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Are you Caiaphas?

Dr. Jim Denison is the CEO of Denison Forum.
His Daily Article and podcast globally reach over 160,000 subscribers. Dr. Denison guides readers to discern today’s news—biblically. He is the author of multiple books and has taught on the philosophy of religion and apologetics at several seminaries. Prior to launching Denison Forum in 2009, he pastored churches in Texas and Georgia. He holds a Ph.D and a Master of Divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Jim and his wife, Janet, live in Dallas, Texas. They have two sons and four grandchildren.

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Topic Scripture: Matthew 26:57–68

Here’s an issue that skeptics often raise about our faith, a question many Christians don’t know how to answer: why did the Jews condemn Jesus? If he really is the Son of God, why did his own people reject him?

We learned last week that everything about the Sanhedrin’s legal proceedings was illegal. But why did they reject him in the first place? Why did they not welcome him with the crowds on that Palm Sunday? Why did they not see him as their Messiah? Why should we? What difference does it really make?

There are two roads to God. After forty-five years of following Jesus, I’ve learned that every mistake I’ve committed has come from choosing the wrong road. Every joy I’ve known in Christ has come from choosing the right road. Every one. When we’re finished this morning, you may agree that it’s been the same for you. If you do, I hope you’ll decide to stay on the right road to God this week.

The royal conqueror

At the heart of Jesus’ trial before the Sanhedrin was Caiaphas’ question, “Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God” (Matthew 26:63). To which he replied, “Yes, it is as you say. But I say to all of you: In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven” (v. 64). With this result: “Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, ‘He has spoken blasphemy!'” (v. 65).

Why was this blasphemy? Why was Caiaphas so certain that he was right and that Jesus was wrong? Why did he see the carpenter from Nazareth as such a threat to his people and future that his Sanhedrin must break every rule in condemning him? The answer is found in a concept known to the Jews as “Messiah.”

The Hebrew word translated “Messiah” originally meant “the anointed one.” “Christos” is the Greek translation of the Hebrew, so that “Messiah” or “Christ” mean the same thing and designate the same person. The word referred first to prophets who were “anointed” to speak God’s word, and to priests who were “anointed” for their service. In time it came to relate to the king as the man anointed by God to lead his people.

Finally, there evolved the belief that God would send a special “anointed one,” a special Messiah to be his king on earth, to remake the world and the universe, to liberate his people and restore their kingdom for all time.

In this sense God’s Messiah would be called “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). Of him the prophet promised, “Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this” (v. 7). Zechariah proclaimed, “His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth” (Zech. 9:10).

When Messiah came, the people would be liberated from their Roman oppressors. They would be freed from slavery, their kingdom restored, their armies empowered. They would rule all nations alongside their King of Kings and Lord of Lords. This was the Messiah, the Son of God.

This was the One of whom Caiaphas asked Jesus, “Tell us if you are the Christ.” When this humble, suffering Nazarene carpenter claimed that he was, it was natural for Caiaphas to reject his ridiculous claim and pronounce him a blasphemous heretic.

His movement must be stopped by the religious authorities lest the Romans stop it for them. If Jesus’ misguided followers attempt to take matters into their own hands, trying to overthrow the Romans in their zeal to follow their pretend Messiah, Pilate and his troops will have all their heads. Caiaphas knows that this Jesus cannot possibly be the One who win such a battle with Rome. And so, his movement must be crushed before the Empire crushes them all.

The suffering servant

If the royal conqueror were the only Messiah promised by God’s word, we would understand Caiaphas’ rejection of Jesus as such a Christ. But there is another stream of prophecy in the Old Testament as well—that God would send a suffering Servant for us, a suffering Messiah.

The prophet predicted that One would come to say, “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Isaiah 61:1–2).

“Anointed me” is the word for “Messiah,” the anointed one. This “anointed one” will preach good news, bind up hurting hearts, release captives and prisoners. He will serve the souls of God’s people.

When Jesus of Nazareth returned from his wilderness temptations to his hometown synagogue of Nazareth, he delivered his very first sermon. He unrolled the scroll of Isaiah and read this very prophecy of an anointed servant: “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21).

In this motif, the Messiah will be a servant of the Lord and his people: “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight” (Isaiah 42:1). Here the “chosen one” is the Messiah. He would call this servant to be “a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6).

And this servant would suffer for those he was sent to save. Think of these predictions in light of Jesus’ sufferings and crucifixion:

“I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard. I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting” (Isaiah 50:6).

“There were many who were appalled at him—his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man, and his form marred beyond human likeness” (Isaiah 52:14).

As you read Isaiah 53:1-10a, it is impossible not to see the cross.

But this suffering Servant would be raised from the dead to win the resurrection of all who would trust in him: “See, my servant will act wisely; for he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted” (Isaiah 52:13; cf. Isaiah 53:10b–12a. All because of what he did for God’s people (Isaiah 53:12b).

This was the promise Jesus fulfilled with his first coming. When he returns, he will be the royal conqueror the Jewish authorities expected their Messiah to be. On that day, “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10–11).

Who serves whom?

So, the religious authorities rejected Jesus as their Messiah because they were looking for the wrong messiah. They wanted someone to liberate their land, to make them the rulers of their nation, to give them their kingdom. They wanted their Messiah to meet their needs, advance their agenda, elevate their status. In other words, they wanted God to serve them.

Now, I want to be very clear about this: their decision did not make them Christ-killers. Pilate and his soldiers crucified Jesus, not Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin, though Caiaphas forced Pilate’s hand. The authorities did not represent the Jewish people, then or now. The Jewish people are no more responsible for Caiaphas’ actions than you and I are responsible for the Crusades against the Muslim people. Anti-Semiticism is always a sin against God and all of humanity.

The Jewish authorities simply did with Christ what many still do today. We want God to serve our needs, to be a means to our end. We come to church, read the Bible and pray so that God will guide and bless us. And God does want to meet our needs and guide our lives. But if we think he let us down, if he doesn’t protect us from harm or answer our prayers the way we ask them, with Caiaphas we feel justified in rejecting him. And many do.

C. S. Lewis asserted, “The ancient man approached God (or even the gods) as the accused person approaches his judge. For the modern man the roles are reversed. He is the judge: God is in the dock. He is quite a kindly judge: if God should have a reasonable defense for being the god who permits war, poverty and disease, he is ready to listen to it. The trial may even end in God’s acquittal. But the important thing is that Man is on the Bench and God is in the Dock” (God in the Dock 244).

Jesus reversed the situation. Rather than asking God to serve him, he chose to serve God. He chose to be the suffering Servant who would be rejected by Caiaphas and crucified by Pilate. Who would die so we could live. Who would “bind up the brokenhearted, proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, [and] proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Isaiah 61:1-2).

Here’s the surprise: Jesus found far greater joy in serving God than Caiaphas found in seeking a God who would serve him. The book of Hebrews describes Jesus’ crucifixion in this odd, surprising way: “who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).

There is greater joy in submitting our lives to God’s purpose than there is asking God to fulfill ours. There is greater satisfaction in spending our lives and gifts to accomplish his ministry purpose than we will ever find in asking God to serve us. Caiaphas wanted a God who would serve him. Jesus chose to serve God. Which of the two would you rather be? Which of the two roads would you choose to walk?

Conclusion

How long has it been since you submitted your plans and your future to God as your King? How long has it been since you have experienced true satisfaction and joy in your life and faith? It’s the same question. He is God and we are not. The holy Lord of the universe will not be our servant. He will not stand in our dock. But he will reward his servants with fulfillment and joy we can find nowhere else. The choice is ours.

A wealthy man died without a will, so his estate went to auction. At the end of the day the auctioneer raised a framed photograph, a picture of the family’s only child, a son who had died years earlier in a drowning accident. No one bid on it.

When the auction was over, a maid who had worked at the estate for many years and loved that son asked if she might buy his picture for a dollar, all she had with her at the time. The auctioneer made the deal. She took the picture home, set it beside her bed, and noticed for the first time a bulge in the back. She opened the picture to discover the wealthy man’s single-sentence will: “I give my entire estate to the person who loves my son enough to value his picture.”

Do you love God’s Son?