She had nowhere to hide. She was dragged into the temple and made to stand in the court as accusations were hurled against her. Sticks and stones may break bones, but their words may soon condemn her. It was only a matter of time. She had been caught in the act of sin and now awaited punishment.
As the Pharisees and teachers of the law made their argument against her, she was silenced. She was here by her fault, her own fault, her own most grievous fault. She stood before Jesus as a poor, miserable sinner deserving of whatever punishment may fall upon her. She handed herself over to death by handing herself over to the desires of her sinful flesh. She stood before the crowd in the temple as dead in her sin as Lazarus was dead in the tomb.
To make matters worse, she was now a pawn in the game the religious leaders were playing with Jesus. It wasn’t enough that she was caught. She was now made to stand with her guilt and shame exposed for all to know. They demanded an answer. What punishment and condemnation will this sinful woman receive? The Pharisees attempted to accuse Jesus with His own words at the expense of this woman’s life.
In one sentence, Jesus clears the temple. “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7). He flips over the self-righteous tables of the Pharisees and religious leaders. Jesus does not refute the fact of her sinful state, nor does He deny the penalty for her transgression. Rather, Jesus exposed all gathered in the temple courts that morning as sinners.
“Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him” (John 8:9).
She was alone with the Righteous One. The One who had knit her together in her mother’s womb. The One who created her and loved her. The One whom she had sinned against. “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment” (Psalm 51:4). Today was her judgment day. She stood alone in the cold, bare temple courts with her judge.
“If sinners enter, they do not remain sinners. He spreads His cloak over their sins and says: “If you have sinned, I remit your sins and cover them.” To be sure, sin is there. But the Lord in this kingdom closes His eyes to it, covers it, forgives it, and does not impute it to the sinner.” —Martin Luther
Jesus could have picked up a stone. He would be just in doing so. “The wages of sin is death”(Romans 6:23). In the temple courts that morning, she receives judgment. She receives absolution.
“God did the judgment on you when he did the judgment for your sins on Jesus. That death for your sin was given to you.” —Norman Nagel
Jesus takes our condemnation and gives us His righteousness. Jesus answers for our guilt on the cross. He is accused and condemned in our place. Jesus trades places with us in God’s courtroom. As Jesus is made our sin, He dies our death and suffers the wrath of God against our iniquities for us.
“Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit” (Psalm 32:1–2).
As we stand before our Lord dead in our transgressions and guilt, Jesus pronounces His judgment upon us. He absolves us. Our Lord picks up bread and wine and gives us Himself. He grants us forgiveness and remission of sins in giving us His body and blood in His supper. He picks up water and washes us of our sin, guilt, and shame in the waters of baptism. He makes us His own and clothes us with Himself.
“Blessed are those whose sin He covers, does not see, does not remember, does not want to know about, but completely forgives by grace.” —Luther