Jesus’ time before Pilate, the Roman Governor begins in John 18:28 and continues through John 19:22.  As you read these verses over the next few days … let your mind consider the man, Pilate.  Place yourself in his shoes.  Notice how many times he makes attempts to free Jesus.  They may seem to be feeble attempts … but attempts they were.   Watch him … listen to him. 

Today, read John 18: 18 – 40.

Verse 28 stuns me.  Did you catch it?  “To avoid ceremonial uncleanness, the Jews did not enter the palace…”  These Jewish leaders were intent on killing Jesus – they rigged a phony trial with paid off witnesses – they so desperately wanted him dead that they were willing to bring in Roman authority – but they did not want to be ceremonially unclean.  Staggering.  It amazes me how powerful religious ritualism can be.  Rituals that began with the most beautiful symbolism and the highest goals turn into something that have life on their own and become totally disconnected with the event they were created to commemorate and immortalize.  They become irrelevant to life. 

I am reminded of Jesus’ scathing words in Matthew 23:25 – 28

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.

In their mission to have Jesus killed, these religious leaders did not want to violate any of their rituals.  It did not matter that they were violating the sixth of the Ten Commandments, the bedrock, the core of Jewish law … “You shall not murder” (Exodus 22:13)  In fact, I am quite sure they saw no connection between the sixth commandment and what they were about that night.  That is what frightens me.  I really do not think they saw any connection.  They believed they were doing the will of God … keeping Judaism protected from this troublesome ‘rabbi’. 

That is what can happen to us!  We can become so fixated on the rituals and ceremonies and traditions of our faith that we loose the intent and the heart.  We can become blinded to God’s hand in our own lives and our own world.  I think of the rituals of faith that have such powerful symbolism … water baptism, the Lord’s Supper, hymn singing, prayer together.  Remember, water baptism is to signify your death with Christ … it means that when you rise from the water you are a new person … Christ lives His life through you!  You will live differently – not just belong to a church!

The Lord’s Supper is the reminder that you are taking Christ’s very life into yourself … so that you can live out His life in your little world.  You will live differently – not just take communion however often you choose to take it!

Singing hymns and spiritual songs together with fellow believers is testimony of your belief in the person and the work of Jesus.  It is not about the technicalities of music or harmonies.  You will live differently – not just come away from a service either uplifted or critical of the music!

Praying together is joining hearts with a brother or a sister and going before the throne of God.  It is not about impressive words or the right formula to get what you want.  You do it to “commune” with God and hear Him.  You will live differently – not just watch to see if your prayer is “working” (translation - you are getting what you want)! 

My prayer for myself today … and for you … is that we be ever alert to our love of ritualism more than our love of God.  That we be aware of our own tendencies to whitewash the outside and ignore what is going on inside.