John 18 NIV
28 Then the Jewish leaders took Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor. By now it was early morning, and to avoid ceremonial uncleanness they did not enter the palace, because they wanted to be able to eat the Passover. 29 So Pilate came out to them and asked, “What charges are you bringing against this man?” 30 “If he were not a criminal,” they replied, “we would not have handed him over to you.” 31 Pilate said, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.” “But we have no right to execute anyone,” they objected.
This is the story of a power struggle between legalism and truth. The thing that shocked me most in this passage was the phrase “to avoid ceremonial uncleanness.” The goal of the Jewish leaders was the execution of Jesus through manipulating the power systems in place, not justice or truth. The grim reality of their legalism is their shockingly clear response to Pilate’s question – “What charges are you bringing against this man?” – “If he were not a criminal,” they replied, “we would not have handed him over to you.” Pilate said, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.” “But we have no right to execute anyone,” they objected.” The proof of their legalism was Pilate could achieve their goal to get rid of Jesus so they could avoid ceremonial uncleanness. It was their choice to justify hearts that had found a way to work around God’s truth; “Thou shall not kill.”
I admit it, I have rules! The whole purpose of rules is to regulate behavior and exert influence. Neither of those is necessarily bad…until…they replace the truth that life with Jesus is how we are justified, not rules. Have you even thought about “ceremonial uncleanness” in terms of your own behavior? I certainly hadn’t, but I know I’m guilty of having used rules to justify my motivations and behaviors. Legalism is believing rules or personal motivations can help you avoid ceremonial uncleanness. The truth of the Grace of God in Jesus is that the “the life I now lived in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me.”a
a Part of Galatians 2:20