Think of any story that you have recently read, and I am willing to guess that in that story there was some sort of bad guy or bad thing, a villain one might say. It’s been said that every good story needs a bad guy, in the inspired true story that is the passion of Jesus, there are plenty of villains to choose from. We might immediately think of Judas, the disciple of Jesus who was willing to betray his Lord for a few pieces of silver. What about Peter? That proud disciple of Jesus who repeatedly denied that he even knew Jesus. How about the Roman governor Pontius Pilate who knowingly sentencing an innocent man to die?
There is no question that these men did some pretty horrible things, but were they themselves entirely bad? When Jesus was arrested, Judas was seized with remorse and refused to keep the blood money he had been bribed with. After the rooster crowed in the darkness, Peter realized his sin and sobbed uncontrollably. And Pilate at least tried, didn’t he? He did what he could to spare Jesus’ life until the Jewish leaders backed him into a corner.
Now, that doesn’t excuse what these men did. Their actions were wrong. But we don’t find the Bible describing these men as wicked evil people. Yes, they sinned and gave into temptations, but in all three cases we see the evidence of an inner struggle. But there were other villains in Jesus’ life besides those three whom I just mentioned. Bad men whom we don’t see struggling to fight against their inner demons. The high priest at Jesus’ trial was one such man. He didn’t seem to have a problem condemning an innocent man to die, and that high priest’s name was Caiaphas.
Read everything written about Caiaphas in the gospels and you will find no redeeming qualities in that man. He was cold, calculating, and completely ruthless. He did not let anyone or anything stand in his way, not even the Son of God. Which is interesting because, as the man who held the highest spiritual office in Israel, Caiaphas was supposed to represent God.
That then would make Caiaphas what we often call a hypocrite. Here was a man, a high priest, pretending to be something that he was not. Instead of preparing the way for the coming Christ, instead of pointing people to Jesus, he was pointing people away, condemning their Savior to death. He was a hypocrite. And, while we might shake our heads at this bad man, today in our lesson we find that often we too are guilty of having hands of hypocrisy.
Let’s go back though for a moment and take a closer look at the interaction that happened between Jesus and the high priest, Caiaphas. Jesus was brought before the Sanhedrin in the middle of the night, and the intended goal of this gathering was not to get to the truth. It was to manufacture evidence, any kind of evidence—even false—that would lead to a conviction of Jesus.
There was a problem though. The Sanhedrin couldn’t come up with any dirt on Jesus because Jesus was clean. Perfect, actually. And how do you pin a crime on someone who has never done anything wrong? Well, they tried. Some stood up and testified that they heard Jesus make the claim, “I will destroy this temple made with human hands and in three days will build another, not made with hands” Now, Jesus did say something like that at the beginning of his ministry, but he was talking about his body, not the actual temple. It didn’t matter though. They weren’t interested in the truth.
And in the middle of this mess, presiding over this mockery of justice was Caiaphas. He was probably upset that the witnesses couldn’t seem to get their stories straight, and it likely bothered him that Jesus remained silent. Which is why he maybe finally took matters into his own hands. He stood up and said to Jesus, “Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?”
Still our Savior did not speak. So, Caiaphas raised the stakes. He put Jesus under oath and demanded, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?” It was a simple question: yes or no? Except saying nothing would be a denial. Saying “no” would be an actual denial, but a “yes,” well, that would be a game changer. That would give Caiaphas the evidence he needed.
And Jesus knew that. He knew what would happen to him if he gave an honest answer, and yet he declared, “I am…And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” The silence of Jesus was over. He was the good guy, and it was time to suffer at the hands of these hateful men. It was time to finish God’s plan of salvation.
While our eyes might be on Jesus in this moment, did you catch Caiaphas’ reaction to Jesus’ words? We are told with his own hands he “tore his clothes.” And then declared, “Why do we need any more witnesses? . . . You have heard the blasphemy.” Blasphemy. That was the charge against Jesus. He told them who he was, and it was blasphemy to them. That was all the Sanhedrin needed to be rid of Jesus once and for all.
And then those hypocrites took off their masks and we read that, “They all condemned him as worthy of death. Then some began to spit at him; they blindfolded him, struck him with their fists, and said, ‘Prophesy!’” Why? Why was this response to Jesus and his words? Why did the high priest, Caiaphas, want Jesus condemned?
Part of it may have been political. This room of religious leaders were afraid of Jesus’ growing popularity and power. But maybe there was another reason that Caiaphas and the others hated Jesus. Not political, but spiritual. Caiaphas represented a way of life, a time-honored religious system in which God rewarded people for being good.
But then Jesus came, and he turned their way of life upside down. Jesus, the long-promised Messiah, didn’t praise these religious leaders for their good works, no, not at all. He called them whitewashed tombs, a brood of vipers, children of the devil. He called them out for their hypocrisy, not to embarrass them, but because he cared about them, because he wanted them to see the error of their ways, because he wanted them to see that he was the only way to heaven. He wanted them, he wanted Caiaphas to repent. And here is where we see the connection to us.
You know, you have maybe heard it said before that that the church is full of hypocrites – and in our lesson we see this on full display – but have you ever considered that perhaps the best way to respond to that is by saying, “You’re right”? As Christians, we work so hard to project a positive image. We believe that we must behave and act in such a way, and we want other people to see us a certain way. But the reality is that you and me a Churchgoing, Jesus-believing, Bible-reading Christian, we don’t look any different compared to the rest of the world. In fact, we look a lot alike. Just because you and I are in this place and just because we call Jesus our Lord doesn’t mean that our sins are different, better in some way, more acceptable, or more tolerable, in God’s sight. And we need to remember that. Too often we are tempted to use our presence here, to use our faith, as an excuse. As an excuse for this sin or for that sin or to feel better about it at least – it’s not a big deal, Jesus will forgive me! – but then we turn around and call out the sins of others…there is something wrong with that picture.
And, if you think this doesn’t apply to you, watch yourself the next time someone questions your heart. We’re so used to pretending that our intentions are always good and noble that we don’t even realize we’re doing it. We even fool ourselves. And all of this makes it clear that our hands are just as much steeped in hypocrisy as the hands of Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin. But, by God’s grace, what makes you different?
When you sit here under the dynamic ministry of God’s law and God’s gospel, you don’t see Jesus like Caiaphas did or the Sanhedrin did. We don’t condemn him to die, no, we must condemn ourselves. We take off the gloves of hypocrisy. We admit our sin. We admit who we are, a hypocrite, a liar, a slanderer, an adulterer, an idol worshiper, and admitting that is oddly liberating. Why? Because we see Jesus. We see why he stood there and took that abuse. It was for you. God saw who you were, and he didn’t turn his face away. Instead, he sent his Son to die. Instead, in Christ, he offers you forgiveness here, just as you are. This is the love of Jesus, a love that changes us from sinner to saint, from hypocrite to repentant; It’s the only thing that does. And this love of your Savior cannot be lost, unless you choose to walk away.
Caiaphas as he looked at Jesus didn’t see that. He preferred the way of a hypocrite and stayed a villain. And Jesus? Well, he avoided the whole hypocrite thing. He stayed true to who he was and what he came to do. He wasn’t concerned about how he looked or how his words might sound to others. He was on a mission to save souls from eternal death. And so, he answered his accusers with the truth – because he is the truth – and the truth, Jesus, set us free. God be praised for that. Amen.