The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.
Have you ever wondered what Jesus wrote in the dirt with His finger while the Pharisees were trying to get Him to pronounce a judgment upon the woman caught in adultery? Maybe you never gave it any thought. Most folks usually don’t. Most folks just assume that Jesus was doodling and killing time while the Pharisees made fools of themselves. I will tell you that I have heard a few very interesting explanations over the years by certain folks who have wondered what Christ wrote. One very old traditional explanation states that Jesus was writing the names of the mistresses of the hypocritical Pharisees. That’s why they all turned tail and ran. God (or at least Jesus) knew their dirty little adulterous secrets. “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” This would also help to explain how at least one of the Pharisees was able to “catch” the woman in the act of adultery. It takes two to tango, right?
Now, as saucy and sordid as this explanation is, which is probably why so many in our culture like and accept this explanation as fact, it is all just conjecture; conjecture which really only fits with what we want to hear. We like the scandal. We like the “bad guys” getting humiliated. We like it when their hypocrisy is slammed. But…I don’t buy it. It’s just not right. It doesn’t fit with fact.
You see, there is a whole lot of background information to this story that’s needed for us to be able to understand what’s going on here. Why? Simply put, we’re not Jews. We’re not first-century Jews. Take, for instance, the simple fact that this account takes place on a Sabbath day—the day after the weeklong Feast of Booths. According to Jewish law, the day after any major feast had to be observed as a Sabbath. It is on this eighth day of the feast that Jesus returns to the temple area, where the Pharisees are waiting to trap Him and discredit Him publicly. Now, the fact that this is a Sabbath day is important because this means that no work is to be done. Work, in the Jewish legal system, included some pretty crazy things, such as if you walked more than 6/10 of a mile on the Sabbath you were doing work. If you turned a key on a lock, you were doing work. If you wrote on paper, you were doing work. You could write in the dust, which the wind could blow away and leave no trace behind, but if you left a written record—on paper, on scroll, in stone…whatever—you were doing work, and thus, you were sinning.
So, following along with the story, Jesus is in the temple on the Sabbath day, writing in the dirt. He’s not working, is He? He is upholding the Law perfectly. Now, what was He writing? What if I told you that He did pronounce the right and just judgment for the sin of adultery? Do you remember what that punishment is, by God’s own mouth and direction? Death! Death by stoning!
Think about this for a moment. Jesus, the just and righteous Judge, is upholding His Father’s Law perfectly. The Pharisees present an adulterous woman to Him, and challenge Him to render verdict. What to do? What to do? Do you pronounce her guilty and incite a mob for stoning, which will certainly get all the Roman soldiers’ attention and make you out to be a rabble-rousing insurrectionist and trouble-maker? Remember: John tells us in chapter 18:31 that the Romans outlawed the Jews putting anyone to death. Or…do you make an exception to the Law and let the woman walk free, effectively calling God and Moses wrong, which will also make you look like a heretical trouble-maker? What to do?
Jesus handles it perfectly and justly. He kneels down and writes something to the effect of “guilty” or “stone her” or “death,” acknowledging full-well that God’s Law is right and does take precedence over Caesar. But…here in this act Jesus is also calling out the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. He is saying quite clearly that He is more than willing to go to jail for transgressing Caesar’s law and upholding God’s law. What about them? “Let him who is without sin among you cast the first stone. I’m with you. She’s guilty and deserves the just and right punishment for her sin, but you go ahead and throw the first stone. Lead the way.”
And here’s another important fact that we simply miss due to our cultural divide. In this first-century culture, wisdom and guidance was sought by emulating the elders. What were the oldest ones doing and saying? That’s why the oldest Pharisees keep peeling off and running away until finally no one is left. No one wants their name attached to this act. No one wants to be the guy everyone points to when the Roman soldiers come and ask, “Who did this? Who started this?” They all talk the talk, but no one is willing to walk the walk. This is when Jesus casually looks up in feigned surprise, “Where did everyone go? What? No one has condemned you, woman? Well…neither do I condemn you. Now, go and sin no more.”
And this is really where we want to focus in on tonight as we end this year and prepare, by God’s grace, to enter into a new year. You see, if Jesus were to look back at your year in review, He would kneel down and write the same exact thing. “But pastor, I’ve been sinful—yes—but I’ve never committed those wretched sins.” So…the wage of sin being death only applies to really bad sins that certain people commit…but not you? That’s not what God’s Word says, is it? The wage of sin is death, and all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We routinely confess that we deserve nothing but present and eternal punishment for our sins. Don’t tell me you just muddle through the words and don’t really mean them! Let it not be!
Be honest: Look back at your year in review. You’ve sinned. I’ve sinned. We’ve all sinned, and all those sins deserve God’s hellish wrath and punishment. We’re guilty. I will readily confess to all of you that I have been a lousy pastor and husband and father and son and brother and friend this year. I am a very sinful man, and my sin has gotten the better of me more than I care to admit. There are simply not enough hours left in this year (or the next) to enumerate all my sinful failures from this year alone, although I’m sure some of you would be more than happy to remind me of my sins, but…let he who is without sin among you cast the first stone. That’s right! We’re all guilty, aren’t we? We’re all deserving of God’s just and righteous condemnation.
And therein that reality lays our great joy and comfort. “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Our sins, like condemning words written in the dust, have been blown away by almighty God Himself. “I remember your sins no more.” God does not condemn us. Instead, He has mercy on us. He bestows upon us, not wrath, but grace. Because of Jesus’ all-redeeming life, death, and resurrection, we have been justified; that is, God has declared us innocent. More than that, the condemnation of God that we justly earned and deserved, has been paid in-full by Christ Jesus in our place.
That’s something we often fail to remember—the high cost of our salvation. I know every three-year old can tell you that Jesus died for us, but have you ever really given that any thought? Have you ever really let that sink in? As I said this past Sunday, people were martyred for this faith. They died for this faith. They died for you and your faith. Jesus Christ gave up all of heaven and earth for you. He suffered an eternity’s worth of God’s hellish wrath on that cross for you. He was utterly forsaken by His heavenly Father so that you will NEVER have to experience a single moment of it in your own life. Doesn’t that mean something to you?
You know, this time of year rolls around and everyone starts talking about making resolutions for the New Year. One of the resolutions I often hear (because people feel the need to share with me) is that they are resolving to be a “better Christian” in the New Year. They’re going to read their bible more. They’re going to attend bible study more. They’re going to get out to church more. They’re going to love God and their neighbors more and better than they did in the previous year. Sadly, like 90% of all other resolutions, the old Adam attempt at making yourself righteous fails miserably within the first few days or weeks.
Folks: Look at what God did for you! Look at all that Jesus did for you! Just look at what Jesus is doing for you right now. Look at what He will do for you in just a couple of minutes. “Take and eat; take and drink, for the forgiveness of all your sin.” You want to see change in your life? Repent! Turn and cleave to Christ Jesus and His mercy and grace and forgiveness. God never asks you to justify yourself or your sin, or to make amends for your sin. He asks you to repent of your sin. This is why I ask: Doesn’t this [the crucifix] mean something to you? This [the crucifix] is what causes righteous and God-pleasing fruits to spring forth in your life. When you truly recognize what this means for you—what high cost was paid for your life—this is when you will naturally and effortlessly begin to live the truly good and God-pleasing life. “I believe I cannot by my own reason or strength….”
This is why you’ll never hear a faithful Christian sermon or bible study focus on what you need to do. “We’re going to study how you can find purpose and meaning and direction in your life.” I know people want to hear that, no different than they want to hear the other garbage they hear today. But that’s not what God ever tells you. He never directs you to yourself or what you should or shouldn’t do. Rather, he directs you to what He has already done for you. He directs you to the cross of Jesus, where God Himself laid down His life and died for you, all so that the just and righteous condemnation earned by you would be swallowed up by Him, not only sparing your life, but giving to you the free gift of abundant and everlasting heavenly life.
Folks: Here is your perfectly clean slate, in Christ and because of Christ. You can’t unscramble eggs or un-ring a bell. Whatever sins you have committed in the past are done. You can’t undo them. But that’s okay. God doesn’t ask you or expect you to undo your sins. He asks you to repent of them, and to cleave to His grace and mercy; His just and holy pronouncement that “it is finished.” Because of the all-redeeming work and person of Jesus Christ—God in the flesh—there is no longer any condemnation to fear. There is only the joy and peace that comes with believing this Gospel Good News for you.
My only prayer for you now is that this Gospel Good News of your total and complete justification takes root in your heart and bears abundant fruit in your daily life. May your fruits of faith ever and always match your confession of faith. By the grace of God and the working of His Holy Spirit, it will be so. Of this I am confident, not in you, but in the unfailing and unchanging promise of God.
In the all-redeeming, justifying name that was put upon your head and your heart, marking you as one redeemed by Christ the Lord…AMEN.
Now…go and sin no more, and tell everyone what Christ has done for you.
Feel free to use any or all of this sermon for the edification of God's people.
Send Pastor Jason Zirbel an email.