Pastor Eric Schroeder - Midweek Lent 4 - Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Text: Mark 14:55-65

Watch Service Video

55 The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death, but they did not find any. 56 Many testified falsely against him, but their statements did not agree. 57 Then some stood up and gave this false testimony against him: 58 “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this man-made temple and in three days will build another, not made by man.’ ” 59 Yet even then their testimony did not agree. 60 Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, “Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?” 61 But Jesus remained silent and gave no answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?” 62 “I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” 63 The high priest tore his clothes. “Why do we need any more witnesses?” he asked. 64 “You have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?” They all condemned him as worthy of death. 65 Then some began to spit at him; they blindfolded him, struck him with their fists, and said, “Prophesy!” And the guards took him and beat him.

I suppose every good story needs a bad guy, and in the true story that is the passion of Jesus, we have plenty of villains to choose from. We might first think of Judas, the disciple of Jesus who was willing to sell his friend and Lord for a few pieces of silver. We could include Peter, the disciple of Jesus who started off so bold and proud, only to deny that he even knew Jesus. We picture the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, knowingly sentencing an innocent man to die and letting a guilty man go free. There is no question that these men did some very bad things, but weren’t they all at least remorseful about it? Judas tried to give the money back. When the rooster crowed, Peter realized his sin and wept bitterly. And Pilate at least tried, didn’t he? He did what he could to spare Jesus’ life until the Jewish leaders backed him into a corner. 

Now, we don’t need to minimize or defend what these men did. Their actions had serious consequences. Yes, they sinned, but in all three cases we see the evidence of some inner struggle….. Unlike Caiaphas. Read everything written about Caiaphas in the gospels and you will find no redeeming qualities. He is completely corrupt, just plain ruthless. He will not let anything or anyone stand in his way, not even the Son of God... Which is interesting, because as the man who held the highest spiritual office in Israel, Caiaphas was supposed to represent God. There is a word for pretending to be something you are not. There is a word that describes an evil heart veiled by the appearance of virtue. And so, there is one word that comes to mind when we think of Caiaphas: he’s a hypocrite. Today we will examine the hypocrisy of Caiaphas. But understand, it’s not so that we can shake our heads at him. Not so that we can congratulate ourselves for being something so different.  No, taking a closer look at this man will also force us to take a closer look at ourselves, to examine our own hearts, to see if we are also guilty of having . . .Hands of Hypocrisy. 

Mark provides us with detailed information about the interaction between Jesus and Caiaphas, even though he never mentions the high priest by name. Jesus was brought before the Sanhedrin, the ruling council, in the middle of the night, which was not only highly unusual, it was illegal. It’s pretty obvious that the intended goal of this gathering was not to get to the truth. It was to manufacture any kind of evidence—even false evidence—that would lead to a quick conviction. There was a problem though. They couldn’t come up with any dirt on Jesus because Jesus was clean.  Spotless, actually. And how do you pin a capital crime on someone who has never done anything wrong? Well, by trying to use his own words against him. Some stood up and testified that they heard Jesus make the claim, ‘I will destroy this man-made temple and in three days will build another, not made by man.’ (v. 58).

Jesus did say something similar to that (Jn 2:19), but he was talking about his body, not the building, as if he were some sort of terrorist. However, Jesus says nothing to defend himself.  We can guess that Caiaphas was hoping that he wouldn’t have to get his hands dirty, but now the gloves come off. Finally, he can’t wait any longer, so he steps in—if you want something done right, just do it yourself… He puts Jesus under oath (Mt 26:63) and demands, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” (v. 61). 

It’s a simple yes or no question, but also devilishly clever. Saying nothing would be as good as a denial. Saying no would be an actual denial, but answering with a “yes” would be a game changer, because it would give Caiaphas all the evidence he needed.  Jesus understands the question and all of its implications. Jesus can anticipate what would happen to him if he gives an honest answer, and yet he declares, “I am. . . . And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven” (v. 62).  Now is not the time for silence. It is time to testify to the truth. It is time to suffer at the hands of these hateful men. It is time to carry to completion God’s plan of salvation.

Caiaphas must have been ecstatic when Jesus uttered those words, but he didn’t show it, did he? Instead, this hypocrite made a dramatic display of moral outrage when he grabbed his collar with his hands and tore his clothes and asked the Sanhedrin, “Why do we need any more witnesses? . . . You have heard the blasphemy” (v. 63,64). Blasphemy. Claiming to be the Messiah, the Son of God. That was what (supposedly) shocked Caiaphas so much that he ripped his robes. That was all the Sanhedrin needed to be rid of Jesus once and for all. And then, for just a moment, the hypocrites took off their masks. The men who made up this religious ruling body, usually so pious, always practiced and polished, turned into an out-of-control mob.  “They all condemned him as worthy of death. Then some began to spit at him; they blindfolded him, struck him with their fists, and mocked him (vv. 64,65). Spitting in the face of another human being. Attacking a man who couldn’t defend himself, whose blindfold kept him from seeing where the next blow was coming from. The images are disturbing, and we don’t want to picture them. But it’s worth asking why. Why were they so filled with rage? Why did they want Jesus dead? Why was Caiaphas so intent on this goal? It was partly political, for the sake of maintaining their own power.

But there was another reason Caiaphas hated Jesus. There was another reason Caiaphas would stop at nothing to destroy Jesus, and his primary motivation wasn’t political. It was spiritual. The high priest was such a hypocrite that he had deceived himself. Some people, especially the religious leaders, were convinced the whole time that they were doing good, and God should reward them eternally for their goodness. And then Jesus turned their comfortable world upside down. Instead of patting them on the back, he called them to repent. He called them whitewashed tombs, a brood of vipers, children of the devil. He called them out for their hypocrisy, not to embarrass them, but because he cared about them, because he wanted them to see the error of their ways, because he wanted them to see that he was the only way to heaven. Even when Jesus made his confession before Caiaphas, when Jesus prophesied that the high priest would see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, Jesus was calling Caiaphas to repent.

By rejecting that invitation, Caiaphas demonstrates for us the great danger of hypocrisy. The hypocrite cares only about what can be seen on the surface. The hypocrite wants to project a shiny image on the outside to keep other people, or even him- or herself, from seeing what’s on the inside. The hypocrite wants to believe that he doesn’t need to repent of his sins because he has no sin. But God’s Word wants us to believe something different. God wants you and me to ponder the personal implications of this spiritual truth: “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 Jn 1:8).

And this is the hard part of lent: where it hits us again and again that we are the bad guys. Everything in our selfish sinful nature wants to point the finger somewhere else, but God’s law calls you to repent, or else face his wrath for all eternity. So…for a moment. Stop making excuses. Stop looking for someone else to blame or someone to make you feel better because they look worse. And listen. Listen to the real High Priest.

Not Caiaphas. No, the other one. The one who didn’t act like he was better than everyone else, even though he is the only perfect human being who has ever lived. The one who can truly represent God because he is God, and he shows God’s perfect love for sinners by becoming one for you, by taking your place and facing God’s eternal wrath on the cross. Instead of hiding from him, rest in him. Repent every day and rise in forgiveness to live the new life your baptism gave you. You were crucified with him. You’ve been raised with him. Now you live in him, and he lives in you. 

When your world revolves around you, you can’t help but be a hypocrite. You have to pretend if you want to think of yourself as worthy. But God reveals the truth, and Jesus testifies to it today. He is the Christ, the Son of God, and he is your Savior. To keep listening to and looking to Jesus. Follow him to the cross, because he was, and he still is our Great High Priest, who made the one blood sacrifice that atoned for every sin, and even now he is interceding for you at God’s right hand. He is pleading your case and forgiving your sin and pouring God’s grace down upon you every single day.

Caiphas might have been in charge, but Jesus is in control. Let’s praise him today and always for redeeming us from a life of hypocrisy and calling us his own. In Jesus’ name. Amen.