The Empathetic Truth: John 8:1-11
Sermon written and preached by Joshua Dykes
Good evening! I hope all of you have had an encouraging day of worship today. It is hard to believe that next week I would have been living here in Michigan for one year. I am very thankful for this congregation, its leadership, and the experience that I have gained from working with all of you. You have all truly been a blessing. Before we dive into our study for this evening, I am going to ask that you keep me in your prayers over the next several weeks as I will be going with a group to Romania to teach. I will be over there for a month and your prayers for the work are definitely appreciated. Again, thank you to all of you who are here and for all that you have done in aiding the ministry.
There has never been, nor will there ever be, a person who was as empathetic [understanding] and honest as Jesus Christ. I will say it again – there has never been, nor will there ever be, a person as empathetic and honest as Jesus Christ. To have empathy is to understand or to share the feelings and burdens of another person. All of us here have some level of empathy – to have no empathy at all would make one a sociopath. However, even the most empathetic person in the room could not compare to the empathy that Jesus Christ Himself had during His life and ministry on this Earth.
Tonight, we are going to be in the Gospel of John. We are going to be in John 8, and we are going to consider [think about] the story in verses 1 through 11. Again, John 8:1-11. On Wednesday nights, I have been leading our college students through the Gospel of John. The more we have dug into this Gospel, the more we have seen the compassion and empathy that Jesus had in His ministry. However, even with His empathy, we have seen that there is still a blunt truth that accompanies it. And as we study these 11 verses tonight, we are going to see how both empathy and truth go hand-in-hand with the Christian life. After we read this text, we will divide our lesson into two parts. We will first examine the text and consider what it meant in the context within which it was written. After we have examined the text, we will talk about the empathetic truth. In our discussion on empathetic truth, we will see how we can live out the empathy of Christ in our dealings with others; but at the same time, we will also discuss the necessity of speaking the truth.
“They went each to his own house, but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “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?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 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.””
EXAMINATION OF THE TEXT
This passage has been scrutinized [probed] thoroughly by textual critics. I do not want to spend much time on the double brackets that surround this passage because I do not want that to distract us from the meat of the text. However, it is true that this text does not exist in most of our early Greek manuscripts [documents]. However, most Biblical scholars contend that if it was not in the original manuscripts, that it is still necessary to include in the canon of scripture since it is evident in later manuscripts. That is why in most Bibles, the passage is bracketed and has some kind of footnote with it. Whatever your view is on the inspiration of this text, I think it is important to understand that this story neither adds to nor takes away from any doctrine not already in scripture. There are other scriptures that support the empathy and truth that Jesus Christ shared. With all that in mind, let’s examine the text.
After Jesus had been scrutinized by the Pharisees and Chief Priests in John 7, each person had gone to their own house except for Jesus. Jesus went somewhere else, and scripture says that he went to the Mount of Olives. For centuries, even before the coming of Christ, the Mount of Olives had a huge religious significance to the Jews. Many Jews chose to be buried on the Mount of Olives because they had believed that YHWH Himself would come forth and stand on the Mountain. And from the graves, all the holy ones would come with Him (Zechariah 14:4-5). The Jews would not only bury their dead on this mountain, but they would also go to the Mount of Olives to pray. In contrast to the Jews that had departed to their physical dwellings, I would like to think that Jesus went to the Mount of Olives to pray to God the Father.
And on the next morning, he went to the Temple and began to teach those that came before Him. Isn’t it interesting that even in the morning people wanted to listen to what Jesus had to say? There was no one who could teach like Jesus could teach. In John 7:15, we know that the Jews marveled at his teaching even though He was a man without any kind of formal education. However, as we see in verses 16 and 17, he receives His teaching and authority from the Father who sent Him. So the people gather to Jesus to hear Him speak and I am amazed that they come to Him in the morning. I do not know about you, but I am not a morning person. Sure, I will get up at 5:30 or 6:00 if I have to. My mind might not all be there, but I will do it. And this crowd comes to Jesus early in the morning ready to receive another marvelous teaching from God! I can only hope that I am that excited and eager to be at worship and to participate in Bible study.
In verse 3, we are going to see that the Pharisees and the scribes are going to interrupt Jesus teaching. And what they do is so sickening and apathetic [non-understanding], that it is amazing that Jesus handles this moment with such patience. The pharisees and scribes bring a woman before Jesus that had been caught in adultery. They place this woman in the midst of Jesus and before the crowd and they do so to test Jesus, but at the same time humiliating this woman. Let us read verses 4 and 5 again.
“They said to him, “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?””
I think it is interesting that they start their question to Jesus by addressing Him as teacher. If they really considered Him their teacher, maybe they would have listened to what He had to say earlier on rather than seeking to arrest Him (as seen in John 7:32). Maybe, if the scribes and pharisees really considered Jesus to be their teacher, they would not have shot down Nicodemus in verses 51 and 52 of Chapter 7 when Nicodemus (one of the Pharisees) states that maybe they should not be quick to judge Him before at least hearing what He says and learning what He does. They are apathetic to the teachings of Christ, and they are also apathetic to this poor woman caught in a sinful act.
This woman was caught in the act of adultery. There was no question as to whether or not she was an adulterer. She had been caught in the act. One of my students during our class on Wednesday stated that they had found it interesting that only the woman was brought forth. In Leviticus 20:10-11, both the adulterer and the adulteress were to be put to death under the Old Law. However, these Jews were not concerned about following the Law, they were only concerned about testing Jesus. If the Jews had been concerned about following the Law of Moses, adulterers such as David and Bathsheba would have been put to death. And David was double deserving of death under the Old Law since he committed murder along with the adulterous act. However, because adultery was such a common sin at the time, we know that stoning or death was hardly the penalty enforced upon someone who committed it.
Let us now reread verses 6 through 9.
“This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him.”
Jesus would rather draw in the dirt than answer the question of hypocrites [pretenders]. I find it interesting that Jesus uses his finger to write on the ground after they had just questioned him about a woman breaking the Law. In Exodus 31:18, we see that the commandments that Moses received from God were written by the “finger of God!” In my mind, it was almost as if Jesus was saying do not question me about the Law, I was the one who entrusted it to you! As Jesus is writing on the ground, they continue to ask him. And what Jesus responds with is both brilliant and often abused by most modern believers. He says, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”
I find it interesting that it was the only perfect man in history that took her defense. The only man that COULD throw a stone because He had no sin was Jesus Himself! I don’t see in scripture anyone from the crowd, the crowd of imperfect people, empathizing with this woman. Yet Jesus became this woman’s defense, though He was a perfect man. After he stoops back down to the ground to write, one by one people start to leave. The people in the crowd were forced to get introspective [inward looking]. Each one had to consider the sin in their lives, and they came to the recognition that they too have transgressed against the Law of Moses.
Soon, the only ones that stood were Jesus Christ and the adulterous woman. Now, we see the sinner caught in the act before an absolutely perfect being. Though being close in distance, they couldn’t be further apart as far as morality [goodness] is concerned. And when we recognize this fact, that between the two only one stands absolutely righteous, then the next two statements of Christ become even more powerful.
Let’s look at verses 10 and 11.
“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.””
Jesus, stands up from up off the ground where he was writing. And standing, he asks where this woman’s accusers are. I do not know what she was thinking, but I would like to think that great relief has filled her heart and mind. No one is there to condemn her for her past! All of her accusers are gone, and only Jesus the judge remains. And Jesus makes His judgment, “Neither do I condemn you; go and from now on sin no more.”
Now, we need to understand that though Jesus does not condemn the woman, he still recognizes and acknowledges the sin that she committed. As we will talk about in the second part of this lesson, Jesus bore an empathetic truth. However, before we move into that part of this sermon, I want us to think about this new command that Jesus gave to this woman – “go and from now on sin no more.” Jesus not only empathetically and lovingly acknowledges this woman’s sin, but he commands that she sin no more. Now, I do not know how old this woman was, but I doubt she lived a perfect rest-of-her life after this encounter. However, it is hard to see in scripture of a willingly repentant person living the same life of sin after they encountered Christ than they did before.
Paul writes in Philippians 3:4-6 about his life before his conversion to Christ…
“If anyone else thinks he has grounds for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day; of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; regarding the law, a Pharisee; regarding zeal, persecuting the church; regarding the righteousness that is in the law, blameless.”
Before his conversion to Christ, Paul was leader of the persecution against Christians. He had pride in his Israelite heritage [background], and he also believed himself to be perfect and righteous under the law. However, let’s see what he has to say about his life after he has encountered Christ.
“But everything that was a gain to me, I have considered to be a loss because of Christ. More than that, I also consider everything to be a loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Jesus Christ my Lord. Because of him I have suffered the loss of all things and consider them as dung, so that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own from the law, but one that is through faith in Christ – the righteousness from God based on faith.”
Paul is not the only one to have had this kind of experience after facing Christ. Many others in scripture were called to repent by the authority of Christ and they left their old lives behind in pursuit of a life filled with righteousness. In a book entitled “The Church of Apostles and Martyrs [self-sacrificing people],” one of my favorite quotes is written about the impact that Jesus has on the lives of those who draw near to Him.
“All those who had met Him (Jesus) declared that He radiated a power which was quite unique, a power in which spiritual radiance combined with tenderness, an inexplicable power which dominated men’s minds, filling their hearts brimful of love, a power which overwhelmed their souls and bore them beyond the boundaries of self. Countless indeed had been the men and women who had felt themselves linked to Jesus as soon as they met Him, just as if He had been waiting for them from the beginning of time, calling them each by name. From that moment onwards they would abandon everything relating to their old way of life and become utterly transformed.”
I refuse to believe that this woman did not come away from this encounter unchanged. If she was truly sorrowful for the sins that she had committed, she could not have taken this command of Jesus to “go and sin no more” lightly.
THE EMPATHETIC TRUTH
I now want us to talk about teaching the Empathetic Truth. Jesus is the perfect model for living and ministry. Jesus carried with Him a loving compassion for people that we cannot comprehend. A love and compassion so great that He was willing to die for the sins of all humanity! And though we will never have the amount of love and empathy that Jesus had, I do believe there are some takeaways from John 8 on how we can be empathetic towards sinners and responding to those who are not. In addition, there are also takeaways from John 8 as to how we can deliver the truth in regards to repentance from one’s former way of living.
How can we be empathetic towards those who fall short? Well, it is important for us to understand that all of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). That is first and foremost. Each and everyone of us have our own struggles and temptations. And all of us, at some points in time, give into our temptations. We are all human and we all make mistakes. If the scribes and Pharisees would have told themselves this, then how they handled the situation of the adulterous woman as well as several other instances could have been drastically different.
Sometimes, I struggle with this. I like to compare myself with those in the world and I feel as if I am more righteous than them. But in all reality, Jesus died for me as much as he did them. A blood sacrifice was required for both my sins, and the sins of everyone in the whole world. In 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, we read of a long list of sins that result in people not attaining salvation. Among this list is adulterers, practicing homosexuals, thieves, and slanderers just to name a few. But every single one of these sins can be washed away when one turns to Christ and repents. Jesus Christ has a loving compassion that is so powerful, a dirty individual like Paul the Apostle can be made clean. And in the eyes of God, all of us were at one point just as terrible of a state as Paul was. So in being empathetic with others, we need to see that we are NOT without sin.
The next things we need to do are listen, ask, and pray. In order to teach the empathetic truth, we have to be willing to hear the questions and thoughts of outsiders. In John 4, when Jesus is talking to the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus did not need to ask questions and listen to her entire background since he already knew that. However, since we do not have the knowledge that Christ has, we need to listen to one’s story. If someone is part of the LGBT community and questions what you believe, or if an atheist comes to you asking about why you believe in a God, listen to their story first. Ask them questions to see why they are an atheist or why they chose to be part of the LGBT community. If someone has not been faithful to their spouse, ask clarifying questions and try to make sense of the situation. A sin cannot be corrected until someone has been listened to.
In John 8, we do not know what all this woman had been through. The only things we know is that she committed adultery and that she and the man she was with likely struggled with lust. Many people of that day struggled with lust, just as they do today. The Pharisees and sadducees did not see past her action, and they did not see the underlying issue of lust that she could have been dealing with. Let us look at what James 5:16 says.
“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”
Christians are told to confess their sins to one another and pray for one another. If someone is struggling with an addiction, with an ungodly lifestyle, with a lustful thought, the place they are told to turn is other Christians. But oftentimes, us Christians can be so judgemental and so finger-pointing, such people of gossip, that those struggling feel as if they cannot confess their sins. In James 5:16, if we are going to be truly faithful to that passage, we have to be willing to not only confess, but listen to the confession of others with a TRULY empathetic mind and heart. To do otherwise would make us no better than the scribes and Pharisees of John 8. We always need to listen, ask, and pray.
And lastly, we need to be willing to acknowledge the sin and speak the truth. Jesus did not shy away from the truth in John 8. He very plainly acknowledged the sin and offered simple advice for repentance. And for each sin, the acknowledgement and the advice would be different. One cannot go to an atheist and try to correct them by saying, “go and sin no more.” An atheist does not believe in sin. It is much easier to correct someone’s actions who are in the church than someone who is currently living outside of the church. In order to correct them, they must first acknowledge Christ as their Lord. In John 8:10-11, Jesus asks if any of her accusers remained. And she responds with “no one, Lord.” In this passage, we see clearly that this woman had a high regard for Christ because she acknowledged Him as her Lord. Until Christ becomes Lord in the lives of people outside the Church, we should NOT be the ones to correct their life! Instead, we need to tell them about Christ. The more close they draw near to Christ, the more open they will be to changing their life because of Him. Hardly anyone will take the advice of a stranger, but they will take the advice of a friend. And just as Jesus was the friend and defender of this woman, we ought to be a friend to those who are struggling in their sins – not that we give into their sins, but so we give them another friend in Christ Jesus who can change their life, and so they can hear the simple but powerful words “go and sin no more.”
To close my lesson for this evening, I want to ask if you have empathy and truth in your life. Are you empathetic towards those without Christ or to those struggling in their faith? And in addition to this, do you LIVE out the truth in your life? What I mean by this is are you acknowledging that you too have sin? “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to cast a stone.” All of us have sin and temptations, and all of us at times live without truth. We ought to have no stone to cast, but rather a heart of empathy. Even though we have our sins and struggles, let us strive to go and sin no more.
This evening, the invitation is for you. If you are not yet a follower of Christ, the best time to start is tonight. The blood of Jesus Christ can wash away the filth from your life. And if you have any need of prayers because you have stumbled or are going through hard times, we can also take care of you tonight and help you bear your burden. If you have any need, any need at all, please come forward as we stand and as we sing.