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The Final Week, Were You There?

Jesus takes expediency, injustice, and selfishness into himself, and offers us resurrection.


Artist Hieronymus Bosch painted Christ carrying his cross in 1505. Christ was surrounded in the painting by such notably ghoulish and revolting characters that we would have difficulty identifying with those that crowded around our Lord while he carried his final burden. Snaggle-toothed with a grotesque caricature of Semitic features. We could not very easily get close to the crowd that Bosch painted in his scene of Christ carrying the cross. Perhaps that could make both him and us comfortable. As long as those are so ugly and caricatured that we cannot identify with them, then it's difficult for us to paint ourselves into that picture. We automatically assume that had we been on the scene we would have stood beside Christ rather than beside Caiaphas. Yet if we were to bring the trial of Jesus out of antiquity and make it for us the living Word of God, we must address this by putting ourselves into that picture of those gathered around the Christ.

We speak of his trial. There were actually six of them. Three before the religious or ecclesiastical authorities, and three before the Roman or political authorities. Hastened to Annas, the father-in-law of the high priest at midnight, turned over to Caiaphas, his degenerate son-in-law, and then placed before hardly a quorum of the Supreme Court, Jesus endured the indignity of his religious inquisition. Then before Pilate, and that hasty attempted change of venue to Herod of Galilee, and then back to Pilate again with indignity and with injustice. Yet it is in the religious trial of Jesus that I think we could best identify ourselves. For Pilate was a confused Roman who hardly knew the issues that were at hand. It is in the religious trial of Jesus that the real malignancy, injustice, and agitated confusion of the hour are visible and clearly seen.

We make the statement, Our sins put Jesus on the cross. That statement is best explained when we look at the religious trial of Jesus, for the attitudes, the emotions, and the postures that were assumed in that midnight trial reflect the attitudes, emotions, and postures that often surface in our own hearts. We ought to look at this trial as you and I peer out from behind the mask of Annas, as our eyes look out through the sockets of the empty skull of Caiaphas, the high priest by Roman appointment. As our hands washed themselves of the matter next to Pilate, who found this whole matter to his inconvenience. For we find boldly and dramatically incarnate in those heroic and eternal figures some of the shadows that lurk less heroically and dramatically in the common places of our own hearts. Concentrated and magnified in that Thursday midnight mockery of justice, there is that expediency and that injustice and that agitated confusion that characterizes the age.

We often tend to romanticize the trial of Jesus, and that is to speak of its pain, torture, humiliation, and its illegality in a way that distances us from that trial, but we've never experienced anything like it. When we see in the trial of Jesus expediency, injustice, and agitated selfish confusion, we can paint ourselves into the picture of that trial. For in that hour the Christ of God both exhibited this and conquered it by taking it into himself. In that hour the night almost put out the light. But the empty tomb shows that principle will have the final word over expediency. That absolute justice will have the final word over malignant injustice. The composed silence and dignity of the eternal God will have the final say over the agitated and selfish confusion of man. Let us look at these, putting ourselves into the picture.

Expediency versus integrity

First of all, we see the egotistic expediency of Caiaphas as it stands face to face with the absolute integrity of the Christ. Caiaphas is an incarnation of life lived on the principle of expediency. Indeed, it was his saying in John 11 that set in motion the momentous moments of the last days, for he said more revealingly than he knew, "It is expedient for us that one man should die for the people." The dictionary defines expediency as "living for one's own use or advantage without regard to what is just or what is right." Caiaphas would substitute as a dictionary definition. He had married into a family long schooled in the principles of expediency. His father-in-law, Annas, of whom we're told in John's gospel, had reigned as the high priest of Judaism when Jesus was but a boy. He was followed in succession by five of his sons, each of them successively more degenerate and removed by the Roman authorities. When he had run out of sons, he began with sons-in-law, and installed Caiaphas, buying the office of Aaron and of Moses as if it were a commodity for sale in the market.

Caiaphas proved to be a quick study in expediency. He was a graduate student in the school of the end that justifies the means, and he was a tool and a fool in the hands of his father-in-law. Caiaphas was a Sadducee, a haughty, antagonistic, arrogant religious establishment figure. That meant that our Lord had crossed with him two times in the preceding week. The Sadducees had the authority of the temple and its precincts. Our Lord had asserted his authority in the temple revolution on Monday. The Sadducees were anti-supernaturalism. They disbelieved in the resurrection of the dead, and our Lord had called that into question with the astounding and electrifying resurrection of Lazarus, his friend.

There you have them, Caiaphas and the Christ, locked by belief and by principle into a deadly conflict that would be magnified and accented in that midnight trial. "It is expedient for us that one man should die for the people." Caiaphas represents man's perversion of God's religious provision, and he stands before the Christ, God's provision for man's religious perversion. Caiaphas, the high priest of man's designation. Christ, the high priest of God's designation. Caiaphas, the occupant of the highest religious office by political machination, and Christ, occupant of the office of high priest once and for all by the sheer integrity of his own character. Caiaphas, whose life principle was expediency. Christ, whose life principle was absolute integrity. Caiaphas, whose motto was, "My will be done at any cost." The Christ, whose motto was, "Thy will be done even at the price of a cost." What a picture.

Dante, the Italian poet of the late Middle Ages, wrote his awful poem called The Inferno. A picture of the netherworld. A picture detailed was like a vast funnel of nine levels. Where do you suppose he put Caiaphas? He assigned him to the lowest of the eighth level, just above Lucifer himself. Dante said that Caiaphas wore a robe of lead, covered with gold, an appropriate garment for one whose lifestyle was expediency, not what it really appeared to be. Caiaphas is pictured as prostrate and crucified at the lowest of the eighth level of the inferno where everyone must walk over him. What do you suppose Dante was saying? He was saying that life lived on the principle of expediency, of mere pragmatism, a utilitarian philosophy which says the end justifies the means, is as low as a man can go without being at the bottom itself.

Queen Victoria was approached by one of her cabinet members who presented to her an instrument of government that demanded her signature. He urged the execution of her signature on the basis this is expedient. The great queen who gave her name to an era of principle said, "I have been schooled in what is right, and I have been schooled in what is wrong, I have not been schooled in the expedient." She would not sign it. Caiaphas knew no such distinctions. He quickly affixed his signature to the crucifixion of the Son of God.

We ought to remember if we want to put our face into this scene and bring it out of ancient history that it was not murder that first of all crucified our Lord. It was not some crimson sin of immorality. The first step toward the cross was a step that all of us have taken, a step of expediency, that the end justifies the means, and that it's better to take a moral shortcut than to live by principle and integrity. That puts our face standing there along Caiaphas. But there's a word of victory in this too, not just a word of negation. Caiaphas would go on to an awful end. Pontius Pilate, the fifth Roman procurator would be deposed, he would be humiliated. Tradition said that he would dive off of Mount Pilatus, named for him, into Lake Lucerne and commit suicide. Thus was the end of those whose lifestyle was expediency. The end of the one whose lifestyle was principle and integrity was an empty tomb so that we might know in every Easter season that the final verdict of God rests in the path of principle and of integrity, not of expediency.

Malignant injustice versus absolute justice

There is a second contrast in this, and that is the contrast between malignant injustice and absolute justice. It's long been a commonplace that the trial of Jesus was a contradiction of every canon of contemporary Jewish justice. Those who were to have been the preservers of justice became its destroyers. I hardly need to rehearse for you the fact that the people, the time, the place, and the message was a contradiction of their own law in a black moment of malignant injustice. Jesus would legally have been tried before the supreme court of Judaism, the Sanhedrin. 71 supposedly just and august men. It was demanded that there be 23 of them even to have a quorum. There is no suggestion to me in these verses that such a crowd was present. The people were illegal.

The time was an illegality. For a capital crime was not to have been tried at night. On the eve of a high priest day, no capital case was to be heard. The place was an illegality and an injustice. For it was demanded that that court would meet in their quarters, the room of hewn stone. This monkish inquisition takes place in the very palace of Caiaphas, the high priest. The method was an injustice. In Jewish courts the defense was always to speak first but our Lord is not allowed to speak a word. In the balloting, the youngest were to cast their vote of guilty or not guilty first so that they would not be influenced by the older. A man condemned to a capital offense was not to be scourged so as not to add insult to injury. More than anything else, a capital verdict was to be heard again in the cold light of another day.

We know that in every instance our Lord, incarnate justice, was the object of malignant injustice. Then there is this unbelievable scene as the Supreme Court justices of a nation rip open their garments and vault over their seats to spit and abuse on the object of their injustice. Ordinarily when a death sentence is given, there is at least the dignity of respect for life. What we see in this scene is absolute malignancy in Caiaphas and absolute justice in Christ so that they come together with a volcanic intensity. Most of us are so barely good or so barely bad that we bounce up against one another on the moral table of life like billiard balls barely nudged around. Here we have one absolutely malignant and absolutely just, so that when they come together like a positively and negatively charged particle, it is atomic in its intensity.

In Paradise Lost, Milton's epic poem, there is a stanza which tells of a band of angels that search paradise for Satan before he has fallen. The leader of the band finds Satan squat like a toad in the ear of Eve. So Ethuriel touches him with his angelic sword and the toad turns once again into the magnificent angel that was Lucifer. Goodness overcoming toad-like evil. In the trial of Jesus, we see the confusing opposite. Caiaphas, like a toad of injustice in the face of incarnate goodness. For in this hour, when the final issue of justice and injustice comes to close grips, it brings out all of the venom and malignancy in the heart of unjust men.

The church has always confessed that the trial of Jesus was the greatest miscarriage and demonstration of injustice in the history of man. Now, we rattle that off as a generalization but did you ever put that down concretely alongside the injustices just in 20th century. We are told that between 1949 and 1965 in communist China under the purge of Mao Zedong, 26,300,000 people perished. We are told that in this same century, between 1936 and '38 in the purge of Stalin, that 10 million people perished in a miscarriage of justice and humanity. We are told that in Auschwitz Birkenau during World War II, 4 million Jews perished, 6,000 of them in one day. Solzhenitsyn reminds us that 66 million Russians, according to his estimate, have perished in the labor camps of the KGB. When we say that the trial and crucifixion of Jesus was the greatest injustice, we must make that statement over against the injustices of our century and see reflected in what happened to him the maliciousness and the injustice of all the ages.

This is where once again this must become personal for you and me. It does us little good to become agitated and shudder about the deeds of dead scribes and priests 2,000 years ago. But just to the extent that you and I do not live justly and for justice, we stand there beside Caiaphas. We live in a world brutalized by the discriminated, distressed, dehumanized, the walked on, the walked around, the stepped on, and the stepped over, and the risen Lord says "inasmuch as you did it unto the least of one of these." That puts us in the middle of the trial of Jesus. That empty tomb is God's final word that the just and justice will win the day. But finally, there is the agitated selfish confusion of Caiaphas in the face of the composed majestic silence of the Christ. Caiaphas is the very picture of distracted frustration.

The man who wants to work by the principle of expediency cannot expedite the trial. The man who seeks injustice is frustrated by the very justice of the One who stands before him, stumbling, fumbling, blundering, and tripping, showing a profound ineffectiveness, they cannot get the trial underway for witnesses won't agree. So they babble and they gurgle to one another like vermin scurrying around under a judicial moist rock. In the presence of that, composed and speechless, stands the Christ. Perverted religion speaks and is defeated. Christ stands silent and becomes the victor.

Agitated selfishness versus composed silence

What about this strange silence of Jesus for much of his trial? It is the silence of meekness. When he presented himself as King to the city, he rode in meekly. It is the silence of innocence that does not have to babble but can stand in its own integrity while his opponents annihilate one another. It is the silence of scorn who will not even address itself to the expedience and the smallness of the moment. It is the silence of judgment. His locked lips were their judgment. There is an awesome power in the silence of a repentant or a just man.

In January 1077, one of the remarkable scenes of western history worked itself out in the Apennine Mountains of northern Italy. Hildebrand, the reforming Pope had been engaged in a battle with Henry IV, the Holy Roman Emperor, over the rights of the church and the rights of the state. Henry IV had deposed the Pope and the Pope had excommunicated Henry IV and all of Europe was up in arms. So the Pope moved into the palace of Canossa in the snows of winter, while all of Germany revolted against Henry. To express his repentance, Henry came and stood barefooted in the snow at the gate of the palace at Canossa for three days, clad in the rags of a hermit. The first day Hildebrand could resist the awful silence of this repentant king. The second day all of the fortress was alive with what would happen. The third day, the reforming Pope could not help but give in under the majestic silence of the king that stood barefooted in the snow outside of Canossa. There is an awesomeness and a majesty about the silence of a just and good man.

When our Lord stood there, though, more than anything else it was the silence of resolution. When a manly man sets his mind to a task, there is often a lock-jawed silence. Our Lord's mouth is closed with resolution that nothing will keep him from his appointment with the Cross. Then out of that silence he speaks. As the aftermath of this scene, he speaks of that moment when all will be reversed. When he speaks he says something worth hearing: I am the Christ, and Caiaphas, you will see me and our roles will be reversed as the Son of man comes in glory. I stand before you now silent, but Caiaphas, the day will come when I will be the judge and you will be the judged, and I will be the speaker and every mouth will be stopped. It is interesting that our Lord saved the highest claim of his life until just that moment for that person and that place.


To put our picture in it, finally what does it mean? It means that in that moment our Lord both exhibited and conquered life on the level of expediency, injustice, and agitated selfishness. We live in a day of recycling. We recycle old filthy newspapers into the pages of Bibles, we recycle the bottles of inebriating spirits into stained glass windows for our churches. We take that which is junk and by our own hands we are able to turn it into beauty. This is not an inept metaphor to apply to what happened that night and on that Cross. For our Lord took life lived on the level of expediency into himself, and turned it into the eternal principle of the dying love of Calvary. He took life lived on the level of injustice into himself, and out of that wrought the greatest act of justice that not only justified him but justifies us who have faith in him. He took that moment of agitated selfishness into himself, and turned it into the greatest self-effacing, self-forgiving moment in man's history as he suffers for the sins of the world. That's where we come in. For he took the expediency, injustice, selfishness of our lives into himself and offers back to us resurrection.

Dr. Joel C. Gregory is Director of the Kyle Lake Center for Effective Preaching, holder of the George W. Truett Endowed Chair of Preaching and Evangelism at Baylor's Truett Seminary, and the founder of Joel Gregory Ministries.

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Sermon Outline:


I. Expediency versus integrity

II. Malignant injustice versus absolute justice

III. Agitated selfishness versus composed silence