus, must include, ‘go and sin no more,’ because we believe Jesus in order to be healed, to be made whole, to be made righteous. Believing Jesus gives us a way out of the patterns of sin and unfaithfulness that we walk and empowers us to live righteously. Believing Jesus empowers us to ‘go and sin no more.’
Because the woman believed Jesus…
…her shame was turned to honor.
…her worthlessness was turned to value.
…low self-esteem was turned to a sense of purpose.
…and her judgment was turned to freedom.
Because you believe in Jesus, you also have freedom from the judgment of God and therefore you no longer judge yourself. And if you no longer judge yourself, then you can live righteously. And if you live righteously then you will see your shame in this world turned to honor. It starts with believing Jesus when he offers you this free gift, ‘neither do I condemn you.’
And I can’t escape this point. If you are persistent to continue in your pattern of brokenness, it’s because you don’t believe that Jesus has taken away your condemnation. Escape from your sin and brokenness comes when you believe you are free from condemnation through Jesus.
Maybe you don’t relate so much to the woman in the story, though. Many of you haven’t experienced this public shaming because of your sin. That’s because many of you are…
Privately broken people
These are the scribes and the Pharisees in the story. They religiously follow God’s laws for Israel. No one can condemn them according to the law. They’re so careful and they have an answer for everything you might try to challenge them on. They see themselves as the righteous when everyone else are just sinners.
When they grabbed the adulterous woman and drug her before Jesus, there’s no way they saw themselves as just as worthy of condemnation as her. She was a sinner and they were the righteous ones. Jesus told a story that really gets at the heart of these guys.
Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.
The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’
But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ (Luke 18:10–13, ESV)
The Pharisees believed themselves to be righteous men, because of the things they did on the outside. But, Jesus showed them that they were just like the woman caught in adultery, but they’re only broken on the inside.
“They said to him [Jesus], “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?”…he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” (John 8:4–8, ESV)
Jesus forced them to look inwardly and admit what was really in their hearts. Even though they seem to be righteous on the outside, they are still privately broken.
How many of you have avoided public shaming in life, but live in fear that your innermost thoughts might come out, making your brokenness public?
That’s exactly where the Pharisees are at. Some scholars speculate that Jesus was writing their sins on the ground or that he was writing the ten commandments. You can imagine how that would feel. You’ve hid this sin in your heart for all of your life and then Jesus writes jealousy on the ground and your heart wrenches. Or he writes lust on the ground and you start to sweat. Or he writes pride on the ground and you start to panic.
They’re fearful that their inward sin will be made public. You may feel that same anxiety right now. Some of you get anxiety about letting people in your home because you’re afraid they might observe something that could incriminate you. Or maybe you get anxiety about someone using your computer or your phone because there could be incriminating things on there. People that are privately broken have a great need to be private people so that their sin is not made known.
Fear gives way to anxiety and anxiety gives way to arrogance. I actually think that the Scribes and Pharisees showed a great deal of humility in this story. With the threat of exposure our intuition is to become arrogant, to defend our honor, to try to come up with excuses and loopholes.
Have you ever insisted something was true when the reality is, you’d already been caught in the lie?
And the private brokenness keeps going further, often giving way to paranoia. Paranoia goes a step further than anxiety, where you aren’t just anxious, you don’t ever let people into your home and you block people out of your computer or your phone with passwords. — If your spouse doesn’t know the password to your computer or phone, that’s not reasonable privacy, it’s paranoia.
But, consider what Jesus does with the sin of the Pharisees and scribes. The first thing he does is expose them—not publically, not to shame them, nothing like that. Jesus exposes their sin to themselves. He makes them admit that they are in fact broken, that they aren’t more righteous than other people, that they are as much in need of God’s mercy as everyone else.
And once they admit their brokenness, they are on the same exact pathway towards forgiveness as the adulterous woman. If they believe Jesus, then, ‘Neither do I condemn you’ is for them. And the empowerment to be free from sin is theirs. They can commit to ‘Go and sin no more.’
If you believe in Jesus and commit to no longer walk in brokenness, then…
…your fear of exposure is turned to confidence.
…your anxiety is turned to contentment.
…your arrogance towards others is turned to consideration of others.
…your paranoia is turned to trust.
I think it’s interesting, because the steps that Jesus takes in the story are the same three steps we ask you to take. We call it the ABC’s—Admit, Believe, Commit.
Like the Pharisees and scribes, you need to admit that you are part of the brokenness of this world.
And then, like the woman, you have to believe that Jesus has the power to forgive your sins and that he has freed you from condemnation.
And then you commit to go and sin no more.
So, I want to ask you today, if you have never committed to follow Jesus and you’re tired of walking in brokenness, walking in darkness, will you commit to follow Jesus?
At this time, I’d like everyone to take out their Next Step cards. That’s the slip of paper in the seat in front of you or on the seat next to you for those in the front row.
Let’s make sure everyone has one. Hold them up for us to see!
It’s our practice that everyone fill out one of these cards and commit to a Next Step after hearing from the scriptures today. Please put your name on it and let us know what your next step is.
If you are ready to commit to follow Jesus, please mark the box that says ‘commit to follow Jesus’ and one of our staff will contact you more to discuss what that looks like in more detail.
But, your Next Step can be anything God has prompted you to do today.
Maybe you are more like the scribes or Pharisees in the story and there is someone in your inner-circle, your oikos, we call it, that’s a lot more like the adulterous woman. Remember, Jesus has called you into that persons life to lead them towards the goodness of God. So, your Next Step might be to take a step like Jesus this weak, sit down with them, and tell them, ‘I don’t approve of your sin, but neither do I condemn you.’ And then offer them Jesus as the way of escape from their patterns of brokenness.
Maybe you’re like the scribes or Pharisees in that you have recognized for the first time that you have sin in your heart and you want to be free from that. I’d encourage you to find someone you trust who is a Christian, probably someone here in this church, and be vulnerable. Confess your sin to them and ask them to pray for you that you might receive repentance from God.
And maybe you are living in shame like the adulterous woman and you want out. If that’s where you are at, I would ask you to take as your Next Step, what Jesus told the woman to do, ‘Go and sin no more.’ I don’t know what your situation is, but I’m confident there is a step you can take to move forward.
And if you have nothing else, I want you to sign up for small groups. This can be a big step if you feel you don’t have the time. But, the best way to experience Christ’s healing is by surrounding yourself by the people of God and the Word of God.
And maybe your Next Step something else. Please write that down now and put that in the collection plate in a few minutes. And our staff and prayer team will be praying for you this week as you take your Next Step so that the Spirit of God would empower you to become whole again in Christ.