The irony of this moment should not be lost on us, surely. While these holy men conspire to put an innocent man to death, they take care not to become ceremonially unclean and miss out on the religious festivities. They don’t want to get their nice clothes dirty before the big party.
But how many commandments are these paragons of respectability breaking here? Let’s review:
You shall not murder.
- Leviticus 20:13
Check: contrary to what they tell Pilate about not being able to put a man to death (John 18:31), Leviticus 24:16 says otherwise. Now there are many views as to why they say this, and there may be truth to the matter that there were restrictions preventing them from carrying out a sentence – either self-imposed or enforced by the Romans (see Matthew Poole’s commentary); nonetheless, there is only one correct way to put a man to death, and that’s in accordance with the law that commands it. Everything else is called murder.
You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.
- Leviticus 20:16
Check: when Pilate asks them what Jesus has done to deserve death, what’s their reply?
“This man has been leading our people astray by telling them not to pay their taxes to the Roman government and by claiming he is the Messiah, a king.”
- Luke 23:2
Say what? No, Jesus was asked the tax question, and He replied clearly that people ought to render Caesar what is Caesar’s (Mark 12:17). And the messiah thing? Well there’s some spin there, isn’t there? Pilate is likely to be flat-out bored with the claim that Jesus is the embodiment of centuries-old Jewish prophecies (“how quaint”, we can imagine him saying), so they frame it for him, inferring that his end-game is to revolt against Rome, an assertion that is backed up by precisely nothing.
You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.
- Leviticus 20:7
Check: when Jesus is before the Sanhedrin, they ask the question “are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” and He answers truthfully: “I am, and you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (Mark 14:61-62).
By their own laws it would be considered blasphemy to claim this if it isn’t true, BUT one must first prove that it isn’t. If your religion states that this cannot be true for anyone except one very special person, you cannot by default kill everyone who makes the claim. First you must prove the claim wrong; and they can’t. Not having actual evidence of blasphemy, they only have two appropriate and lawful ways to respond:
But, as we can see, the High Priest and his cabal aren’t interested in getting at the truth, they’re interested in putting a man to death; and they’re using God’s name to do it. This is the very definition of using the Lord’s name in vain. God’s name is not to be invoked to achieve our selfish ends, and lawful ends are clearly not their objective.
So, the religious leaders do what the bible has made them famous for doing. They attend lovingly to religious trifles while spitting all over God’s perfect law. Surely this isn’t news. But what are we to infer from this? What’s the lesson today?
Jesus warned the Pharisees about removing a fly from a cup of coffee while simultaneously inhaling a horse (I paraphrase, see Matthew 23:24), and they ignored Him, quite fantastically, as it turns out. But what about me? Am I upholding virtues that do little except caress my precious ego while simultaneously tap dancing all over the spirit of God’s sacred law to love Him with my whole heart and my neighbor as myself? Are you?
Are you withholding forgiveness from someone who’s wronged you while cheerfully attending bible studies and bake sales? Are you proudly dropping your requisite 10% into the collection plate while gossiping ruthlessly about the person who sits three pews down? Are you lamenting the sexual depravity of your neighbor and concurrently defrauding him in your place of business? Do you proudly abstain from even the smell of alcohol while joyfully condemning the alcoholic?
Look, attend your bible studies and bake sales, give faithfully to your church, abstain from the sexual celebrations and excesses of this post-Christian era, abstain from drunkenness and drug abuse, that’s all good stuff. But consider carefully the weightier matters of the law (Matthew 23:23); beware the sins of the heart. If we think we can polish the outside of the cup while leaving the more egregious, internal sins to fester unimpeded, we’re wrong: dangerously wrong.
Colin McComb lives in Edson, Alberta with his wife, Gail, and their three lovely children.