Lent MW 0219 – “Caiaphas the High Priest” John 11:45-53
Lent MW 0219 – “Caiaphas the High Priest” John 11:45-53
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen
The text for our sermon meditation is the Gospel account of St John, the 11th Chapter.
“45Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him, 46but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. 47So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the Council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. 48If 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.”
49But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. 50Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” 51He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, 52and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. 53So from that day on they made plans to put him to death.”
So Far the reading.
Dear Fellow Redeemed of Jesus Christ,
We continue the Lenten path by briefly considering the place of the High Priest in the Temple of God. The High Priest whom we consider is Caiaphas. Along with the chief priests, Pharisees and other members of the Sanhedrin, Caiaphas is concerned with the implications of letting Jesus live. However, Caiaphas thinks about earthly matters as opposed to spiritual matters. To such thinking these questions arise. What is the work of the High Priest in God’s Temple? Whom does the High Priest represent? How is the High Priest to serve in the Temple of God?
God established the office of High Priest immediately after the Exodus of Israel. This office is an intermediary office. This means the person who fills the office is representative of those who are in relationship to each other. The Chief Priest is the person who stands in the place of either party. Before God the High Priest represents the people. Before the people the High Priest represents God. In the Temple the High Priest brings the appointed sacrifices. Before the people the High Priest proclaims the judgment and mercy of God.
This office was set above the normal priesthood. For the High Priest was specially chosen to bring the blood of the sacrificial animal into the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement. This High Priest was allowed to marry only a virgin bride of his own people. This High Priest was to be without defect, injury or scar to his body. He was not allowed to join the funeral rites for the death of a family member. He was to serve in the Temple as a man sanctified and anointed for service to God.
Whom does the High Priest represent but Jesus Christ? All the work and service carried out by the High Priest is foreshadowing the work and service of Jesus Christ. The book of Hebrews recognizes Jesus as our Great High Priest. His work and service is to offer the sacrifice which brings atonement for sin before God. Yet, this is not offered in the Temple, but outside the Temple on the hill outside Jerusalem.
Caiaphas failed to recognize his responsibility before God. His office was not one of heredity any longer. Rather, the office could be bought if one had the influence and where with all to pay what Rome asked. This office and many others within the Temple enjoyed prestige and honor among the people. These men were to receive their living from the offerings brought into the Temple of God. They were to recognize that what was received was a gift from God.
However, such things were seen as that which was due. Instead of humility and thankfulness the sense of entitlement filled the heart of Caiaphas and all who served alongside. When their comfort is threatened they react in fear. Hear their voice of fear as they discuss the life of Jesus.
“What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. 48If 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.”
“Their place will be taken away.” Why do they fear this loss? They fear because they have their position not from God but from men. They serve their bellies and seek to satisfy their greed for power, honor and profit. The grace of God has no place in their existence. The sacrifices they offer come not from penitent hearts but from outward formalism. They only go through the motions of piety. They honor God with their lips, but their hearts are not in it. Their hearts are set on things they see, touch and feel and not on those blessings from above. They were not reconciled to God nor were they mediating on behalf of the people.
Such reconciliation and mediation falls to the shoulders of the One by whom these priests feel threatened. These men conspired to arrest Jesus and bring him in for condemnation. They are uncertain what to do and how to proceed. Yet, Caiaphas lays before them the path they are to follow. Under the influence of the Holy Spirit Caiaphas prophesies, “You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.”
The singular work of salvation is set in motion not by men but by the hand of God. The words Jesus spoke to His disciples are being fulfilled through the words and planning of Caiaphas. Throughout His ministry Jesus spoke of this moment any times. “17And as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside, and on the way he said to them, 18“See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death 19and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.”
The God whom unholy Caiaphas denied is using His High Priest to proclaim His will, and work reconciliation and mediation for the people. God is doing what Caiaphas should do. God is offering the sacrifice to which all other Temple sacrifices pointed. The Lamb of God, is about to be slaughtered to atone for the sins of not only Israel, but also for the sins of the whole world. The High Priest, Caiaphas, will put Jesus to the hands of sinners to be offered on the altar of the cross. The blood of this perfect Lamb of God will be poured out upon that strange mercy seat in atonement for all people, for all sin, for all time.
Indeed, that cross is the Mercy Seat of God. It is held before the penitent sinner in the water of Holy Baptism. For in that holy washing, God pours the blood of Jesus upon those who come to be cleansed from sin. Baptism truly is the water of forgiveness and life. So also, St Paul proclaims baptism to be the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit.” Regeneration is new life in Jesus Christ. Renewal is reconciliation to God through the blood bought sacrifice of Jesus Christ, which is forgiveness of sins.
Like Caiaphas we often fear loss of possessions, place and power. We have the sense that we are not in control, and fear the unknown, the emptiness and the weakness of losing creature comforts. Yet, Jesus would have us to trust that if all things material are taken from us there is yet something eternal in our possession. We are made children of God. We have the grace of God, the forgiveness of sins, the vast storehouse of God’s blessings, the hope of eternal life, and much more than we could want or need.
As Luke writes: [Caiaphas] did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.” Amen.