People go to church for a million different reasons. They’ve got a great choir and I like to sing. They really active in the community and I want to be part of that. I feel guilty cause I have gone for a while. It’s the church I grew up in, I know everyone there. I’d guess you could think of some other reasons to go to church too.
There are good reasons, and bad reasons to go to church.
People who work for churches do so for lots of different reasons too. And just like going to church, there are good reasons and bad reasons to work for a church.
Today’s reading from Luke has a lot to do with a group of men who were very involved with the church of Jesus’ day, but were involves for all the wrong reasons.
The events in our reading begin during the night before Jesus was crucified. Jesus had been arrested in the garden where He had come to pray. His disciples had been scattered like flock of frightened sheep.
Jesus was taken to the palace of the High Priest, Caiaphas, to appear before the Sanhedrin. On a normal day, the Sanhedrin was a gathering of 71 of the most important and influential religious leaders of Israel. It was basically the Jewish version of the Supreme Court. We don’t know how many of their number were present for this first “trial” of Jesus.
Matthew and Mark tell us about this first night meeting. Luke tells us about a second and final morning meeting.
Luke 22:63-71 (NIV)
63The men who were guarding Jesus began mocking and beating him. 64They blindfolded him and demanded, “Prophesy! Who hit you?” 65And they said many other insulting things to him.
66At daybreak the council of the elders of the people, both the chief priests and teachers of the law, met together, and Jesus was led before them. 67“If you are the Christ,” they said, “tell us.”
Jesus answered, “If I tell you, you will not believe me, 68and if I asked you, you would not answer. 69But from now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God.”
70They all asked, “Are you then the Son of God?”
He replied, “You are right in saying I am.”
71Then they said, “Why do we need any more testimony? We have heard it from his own lips.”
Why did the members of the Sanhedrin gather here? Well, it’s clear that they weren’t there to have a real inquiry into the matter of Jesus and His teachings. They certainly didn’t have real charges to consider against Jesus.
The Sanhedrin had meet before Jesus had come to Jerusalem this last time. Right after Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead. At that meeting they had decided the Jesus needed to go. They plotted how to have Jesus murdered.
The different groups of the Sanhedrin had their own reasons for wanting Jesus dead. The Pharisees and the teachers of the law hated him because He had pointed out their hypocrisy to the people. Their precious reputation as religious men had been severely damaged.
The chief priests hated Jesus because he had threatened their lucrative Temple sales. Twice Jesus had cleared their salesmen from the court of the Gentiles on the Temple grounds.
Some of these men were afraid that Jesus’ popularity was growing too rapidly. Turn to John 11, verse 47. This is right after Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. There it says…
“47Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin.
“What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many miraculous signs. 48If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation”” (John 11:47-48 NIV).
This is why the Sanhedrin had gathered one last time on the morning of Jesus’ murder. They had come to protect their prestige, their money and their power. And these happen also be the reasons that they were involved with the church in the first place.
Their meetings on this night and morning were supposed to look like an official inquiry, sort of. Even though they broke just about all the rules surrounding such an inquiry. In a capital case there was supposed to be two meeting with the space of a full day in between. That didn’t happen.
And there were all sorts of other things that make it perfectly clear they weren’t there to seek out justice. They paid Judas to betray Jesus. They coached witnesses to incriminate Jesus, though that didn’t work out the way they intended. During the night the men who kept Jesus under guard also kept Him under a hood, so they could mock the idea that He was a prophet and beat Him with thug-like brutality.
No, they had not come together for the good of the people. Not for justice. But to tack down some charges against Jesus that would make their murder more acceptable to the people, and some charges that would lead the Romans to do their dirty-work for them.
These were religious men, to be sure. But they were certainly not men of God.
The first charge that they finally settled on was this: Jesus claimed to be the Christ, who the Bible said would be a king. They hoped this charge would be enough to force the Roman governor to get involved.
The second charge was this: Jesus claimed to be the Son of God, which to the Jews meant He WAS claiming to actually BE God. Turn to John 5, verse 18. There it says…
“18For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God” (John 5:18 NIV).
Their hope was that by pointing this out they could claim Jesus was blaspheming, and the people would see that Jesus had to die for that.
The Sanhedrin’s trial of Jesus was a mock trial, and not a very well orchestrated one at that. And their personal devotion to God was also a mock devotion.
We’ve seen the reasons why these men were there. And why they were leaders in the church. There might have been other reasons too. Probably were. But one thing is clear, these men weren’t involved with the church to actually know the God of the Bible.
Some people of our time like to talk about how they don’t have time for “organized religion”. In fact that term “organized religion” has come to stand for all that’s not good in churches. But the problem isn’t “organized religion” The problem is when religion becomes “faithless religion”. Religion that isn’t about getting to know who the true God is and what He’s like. Religion that is just about business. Religion that is all about a show and a reputation. Religion whose purpose is to keep things arranged the way they have been.
The men of the Sanhedrin came together for all the wrong reasons. Let’s not follow their example here at Redemption. When you come here, come to know God. Come to grow.
Let me restate the two charges that the Sanhedrin came to cling to. 1) Jesus claimed to be the Christ, the Savior chosen by God. 2) Jesus claimed to be God, God’s own Son.
In their mock trial, the Sanhedrin missed the point. They established that Jesus had definitely made these claims. Well, duh! The more compelling question is: were these claims TRUE? Because if they are, that means something big for you and me and everyone we know.
The members of the Sanhedrin sat in the outward church of God for all the wrong reasons. You and I come here for a different reason: because we believe Jesus’ claims. We believe He really is the Christ, who took the penalty for our sins away by suffering it in our place. He did that when He died on the cross having suffered hell at the hands of men, and hell at being separated from God the Father.
We also believe Jesus second claim: that He is the Son of God, through who we sinners have gained access to the Father. Turn to First John 2, verse 23.
“23Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father either; he who acknowledges the Son has the Father also” (1 John 2:23 NKJV).
Now, I don’t want you to get the wrong idea here. I’m not tooting our horn. We’re not here today because we’re better people than the men who made up the Sanhedrin. If God hadn’t brought us the message of sins forgiven through Jesus, we wouldn’t KNOW it. If God’s Holy Spirit didn’t convince us that it’s true, we wouldn’t BELIEVE it. If not for God, we’d be here for all the wrong reasons too. We’re sinners for goodness sakes! We know all about doing things for the wrong reasons!
Ultimately we’re here because Jesus was true. After He died on the cross, God the Father raised Him from the dead. He had succeeded in His mission to provide salvation for sinners. Then, after forty final days of teaching His disciples how to carry this message to the world, Jesus returned to the Father’s side in Heaven. And from that highest place of authority and power, Jesus now orchestrates the people and events that lead other people to trust in Him as Savior and God.
That’s where Jesus is today. Yes, He’s also here with us invisibly. He promised that He’d never leave His followers right up to the end of history. But He’s also with the Father, directing and guiding His people’s sharing of the Good News with others.
You know, we’ve met people like the Sanhedrin crowd. And we’re going to meet more. People who are religious in some way, but who don’t know the true God.
They may be like the Pharisees, all wrapped up in thinking religion is about reputation. They may be like the guards of Jesus, violent toward everything Jesus stands for. They may be concerned that things are going to change for the worse if those Jesus people are allowed to continue.
But here’s what we need to do when we meet people like that. We need to be like our Savior. We need to speak the truth about His claims. He is the Chosen one of God, now here’s what that means… He is the Son of God, now here’s how I know that’s true…
We need to speak the truth like this because even the hardened enemies of God can be changed by the Spirit of God. By the message of Christ Jesus communicated in ways that our neighbors can understand.
If you think that people like those in the Sanhedrin can’t be changed, just open up your Bible. Crack open the second half of it - the New Testament. Chances are you’ll land in a book that was written by a man named Paul. At one time he was a Pharisee to the core, and a murderer of Christ followers. But that changed when he met Jesus.
But, I’m getting ahead of myself. I’m talking about SHARING Jesus. First we just need to BE WITH Jesus. So, when you come to this place, 20120 24th Avenue West, Lynnwood, WA, come here to meet with God, and for no other reason. I have no doubt that He’ll lead you from there.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.