There’s not a day that goes by that we don’t hear of someone who was caught in the act. People who have said something or done something that they wish they had never said or done, but it was too late—they were caught in the act. Wednesday night, after I got home from choir, I Googled, “caught in the act,” looking for news stories about people who had been caught breaking the law. You wouldn’t believe the variety of stories that came up on the screen. Some of them included burglary, robbery, rape, a couple of preachers in Kenya exposed for performing fake miracles, a police officer exposing himself, husbands and wives caught in compromising situations, and a TV meteorologist who was supposedly taking a potty break when Lester Holt went live with the weather report from North Carolina.
Early Thursday morning I turned on the TV to check on the weather when the chyron at the bottom of the screen read, “Poachers Caught.” I listened as Mr. Ogle described what took place last Sunday night. Some guys were out spotlighting deer near the river when the wildlife officials pulled up and caught them red handed. Two of the suspects were apprehended. When the wildlife officials checked out the truck they found three more guys in the back of the truck trying to unload their rifles. They were caught red handed, busted, caught in the act of poaching deer.
I’ve got to come clean with all of you this morning. Being caught in the act doesn’t just happen to other people…it happened to me just last month. Connie and I went to St. Louis to see Annie. We had a great trip. Everything went just fine. That is, until we got home. I got home from church a couple of weeks ago and Connie said, “You got a ticket for $100 from the St. Louis Police Department.” I said, “What do you mean?” Connie handed me a sheet of paper that had a picture of our vehicle making a right turn at a red light. I said, “But you can make a right turn at a red light after you stop.” Connie said, “Not in St. Louis.” I was busted, caught in the act, and they even got me on camera!
I’m sure some of you could probably share similar stories. Hopefully harmless stories of boneheaded decisions you made as a kid and not as life-changing as some of the stories I read online this past week. In our Scripture for today we’ll read about a woman who was caught in the act long before there were surveillance cameras on every street corner and in every business. Let’s take a look at our Scripture for today. It begins at John 7:53 and ends at John 8:11. Let’s read it together.
53 Then they all went home, 8 1 but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2 At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. 3 The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4 and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5 In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6 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. 7 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.” 8 Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. 9 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. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” (John 7:53-8:11 NIV)
Before we get into our Scripture for today I need to point something out to you. There is much debate about whether the story that we are looking at this morning was found in the earliest copies of the New Testament. There are several reasons why some Bible scholars believe this story wasn’t in John’s original Gospel and it’s not just liberal Bible scholars who have come to this conclusion. The internal issues concern the vocabulary and placement of the story. The external issues include the fact that the earliest Greek Church fathers never commented on the story. I’ve read all of the concerns, but for me, since it is in our Bible, I want to accept it as authoritative. At the same time, there are many reputable Bible scholars who know far more than me that say it wasn’t in John’s original Gospel. Now, before you get all twisted up and start quoting bumper stickers, you know the one that says, “The Bible says it. I believe it. That settles it!” Let me try to talk you off the ledge by reminding you that there is no other book in history that has been more scrutinized, critiqued, and examined than the Bible and it has stood the test of time.
F.E. Peters is Professor Emeritus of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies and History at New York University. Dr. Peters once said, “on the basis of manuscript tradition alone, the works that made up the Christians’ New Testament were the most frequently copied and widely circulated books of antiquity.” Let me unpack what Dr. Peters is talking about.
We have more than 5,600 partial or complete Greek manuscripts of the New Testament. You can add an additional 10,000 Latin Vulgate copies and at least 9,300 other early versions to that total. That’s almost 25,000 copies of parts or complete copies of the New Testament. There is no other ancient document that even comes close. The Bible has been torn apart and examined from every angle. Critics, skeptics, and adversaries have done everything in their power to disprove and discredit the text of the Bible, but with each new discovery the validity and authenticity of the Bible is strengthened.
What’s really interesting is that although many Bible scholars don’t believe that the story of the woman caught in adultery was in John’s Gospel, but was added later, the vast majority believe that the story is authentic, part of the oral tradition handed down through the ages. They believe this because the story complements the truths we read and learn about Jesus in the rest of the Gospels.
At Home on the Mount of Olives
Let’s take a look at our story. The first thing that jumped out at me as I began studying this section of Scripture this past week was John 7:53 and John 8:1. Look at it and see if you notice what jumped out at me this week. We read, “Then they all went home, but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.” There are so many sermons in that one sentence. The confrontations were increasing. The anxiety and animosity of His accusers were as prevalent as the oxygen that filled the air. After another confrontation took place everyone went home except for Jesus. He went to the Mount of Olives. Many Bible teachers use this verse to point out that Jesus had no home, but I don’t see that as the most important aspect of the verse. The Mount of Olives was more of a home for Jesus than any of the homes inhabited by His followers or accusers. Luke tells us, “Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him.” (Luke 22:39 NIV)
Jesus could find His way to the Mount of Olives with His eyes closed. Jesus found peace and quiet on the Mount of Olives. He withdrew to be alone with the Father on the Mount of Olives. On the night when He was arrested, Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemane, which is located on the Mount of Olives, to pray for His followers and Himself. We all need a Mount of Olives. I’m not saying that you need to hop a plane and fly to Jerusalem so that you can literally visit the Mount of Olives. What I’m talking about is this: You and I need to regularly withdraw from this frazzled, frenzied, fast-paced life full of frustrations, heartaches, conflict, and troubles of every kind and spend quiet times with the Father in His Word. Strength for the journey is gained in that place. Clarity in the cloudy times of life is gained in that place. Intimacy with the Father grows in that place. In that place our whirling, out-of-control-minds can rest and refocus.
Planning Their Next Attack
While Jesus was out on the Mount of Olives praying, resting in the Sovereign grace and drawing strength from the Father, the scribes and Pharisees were scheming, plotting, and planning their next attack. They had their bait. A woman had been caught in the act of adultery. Humiliated, embarrassed, branded with the scarlet letter—soon her humiliation would be heightened when they paraded her in front of the whole city of Jerusalem.
Jesus was an early riser. At dawn the next day, Jesus was sitting in the temple courts teaching the people when the teachers of the law and the Pharisees came dragging the woman to Jesus. When they arrived at the place where Jesus was teaching the woman slumped to the ground in embarrassment. “Get up! Stand up woman!” they yelled so that everyone could hear. Then, the attention of the crowd was turned away from the woman when one of the Pharisees said, “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?” (John 8:4-5 NIV) Jesus may have avoided their traps in the past, but they had Him this time, they were sure of it! Jesus was known by the people for His love and compassion. If He let her off the hook then He would be guilty of breaking the Law of Moses. If He agreed with the punishment then it would ruin His reputation as a compassionate and caring Teacher. Alongside of losing His reputation, Jesus would be in big trouble with the Roman authorities because only the Romans could execute those guilty of crimes.
The Woman and Her Crime
There are two very important matters that we need to take the time to understand concerning this story. First, let’s take a closer look at the woman and her crime. James Montgomery Boice writes,
To understand precisely what these men were doing we must understand that not only was their approach to Jesus a trap; they actually had already been active in trapping the woman. In fact, it could hardly be otherwise, on the basis of their testimony and in light of the very exacting requirements of Jewish law in this and other capital cases. Under Jewish law, as it was practiced by the rabbis in the time of Christ and later, it was necessary to have multiple witnesses to the act of intercourse before the charge of adultery could be substantiated, and even this was to be under the most exacting of circumstances. (Boice, James Montgomery. The Gospel of John: Volume 2. pg. 603.)
We know that the teachers of the law and the Pharisees were able to quote the law with precision and conviction, but Jesus saw something wrong with the picture. Most obvious was, “Where was the man?” Adultery is an offense that takes two people. It wasn’t any different in Jesus’ day. Where was the man? The law called for both parties to be punished. In Leviticus 20:10 we read,
10 “‘If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife– with the wife of his neighbor– both the adulterer and the adulteress are to be put to death. (Leviticus 20:10 NIV)
“Where was the man? If you are so concerned with justice, why didn’t you bring the man in with the woman?” Could he have run away? Or, could it be that the man was in on the sting operation and was granted immunity for his part in the plan? Their stories were fuzzy, but the Scriptures were not. In Deuteronomy 22:22 we read,
22 If a man is found sleeping with another man’s wife, both the man who slept with her and the woman must die. You must purge the evil from Israel. (Deuteronomy 22:22 NIV)
Sexual Enlightenment or Enslavement?
While I was reading these Scriptures this week I had a thought. Aren’t you glad we no longer live under the law? Aren’t you glad we no longer live in such a Puritanical, prudish, sexually repressed time? Can you imagine how horrific it must have been for those who lived in the old days; who were controlled by such unimaginable expectations as getting married and being faithful to their spouse for the rest of their life?
We live in a day where there are no sexual boundaries. You and I can just do whatever we feel like doing, right? No boundaries. No judgment. No condemnation. No problem. You can explore any and every sexual frontier you decide you want to experience and in our society you will find the Court system and the masses willing to stand up and fight for your right to do so. The sexual enlightenment has come and we are free at last!
Don’t you dare believe that my friend. What we view as freedom is in reality the most harsh and cruel enslavement that there is. Skeptics are quick to point out how harsh God’s punishment was for those who ventured outside the bounds of sexual purity for the unmarried and faithfulness within marriage. What they fail to point out is that living within God’s boundaries for sex prevented the heartache and pain that come with living a sexually promiscuous life.
Paul wrote to the church in Corinth and said, “Flee from sexual immorality.” (1 Corinthians 6:18 NIV) Anything that falls outside of God’s boundaries of sexual purity for those who are single and faithfulness within marriage should be avoided at all cost. Run for your life because sexual immorality will destroy you if left unchecked. Sexual immorality: fornication, adultery, pornography, and every other tentacle of the beast is not content with simply destroying you—its reach will go far beyond your heart and soul and will produce collateral damage in the lives of those who love you.
There are so many varieties of sexual immorality in our day that it would be impossible for me to try and name them all. The internet has fostered sexual addiction for young boys and girls as well as men and women. Sexually explicit reading material and movies have moved from the shadows into the mainstream of society. It used to be that whenever “sex” was mentioned in some illicit manner that it stirred images of guys in a locker room talking about their weekend escapades or men on break at work looking at Playboy or Penthouse. Today, all of that has changed. Women and moms driving mini-vans have elbowed their way onto the scene. The E.L. James book, “50 Shades of Grey,” has sold over 100 million copies. It’s been a sensation and the movie will hit theatres in February of 2015. I haven’t read the book about domination, bondage, and erotica, but millions of women have. I read this past week about a female pastor who has written a book called, “Diary of a Christian Woman: How I Used 50 Shades to Spice Up My Marriage.” Ladies, let me ask you a question. Would you sit down and read the book with Jesus? Then it shouldn’t be on your Kindle or sitting on your bedside.
Let’s get back to the woman and Jesus before we run out of time. When the charges against the woman were brought to Jesus He knelt down and wrote on the ground. I’ve read about every possibility that Jesus could have written this past week, but there’s just no way for us to know whether Jesus was writing the sins of the men in the crowd, the “10 Commandments,” or if Jesus wrote on the ground to kill time while He formed His answer. They kept at, “What do you say? Tell us Jesus!” When Jesus looked up at her accusers, we read in John 8:7.
7 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.” (John 8:7 NIV)
“If you’ve lived a perfectly pure life, sinless in every sense of the word, then fire away boys.” A little later in the story we read that the older men led the way in dropping their stones and walking away. Jesus wrote something else on the ground while the crowd was leaving and then turned to the woman and said, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” (John 8:10 NIV) She looked at Jesus and said, “No one, sir.” Jesus said, “Then neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin.” (John 8:11 NIV)
Jesus’ Response to the Woman’s Sin
We’ve taken a look at the woman’s sin, but there’s a second aspect of the story that we need to understand. We need to understand Jesus’ response to sin. Did Jesus go easy on the woman’s sin? Did He skirt the Law of Moses just to get back at the teachers of the law and the Pharisees? Hardly. Jesus didn’t condemn the woman for the same reason that He doesn’t condemn you and me. God is both “just” and the justifier of the guilty through the sacrifice of Jesus. (Acts 3:26) God’s holiness and justice are harmonized with His mercy and grace in the Person of Jesus because Jesus, who never sinned, took our sin on Himself when suffered and died on the Cross. Paul wrote to the folks in Corinth and explained. Read along with me.
21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21 NIV)
Jesus dying for our sins is not a hypothesis, it’s not a theological theory, it is the fulfillment of everything God had promised His people throughout the Hebrew Bible. In 1 Peter 2:24, Peter wrote,
24 “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” (1 Peter 2:24 NIV)
Do you see the phrases that are in parenthesis? They are quotations from the Hebrew Bible. Turn with me to Isaiah 53:4-5 and let’s read together.
4 Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:4-5 NIV)
And in Isaiah 53:12, we read, “For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.” (Isaiah 53:12 NIV) Seven hundred years before Jesus’ birth the prophet was laying the groundwork for the arrival of the Promised Messiah. Jesus is the fulfillment of everything God promised His people. For those who will trust in Him, He will take your shame, your guilt, your embarrassment, your sense of failure, every sin you have ever committed and will ever commit, and in return He will cloth you with His righteousness.
What is it that you just can’t shake? Regardless of what friends tell you, in spite of the fact that they’ve forgiven you, told you not to worry about it, you are haunted by what you’ve done. Maybe it’s something that is ongoing in your life even now. Nobody knows but you, but you’re fearful that the day will come when you’ll be found out. My friend I’ve got news for you. They may not know, but He does. You’re busted. He doesn’t want to expose you to condemn you, but to free you from the shackles of sin’s slavery and guilt’s grip. He knows and He loves you too much to simply ignore it. He’s brought it to mind this morning so that you can cry out to Him for help.
There’s one more thing before we leave here this morning. I want to show you the difference between Jesus and the way we deal with one another. We say, “Don’t worry about it. It’s ok.” Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Now, go and leave your life of sin.” Don’t keep doing what got you here in the first place. In recovery they have a saying, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” If we keep doing what we’ve always done we’ll get what we’ve always got.
There’s a beautiful word used throughout the Bible that, sad to say, we’ve relegated to the antique heap. The word is, “repent” and in Hebrew and Greek it means “turn around.” We are born walking our way, doing our thing, and going about our business, but when we are confronted with the emptiness of our ways, the error of our thoughts, and the brokenness of our lives we hear the voice of God saying to us, “Turn around. Come to me! Walk in My ways.” I know that’s my story. I did what I wanted for the longest time, there are still times that I get off track and go after what I want, but it never turns out like I envision it. When that happens I have to “repent,” I have to turn around, and seek to walk in His steps. I bet there’s someone here this morning who is struggling with the decisions you’ve made. Maybe you are like the woman caught in adultery. You are embarrassed. You’ve been humiliated. You wear shame like a winter coat. I want to encourage you this morning to hear our Savior’s voice saying, “Neither do I condemn you.” Won’t you invite Him in?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
November 16, 2014