Every single one of us has had those times when we have not looked forward to seeing particular people: a disappointed mother or disgusted mother-in-law, an anxious friend or an angry foe, pious parent or a proud politician, an officer of the bank or an officer of the law. But every single one of us has also had those times when we did not look forward to seeing particular people, especially if they might catch us smack in the middle of something we absolutely know is wrong.
I was raised on a dairy farm in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. When my twin sister and I were 9 years old, my mother gave the two of us the responsibility of painting some rough wooden benches she wanted to place on the front yard of our dairy farm. Mother gave us the paint, the wooden benches, and the plan. Looking at my sister, she said, "You paint that one." Looking at me she said, "You paint this one." Then she said five of the worst words a 9-year-old can ever hear: "Don't play with the paint."
Telling two 9-year-olds not to play with paint is like giving a gun to a man on death row and telling him not to shoot the warden. I mean, it's your release. It's your opening to a brand-new world. It's a chance to prove your creativity. We were the typical brother and sister. Many times she felt God could have done a better job designing my face; many times I felt God could have done a better job designing hers. We felt a little bit of paint would improve our appearances. I felt a whole lot of paint could improve hers. As soon as my mother went in the house, we got in the business of architectural redesign.
Please rest assured, we had thought through the consequences. We assumed that you wash paint off your body the same way you wash dirt off a dirty dog. All you do is turn on the hose. It was only a matter of time before everything was one complete mess. The benches were painted but so were our faces, and even the family dog, who joined in on the fun. My sister looked at me, and I looked at her and said, "If Mom finds us now, we are dead meat."
Well, I distinctly remember that occasion as a major tragedy of my life because my mother made an unexpected appearance. Everything that happened from that point on has been completely wiped out of my mind. At times I still get an unusual twitch in an unusual place due to the unusual punishment I received that day.
All of us have been caught right smack in the middle of doing something we absolutely know is wrong. But let's not talk about men and women below. Let's talk about the one we refer to as The Man Above. Every one of us knows we will face a day when we stand before God and answer for everything wrong we've done. Most of us would like to put that off as long as we possibly can. One time a warden asked a man on death row what he would like to eat for his last meal. The inmate said, "I would like to have a huge piece of watermelon." The warden said, "You must be kidding? This is December. Watermelons have not been planted, let alone harvested." The inmate said, "That's okay. I don't mind waiting."
Let's talk about today. If God were to catch you right smack in the middle of doing something you absolutely know is wrong, what would he be likely to do? You could give a variety of answers to that question. Some would be serious, and some would be sarcastic; some would be honest; some would be hilarious. But many of us would say what a woman said to me one time: "I always picture God carrying a big, heavy bat, ready to clobber me for everything wrong I've done." If you're wondering what God would do, you don't have to wonder any longer. That question was answered when the woman was brought to Christ in a kind of sin that some of us have done this week, and a few of us are planning to do tonight. Every single one of us is capable of committing her sin, and there's no individual who does not have a conscience to know the act is wrong.
Sin is embarrassing
Our Bible paragraph begins by saying everyone went to his own house, except Jesus, who went to the Mount of Olives and later to the temple where people came to talk with him. Don't be surprised that when Christ went to one of his favorite places, all the people came to hear what he had to say, because Christ was not a boring speaker. A man was asked, "What color are your pastor's eyes?" He said, "I have no idea. When he prays, he closes his eyes; when he preaches, I close mine." Christ was the kind of speaker who made truth so interesting and relevant that every time he spoke you wanted to keep your eyes and ears open to everything he had to say. On this particular day, Jesus' message was interrupted by one of the most embarrassing things that could ever happen to anybody anywhere. The story continues about the scribes and Pharisees who brought to him a woman caught in adultery. When they had set her in the midst, they said, "Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery—in the very act." You can imagine how embarrassed she must have been. The term adultery tells you this was a married woman being unfaithful to her husband. You don't have to have a committee to tell you that's wrong. Your own conscience tells you.
The Bible says God has given every one of us a conscience. When we do something wrong, we don't have to have a committee tell us. Our conscience tells us. That's why we feel so dirty and unclean on the inside. I assure you when it says, "They brought her to him," they didn't give her a choice. They walked in the bedroom, saw her in bed with another man, told her to put on her clothes, brought her, and threw her down in front of Jesus. When they said, "This woman was caught in adultery," they didn't speak in a whisper. Instead, they said, "This woman right down here, this one right here, this very one right here." Can you imagine how embarrassed she must have been?
Just suppose the one who knows all about every one of us here was speaking this morning. He could say, "This man is sitting in church, but he's lusting after the woman two chairs ahead of him. This woman is stepping out on her husband, but he hasn't found out. This man is being unfaithful to his wife; the neighbors don't know. This teenager is on drugs, but the parents aren't aware. This person is into pornography, but most people don't know it." Can you imagine how embarrassed you would be—how embarrassed the adulterous woman must have been?
Sin is self-indicting
If you think for thirty seconds the adulterous woman was dirty and worthless, think of those who brought her. They were a whole lot more dirty and worthless than she was. I once heard of a woman who woke her husband in the middle of the night, and said, "Henry, wake up. I just had this terrible nightmare. I dreamed I was at an auction for husbands. One husband brought $10,000 and others sold for sums in the millions." That's all it took to get him awake. He asked, "Well, honey, what were husbands like me bringing?" She said, "That's what was so disgusting. They were taking ones like you, tying them in a bundle, and selling them for a dollar a bunch."
I can assure you, some of these people were so dirty and worthless you could have tied them in a bundle and sold them for a dollar a bunch. Look how the story continues. The group of men quoted Moses' law to Jesus and suggested stoning the woman. To test him, they asked, "But what do you say?" They hoped they might have something of which to accuse Jesus, too. A whole bunch of problems rise from what they're doing, but I am going to save the funniest till last.
The first problem is, if you're going to quote the Bible, at least quote it right. The Bible did say she was to die for her sin. It did not say how. Isn't it exciting when people decide you ought to die and even decide how? It's like the employees who went to visit their employer in the hospital and told him, "Last night, we agreed that we want you to get well. The vote was five to four." The second problem with the Pharisees' action is, if she was caught in adultery, there had to be a man present. Even those who are experts in adultery will tell you it is extremely difficult without an individual of the opposite sex. Why didn't they bring the man to Christ as well? This sounds like a detective story where they're trying to kill her before she gets a chance to talk: no trial and no legal rights. These accusers couldn't care less about the holiness of God or the horror of sin. All they think is, We've got Jesus now. If Jesus said, "Stone her," they could say he's no friend to sinners. With friends like that, who needs enemies? If he said, "Let her live," they could say Jesus doesn't care much for the Bible. But you know what is the funniest thing of all? How in the world did they know she was in adultery unless they were Peeping Toms? The truth is out. They're sticking their snouts into her business, and they're caught red-handed.
An attorney tells the story of a man who died, and the attorney said to this man's wife, "He did not leave a will. So we need to know the last words he ever said to you." She said, "I don't want to tell you." He said, "Look, he did not leave a will. We need to know the last words he ever said to you." She said, "I don't want to tell you. It was something between the two of us." He said, "May I beg you one more time?" She said, "Okay, I'll tell you. The last thing he ever said to me was, 'You don't scare me. You couldn't hit the broad side of a barn with that old gun.'" She was caught. The accusers are caught red-handed, and their deception comes right back to hit them in the face.
We are all sinners
Look at what Jesus did. He stooped down and wrote on the ground with his finger as though he did not hear. When they continued asking, he rose up and said to them, "He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first." When I think how cleverly Christ responded, I'm reminded of the cleverness of the man who was checking out of a motel and discovered the manager had charged him for putting a fresh basket of fruit in the room every day. The man said, "How can you charge us for fresh fruit when we never ate any fruit from any basket on any day?" The manager said, "It's not my fault you didn't eat it. It was there." This clever man took the bill and subtracted $150 from it. The manager said, "What in the world are you doing?" The man said, "I am charging you $50 a day for kissing my wife." The manager said, "I didn't kiss your wife." The husband said, "That's not my fault. She was there." The man was clever enough to point out the manager's dishonesty without simply accusing him. Jesus was clever like that.
When Jesus said the sinless person should throw a stone at the adulterous woman first, he was causing them to come face to face with something. If they were going to set themselves up as spiritual representatives to administer divine justice, they had to be without sin. And the fact is, they weren't, because all of us are sinners. When the State of California made a twelve-year study of 200 criminals, not one individual admitted to being evil. They all said they were basically good. The Bible says we are basically evil, not good. Second, Jesus faced them with sin. Did you notice Jesus did not say, "He who is without adultery …." He said, "He who is without sin …."
God, being a holy God, has a standard of perfection. I could suggest we walk up to a huge ravine and jump 100 feet to the other side. It doesn't matter if you jump five or fifty, you would fall to your death. In the same way, God's standard is perfection. For that reason, the person who has told a lie is just as guilty before God as the person who laid in bed with someone who was not his mate. We don't like to look at ourselves that way either. We like to look at ourselves as being better than most people.
One time a fellow came in from Little League, and his mother said to him, "How did you do?" He said, "Fantastic. Even the coach said I was the best of the worst three." That's all we are—the best of the worst. And for that reason, it's interesting to me to note the first person who walks away. At the bottom of the paragraph it says, "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." It could be the oldest left first because he had instigated this whole thing. And then it may be he left first because, being the oldest, he has sinned the most. The older I get, the more I come up with ways to sin I never thought of before. If you knew me as I know me, you would not sit there and listen to me right now. But before you get up and leave, may I remind you that if I knew you as you know you, I wouldn't talk to you right now.
God is passionate to save us from sin
For that reason, it's amazing how the whole situation has changed. They came looking down their snouts to her, but they left looking down their noses at themselves. They came wanting him to cross-examine her, and they left realizing they'd been cross-examined by him. They came wanting him to know everything there was to know about her and left realizing he knew everything there was to know about them. There are only two people left in the courtroom. Look at the last lines of the story: Jesus straightened up and asked her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?" Now you have a problem of a different kind—can't be law without a judge, can't have a trial without a jury, can't accuse without an accuser. The woman answers, "No one, Lord." Jesus said to her, "Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more."
Does that mean if you come to Christ you've got to clean up your act and promise you'll never sin again? No, because until you come to Christ, you never get your act cleaned up. You'll make promise after promise after promise after promise after promise, but sin and sin and sin and sin. When you do come to Christ, he wants you to live the holiest life you can for him. But even he knows there will be times when you will fail. He was saying something bigger than all that. He alone has a right to administer divine justice. The God who has a perfect right to condemn you is the one with a passionate desire to save you. And that's what God says to everybody here this morning. The God with a perfect right to condemn you is the one with a passionate desire to save you.
Back in 1981, a fellow in California stole a car, and the incident made the national news because on the front seat of that car was a box of crackers laced with rat poison that the owner intended to use as rat bait. So here was a man fleeing, afraid of being punished. Here are the police trying to find him so that they might save him. God has a right to punish every single one of us. A man once made the statement, "If God does not send me to hell, he ought to." What this biblical paragraph says is the God who has a perfect right to condemn you is the one with a passionate desire to save you.
Christ's death is big enough to cover our sin
Many times we use the expression, "If I ever got my hands on him …." Then we proceed to tell how we would tear the person to shreds. If God ever got his hands on you, he'd want to pardon, not punish. And the reason is the punishment for everything wrong you have done has already been taken. Jesus Christ took it when 2,000 years ago he died on a cross in your place and mine. The perfect Son of God saved us by dying for us.
In the day of horse-and-buggies, a father went to the schoolhouse to pick up his three children ages 9, 11, and 17. As soon as he had them in the buggy—just before he stepped in—probably out of fear of the storm, the horses bolted and took off in the blizzard. Hours and miles later, when he found his children, the 17-year-old girl stood over the dead and frozen bodies of her brother and sister, ages 9 and 11. Sobbing uncontrollably, she collapsed into his arms. When she had regained her composure, she explained to her dad that she tried to take her big, heavy coat and wrap it around them all. But, she said, "The coat wasn't big enough."
The blood that Christ shed on the cross was big enough to cover all of your sins and mine—all your lusting, all your lying, all your cheating, all your hatred, all your own faults. And on a cross 2,000 years ago, Jesus Christ died in your place and mine, took our punishment, and rose again the third day. And for that reason, you simply have to come to God as a sinner, recognize Jesus Christ died for you, and put your trust in Christ alone as your only way to heaven. God gives you forgiveness and eternal life as a free gift. You don't need a duffel bag of goodness to get to heaven. You need a Savior. You can put everything in that duffel bag you want to put in. That will not get you to heaven. You don't get to heaven by going to church, living good, being baptized, keeping the commandments, and taking those sacraments. You have to come to God as a sinner, recognize Jesus Christ took your punishment and mine, and put your trust in Christ alone—nothing else—as your only way to heaven. God gives you eternal life as a free gift.
To some of us sitting here, God is a nightmare. Even though it's sunny on the outside, it's so dark on the inside. You're thinking, Man, I just wouldn't want him to see me now. The fact is, it's too late. He knows all about what you've done, all about where you've been, all about who you are. But the God who has a perfect right to condemn you is the God with a passionate desire to save you. For that reason, those who do not get to heaven will not be left out because God turns his back. It will be because they turn their backs on God.
Several years ago, a businessman found out about an elderly widow who was unable to pay her rent. Feeling pity for her, he went to some of his friends and asked them if they would be kind enough to contribute something to help pay her rent. They responded, and he got two months' rent. He went to the widow's house that week to deliver the money. Although he knew she was inside, when he knocked he got no answer. He knocked a second time and still no answer. He knocked a third time, still no answer. He knocked a fourth time. Not knowing what else to do, he returned to his business. A couple of days later, he saw her downtown on the sidewalk looking destitute. He walked up to her and said, "Ma'am, some friends of mine and I found out about your situation. We want to help. We got enough money together to give you rent money for two months. I came to your house to give it to you this week, but I knocked several times and got no answer." She took a gasp of breath and put her hand to her face. She said, "Oh, I thought you were the landlord coming to evict me."
God is not out to punish. God is out to pardon. Because of what Jesus Christ did for you on a cross 2,000 years ago, God can now pardon you instead of punishing you. The question is will you let him?
For Your Reflection
Personal growth: How has this sermon fed your own soul? ___________________________________________
Skill growth: What did this sermon teach you about how to preach? ____________________________________________________________________________
Exegesis and exposition: Highlight the paragraphs in this sermon that helped you better understand Scripture. How does the sermon model ways you could provide helpful biblical exposition for your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________
Theological Ideas: What biblical principles in this sermon would you like to develop in a sermon? How would you adapt these ideas to reflect your own understanding of Scripture, the Christian life, and the unique message that God is putting on your heart?
Outline: How would you improve on this outline by changing the wording, or by adding or subtracting points? _____________________________________________________________________
Application: What is the main application of this sermon? What is the main application of the message you sense God wants you to bring to your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________
Illustrations: Which illustrations in this sermon would relate well with your hearers? Which cannot be used with your hearers, but they suggest illustrations that could work with your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________
Credit: Do you plan to use the content of this sermon to a degree that obligates you to give credit? If so, when and how will you do it?