Sermon Title: I, Caiaphas
Sermon Text: Matthew 26:63-66 Mid-Week Lenten Service
Grace be unto you and peace from God our Father and from the Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Let us hear the Word of God, as we find it written in St. Matthew’s Gospel, the 26th chapter. 63 But Jesus remained silent. The high priest said to him, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” 64 “Yes, it is as you say,” Jesus replied. “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.” 65 Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses? Look; now you have heard the blasphemy. 66 What do you think?” “He is worthy of death,” they answered.
Let us pray: and now let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, Oh Lord, our strength and our Redeemer. Amen.
Dear Christian friends, this is the Season of Lent. It is during this 40 day season that we as Christians focus our attention on the sufferings and death of Jesus. In this Lenten period, let us not lose track of why our Lord suffered and died upon the cross. As the prophet Isaiah says, “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:4-5 ESV).
Tonight, let us consider the story of one of the characters that played a role in our Lord’s suffering and death. Let us turn our attention to Caiaphas, the high priest of Israel. A historian of the first century by the name of Josephus calls this man by another name: Joseph Caiaphas. I wonder if we can really know his story. I wonder if, in reading the Word of God, we can put our finger on just who this man, Joseph Caiaphas, the High Priest really was? If it were possible that this biblical figure could come forward in time to us tonight, we may wonder, “What would his story be like if he stood before us and told us just what happened.” I think it might go something like this.
I am Joseph Caiaphas. I am the high priest of Israel. I am the man that represents the people to God. When I was installed into my office as high priest, I wore a turban upon my head. Today, you would probably call this turban a miter. And on this miter was attached a plate of pure gold with the words engraved “Holy to the LORD.” Yet my story doesn’t run like that my friends.
When you ask yourself, who was really responsible for the death of Jesus Christ? Who was the real primary and direct cause of his death? “We are,” you would say, “Because Caiaphas, we just heard the prophet Isaiah tell us that it was for us and our sins that he died.” Yes my friends, that’s true, but I want to confess at the very beginning, that it was I, Joe Caiaphas. I am the man that plotted his death. I am the man that concocted the scheme from the very beginning to its end. You may say, “Oh no Caiaphas, you were the high priest of God.” I was. But when you want to point the finger at any one man and say “who was it, that sent my Lord to the cross,” I want to tell you, it was I, Joseph Caiaphas. Oh I had collaborators, but when it really comes down to it, I was the one who hatched the plan from start to finish. You might find that difficult to believe, but let me tell you my story.
I was reared in a God-fearing home. My parents trained me from early childhood to know the true God. I decided early on that I wanted to enter the priesthood. But “How,” you may say, “Caiaphas, how in the world could you be the High Priest of God and concoct such a scheme: to murder the Son of God, the Savior?”
Perhaps it would help if I told you that I belonged to a group of individuals who were called the Sadducees. That might not mean much to you today, but if you look in the Word of God you will read that the Sadducees were a group of men who were very influential, rather rich, highly cultured, and who did not believe in the resurrection from the dead. I was a member of this group; I, the high priest of God. Oh, I believed in God, after a fashion, but I was a rationalist. There were some things about religion that I just couldn’t reason out for myself and so I refused to believe them. I didn’t take everything on faith. Even though I was the high priest, and I represented the people to God, I laughed at the idea of a resurrection from the dead. To me, the most outrageous thing in the world was that anybody would ever rise from the dead, or that there was life beyond the grave, or that there was hell and damnation awaiting a person. Friends that’s what you believe, isn’t it? You say it in your creed, “I believe in… the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting” (Apostles Creed). Isn’t that what the Messiah did for you? But to me, that is preposterous. Why? I’ll tell you.
One day, I heard that a man named Jesus, from Nazareth he had been talking about the resurrection and about a life beyond the grave, and about eternal punishment. So I sent some of my fellow Sadducees to this Jesus, and I had a whole story ready for him that would show this Jesus just how ridiculous such a belief was. I told my fellow Sadducees to make sure they had a crowd around when they told Jesus this story.
So one day my associates came to him and said, “Teacher, Moses told us that if a man dies without having children, his brother must marry the widow and have children for him” (Matt. 22:24). And Jesus listened attentively. “Now there were seven brothers among us. The first one married and died, and since he had no children, he left his wife to his brother. The same thing happened to the second and third brother, right on down to the seventh. Finally, the woman died” (Matt. 22:25-27). Then I had my Sadducees say, “Now then, at the resurrection, whose wife will she be?” (Matt. 22:28) I couldn’t think of anything crazier and more absurd than that.
But you know what, say this Jesus, he was right on the ball and he kind of embarrassed me. He looked at my fellow Sadducees and said “First of all, you don’t know the Scriptures, don’t you know that in heaven there will be no marriage and there will be no giving in marriage. Secondly, haven’t you read in the Scriptures that God said, ‘I am the God of Abraham, I am the God of Isaac, I am the God of Jacob” (Matt. 22:29-32a paraphrased). He told my fellow Sadducees, “God didn’t say He was their God, he said I am” (Matt. 22:32b paraphrased). He kind of showed up my associates that day, and I didn’t like him very much for that.
That wasn’t all, my friends. This Jesus of Nazareth was a pain in my side. Why, because this Jesus of Nazareth was stepping in on my business. Not only was he making a fool of my associates and by implication, me, but he was also drawing the people away from the temple. And I just couldn’t have that.
You see, I’ll tell you why I went into the priesthood. I went in to make some money. I wanna tell you, it was a great racket. You don’t have any idea how much money you could make when you became high priest. That’s why I went in. I wanted to make my fortune. You may ask me, “How does it become so profitable?”
Well, you’ve heard about it in the Bible, haven’t you? You’ve heard about how all the people came up to Jerusalem, and how they would all offer sacrifices – a lamb or a goat. Well, I was in charge, and so we sold lambs and goats right at the temple. Let me tell you I got the top price for them. We gouged the people wherever we could, and it was all mine. If they brought their own lamb or their own goat, we had to inspect it and we charged them as much as we could get for inspecting their own animal. So that brought us money. Then we had the money-changers. We wouldn’t let them pay their temple tax in Roman money; they had to pay it in Jewish money, the shekel. I’m telling you, my money changers, we were something. I Joe Caiaphas, high priest, was making my fortune off of the people I represented.
But you see, this upstart, this man that you call your Savior, Jesus of Nazareth. Why he came up to Jerusalem, about three years before his death and he walked into the temple and he took a rope and he started after my money changers. He kicked over the tables with the money and he drove out the sheep and the cattle and he said, “How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market” (John 2:16b) When he did this, I thought ‘Who is this young upstart? I’m going to have to do something about that. He’s not going to ruin my scheme. I’ll have him know I’m high priest. I’m running this temple.’ Right then and there I decided he’s going to have to be stopped. That’s when the plot to kill him began in my mind.
So I had some of my fellow Sadducees watch him and shadow him. But as they watched him, they noticed how more of the people came to hear him. He was performing miracles, so I was told, and he became popular and I just couldn’t stand that. He was drawing traffic away from me and I was to be the head man. I wasn’t gonna allow it.
Then one day, I heard he had raised a man from the dead, a man who had been dead for four days, a man by the name of Lazarus. They told me he lived in Bethany. Then I heard, “Oh, Jesus of Nazareth, here is the Messiah that we’re waiting for. Here is the Christ! He raised Lazarus, who had been dead for four days!” Let me tell you that just burned me. I didn’t know whether it was true or not, but enough was enough.
So I called together the Sanhedrin. You may not know what the Sanhedrin was; it was like your high court, like your Supreme Court. There were 70 members of this court, and I was the head of it. I called them together when I heard this thing about this Jesus of Nazareth raising Lazarus from the dead. I got them together and I looked at them and I said “You see this Jesus of Nazareth, and what he’s doing to us, we who are the leaders of Israel. He’s getting a lot of notoriety, and the people are following him. He’s taking them away from us and we’re losing our power.” I told them, “It is expedient,” that is, “it is good,” that one man die for the people” (John 18:14 NASB/NIV). Have you ever read those words? Do you realize that I, Joe Caiaphas, I had just spoken prophecy? Oh, I didn’t realize it, but God had used me to say something, that in one sense is beautiful. You couldn’t say it any better. Don’t you believe that it was better that Jesus died than that the whole world should perish? Isn’t that what you believe about your Savior, that when he died on the cross, he died for you? Isn’t it better that he die so that you might not go to hell, but be saved? “It is expedient that one man die for the people” (John 18:14 NASB). That’s what I said, but to me, that wasn’t what I meant. What I meant was “Listen this mans’ gotta die. We gotta put this man to death. Let’s face it, if we don’t, why he’s going to take all the people away from us. Then the Roman Empire will come in and they’ll take all our power.” You see, what I was really saying was, “This mans’ gotta die! It’s better that he die than that Caiaphas looses his racket; that I lose the money that I’m getting from the temple. I didn’t realize that I had made a wonderful prophecy. It is expedient, isn’t it; that one man, Jesus, should die for the people. But I meant it in a diabolical, terrible way. So I told the Sanhedrin that day, “We’re going to put him to death.” So we passed the death sentence on him, before there was any crime, before there was any accusation against him, mind you.
I was biding my time, looking for the opportunity in which to spring my evil scheme to put him to death. Then there came a day, you call it Palm Sunday. This Jesus came riding into Jerusalem on a donkey and all the people cried out “Hosanna to the Son of David” (Matt 21:9b). Then the very next day, this Jesus had the nerve to come back into my temple and he cleaned it up a second time! He kicked over the tables with the money and drove out the cattle and sheep, along with the money-changers, he called the temple a “den of thieves” (Matt. 21:13b KJV). Well, it was after all, but it was my racket. He wasn’t going to destroy my livelihood.
Then a day or so later, somebody came to see me, and oh I was thrilled. Said his name was Judas. Said he knew that I wanted to get a hold this Jesus of Nazareth, and that for the right price, he could deliver him up to me, privately. I thought to myself, ‘This is what I’ve been waiting for! Here is one of his own, even he doesn’t believe in this Jesus.’ So we haggled over the price. We finally settled on 30 pieces of silver, not an excessive amount mind you, about the price of a slave. But let me tell you, I would have paid much more to get my hands on this Jesus of Nazareth.
It was no surprise, my friends, when I was awakened a little before midnight on Thursday and was told they were bringing this Jesus of Nazareth to me. Remember this was my plot, I knew that Judas had done his work. Of course I didn’t have my Sanhedrin together, so I sent out messengers to get them up, to get the elders and the scribes together and get them here. And in order to just simply stall for time, they took Jesus to my father-in-law, Annas. He had been the high priest before me. He asked him some questions, and they just stalled for time until we got enough of the Sanhedrin together so we could hold court. Of course it was illegal to hold it at night, but we did. Oh, I could barely contain myself when they brought this Jesus in front of me.
I had been waiting for this. Mind you, I was a little embarrassed. We had already passed the death sentence, but we simply didn’t have a charge. What was his crime? So the big job I had was to find a crime, whereby we could carry out the sentence that we had already decided on so that it would all look legal. I must confess, my friends, I had a terrible time. I had a bunch of witnesses get up and they were accusing him, but nothing added up – nothing that I could hang a death sentence on. Finally, there were two witnesses and they got up and said “This fellow said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and rebuild it in three days’” (Matt 26:61b). thought to myself, ‘That’d do it. Anybody who would destroy the temple, why that would be a terrible thing and that must be punishable by death.’ But these two witnesses, they didn’t rehearse this thing enough, and so, it just didn’t add up, and I just couldn’t say, “You’re gonna die because of that.” I mean, I had to think about what the people would say. They loved this man, Jesus. I just knew, that the people would say “Well, that crime, you just didn’t prove it.”
But do you want to know what really got under my skin? All this time, through all the accusations that were being put before him, this Jesus just stood there and didn’t say a thing. It was that kind of quietness you know, that just sort of roars. It really got to me. I couldn’t take it, and in a blind rage, I thought to myself, ‘I’ll make him talk. He thinks he can just stand there and be quiet. I know, I’ll put him under oath!’ So I looked at him and with all the dignity of my office I said, I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God” (Matt. 26:63b).
I’d show him who was running this trial. Who did he think he was? He’d have to answer to me, Joseph Caiaphas, the high priest. He looked me straight in the eye, and said, “Yes, it is as you say” (Matt. 26:64a). “I am the Christ, the Son of God.” You believe him too, don’t you? You receive his Baptism and partake of his body and blood at Holy Communion for the remission of your sins because he is indeed the Christ, the Son of God. But let me tell you friends, when he said that, that’s when I saw my victory at hand.
I stood there and tore my robe off and oh with a righteous indignation I said “He has spoken blasphemy” (Matt. 26:65b). He calls himself God’s Son. This man Jesus, he’s guilty of death!” And everybody cried, “He is worthy of death” (Matt. 26:66b). Let me tell you, I felt real good. I finally had a charge. “You are guilty of death. You have made yourself God’s Son. You…Jesus of Nazareth. You deserve to die.”
I let my soldiers take him and they spit in his face. Then they struck him, and covered his eyes and hit him, saying, “Prophesy to us, Christ. Who hit you” (Matt. 26:68). Oh yes, they hit him and mocked him and oh, I thought it was great stuff. He didn’t realize; I was Joe Caiaphas, high priest. I was showing him who was in charge.
Well, I got rid of him. I conceived and concocted that plot from start to finish. I want you to know I was the man. You want to point the finger at any man, you point it at me. I was the one that sentenced the Son of God to death.
But you know, there is something that haunts me. I think you’ve read it in your Bible, but I wonder if you really realize what it means. After I put him under oath he said “Yes, it is as you say” (Matt. 26:64a), you know he said something else to me. It was read to you tonight. He looked me straight in the eye and he said “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” (Matt. 26:64b). You see, he said to me, “Listen Caiaphas. Tonight you’re in charge of things. And you are standing there and I’m before you. And you are condemning me to death on blasphemy, when I, under oath have just sworn in the name of God that I am the Messiah, the Son of God. But Caiaphas, when we meet again, it will be me, the Son of Man who will be in charge, for I will be seated at the right hand God. Caiaphas, the tables are going to be reversed, when you and I meet again.
Friends, I know that he lives! I sentenced him to death, but I know that he came back from the dead. Do you want to know what terrifies me? It’s when the Last Day comes, and I have to meet with him, as he sits at the right hand of His Father, the Mighty One. I look to that day in horror. You will all be looking forward to his return with joy. For then you’re bodies will be raised up from the dead, and you will be reunited with your souls, and you will be reunited with your loved ones. As for me, I dread that day. He came back from the dead, friends. And all of his teachings about the resurrection, and all of his teachings about the life beyond the grave, and all of his teachings about eternal punishment; I know them to be true now. As the prophet Isaiah had said, “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:4-5 ESV). I know that to be true, and I’m terrified because I don’t know what will happen to me. Because I, Caiaphas, the high priest of God, I condemned the Son of God, the Holy One to death!
Dear Christian friends, Caiaphas was one of the main figures in sending our Lord to his passion and death. God used him and others to bring about his plan of salvation – that his own Son would be made sin for us, so that we could stand righteous before Him. You and I are as guilty as Caiaphas when it comes down to who is responsible for the death of our Lord. Scripture does not tell us if Caiaphas ever recognized and repented of his sin. You and I may rest assured though, that if he did, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ would forgive him just as he does you and me. For Christ died for all sinners. He suffered for you and for me. He hung on the cross for our sins as much as he did for the sins of Caiaphas.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.