Have you ever watched a movie where a key character dies but leaves a note behind for someone to find?
When the recipient of the note finds it and starts to read, what usually happens?
Usually we hear the author of the note reading it out loud. It can be haunting, but it instantly personalizes the note. The words on the page come to life when spoken by the one who wrote them.
What if you could hear Jesus speak to you through the words in the Bible in this way?
I’m reading through the New Testament in The Message translation as part of my morning routine. I’m in the book of John and I came to the story of the adulterous woman in chapter 8.
It’s a powerful story. Jesus is teaching in the Temple and the religious leaders drag a woman–caught in the act of adultery–before him. The Message says she was caught “red-handed” so she is probably wrapped in a bed sheet, naked and completely vulnerable. Even worse, she is standing in the courtyard of the church, after being dragged through the crowd of people who are listening to Jesus teach.
The religious leaders hope to trick Jesus by posing a problematic question. So they remind the Word that Moses gave orders to stone someone who is caught in adultery. As they ask him what he thinks I can picture their sweaty hands clutching the stones they gathered along the way.
I love the picture here. Jesus is in no hurry to reply. He stoops down and writes with his finger in the dirt. The religious leaders keep badgering him, pushing for an answer. The woman must have been terrified to hear his response. Depending on what he says, she could soon find herself pummeled by a barrage of stones, dying naked and humiliated in the dusty courtyard.
Jesus eventually stands up unfazed by the question and the crowd. In a quiet voice he says,
“The sinless one among you, go first: Throw the stone.”
The Bible doesn’t say how many men brought the woman before Jesus. But what happens next is beautiful. Jesus bends back down and begins drawing in the dirt again seemingly disinterested in the outcome. The first stone drops to the dust as the men began walking away one by one, the oldest one leaving first.
Can you see the crowd step back? Can you hear the thud of the stones as they fall in the dust as the leaders walk away? Can you sense the glimmer of hope in the woman as she pulls the sheet closer?
After a few minutes it says the woman was left alone–the ring of discarded stones that encircled her was the only evidence of what had just happened.
Then Jesus stood up and looked at her. I would imagine she had never before felt so small. He asks her, “Where are the men? Does no one condemn you?” She replies that they are gone and no one is left to condemn her.
Jesus responds in love–“Neither do I.”
Then Jesus gives her a command of five simple words:
“From now on, don’t sin.”
That command floors me. I can’t imagine what that must have felt like.
She was caught in the act of her sin. She was dragged, naked and vulnerable, to the Temple in front of a crowd. She was guilty and justice could have been carried out. She was pardoned by a clever talking Galilean who played in the dirt as he verbally jousted with the most respected and learned men of that time. And she was forgiven for her sins by the very Son of God.
I wonder what she did next. How long did the voice of Jesus telling her not to sin ring in her ears?
How could she ever sin again knowing what had just happened and how close she had come to death?
What if you audibly heard Jesus’s voice telling you not to sin? How far would you go?
It’s a powerful thought. Words stick with us long after the sound waves fade away. When you first hear the words I love you or I’m so proud of you that moment stays etched in your mind.
How much more a direct command from Jesus telling us not to sin?
Each of us should put ourselves in this story. We too make mistakes and falter and sin. We too have been forgiven. And we know that we should go and sin no more. Yet far too often we find ourselves in the same patterns of sin and the same traps. Perhaps it’s the fact that we don’t face immediate punishment that makes us fall to the temptation.
We take roads we shouldn’t take and then wonder why they lead where they do.
The next time you find yourself on that seductive path of sin listen for the words of Jesus: Go on your way. From now on, don’t sin.”
Five words. The command couldn’t be simpler. Remember the voice of the one who spoke them. Remember the sound of the falling stones, then step over that pile of stones and walk away.