Bad Boys of Easter: Caiaphas

Mar 10, 2024 by: Sam Hestorff| Series: Bad Boys of Easter
Scripture: John 11:45–53

There’s something Christians do that’s a little odd; we resist the God we say we trust.  We sing about how incredible God is and how we trust him and surrender our lives to Him and yet, we don’t. 

And we know there’re things we should do.  We should forgive as God forgave us, but sometimes we don’t.  We should be generous because we worship a God who is generous, but sometimes we aren’t.  We should show mercy to others as God has shown us mercy to us, but sometimes we don’t. 

We have all the stuff we know we should do, but we don’t. 

And our heart tells us, our conscience tells us, the scripture tells us all these we should do, but sometimes we don’t.  We resist the God we say we trust.  And there is a word for that, hypocrisy. 

Now, I don’t want to defend us too much, but I think we should get at least get a break because it is really hard to surrender your life, your agenda, and your plans to a God you’ve never seen; a God you can’t reach out to and touch, to a God who speaks to us through an ancient text, a God who teaches us through the Holy Spirit, a God who moves through us in community. Those are things we believe, but it’s hard to surrender to a God you’ve never seen and yet, that’s what we’ve been called to do.

So, over the next three weeks, leading in to Easter, we are going to look at three men whose lives intersected with Jesus.

Each one of them had the coveted opportunity to stand in the presence of Jesus. Each was a witness to the pivotal event in human history. Yet, each refused to abandon his petty, ultimately meaningless agenda, pride, and quest for control and surrender to his Creator.

But in the end, each left a legacy that underscores the very truth they fought so hard to accept. God is in control. His will, will be done. Each played right into the inescapable, inevitable plan of God.

And as we read their stories, you’re going to wonder how these men could be so naïve, so arrogant, so stubborn. Yet, chances are, there is a little bit of them in each of us.

The first guy we’re going to talk about is Joseph Caiaphas.  He was appointed as the Jewish High Priest by the Roman Governor, Valerius Gratus, and he served in this role for 18 years. 

Now if you remember, Rome has absolute control over the Jewish people so they did not want them to have a king because a king might try to rebel and so they would appoint a high priest whose role was to be the liaison between Rome and the Jewish nation.  In other words, his job was to be the peacekeeper.

Caiaphas was known as a grand negotiator. He was always in the right place at the right time and he always looked good.  And apparently, you never wanted to cross Caiaphas because the dude had a temper.  He always got his way because he demanded his way. He always won because he refused to lose and because of this, he wound up in the seat of power, and he had every intention of staying there.

He was the most powerful Jew in Israel for 18 years and in this role, there were many perks, and the flow of money was tremendous.  You see, every Jew was required to give a temple tax, a tithe, whether you went to church or not.  Something we’re considering at Logos Dei . . . just kidding!

But every Jew sent their temple tax, so all this wealth is pouring into Jerusalem.  In fact, so much money poured into the temple that the Roman law makers wanted to pass a law against the temple tax because that wealth was leaving their providence and going to Jerusalem and Caiaphas had access to all of it.

So, as you can see, everything was great for Caiaphas; he had wealth, power, authority, and was creating a legacy.  That is until Jesus shows up and brings a very-unique problem with him, crowds of people. 

  • If you’re the Romans, you’re leery of crowds because they could riot and try to overthrow the government.
  • If you’re a Jewish leader, you don’t like the crowds because they want people to follow them and their teachings, not this Carpenter turned Rabbi who is preaching a radical message of grace and forgiveness and claiming to be God. Not to mention, Jesus has been hyper critical of their leadership and the crowds have been listening because he spoke with such authority.

If you ever want to read a great Jesus rant, you should read Matthew 23, because Jesus just rips through the leaders.  Towards the end of that rant, he says to the religious guys, “You snakes, you brood of vipers, how will you escape being condemned to hell?”  Yeah, that doesn’t go over very well.

But the last straw for the religious guys was an act of compassion; Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead. 

This is the story we looked at last week.  If you weren’t here you can listen to it online but what I suggested is that through this sign, this miracle, Jesus is posing a question, “Do You Believe?  Do you believe that I AM God and that I AM the life and the resurrection?”

As a response to this miracle John tells us that that the crowds swelled, and this is where today’s text picks up.  Let’s read it together: John 11:45-53

Now, it’s easy to skip of the beginning of this text.  They called a meeting, woo hoo, but this is a big deal. This is kind of like going to Washington D.C. and getting the House and the Senate; the Democrats and the Republicans and we threw in a few of the chief justices just for fun, put them all in a room and get them to agree on something.  No chance, right?  But that’s what happens here. 

You see, the Sanhedrin was made up of the Pharisees, and the priests, and the Sadducees and all these religious guys and they all had different views.  They had different theology.  They had different politics.  They were all over the board just like in Washington, D.C. 

And so, they all come together and have this meeting and they ask, “What are we accomplishing? Here is this man performing signs and claiming to be God and everything we’ve done to try to discredit him; all those theological questions designed to trick him, have backfired because Jesus always has a snappy answer and the crowds love it.  And if we let him go on like this, everyone will believe and then what?  The Romans will come and take away our temple and our nation.” 

The existence of Jesus has threatened the religious power structure, and the peace between Rome and the Jewish nation and in turn has threated the peace maker, and the one who has been benefiting most from this arrangement between the two nations, Caiaphas, and as we know, you just don’t cross this dude because he’ll do whatever it takes to win.

So, Caiaphas speaks up and essentially says, “You guys are so dumb.  Quit talking and just listen to me and I will save us from this Jesus problem.”

Here’s his solution; “It would be better if one man dies for the people, than the whole nation perish.” 

Listen to me guys, just kill this guy and everything will be fine.  We’ll save the nation.  We’ll be heroes.  The crowds will follow us instead of him and the peace will be restored.   

Remember, this is the high priest.  This is the guy with access to the oldest, written copy of the law that says, thou shalt not murder.  It made the big ten.  And yet this is his solution to the Jesus problem.

Now John goes on to say: “He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation - not only for that nation but for all the scattered children of God to bring them together and make them one.” 

Remember, John writes this later and he’s looking back at the life and ministry of Jesus and seeing how God was present, even in this meeting, and working out his plan for the salvation of all people.

Now, I believe that in the hearts of some of these religious guys gathered on that day, they knew that to resist Jesus is to resist God, but they had to weigh the cost between resisting Jesus or resisting Caiaphas and potentially losing everything they had worked for.

In this moment, they had a decision to make.  Am I going to follow God or am I going to resist? 

Let’s pause here for a second because it’s easy to become critical of others in this moment but the reality is that we all have moments where we must choose between following God and what he asks of us or resisting and I’m going to hit all of us a little close to home, not because I want you to feel guilty but to help us understand the struggle.

There are weeks that we don’t want to go to church and be in community with one another as God instructed because weekends are our time to relax.  We’ve been working all week, or school was intense, family was crazy, and we finally get a few days off and we’d much rather watch TV, play video games, go to the beach, or a concert, or grab a coffee and eat a donut. 

Not to mention, they’re probably going to ask for money, and I worked hard for my money.  I’ve got bills to pay and things to play so I’d just rather not go because it’s going to cost me something; time, energy, and money.  And so, we resist.  We resist God because we want to maintain our standard of living.

That’s the cost those religious leaders are weighing . . . just on a bigger scale.

But here’s the truth about us.  When we hold on to things instead of giving it over to God, it always costs us something.

If you think back about some of the biggest and greatest regrets, you have in your life.  Chances are, they are about things and people that aren’t even in your life any more. 

You held on to this relationship for too long and that person is not even in your life any more.  You gave up everything for that job, you don’t even work there anymore. 

We have these great regrets because we did things for people, and position, and honor, for things that aren’t even in our lives any more.

Don’t sacrifice for things that are temporal because when you hold on to them in place of God, their value immediately diminishes and the irony is that’s why we always want more, because this is not worth what we thought it was worth and so I need more. 

This is what we are seeing in the struggle of those religious guys on that day.  And in the end, they decided that the cost of resisting Caiaphas outweighed the cost of resisting God.

Now imagine how Caiaphas felt the Sunday after the crucifixion?  Sitting back in his chair, he’s got the Jerusalem Times, cup of coffee, eating a donut and enjoying the morning as he reflects on all that he has accomplished and thinking to himself, “Yup, I win.  I always win.” 

But suddenly, somebody busted in the room and says, we’ve got a problem.  Jesus is gone.  Can you imagine the screaming that went on in that room?  They held on to everything at great cost and got nothing.  By resisting God, they participated in his plan and facilitated him.

And now the crowds are not only rallying around the person of Jesus, they’re rallying around the name of Jesus, the resurrection of Jesus and the people come out of hiding in a few weeks and they say you know what?  You killed Jesus.  God raised him up.  We saw him.  Say you’re sorry. 

What they struggled so hard to hold on to, they lost anyway, because in a few years, Caiaphas loses his spot as head priest.  And a few years after that, Titus comes through and levels the temple and it was all gone anyway. 

These people that struggled so hard to be a part of history and fight against God, end up being a footnote in the story of Jesus, the carpenter, turned Rabbi, turned savior.

But here’s the really-cool part.  The book of Acts tells us that many of these very religious guys became followers of Jesus.  They realized that they had been resisting God but had been given a second chance.  God extended his grace, even to the guys who plotted Jesus’ murder.

There’s a little bit of Caiaphas and these religious guys in all of us.  We want to preserve.  We work hard to preserve our standard of living.  We sometime compromise morally to preserve a relationship. 

Sometimes we cash in our ethics for the deal, or a better job with better compensation.  We sometimes lie and prop up our reputations and the pressure that we must preserve, hold on to what we have, to what we’ve gathered up is so great, that it sometimes drives us to extreme behaviors. 

It made the high priest murder somebody. 

There are little gods that each of us have in our lives that have taken the place of the God who created us, loves us, shows compassion towards us, and extends His grace to us . . . but they always disappoint. 

Saying yes to God will cost you something but saying no will cost you more – including the thing that you put in the place of God.  What have you put in the place of God?  What are you seeking to prop up that needs to be surrendered?  What is the little God in your life that is demanding more and more and worth less and less?

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