Greeting: Our Lord Jesus had no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him, nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him. He was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of My people He was stricken.
Text: 47 Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin. “What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many signs. 48 If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.” 49 Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, “You know nothing at all! 50 You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”
Introduction: If you and I were asked the question: What is the purpose of Lent, what would our answer be? Why do we observe a solemn 7 week season with its summons to special church services during the week? Why should we take time for additional spiritual exercises for our already busy lives? In giving an answer to that question, we could hardly do better than to draw on words written by the Apostle Paul in his letters to Timothy. There he says: “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” (1 Timothy 1:15) He also writes: “Remember Jesus Christ.: (2 Timothy 3:8)
Our purpose for observing Lent is fairly simple, but profoundly important. We are to remember Jesus Christ and what He has done for sinners like us. We are to acquire and deepen our memories of what God’s Son has lovingly done to reclaim souls that had recklessly separated themselves from the good God had planned for them and had plunged themselves into hopeless, eternal ruin. Lent is about Jesus Christ. It is also about people who need what Jesus Christ could do for them. This Lenten season, we are going to take time to reflect on Jesus and some of the people who are part of God’s record of the Savior’s suffering and death. By meeting these people of the Passion, we have the opportunity to better learn what it means that Christ Jesus came to save sinners like us.
Our person of the Passion for this evening is a man called Joseph Caiaphas. Caiaphas, as many of you know, played a major part in the story of Jesus’ suffering and death. Caiaphas was the son-in-law of Annas, a former High Priest who served from 6 – 15 A.D. before being removed from that position. Caiaphas was the High Priest of Israel from 18-36 A.D. He became the High Priest of Israel himself when he was appointed to that position by Valerius Gratus, the Roman prefect, who was the governor of Israel prior to Pontius Pilate. Caiaphas served as High Priest from 18 – 36 A.D. during the time of Jesus’ public ministry and the first years after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension.
Caiaphas was a Sadducee. As such he was a member of the ruling aristocracy in Israel. The Sadducees were upper class and politically connected. They led the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council; they controlled the temple and its activities; and they managed relations with the Romans who ruled Israel. The Sadducees had mixed religious views. While they properly rejected the Pharisees insistence on adding man-made traditions as equal to God’s Word; they regarded only the 5 books of Moses as authoritative and also rejected Bible teachings such as a resurrection from the dead, angels and an afterlife.
As the High Priest of Israel, Caiaphas, held a position that had become a largely political office, rather than the spiritual position that God had established it to be. God had created the position of High Priest to be a position of spiritual leadership for the benefit of His people. It was the High Priest who was to lead the priests of Israel in their mission to help sinful people be reconciled to a holy God and to teach them to follow God’s holy ways. The High Priest was the chief mediator of the covenant relationship God had established. It was his duty to prepare people for the great gift of the coming Messiah, to keep the Messianic hope alive in the minds of God’s people. It was the High Priest’s calling to serve God and the people with a heart open to God’s teachings, with a heart filled with both justice and mercy, with a heart devoted to proclaiming God’s truth.
That was the kind of High Priest God wanted. But it was not the kind of High Priest Caiaphas was or even desired to be. Caiaphas was not a noble, believing, compassionate man. Like his father-in-law, Annas, Joseph Caiaphas was a worldly man holding a religious title. He was ambitious and arrogant, cold and calculating, hated and feared by many. He cared little for true religion and much about practical politics. He gave the appearance of being godly and concerned with spiritual matters, but what he really cared about was having power, prestige and a rather large paycheck.
Jesus presented a problem for the kind of man Caiaphas was. Caiphas was worldly, Jesus was spiritual. Caiaphas was selfish. Jesus was unselfish. Caiphas was a dishonest manipulator of people. Jesus was an honest servant of people. When God’s Son came on the scene and conducted His ministry of proclaiming the truth of God in His preaching, revealing the power of God in His miracles and demonstrating the love of God in His care for people, Caiaphas took notice. When Jesus expanded His work into Judea and Jerusalem, and became more popular. Caiaphas became troubled. After Jesus challenged the hypocrisy of the religious leaders of Israel by cleansing the Temple in Jerusalem and raising Lazarus from Bethany from the dead, Caiaphas and his associates became angrier and filled with hate toward the Messiah. They resented Jesus rebukes and envied His popularity. Jesus was making them look very bad. He was hurting their popularity and influence with the people. They viewed Jesus, not as the Messiah they should have been the first to welcome, believe and support, but rather as the Menace who was threatening their position and who had to be dealt with.
Caiaphas took the lead in opposing the One God had called him as High Priest to praise and promote. The others in his group may not have been sure of what action to take, but he certainly was. He announced that Jesus must die and proclaimed Jesus’ death to be in the best interest of the whole nation. Caiaphas did not care to consider the claims and evidence that Jesus was the God-sent Messiah. He was not moved by the reports he received from his agents of the truth Jesus taught, the people He helped, the miracles His performed and the good He did. None of that mattered to the High Priest who was only concerned about taking care of himself and protecting His power, position and wealth. In his mind, Jesus was making the religious leaders look very bad and He would have to go. So, Caiphas made the wicked proposal to end the life of the One who gives life to needy souls on every level. He is going to lead the coalition of the cold-hearted and self-interested hypocrites and make sure the dirty deed gets done.
As we follow the Passion story, we see Caiaphas orchestrating this spiritually blind, fanatical drive to destroy Jesus. He leads the illegal, mock show trial of the Sanhedrin to falsely accuse Jesus of blasphemy. He presents charges of treason against Jesus in the court of Pontius Pilate. It is Caiaphas who presses his phony case against the Savior before King Herod. He stirs up the mob to ask for Barabbas’ release and Jesus’ crucifixion. He leads the taunts and insults toward Jesus while our Lord hangs and dies on the cross. It is Caiaphas who insists that Jesus’ grave be guarded lest someone try to take His dead body. Caiaphas, the High Priest, the leader of the church, who should have been Jesus’ best friend and most loyal supporter, turns out to be His most bitter enemy. He is so consumed with greed, pride, selfishness, envy, anger and hatred that there is no depth to which he will not sink to eliminate anyone who stands in his way, even the Son of God.
A look into the spiritually dark heart of Caiaphas is not pleasant, but it can be useful for us. Caiaphas had a case of well developed selfishness that we should notice in ourselves. Our sinful heart likes to craft a selfish view of life that becomes strong and unresponsive to the will of God and the needs of others. In our sinfulness we build a kingdom of self that we defend and try to make impregnable to any other influence. We want what we want and we will get what we want on our terms. What God wants does not matter, what others need is of little concern, how others might be affected by our wants is tough luck for them. It is possible, as it was in the case of Caiaphas, that a strong developed selfishness will shut the door on God’s help of working repentance for sin and faith in the Savior’s forgiveness and leave that person totally in love with self, but eternally condemned to hell. May God help us fight that wicked tendency that rises up on our hearts and fill us more and more with a developed unselfish responsiveness to our God and His good, loving will for our lives.
From Caiaphas we can also take warning against doing the expedient thing. Caiaphas certainly was expedient. He did what he thought was useful for himself, but was not the right and proper thing to do. We also are tempted and prone to be expedient people. We are often inclined to do what is easiest and most advantageous for us, even if it’s wrong and sinful. We like things easy, quick and painless without always bothering to insist that they be right, honest and loving. From all we know about Caiaphas, especially his persecution of the early Christians in the years after Jesus’ ascension, it doesn’t not appear that he ever repented of his sin and trusted for forgiveness in the One he worked so hard to put to death. Caiaphas was likely damned for his expediency. May God help us arrest this tendency in our hearts and move us to do the right and noble thing at all times, especially when it is not easy.
Our Savior, Jesus Christ, is a strong contrast to the High Priest. From God’s point of view, using Caiaphas’ own words, ‘it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.’ In His self-giving, servant love for our souls, Jesus did not stop Caiaphas from going through with his wicked plan. He could have. Instead, Jesus unjustly suffered and died, to some degree because of this selfish skeptic. But Jesus did not agree to die to satisfy Caiaphas’ ego. He died for the higher purpose of fulfilling God’s saving plan for the world. He died to save you and me from our sins, including our sins of selfishness, pride, and expediency. As Paul reminds us about the purpose of Lent and of Jesus Passion: “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” So let us consider Caiaphas, and be warned against self-centered unbelief. But let us especially “Remember Jesus Christ.” - and thank God for saving us through His sacrifice. Amen.