The Gospel of John: Justice and Mercy!

Jesus stood up and said to her, “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.” (John 8:10-11)

We return today to our study of the Gospel of John. In reviewing the scene we witnessed in John 8:1-9, the Jewish religious leaders either sought to force Jesus into denying the Mosaic law, or break with Roman law regarding capital punishment. They attempted to do this by bringing before Him a woman caught in adultery (John 7:53–8:5).

However, this was not an appropriate legal proceeding, for the Mosaic Law called for the execution of both the man and the woman in cases of adultery (Lev. 20:10). Jesus delayed the leaders momentarily in bending down to write something (we’re not sure what) in the dirt (John 8:6).

As the religious leaders continued to pressure Jesus for an answer they hoped would entrap Him, Jesus said, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her” (v. 7).

Dr. R. C. Sproul explains, “His (Jesus’) response was masterful. He did not reject the Mosaic Law and its prescribed punishment, for He called for a stone to be thrown. But He did not claim for the Jews any right to contravene the laws of their Roman occupiers. If they were ready to enforce the law, the qualified accuser should go first.”

Dr. Sproul continues by saying, “Jesus was not saying that one must be perfectly sinless in order to bring a legal accusation against another person. In capital cases, witnesses had to be absolutely sure of the accused’s guilt; otherwise, if the accused were innocent, the accuser would receive the punishment the accused would deserve (Deut. 19:15–21). Given that the religious authorities here applied justice selectively and wanted only to trap Jesus, they almost certainly had not followed the process required in Jewish law to confirm what they had seen when they found the woman in sin. They were not without sin in this case, and if there were any doubt about the woman’s guilt, they ought to have refrained from stoning her lest the same punishment fall on them when it was discovered they had not followed procedure. So, the accusers all went away because they had all failed (John 8:8–9).

One of the truths illustrated in this story is that justice should always be balanced with mercy. When we encounter someone who has sinned against us, we must always remember that we ourselves are also sinners and in need of the same divine grace that hopefully we dispense.

When Jesus told the woman to go and sin no more, He was not denying the law. While execution was the stiffest penalty for adultery, it was not mandatory. A ransom price could be paid (Exodus 21:28-32). Likewise, while the wages of our sin merit death (Romans 6:23), Jesus paid a ransom to God the Father in order to secure our salvation (Mark 10:45). In fact, He Himself is our ransom.

Finally, when Jesus told the woman to go and “sin no more” He was not saying that she would then live a sinless life. He was not teaching that anyone could live a sinless life. Rather, the literal meaning to what He said was “Leave your life of sin.” This could very well imply that the woman was a prostitute.

I John 2:1-6 says, My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.”

A true follower of Christ seeks to consistently live a life of holiness. God calls us to obey His commandments. When we sin, and we will, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ. This truth should not diminish the seriousness of our sin, but rather elevate our thanks and praise to God for His gracious forgiveness.

As you confess your sins to God today (I John 1:8-10), thank Him for His gracious forgiveness in Jesus Christ.

Soli deo Gloria!

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