Mercy Triumphs Over Judgment

The insults fell on her like blows. “Shame on you, Whore!”

Imagine it. She was married, but not to the man whose arms she'd been in. Suddenly the door burst open. Angry men dragged her—and her secret sin—out into the street.

“Adulteress! Adulteress!” The words pierced her like arrows. A gathering crowd gawked at her with scorn. Her life was undone in a moment by her own doing.

And it was about to be crushed. They were talking about stoning! “O my God, they’re going to stone me! God have mercy!” But God’s verdict on her case seemed clear:

If a man is found lying with the wife of another man, both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman and the woman. So you shall purge the evil from Israel. (Deuteronomy 22:22)

“Both shall die!” She was going to die! But where was he? No time to think. She was half pushed and half dragged through Jerusalem. She was despised and rejected; as one from whom men hide their faces.

“Why are we entering the temple?” Suddenly she was thrust in the face of a young man.

Someone behind her said, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?”

The teacher looked at her, then at her accusers, and bent down. Why was he writing in the dirt? Impatient prosecutors demanded a ruling. He stood back up. She held her breath, eyes on her feet.

“Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”

The crowd hushed. Confused, she glanced at him. He was writing in the dirt again. She heard mumbling and disgusted grunts from behind. Then shuffling. People were leaving! No one grabbed her. It took some courage to look around. Her accusers were gone! She turned to the teacher. He was standing, staring at 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.”

Forget for the moment the self-righteousness of the accusers and the apparent injustice of the adulterous man’s absence. Did you hear what Jesus said? This woman’s guilt was real. She committed the crime of adultery. God, through Moses, commanded her death.

But God the Son simply said, “Neither do I condemn you.”

How could he possibly say that? If God violates his own commandment, we have a huge problem. Is God unjust?

Absolutely not. God fully intended for this sin of adultery to be punished to the full extent of his law. But she would not bear her punishment. She would go free. This young teacher would be punished for her.

Might he have written these words from Isaiah in the dirt?

But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6-5).

Here, in this story (John 8:1-11), God clearly speaks to us the “good news” that he wants us to hear. Every single one of us is that woman.

Our sins—the dark lusts, destructive tongues, murderous hatred, corrupting greed, treachery—stand exposed before God as clearly as the woman's sins in that temple courtyard. Our shameful guilt is obvious and our condemnation is justified.

And yet from the Son of God come these stunning words: “Neither do I condemn you.” Why? Because he has been condemned in our place!

Jesus was the only one in the crowd that day who could, in perfect righteousness, require the woman’s death. And he was the only one who could, in perfect righteousness, pardon her. Mercy triumphed over judgment. And the same is true for us.

Jon Bloom (@Bloom_Jon) is the author of Not by Sight: A Fresh Look at Old Stories of Walking by Faith and serves as the President of Desiring God, which he and John Piper launched together in 1994. He lives in the Twin Cities with his wife, Pam, their five children, and one naughty dog.