Monthly Archives: March 2012

Before Caiaphas

Caiaphas, the high priest for that year and figurehead leader of the people of Israel, since Annas his father-in-law was the true leader, is next to question Jesus during this midnight interrogation. He probably lived close to his father-in-law, maybe even in the same compound. Caiaphas, like most of the other religious leaders, had already made up his mind about what should be done with Jesus. Long before this night Jesus had raised another man from the dead. Lazarus was four days dead, buried and rotting, when Jesus called him out of the tomb. He was a walking, living, breathing witness to one of Jesus’ miracles. These leaders wanted to kill Lazarus as well as Jesus. Perhaps disposing of all the evidence would allow the people who knew the truth to eventually forget.

Let me be blunt here. We will examine the death, burial and resurrection of Lazarus at a different time. (I have written about this in Roar of the Lion: Encounters with the Christ in the story The Twin.) When Jesus raised Lazarus from death he did something only God can do. He gave life. Lazarus died again. But his living witness was never contradicted by anyone.

As you read the documents you will see there are three reasons the religious leaders, lead by Caiaphas, wanted Jesus dead.

Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him, but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the Council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” [John 11:45-49 ESV]

They were afraid of losing control over the people. They were afraid of the Romans taking away their control over their positions before the people. They were afraid the Romans would not allow worship in the temple in which the people were commanded to worship, which they controlled. They were afraid the Romans would remove them from Israel, their nation, dispersing them throughout the world. They wanted the Romans gone. They wanted God to remove them and give them autonomy over their nation. But mostly they were afraid of losing control. Jesus challenged their authority and their control over the people.

When God created man in His image He gave him dominion over the world.

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” [Genesis 1:27-28 ESV].

Dominion means supremacy, to have total control over something. The word actually means “to tread upon” but not in the sense of a malevolent dictator but a benevolent ruler, whose whole purpose is to care for and encourage growth. Sin brought loss of control and man, created in the image of God, whose image is now bent, has sought to regain control ever since. It is striking to realize God uses the same word when He “curses” Eve’s by saying she will “desire” to control her husband, and by extension all wives desires to control their husbands, is the same word He speaks to warn Cain, telling him sin “desires” him. The word means to stretch out toward or long for, meaning control. Not benevolent control but all encompassing control, to the place where the other is enslaved, with no mind or heart of their own. Such desire to control is opposite the dominion God originally gave man as part of His image.

Sin wants to dominate all and Caiaphas is dominated by it, wrongly thinking he has control over all which happens. His control is an illusion and temporary. Even his words, known by God, reflect what will happen, not what Caiaphas wants to happen. God can never be taken out of the equation.

But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. So from that day on they made plans to put him to death. [John 11:50-53 ESV]

There is much in this passage which needs examining. God speaks through even those who hate Him. He is God, after all. But He will never force someone who hates Him to change. He will provide all of the evidence needed to encourage those to change, then provide the strength and wisdom and desire to change but will force no one to love Him. Forced love is not true love but slavery.

Jesus is brought before Caiaphas, who has seen the evidence of Jesus’ life, heard his words, maybe only through others, and decided Jesus needs to die. He is the one who sent out the mob to arrest Jesus. It is not a stretch to believe Caiaphas, even though he was the religious leader, would look for any excuse to have Jesus put to death. False witnesses are normal in regimes headed by sycophants and tyrants.

Now the chief priests and the whole Council were seeking false testimony against Jesus that they might put him to death, but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward. At last two came forward and said, “This man said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to rebuild it in three days.'” And the high priest stood up and said, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?” [Matthew 26:59-62 ESV]

What kind of an answer were they looking for? Jesus did say he would do what they are accusing, sort of. But he wasn’t talking about the physical structure of the temple. He was standing in front of the temple when he made his statement, so it is easy to understand how someone could misinterpret what he said. They were not paying attention to his words. He was predicting his own death and resurrection. He did this three years before his trial.

Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken. [John 2:19-22 ESV]

Jesus did not respond to their false accusations and statements. He did not defend himself because he knew they had already condemned him. They would not see the evidence of his life and words before. They will not listen to his defense now. Having decided long before this time Jesus was to die all they needed was an excuse.

There is nothing abnormal about this exchange. It is easy to see such attitudes in leaders in danger of losing control over those lead. I have seen it in fathers and bosses and government officials and pastors. I have experienced the unjust accusations of people who hate God. This kind of trial happens regularly. There is nothing about it which is fanciful and fictional. Throughout his time on earth Jesus was accused of being something he was not. This time is no different.

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Denied by Peter

There are four major documents written within a short time which give details of Jesus’ life, words, works and actions and speak of his death and resurrection. They contain eyewitness accounts of people who were with him, who saw him and who heard him. There are no other documents from this time which counter or contradict these writings. They, the documents, have been given name, a descriptive name which, for no reason has automatically invalidated them in the minds of many. Of all the writing about historical events these documents, called gospels, are the most extraordinary and viable. Other documents, written after the lives of the eyewitnesses, lend magical, mythical, legendary wording to Jesus’ life and the lives of his followers. These documents, the four gospels, do not.

All four documents, labeled Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, tell the story of Jesus’ last days and hours before his murder and his resurrection. They all give eyewitness accounts of the events leading up to his trial and crucifixion, his death, burial and resurrection which are neither fanciful nor convoluted. Peter’s denial of Jesus is a prime example.

Peter asserts his devotion for his master. When the group is told by Jesus one of them was going to betray him and Peter himself was going to deny knowing him, Peter countered with an absolute statement. “I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death” [Luke 22:33 ESV]. Speaking of the spiritual battle fought in a physical, temporal world, Jesus responds with a prediction. He has already predicted accurately his trial, torture, death and resurrection though the prediction has yet to see its fulfillment. None of his followers actually believed him or perhaps were not paying attention to his words. Peter is no different. He has no concept of what Jesus is speaking. All he hears, I think, is an attack upon his character. How could Jesus suggest Peter would do such a thing? Has not Peter been the most devoted follower? Read Jesus’ prediction. “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me” [Luke 22:34 ESV].

This is not an extraordinary prediction. Jesus does not say Peter will do something so out of the ordinary his action would be implausible. Jesus’ words are simple, direct. Before the first rooster crow, generally in the wee hours of the morning far ahead of the rising sun, Peter will deny three times his association with his master. At a time when all his followers would normally be sleeping, while Jesus prayed, Peter would be in a place where he would be tested by those who hated Jesus and he would fail the test.

Jesus does not absolve Peter of his future actions. He simply says what will happen. It is as if Jesus expected Peter to fail then encouraged him to continue following after the failure. It is going to happen. After it has happened don’t stop doing what you have been trained to do and don’t stop being what God has made you. Does God expect us to fail? And, yet, He still loves us with an eternal love beyond comprehension.

On the Mount of Olives, when the mob arrived to abduct Jesus, Peter, awakened from a sleep by a rush of adrenaline, his emotions still stinging from his master’s open rebuke, lashed out with a sword injuring a man. Jesus again rebuked him, healed the man and is led away without a fight. All of his followers, Peter included, except for Judas the betrayer, run away from the confrontation. All of them.

John tells us Peter and another follower (probably John) trail behind the mob to the High Priest’s home, where the illicit trial will take place. Knowing the High Priest, the one follower (probably John) gains entrance, brings Peter into the compound, so they can watch what will take place. Though they had run away they did return and place themselves in jeopardy, perhaps for sheer curiosity sake, by mingling with the mob which had just taken their master.

Try to visual the scene. It is still dark, early morning before sunrise. It is cold. Peter, who has cut off the ear trying to cut off the head of a man, part of a mob with torches and clubs and swords, is standing around with the same mob in an enclosed space. Perhaps he has covered his head, hidden himself or camouflaged himself in some way. He is standing next to a fire warming himself with the people he had just attacked. This is outrageous but not abnormal. Peter’s personality, stepping into experiences without thinking, shines. He may be trying to redeem himself, at least in his own mind. He doesn’t.

A servant girl first questioned Peter. After she studied him, looked hard at him, she placed him with Jesus. Peter responded by denying even knowing Jesus, as if it were the first time he’d ever laid eyes on the man. His statement is adamant, absolute, complete. “I do not know him” [Luke 22:57 ESV].

Next, a man looked at Peter and placed him with Jesus’ followers. He identified Peter, not with Jesus but with the group of men who followed Jesus. Peter had already denied knowing Jesus. Now, he denied knowing any of the people who followed Jesus. Peter responded to the man’s statement about being a follower of Jesus is also explicit and firm. “I am not!” [Luke 22:58 ESV].

Finally, about an hour later, while it is still dark another man confronted Peter. He identified Peter as a Galilean, after listening to him and recognizing his accent. There were probably lots of Galileans in Jerusalem for Passover, having traveled up for the celebration. But none of them are going to be awake at this time of night, sitting around a fire trying to stay warm, while another Galilean is mocked and ridiculed and questioned and condemned. “Certainly this man also was with him, for he too is a Galilean” [Luke 22:59 ESV].

Peter’s final denial judges even himself. “Man, I do not know what you are talking about” [Luke 22:60 ESV]. Peter said he could not be who the man thought he was. None of the evidence they had seen fit him. He is innocent of their accusation, a victim of mistaken identity, completely outside of any influence of Jesus, or Jesus’ followers, or even the land from which Jesus came.

Peter lied. Three times.

Not far away, though surrounded by his enemies, those who want him dead and were willing to compromise their relationship with God to have him murdered, Jesus glanced up and caught Peter’s eye. And a rooster crowed. And Peter is captured, tried, convicted, sentenced, undone. Jesus’ prediction was fulfilled. “And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, ‘Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.’ And he went out and wept bitterly” [Luke 22:61-62 ESV].

Peter, one of the pillars of Christianity, a writer of Scripture, a martyr of Christ, had feet of clay. He was a liar. This is not a tall-tale, a myth, a legend. Jesus predicted Peter’s denial. It happened. Even Peter, as one of the eyewitnesses of Jesus found in the documents of Jesus’ life and work, confessed his failures and validated the truth of what actually happened. There is no evidence Peter ever contradicted the account of his denial of Jesus found in all four reliable documents.

It happened. So did Jesus’ death. So did Jesus’ resurrection. It happened.

Night of Betrayal

Jesus had predicted his death and the manner in which he would die. Hearing his words I think his followers either did not believe him or were not paying attention. Had they paid attention they may have challenged him, as they had done in the past, or maybe encouraged him to not travel to Jerusalem. I don’t know. (Maybe, that’s what I would have done.)

They had seen him walk away from a mob in his own home town, people he knew who wanted him dead. His followers knew the religious leaders wanted him dead. So far, no one had succeeded. But this time Jesus’ prediction was different. Like many people his followers had selective hearing, acknowledging only what they wanted to hear not what was said. He was going up to Jerusalem to die, then be raised from the dead and they followed because they wanted to be with him not because they recognized the danger.

Outside of Jerusalem, on one of the many hills, was a place called the Mount of Olives. Jesus went there to pray whenever he was in Jerusalem. He spent many nights there with his followers. This night was like any other night. One follower was missing and would come later. In the middle of the night, when all normal people are sleeping, Jesus tells his followers to “pray that you may not enter into temptation” [Luke 22:40 ESV]. They are to stay awake and pray. This is a minor impossibility. Praying in the middle of the night usually causes eyes to close, breathing to slow and deep sleep. They fell asleep. This is what normal people do under normal circumstances.

Jesus doesn’t sleep. He was in distress, anticipating what would soon happen. No one knowing they are imminently facing death by torture will sleep. They cannot. Every moment is agonizing, every breath labored. Every prayer pleads for mercy. Jesus prayed. He asked God “if you are willing, remove this cup from me” [Luke 22:42]. But he knew something no one else knew. He knew why. “Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” [Luke 22:42 ESV].

Coming to his sleeping followers he wakes them. Luke tells us they were sleeping because of “sorrow” [Luke 22:45 ESV]. The word used may mean “grief” but may also mean simply “heaviness.” They were asleep because their eyes were heavy with sleep and may have been grieved because he woke them. I don’t know. I know they were asleep, which is a normal night time activity for those who are tired. When he wakes them he tells them again to pray they not fall into temptation. In both instances I believe the implication of his words are for them to pass the test of discipline they are facing at his command. Stay awake and talk to God and listen to Him. He will do something and your lack of discipline will cause you to miss what He will do.

It isn’t until Judas, the missing follower, arrives with a mob they come fully awake. Why would there be a crowd of priests and elders and temple guards and servants in the middle of the night carrying torches and clubs and swords. Fear wakes them where Jesus’ command could not. One of them, Peter, reacting to the danger, defended his master. Drawing a sword he swung, trying to cut off the head of one of the men in the mob. According to the writer of John, one of the followers of Jesus knew him, a man named Malchus, described as the servant of the high priest. Malchus probably did not have a sword. If he were a true guard he would have easily parried Peter’s wild swing. All indications are he had no sword but was there with his master, the high priest. Peter, a fisherman who knew how to swing a net wasn’t trained to swing a sword. All he accomplished was to sever Malchus’ right ear. He missed. His action was normal for a man who believed he and the one he loved was in danger.

Luke, the writer of the document called the Gospel of Luke, a trained physician and a trained observer, gives information the other documents, Matthew, Mark and John, do not. It is important to know Luke was not there. He was not an eyewitness. It would be years before he heard the stories. He was an investigator and found those who were there and asked questions. He interviewed eyewitnesses. He “having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account” [Luke 1:3 ESV] about what had happened. There is nothing extraordinary about his story of the night before Jesus’ murder, except for one thing. When Peter cut off the ear of the servant of the high priest Jesus healed the man’s ear. Jesus touched one who was charged with beginning his day of torture, injured by a sword meant to defend him and healed the man.

This is the action of a remarkable man. By the following nightfall Jesus knew he would be dead. Within days Jesus knew he would be alive again. He knew these things. Since Jesus was raised why would we think his healing an injured ear impossible? All who were there saw what he did. They witnessed his action.

Here are the words of an extraordinary man. “Then Jesus said to the chief priests and officers of the temple and elders, who had come out against him, ‘Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs? When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness'” [Luke 22:52-53 ESV].

We have eyewitness accounts of what happened. We have no evidence suggesting the man whose ear was severed and healed by Jesus kept the experience to himself. He probably told people what happened. How could he not tell what happened? His name was Malchus. One of Jesus’ followers knew the man. Even though he was the servant of the high priest, who wanted Jesus dead, he could not deny what Jesus had done for him. Nothing that happened that night is contested. There is too much evidence seen by too many people who were there.

In the same way we can be confident of the history of the arrest of Jesus on the Mount of Olives we can believe the truth of his resurrection.

Predictions

Everyone I know has at some time said they would like to know the future. Some want to know so they can take advantage of the knowledge and gain stuff. Others want to know so they can make important, or maybe not-so-important, decisions about love and work and school and life. Others want to know so they can avoid pain. I wish I knew.

Our minds and imaginations manufacture what we want, not what will happen or what we don’t want, often elaborating on worse case scenarios until we cease to function rationally. Rarely will a dream come true. Maybe some part of it will happen but to convince ourselves this is the way, and only way, our dreams or desires can be filled lacks rational thought and emotional understanding. Those who think they can predict the future, or believe the future can be known, are wrong. When they are right it isn’t because they have some special insight or power or position. If this were true everything they said would come true one hundred percent of the time. One missed guess or prediction and their reputation ruptures draining integrity.

I am going to say Jesus is different. His resurrection from the dead, an impossible occurrence happening after an absolute death lends credence to all of his words and actions. He predicted his death in a specific way and he predicted he would come back to life. He based his predictions upon 1500 years of writing.

And taking the twelve, he said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise. [Luke 18:31-33 ESV]

If he were like most of us, knowing what would happen in Jerusalem, he would not have gone. Something was driving him there. Either that or he was crazy, loony as any madman in the most secure psychiatric ward in any country at any time. Going somewhere knowing, or believing, you will be tortured is not the thinking of a rational person but the raving of a man so completely deluded nothing he said is trustworthy. Everything he said should be ignored, discarded as a rant. All of his history should be tossed in the trash bin and forgotten. No one in their right mind, in the wholeness of the thinking of their heart, will go somewhere and invite mockery and shame, flogging and crucifixion. Only mad men follow a madman.

Unless his appointment in Jerusalem carried a reason we know nothing about or refuse to see and acknowledge as truth. More importantly for now, he said he would die and be raised from the dead. All of the evidence says he died. He did not faint or swoon. No one else took his place while he hid and ran away seeking to foist upon history the most elaborate hoax possible. His body died as he said it would. He was raised as he said he would.

He didn’t just give his prediction to a random crowd or handful of unknown people. He spoke to those who had followed him for several years. Naturally, we think they believed him because they were so enamored by his teaching and irrationally dedicated to his mission they could do nothing else. Naturally, we would be wrong. They didn’t believe him. “But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said” [Luke 18:34 ESV].

One of his followers, Judas, would betray him for money, selling Jesus to those who wanted him dead, giving them the opportunity to capture him away from crowds during the darkest time of night. Others would scatter, leaving him to die alone. One, Peter, would stand before a group and deny knowing him three times even after declaring his intention to die for him in private. Only one would find himself at the foot of the cross, standing by helplessly as Jesus was executed. They didn’t believe his words until after he was raised. One of them, Thomas, refused to believe the others who said they saw Jesus alive after he had died, unless he could touch the man, put his fingers in the actual wounds.

These are not the actions of a group of irrational people following a madman. They acted the way they were supposed to act, with hatred and fear and anger and disbelief. They grieved at his death the way people really grieve. When they saw him alive they acted the way a person would act who witnessed the impossible.

Jesus predicted his death and how he would die. Jesus predicted his resurrection, that he would come back to life. All of the evidence says it happened the way he said it would.