To catch you up real quick, here’s the gist of what happened. Jesus showed up, launches something brand new, a new kind of relationship with God, a brand new covenant, a brand new movement known as the Church. Then He died, and when He died it was like game over. Everything that you just believed in, all that you were following was gone. It’s like when Jesus died, everything died with him.
That is until He rose from the dead, which punctuated everything He taught and claimed about Himself. Then He gathered the believers together and said, “Now I want you to go into all the world, and I want you to teach the people to observe everything I have commanded you.” And then He left, and they were left with what we’re calling a “Resurrection Religion,” meaning their faith was based on an event…the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Jesus essentially unhitched the new movement from ancient Judaism and the Old Testament. As we saw in Acts 15 at the first church council meeting, they could not go back and re-embrace the temple approach because that would have been way too complicated and essentially would have left all of us out and would have signaled the end of this faith.
But unhitching from ancient Judaism did left a gap. There wasn’t a lot to go on. At this point, the gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were not written. Peter and James hadn’t written anything yet. The Apostle Paul wasn’t even a Christian yet. None of what we read in the New Testament had been written yet. And yet the Church began, and the Church grew, a lot, and the Church gained some awesome momentum that for the next 300 years, when it was extremely difficult to be a Christian in this world, the Church survived.
So all they had in the first century was the Gospel, and the eye-witness accounts, and the teaching of Jesus according to the eye-witnesses. That’s it. So, all they really had to go on was some parables, some stories of miracles, and this odd assortment of commands that we’re talking about in this series.
It’s called “The N Commandments” because we’re looking at five things that Jesus said not to do. So, we’re kind of stepping back in time and asking the question, what would it look like to be a Jesus follower before there was a New Testament? What would it look like to be a Jesus follower when all you had was this strange assortment of commands? And the reason they were so strange is because they were things that you can’t really command. Like He said, “Fear not.” How do you that? Or not do that?
He said doubt not, just stop it. Can you even do that? How about this one? We’ll get to this one next week, worry not. Worry not. Never worry about another thing in your entire life. Anybody ever told you to stop worrying, and you were able to turn it off just like that? Probably not.
Can you really fear not? Can you really doubt not? Can you really worry not? So, we’re looking at some of these “not” commands because they were so unrealistic. We know from the gospels Jesus’ followers didn’t understand them, that is until after the resurrection when they did realized it is actually possible to fear not, to doubt not, to worry not, and the two other “nots” that we’re going to talk about in this series, one of them today.
Today’s “not” is a big not, a very big not. In fact, if I were to tell you what this “not” is upfront you would think, once again, that’s just impossible. So, I’m not going to tell you just yet.
I want to first tell you the story where this “not” comes from. Now I bet 90% of you have heard this story before and you’re going to know the outcome long before I even get to it. But here’s the thing. This story is about a very, very emotional encounter between Jesus and the other characters, and to understand the emotion of this story you’ve got to understand where it happened. Context is everything. So even though your mind will want to rush to the end, try to stay with me and really feel out the emotion of the story.
The story takes place on what we call in our modern times the Temple Mount. The Temple Mount was where the Jewish temple stood in the first century. This is a modern picture of it. Here is the south wall, west wall, it goes all the way around. Currently on the Temple Mount is the Dome of the Rock and a Mosque which are Muslim worship areas.
Today this is a Muslim, a Jewish and a Christian holy site. The Jews have the Wailing Wall, where they feel like it was one of the original walls. And the Muslims gather and worship on the top. This makes it a very debated and contentious site in modern day history.
But in Jesus time, in the first century, this was the epicenter of God’s presence because on this 30-plus acre site, there was another building surrounded by walls where the Holy of Holies were.
You would enter at the southern side of the Temple Mount, which is about 900-plus feet long. Right about in the middle, they have excavated what they call the Southern Stairs. The Southern Stairs were actually about 240 feet wide, and certainly high enough to make the average person out of breath by the time you got to the top.
Once up there, you went through a gate into this big court yard that went almost all the way around the temple called the Court of the Gentiles. Then you went through another gate to the Court of Women. Then through another gate where there was this huge altar where they sacrificed animals. Over to the right of the altar, there was a large area where they butchered the animals, and straight ahead was the entrance into the Holy of Holies, the most Holy Place where it was believed that the presence of God was more than anywhere else on earth.
Now these stairs that lead up to all of this were a significant place for Jewish worshipers in the first century because this was the path to atonement. This was essentially their stairway to heaven. This was their stairway to forgiveness and reconciliation.
There would have been a lot going on in this large place, and this is where the story I’m about to read to you takes place. The context, knowing where it happens and the meaning of this place, is what brings the extraordinary emotion.
Week after week, month after month, year after year, Jewish people would climb these stairs. They would enter the Temple with their animal for sacrifice (sheep, goats, doves or pigeons). With the animal, they would leave their sin at the altar, and then descend these steps free of guilt and with their relationship with God restored.
That’s what makes this account between Jesus and these people that confront Him so significant. Because the odds are, everyone in this story entered the Temple up these stairs, through these gates. This is where God resides, this is the place of all places. So here’s what happens.
The Woman Caught in Adultery
John 8:2-5 (NASB)
2 Early in the morning He (Jesus) came again into the temple area, and all the people were coming to Him and He sat down and began teaching them.
It’s early in the morning which means the sun was just rising or perhaps the sun hadn’t even fully risen yet like when it’s light out, but the sun isn’t over the horizon yet. Early in the morning, Jesus was at the temple because this was His habit, which meant He probably climbed these Southern Steps, walked through that gate into the Courts of the Gentile.
People soon gathered around Him. Remember everywhere Jesus went, there were crowds. The sun is barely up, and they’re already looking for Jesus. Which means all these people also went up the stairs. Remember, this is your way to repentance, to reconciliation with God. Jesus probably finds a shady place on the Temple Mount, sits down, the people gather around, and Jesus begins to teach early in the morning.
3 Now the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in the act of adultery, and after placing her in the center of the courtyard…
Part of this story that I think we miss sometimes is this was very early in the morning, and we need to ask the question, “Where were these Scribes and Pharisees, and where was this woman all night long?” Likely the answer to this question is when they caught her in adultery, the issue wasn’t what do we do with the woman. The issue was this is a perfect opportunity to trap Jesus.
So they kept this woman all night long, waiting ready for when Jesus arrived onto the Temple Mount, was seated with an audience around Him, then picture this, they drag this woman from wherever they kept here all night, through the city, up the stairs, through the gate, into the Court of Gentiles, close to the Holy of Holies, in order to make their point.
Having sat her in the center of the court, the Court of the Gentiles, it’s this massive area as you saw from the picture. This is going to be a public spectacle, and they want it to be a public spectacle on purpose because they have an agenda. And the agenda is certainly not the welfare of the woman.
4 they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the very act of committing adultery.
In the very act, as in remember, “Thou shalt not commit adultery”, Exodus 20:14. This isn’t some marginal law, this is one of the top 10. This is in fact one of the only top 10 that people remember.
The crowd is quiet. And a larger crowd no doubt begins to gather because they’ve seen the commotion of these men in their robes and all of their signs of authority drag a woman up the stairs. And now this woman is in the last place she wants to be. She’s a Jewish woman. She’s been in the temple many times, but every time she came before, she went up those steps bringing a sacrifice for her sin. The temple was a monument to her sin, shame, and distance from God.
Now it looks like she herself will be sacrificed for her sin. She can see the top of the Holy Place. And as if she was not aware of her sin before, she is now overwhelmed with her sin, and her guilt. Now, can you feel a little bit of this drama?
5 Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women; what then do You say?”
Now in the law, which is right over there…Jesus, be careful what you say because we’ll take you around the corner into the Court of Women, through the gate, by the altar, and we can take you right outside of the Holy of Holies and show you the original document.
I’m sure you could have heard a pin drop throughout the Court of the Gentiles. The only sounds you would probably hear, if they started that early in the morning, was the animals being slaughter on the other side of the wall at the altar.
Jesus could have said. “Well, stone her then. Why did you drag her all the way up here if you’re so sure of her guilt? Why did you drag her all the way up here if you know what the law says, and if you know Moses’ commands?”
If Jesus had some of our smart-aleck wit, He might have said, “And by the way, what Moses actually wrote was if a man….oh wait, whose missing from this picture?… According to Leviticus 20:10, if a man commits adultery with another man’s wife, both the adulterer and the adulterous are to be put to death.” But once again what do we have? We have sacred men and their sacred place with their specialized interpretation of the sacred text in order to manipulate the followers. This thing was set up for one reason, to test Jesus.
6 Now they were saying this to test Him, so that they might have grounds for accusing Him.
You see, their goal was to divide the people from Jesus because crowds were around Him all the time. And right here at the Temple is the perfect opportunity to divide Jesus from the people because if Jesus sides against Moses, against the law, then He will certainly lose His popularity with the people. Oh, they had planned this oh so carefully.
So now it’s Jesus versus Moses. It’s Jesus versus the law. Jesus are you greater than Moses? Jesus, do you have more authority than the law?
This poor woman. They were not concerned about the welfare of the woman. As dramatic as I am trying to make this sound, we have no idea the drama and how thick the emotion was early that morning as Jesus stood and viewed this poor woman. Knowing that perhaps His future, His popularity hung in the balance as He came up with an answer to this question, this may have been one of those moments, the scriptures don’t tell us, when Peter, Andrew, and John may be thinking, “This may not go so well. We may be about to lose the crowd.”
There they are. They’re so right. Jesus is stuck. They’re at the Temple where all the action is happening. Remember what happen next?
6 But Jesus stooped down and with His finger wrote on the ground.
I don’t know if I’m reading too much into this. So don’t take this for more than it’s worth. But when I read this, I see that it’s even more than Jesus versus Moses, and Jesus versus the law. Now you have the finger of Jesus versus the finger of God.
Because the ancient Jews believed that the law of God was originally written with the finger of God. That He etched the law into tablets of stone and gave them to Moses. Moses came down off the mountain, and this was to be the rules, the laws for all of the Jews. It was written by with the finger of God.
Now, Jesus is on the Temple Mount etching in the dust with His own finger. And everybody waited. But the accusers got louder and louder and the text says,
7 When they persisted in asking Him,
In other words, they demanded, “Jesus, you have to give us an answer. Give us an answer right now.” And the longer He waited and the more silent He was, the more sure they were that they had Him because He didn’t have the answer. But really, Jesus simply gave them time to expose their hearts to the people around them, and especially to themselves.
7 When they persisted in asking Him, He straightened up and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”
Let’s not forget where we are standing. He who is without sin among you, gentlemen, how many times have you climbed these stairs to this mount to enter that gate to make sacrifice for your own sin? And suddenly the environment, suddenly the context for this conversation comes tumbling in on top of them because they’re standing on the very place that reminds them of their sin because this is the very place they have traveled since they were children, since they were little boys, to leave a sacrifice for their personal sin in order to leave down those stairs reconciled to God.
Here’s what’s amazing about the drama. There was One among them who had no sin. And He was the only One who had no stone.
8 And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. 9 Now when they heard this, they began leaving, one by one, beginning with the older ones, and He was left alone, and the woman where she was, in the center of the courtyard.
I’d love to know what Jesus was writing in the dust. We don’t get that out of John’s account, but I wonder if it wasn’t about His purpose for coming to this earth, His victory over sin and death, this new covenant.
One thing we do know is that when the context of the situation finally dawned on the Scribes and the Pharisees, where they were, what they were about to do, and how unworthy they were to do what they were about to do, and perhaps how many times they knew they deserved to be stoned for their own sin, when their self-righteousness finally dawned on them, which Jesus despised (in fact, the sin that seemed to drive Jesus up the wall the most was the sin of self- righteousness), when they began to see clearly, they began to leave out through the gate and down the stairs.
And the text tells us that they went out in a certain order beginning with the older ones. The ones that had made the most trips to the temple to sacrifice for their own sin.
10 And straightening up, Jesus said to her, “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?” 11 She said, “No one, Lord.”
He was left alone with the woman in the center of the court. The crowd may have been further back giving space as this woman was about to be stoned. So there she was sitting one on one with the lamb of God in the Temple of God. Can you imagine this? Standing up Jesus said, “Woman, where did they go? Where are they?” And then He asked her a very important question, “Did no one condemn you?”
Now this question doesn’t mean, did no one accuse you? Because she’d been accused. This question doesn’t mean, are you guilty? Because she basically had admitted her guilt. The question really means, is there no one here forcing you to pay for what you’ve done? Is there no one here condemning you?
And she said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said…are you ready for this? Because for some of you today, this is what you’re here for. I understand this. I think we all understand this, because every single one of us, me included, have been in a place in our lives, where this is what we needed to hear, and we weren’t sure we would ever hear it. And even when we hear it, we’re not sure we believe it.
11 And Jesus said, “I do not condemn you, either.”
I will not force you to pay for what you’ve done. And in saying this, Jesus announced to those who were there and those who would read this account afterwards, “I am greater than Moses, and I am greater than the law, and I am greater than the entire temple system.” As we learn later in scripture, He came to replace all of it.
And then He gives her the commandment, “Go. From now on do not sin any longer.”
Do not sin any longer
Go. You’re free. But from now on, sin no more. Today’s “not” command, that seems so unrealistic pre-cross and pre-resurrection, is actually an invitation to every single man, woman, and child, but it comes with a different tone than perhaps you are accustomed to.
This is the tone of Jesus towards sinners who not only have sinned, but who were caught and who’ve admitted their sin. And this may not be the tone that you grew up with at your church. It may not be the tone of your father or your mother. It may not be the tone of other Christians that you’ve met. It may not be the tone you’ve picked up on television as preachers rant and rave about all kinds of things.
But in this moment, Jesus exposes to us His heart towards sinners. His tone was not condemning. His tone was all about compassion. He urged. He did not condemn. “I urge you, leave your life of sin.” Because Jesus knew what you know and I know, and what all of us discover eventually, that every sin comes pre-packaged with a penalty.
I don’t know if you’ve thought of it in these terms or not, but every sin comes prepackaged with a penalty. Every time you sin, something dies. Sin, over time, will kill your conscience. There are things that don’t even bother you that used to bother you, and there’s something in you that says “That should bother me.”
Sin will ultimately kill your mind, sin will ultimately kill your body, sin will ultimately kill your self-respect, kill your relationships. Sin, for some of you, has killed a family, it’s killed a marriage, it’s killed the relationship between you and your parent, between you and your children. Sin will kill your self-control. Sin has the power to kill an entire culture.
So Jesus urges her, “Sin not. Leave your life of sin.” I don’t need to punish you, I don’t need to condemn you, because your sin has already punished you, your sin has already hurt you, your sin has just killed your reputation in this community. So, leave your life of sin.
Now listen to this. In the temple model, the message of the temple model is ‘When you sin you break God’s law.’ The message of the Jesus model is ‘When you sin you break God’s heart, because God knows sin will eventually break you.’ So, sin no more.
The consequences of sin is the reason Jesus urges you to leave your life of sin. Here’s the amazing thing, a little while later, Jesus would die for all of her sin, and he would die for all of your sin. The reason we know the tone is one of urging rather than condemning is because when someone is willing to die for you, you never have to question where you stand with them.
Jesus knew He was about to replace the entire temple system, He was about to shed His own blood for her sin, and so He urged her “Sin not, leave your life of sin.” Not because God will get you, but because sin will kill you and your Heavenly Father loves you and doesn’t want to see that happen.
What is your sin?
So, what’s your sin? Today, the ‘Not’ is, Sin not. Not because God’s going to get you, not because the bible said so, but because sin will kill you, and Jesus was already killed for your sin. So, why would you continue in anything that’s going to hurt you? When your Heavenly Rather, who loves you so much and payed the ultimate penalty for your sin urges you, begs you, to walk away from your sin. Why keep sinning? Isn’t it the least we can do for God, to sin not.
What is your sin? And I know what you’re thinking. I’ve been doing this sin a long time and it’s just not that easy. Now listen, of course it’s not that easy! That’s the nature of sin. This is why Jesus urges you not to sin to begin with. Of course it’s not that easy, because it’s far easier to get entangled than untangled.
Sin Not. Not because God’s going to get you, because sin is already getting you. Not because God’s going to punish you, but come on, sin is already punishing you.
So, what’s your sin? Think about it. Nobody can read your mind, so come on be honest. Confess it to God, leave it, pour it out, and throw it away. Leave your life of sin, it is killing you, and your heavenly father who loves you, is begging you to leave it behind.
Here’s an interesting thing. If you ever get the chance to visit Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, at the top of those magnificent set of stairs, you’ll come to the entrance to the temple. But it’s been walled up. You can’t enter there anymore. And because of something that happened within walking distance of that very spot, you don’t have to. Your sin has already been paid for.
Your Heavenly Father who loves you, and whose love you can never change, urges you, begs you, sin not. Leave your life of sin.
Heavenly Father, many of us have resisted messages like this in the past. But Father, I pray that if we hear anything and sense anything, it’s the urging of a Savior who gave His life for us that knows our hearts, our minds, our habits, our pain, our fear, and knows how entangled we’ve become, and knows how hopeless it seems, and knows how the regret is going to catch up with us and swallow us whole. Father, I pray that we would hear from the voice of Jesus. Leave our life of sin, and that you would give each of us the wisdom to know what to do, and then the courage to actually do it. I pray that we would be sincere followers of Jesus because you’ve invited us away from the very thing that is killing us. So Father, give us courage, give us the next step, lead us away from the sin for which you died. In your Son’s name, we pray these things. Amen.