Matthew 26:1-5 – Plot Lines Running Together: Human History & God’s Plan

Posted: March 27, 2016 in 40-Gospel of Matthew

Matthew 26:1-5

Religious Leaders Plot to Kill Jesus

Have you ever watched the NCAA tournament? Well, duh! Most of have watched at least a couple of games this year? I love to watch the pre-game broadcasts where they do special features on certain players and/or coaches as the teams progress through the tournament. Not to make light of it, but most times, the networks will look for compelling or feel good stories or stories of living through tough times or tragedy. And then there are teams that are destined for greatness by the sheer volume of talent assembled on their teams. And, of course, everyone loves the Cindarella team that comes out of seemingly nowhere to make a splash in the tournament. You throw all these things together and it makes for great cinema. Plot lines running deep for the teams in their quest for the championship. Plot lines converging and exploding. Plot lines that make you feel happy for the victor and exceedingly sad for the loser. That’s what makes the NCAA basketball tournament so great. It’s survive and advance. It’s the sudden halt to a great season. It Cindarella vs. the established giant. It is tradition vs. upstart. It is a team with one great player vs. a team full of good players. It’s a kid from the inner city who grew up rough vs. the country kid who grew up dirt poor. It is multiple plot lines coming together to play themselves out.

 

It is that idea of various plot lines coming together that I think of when I read this passage for today, Matthew 26:1-5:

 

26 When Jesus had finished saying all these things, he said to his disciples, 2 “As you know, the Passover is two days away—and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.”

 3 Then the chief priests and the elders of the people assembled in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, 4 and they schemed to arrest Jesus secretly and kill him. 5 “But not during the festival,” they said, “or there may be a riot among the people.”

 

There are two stories, two plot lines coming together. I think that is why Matthew separates this passage into two parts on the page. There is God’s overarching plan in vv. 1-2 and then there is man’s plan in vv. 3-5. Today, we will look at those two plot lines converging together but we will do it in reverse of the way Matthew presents it on the page. First, we will look at man’s plan. We will look at why the Jewish leaders wanted Jesus dead (not just discredited but dead). Then, we will look at God’s plan for all of this that come together to make the plan that He had all along from the beginning of time.

 

 

First, when we look at this short passage, we need to consider the last three of the five verses first. There, you will find the the human story, the immediate plot line of this story. We see that the chief priests and the elders of the people gathering at what I would call the fancy parsonage of the high priest, the residence of the chief of all Judaism as it existed in the first century. Caiaphas was the ruling high priest during the time of Jesus’ ministry. He was the son-in-law of the previous high priest, Annas. The Roman government had taken over the process of appointing all political and religious leaders in Palestine. Caiaphas served for 18 years, longer than most high priests, which suggests that he was gifted at cooperating with and appeasing his Roman overlords. To Caiaphas and the establishment over which he was allowed to reign, Jesus was a threat.

 

But, why? Why was Jesus a threat to them to the point that they were willing to kill Him. One reason was that Jesus was a challenge to their authority. When Jesus claimed to be the Messiah it meant His authority outweighed their authority. The religious leaders did not believe His claims and were angry that some of the people did. When Jesus claimed to be the Messiah it meant His authority outweighed their authority. The religious leaders did not believe His claims and were angry that some of the people did. Another reason was that the deeds of Jesus also angered the religious leaders. After seeing Jesus heal a demon-possessed man some of the multitude questioned if Jesus could be the Messiah. The miracle was undeniable, for the man was blind and mute as well as demon-possessed. Rather than believe Jesus to be the Messiah, these religious rulers attributed Jesus’ power to the devil. Thus their “official” explanation was that Jesus’ power came from Satan. This was another cause for which they wanted Him dead. Jesus was also a threat to their religious system. He pointed out the hypocrisy that was connected with their practice. The Bible records that on two different occasions He came into the temple precincts and drove out the moneychangers. The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. And he found in the temple those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. Jesus said this little economic system that they had set up had made the Temple a den of thieves and not the holy place that it was intended to be. Since the religious elite had condoned these practices, Jesus was indicting them publicly for hypocrisy. In a society built on people of God and the center of their life being Jerusalem and its temple, these things were a big deal and surely motivated them to discredit Jesus and they had tried as we have seen. They had failed and Jesus continued to make fools of them publicly in their confrontations in the Temple. Another reason that wanted Jesus gone was the fact that he socialized with the very people that they wanted nothing to do with. The religious leaders were filled with pride and arrogance. They were particularly proud that they did not socialize with “sinners.” They did not believe that the Messiah would socialize with such a crowd.

 

Sure, these were reasons to get rid of Jesus quickly and quietly but to kill him? The three most important reasons that they had to have Jesus killed had to do with position and power. Jesus had great disdain for the traditions established by the Jewish religious elite. As much as anything, the lack of respect that Jesus had for their religious traditions incensed the religious leaders. Jesus ignored these traditions, which they observed so minutely. He knew they were human-made rules that had not come from God. And it was Jesus’ disregard for their traditions concerning the Sabbath that caused the most outrage. God had commanded the Sabbath to be a day of rest from labors and a time to worship Him. The religious leaders added all types of restrictions to the Sabbath making it difficult, if not impossible to observe. Jesus was grieved and angry at the way they had perverted the Sabbath observance. Jesus then healed a man in their presence. This healing on the Sabbath was more than they could endure. They concluded that the genuine Messiah would not dare do such a thing. Again, these things were important to them and might have been enough for Jesus to be punished and jailed…but….killed? All of these things are big enough deals together to make these pious men feel threatened by Jesus’ “new ideas” and might have been enough for exile or jail or something like that to quiet this Jesus down. Killed? Was that necessary?

 

The next most important thing was that Jesus was a threat to their hold on political power. Jesus was becoming increasingly popular. He was preaching God’s love for all mankind and it was so completely opposite of the legalistic ways of Judaism at the time, all rules and no heart. Performance over grace. This was an immensely popular message in a society where people were so concerned about religious appearance that there was a great divide between those who maintained God’s house and most of the people. Many felt disenfranchised from their faith because of the legalism of the Jewish leaders. Jesus was calling for a complete overhaul in how people thought about the kingdom of God. He publicly charged the religious elite with hypocrisy. This was causing an uproar in Israel.

 

In the time of Christ, the social landscape included super-legalistic Pharisees, power-hungry Sadducees, favor-seeking Herodians, Jewish priests, and Roman rulers maintaining a precarious order. In all of their history together, these groups may have agreed on only one thing: Jesus had to die.

 

  • Jesus was a threat to the Pharisees’ beliefs, social position, and power—but they were unable to kill Him outright. Although the Jews could execute someone for religious reasons (see Stephen’s stoning in Acts 7), if the Pharisees had personally killed Jesus, they would have faced an angry populace and lost even more influence (Luke 20:19). Unable to get rid of Jesus themselves, the Pharisees had to find political justification for an execution. Then Rome could do the dirty work.

 

  • The middle men between the Jews and the Romans were the Sadducees. Sadducees were upper class. They held the majority of the positions in the Sanhedrin and the most political power. But because the Pharisees were so influential among the people, the Sadducees often had to bow to the will of the Pharisees in the Sanhedrin. It was simple for the Pharisees to convince the Sadducees that, if Jesus were allowed to live, He would inspire a revolt and bring the wrath of Rome on all of Israel. As much as the Sadducees longed for the day when they could rule without foreign interference, they knew that any revolt had to be absolutely successful or Israel would be destroyed. They, too, needed Jesus out of the way because they wanted to maintain their wealth and power and influence.

 

  • Meanwhile, the Roman rulers in Palestine were charged with keeping the peace. If violence erupted (which it did occasionally), Caesar would come down hard on both the Jews and the appointed Roman leaders. Pilate was an ambitious man from what we know from historical records. If he could not manage a “backwater district” of the empire, how could he expect to advance his way back to Rome through the ranks of Roman appointments. He needed a peaceful and orderly Israel. This Jesus was a wildly popular figure but was not necessarily a direct threat to Rome but any insurrection that could be an offshoot of Jesus’ public persona would make it difficult for Pilate to maintain order. It is easy to kill the leader of a potential revolution than to have to quell an entire nation in revolt.

 

As you can see there were a lot of reasons that Jesus was troubling not only to the Jews but to Roman rule. As you can see as we walk through this historical background, there were growing reasons for the Jews to want Him dead and for the Romans to keep an eye on Him. All of it was a threat to the status quo and the tentative and tenuous détente with the Romans. But none of it was good enough to fully discredit Jesus with the people, not make Him a martyr to inspire revolution, and not make him more popular in prison than out. They needed Him dead and discredited with the people at the same time. None of the building evidence was good enough to do all that. They needed Him to do one thing. They need Jesus to say out loud in front of them that He was the Messiah, the Son of God. That would be blasphemy to them! They longed for the Messiah but if anyone claimed to be the Messiah they would commit blasphemy (the ultimate no-win scenario). That would be what they would get, the evidence that they needed. Jesus gave it to them later at his trumped up trial. But as you can see there were building political, social, and economic reasons for Jesus to be taken out of the picture. Are there reasons that you do not want to deal with Jesus? Are you like the Pharisees and Sadducees and the Romans who had some reason they wanted Jesus out of the way? Why is it that you do not want Jesus to be the Son of God? Is there a reason that you have not accepted Jesus into your heart? Why is that you want Jesus to just be a choice of many choices? Why is it important to make Him less than He says He is? What is your reason for crucifying Jesus?

 

That’s the human plot line. Now let’s move to the heavenly plot line. But why did He die? We have learned about the historical circumstances arise at that time that came into confluence and led to His death. It was not some random killing of a prophet. It was a cool, cold, calculated execution of a political, social and economic threat. But there is a higher plot line. There is a higher plane on which this execution operates. God works in history. He works in the context of people and personalities and politics to teach us, correct us, and act on our behalf.

 

Jesus came to earth to make this happen. Why did he have to die? The death of Jesus and His subsequent resurrection are at the heart of the Bible’s message. The Bible describes these events as “of first importance” (1 Corinthians 15:3). Without the death of Christ, there is no gospel; His cross truly is the crux of our faith. Jesus came to complete the Old Testament sacrificial system. In that system, imperfect animals born from imperfect parent animals were offered as temporary sacrifices to atone for the sins of their owners. Why? Because God said so. He said that this was the way to temporarily take care of our sin problems. But with imperfect animals, it was not a permanent solution. It was practice for the real deal.

 

Jesus came to earth, born of a woman not yet entered into by an imperfect man, born of a virgin and impregnated by the perfection of the Holy Spirit of God, to be born perfect without defilement and without being touched by impurity. He then grows up and during His life commits no sins. He is perfect and is of the same essence as God and who committed no sins ever. He was perfect. He was the perfect sacrifice. When he got nailed to the tree, it was to be the final sacrifice for all sin for all time. The sacrificial system finished with Jesus. Why? Because while on the cross, Jesus suffered the full wrath for all sin for all time, past, present and future of every man, woman and child ever. That is a lot of sin to take on. It was poured on Him by the Father. Since we are imperfect beings, we cannot be perfect and we need a substitute. We need a way to be made right with God. That is why Jesus’ death atones for our sins and reconciles us with God (Romans 5:10). And the Bible’s pretty clear why He had to die the way He did. He had to be whipped and remain silent and die on a cross (tree) in order to fulfill prophecy. He had to shed His blood because “it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life” (Leviticus 17:11 NIV). The cross fulfills the righteous requirement of the Law and establishes the New Covenant (Mark 14:24). It is all finished with Jesus. The redemptive plan is complete. All we have to do is believe in Jesus.

 

God used human history to bring Jesus to the cross to bring about the universally needed reconcilement. God uses our lives to bring us to our personal cross where we meet Jesus and become personally reconciled. The cosmic and the personal. The grand scale and the personal scale. Plot lines running together like two NCAA teams with their own stories of players and stories of those individual teams that crash together to create the mighty struggles that we call NCAA tournaments. The victory and the heartache of those games is greater when you know the stories and the plotlines behind the games. Plot lines that began in Eden when God began His redemptive plan for mankind crashing together with the immediate political, social and economic climate of human history in Palestine in the first century. God uses it all. He uses all our junk, all our experiences, all our mistakes, all our joys, all our sorrows, all our victories, all our defeats to be you and me individually to the cross just the same as He used the events of human history 2,000 years ago to bring about the pivotal moment in human history.

 

Ask the skeptic and the non-believer and they will say all these things that I recited in the first half of this blog which are all historically true and real. However, it takes faith to believe that God orchestrated this and that Jesus was God in the flesh. It takes faith to believe Jesus is who He blatantly tells us that He is. He is not just good prophet who died as a sacrifice to some political agenda. It was God orchestrating the events to bring about His solution to man’s sin problem – salvation through Jesus Christ. Do you have the faith to believe that today?

Amen and Amen.

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