February 18, 2016

Midweek Lenten Service 2 - February 17, 2016

For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope. The portion of God’s Word before us this evening comes from John 11:49-53:

And one of them, Caiaphas, being high priest that year, said to them, "You know nothing at all, 50 "nor do you consider that it is expedient for us that one man should die for the people, and not that the whole nation should perish." 51 Now this he did not say on his own authority; but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, 52 and not for that nation only, but also that He would gather together in one the children of God who were scattered abroad. 53 Then, from that day on, they plotted to put Him to death.

Tonight, we consider our second eye-witness who was present when Jesus was crucified. This individual was not only there, he was the one who planned the crucifixion. Caiaphas was the high priest that year. His father-in-law was Annas, the former high priest, who also questioned Jesus. Caiaphas was perhaps the strongest opponent of Jesus during His ministry. As we hear a first-hand account of what Caiaphas might have been thinking, it’s important that we remember his opposition to Jesus. Caiaphas was unbeliever and we have no reason to believe that he was ever converted. When I speak as Caiaphas remember that he’s coming from the perspective of unbelief and extreme opposition to Jesus and His disciples. But also remember that although Caiaphas was vehemently against Jesus, God was still able to use him to accomplish His will. This man, who was supposed speak God’s truth but viciously attacked it, ended up accomplishing God’s will without even knowing it. Let us hear from the man himself:  

Caiaphas: The High Priest
1) Blindly arrogant in his calling
2) Ignorantly distrustful of the Scriptures

I blame Gamaliel. You want to know why the Christian religion endures to this day? It’s his fault. We had everything we needed. Jesus was dead. Sure, there were rumors of resurrection, but no one credible witnesses stepped forward. Surely, He would have faded to myth like so many “Messiahs” before Him. It was Gamaliel who reignited the flame. Your Bible tells you how. Not long after our Passover victory over the blasphemer, we had his foremost apostle in our custody, Simon, called Peter, and certain others as well. We could have ended the movement there, with one fell swoop. If only we had the courage to do what needed to be done.

When I say “we” I mean the Sanhedrin. For those unfamiliar with our culture, the Sanhedrin was the collective body that represented Israel. It was composed primarily of my colleagues, the Sadducees, and the less qualified Pharisees. The struggle between these two sides was always part of our culture. Pharisees naively clung the ancient Scriptures. Of course, they would; their claim to power rested on the peoples’ understanding of the Scriptures. They were also the scribes; those in charge of producing copies and protecting the sacred texts. Don’t be so foolish yourself to think that they didn’t add their own commandments too.

We Sadducees were the proper representatives of God. Our bloodlines go back to the first high priest, Aaron. Throughout history we have kept God’s people alive and intact, as the chosen nation that we are. We don’t need to foolishly cling to the written words, for we are divinely appointed by God Himself, and we speak with God’s authority. The blasphemer should have known this, and yet He continually disrespected our office by going back to the Scriptures.

You call Him Jesus. I call Him the blasphemer. Do you even know what the name “Jesus” means? It’s a sacred name in our culture, meaning Savior. It’s the most distasteful Aramaic rendering of Joshua, which means “Jehovah saves.” Joshua was the hero who led our people into the Promised Land. What arrogance of this carpenter’s son to compare Himself to that and even call Himself greater! He acts as if the angels of God themselves gave Him the name, Jesus.  

But that’s enough about Him, back to Gamaliel. We had Peter and other apostles in prison; captured and ready to be executed, when Gamaliel gave them hope. I still can’t believe it now. The very insinuation that the blasphemer could be the Messiah was outrageous! That outdated relic of undignified time suggested that we wait and see if the Christian movement would die out. I wanted to end it there, and I could have. But one man only holds so much power. I had a large following as high priest, even more when you consider the allies I made through my father-in-law’s connections, but I couldn’t oppose the chief Pharisee. I had to let the Christians go, and wait. And now look at what this heresy has become.

I know you think I’m evil. You think I murdered your Savior. Go ahead, think what you want. I’ve heard it before. You think it bothers me anymore? I was the real savior. I spared the true Israel from the wrath of the Romans. You think the blasphemer was innocent but can’t you see He was bringing Caesar’s fury upon us? Each day He grew in popularity it piqued the attention of our aggressors. And the Romans were just waiting for a reason to wipe us out. I had to act when I did and take Jesus out of the way. It was the only way my people could be spared. Think what you want about me, I’ll let God judge my actions. You may think I was impatient or that I acted on impulse, but you’d be wrong. This plan was long in the making. Let me tell you how.

Ever since the Romans first suppressed us under captivity they made a mockery of our most sacred religious rites. Foremost of these is the institution of the priesthood. When one becomes a priest, he is a priest for life. When one is elevated to the level of high priest, he occupies that title for life. The Romans began to delegate who would be high priest and they would depose them as soon as they saw fit. So you see, I had to dirty myself in the political affairs of our nation because the Roman mockery of our faith demanded it!

My father-in-law, Annas, served as high priest before me. He was appointed by Governor Quirinius. In all honesty, Annas should not have been high priest, one does not receive that office from man but from God. But what could we do? We were at the mercy of the Roman legislators. When the next governor took power, he immediately deposed my father-in-law. A few others assumed the role of high priest before me, but in the peoples’ eyes, Annas was always the rightful leader. Obviously, this created strife between our people and the Romans. Those Gentile pagans thought they were keeping good order by regularly changing the leadership, but what they really were doing was desecrating our beliefs, and creating a breakdown in authority.

It was into this context that I was given the office of high priest under the Roman governor Gratus. Gratus hated our people and he showed it by switching the high priest whenever he wanted – running roughshod over our beliefs; a systematic display to show who was in control. The only reason I endured his manipulations was because I happened to be high priest when he left office. His replacement: Pontius Pilate. Pilate didn’t like being our governor any more than Gratus, but he wasn’t as strong of a leader. As soon as I met Pilate it didn’t take long to recognize that he could be swayed. He didn’t like confrontation. His morals were weak. Our fathers waited years for an opportunity like this; a time to regain our cultural strength, and now it was upon us, during my reign as high priest. Clearly, God was calling me to act.

Despite my growing power, our people were still divided about who to follow. Many still viewed my father-in-law as the true high priest; and so he also continued in that vocation. I’ll be honest, he was a tremendous help at times, especially when I needed allies in the Sanhedrin. But, his popularity also had its costs. There was a growing sentiment among the people that I was nothing more than his puppet. I had to show my credibility and that I could make the tough decisions on my own. The entrance of the blasphemer provided the perfect solution. I knew I could influence Pilate and show my ability to lead us against the Romans. I simply needed a platform where people would take notice. This supposed Messiah and His band of Galileans gave me just what I needed. I didn’t even have to convince the Pharisees, my most ardent opponents. He took care of it for me. The stage was set, everything we had patiently waited for was upon us. A time to break free from the political captivity of the Romans and a time to showcase my leadership as the sole high priest.     

And so I lead you back to where we began. Those in Sanhedrin who worried about Jesus? Those like Gamaliel? They knew nothing. They lacked the foresight to plan as I had. I knew this day was coming, God Himself allowed me to prophecy about it. That’s right, you hear that Christians? God told me that this Jesus, whom you believe to be His Son, must die for the people. If He is God’s Son, why would His very Father let that happen? Can you not see the fallacy in your belief? No one believes in a God that dies for His people. No other religion is like that, not even of the heathens. You want to boast in that, go ahead, you can live in your foolishness. Yours will be a faith forever tainted by death. Your own symbol, the cross, is emblem of death. That’s supposed to be the power of God? His sacrifice? Ha! If that’s what Jesus came to be then maybe He was right. Because He will forever be known as a humble sacrifice, and you can have that.

That’s what I never understood about Jesus. He preached that we must respect, even love our enemies. He focused on a life to come, instead of worrying about today’s problems. Easy for Him to say, He wasn’t a position of authority like I am. He could afford to play upon the peoples’ grand desires of an afterlife. You think He’s all powerful? His own disciple betrayed Him for a mere 30 pieces of silver, that’s the equivalent of $18 in your currency. Some Savior He was, He couldn’t even control His own misguided followers.

I don’t live in the land of faith and fairy-tale; I’m a realist and I knew what had to be done. That’s why I survived and the blasphemer died. Oh, you say He’s not gone; that’s He’s still with you today in spirit? You claim He came back to life?

Let me guess, you use the Scriptures as your guide? In them you have the history of our people and truth from God, I readily admit that I readily use it. But you also have fanciful stories about sins being forgiven and a bodily resurrection from the dead? And Jesus promises to give you this? That’s certainly a leap of faith, don’t you think? I know one thing for sure. I saw Him die. I made sure to witness it; to see the completion of my hard work. Whatever His zealots decided to do with His body after that is not my concern. Whatever hoax they concocted will surely come to light soon. I will trust what I saw. You can trust what Jesus promises you. We’ll see soon enough who’s right.

You who trust the Scriptures, you really are just like the blasphemer. When I look at your lives it almost as if I see a mirror of His, though you are not as bold as He was. You care about others; thinking that kindness and humility actually mean anything. You quickly discredit your own worthiness, calling yourselves sinners? You bow in repentance? Those who truly have God don’t need such foolishness. Haven’t you learned anything from the Pharisees? It’s all smoke and mirrors. Don’t get me wrong, I love God’s Word, but it’s open to so much interpretation. No one can know what is really true from the Scriptures. That’s why you must listen to me, the high priest! I speak directly for God. I’ve been given the right to make atonement for sins, not some Galilean prophet! And mark my words, this Christian movement will die on the vine and no one will remember that blasphemer. You can put that in your Scriptures.  

As for me, I stood up and defended our people when I was called upon. I will be remembered for that, as it should be. But as a parting message, humor me. Let me ask you this. Why do you believe in this Jesus? Do you really want your life to change because of Him? Look at Peter and the rest of them, it’s only a matter of time before they’re in our grasp again; and be assured, no one will protect them on that day. Do you think salvation comes by faith only? I’ve never heard anything so illogical! God favors the strong. God is with those who act. That is my belief. I will stand before God one day on my merits, not on those of another man.

Was the blasphemer a good man? In many ways He was. He helped the poor. Even I can’t deny His power to perform miracles. He taught with great authority and gained multitudes of followers. I must admit, I was a little taken aback by how patient and calm He was while on trial. I didn’t expect that. I was hoping to at least get Him to crack under the pressure. I also know that many of the people still side with Him, including you. That’s really what bothers me the most, His popularity just won’t go away, no matter what we do. I know I look bad in the eyes of the people, as if I don’t care about them. I’m certainly not as good to them as Jesus was. But not all of us can be fanatical heroes. I must lead the people in strength and power, call my actions “collateral damage” if it makes you feel better. I did what was best for Israel. I will forever be a servant to them, as I should be, as God has called me to be. They may not always understand why I do what I do, just as you surely don’t. But that is my life’s calling.         

If you want a life of lowliness and scorn. If you deny yourself and you repent of sin. If you truly believe that you can’t get to God on your own, then by all means follow Jesus. You can have that for that is all you Christians deserve. As for me, I am the high priest. I don’t need a Savior or a Redeemer. You want to boast in a man’s death, that’s your choice. I don’t need it. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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