During the Communion service, to help fix my mind on Jesus, I like to read the accounts of Christ’s crucifixion.
One Sunday I was reading John’s account and came upon a verse I hadn’t noticed before. I was stunned. Shocked. Startled.
Then they led Jesus from Caiaphas to the Praetorium, and it was early morning. But they themselves did not go into the Praetorium, lest they should be defiled, but that they might eat the Passover. (Jn 18:28)
Did you get it? Did you see what stopped me in my “mental tracks” so suddenly?
Think about it.
The Jews had been plotting for some time to kill Jesus. Who? The religious leaders.
“Then the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered a council and said, “What shall we do? For this Man works many signs. If we let Him alone like this, everyone will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and nation.”
“And one of them, Caiaphas, being high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all, nor do you consider that it is expedient for us that one man should die for the people, and not that the whole nation should perish.” Then, from that day on, they plotted to put Him to death.” (John 11:48-52)
How incredibility ironic it is that they were squeamish about violating ceremonial law that they would not enter the Praetorium for fear of being defiled by a pagan, but had no qualms about illegally executing an innocent man!
They considered the touch of a Gentile as defilement. They were scrupulous not to be polluted by something that would prevent them participating in the Passover. They did not want to contact some impurity. After all, they were the separatists! Strict. Devout. Holy. They demanded absolute observance of the law.
Yet, their hearts were hardened against the Son of God. Their minds were closed. Their eyes were shut. Envy and greed energized them to act quickly. Political and pragmatic concerns trumped truth. They had to get rid of this “trouble maker.” To silence him forever. Even if it required murder! Of course, they didn’t want to become defiled by Pilate’s Praetorium in the process!
What a paradoxical Friday it was!
As I reflect on that incredible irony, I’m reminded of several things.
(1) Jesus died for the very ones that hated him. Lied about him. And called for his execution. John 3:16 was fulfilled that day. “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son…”
(2) They were worried about being pure for the Passover, yet killed Him who would become The Passover (1 Cor 5:7)
(3) The scandal of their sins would one day be sanctified by his shed blood. “Father forgive them,” was the Saviors’ plea. And on Pentecost, Peter would preach the gospel of grace that would save those whose “wicked hands” had killed the Lord of glory.
(4) And, of course, their plans would backfire! Jesus would not be silenced. The grave could not hold him. His message would be proclaimed through the Roman empire.
But on a more personal note, as I eat the bread and drink the fruit of the vine, I’m reminded not to regulate it to a mere ritual. Is my mind focused on its meaning? Its purpose? Its person? Could I, like the Pharisees, find myself putting more emphasis on the supper’s ceremony that on its communion with Christ?
Jesus warned in the Mount Message, “For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 5:20)
As I come to the cross and reflect on Friday, may I be reminded that the essence of religion is not ritual, but relationship. Not ceremony, but sincerity. Not religiosity, but righteousness.
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman