I can only think of two times that Jesus said that; only once in those words. In neither instance was He preaching, and He did a lot of preaching.
One time was after he had healed the physically-disabled man by the pool of Bethesda (John 5). It’s peculiar because he tells the man – some time after the healing, finding him in the temple grounds – to “Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” Yet this is the same Jesus who, five chapters later in John 9, will tell his closest friends that the blind man He is about to heal is not blind because of his own sin or his parents’. It makes me wonder if the misconception behind their question to Him was widespread … if people of that time and place believed that infirmities were always a punishment from God. And it makes me wonder if Jesus might actually be (*GASP*) kidding with the fellow in chapter 5, who joyously goes around telling everyone who healed him – even if it lands him in trouble with the officials in Jerusalem.
Because if that assumption about sin and physical punishment from God is rampant, everyone who has passed him by or cast a glance at him may well have thought, “He’s a sinner. He might be unclean. I don’t want to touch him and help him into the pool and be unclean myself. Poor devil. Better him than me.”
So perhaps Jesus is making a bit of a jest off of the assumption – showing the man that He sees people differently; that God sees people differently. “See, you are well again!” (*wink*) “Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you!”
It isn’t that the man has sinned, causing his paralysis. It’s that everyone sins, and that something far worse may happen to them than some physical infirmity like paralysis or blindness … something like a life apart from God.
The other time I can think of Jesus telling someone to “leave your life of sin” is that somewhat-disputed passage between those two, in John 8: the woman taken in adultery. This woman, too, was dragged into the temple grounds before Jesus, and after embarrassing her exiting accusers with His no-exceptions teaching about sin, He tells her that He doesn’t condemn her, either.
I don’t think He’s kidding about her need to leave her life of sin; she, after all, was caught in the act. But it’s not like He’s leaving her with nothing but a “no-no” for direction. His very next teaching is “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
Some people need to be told to stop sinning, and told seriously.
But everyone? Every week? People in church, people who always go to church, people who frequently go to church, people who even occasionally go to church? People who believe?
Do they need to be told week after week, sermon after sermon, to “stop sinning” … without any other direction for their life?
People need to hear about Jesus. People who have heard about Jesus need to hear more. We all need to know about the Example and Pattern, the Lord and Master, the Prince of Heaven, the Son of God, the Way, the Truth and the Life. We need to know that there’s more to faith in Him than just not sinning; that there’s hope and forgiveness through grace and sacrifice and resurrection. We need to know that there’s more to life than just trying hard, which always leads to failure; that there’s a Holy Spirit given to those who believe to comfort and strengthen them and seal them for salvation, making a down payment in their lives right now for the promise of better, wider, fuller, more joyous eternal life in the kingdom to come.
Yes, Jesus preaches “Repent” just like John the Baptist and a whole slew of prior prophets preached.
But He hardly ever does so without adding “… for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
A sermon that just says “stop sinning” is not a gospel sermon; it is half-a-gospel sermon at best. And while half-a-sermon is better than none, half-a-sermon is still not the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
So, help me, God.
Help me through Your Spirit – through any means You wisely see fit – help to me remember to tell the Story, tell all the Story, tell of penitence and turning and starting over before Your justice and Your righteousness … and also of renewal and inspiration and resurrection through Your mercy and Your love.
And through Jesus’ name ….