Ryan Burgett, July 4, 2012
“I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” John 8.12
I have been pondering the story in John’s gospel of Jesus and the adulterous woman for the last few weeks, and I have come to see it as one of the best illustrations of the gospel in the whole Bible. This post is a follow-up to my earlier post, The Gospel of Eden. I would suggest you read that before reading this post.
The story of Jesus and the adulterous woman is found in the book of John, chapter eight. There are only a few verses recording this event, but there was much going on which might not be immediately apparent to the reader. Before we look at this story in light of the gospel, let us quickly recount what happened.
The scribes and pharisees had been trying for a long time to trap Jesus in his own words and shut him up. This case was no different. The apostle John records that they came to Jesus in the temple “testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him” (John 8.6). They threw a woman down at Jesus’ feet and told him that she had been caught in the very act of adultery. Then as she cowered in shame, they pointed out to Jesus that according to the Mosaic law, if a person was caught in the act of adultery, they and the person they were committing the act with should be put to death (Lev 20.10). We do not know why her partner was not also brought before Him, but that is another whole issue which we will not address here.
Jesus had been preaching a message of hope and salvation up to this point, but now the scribes and pharisees had put Him in a very sticky situation. It would seem that He had no good option. If He forbade them from stoning her, they could call Him a hypocrite since He had been very clear that He had not come to abolish the law (Mat 5.17-18). But if He publicly consented and they stoned her to death, then they could accuse Him to the Romans for breaking the law (John 18.31). Either way, He was appeared to be in big trouble. But what followed was incredible. Jesus received what is a classic example of a “word of wisdom” (1 Cor 12.8) and responded brilliantly by saying, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.” Upon hearing this, the crowd disbursed, having condemned their own self-righteous hearts. Then Jesus turned to her and said, “Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?” She responded, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more” (Jhn 8.10-11).
From the time of Jesus’ early ministry until this point, the crux of his message was consistently a message of repentance. Repentance means to “change one’s mind.” How we think of and see ourselves is everything in this life. Jesus had earlier said, “…if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness.” This woman was a perfect example of this. She saw herself as a sinner, a shameful person, and lived her life out of that identity. Her occupation as a prostitute was not the problem, it was a symptom of her problem. She was living out of a wrong identity. Her truth is the same as our truth. Every human being is created in the image of God. He created us because He loves us and we are each unique, precious people to Him. But rather than living in that identity, we believe the lie that we are lacking in this life and then try and find fulfillment in things which will never satisfy. True satisfaction only comes from God, who created us. It is His desire that we live lives of wholeness and freedom in Him. He wants us to be happy and knows that our greatest joy can only be found in Him.
This woman had no concept of her created identity and was living out of the lie. But her only rewards were shame and condemnation. Yet even while the other people around saw her as a condemned sinner, Jesus saw her true beauty and value. So he addressed the heart of the issue.
When the crowd had left, Jesus spoke to her and set her identity correct. His words were, “Neither do I condemn you.” Her identity had heretofore been one of shame and condemnation, but her new identity was “FORGIVEN.” The chains of her former life had been loosed and she was shown her true value for the first time. Then having set her identity straight, he said “Go and sin no more.” There is no greater joy than living with a pure conscience. A life of righteousness is a life of fulfillment and peace. Deep communion with God is not possible for one living the lie, trying to find fulfillment apart from the life we were created to live.
Then Jesus let her go, with her new identity: Forgiven, and her new lifestyle: Righteousness.
As Jesus preached then, He still preaches today through his Word. “Repent and believe in the good news!” (Mark 1.15). Jesus gave his life for us on the cross and buried our shame and condemnation in hell where it belongs. Then he rose from the grave and invites us to take his hand and enter into the life which He designed for us even before the earth was made. We must all repent, change our way of thinking and realize that we were not made for the sin and condemnation the fallen world offers, but for life and joy through Jesus. And then we need to accept the forgiveness Jesus offers us and enter into that perfect life of righteousness which we were designed to live!
Jesus’ final words at the end of this story were, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life” (Jhn 8.12). The formerly-adulterous woman passed from darkness into light, death into life.
That is the gospel illustrated.