As we saw at the end of our previous study, Jesus’s popularity, fueled by having raised Lazarus from the dead, enraged the religious authorities even more. They will not only plot to kill Jesus, they will even plot to kill Lazarus. The religious authorities had been trying to derail Jesus’ ministry since almost the beginning, but we really couldn’t decipher their motives…until now. They had tried to trip Him up in something He said, they had tried to have Him arrested, and even tried to stone Him, all to no avail.
They were on an endless “gravy-train” because God had commanded that they be fed from the sacrifices and offerings from the Temple. They didn’t have to do any “useful” work because their “groceries” were brought to their front-door. Imagine a former CEO having to dig ditches or pick up trash for a living. It was no wonder that they lived a life of privilege and luxury. They also had supreme-authority over all of the religious life of the Jews, and as long as they “kept the peace“, the Romans pretty much left them alone. That was all about to change, but not immediately.
Note that we will skip over the Anointing at Bethany this time and pair it with the Triumphal Entry next time. Also note that these are the opening scenes and events leading up to the Crucifixion, which were only a few days away.
Conspiracy to Kill Jesus
47 Therefore the chief priests and the Pharisees convened a council, and were saying, “What are we doing? For this man is performing many signs. 48 If we let Him go on like this, all men will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” 49 But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all, 50 nor do you take into account that it is expedient for you that one man die for the people, and that the whole nation not perish.” 51 Now he did not say this on his own initiative, but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation, 52 and not for the nation only, but in order that He might also gather together into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. 53 So from that day on they planned together to kill Him.
47 Therefore the chief priests and the Pharisees convened a council, and were saying, “What are we doing? For this man is performing many signs. 48 If we let Him go on like this, all men will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” Did you catch their motives? In light of my introductory comment, their motives become blatantly-obvious. How about greed, envy and jealousy? They couldn’t care less about “pure and undefiled religion“. All that mattered was their “exalted-positions“, and in spite of their “scholarship“, they had forgotten that Micah 6:8 applied to them too. He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you, but to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God? Jesus had delivered a scathing-indictment against the religious leaders in Matthew 23:1-36, which we will look at at the end of this study.
49 But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all, 50 nor do you take into account that it is expedient for you that one man die for the people, and that the whole nation not perish.” Did that statement justify MURDER?
51 Now he did not say this on his own initiative, but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation, 52 and not for the nation only, but in order that He might also gather together into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. Little did he know, but he was prophesying about the spread of the kingdom of God throughout the world.
53 So from that day on they planned together to kill Him. Can you say “PREMEDITATED MURDER“?
54 Therefore Jesus no longer continued to walk publicly among the Jews, but went away from there to the country near the wilderness, into a city called Ephraim; and there He stayed with the disciples. Jesus was fully in control of the timing of His crucifixion, but that didn’t mean that He could live “recklessly“.
55 Now the Passover of the Jews was near, and many went up to Jerusalem out of the country before the Passover to purify themselves. 56 So they were seeking for Jesus, and were saying to one another as they stood in the temple, “What do you think; that He will not come to the feast at all?” 57 Now the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that if anyone knew where He was, he was to report it, so that they might seize Him. (John 11:47-57)
Passover was one of the most important Festivals on the Jewish calendar, and every able-bodied person was encouraged to make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem, so it was inconceivable that Jesus wouldn’t attend. The religious leaders had warned everyone to be on the lookout for Him so they could put their nefarious-plan into action. Again, Jesus was still in control of everything, so He was going to show-up when He was ready.
The Plot to Kill Lazarus
9 The large crowd of the Jews then learned that He was there; and they came, not for Jesus’ sake only, but that they might also see Lazarus, whom He raised from the dead. 10 But the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death also; 11 because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and were believing in Jesus. (John 12:9-11)
How much more corrupt could they get? For what Jesus had to say about the Jewish religious-leaders, we are going to look at Matthew 23.
23 Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to His disciples, 2 saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; 3 therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them. 4 They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger. 5 But they do all their deeds to be noticed by men; for they broaden their phylacteries and lengthen the tassels of their garments. 6 They love the place of honor at banquets and the chief seats in the synagogues, 7 and respectful greetings in the market places, and being called Rabbi by men. 8 But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. 9 Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. 10 Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ. 11 But the greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted. They liked to strut around with their noses in the air, crowing like Bantie-roosters, trying to gain attention for themselves, but their religion was all for show…They were totally self-centered. Can you think of any “preachers” who are like that today? The more things change, the more they stay the same.
13 “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from people; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in. They had made themselves the “gate-keepers” of God’s kingdom, but they were far from following God faithfully themselves.
14 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore you will receive greater condemnation.” Hypocrisy piled on injustice.
15 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.” They heaped legalistic requirements on their converts which they couldn’t even keep.
16 “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the temple, that is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple is obligated.’ 17 You fools and blind men! Which is more important, the gold or the temple that sanctified the gold? 18 And, ‘Whoever swears by the altar, that is nothing, but whoever swears by the offering on it, he is obligated.’ 19 You blind men, which is more important, the offering, or the altar that sanctifies the offering? 20 Therefore, whoever swears by the altar, swears both by the altar and by everything on it. 21 And whoever swears by the temple, swears both by the temple and by Him who dwells within it. 22 And whoever swears by heaven, swears both by the throne of God and by Him who sits upon it.” Oaths can be dangerous things.
23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others. 24 You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!” They had forgotten that Micah 6:8 also applied to them.
25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. 26 You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also.” They “looked- good and smelled-good”, but they were rotten to the core.
27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. 28 So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” A casket, regardless of how pretty it is, still contains a DEAD body.
29 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, 30 and say, ‘If we had been living in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partners with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 So you testify against yourselves, that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Fill up, then, the measure of the guilt of your fathers. 33 You serpents, you brood of vipers, how will you escape the sentence of hell?” The rotten fruit didn’t fall very far from the tree…
These are the same men who will have Jesus put to death, MURDERED, crucified because of the evil in their hearts, and in accordance with God’s plan.
34 “Therefore, behold, I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes; some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city, 35 so that upon you may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. 36 Truly I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.”
They aren’t going to be satisfied once Jesus is “out-of-the-way“, they would continue their murderous purges even among the Apostles and others who believed in Christ.
Lament over Jerusalem
37 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. 38 Behold, your house is being left to you desolate! 39 For I say to you, from now on you will not see Me until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’” (Matthew 23)
When Jesus lamented over Jerusalem, He also foretold the destruction that would come upon Jerusalem in 70 AD. He was also foretelling the spread of the kingdom of God to those outside of Israel, the Gentiles.
It is easy for us to look at the Pharisees and say; “What a bunch of scum-bags“, but how much “Pharisee” is in us too? How often do we “clean ourselves up” before we go to church, and then act all “holy and pious” in church, when the reality in our lives tells a far-different story? We need to be honest with ourselves, and with God, that we aren’t all that we should be. It is only by the saving grace of God that we made right with Him, and only He can “clean us up“. We can’t do it on our own.
We must also remember that it wasn’t just the religious leaders and the Romans that nailed Jesus to the Cross, we were part of that conspiracy. We were there too, because it was OUR sin, MY sin and YOUR sin that nailed Jesus to the Cross. He was there because of US.
Jesus chose a bunch of “misfits” to be His disciples, but it was only after Pentecost, when they received the Holy Spirit, that they started becoming the men God could use to spread His kingdom. When we look at the lives of the Apostles, it should give us hope, because they were in a far-different place than when they started following Jesus.
We will look next time at the Celebrations which kicked-off Passion Week.