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Sunday, October 24, 2004

Neither do I condemn you...

The story of the encounter between Jesus, the Pharisees and the woman taken in the act of adultery in the eighth chapter of John contains powerful lessons for us today. Imagine being in the place of this woman, probably half naked, baring your body and soul to the world, taken in a place of shame, misery and rejection by the masses. Condemned by society, outcast by community and judged by the tribunal. There you are standing before the Holy One, in front of the world, alone, naked, and ashamed. Fingers pointing, chins waging, head shaking. Sneered upon, pitied and despised.

In a powerful demonstration of unconditional love, the Christ shows the accusing religious mob and the world what He is about. None of the accusers could do their work. They retreated one by one until it was just the woman standing there before Him.

"Woman, where are those who accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?"

Powerful words that touches the soul of the one who was tormented, disenfranchised and powerless only moments earlier. No longer is she accused. This is the experience of repentance. Repentance is not solely a human response to God's grace. It is a change in position from one under judgment, to one redeemed. It is a change to realize the full force of redemptive love - for He has forgiven you and you no longer stand accused.

This incident has a parallel with the incident of the sinful woman at Simon, the tax collector's dinner party in the seventh chapter of Luke. At that party, "a woman of the city who was a sinner" comes into the dinner party, wept at Jesus' feet and washed them with her tears. Then she wiped them clean with her hair and anointed His feet by breaking open the alabaster jar of perfume. In that incident the parallel words that Jesus spoke to the woman were,

"Your sins are forgiven."

Right there in the open, when she was being judged by the guests at the dinner party as a "Sinner," Jesus declared her righteous.

That is redemption declared.

"Woman, where are those who accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?"

"Your sins are forgiven."

Forgiveness of sins is achieved not only because she repented. Her sins were forgiven because of what He was going to do to redeem her. Redemption for the forgiveness of her sins.

That is what the Christ acheived for us all on the cross. And not just for our acts of rebellion, conscious and unconscious - but the sin that is part of our nature, He has taken all of it and nailed it there on the cross. When He shed the blood and when He cried out in his anguished pain and suffering, He did it so that we might be free of the bondage and judgment of sin.

When the woman who was taken in adultery realized the import of those words, she was able to internalize the saving grace of the Savior. To His query whether there was anyone who still stood to accuse her, she replied assuredly,

"No one, Lord."

The Christ then stretches out to her his arms of reconciliation.

"Neither do I condemn you."

Not only is there redemption. God's love reaches out to the sinner, to cancel her debt and reconcile her with Him so that they now have communion with each other.

In Simon's dinner party, the prostitute heard the life giving words,

"Your faith has saved you."

You are now reconciled. Not only are the debts cancelled, and the sins forgiven, but now there is communion with God.

God says to you,

"You can come home now, and I will dine with you and you with me."

My Holy Spirit will come upon you and God will live in your heart. Not only were you redeemed, you are now reconciled.

"Neither do I condemn you."

"Your faith has saved you."

Finally, Jesus speaks the words of freedom.

"Go and sin no more."

It is tempting to think that these words are judmental words - "Go and if you want to continue to enjoy my blessing, then don't you ever sin again." Sometimes, we understand these words as conditional. The idea seems to be that if you have received grace freely, you must now live out the grace that you have received.

Instead, these words are more than words of responsibility. They are words of grace and mercy. There are commissioning words. Words that tell us to follow Him who has gone before us, to be disciples and to learn of Him. For how else can we go and sin no more? Only through Him we can do all things. For He gives grace to empower through His Spirit.

We see the emphasis in the scene at Simon's house when the Lord's words to the "sinful woman" were,

"Go in peace."

For the words were spoken to declare that you are now restored. Words of restoration. That is balm to the desperate soul. Fully restored to walk now with God. New life in Christ and empowered in the Spirit. Restoration.

"Go and sin no more."

"Go in peace."

Peace with God. That is the ultimate desire of the human heart. And it is only possible through what Christ has done for us, and continues to do for us. They are empowering words, and they are humbling words. Christ has come not to judge and to condemn, but to free, to refresh and to empower.