The Fifth Sunday in Lent April 2, 2006
18, 363, 168, 510
Then many of the Jews who had come to Mary, and had seen the things Jesus did, believed in Him. But some of them went away to the Pharisees and told them the things Jesus did. Then the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered a council and said, “What shall we do? For this Man works many signs. If we let Him alone like this, everyone will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and nation.” And one of them, Caiaphas, being high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all, 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.” 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, and not for that nation only, but also that He would gather together in one the children of God who were scattered abroad. Then, from that day on, they plotted to put Him to death. Therefore Jesus no longer walked openly among the Jews, but went from there into the country near the wilderness, to a city called Ephraim, and there remained with His disciples. And the Passover of the Jews was near, and many went from the country up to Jerusalem before the Passover, to purify themselves. Then they sought Jesus, and spoke among themselves as they stood in the temple, “What do you think—that He will not come to the feast?” Now both the chief priests and the Pharisees had given a command, that if anyone knew where He was, he should report it, that they might seize Him.
Fellow-redeemed in Christ Jesus, who was the key to all the Father’s plans:
If you’re in a business and it’s successful, there is probably a Caiaphas around and he is probably the one making the big decisions. I don’t mean that you work around somebody who is ruthless and cynical as Caiaphas clearly was. Rather, every business needs a problem-solver—someone who can see a situation and come up with a solution.
It is said that Alexander the Great was faced with a knot tied by a king in Asia Minor. The legend was that whoever could untie the knot was destined to be king of all Asia. Instead of fumbling with loose ends and trying to trace all the loops and tangles of the knot, Alexander just pulled out his sword and took a whack. The rest is history.
Not every one has such a gift for seeing solutions. Many of us get too bogged down in details to see the big picture, or we are frozen with inaction because we’re afraid to take a chance. This is not the case for the Caiaphases of the world. They see a problem, light upon a solution, and boldly stride forward.
Today we’re going to hear about solutions to a problem—one conceived by men, one provided by God. In the end, the action turned out to be the same. But the results were, and are, far different. May the Holy Spirit give us simple and pious insight as we see The Solution to our Problems: Let One Die for All I. When the solution comes from the world evil will result and II. When the solution comes from God it will end in good.
The Jewish leaders were in a quandary. The Jewish Council was afraid. One fear was that Jesus would endanger their position as the leaders of the Jewish nation. Religion and politics were deeply entwined in their world, and Jesus’ teaching was clearly exposing them as false teachers and legalistic tyrants.
But the fear of losing their place of authority among the Jews was compounded by the fact that Rome already looked upon the Palestine as a troubled and rebellious province of their empire. Any Jewish miracle-worker going around and gathering followers would be seen as a potential revolutionary who could incite a movement for independence. Such a movement could lead to a complete removal of Jewish self-government with a Roman crack down.
The Jewish leaders did, therefore, have cause for concern; but they were arguing and fretting about what to do. Enter Caiaphas, the high priest that year. Caiaphas saw a solution to the problem, but it was rooted in human reason and when the solution comes from men, only evil will result.
Caiaphas was a solution-oriented man, but his ruthlessness and ambition only served his view of things. Despite the fact that he was a priest of the Lord God and served daily in the Lord’s temple, he saw his position as something of privilege—something he needed to maintain by his own cunning and greed.
The plan, as Caiaphas saw it, was simple: one man must die instead of the whole nation. If he would have been honest and admitted what they all were thinking, Caiaphas would have said, “Jesus is too popular. We feel threatened by Him. We’re scared because we don’t know what the Romans might do, and we’re greedy. We must do anything we can to preserve our privileged position.”
But instead, Caiaphas rationalized: “Certainly, this business of killing an innocent rabbi is distasteful to us, but it’s not wrong, given the alternative, namely, the destruction of our whole nation.”
The world of men (and women) is full of rationalizations like this—sinful, rationalizations that justify evil for the sake of a proposed good. Think of Hitler and his “final solution” for the Jews. He incited the fear and hatred of the German people against them.
Think of the rather similar cultural “solutions” our country has created. It is argued that back-alley abortions are dangerous for the poor, scared women so we should legalize abortion and let them have an abortion at the hands of a qualified doctor—problem solved! Gay couples are being denied benefits married people enjoy. So let’s write marriage licenses for homosexual unions—problem solved!
Somewhere, somehow, we can almost convince ourselves that these are real solutions for the problems that face our world. It’s scary, isn’t it, that such wrong-headed “solutions” can come from the human mind. Sadly, our minds are just as capable of such rationalization. We’re all inclined to circumvent the truth, cheat, or get away with something without paying. No wonder Jesus warned that “out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies” (Matthew 15:19).
The Lord did not intend for us to be lords of our own universe. He willed that we serve and glorify Him. It is our tendency to try to rewrite or circumvent His holy will. This human effort stains us, troubles our conscience, and earns His wrath. There are many Caiaphases in this world, but the world is none the better for their efforts. He certainly did the Jews little good.
If we want to see good at work, if we want to come to real solutions that address the problems of this world, we will only find them by looking to the God that Caiaphas supposedly represented—the God who sent Jesus, the true solution, into the world. When the solution is from God good will surely come of it.
The high priest’s logic was startling in its coldness. One man must die. But it didn’t surprise John, the writer of the text. He saw something even more startling at work: “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.” [v.51] John saw God’s hand in this evil person’s advice. God was using someone’s bad intent to fulfill His wise and gracious plan.
More than this, John saw a high priest doing exactly what a high priest was supposed to do. The purpose of the priesthood, in the Old Testament, was to bring the sacrifice for sin before the Lord God. On the Day of Atonement the High Priest was most prominent in his duties as he brought the sacrificial blood into the Holy of Holies—first for his own sins and then for the sins of the people (cf. Leviticus 16).
The high priest and the sacrifice he brought for the people was a type of Christ—an Old Testament picture of Jesus, our High Priest. So it was sadly ironic that a rascal such as Caiaphas occupied that role. Still, he was the High Priest and by rendering his counsel he was sending Jesus, the Lamb of God, to become the sacrifice that would cover the sins of the world.
Jesus would die for the people. This, first of all, meant that God would fulfill His promise to the ancestors of the Jews. He would send the Savior who had been long promised in the Old Testament. Those who had put their trust in this promise of God would not be let down. Think of those many people whose thoughts echoed the Psalmist’s: “O my God, I trust in You; Let me not be ashamed; let not my enemies triumph over me. Indeed, let no one who waits on You be ashamed; Let those be ashamed who deal treacherously without cause” (Psalm 25:2-3). With every Day of Atonement that passed, with every Passover meal they ate, these people were waiting for Immanuel. They were putting all their hopes in a word from God; and now, God provided the solution that proved He would not let them down.
Neither will he let us down. John tells us at the beginning of His Gospel account that “as many as believed on Him (Jesus), He gave the right to become the children of God” (John 1:12). Jesus, through suffering and death, became the solution by which God has gathered His elect children from every corner of the world. Jesus is the solution, not only for one nation, or one color, or one race of people. Jesus is the solution, not only for people in ancient times. He is our Savior. He has become the Savior for whomever is burdened with sin and guilt. He is the answer for those who rightly fear death. Repentance and faith in Him are the solution for every one of us when we make mistakes, large or small, that seem to mess up our lives.
Jesus who reconciled us to God on the cross and then rose again to verify that message is the solution to all our fears and problems. The redemption He accomplished means that we can freely bring our concerns to God—our Father in heaven—and find a willing ear, a wise Counselor, and an almighty Helper.
Unwittingly, a corrupt Caiaphas delivered the sentence that brought Jesus to the cross. But we know who was really in control and whose counsel was really being carried out. Jesus died for the people. He died for us.
What are we going to do with this knowledge? Will we tuck it away and call on that information just when it’s convenient—when we need some sort of handle to define us to the world? “Oh me? I’m a Christian.” Or does it become our daily creed and conviction? Paul reminded his readers “Christ died for all, the just for the unjust, that those who live should not live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again” (2 Corinthians 5:15).
If we live by faith we live for Jesus. That is the solution God set down in place of all man’s foolish and tragic solutions. May our faith in Jesus be the solution to all the trials and quandaries that come our way. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.