Christ? or, Caiaphas
Authentic discipleship verses expediency. Authentic discipleship verses living your life looking over your shoulder, gauging the wind and trying to figure out which way the popular opinion is going. If you choose to be a disciple of Jesus, this issue cuts close to home for every one of us.
“I am the Resurrection,” He had said. “I am the Resurrection and the Life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.” (John 11:25) Just moments before, Christ had spoken those words and made that bold pronouncement and now, He stood staring into the dark opening of Lazarus’ tomb. This was a moment of truth for all those Pharisees who had come the two miles from Jerusalem out to help Mary and Martha mourn the death of their brother Lazarus. John 11:19 tells us that a whole group of Pharisees had come out to help Mary and Martha mourn the death of their brother, and now, Jesus stands at the door of the tomb, staring in. What a moment of truth! In a few seconds, those Pharisees would be faced with irrefutable evidence that would demand a choice – either to deny, or to believe. They all sensed that Jesus was either a man/man and a blasphemer – OR, the Son of God; and, if so, He was the fulfillment of the entire religious system that sustained them. Soon they would know. Soon they would have to make an awesome choice. Think for a moment what it must have been like for those guys standing around that tomb. They had opposed Jesus tooth and nail for three and a half years, convinced, that in doing so, they were preserving God’s system and defending the law. What were their emotions. Awe? Anger? Anticipation of an unfolding miracle? Probably a lot of anxiety and a sense of foreboding, thinking to themselves, “What if He CAN do it? What if it happens? What then? What about the whole elaborate religious system in which we have been raised in, and which supports us, and which gives us prestige – but, which He opposes?”
Oh sure, there had been those few illiterate Galileans up north who were notorious for their lying; who had said that Jesus had met a funeral procession coming out of the little town of Nain and that there He had raised the son of a poor widow. But then, the Sadducees had immediately declared that that was just a myth to be rejected. Luke 7:11-17
Then came the story of Jarius’ daughter. This was a little tougher because Jarius was a synagogue ruler. It was said that the daughter had died just minutes before He arrived but, who could prove it? Jesus had chased everyone out of the room to cover the hoax, right? Matthew 9:18-26
But Lazarus. He was dead. Very dead. Four days dead and buried. By Jewish law, Lazarus, at this moment, was no longer even considered a human corpse. He was simply corruption because decay had already begun its work and he was unclean. Untouchable. Even Martha, when Jesus said to roll back the stone, had protested and said, “Don’t do it because there will be a stench – the decay will be that strong already.” But Jesus looked at her and said, “Martha, did I not tell you that if you would just believe you would see the glory of God?” John 11:39,40
I just love the way Jesus constantly flips the wisdom of the world on its head. In our society we say, “If I SEE it, I will believe it.” Jesus said, “If you BELIEVE it, you will see it!” And so, they waited . . . and then it came. “LAZARUS!” The Pharisees are startled out of their inner turmoil by the sound of Jesus speaking the dead man’s name. Their eyes rivet on the entrance of the dark tomb. “Lazarus, come forth!” For just a second perhaps, silence was the only response. Then in verse 44 of John 11 it says, “Then the dead man came forth, wrapped and bound in burial cloth.” Jesus turned to the whole crowd and said, “Unbind him and let him go.”
What a moment! Our Lord Jesus Christ, while He was here on this earth physically present, broke up every single funeral He ever attended. You can sum up everything that Jesus ever said at any funeral in just one word, “Arise”!
There are three times when the Lifegiver confronted death and just as darkness cannot exist in the light, and ice cannot exist in fire, Jesus spoke the life-giving words in three instances: “Little girl, I say to you, arise. Young man, I say to you, get up. Lazarus, come forth.”
There is coming a day when Jesus will come and not attach any one name and with the voice of the Archangel, He will say, “Arise,” and the righteous will come forth to life eternal and the wicked, to eternal destruction.
But for the Pharisees at Bethany, the moment of truth had come. It was an agonizing moment. It was a gigantic choice. Comprehend with me what is going on here. They, now in the face of this miracle, had to choose between Jesus or the entire religious system that had given them security and identity their whole life; or, they had to go with that and reject the Resurrector, the One who could give life to the dead. What an awful choice. Notice the next words: “Many, that day, believed in Him, seeing what He had done.” vs. 45.
Do you realize what a big step that was for the “many” that day? In John 9:22-34 we read that already the Sanhedrin, the highest Jewish authority of the day, had ruled that anybody who put their faith in Jesus was automatically excommunicated, shut out from the temple and the synagogues, and the whole system they had been taught from birth would give them salvation. For them to take this step meant, for them, the loss of connection with the community, maybe with their families, the loss of respect, and yet for many, faith in Him outweighed the whole world and they took the courageous step and they believed. It was a BIG moment.
Notice the next sentence (vs. 46). Some who had seen the miracle of Jesus raising the dead man – some calculated the implication of total allegiance to this one lone Teacher who offered no present prosperity to His followers; who was clearly hated by all the religious leaders – some of them took a look and they decided that following Him ALL the way would cost just too much. They opted to play it safe. Oh, they wanted to stay religious, but not risky; not radical; so we read in verse 46 “some of them went away.” In the Greek, it meant that some of them “went away” FROM Jesus to the Pharisees. They left the Savior for legalism. They left the Lifegiver for empty religion. They went back because the pull of the comfort zone was just too strong. They went away, to the Pharisees, and reported what Jesus had done.
Notice in verses 47 and 48 what happened next. “Then the chief priests [the Sadducees] and the Pharisees, called a meeting of the Sanhedrin and they said: ‘What are we accomplishing? Here is a Man performing many miraculous signs.’ “ Note what is happening here. The Jewish High Council gets together and the first thing they say is, “This guy really is performing many signs from God. Miraculous signs.” [They acknowledge that God is at work here.] “But, if we let Him go on like this, everyone will believe in Him and we will lose ‘our place’ and our nation.” (insertions mine)
The Pharisees and the Sadducees, who made up the Sanhedrin, violently disagreed about almost everything. They debated about how God worked in history. They debated as to whether there was angels. They debated many subjects, but right at the top of their doctrinal debate list was their debate about whether the dead could be resurrected to life. You don’t understand the power of this little story unless you know that this is going on. The Sadducees had taught for hundreds of years, at this point, that there was no such thing as a resurrection from the dead. When you died, that was it. End of story. Period. You can imagine what Jesus raising Lazarus did to their whole thing. On the other side, the Pharisees had a problem too because they said, “Oh no, you are wrong. The dead can be raised, but only by the power of God.” And now, Jesus raises a dead man which means, logically, that Jesus is God. They’ve got a problem. What are they going to do. At this point, they had to admit that their whole theology and their whole system was wrong; or, they must, for the first time we know of in all of history, they must unite in one purpose and that is to save their system and preserve the status quo by destroying the Savior.
So the words start to fly. “If we let Him go on like this, He will erode our power base and we will end up losing our place and our nation.” Let me explain what “our place” means. The “place” was the temple and the temple was more than just somewhere you went to pray. The temple was a political, economic and ecclesiastical center and source of not only their power and prestige, but also of their prosperity. Both the Sadducees and the Pharisees had turned the temple into a system for personal gain. Their own personal interest and desire to save the system were intimately intertwined at this point.
This was not some new attitude on the part of the religious establishment in Jesus’ day. Remember that almost to the man, every single prophet that God sent to Israel was killed by His own people under the auspicious of the religious leaders. The reason was always the same. The prophets God sent were either stoned, sawed in half, drowned or murdered in some way (Hebrews 11:35-40) because they threatened the comfortable security of the people. They challenged the institutional church and the authority of its leaders. They called people out of complacency and they said that loyalty to the system just wasn’t enough. That’s not very comfortable.
In Jeremiah’s day, the Jews responded to Jeremiah’s message poorly. Read Jeremiah, Chapters 1-9. Jeremiah went to the Jews and said, “You are playing the religion game but your heart’s not in it. If you don’t get serious about this, judgment is coming.” Do you know what the people said to Jeremiah? In Jeremiah 7, the people turned and looked at the beautiful temple and said, “The temple of the Lord. The temple of the Lord. We have the temple of the Lord, therefore, we are safe.” Jeremiah responds and says, “Not. Your theology is deceptive. Your security is not in the temple of the Lord, but in the Lord of the temple.”
It is true even today. The church of Christ offers glorious security but, that security is not in the organization at the denominational level or the congregational level. There are some people that go around saying, “I’m on the right ship because I’m in the right denomination and all I have to do is stay in this denomination because the ship is going through.” No. Bad theology – righteousness by denomination. There are some who say, “I am in the right congregation and all I have to do is stay in this congregation because the ship is going through.”
It is not the church of Christ that is our security.
It is the Christ of the church which is our security.
We must always beware of this tendency. It is in all of us. Once any group, at any level or of any size, loses its corporate and personal identity in the Gospel of Christ, in the call of Christ in our lives to discover the will of God; then, very quickly, that group becomes institutionalized and very quickly, the preservation of its tradition and the expansion of its organization becomes paramount. At that point, the die is cast. The stage is set for silencing the Spirit’s voice and, in its place, P.R. men and ecclesiastical politicians inherit the pulpit and soothe the collective conscience.
So it was in Jerusalem. The greatest fear of the religious leaders was the thought that they might lose their place, their position, their prestige; and, it is right at that moment that Caiaphas speaks. Notice verses 49 and 50 in John 11. Then one of them named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up and he said literally to the Jewish General Conference there, meeting in session, “You ignorant fools. You know nothing at all [real tactful kind of leader]; you don’t know anything. Nor do you realize that it is expedient for us that one man die rather than the people perish.” (insertion mine) With one sentence, and one powerful argument, Caiaphas carries the day. From that day on, they began plotting the death of Jesus. Verse 53.
It is “expedient“. It is to “your advantage“. Here is the argument that sealed the doom of the Savior. The choice was clear. Christ? Or Caiaphas. Radical discipleship? Or the expedient choice. The expedient choice always comes into our lives couched with the promise it will protect our present security – that it will leave our comfortable lifestyle untouched. When the voice of the Spirit speaks to the soul of any human being, it always calls us to make a radical choice and there is always the voice of Caiaphas in the other ear saying, “Don’t do it! Don’t do it! It’s just too big a step. It will shake things up too much. It’s too costly. Just silence. Crucify the voice of Christ in your soul. Just let it die.” Often, this voice is couched in high sounding Christian rhetoric. Caiaphas said, “It is better that we murder this one man, my friends, so that the unity of the system can be preserved.” A very high motive! God wants unity. Caiaphas wanted unity; but he was offering unity at the price of sacrificing principle.
We need to apply this to all sorts of situations today on all kinds of levels – corporate and individual. Think about WHO Caiaphas was when he spoke those words so forcefully. He was a man of splendor and great authority. The people stood in awe of him. He was the symbol of the great heritage of Israel, God’s chosen people – and, it was a glorious heritage. He embodied all that Israel prayed for and fought to preserve for 2000 years. He was Israel’s most powerful dignitary, both in terms of ecclesiastical and civil authority. This man was the high priest and he held in his hands the careers of 20,000 priests in Israel. He was the only human that was allowed to go into the Most Holy Place in the Sanctuary and there, he stood in the presence of God as representative of all the people in Israel. In this one man was embodied all – the entire religious establishment of God’s people; all personified in him.
Now suddenly a schism threatens the unity of the church. Caiaphas stands on one side, statesman like, and with him the weight of the whole system. On the other side, stands Jesus of Nazareth, offering a whole different kind of authority and power; a different way of redemption. Clearly, one has to be preserved and the other removed. Sides have to be taken. Both claim they intended to preserve the church and, to add to this whole thing, if you look in Mark 2 verse 15, there is another whole group that says Jesus was undermining the law of God. All through the Gospel of John, the Pharisees are arguing that Jesus was doing away with the Spirit of Prophecy; that is, Moses. Now, in that context – if you had been there that day – which way would you have gone? Which side would you have stood on? It would have been no easy choice. Would we have stood with the leaders in mighty Jerusalem, or with the rag tag minority in a microscopic village called Bethany?
This showdown had been brewing for a long, long time. Jesus had accused the religious leaders of shutting the door of the kingdom in men’s faces. He had told them they had put burdens on men’s backs too heavy to bear. Though there were 20,000 priests in Israel and 7,000 Pharisees, Jesus had the audacity to look at the common people and say, “They are sheep without a shepherd.” He had even cleansed the temple, which implied that those who were running it were unclean. Of their missionary work, Jesus said, “You guys cross land and sea to make just one convert and when you win him, he is twice the child of hell that you are yourselves.” (Matthew 23:15) How to win friends and influence enemies!
There was one more pretty big problem with this whole scenario. Both the Pharisees and Sadducees had plenty of ammunition, at that time, to hate Jesus. But there was one more thing. At this point in history, the Jews were totally wrapped up in eschatology. Their big thing was “final events.” They loved to chart out exactly how it was going to happen. They were really into this. The big focus of Jewish eschatology was Rome. The evil of Rome and the doom and judgment God was going to bring upon Rome as their oppressor. But, Jesus comes along and starts talking eschatology [final events] and do you know what He says? He doesn’t say a thing about Rome. He looks at their own temple and says, “Behold, your house is left unto you desolate, forsaken by God; and the day is coming when one stone will not be left upon another. Everyone will be thrown down.” Is it any wonder that this confrontation had to happen?
Christ? or Caiaphas.
So Caiaphas, this great leader, now puts the core issue before his people. He says, “You ignorant men. You have no discernment. Don’t you realize it is more in your interest that one man die than we lose everything?” Just one calculated compromise. Just one expedient act. Just one little injustice we have to allow here for the greater good of all. Clearly God wants unity. That’s what I want too – and the only way we can preserve unity is to do away with this Voice. It was institutional security verses the Gospel. It was clinging to the religious heritage verses costly discipleship.
The constant human tendency is to slide toward institutional idolatry – at the denominational or congregational level, where our noble ends justify our occasional expedient means. Where soon preserving the status quo over-rides principle. The problem is that everybody is both religious and selfish, so our tendency is to create religious organizations that can give us a sense of security, and then use those very same organizations to insulate ourselves from the convicting voice of God; from the will of God for our lives, which always challenges our selfish and complacent lifestyle.
An article written about twenty years ago entitled, “Who Is Good Enough To Be The Anti-Christ?” pointed out that in Scripture, the idea of anti-Christ is never a gross evil, but the anti-Christ is always the human tendency to take good things and use them to push out of the center the best thing, which is Jesus. We tend to take the very things that God gave us to lead us to Christ and move them into the position of Christ, and the author asks, “Who is good enough to be your anti-Christ?”
In Revelation, there are seven churches. The Laodicean Church sees itself as very rich in assets and increased in goods and doesn’t need much of anything except more of the same. Jesus pictures Himself looking at these wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked people and He says, “I stand outside the door knocking and if any individual will open the door, I will come in and dine with him. I will unite My life with him.” (Revelation 3:14-20) The only way Laodicea ceases to be Laodicean is when Laodiceans cease to give supreme allegiance to Laodicea and determine to faithfully follow the Lamb wherever He leads. This is not a new issue then – or now.
Henry Van Dussen wrote, about 100 years ago, “The Spirit of Christ has always been troublesome to officialdom; to institutionalism, because the Spirit is so unpredictable, and it refuses to be confined to a program or controlled by a committee. The call to real discipleship is a call to be prayerful enough to discern, and courageous enough to follow every biblical revelation of the living, confounding, uncontrollable Spirit of the risen Christ.”
Probably the oldest Old Testament theologian that ever lived, J. Ernest Wright, wrote this: “God, through His Spirit, always has been at war with religious institutionalism at any level because the perpetual tendency of the institution is to become idolatrous, self perpetuating and self worshiping. When this happens, church membership takes the place of real discipleship, conformity displaces the new birth, success outweighs faithfulness, and religious leaders ignore the Spirit in order to follow human schemes.”
A Seventh-day Adventist pastor and administrator, Arthur Beitz, wrote a book: “When God Met Man” published by Pacific Press about twenty years ago. He stated: “I have been reared by my denomination and my most tender emotions and feelings are tied to my church. But this can also be my greatest curse. Why? Because I may begin to put my deepest trust and security in the organization instead of the living God. Because I could think that loyalty to the system is what makes me a Christian instead of personal allegiance to Christ and the vitalizing presence of His Spirit. Among human institutions, I love none better than my denomination. I was born into it, nurtured by it, but this can be my damnation unless I remember that organization exists only to direct my heart and my mind to the living Christ and to help me say, ‘I am Yours. Lead me where You wish, only give me the courage to follow. If die I must, die I will. If rejoice I can, rejoice I will, but my life is Yours.’”
So Jesus shook the foundation of the Church in His day and the leaders decided they needed to silence Him so that the institution might be saved. The point is, they were right. That was expedient. That was to their advantage. That did maintain the system for awhile, but what they failed to recognize is that the minute that Christ is not preeminent in every decision, the institution is already dead. Two thousand years ago, expedience tempted the people of God to silence the convicting voice of Christ. The temptation is still with us today.
Caiaphas, remember, tempted them as individuals and said, “Do you not realize that it is expedient for you? Don’t you know it is to your advantage?” I think the instant the first question in our life becomes, “What is to my advantage? What is expedient for me? – rather than, “What is the will of God?” – at that moment true Christianity dies. We whisper in our souls that it is better for this one Man be silenced than for me to lose my __________. [fill in the blank]
As Christians, we speak rightly about security, but it is interesting to me that the act of God that gives us eternal security, Christ’s death on the cross, speaks the loudest to the danger of seeking too much security in this world.
Each of the principal players that betrayed, denied, condemned and crucified Jesus were simply people trying to hang onto their security in one way or another. The Sanhedrin said, “Heh, if we don’t get rid of this guy, we’re going to lose our place.” Caiaphas responds and says, “It is expedient for us that we do this thing.” Pilot was manipulated by the gang, and took in a not too subtle argument. They came to him and said, “If you don’t crucify this Man, you are no friend of Caesar because He declares Himself to be a king. We have no king but Caesar. What are you going to do?” (John 19:12) Pilot understood, so he sacrificed Christ to save his own position. Then, there was Judas. We tend to mock Judas but he was not a depraved man. Actually, he was a very shrewd man. He was simply a man who wanted to advance his own career and get ahead financially. He was a cold, calculating, deliberate traitor against the love of God for the sake of his personal comfort. There was Peter. So loyal. So bold. So brave. And yet, in the moment of decision, he denied Christ rather than make a costly choice. None of these men who caused Christ’s suffering were irreligious horribly evil people. They were all simply expedient men, seeking to guard their present security and maintain their own comfort zone.
That speaks to me! Does it speak to you? Whenever we are guided by determination to play it safe, this crucifies Christ anew in our lives. Constantly calculating things to our own advantage becomes a thick shield which deflects the arrows of the Spirit and silences the voice of God. Pretty soon, as Christians, we hug the shoreline of complacency. We’re addicted to mediocrity. We never sail out to the sea unless there are lots of boats behind us and a south wind blowing. We perfect the art of the harmless and we become the army of the useless. God can’t use people who are constantly looking over their shoulder, gauging the wind of popularity before making their choice. It’s a challenge.
Then there are God’s heroes. Those whose lives have counted for Christ, whose deeds have courageously glorified God. Their motto was never political correctness or safety first. Picture God’s heroes:
~ Think of Moses – standing before Pharaoh.
~ Look at Elijah – all alone on Mt. Carmel.
~ Remember Daniel – in the lion’s den.
~ The three young Hebrew men – in the fiery furnace.
Those three young Hebrew men, probably in their 20’s, faced the fiery furnace. The king’s face is as hot as the furnace and this is what they say to him: “Oh king, we don’t need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we’re thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it and He can rescue us from your hand. But, O king, know this! Even if He does not save us, we want you to know that we will not serve your gods or bow down to your image of gold.” (Daniel 3:16-18) We hear so much about the big miracle that they came out of the furnace. I believe the awesome miracle is that they were willing to go in – because discipleship to Christ meant that much to them!
It goes on through history. There is Peter, later on, before the Sanhedrin. There is Paul at Rome where he says: “Look, if I’m still trying to please men, I cannot be a disciple of Christ.” There is Luther, standing before the Papal Assembly saying: “My conscience is bound by just one thing, just one. The Word of God. Here I stand. God help me. I can do no other.”
They often stood alone, scorned by the popular majority. They withstood pressure and persecution. They faced hardship, even death. Revelation 12:11 says they were over-comers by the blood of the Lamb, and it goes on to say that they loved not their lives, even unto death.
You want to count for Christ? Then you have to learn not to just pray, “God, give me, give me, give me. Give me salvation. Give me a new car. Give me good health.” At some point, you have to come to the place where your security in Christ is so real that you start saying: “Lord, use me. Use me. Use me. Use me to make a difference for Your kingdom. Use me to do damage in enemy territory. Lord, help me to bust out of this addiction to mediocrity that our society is caught up in and let me find a way to be a real servant. Use me, Lord.” We need to remind ourselves that even an absolutely dead fish can float down stream with the current, but it takes a very live and determined fish to swim upstream against the tide of the world. The expedient spirit of Caiaphas is always there and it always whispers the same thing: “Hold on to your security. Play it safe.” Christ calls us to a courageous conflict in a sin dulled complacent world. He cannot use those who gauge popular opinion and whose highest goal is personal comfort.
Martin Luther, in 1529, wrote the hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” In the fourth stanza he says: “Let goods and kindred go. This mortal life also. The body they may kill. God’s truth abideth still. His Kingdom is forever.”
Our Lord Jesus Christ said, “You want to serve Me? Remember, no servant is greater than his master. If they persecuted Me, they will persecute you. In the world you will have trouble, but go into it with courage, because I have overcome the world.” John 15:20; 16:33
We don’t know how long we will be on this earth. What will our life count for? What would we lose if we just lived complacently? Shortly after World War II, a German theologian wrote this about himself and all his countrymen: “We all fell before the greatest temptation of humanity. We fell before the temptation to put good things [our families, our job security, our hard earned savings, our image in the face of our friends] before Christ’s convicting call; and so we stood, silent before Hitler’s evil. We compromised. The God we dethroned in our hearts for safety’s sake remained enthroned in the world and therefore, in the end, we lost everything that we fought so hard to save.”
In the end, this was also true of all of those who stood with Caiaphas that day. They sought security by destroying Jesus and they destroyed their security. The chief priests lived to see Jerusalem in rubble and the temple leveled. Pilot died in exile and disgrace, not long after he condemned Jesus. Judas hanged himself. Those who chose expediency in preference to principle eventually found out that it would have been far easier and better to have reckoned with the will of God. The one Man in the story who sought not to save His own security, ended up exalted to the right hand of the Father. Acts 5:31. Our Lord Jesus Christ, with his own blood written in the story of this passion, speaks to each one of us these words: “He that seeks to save his life in this world, will lose it; but everyone that loses his life for My sake and for the sake of the Gospel, will save it unto life eternal.”
Christ? or Caiaphas
Courage? or Expediency
Principle? or Popularity
Discipleship? or Complacency
The Gospel? or the Status Quo
Truth? or that Continual Tendency to Compromise
Each one of us makes that choice over and over and over again in our lives and the sum total of those choices will determine where we stand, and with whom we stand, on that last day. Let’s determine that each of us, in every way the Spirit – through Scripture – convicts us, that we are going to follow the Lamb wherever He leads us.
Pastor Richard Fredricks