Week 7 Palm Sunday
The Sanhedron Sought to Crush Jesus by both killing him and destroying his reputation.
Having failed to find sufficient reason to execute Jesus, they resorted to manufacturing evidence. Christians don’t make it up.
The incident with the adulterous women: Christians love the whole truth.
The incident about taxes: Christians are people of sincerity and integrity.
The story teaches us old truths in a way that has power to change us.
Lord, Will I Live?
Last week we focused on hearing and making a confession. We looked at the process of recognition, confession and repentance. It is not enough just to give up old habits, we must develop new ones. God stands ready to help. This week’s theme is Survival. In Hebrew, the word “to live” means both to be a conscious person and to be an effective person. There is a sense in which people live as long as they influence others. Years after their mothers die some people say, “I talk to my mother every day.” In Hebrew we would say, “My mother lives in my heart.” The focus of this sermon is on what the events of Holy Week teach us about our ministry to help others Survive in this life. Next week’s focus is on how Jesus opens the gateway to Heaven so we are welcomed in his Father’s house for Eternity. God’s love begins to transform our lives now, but it is also a love for Eternity.
This is the beginning of the end. In the week ahead we will look at the events that changed the relationship between God and ourselves forever. During these eight days we seek to draw the reality of Salvation into the center of our hearts. Jesus brings into human life the new covenant promised by Jeremiah (Jeremiah 31:31-34) Jesus fulfills Isaiah 53:1-11, Psalms 24 and a host of other statements from the Hebrew Scriptures. Our hearts are broken in order to be rebuilt in joy and strength through the Resurrection.
It is tough stuff to look at, but it is the stuff of Salvation. It really began a week or two before Palm Sunday. Caiaphas, the High Priest, was a Roman client. He was unpopular with even his own party, the Sadducees. He was also a clever and careful man. He had decided it was time to kill Jesus and when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead he called a meeting of the Sanhedron to convince them and set up the group who would actually execute the plan. We have no idea of what the group’s name was, but I will call it the Committee to Crush Jesus.
Palm Sunday completely upset the Sanhedron. They all realize that they had to either kill him or recognize him as being at least a prophet. In the end, the High Priest got his way.
So the plot to kill Jesus became policy of the Sanhedron. But it was not just enough to kill him. Assassinating Jesus was simple. They were painfully aware that when Herod beheaded John the Baptist, Jesus sprung. Now John’s movement was stronger and the people were more deeply alienated from the government. (Matthew 14:2-12) They needed to crush him, destroy his influence as well as his life. How they went about attempting to destroy Jesus influence is the basis to today’s lesson.
The Committee to Crush Jesus laid a process. These guys were seasoned veterans of political intrigue. They sent word to their agents that they wanted to know where Jesus was at all times. They looked for a spy to recruit from the group. They realized that they would have to have a legal case that was convincing to both Jews and Romans. They decided that the manor of Jesus death would have to be horrific and they would have to be prepared to terrorize the leaders of Jesus’ movement. They were prepared for the long haul.
I am sure they studied the intelligence they had on Christ. Everyone knew that Jesus’ ministry was a great success but it was not long before he ran into people who got furious with him. Ironically, the first time this happened was in his hometown synagogue. Luke tells us about this in his gospel. Everything is going well until Jesus tells the hometown crew that they undoubtedly will want him to show off the power of God that is with him. He told him that him was not commissioned to do that sort of thing. Many of them felt insulted and they become furious and threatened to stone him. (Luke 4:14-40)
And there was much else that was reliably known about Jesus. A review of his life showed that for someone who visited with tax collectors, drunks, women of shady reputation and other sinners, there was nothing in his life to blackmail him with or use against him in court. They would have to manufacturer it.
That I think is the first lesson. Manufactured information designed to help or harm another has no place in the Christian life. The events of Holy Week burn deep into our hearts the realization that whether or like or dislike a person, they are what they are. If God loves them, we learn to respect the reality of another. We don’t get involved personally in the sort of intrigues that resulted in Jesus death, but we certain has all sorts of opportunities to respect the reality of other people or to shade the truth.
Are you ever tempted to slam another’s reputation because you find them irritating? Personally, I am embarrassingly good at picking out just the right negative statement to make about someone and share it with others. I am not always so careful with the facts. I know pretty much intuitively who will appreciate the bad news. Christ would not have died if the leadership of Israel respected people and their reputations. We protect people’s relationships and effectiveness because we know that they are children of God. Will we survive as effective people in our work places, in our families, churches and neighborhoods. We will if we join with others in insisting to people be treated fairly.
So the Committee to Crush Christ reviewed the information they had on Jesus and concluded that the record had nothing in it worth of death. In fact, they were also convinced that Jesus was a person of integrity who neither took bribes nor allowed himself to be intimidated. When we get to the incident about paying taxes, we will see that one of their work groups said exactly that about Jesus.
The Committee to Crush Jesus needed a charge that would make sense to Jews, so they commissioned a work group Pharisees and Teachers of the Law (Probably Faculty from Jerusalem U, though Teachers of the Law could have other positions as well) to put Jesus in an impossible situation. The group decided to use a woman caught in adultery. The whole story is found in John 8:1-11.
When the team of Pharisee and Teachers of the Law appeared on the Temple Mount with a real, live adulterous woman in toe, they said, "Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?" John 8:5
If Jesus asked for the required two witnesses, then condemned her, it would put him firmly with the established order. Since he was the friend of tax collectors, sinners and women, siding with the established order would harm him. Furthermore, it would give them fuel to impeach his integrity and harm his influence. So if Jesus sided with custom, they would have tools to weaken him, to kill his influence.
Their goal, though, was to both embarrass Jesus and his movement and manufacture a capital offense for the Committee to use. Though the people would like it if he let her go and their intelligence said that he probably would free her, he would be in serious trouble. That would make him a corrupt judge and corrupt judges were sometimes subject to death. That is why John noted, “They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.”
The group that was sent to trap Jesus left shamed. They knew that what they were attempting was wrong. Caiaphas and the inner circle had access to the whole story. They were not interested in the whole story. They were just interested in the fact that Jesus did not condemn the woman. They had their case to explain the death to fellow Jews.
Christian’s not only do protect people’s influence by not manufacturing tales that misrepresent another persons, we also love the whole truth. Holy Week makes it abundantly clear not only in theory but in ugly practice, Jesus could have been convicted without the use of half-truths. The story of this incident burns into our hearts the realization that if we misrepresent others, what we are doing is wrong. It may be fun, it may make us money, it may be gratifying because we don’t like someone, but it is wrong.
Because Christians love the whole truth, we don’t support or encourage others who make it up. They may intone tales of moral relativism and permanent interests and the rest of the nonsense we get bombarded with. We love the truth and do not respect those who will not stand in front of us and tell it like it is.
The Bible’s summary is quite simple. “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.” (Exodus 20:16 KJV)
This is an aside. This is an election year, a time where smart people make up all sorts of stuff and their staffs whisper things about the opponents. You might want to make use of a web sight www.snopes.com when you hear something that sounds wrong. It probably is. “Snopes” has a community of people who love to run rumors back to their source and either confirm the information or debunk it. No matter what our party affiliation, we are lovers of the truth first because we love Christ.
Ironically, in the process of creating evidence to crush Jesus and his influence on history, the Sanhedron created a powerful story that lives in hundreds of millions of people hearts 2,000 years later. It is tough to debate with God. God wins.
So the pathetic plot moved on. They needed charges that would satisfy the Roman demand for due process of law. They brought charges to satisfy Roman law the two most important of which were: he told the people not to pay taxes and he claims to be a king.
Let’s look at the charge about taxes which is recorded in Matthew, Mark and Luke. I am using Mark 12:13-17 as translated by Eugene Peterson in his paraphrase the Message. I particularly like the word picture of the Pharisee’s and Herodian’s.
"Teacher, we know you have integrity, that you are indifferent to public opinion, don't pander to your students, and teach the way of God accurately. Tell us: Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?"
That just drips of insincerity. We aren’t nearly as bright as Jesus, but even we can smell the rat in that.
I have to hand it to the Committee to Crush Jesus. They realized that Jesus was from Galilee and that Herod would be consulted so they engaged for members of Herold’s staff to be a part of this bit of legal genius.
Imagine for a moment that you are standing in front of a crowd of people who don’t care for Rome one bit. You have been to the money changes and given them their cut in order to exchange Roman’s coins for Temple coins because the Pharisees, the Teachers of the Law and the Herodians insist. Roman coins have a graven image of Caesar on them, a man how demands worship and claims to be a God. These clowns have made a fortune for generations changing money. Now a group of them are standing there trying to trip Jesus up.
Lots of interesting and true things have been said about what it means to say, “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s.” The immediate point of this story is that they came out to find a charge to crucify Jesus and ended up confessing that they had a graven image of a false God on them in front of a crowd whom they had just fleeced at the money changers. Had Jesus even looked at them funny, the crowd would have stoned them to death on the spot. Instead, Jesus invited them too to reconsider that they were doing. He allowed them to leave the trap they sprung on themselves. Jesus always invites change.
The Herodians were getting cute with the truth, if you know what I mean. They were trying to create an advantage for themselves by flattery and hidden motives. All of us are in the position to take advantage of others in some way. The tools are the same, complement them, make a careful selection of the truth and keep your real motivations hidden. I had a fellow come in to clean my chimney. He told me that my flue liner had cracks. It’s a clay liner and of course it does. He wanted to sell me a stainless steel liner to correct the non-problem. “What per cent of clay liners have cracks,” I asked. “About 90%,” he answered.
On a personal level, I like him. I have used him four years now. Next year I use someone else. We are people of integrity. We do what we promise and we promise what we can do. We are people who tell the whole truth and wear our motivations on our sleeve, so as to speak. We are meant to be transparent. Jesus could not have been crucified without a lack of integrity.
The Sanhedron no only claimed that Jesus taught that people should not pay their taxes, they said he claimed to be King. Pontius Pilate knew that none of the Herods could claim to be the legitimate king. They were foreigners appointed by the Roman senate. Pilate also knew that he was not the sort of King that he worried about. He had no army, no walled cities, no revenue to equip soldiers and no training camps. Pilate could spot jealousy when he saw it.
As much a politician as a soldier, Pilate was happy to try to pass Jesus off to others. When he heard that Jesus was from Galilee, he sent him off to Herod Antipas.
Having gotten to the point of knowing that neither of the people who were supposed to be in charge were willing to back Jesus, the Sanhedron took a risk. They called up their paid mob, filled the public square and threatened riot if Pilate did not give them their way. Given a choice between Roman law and his resume, Pilate chose his resume. Jesus’ life was sold on the altar of ambition. I think that says something to us also.
In short, the Sanhedron tried manufactured evidence and character assassination on a number of levels. Having failed with false witness, they resorted to intimidation and appeal to self- interest. They got their way. They also created a society in which everyone was not very happy and it ultimately came apart.
Christians are dedicated to respecting others reputations. We discourage others from taking them lightly. In Christ we love the whole truth. God is also teaching us to be people of integrity. None of this is new. All of it was taught a thousand years before Jesus was born. Watching the story unfold one fascinating but ugly step at a time breaks our hearts and teaches us that these are not some sort of ethical principles, these values are the stuff of having a society which we want to live in. Love God, live out the truth of Holy Week and you are a blessing to others.