Thursday, May 18, 2017
"One Vs. the Nation" Sermon: John 18:12-14
“One Vs. the Nation”
May 14, 2017, Second Reformed Church
There is a philosophy called, “Utilitarianism.” It is considered to be first espoused by the eighteenth century philosopher, Jeremy Bentham. In one basic form of this philosophy, it is stated as, the right thing to do is the thing that promotes the greatest happiness. And to think about it quickly, that’s sounds like a good idea, right? Whatever brings the greatest happiness is the right thing to do.
But, if we think about it some more, there are definite problems.
If we would get the greatest happiness overall by changing the elements of the Lord’s Supper to peanut butter and jelly and coke, would it be the right thing to do?
If we would get the greatest happiness by assassinating this leader or that leader, would it be the right thing to do?
If we would get the greatest happiness by killing everyone over the age of sixty, would it be the right thing to do?
In a sense, the Sanhedrin – the ruling body of the Pharisees and Sadducees – are acting with a utilitarian understanding of how to solve the “problem” of Jesus. And they were wrong to do so. But it was right that they did so.
We see, first, Jesus submitted to His arrest and trials.
“So the band of soldiers and their captain and the officers of the Jews arrested Jesus and bound him. First they led him to Annas, for he was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year.”
After Jesus rebukes Peter for attacking the High Priest’s servant and says that He is voluntarily submitting to them to obey the Will of the Father – after Jesus explains that He could call for the armies of Heaven to deliver Him – the Romans arrest Jesus.
The Roman method of arrest was to twist the arms of the person behind their back, hands pointed to their head, and while someone jammed their heel into the prisoner’s foot, they would tie the twisted arms to the prisoner’s throat.
The fact that Jesus allows Himself to be arrested proves the voluntary nature of the atonement – of His being put to death for our sin – that we would be made right with God. Jesus has just shown that by the word of His mouth, He can cause everyone – some six hundred or more soldiers are there to arrest Him – He can cause them all to fall down before Him – He could escape easily – even call on the armies of Heaven to deliver Him. But He submits to this arrest – He submits to being sacrificed for the people the Father gave Him.
At about two o’clock in the morning, the Romans deliver Jesus to Annas, the father-in-law of the high priest, for an intimate trial, followed by the trial before the full Sanhedrin. John is the only one of the Gospel writers to mention this initial trial before Annas, and we are given little record of what happened during this trial. What we do know is that all of these trials before the Jews are illegal according to Jewish Law:
It is against the law in a capital case to arrest the suspect at night.
It is against the law in a capital crime to enlist the aid of the suspect’s disciples.
It is against the law to hold a trial at night.
It is against the law to rule on a case immediately, the Sanhedrin had to sleep on it and deliver the verdict a day later.
It is against the law for the High Priest to give the verdict in a case, the verdict is to be by simple majority vote, being cast from the youngest to the oldest [http://www.ecclesia.org/truth/trial-jesus.html].
And, there is no legal reason to bring Jesus to Annas at all. Annas had been High Priest from 6 to 15 AD, but now, his son-in-law, Caiaphas, is the High Priest. Jesus is brought before Annas not unlike one is brought before the Godfather.
The title of High Priest is a perpetual one – it is held until death, even if you are not serving as high priest any more. The historians of the day write that Annas is a master manipulator, and his hand is all over the Sanhedrin even after he is no longer serving. Annas guides events so all four of his sons, his son-in-law, and one of his grandsons, all hold the position of High Priest. The Talmud – which contains a commentary on the Scripture and commentary on the commentary – presents the line of Annas as ambitious and fabulously wealthy, and it condemns them for their greed.
And so Jesus begins the most horrifying twelve hours or so of His life until His death, submitting to arrest and trial in submission to His Father and in love of His people.
Second, we see that it was best that One should die.
“It was Caiaphas who had advised the Jews that it would be expedient that one man should die for the people.”
Caiaphas, the High Priest, makes this utilitarian observation after Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead. Hear, again, what happened:
“Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he 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 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, not that the whole nation should perish.’ He 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. So from that day on they made plans to put him to death” (John 11:45-53, ESV).
Word is racing throughout the nation: “Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead after four days in the tomb! No one has ever done that before – raised a man after he began to decompose!”
“Besides that, Jesus has performed many other signs – and people are believing Him. If people believe that Jesus is the Messiah and set Him up as the King over Israel, the Roman government will shut us down forcefully. They will take away our place of privilege and rule over the nation. We will lose our power and wealth.”
Just so it’s clear – most of the Sanhedrin is concerned about Jesus because they are under Roman occupation, and if someone – like Jesus – claims to be king against Caesar, the Romans will crack down on them. The members of the Sanhedrin will not be able to enforce their policies on the people. The Sanhedrin will not be able to collect gross incomes for their services. Although they are painting the issue as being about the nation suffering, it is really all about the Sanhedrin losing their wealth and power.
So, Caiaphas – who gave his father-in-law a run for his money when it came to manipulation, tells them that they really don’t get how dangerous the situation is and what the one sure-fire answer to the problem is: the nation is more important than any one person, so, for the sake of the nation, Jesus must die. The happiness of the nation is greater than the happiness of one person, so, to preserve the happiness of the nation, Jesus must die.
But Caiaphas doesn’t know what he is saying: he is actually prophesying that Jesus will die to save the people the Father gave Him.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16, ESV).
God’s plan was for Jesus to die for all those who believe in Him.
“so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him” (Hebrews 9:28, ESV).
Caiaphas says the problem is profound and, yet, simple: one versus the nation. And they choose the option that they believe will give them the greatest happiness – they pursue the death of Jesus.
But, we know that killing Jesus does not save the nation.
Jewish Zealots take Masada from the Romans in 66 A.D., and Caesar Nero counters with his own attacks, finally culminating in the attack of Titus on Jerusalem in 70 A.D., when he destroys the Temple, leaving over one million people dead, and the nation in the hands of Rome – crushed and disbursed.
Annas, Caiaphas, and the Sanhedrin sinned in their actions against Jesus, and, yet, God used their sin to bring about the salvation of the people that God gave to Jesus. God used their sin to accomplish His plan for the good of His people.
We are saved and made right with God through the voluntary sacrifice of Jesus for the holy nation that the Father gave to Him. Therefore, let us respond by submitting to the Will of God in faith and thanksgiving knowing that God is working all things together for the good of those who love Him.
Let us pray:
Almighty God, we tend to seek what we believe will please us, even as we disguise it in bringing the greatest happiness. Help us to be sacrificial people for the sake of the Gospel, trusting You Who sent Your Son to suffer for our salvation as Your Fatherly Hand gives us what we need to be Your people. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.