by Rev. Randy Brown
I want to tell you about a friend of mine. I met this friend years and years ago. Her story is a marvelous story. She has not always made the wisest choices or the smartest decisions. She longed to be loved and accepted and cared for and valued. Her name was known throughout the community in which she lived. Sometimes they would know her and sometimes they would mention her name, but usually not. Everybody just knew who they were talking about. The men talked about her and some even sought out her company. The women talked about her, but it was never in a positive reference. The religious folks would even talk about her. Some of the scribes and Pharisees would even try to use her from time to time, such as the story that Jim read just a few moments ago.
Also, in this town was a preacher by the name of Jesus. Things had kind of gotten tense with Jesus as well. The establishment didn’t really like what He was doing and how He was going about the town, talking and sharing and preaching and changing lives. They weren’t real sure about this Jesus. So this one particular night when the church had gathered, they decided we’re going to send our “A” team in to hear Him preach. They’re going to take meticulous notes and we’re going to see if we can trap Him in something. We’re going to see if we can make an accusation against Him, see if His theology is right, see if He says anything we don’t agree with, so we can challenge Him. The “A” team came back with glowing reports. Best preacher we’ve ever heard. He’s phenomenal. Crowds are drawn to Him. Great preacher. We’ve got to do something else.
They decided what would we do? How can we trap Him? One of them said, “It’s a stretch, but maybe it will work. You know what the law says about someone who’s caught in the very act of adultery. And we know we’ve got some of those folks in this town, so let’s set a trap. Oh yeah, we know where we’ll go. We know her name. We’ll follow her.” So, late one afternoon they began to follow her and sure enough, as they watched, she walked through the town. They were noticing. They began to follow from a distance. She met with her client for the night. They followed. They knew where she went to work. It took two witnesses, so two of them followed her. They stood outside the room. They would eavesdrop on the conversation, and then all of a sudden they burst through the door. They said, “Come on. Get up. You’re going with us.” The man who was with her probably slipped out the side door. Nobody knows about him, but he was there. “You’re going with us.”
Scared. Trembling. Customer hurried off. She laid there, covered up halfway, frightened, defenseless, struggling. They stood there, those self-righteous guardians of morality. “Get up,” they said to her. Frightened and defenseless, they pushed her into her clothes and she went kicking and screaming with them. “What’s going to happen,” she wondered? “Am I going to be sold, again? Am I going to be stoned?” Neither one of those things were going to happen. She was going to be freed. Not stoned, not sold, but free. They would take her to the temple courts, because that’s where Jesus was. But church had gotten out early that night and so they had to watch over her all night long. Early the next morning, we don’t know if it was the early service or the early, early service, but they got there and when they got there Jesus was getting ready to preach. They said, “Jesus, if You don’t mind we’ve got a question to ask You. This woman was caught in the very act of adultery and we’ve kept her here and we want to ask You a question.”
There she was, barefoot. Her hair was unkept. Her cheeks were stained with tears. Her eyes were set. Her jaw was clenched. Her face was fixed. With one final thrust, they grabbed her and they threw her at the feet of Jesus and they said, “She broke the law. What do You think we ought to do to her?” The Pharisees knew well what they should do. Everybody knew the law and she would be stoned, even without a trial. The matter of the fact is both parties were supposed to be stoned. We don’t know where the man ever went to. The folks there, those self-righteous folks, their task was completed and they said to Jesus, “The Law of Moses said she’s to be stoned. What do You say?” Jesus was in a difficult situation, because if He turned His back on the hurting needs of society and the hurting people they would criticize Him for that, but if He turned His back on the law they would criticize Him for that as well.
Can’t you see? Can’t you see, those self-righteous folks? They’re like, “We got Him this time. We got Him. He’s not going to get out of this trap. We got Him. We got Him. We got Him. We got Him.” They’re just chomping at the bit to carry out the law, wringing their hands, just waiting for the moment when the law would be carried out. The trap is set. The work is done. Jesus ponders in silence. He reaches down and He writes something in the dirt. We don’t know what He wrote. It’s not for our eyes, but the drama is there. And He stands up and He says to them, “Go ahead. You know what the law says; the law says stone her.” Folks, these weren’t pebbles that they were throwing at people. These were stones. “You that is without sin, you cast the first stone.” Why the first stone? Because if the aim was good, the first stone would deliver the death blow right to the side of the head and all the other stones that were thrown and hit the body, they were just insult to injury. “You that is without sin, you cast the first stone.”
Now it was on them. And if you’re careful and you really listen you can hear the most beautiful sound in all of scripture. [Sound of rock dropping] One by one, they dropped their stones, and they turned to walk away. He kneels down and He writes something else in the ground and He stands up a second time and He says, “Woman, where are those that accuse you?” She looked around. “Nobody, Lord, nobody. Nobody. They’re gone.” He walks over and He grabs her by the cheeks and he wipes away her tear-stained cheeks. He freshens up her hair a little bit and He says, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and sin no more.” What’s next? A good sermon on the depravity of man? No. That’s not what Jesus did. Words of grace, the trembling stops and the face softens and the body relaxes and the tenseness is gone. He says, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and sin no more.” Jesus came for such a moment as that.
We talk about a lot, “that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believe in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” We all know John 3:16, but don’t forget verse 17. “For He did not come into the world to condemn the world, but that through Him the world might be saved.” He doesn’t come to condemn us. He comes to transform us. We all know, deep down, that there’s a lot you can condemn us for. You’ve got your condemnation. I’ve got mine. Jesus says, “That’s not why I came. I didn’t come to condemn you. I came to transform you, to make you new, to give you a new beginning.” And that’s exactly what He did for this woman and it’s exactly what He’s done for you and for me. I don’t know where you fit in the story. I don’t know if you’re one that would be there to hold that rock and condemn somebody. That’s our nature sometime, isn’t it? We look at everybody else and we’re going to condemn them but we don’t want any part of that. Sometimes we’re so judgmental.
I don’t know if that’s where you are in the story or not. I don’t know if you are like this woman and you’ve got a shaded past and you just need somebody to stand there with you and to say, “I don’t condemn you,” and give you a new beginning. I don’t know where you are in the story, but I know that wherever you are, there’s a transformation that God wants to do in your life and in my life. He wants to transform us. You see, He sent this woman on her way, free and whole and new and fresh, but I’ve got to believe that there were some people in the crowd who dropped their stones and walked away. I’ve got to believe that they too experienced newness of life. They too let go of the judgmental attitude and were freed from that. I think, later on, there was probably a man who had a conversation that somebody asked him, “Tell me about something great that’s happened in your life.”
I think there was a guy there who said, “You know, I can tell you one. It was a day that we were going to stone old what’s her name and I had my stone ready and I was getting ready to let go of it. And Jesus said,‘You that is without sin, you throw the first stone.’ ” I got a feeling he reached in his pocket, and he pulled out just a small stone. He carried that with him for years as a reminder of that day when Jesus gave him a heart of compassion instead of a heart of condemnation. And then I think there was another time when old what’s her name was having a conversation and somebody said, “Tell us your story.” She said, “Oh, it’s not a pleasant story. It’s not a good story. It’s not anything I’m proud of. I deserved to die. And the trial was on and they were getting ready to carry out the law. But Jesus stopped them, and He said, ‘You that is without sin, you cast the first stone.’ Suddenly, the rocks began to hit the ground and I turned around, and suddenly, there was nobody there but Jesus and He didn’t condemn me either. I’ve got this little rock and I carry it with me to remind me that He doesn’t condemn me. He wants to transform me.”
In just a few minutes, when this service is over, you’re going to be given a small rock. Ladies, you can carry it in your purse. Guys, you can carry it in your pocket. Just put it somewhere where you can refer to it and see it and where you can be reminded that “there is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.” Put it in a place where it can remind you that none of us have a right to condemn anybody. It’s the first stone. It’s not for throwing. It’s for us to be reminded of God’s grace. If you’ll go out either one of the back two doors, you’ll be given a stone. Hope that you’ll do that. Hope that you’ll let that be a part of your testimony: that there is that first stone and that none of us can throw it. Now, that’s what the Book says and the Book never lies. Let us pray.
Father, in these moments together help us to realize Your goodness, that no matter how bad we are, no matter our past, You haven’t come to condemn us, but You’ve come to transform us. And help us Father, to lay down our judgmental attitudes and know that we don’t have the right to condemn anybody. May the story of the first stone continue to change our lives in the days and weeks to come. It’s in Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.