Our scripture passage from today follows the story of Jesus raising Lazarus to life. So after Jesus has raised his beloved friend Lazarus from death, many people come to believe in him as the messiah. But some people, suspicious of Jesus, tell the religious authorities about what Jesus has done.
So the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the council, and said, “What are we to do? This man is performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation.”
The fears of the leaders are revealed. Their holy place could be taken away – the temple ransacked yet again, and destroyed. They fear the exile that they’ve heard about in their scriptures. They fear the powers that oppress them. They don’t want to lose their freedom. Now the Romans were smart. They allowed the conquered people to practice their own religions and to in some ways govern their own people. The Romans knew this helped people to feel less oppressed, less conquered and so they gave the people some freedoms. But only if they stayed in line. The religious leaders know that if Jesus continues to be allowed to perform miracles and healings in the name of God, well the Roman authorities will become suspicious. They will become less and less lenient. The balance of power in the ancient world was fragile. Revolts were often squashed with brutal force, and the leaders didn’t want that for their people. They didn’t want their temple (God’s dwelling place) destroyed, and they certainly didn’t want to be dispersed into exile.
Now Caiaphas, the high priest, gives a prophecy that Jesus will die for the nation to bring together the dispersed children of God. Of course, Caiaphas often gets a bad rap in recounts of the passion story (his self-serving interests were on full display in the popular TV show, The Bible). And perhaps Caiaphas was self serving, Jesus was causing a lot of disruption in Jerusalem and the surrounding areas. Perhaps it would have been better for Caiaphas if Jesus wasn’t around. Whatever reason Jesus’ death is planned, it is planned, and a set of events begins that lead us to the hill of Calvary where Jesus, an innocent man, is put to death.
In seminary we talked quite a bit, in my theology classes, about whether God actually planned to have Jesus die for the sins of the world. Various ideas were given from various places on the spectrum of belief. But ultimately, the conclusion that we drew was that, whether God planned it all, or not (*while God is all-knowing, we also believe in free-will) – well it ultimately doesn’t matter. What does matter is that God used the death of Jesus to redeem his children. For it is by the spirit of God that Jesus the Christ is raised from death, conquering the grave and defeating sin. It is through the suffering, death, and resurrection that we all are given a second chance at life, life that is filled with grace, forgiveness and love.
Friends, I have to believe that that last part – the second chance part – that was God’s plan all along. Now maybe the events that brought about the second chance were determined by free-will, but nevertheless, that grace and forgiveness – I KNOW that was God’s plan all along. As we enter into Holy Week tomorrow, I invite you to consider that plan – God’s great plan of redemption and salvation. Our scriptures this coming week will draw us deeper into prayer. Helping us to connect with the joy, the betrayal, the despair, and the triumph of Holy Week.
In Your Prayer Time:
Consider the plan – both from a human standpoint and from the standpoint of God’s redemption. Isn’t it amazing that God thought of even us, in 2017, when planning how he might draw us back into relationship with him? What a vast and sweeping streaming of grace that was poured out on the cross.
Spend some time thanking God for the beauty of this world, for the beauty of God’s plan, for the beauty of Holy Week.