February 17, 2016
Rev. Ross Mahan; Pastor
Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you from God our Father and Jesus Christ our Savior and Lord.
Then many of the Jews which came to Mary, and had seen the things which Jesus did, believed on him. But some of them went their ways to the Pharisees, and told them what things Jesus had done. Then gathered the chief priests and the Pharisees a council, and said, What do we? for this man doeth many miracles. If we let him thus alone, all men will believe on him: and the Romans shall come and take away both our place and nation. And one of them, named Caiaphas, being the high priest that same year, said unto them, Ye know nothing at all, Nor consider that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not. And this spake he not of himself: but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation; And not for that nation only, but that also he should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad. Then from that day forth they took counsel together for to put him to death.
- Our theme for Lenten Vespers this year is the Ironies of the Passion. An irony is when the intended meaning of our words is different than the actual meaning of the words. An example of irony is when someone responds to a ridiculous suggestion by saying: That’s a great idea. A situational irony is laughing because someone slips and falls on the ice and you end up falling too. A verbal irony would a 350 pound man with the nickname of Tiny. During the Civil War the Southern Confederates considered Abraham Lincoln the biggest liar to ever occupy the Oval Office so they nicknamed him Honest Abe. We see irony in Caiaphas the High Priest who unintentionally revealed what God had in mind though he intended something totally different. God used Caiaphas, an unbeliever, to proclaim the Gospel without him ever realizing it. Caiaphas was a schemer, a political operative and an insider firmly entrenched in political and religious power. He was the ruler of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish Council, who along with the Roman government, controlled the Jewish nation with an iron fist. He was a power player who ruled the religious and political system like the Mafia. If you got in their way Caiaphas, Herod, or Pontius Pilate would make sure you disappeared. Caiaphas had a Jesus problem. Our Lord was causing them big trouble. So they called the Sanhedrin together to discuss it. What was their problem with Jesus? Was He hurting people? Was He threatening anyone?
- The problem of Jesus: The immediate problem was Jesus had just raised a man named Lazarus from the dead. Our Lord had performed many other miracles in the past that were ignored by the religious leaders, but raising someone from the dead who had been in the tomb four days in front of dozens of witnesses could not be overlooked. And because of this miracle many of the Jews were beginning to believe on Jesus. Some who saw the miracle ran to tell the Pharisees what He had done and this prompted the emergency meeting. As the meeting began the religious leaders poured out their anxiety about Jesus. What were they going to do? He was becoming a serious threat to them. The conversation was going in every direction, but there was one theme, if they didn’t do something about Jesus, the Jewish people would believe on Him and when that happened the Romans would come and take away their place and their nation. They would lose their position, power, and wealth. They had to do something to safeguard the nation, their wealth and power. The religious leaders were panicking and Caiaphas saw an opportunity to secure his authority. He saw the bigger picture, an ability that had kept him in office for thirty years. After listening to the other members of the council he finally took charge: Ye know nothing at all. You don’t realize that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not.
- Caiaphas framed his argument on what was good for the nation. He was cool and calculating. The answer was to commit murder. It was the only honorable thing to do. They had to kill Jesus for the good of the nation. It was better for one man to die to save the nation of Israel, better to sacrifice one man than for the nation to perish at the hands of the Romans. Caiaphas was like the Godfather arranging a murder for hire. This was the sorry state of Judaism in those days. The true religion of Abraham, had all but disappeared. From the beginning of Christ’s ministry Jesus had been a threat to the Scribes and Pharisees. Like the Pope of Rome they had claimed the right to interpret Scriptures but Jesus had the temerity to tell them they were wrong and that their hearts were not right with God and their religion of works righteousness was false. These men knew if they lost control of the Jewish people the Roman government would replace or kill them. Caiaphas won the day. He got what he wanted. He settled the question and from that day forward they plotted to kill Jesus. This was the level of their hatred for Jesus, a hatred that extended to Lazarus too, for in the next chapter they were plotting to kill him along with Jesus because he was causing so many people to believe on Jesus. That’s how much they hated Jesus that was the depth of their unbelief. They were going to kill Jesus and if necessary kill Lazarus too because he was living proof that a miracle had taken place.
- Caiaphas didn’t realize he was more right than he imagined. When he said it was best that one man die for the people he unwittingly spoke the Gospel. He was right, the whole nation shouldn’t be destroyed; just one man should die; one man should die for sinners, the just for the unjust. The Lamb of God should be sacrificed in the place of guilty sinners. One man should take the punishment of the nation. Better that one would die than they should all die. God in His sovereignty overruled what Caiaphas intended and he spoke the truth in spite of himself. And this spake he not of himself: but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation. And not for that nation only, but that also he should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad. The man who spoke words of hatred and murder unintentionally spoke the life giving words of the Gospel. In spite of himself the High Priest spoke God’s saving word. Jesus would die in place of the nation. Caiaphas was plotting death but God had planned life. Caiaphas was selfishly seeking political gain but God was going to bring spiritual gain to the world. He planned to commit the worst evil upon Jesus but God brought the greatest good from it. They were hoping to spare one nation, Israel, but God sent Jesus to the cross to die for the scattered children of God in every nation and language, and to bring them together and make them one.
- God was fulfilling His words to Abraham that through His Seed, Christ all the nations of the earth would be blessed. Jesus would be a light for the Gentiles to bring salvation to the ends of the earth. The hatred of the Jewish leaders reflected their unbelief. The carnal mind of man is the enemy of God and this is the condition of all unbelievers. Jesus said the world will hate us just as it hated Him and the Sanhedrin illustrates the level of that hatred. Apart from the grace of God we would all hate Christ just as these men did. Everything we have in the way of faith and understanding is the gift of God. It does not come from us. God deserves all the glory for our salvation. We all have the same seeds of unbelief and pride that filled the hearts of the Scribes and Pharisees. Even good church going people are not immune from pride. The Pharisees were the good church going people of that day. They studied their Bibles, memorized God’s Word, taught in the synagogues, and prayed every day yet behind the appearance of faith and grace were hearts that were cold and dead. Sinful human pride kills saving faith. Pride has often been described as the mother of all sins. It was the sin of pride that caused Satan to be cast out of heaven and it was pride that caused Adam and Eve to fall into sin. It is pride that separates the Christian from His Savior. Faith looks to God for everything we need in this life but pride trusts in me and my own works.
- The power of God. Only God could accomplish the plan of salvation, only He can apply the Gospel to our hearts. We must never imagine that pride and sin cannot enter our hearts. This is why we must continue repenting and confessing our sins asking God to preserve us in the true faith. The Spirit of God wages war against the pride of our hearts each day. The Word reminds us that pride goes before a fall, and God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble (Prov. 16:18; James 4:6). But to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word (Is. 66:2b). Caiaphas proclaimed the Gospel that day though he had intended words of hatred and murder. Caiaphas was not in control, God was. He was not aware of what the Holy Spirit was doing. As High Priest He was pointing to Jesus. It was the High Priest that had the duty of bringing the blood of the sacrifice to God in the Temple. He would continue offering the blood of atonement until God Himself would come and sacrifice Himself for our sins.
But one last time at the close of the Old Covenant, God spoke through the High Priest. From that point on Jesus would fulfill all the symbols and sacrifices and the Old Testament priesthood would come to an end. There would be no more need for sacrifices. All the types and symbols were passing away. Caiaphas revealed why Jesus had to die. It was better in God’s sight that one man die to preserve the nation from death.
- Not only did the Lord speak the Gospel through Caiaphas He also used him to arrange the details of His death. As High Priest Caiaphas made sure Jesus was put on trial, appeared before Pilate, and was condemned to die on the cross. He reminds us that sin is the universal condition of all men. Sin condemns us to die and go to hell. But God did not want that to happen so He sent His Son to die and to pay for our pride and sin. Jesus was the Messiah that Israel had been waiting for; His was the only blood that could pay for our sins, the only sacrifice that could turn God’s anger away from us, the only atonement that could ever make us friends with God again. Only the blood of the sinless Son of God could save us. The blood of Jesus is worth more than the whole universe. It not only paid for the sins of the nation of Israel but for the sins of the whole world. John wrote: And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world (I Jn. 2:2). God had always planned to save the Gentiles. Caiaphas prophesied that Jesus would die for every man, woman, and child who would ever live. If God had the power to put the Gospel into the mouth of a man who hated Him He is able to make the Light of the Gospel shine in the darkness of this world, able to save to the uttermost all who come to God through Christ. The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believes, both Jew and Gentile.
- Our Gospel reading also reminds us that miracles alone do not have the power to convert anyone to Christ. Many of the Jews had witnessed the miracle of Lazarus, a man dead four days, being raised to life. The miracle was unmistakable and undeniable yet the Chief priests and Pharisees would not believe on Christ and ended up committing even worse sins. This is the power of unbelief. Only the Holy Spirit through Word of God can save sinners and bring them to faith. Miracles alone cannot do this. When the Rich Man in hell begged Abraham to send Lazarus the beggar back to his brothers on earth to warn them about hell he argued: But if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. But Abraham replied: If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead (Lu. 16:30-31). Here is the proof of Abraham’s words. Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha had been raised from the dead and yet the religious leaders would not believe. And soon Jesus would rise again from the dead and they would still refuse to believe. The fact that you believe on Christ is the Spirit’s work in your life. You have found peace with God and God has forgiven all your sins and granted you eternal life, a new birth, and has declared you His people. Through faith in Christ we who are removed thousands of miles and 20 centuries away from Jerusalem and Caiaphas are now children of God, bought and paid for by the death of Christ.
- God has made us all one in Christ. The way God looks at it, there is only one Christian Church. We don’t see it that way. We see Lutherans, Baptists, Methodists and Catholics. We see division and discord. We see people who don’t seem very serious about their Christian faith. We can’t see into a person’s heart, only God knows the heart but whenever God sees faith in Jesus Christ He sees a member of His One True Church. In heaven we will all be one. Nothing that separates us now will divide us. We will all enjoy God’s love together forever. All of this will be ours because one man died for the people. God loved His only begotten Son but willingly sacrificed Him on the cross to bring us to heaven. All those who trust in what Christ has done for them will love God and each other forever. We are not told what happened to Caiaphas. As far as we know he never understood who Jesus was or even what he had said that day. God always accomplishes His salvation and guides everything that touches our lives. He causes all things to work together for our good. If Caiaphas did not repent and believe on Jesus as His Savior he died and went to hell. In one last bit of irony, the man through whom God had spoken, the one who held a place of honor and responsibility in the Jewish Church, will hear Jesus say to him on the last day: I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity (Mt 7:23). One of the great ironies of the Passion is God’s love for us spoken through the mouth of an unbeliever; Amen.