February 29, 2012

Two Unscrupulous Priests - Feb 29, 2012

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This Lent our theme is, "Portrait of Our Suffering Savior, Painted by Numbers". Basically, what we're trying to do is understand Jesus better by looking closely at the events, characters and things that led to His death by crucifixion.

Tonight we examine two characters, Annas and Caiaphas: Two Unscrupulous Priests.

John 18:12-14 (ESV)

12 So the band of soldiers and their captain and the officers of the Jews arrested Jesus and bound him. 13 First they led him to Annas, for he was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year. 14 It was Caiaphas who had advised the Jews that it would be expedient that one man should die for the people.

Right off the bat I'm going to grab hold of that one word, "expedient". Expedient is a great word to use in connection with Annas and Caiaphas because it pretty much sums them up.

The dictionary says that if an action is "expedient" it is an action that is convenient and practical, although possibly improper or immoral. That was Annas and Caiaphas in a nutshell.

These men had no scruples. No moral convictions that might get in the way of their plans.

My first impression of Annas and Caiaphas was that they were a lesson in hypocrisy. After all, Caiaphas was the reigning high priest of the Temple of Jehovah, and yet it appears that all he really cared about was money and power. He was a hypocrite.

But as I began to read more, I realized that these guys weren't very good hypocrites. They didn't cover their true selves well enough. Annas and Caiaphas were more like kingpins in a religious mafia than they were hypocrites.

Seriously, as I read about Annas and Caiaphas I kept thinking about "The Godfather", and other gangster movies.

Annas had a long and illustrious career. But for much of it he moved about in the shadows. Orchestrating his plans from behind one puppet-high-priest or another.

Did you know that Annas was the reigning High Priest when the twelve-year-old Jesus first visited the Temple? Annas only held the office for nine years, but after that five of his sons and one son-in-law held the position. Annas and Caiaphas were still in power when the apostles left Jerusalem to share the Good News of Christ with the world.

The Bible doesn't describe the wealth of Annas and Caiaphas, but other sources make it clear that they were immensely wealthy. And with great wealth comes influence.

The Talmud (an ancient record of what Jewish teachers thought and taught) accuses Annas and company of being "whisperers". You know, whispering like serpents into the ears of high ranking officials. Making back room deals. Getting judges verdicts to fall where they wanted them. Perverting justice and corrupting the powers that be (The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, vol. 1, p.263).

Let me read one story which helps us to see how these men thought. This takes place right after Jesus raised a man named Lazarus from the dead. It's from John 11...
"45 Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him, 46 but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. 47 So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. 48 If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” 49 But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. 50 Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” 51 He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, 52 and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. 53 So from that day on they made plans to put him to death" (John 11:45-53 ESV).
The thing that sticks out to me about this account is that Annas and Caiaphas have nothing to do with true religion. Nothing to do with God. And when you read through the other places where Annas and Caiaphas appear in Scripture, it's the same. They're never concerned with the truth, with worship, or with serving the true God.

In the account I just read, Caiaphas is completely transparent and to the point. If you're worried that Rome is going to come down hard on us because of Jesus, then there's really only one solution - get rid of Jesus. And then Caiaphas plays the fear card just to convince any in the council who might hesitate to plan a man's death. He says...
"...it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish" (John 11:50 ESV).
The death of this man, or the death of your nation guys. Those are your choices.

Caiaphas didn't have any scruples about murdering Jesus, not because he really cared about the Jewish nation, but because his God was money and power. And the religion of money and power doesn't have a moral code. Everything goes.

These aren't the only things that Annas and Caiaphas have in common with a crime family. They coached witnesses at Jesus' trial, a trial which was held for the purpose of finding what they were going to accuse Jesus of before the Roman authorities.

When Jesus didn't answer one of Annas' questions in the way expected, a thug stepped forward and smacked Jesus across the face and said...
"...Is that how you answer the high priest?" (John 18:22 ESV).
And when Jesus finally admitted that He was Messiah, the council led by Annas and Caiaphas pronounced Him worthy of death and then proceeded to spit in his face, to hit him, even to blindfold him and slap him, asking him to prophesy which one of them had hit him.

Luke 16, verse 13 says...
"13 No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money" (Luke 16:13 ESV).
Annas and Caiaphas chose money.

Now, we're not here just to learn about Annas and Caiaphas. We want to see our Savior. After all, our theme is "Portrait of Our Suffering Savior, Painted by Numbers" not "Portrait of a Jewish Crime Family."

So, we're going to look at how Jesus responded to them when he came in contact with them. We've already seen their true colors, now let's see Jesus' true colors.

The first color I'd offer to add to our canvas is RED for righteous anger. When Jesus came to the Temple in the first year of his ministry, he found all sorts of shops and merchants making a dollar off the worshipers who had come to Jerusalem. And these men had set up shop right in the temple courts. Much of the money that was made here found its way into the bank accounts of Annas and Caiaphas, and Jesus would have none of that.

Full of righteous anger, Jesus drove out both the animals that were for sale, and the merchants and the money exchangers. This was supposed to be a place of prayer, not a place of business. God's people are supposed to worship God and use money, not use God and worship money. Jesus wouldn't tolerate the love of money in His Father's Church.

And neither should we. Money is a tool, and a powerful one. But it's nothing compared to our God. When have we considered money matters more important than spiritual matters? May God forgive us for those times.

The second color is not so bold as red. The second color is STEEL GREY for strong restraint and focus.

Annas and Caiaphas belonged to a group called the Sadducees. This group liked to argue with the Pharisees. The Sadducees didn't belief in the resurrection, in angels or in spirits. Jesus didn't have much time for their questions because when the Sadducees came asking, they didn't actually come to learn. They came with some hidden agenda to push.

Listen to Matthew 16:1-4...
"And the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test him they asked him to show them a sign from heaven. 2 He answered them, “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ 3 And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. 4 An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” So he left them and departed" (Matthew 16:1-4 ESV).
Jesus had done plenty of miraculous signs which validated His message. No matter what he did here they would have twisted it around to fit their agenda. And Jesus knew it. So he didn't say a thing.

And the same was true when Jesus stood before Annas and Caiaphas and the whole council of elders. They asked questions, but he remained silent. They weren't asking for knowledge. So, Jesus steeled Himself and took the verbal beating of lies and accusations thrown His way. He was fulfilling His Father's plan. He didn't need to play their games. He wasn't a manipulator Himself, but Jesus understood their methods. And He wasn't about to BE manipulated.

And here's where we see another one of our sins. We manipulate people just like Annas and Caiaphas. Sometimes we don't even realize it. Think about it. When have you been less that straightforward about something because you wanted a certain outcome. When have you candy-coated something or fed it through your own personal filter in order to make your words or your actions seem better than they actually were. We even do this to ourselves. We even manipulate ourselves, telling ourselves that our motives are cleaner than they really are. May God forgive us for each time we've manipulated instead of simply speaking the truth in love.

There's one more color I'd add to our suffering Savior's portrait tonight. That color is clear. CRYSTAL CLEAR for a warning that was plain and to the point.

Jesus refused to play word games with men like Annas and Caiaphas. But when He did speak, He went straight to the point and spoke a warning that was CRYSTAL CLEAR.

On one occasion, the Sadducees quizzed Jesus with a story about a woman who had a husband who died. Then she remarried and that husband died also. This happened with seven different husbands till she finally died. Their question was, "In the resurrection who will she be married to?".

Jesus said...
" 29 But Jesus answered them, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. 30 For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. 31 And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: 32 ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.” 33 And when the crowd heard it, they were astonished at his teaching." (Matthew 22:29-33 ESV).
Jesus points out the source of their problem clearly. Your problem is that you don't know what the Bible says, and you don't trust God's power to actually save and bless you.

And this convicts us too, doesn't it. We have not always been eager to spend time in the Bible. Sometimes we bristle and reject what God teaches there. Sometimes we hold tightly to our own ideas instead of letting them go, and clinging to what God says is true.

And even when we admit with our words that we KNOW God is in control, sometimes inwardly we doubt the power of God. Or the decisions that He makes in our lives. May God forgive us for neglecting His Word, or failing to trust Him completely.

We started our study tonight by talking about Two Unscrupulous Priests. Two men who were about their father's business in the Temple. Too bad that their chosen father was the almighty dollar.

Our suffering Savior was also about his Father's business though. And His Father's business was the business of saving sinners. Jesus was never greedy. Never a lover of money. He didn't even have a home to rest in! At the cross the soldiers divided his possessions. Some clothes. Our Jesus never manipulated people to fill his pockets. He always spoke the truth in love. Sometimes sharply and in warning to sinners, but always in love.

Our Savior was the perfect High Priest. He was sinless. Holy. He offered Himself for the sinful people. And because of Him, our sins of greed and hypocrisy stand forgiven. Trust in Him.


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