“But when Peter saw this, he replied to the people, ‘Men of Israel, why are you amazed at this, or why do you gaze at us, as if by our own power or piety we had made him walk? The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified His servant Jesus, the one whom you delivered and disowned in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release Him. But you disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, but put to death the Prince of life, the one whom God raised from the dead, a fact to which we are witnesses. And on the basis of faith in His name, it is the name of Jesus which has strengthened this man whom you see and know; and the faith which comes through Him has given him this perfect health in the presence of you all’” (Acts 3:12-16; all Scripture quotations from the New American Standard Bible).
One of the great ironies of the Gospel is that Jesus, the Righteous One, was killed by religious people.
It was not harlots, tax collectors, murderers, drug addicts, sex offenders, or child abusers who led the cries urging Pontius Pilate to “Crucify Him!” It was the chief priests, the teachers of the Jewish Scriptures, and other religious leaders. The people who claimed to know and obey God called for the execution of the Son of God.
Jesus brought life and healing. Religious men brought death.
Jesus brought forgiveness and salvation. Religious men demanded condemnation.
Religious leaders of the people of God mocked Jesus while He died. It took a pagan “godless” centurion to declare, “Truly this was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:54).
Religion, ritual, rules, tradition, and dogma do not guarantee righteousness. The men who demanded Jesus’ death were seeking God, but they sought Him on their terms, based on their finite understanding of God’s Word. When they encountered Jesus—the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His nature—they could not recognize Him.
It is easy for us to condemn the chief priests and Pharisees. However, is it possible that we can be more like them than we are willing to admit? Do we really hold to the righteousness of God, or do our own biases sometimes get in the way? Do we sincerely love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength? Do we truly love our neighbor as ourselves? Or, do we find more entertaining things to lure us away from God? Do we find excuses why the other person might not count as our neighbor?
“If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of their own heart?” (Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn).
Perhaps most of us struggle with the same challenge. We start our day well. Maybe, like me, you find time to pray and read the Bible before starting your workday. Perhaps you find ways to serve God and His people in ministry, either through your church or other avenues. Maybe you spend most of your day “doing the right things.” At some point, though, temptation takes over and you live more like the devil than like a child of God. The line dividing good and evil had cut through your heart.
The great message of the resurrection is that Jesus lived a righteous life and then died for our forgiveness and salvation. Whatever evil exists in your heart and life, Jesus offers forgiveness and cleansing. He rose from the grave to conquer death, the ultimate evil.
Today, let us bring our entire hearts to Him—the good and bad, the righteous and unrighteous, the religious and profane—and welcome His cleansing power. He came to give us life and to shine His light and glory through us:
“This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us” (1 John 1:5-10).