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.” (John 8:2-11)
One of the most important questions that we will ever face is this: How will Jesus treat us when we really drop the ball? On the worst day of our moral-lives? When we not only sin, but sin big. When we are caught red-handed. When that selfishness or pride or lust or anger or cowardice that had been hiding in the dark corners of our heart is brought into the light.
How will Jesus deal with you on that day?
While Jesus was in the middle of teaching a crowd of people outside of the temple, a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery was brought before him. Not only was she undeniably guilty but she was also now being publicly humiliated, knowing full well that she was on her way to being condemned and executed according to Mosaic law.
She likely didn’t wake up that morning intending on today being the worst day of her life. None of us do. Yet for her, today was that day.
And though her guilt was clear, something was clearly off. Why was only the woman brought to Jesus, and not the man she was involved with? Why did the Pharisees—considered experts in Old Testament Scripture—only quote the part of the Law that condemned the woman, but not the part that equally condemned the man (Leviticus 20:10)?
The whole scene reeked of hypocrisy and Jesus could smell it. Those who were doing the accusing here didn’t actually care about justice (evidenced by the absence of the man) and they didn’t care about God’s Word (evidenced by their manipulation of Scripture). They cared only about undermining Jesus in order to exalt themselves. To them, this woman was nothing more than bait in an ethical trap. If Jesus condemned her, his reputation as a man of mercy would suffer. If he did not, his reputation as a man of holiness who upheld the Scriptures would suffer.
What does Jesus say to this woman’s accusers on the worst day of her life?
He tells them to go ahead and stone her. But there’s one small caveat: let the one who is without sin go first (v 7).
As the gravity of Jesus’s words dawn on everyone present, the initial silence would have been deafening. One by one, her accusers realise that the first stone won’t be coming from their hand. Then, for a few holy minutes, the only sounds to be heard are that of rocks falling softly out of unclenched hands into the dirt, and footsteps receding into the distance. Before long it’s just the woman and Jesus. And here’s how he responds:
“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.” (v 10-11)
You see, the only person in that crowd—and in the entire history of the world—qualified to throw the first stone, was Jesus. And on the worst day of this woman’s life, the One who exclusively possesses the right to condemn her, forgives her. As Matt Carter writes, “Not only does he forgive her, but he also transforms her future. He doesn’t give her a license to keep sinning. He gives her a reason to stop.”
That is how Jesus treats us when we sin big. And that is what makes grace amazing; the verdict precedes the instruction. His undeserved acquittal of our sins not only comes before any action he calls us to; it empowers that very action. The order matters.
You are forgiven, now go, and live like it.
You are accepted, now go, and live like it.
You are loved, now go, and live like it.
You are no longer condemned, now go, and live like it.
Consider the cross that Jesus was moving toward throughout these final years of his life. There, he would bear the entirety of your condemnation. There, he would pay the price for your every sin in full. That means that if you belong to Jesus, then never again will you face the condemnation that you rightfully deserve. What is powering God’s plan of redemption forward in the lives of all his children is not karma, but grace. Karma tells us that you get what you deserve. But the gospel of grace tells us that in Jesus, we get what we don’t deserve. Only the second is good news. And that’s why no one ever wrote a song called, “Amazing Karma.”
This article is an excerpt from Truly, Truly, I Say to You: Meditations on the Words of Jesus from the Gospel of John, published by The Good Book Company.