Famous Welsh actor Richard Burton returned after many years to visit his childhood church. His old pastor, who had taught him as a child, asked him to quote the 23rd Psalm. Richard Burton agreed under one condition. After he finished, the pastor was also to quote the 23rd Psalm. The pastor, protesting that he was not an actor, finally agreed.
Mr. Burton recited the Psalm with eloquence, perfect voice, and intonation. He masterfully completed the Scripture, and the crowd burst into applause. Then the aged pastor stood, holding on to his chair for support, slowly quoted the Psalm. His voice was quivering and frail. When he finished, there was no applause. Just silence and no dry eye in the room. Richard Burton stood up with tears in his eyes and said, “I know the Psalm, but he knows the Shepherd.”1
This story may shed light on the tense moments leading up to Jesus’ trial in John 18. The armed band of men and officers of the Jews brought Jesus to Pilate’s Judgment Hall, But they did not go in lest they might be defiled and would not be able to observe the Passover. (John 18:28). What an irony! They wanted to observe the Passover – which pictured Jesus, the Lamb of God. They were careful about the rules, and while being careful, they were enabling the death of the Passover Lamb!
This mob that arrested Jesus was part of the same crowd that had tried to slay Jesus because he had healed the impotent man on the sabbath day. (John 5) They were zealous of the law but refused to recognize the giver of the law. Jesus confronted them later in John 5, saying, “And ye have not his word abiding in you: for whom he hath sent, him ye believe not. Search the Scriptures; for in them ye THINK ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me. And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life.” (John 5:38-40).
This crowd was part of the same group Jesus confronted and accused of gross hypocrisy in Matthew 23. He grouped them with their ancestors through the centuries, who had put many of God’s men to death. Jesus prophesied that this current generation would face God’s judgment for all of those murders.
The religious (Jewish) leadership of Jesus’ day substituted form (religious celebrations and rituals) in place of relationship. They recognized God-initiated traditions and observances but failed to acknowledge the One that all these ceremonies were supposed to honor. When they honored Him through tradition and rituals, they were also commanded to honor Him by how they lived.
“He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” (Micah 6:8) “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.” (Matthew 23:23-26)
And now, at his trial, there is this irony. They wanted to crucify Jesus, the authentic Passover Lamb, but didn’t want to be defiled and excluded from the ceremony, which foreshadowed the Passover Lamb’s death. They did not remember John the Baptist’s proclamation, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29).
Today, religious people want to observe the long-held church rituals and traditions. They want the beauty of the church’s traditional services and a beautiful church building. They will sing the old songs or replace them with modern versions or new styles of music. If they don’t like the old moral standards, they revise them and say the Scriptures don’t condemn those sins.
As Paul said in 2 Timothy 3:5, in the last days there would be Christianity “having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.”
People have forgotten that Christianity is a relationship to Christ, not a ritual. Just like the Jews and all the crowd that crucified Jesus, churches can be enticed with the formalities, the rituals, and all the trappings of religion, but not know Christ. The sad truth of John 1:10-11 is still applies today. “He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not.” These people had all the religion, rituals, and ceremonies learned and practiced, but there was no personal relationship.
The good news is that you can resolve the relationship problem. John 1:12 says, “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:”
Have you received Him? Was there a time in your life when you confronted your own sin and unbelief? Did you turn from your sin and unbelief to trust Christ as your Savior? Have you experienced a personal encounter with Jesus and trusted Him? “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16).