A Sentence of Death – The Beginning of Life

And the scribes and Pharisees brought to Him a woman taken in adultery. And standing her in the midst, they said to Him, ‘Teacher, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses in the law commanded us that such should be stoned. You, then, what do you say?’ They said this, tempting Him so that they might have reason to accuse Him. But bending down, Jesus wrote on the ground with His finger, not appearing to hear. But as they continued to ask Him, He lifted Himself up and said to them, ‘He who is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone at her.’ And again bending down, He wrote on the ground. And hearing, and being convicted by conscience, they went out one by one, beginning at the oldest, until the last. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. And bending back up, and seeing no one but the woman, Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, where are the ones who accused you? Did not one give judgment against you?’ And she said, ‘No one, Lord.’ And Jesus said to her, ‘Neither do I give judgment. Go, and sin no more.’ ” John 8:3–11 NKJV.

This story is a powerful illustration of a stark reality as expressed in the following quote from Selected Messages, Book 1, 219. It says, “They [sinners] must feel themselves sinners, exposed to the wrath of God, before they will realize their need of a Saviour.”

The Desire of Ages vividly portrays the position of the woman caught in adultery, the reality of her situation, and poignantly illustrates the reality. Try to wear her shoes, empathizing with her in her position, feeling her shame and terror, her abjection, wretchedness, and despair. After all, we are told in Revelation 3:14–17 that this is indeed our state, not just hers. So take into your very soul the reality of her situation, because it is your own.

The Desire of Ages, 460–462: “A group of Pharisees and scribes approached Him, dragging with them a terror-stricken woman, whom with hard, eager voices they accused of having violated the seventh commandment. Having pushed her into the presence of Jesus, they said to Him, with a hypocritical show of respect, ‘Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest Thou’ (John 8:5)? …

“Jesus looked for a moment upon the scene—the trembling victim in her shame.

“The woman had stood before Jesus, cowering with fear. His words, ‘He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone’ (John 8:7), had come to her as a death sentence. She dared not lift her eyes to the Saviour’s face, but silently awaited her doom.”

Picture the scene. The woman, caught in the very act, shamed and embarrassed, dragged through the streets before the eyes of all, and cast at the feet of Jesus, facing the death she knew she deserved.

But she was painfully, terrifyingly aware of more than this. Not only was she facing death, death by stoning, she was facing an eternity without her Lord and Saviour. She knew she was a sinner. She knew of the purity and holiness of Jesus. She was brought face to face with death—eternal death; terrifying, hopeless, forever lost. She knew she was not ready to die.

Yet, there she was, caught in the act of adultery, surrounded by the temple dignitaries, accusing, pointing fingers, condemning, seeking her death. She heard the hard, judging voices, pressing upon Jesus for His decision, and with downcast eyes, and fearful heart she awaited the whistle of stone flying through the air and the first crushing blow.

But as she waits, the seconds stretching into eternity, nothing happens. No stone whistles through the air to wound, to bruise, to destroy. Only a painful silence descends upon the air, and eventually the shuffling of feet fading into the distance reaches her ears. Time passes, and lo, she is left alone with Jesus. “In astonishment she saw her accusers depart speechless and confounded; then those words of hope fell upon her ear, ‘Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.’ Her heart was melted, and she cast herself at the feet of Jesus, sobbing out her grateful love, and with bitter tears confessing her sins.” The Desire of Ages, 462.

Her encounter with death, physical and eternal, was to her the turning point to a new life, a new life in Jesus, a life free from the degradation and shame of sin. It is this same encounter that we each one must face in order to appreciate, and hunger and thirst for the redeeming grace of a Saviour.

“They [sinners] must feel themselves sinners, exposed to the wrath of God, before they will realize their need of a Saviour.” Selected Messages, Book 1, 219. The woman realized, in her encounter with death, that she was a sinner. There was not a shadow of a doubt in her mind. She realized the reality of the following words from the same book, page 342: “He [the sinner] has nothing of his own but what is tainted and corrupted, polluted with sin, utterly repulsive to a pure and holy God.” This was an inescapable, brutal truth to her. I believe that she had reached the point stated in Testimonies, vol. 5, 620: “We must realize how terrible are the pains of the second death.” She tasted this stark reality.

But the story does not end there. It is rather, in fact, simply the beginning; the beginning of a new and different life, a life in Jesus, free, pure, joyous, full of gratitude and thanksgiving, with a heart overflowing with love for our Saviour and Redeemer.

“This was to her the beginning of a new life, a life of purity and peace, devoted to the service of God. In the uplifting of this fallen soul, Jesus performed a greater miracle than in healing the most grievous physical disease; He cured the spiritual malady which is unto death everlasting. This penitent woman became one of His most steadfast followers. With self-sacrificing love and devotion she repaid His forgiving mercy.

“In His act of pardoning this woman and encouraging her to live a better life, the character of Jesus shines forth in the beauty of perfect righteousness. While He does not palliate sin, nor lessen the sense of guilt, He seeks not to condemn, but to save. The world had for this erring woman only contempt and scorn; but Jesus speaks words of comfort and hope. The Sinless One pities the weakness of the sinner, and reaches to her a helping hand. While the hypocritical Pharisees denounce, Jesus bids her, ‘Go, and sin no more.’ ” The Desire of Ages, 462.

What made the Pharisees hypocritical? It was nothing more or less than pretending that they were without sin, without need, but rather rich and increased with spiritual good. Jesus never told them “Go, and sin no more.” They never received of Jesus’ mercy, His grace, His power to overcome sin and live a life of purity and peace. Why? Because they did not see themselves as “sinners, exposed to the wrath of God.”

It was after her traumatic encounter with death, and her ensuing rescue that, with a heart full of gratitude and filled with love for her Saviour, that the woman, enabled by His power of love fulfilled the command of Jesus, “Go and sin no more.”

Although there is no conclusive proof that the woman taken in adultery is Mary, the similarity of the two situations is evident. Whether or not the two are the same is immaterial, for in both situations, the repentance of the sinner is clear. The following statement from the book The Spirit of Prophecy, although spoken of Mary at Simon’s banquet, could rightfully be said of the woman taken in adultery:

“Though she had been very sinful, her repentance was sincere, and Jesus, while reproving her guilt, had pitied her weakness and forgiven her. Mary’s heart was filled with gratitude at the compassion of Jesus. Seven times she had heard His stern rebuke to the demons which then controlled her heart and mind, and she had listened to His strong cries to His Father in her behalf. She knew how offensive everything impure was to the unsullied mind of Christ, and she overcame her sin in the strength of her Saviour. She was transformed, a partaker of the divine nature.” The Spirit of Prophecy, vol. 2, 377.

“Jesus knows the circumstances of every soul. You may say, I am sinful, very sinful. You may be; but the worse you are, the more you need Jesus. He turns no weeping, contrite one away. He does not tell to any all that He might reveal, but He bids every trembling soul take courage. Freely will He pardon all who come to Him for forgiveness and restoration.

“Christ might commission the angels of heaven to pour out the vials of His wrath on our world, to destroy those who are filled with hatred of God. He might wipe this dark spot from His universe. But He does not do this. He is today standing at the altar of incense, presenting before God the prayers of those who desire His help.

“The souls that turn to Him for refuge, Jesus lifts above the accusing and the strife of tongues. No man or evil angel can impeach these souls. Christ unites them to His own divine-human nature. They stand beside the great Sin Bearer, in the light proceeding from the throne of God. ‘Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us’ (Romans 8:33, 34).” The Desire of Ages, 568.

Dear friends, fellow sinners, do you recognize that you have “nothing of his (your) own but what is tainted and corrupted, polluted with sin, utterly repulsive to a pure and holy God?” Do you feel yourself a sinner, “exposed to the wrath of God?” If you do not, for your soul’s sake, and for the sake of Him Who spilled His blood on Calvary, plead with God to show you your wretchedness and sin. Plead that He will open your eyes to the reality in which you stand before Him. Then He will fulfill His promise. Of our Father it is said, “God’s plan is not to send messengers who will please and flatter sinners, He delivers no messages of peace to lull the unsanctified into carnal security. But He lays heavy burdens upon the conscience of the wrongdoer, and pierces his soul with sharp arrows of conviction. The ministering angels present to him the fearful judgments of God, to deepen the sense of his great need and prompt the agonizing cry: ‘What shall I do to be saved?’ The very hand that humbles to the dust, rebukes sin, and puts pride and ambition to shame, lifts up the penitent, stricken one, and inquires with deepest sympathy: ‘What wilt thou that I shalt do unto thee’ (Mark 10:51)?” Testimonies, vol. 4, 178.

“When man has sinned against a holy and merciful God, there is no course for him to pursue so noble, as to sincerely repent and confess his errors in tears and bitterness of soul. This God requires of him and will accept of nothing less than a broken heart and a contrite spirit.” The Signs of the Times, February 12, 1880. And then His promise is “He lifts up the penitent, stricken one, and inquires with deepest sympathy, ‘What wilt thou that I shalt do unto thee?’ ” Ibid.

Let us join this woman taken in adultery, bowed at the feet of Jesus, trembling, recognizing our shame, our sin, our degradation. It is the truth. It is our reality just as much as it was hers. Let us accept that we are sinners; accept that we are “exposed to the wrath of God;” accept that we have “nothing of [our] own but what is tainted and corrupted, polluted with sin, utterly repulsive to a pure and holy God.” It is then, and only then that we will realize our need of a Saviour. And it is only as we recognize our need that we will seek—and receive healing. It is then, as with her, that Jesus will say to us, “Neither do I give judgment. Go, and sin no more.”

Brenda Douay is a staff member at Steps to Life. She may be contacted by email at: brendadouay@stepstolife.org.