1When Jesus had finished all these sayings, he said to his disciples, 2 “You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified.” 3 Then the chief priests and the elders of the people gathered in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, 4 and plotted together in order to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him. 5 But they said, “Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar among the people.”
45 Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him, 46 but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. 47 So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. 48 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.” 49 But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. 50 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.” 51 He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, 52 and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. 53 So from that day on they made plans to put him to death.
These two passages tell of two different events. But the two different events lead to the same conclusion. The Matthew account follows directly after Jesus’ discourse on the final judgment – the King separating the goats from the lambs. This particular discourse was very sharp, piercing into the hearts of every person hearing it. And it was especially devastating to the chief priests and the elders of the people. However, Matthew does not explain in great detail as to why the religious leaders made a decision to kill Jesus following His discourse. However, if we follow closely the life of Jesus as portrayed by Matthew we will find out very clearly that the religious leaders couldn’t tolerate Jesus’ teachings and miraculous signs, which gave Jesus His uncontested fame. Jesus gained a lot of followers in a very short period of time in His ministry. His miracles brought people to come to Him from all over the place. His teachings refreshed the common people who are always the underclass. Jesus was the beacon of hope for the hopeless crowd. In their observation and interaction with Jesus, the religious leaders finally decided to put a stop to all of that, by plotting to kill an innocent man, Jesus. Could it be fear that drove them mad? Could it be fear that provoked them to do evil? But, fear of what?
John depicts their intention more clearly in the other event. Now, the event as described in our passage in John 11 followed directly after Jesus resurrecting Lazarus from the dead. Jesus had just performed the miracle of the ages. A dead man rose up from the grave upon His calling. People saw this great miracle with their own eyes. This was not a rumor. A true event happened right in front of their own very eyes. There is no denying this event. Many people seized the opportunity to believe. It would be unthinkable not to believe. However, some people took this event differently. They were the spies that the religious leaders sent. As soon as the event concluded, they quickly reported it to the religious leaders. The report stunned the leaders. So they called for an emergency meeting.
All the important people came to the meeting, including the high priest. In panic they asked in the meeting as to how they should handle the situation that had gotten out of hand. Jesus rose to fame. And in this case, He was unbeatable. None could stop His fame. He grew even greater by the minute. Especially with the miracle of resurrection. The rarest of all miracles was just performed by Jesus. The leaders were afraid that everyone would believe in Him. It’s quite strange actually to think of the connection between “everyone will believe in him,” and “the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” My mind is tempted to say: “So what if everyone will believe in Jesus?” But to those who were threatened of their importance, position, and standing before the people, this was a big thing. The threat was real. They could not contain Jesus. They could not control Jesus. It’s quite difficult to appease the Romans from destroying the temple already. For it was custom for the conqueror to completely subdue the conquered nation by destroying their place of worship and replace it with the conqueror’s religion. Trying to keep the status quo was their goal. And Jesus was rattling their cage. The status quo was threatened.
Not only that they had felt ashamed and embarrassed before the people because Jesus had uncovered their true intention and cunning motivation, but also that they felt the urge to regain control because their livelihood was at stake. It’s their life. They could only survive if all the people submitted to their teaching and system. But at this point in time, Jesus had opened the eyes of the people that they were actually exploited by the religious leaders. More importantly, they were afraid that the Romans would then regard them useless and thus disposing them. And since Jesus’ movement was out of control, the Romans would resort to their military prowess in order to completely annihilate the Jewish nation. How much more that Jesus claimed to be the Son of God. This claim was a big deal to the Romans because the Romans believed that Caesar was the Son of God. Thus the accusation of Jesus inciting rebellion against Caesar. No wonder Pilate’s main interrogative question was about whether Jesus was king (John 18).
So, yeah, it was fear that drove the religious leaders. Fear led them to devise evil plan. They were afraid that their livelihood would be taken away from them. They were afraid that they would not be important again. They were afraid that they couldn’t keep things under control as the Romans were closely watching them. They were afraid that the already shattered Israel nation was to be completely obliterated. They were afraid that the pride and the privilege as the most beloved nation of YHWH would come to an end in their watch. So they had to do something. They had to do something quick and effective, even if it meant committing a great sin. Perhaps they thought that it would be a greater sin to let the nation be demolished than sacrificing one innocent man. And so was Caiaphas’ reasoning as he proposed in the emergency meeting. This in itself was a tricky and complicated reasoning, which was clouded by evil intent and motif. Mark 15:10 records: “10 For he perceived that it was out of envy that the chief priests had delivered him up.”
Fear upon fear was piling up in the hearts of the religious leaders. They were continuously driven by fear. For even the execution of their plan was also dictated by fear. They did not dare to take Jesus out in public. For they themselves knew that they were on the wrong. They themselves knew that what they were planning was actually unlawful and sinful before God. All was done in secret. The capture of Jesus was done in the dark of the night, through the betrayal of a close friend. The court was also held in secret. False witnesses were brought in order to throw Jesus out of balance. They were afraid of the people, because the people believed in Him. So they acted swiftly in order to avoid opposition by the people. Fear was their fuel.
And so fear was also the fuel of many of our decisions. From the most essential to the most trivial. We fear of illness. We fear for our future. We fear of how people would perceive us so we hide our true self behind our false self. We fear that our career would be jeopardized if we do not please the boss, so we do whatever the boss orders us to do even if his order is unethical. We fear if we do not bribe we would not get what we want. We fear our friends would leave us if we do not join in their drug use. We fear we would not be rich if we do not lie. We fear our church programs would not be successful if we do not give in to the demand of the people. We fear that our kids would leave if we do not shower them with lavish and luxurious gifts. We fear that people would look down on us if we do not live the high class lifestyle, so we chase money day and night. We fear that if we speak the truth people would be mad at us. We fear that we would have to be responsible for the baby in our womb that we decide to abort the precious living being. That’s just to name a few.
I don’t know what your specific fear is. I don’t know what kind of fear that is driving you to do things. But if we are honest, we are often driven by fear. And more often than not, it is not the fear of God that drives us, but of things very trivial. Surprisingly, even our fear of trivial matters might be able to drive us to do very bad things. Some people, because they are afraid of hunger, rob others even to the point of physically harming them in order to get enough money to eat. Fear is a powerful force. Once we are overcome by it, we can’t control it. Fear may force us to harm others. Fear, by nature, is selfish. It drives the self to protect its own self interest. Once the self is set to protect its self interest, it will demolish anything that gets in the way. The only good fear is the fear of God, for the fear of God is the only fear that will produce good things. But all other kinds of fear have the potential to lead us to sin. The selfishness of fear is also able to exploit the mind in order to justify the evil they do with a very reasonable argument. The religious leaders did. Their justification for plotting to kill Jesus was to save the nation of Israel, even though Jesus did not do anything wrong to deserve such condemnation. Their justification was not even warranted since it was not even true. But evil prevailed. And they chose to sin so greatly, because of their fear for trivials matters.
The million dollar question is: “What does it have to do with us?” The million dollar answer is: “It has everything to do with us!” Because we are also humans, just like the religious leaders in that passage. And we are also sinful. Moreover, we are also driven by fear just like them. Therefore, we also have the potential to do what they did. We could also do evil when we are to choose whether to face our fear or to submit to it. I guess another million dollar question is: “Is there a way out?” The answer is: “Yes there is.” But whether we would pick it up or not is another matter altogether. Now, the religious leaders had the option to swallow their pride and obey God’s law that says: “Do not murder.” Obviously they did not have any desire whatsoever to humble themselves. Their choice was then to ignore God’s command and went ahead with their cunning plan to murder an innocent man. Even though the governor had tried several times to prevent it from happening.
Back to us. What are we going to do with our fear? The Scripture today is teaching us not to do what the religious leaders did. The story is told us so we may know how evil the decision to murder Jesus is. The story is told so the world may know that Jesus was not condemned on the cross because He did something deserving it. Obviously, our spiritual learning from it is to avoid making a similar decision like what the religious leaders made. This is the first step. This story is meant to stop us from making the wrong decision. No matter what, we should not harm others. Even though our fear is great, we ought to remember not to break God’s law. When our fear of other things is great, my advice to you is to internalize our fear of God. The fear of God is THE cure to our fear of other things. The fear of God will stop us from breaking His law. Surely, the fear of God will stop us from harming others.
The next step is to face our fear. With the fear of God in our heart, we now have the courage to face our fear. From here on, the process will be easier. Do you know that Jesus modeled it for us when He prayed in the garden of Gethsemane? Jesus was overwhelmed with fear. Fear of the cup He ought to drink. I need to remind all of us that Jesus was every bit like us, only without sin. He was purely human too. However, we should also not pretend we understand what He was going through that day. He obviously did not fear the physical death nor the physical pain He had to endure. Something else must have made Him so afraid that his sweat was said to be like blood (Luke 22:39-46). But such discussion would be for another day. Now, when Jesus was in great fear in Gethsemane, He did not opt to harm others. He could, but He wouldn’t. Remember that He told Peter that He could call in 12 legions of angels to defend Him from His captors? 12 legions of angels would mean 72,000 angels on the ready with their swords drawn for battle. He could also command the wind and the storm to defend Him. Or he could simply show them His full glory. Yet He did not opt for any of that. Instead, He submitted to His Father in complete obedience. This, my dear brothers and sisters, is the key to face our fear. No matter what happens, we trust God that all is in His control. All we need to do is to obey Him. Thus we do not break His law. No excuse, no self justification, none of that. Jesus simply submitted and obeyed. The rule for us is exactly the same. We too, despite our great fear even to the point of death, ought to simply submit and obey God.
This is the way out. Let me repeat. First, we ought to internalize within our heart the fear of the Lord. This is to stop us from harming others. And second, as we face our fear, we submit and obey the Lord completely, just like Jesus did. We need to trust the Lord that He would surely do the right thing. We might not see it in this lifetime, Jesus also did not, for He died on the cross. But He saw it with faith. Three days later He became the living proof of God’s faithfulness. And so, no matter what, do not do what the religious leaders did. No matter how great our fear is, do not opt to harm others. No matter how difficult and painful it is, do not choose to sin. Amen.