Then they led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the governor’s headquarters. It was early morning. They themselves did not enter the governor’s headquarters, so that they would not be defiled, but could eat the Passover. 29 So Pilate went outside to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this man?” 30 They answered him, “If this man were not doing evil, we would not have delivered him over to you.” 31 Pilate said to them,“Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.” The Jews said to him, “It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death.” 32 This was to fulfill the word that Jesus had spoken to show by what kind of death he was going to die. – John 18:28-32
When is it OK to break a law? If your family is starving to death is it OK to steal a loaf of bread? If you know someone is really corrupt is it really wrong to betray a confidence? If, if, if… The world is filled with ifs. We all want to set a scenario that allows us to mark our own boundaries. She is cheating the system, so… He is a liar, so…
In the case of the Jewish leaders and even the religious leaders of Jesus’ day, their selective law-keeping is remarkable. They will falsely accuse Jesus, but they won’t defile themselves by entering the governor’s headquarters. They will gather false-witnesses in order to have Jesus declared guilty and sentenced to death. But they won’t do the deed themselves because, “it is not lawful for us to put anyone to death.”
Too often we look to the Bible to justify our actions one way or another. Too often we profess our faith and theology correctly and ignore God’s command to be gentle, patient, long-suffering, and forgiving – especially when it comes to dealing with a brother or sister in Christ with whom we do not agree. Sometimes the degree of rancor is even justified by the higher good of truth!
God’s ways are pure altogether. Jesus never played off one law against the other in his life and faith. He did not engage in selective law-keeping. As his followers, and as those who believe in him, our best expression of that faithful following is to live like that. It may put us in difficult places. But faithfulness means that we believe in Jesus and in how he lived. Faithfulness also means that when we realize we have failed, we turn again from our sin and to our Savior, with gratitude and humility that we have a Savior who refused to cut any corner and paid the ultimate price for it: dying on the cross for our sins.