Missing Jesus: Caiaphas

There is a story of an 11th Century king of England with Viking roots named Cnut. His advisors would often say, “King, you are the greatest man that has ever lived. There can never be another man so mighty as you. There is nothing in the world that dares disobey you.” In order to prove his power Cnut ordered that his throne be carried onto the seashore at low tide. He then sat on his throne and ordered the tide to stop rising. The tide, of course, didn’t listen. It literally dampened the mood, his robe, and his kingly honor.

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The resurrection of Christ is the story of a tide rising. More than the tide it was a tsunami that couldn’t be stopped. The resurrection allows us to dive into the Gospels and discover the story of Jesus. Like a Where’s Waldo book we find Jesus and others in the story. This happens on two levels: First, we find our story—our redemptive story—is in Jesus. Second, we find ourselves in the characters surrounding Jesus. Sadly, like many of them we can miss Jesus in the resurrection story.

When you think of a character that missed Jesus in the story who do you think of? Last week we saw Judas. Today we will look at Caiaphas. If we’re honest, there is a little bit of Caiaphas in all of us. Like Caiaphas we feel the tension to resist God and guard what is important to us no matter the cost. We strive for control, even if it be a little control. We are tempted to resist the God we say we trust and guard what we think is important.

Let’s be honest. Have you resisted God? You know you should stop doing this thing, but this is so fascinating and addicting. You know you should start doing that. You know you shouldn’t go there. You know you shouldn’t spend your money on those things, but you just this once. You know you should forgive, but the hurt seems to big. Everything in you tells you it’s wrong yet it feels so right. You find yourself resisting God when you know you are best-off trusting him.

What do those outside the church call this? They call it hypocrisy. We in the church call it hypocrisy too. Meaning we don’t actually do what we say or believe. In all fairness, it is difficult to surrender to a God we cannot see. Except we can see him. When Jesus stepped into the world he was God with skin on—the invisible God made visible. He certainly looked and acted different than many imagined God looking and acting, particularly to the religious people.

Joseph Caiaphas was the religious poster child. He grew up in a wealthy, political, and aristocratic family who controlled the temple. He was groomed to be a Sadducee (Sad-You-See!). He married the daughter of the high priest Annas. He himself became high priest between 18-36 AD, which was during most of Jesus’ life and all of his ministry. He was the most powerful man in Israel and the most influential man in Jerusalem. He was the go-between Israel and Rome. Other than Roman oppression, things went well for Caiaphas. Until a carpenter turned rabbi from Galilee started gaining notoriety with crowds.

The problem Caiaphas had with Jesus were his crowds. Everywhere Jesus went the crowds went too. Sometimes 1000’s of people came to hear Jesus speak. He spoke with authority. People also came from all over the nation bringing sick to be healed by him. The crowds were a threat to peace for Rome and a threat to the Jewish order. They had reason to worry since Jesus didn’t have a good rapport with the Jewish leaders. He made their questions seem foolish. He called them names,

“You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?” (Matthew 23:33)

You wouldn’t let your kids talk like that nor kiss their mama with a mouth like that! But that’s Jesus talking. Jesus echoes Jeremiah,

“Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of My pasture, declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 23:1)

Jesus had big issues with the Jewish leaders as they were responsible for leading the people to God. And Caiaphas had big problems with Jesus, his crowds, and his criticism! Ironically, it was Caiaphas who was oppressing the people by funding the temple and scheming against God.

The final straw that broke Caiaphas’ back was not a conversation or confrontation with Jesus, but it was an act of compassion by Jesus (like Judas, both at Bethany). Have you ever been frustrated or jealous when someone was shown compassion? Like Caiaphas, we can miss what God is doing in front of us because we are nearsighted. We are raging when we should be rejoicing. We are grudge-filled when we should be grateful. Our spiritual eyes are blurry and blind to what God is doing. We lose perspective and only see what we want to see. We don’t see the whole story.

Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead. The crowds swelled in Bethany to see the miracle man and the Miracle Maker. The crowds marveled and believed. Jesus had raised a man from the dead! Wow! That would be enough reason to follow Jesus,

“Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what [Jesus] did, believed in him, but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council (The Sanhedrin; three groups who couldn’t agree) and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people (really?), not that the whole nation should perish.” (John 11:45-50) Italics are my thoughts.

Caiaphas’ strategy of discrediting Jesus publicly had failed. The priest’s questions towards Jesus backfired too many times. Now it was time for a final plan. Caiaphas’ agenda was clear: kill Jesus and the problem will go away. He was sincere and he believed he was acting on behalf of God (John 11:51-53). It was a plan that the Jewish House, Senate, and Supreme Court all agreed upon. Unknown to them, they were actually facilitating the will of God (John 10:17-18). And all Caiaphas could think about was getting Jesus to lose his crowds,

“The crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness. The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign. So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him (1/3 of world Christian; spreading like a wildfire that couldn’t be contained).” (John 12:17-19)

Interestingly, later in Acts, we discover that many of the priests and Jewish leaders became followers of Christ. This is how John got his insider information on Caiaphas. Certainly, many Jewish leaders knew they were resisting what God was doing through Jesus, yet they held tightly to their plan because it would mean letting go of their power, their prestige, their pride, and their piety—everything that was important to them. Trusting Jesus was too costly.

When you decide to follow Jesus it will cost you something. It may cost you relationships, position, respect, money, standard of living, time, beauty, GPA or entertainment. The cost is too high for too many people. And therein lies the tension. It can be a wrestling match between what Jesus values and what you value. Many tap the mat to get out of the ring. You either consider the cost or you don’t. You are either hot or cold. You are all in or you aren’t.

If you’re a parent you’ve likely heard your kids plot out their future. I hear my daughters say, “When I grow up I am going to work at a Thai restaurant that way you can eat Thai food whenever you want.” “When I am an adult I am only going to eat all the candy I want.” “My house is going to be a barn so I can live with horses.” As parents we smile and laugh. We also know those plans will change as they get older. They may change moment to moment. Do you think God has a similar response to our adult plans and the ways we resist his plans? Do you think he shakes his head when we try to make our own plans? Do you think it breaks his heart when we ignore his wisdom being the Creator and Author of life?

Caiaphas couldn’t just get rid of Jesus. He didn’t have the authority to crucify him. He needed the permission of the Roman government. He needed case. He needed a legitimate charge against Jesus to show he was a threat to the empire. He needed to catch Jesus confessing that he was god or king (John 8:37-40; 10:31-39). So Jesus was led to Annas, Caiaphas’ father-in-law (18:12-14). Jesus turned the question back on Annas and he was slapped for it (18:19-24). Then Jesus was sent to Caiaphas where he was interrogated,

“Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” And Jesus said, “I am (ego emi; John 8:58), and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” (Mark 14:61-62)

That’s what Caiaphas needed. He had his case. He had witnesses. Without hesitation Caiaphas took Jesus to Pilate, the Roman governor. Pilate thinking it was a petty issue punted Jesus back to the Jews (18:28-32), but the Jews persisted, twisted and tied Pilate’s political arms. Pilate still wasn’t convinced Jesus’ title “King of the Jesus” was a threat, until he heard the rumble of the crowd. By this time Caiaphas owned the crowd (or mob). Pilate opted for peace and willingly traded Jesus for Barabbas the murder (18:40). The case that Jesus was a self-proclaimed King—a threat to the empire worked (19:7). Pilate brought Jesus before the crowd,

“He said to the Jews, “Behold your King!” They cried out, “Away with him, away with him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.” (Really?) So he delivered him over to them to be crucified.” (John 19:14b-16)

Pilate wrote a sign that hung above Jesus that read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” (John 19:19b) Can you feel the rejection? Can you hear the mockery? It was irony—a blood bathed resistance.

Jesus would die on a cross in a matter of hours. He would be buried in a borrowed tomb. But 3-days later, on a Sunday morning 2,000 years ago, a squad of the Roman guards would come huffing into Caiaphas’ house, march down the hall to where he was and say, “The tomb where Jesus was buried is empty.” (John 20:1-10) Can you feel the weight of that? Can you see Caiaphas’ face drop and go pale? His worst fear realized. Jesus was raised from the dead as he said. Within days there would be sightings of Jesus all around Israel (1 Corinthians 15). Caiaphas’ plan crumbled with the resurrection of Christ, yet he still resisted. He paid hush money and created a story that the disciples stole Jesus’ body (Matthew 28:11-15).

Following the resurrection we only hear about Caiaphas one-time,

“And as [Peter and John] were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducee’s came upon them, greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And they arrested them and put them in custody…But many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand. On the next day…Annas the high priest and Caiaphas…and all who were of the high-priestly family…inquired,

“By what power or by what name did you do this?” Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man (an act of compassion), by what means this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well. This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:1-12)

Caiaphas tried to muzzle their mouths, but it was futile. The name, reputation, and resurrection of Jesus was spreading like a tsunami. He couldn’t stop it. From that moment on, we hear no more about Caiaphas, but we hear a lot more about Jesus.

Remember King Cnut? I left out an important detail from his story. Sitting on his throne in the sea he was making a point. He knew he couldn’t stop the tide from rising. He knew he was just a man. He knew he wasn’t more powerful than God. We can be quick to judge the old king in a wet robe, but listen to what he said, “Let all men know how empty and worthless is the power of kings. For there is none worthy of the name but God whom heaven and earth and sea obey. There is only one King who is all-powerful and it is he who rules the sea and hold the ocean in the hallow of his hand. It is he whom you ought to praise and serve above all others.”

Caiaphas stood in the presence of the Savior of the world, but refused to abandon his quest for control. As a Sadducee, Caiaphas acted as a Judge, but his judgment of Jesus was wrong. Jesus is the Judge. He said, “The one who rejects Me and does not receive My words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.” (John 12:48) His judgement is sure and final. If only Caiaphas humbled himself and bowed his knee to the King of kings and the Great High Priest whom he represented. Caiaphas should have said sorry, retired from his job, and joined the world changing movement, yet he resisted to give up his hat.

Can you relate to Caiaphas? Are there hats you’re holding onto? Generally, your greatest regrets are connected to attempts to preserve something that isn’t even a part of your life anymore. Pressure to preserve or prop it up will eventually drive you to extremes that harm you or others. And what you try to preserve will always disappoint and eventually disappear.

Caiaphas’ story of resisting Jesus illustrates the futility of resisting God. Resistance is futile (Borg, Vogon). You know well that resisting Jesus is futile. It’s easy to dismiss Caiaphas, but you and I are also prone to resist God by putting something else in his place. And those things quickly diminish in value.

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Accepting Jesus will cost you something, but resisting him will cost you more. It may cost you a relationship, position, respect, standard of living, time, etc. Jesus died and rose for that! Those things won’t be important 100 years (or 1,000 generations) from now, but Jesus will. Don’t miss seeing and believing in Jesus!



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