“Neither do I condemn you; go and from now on, sin no more.”
These words were almost unbelievable. A half hour ago she had been dragged out of her illicit lover’s house and shoved through the streets. Just minutes before, she had been bracing herself for the stones of judgment to crush her. Now those stones lay on the ground and the execution squad was gone. And the young rabbi with compassionate eyes was telling her she was free to go, as if she was no longer guilty. It was hard to comprehend. Adultery. Not guilty. Free.
As she turned and began to walk toward home she felt clean—cleaner than she could ever remember. How could that be? She hadn’t done anything to deserve to be clean. There hadn’t even been a ritual sacrifice or water cleansing according to the law yet. That rabbi had simply declared her guilt-free, and it was so. No one ever spoke like this man. She heard God when he spoke.
But after a few minutes of walking it hit her: “I have to go home.” Fear shot through her. She wanted to bolt. The rabbi had forgiven her. But waiting at home was her betrayed husband. And her children. And her parents. And his parents. She had shamed the entire family. Her life was like a broken pot; shards all over the floor. Because of her sin. She almost longed to be buried by the stones.
But she still felt clean.
She pulled her head-covering around her face and took a detour, walking streets where she might not be recognized. She needed time to think. And pray.
That was strange. She hadn’t prayed a heartfelt prayer for years. She hadn’t really wanted anything to do with God. She had merely been going through religious motions while secretly pursuing her own happiness in forbidden places. She had just tried to lay low and escape the Judge’s attention.
But now it was all different. As she thought about God she felt that cleanness again, like she had when the rabbi spoke. She found herself wanting to run to God to hide rather than hide from him. Suddenly he was the one she wanted to talk to the most. This was new. God was no longer her angry Judge. He had become a forgiving Father.
So she ducked into a lonely alley to repent of her horrible, selfish sin and to ask her Father for help with what seemed like an impossible situation. As she prayed, she heard the rabbi’s words again, “Neither do I condemn you.” And then these words followed, “Go, and from now on sin no more. I will be with you. With man it is impossible. But not with God. For all things are possible with God.”
With a new peace that passed understanding, she took a deep breath and headed for what was left of her home.
We do not know happened to the adulteress in John chapter 8 after she left Jesus. We can only imagine. God in his infinite wisdom does not tell us. That’s for the best.
What Jesus said to her in forgiving her sin (“Neither do I condemn you”) is true of all of those he calls. But the earthly consequences of sin which we must live with are different in every case. Jesus removed the guilt of her sin, taking it and God’s wrath against it upon himself. But he did not remove the fact that she had sinned and the relational pain that must have resulted. Maybe her husband was also saved and they were reconciled. Maybe he divorced her.
But whatever happened, what remained true was the fact that she was forgiven, clean. She was justified in God’s eyes. In Jesus she became a new creature. Wearing Jesus’ righteousness, the Father viewed her as if she had never sinned and as if she had perfectly obeyed, because Jesus became sin for her and he perfectly obeyed the Father on her behalf. And even the earthly consequences of her sin became a means of grace to her because God caused all of them to work together for her good.
And that’s the hope we all need. We need the hope that we have been justified by the substitutionary atonement of Jesus. And we need the hope of the promise of Romans 8:28, that God will work all things together for good for us, even the fallout from our past sins.
That’s why as we begin a new year we want to point you to a message John Piper preached on Hebrews 13 titled, Strengthened by Grace. In it he says,
When I… feel guilty… and hopeless because of yesterday's failure… I need the grace of forgiveness based on a great past substitutionary sacrifice on the cross, that covers all my sins… and I need the grace of promised help from Jesus today and tomorrow.
It’s a great word. And as you probably know, there are hundreds of free sermons and conference messages like it on our website for free streaming or downloading, spanning the 27+ years of John Piper’s preaching ministry at Bethlehem Baptist Church. In 2007 an average of about 600,000 sermons were listened to each month from people all over the world. And that number is growing. If you would like to help financially support this outreach, we would be very grateful.
The adulteress had a long walk back home. And no doubt there was much pain as she faced the consequences of her sin. But God’s grace was sufficient for her, both to cover her sins and redeem her life. And his grace will be sufficient for us, too.
Seeking with you to strengthen my heart with grace (Hebrews 13:9),