In the first place, Jesus’ attitude toward sin is really just a side issue in this narrative. This is about the Pharisees trying to trap Jesus yet again, and His being able to avoid the snare yet again.
They brought Him a woman who had committed adultery “caught in the very
act,” they said. “The law of Moses says we should stone her. What do you think?”
Jesus first did what we ought to do 90% of the time. He kept His mouth shut.
When your mouth is shut, you can think better. And this was an obvious trap, if you just thought about it. His silence also did this: they kept pressing Him until it must surely have become obvious to many who were listening exactly what their motive was as Jesus calmly stooped and wrote in the dirt.
And what was so obvious about the trap? He was approached while he was
teaching, a time when there would be many to see and hear His downfall (they
hoped), and whatever He had been teaching at the time would have been made ineffective. He was not asked what the Law said, but what He thought.
Asking rabbis what they thought about scriptures was not unusual, but if
anyone disagreed with Him, perhaps they would no longer listen to Him. They said she was caught in the very act, so where was the man? According to the Law they seemed so concerned about, Deut 22:22, both should have been brought for judgment, so it was obvious that doing right was the last thing on their minds.
This was the trap: if He says that she deserves to die, He has pronounced the death sentence without the permission of the Roman authorities, which the Jews were not allowed to do, so He is in trouble with the powers that be.
If He says otherwise, He is in trouble with the Jewish people who held
Him to be a prophet and a righteous man, because He has disobeyed God’s
But with one sentence, He turns the whole thing around on them. He who is without sin, let him cast the first stone. I find it hard to believe that these men who would soon murder Him and within a short time afterward imprison, abuse, and murder His followers were at all stung by a guilty conscience. His few words remind them that the Law says they are to carry out the sentence because they were the witnesses, the ones who caught her “in the very act,” Deut 17:2-7. The Law says Jesus could not lift a hand against her until they cast the first stones. So now who is in the trap? Are they willing to follow the Law in spite of the Roman dictum against capital punishment?
And so Jesus once again stooped down to scribble in the dirt, and when He
looked up, everyone was gone. And now, He could not accuse her, not because He condoned sin but because there were no witnesses; and He could not stone her, for the same reason. He would not have participated in a travesty of justice anyway, but now He simply could not, according to God’s Law.
But what does He say to her? Go thy way and sin no more.
Jesus never has and never will accept sin. He will accept sinners, but only if they change their lives and begin to live righteously. Even then, when
they slip and fall, He expects remorse, repentance, and growth that make those sins farther and farther apart. For each of us, when we lay our sin at His feet, the answer is the same: Go thy way and sin no more.
I bet that woman of so long ago did her best not to let Him down again. Can we do any less?
My little children, let no man lead you astray. He who does righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous. He who does sin is of the devil, for the devil sinned from the beginning. To this end was the Son of God made manifest, that he might destroy the works of the devil, 1 John 3:7,8.