29 July – 4 August 2018.
In the middle of the story of Jesus’s trial and execution, John gives us an unusual but very important detail about Jesus’s Jewish accusers. In v. 28 John tells us that these accusers dragged Jesus to the headquarters of the Roman governor but they themselves refused to go inside. That’s because to do so would make them religiously unclean, and prevent them from joining in the Passover celebration.
The laws of Moses established a clear line between what was called “clean” and “unclean”. To be clean and free of sin meant that you could be in a relationship with God. But if you ate the wrong food, did the wrong things, or even went into the wrong places, those actions would defile you, make you unclean, and exclude you from the Jewish community and from relationship with God. Because Pilate was a non-Jew, that meant to step into his home and headquarters would make these Jewish accusers also count as unclean, which would then exclude them from the Passover. That’s why they demanded that Pilate instead come and meet them outside.
But here we see something both truly ridiculous and truly horrifying. These devout Jewish leaders are so eager to preserve their holiness, so eager to keep themselves pure and clean to protect their relationship with God – and yet do this while planning the torture and execution of God himself! They are so worried about becoming unclean that they refuse to take even one step into a Gentile home, but don’t hesitate to unjustly kill an innocent man. Sinfully killing God the Son himself is perfectly ok to them. This type of hypocrisy and moral blindness is just astounding.
But here we need to be careful. John tells us this story not simply to criticize a few nameless Jewish men who lived a few thousand years ago. John tells us this story because he knows that this is a dangerous temptation for all religious people, including us Christians today.
Too often we Christians also fall into the temptation of thinking that so long as we come to church, read the Bible and pray, so long as we follow our own little regulations and traditions, then we too can continue to hate others, abuse them, and be mean to those around us. Sometimes we even think that the degree of our hate for others can show off the degree of our love for God! But in this way we fall into the very same trap as those ancient Jewish leaders.
As Jesus reminds us over and over again, to be holy, to be close to him, to be a good child of God only requires one thing: that we obey his command to love those around us. We can’t hate others and say we belong to Christ. We can’t abuse others and say we are good children of God. But when we love those around us, that’s when we can know that we really are standing in a good relationship with God. When we obey Christ’s command to love, that’s when we truly are Christ’s disciples and truly are acceptable to God.
Pastor Stephen Lakkis