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The Ironic Prophecy of Caiaphas
(Or: Why Jesus Had to Die)

John 11: 45-53
45Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, put their faith in him. 46But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. 47Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin. "What are we accomplishing?" they asked. "Here is this man performing many miraculous signs. 48If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place[a] and our nation."49Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, "You know nothing at all! 50You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish."51He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, 52and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one. 53So from that day on they plotted to take his life.


At the first church I served as a full time Pastor, there were two particular banners used during Lent. One had a deep purple background and in large black lettering the word "Why" with a question mark. That was the entire banner: "WHY?" It naturally directed people to meditate about why Jesus had to suffer His awful pains and die. For all its simplicity, it was quite moving.

The Gospel text from St. John marks the moment when Christ's death became a matter of open and pre-meditated murder after the raising of Lazarus. It says: "From that day on they took counsel how to put (Jesus) to death." There is also much in the reading that leads us to ponder why, both from the viewpoint of men and of God. Jesus had to die because of the sinister plot of men, but also because of the gracious plan of God.


"You know nothing at all." Caiaphas rebuked the Council; "You do not understand that it is expedient..." He wanted to cut through all the directionless chatter to the bottom line. He wasn't concerned with whatever the truth about Jesus might be, but only what was expedient. In his thinking Jesus clearly had to die for the sake of expedience.

Today that method is called "situation ethics." It doesn't concern itself with God's Law or any moral absolutes, but only with dealing with a dilemma in the most convenient manner. It disguises itself with the thin veneer of perhaps sounding reasonable and right, because it excuses an action by saying that it's for the common good. People are discharged, pushed aside or even sometimes killed for the so called "good" of the organization. Workers are laid off so that stockholders can beef up their own profits, for example. Or maybe you've heard someone say, "Let's get rid of that person, and we'll all be better off."

What Caiaphas made to sound reasonable and beneficial was evil and sinister. He wasn't really up to anything good!

Fear that showed an underlying lack of trust in God was another motive for what was going on. Council members complained that: "The Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation." That's what became the justifying excuse for Caiaphas to hatch the man-made plot to put Jesus to death. Rather than seek God in facing the threat of their Roman oppressors, they sought their own way out through the unrighteous act of murder. Caiaphas put it into words for them; "One Man should die for the people...that the whole nation should not perish."

The whole thing ultimately backfired and the opposite happened with the scattering and death of many people. Jerusalem and its people and Temple were destroyed by Romans in a few short decades in 70 A.D. Jesus predicted that one stone would not be left standing on another, and the crowd at His trial later on brought that curse on themselves when they said: "His Blood be on us and upon our children!" What Caiaphas said supposedly for the people's and nation's sake turned out to be patently untrue in the way that he meant it.

Besides it being merely expedient or for the people's sake, a third reason for coldly calculating His death was so that no more people would come to believe in Jesus. Council members worried: "What are we to do? For this Man performs many signs. If we let Him go on thus, everyone will believe in Him..."

Of all the things that make clear Jesus was guilty of no crime, His raising of Lazarus must be among the most compelling. That the response for such a marvelous deed was a murder plot shows how utterly wicked the Council’s true motive was. The chief priests and Pharisees were jealous of the competition Jesus presented for the people's loyalty! It's not so much that they truly cared for the people, but they cared for themselves and their own positions. They wanted to be followed and served rather than themselves be servants to the people.


A device known as "Dramatic Irony" is sometimes used in the acting profession. A speaker's words carry truth and import beyond his or her own awareness, but which the audience knows. An example is in Macbeth, where he hypocritically says he wishes a person (whom he had secretly murdered) could be present for the dinner he was hosting just then. In the play the person's ghost is in fact sitting right next to him, listening to the attempted cover up!

That's how St. John's account reaches us. We're made aware that God sits above the evil intent in the words of Caiaphas. Rather than Christ's death being necessary because of the sinister plot of men, the higher reality is because of the gracious plan of God!

St. Paul wrote: "No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him," and "The unspiritual man does not receive the gifts of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned."

Caiaphas was as ignorant as those he rebuked for knowing nothing. In his own sin and blindness, by the words he spoke, he made himself God's unknowing pawn in announcing God's own exact plan for victory and grace!

In God's economy, also, Jesus DID have to die, but it was for the sake of overturning mankind's blind and sinful ignorance. It was His purpose to turn the malevolence of men into blessing and triumph. Jesus prayed for the forgiveness of His crucifiers because, as He said, they didn't know what they were doing. GOD knew what HE was doing, though, and it was "expedient" for His plan of grace!

As God's sinless and only begotten Son, Jesus did die the torturous execution of the Cross according to the exact words of Caiaphas. As the Substitute in place of all sinners (including you and me), that "One Man" did die "for the people." He did it for us all, not to avert further oppression from the Romans, but from Satan; to suffer the punishment we deserve for sin; to remove the death penalty from us for our sin; not to avert the destruction of Jerusalem but our eternal destruction! Although Israel's people were scattered by the Roman conquest of 70 A.D., Jesus had to die "to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad," as the Text says, "and not for the nation only."

Even as the Council's fear of attack came about, so did their jealous apprehension of more people believing in Jesus. He had to die not so that less, but more (like you and me), could and would believe! That, too, is pretty dramatic irony, that the very thing Caiaphas and his comrades most sought to prevent by killing Jesus is exactly what God accomplished!

Jesus had to die so that He would thereafter be raised and multitudes could then see salvation in Him and believe. God used the unwitting words of a man to set into action His gracious plan for all people and, by the words of His Gospel of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, His Holy Spirit makes believers of once lost and condemned sinners.

After becoming Egypt's ruler under Pharaoh, Joseph told his scheming brothers who had sold him as a slave: "You meant evil against me; but God meant it for good to bring about that many people should be kept alive." Today's Text leads us to clearly see the ultimate way in which God worked “ALL things together for good for those who love Him…”

I didn't yet mention anything about the other banner used during Lent at my first church. It pictured a large Cross on top of a globe, as if the Cross was pulling the earth from a dark black sea. Hung on the other side of the sanctuary from the first banner which asked "WHY?", this one said the only appropriate thing that could be: "FOR GOD SO LOVED THE WORLD..."

That's why Jesus had to die! Amen.


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