NOT DURING THE FEAST
Dear friends in Christ,
I know a pastor who was hopelessly in love and was romancing his future wife. I have never known someone who did some of the things he did. Women would say “how romantic!” Many men, including this one, would say, “He will never keep it up. He is going to run out of money or ideas.” To give you an idea of the lengths he went, the night he asked her to marry him he took her to a stage performance of a well-known musical. At the end of the performance, he had arranged a screen to drop down on the stage with this sentence, “Jennifer, will you marry me?”
Before someone does something like that you better be sure that the answer will be “yes.” A few years ago a man proposed to a girlfriend at halftime on the basketball floor of a Houston Rockets game. It was being telecast on TV. The guy got down on one knee, she ran off the court. It was quite embarrassing for the man and the announcers who thought for sure there would be a happy ending. It turned sour. She wasn’t ready. The timing wasn’t good.
Tonight’s Lenten lesson was also about timing. The religious leaders wanted to kill Jesus their way and in their timeframe; the Heavenly Father timed it in his time and his way for his purposes. Tonight we consider the statement of those religious leaders: “Not During the Festival.
The festival is, of course, the Passover. It was the most important festival of the Jewish church year. Passover was followed by a week-long celebration known as the Festival of Unleavened Bread. During the Passover, Jewish pilgrims from all around the then known world flooded Jerusalem. What Matthew describes took place two days before on Tuesday of Holy Week.
Two groups were meeting about the same time - Jesus and his disciples on the Mount of Olives just outside the city of Jerusalem, and the chief priest and the elders of the people at the palace of Caiaphas. Caiaphas and the elders were the enemies of Jesus.
Let’s discuss Caiaphas and his people first. “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. “But not during the festival,” they said, “or there may be a riot among the people.” What were these Jewish leaders doing? Matthew says, “They schemed to arrest Jesus secretly and kill him.”The leaders of the Jewish nation, the men charged with both justice and religious purity, hated Jesus so much that they were plotting to kill him. They wanted to murder him in some sly and secret and treacherous way. They also wanted to make sure that they wouldn’t be blamed for it.
So they reached a consensus on one important issue: not during the festival. The
Bible doesn’t even tell us who said these words, because it doesn’t matter. They all recognized the wisdom of this statement. It would be so much easier to deal with Jesus after the Passover was over when the crowds were gone; when Jerusalem would once again become a relatively sleepy, provincial capital. Then they could do whatever they wanted with Jesus. But not during the festival.
It is sad to think that people who were supposed to be the head of spiritual matters in Israel, people like the High Priest and the elders, people that John Q. Public was to look up to, could be guilty of something so vile.
Why did they hate Jesus so much? They had political reasons for hating him. Caiaphas was in his fifteenth year as high priest. Like any Jew he wanted Israel to be free, but an uneasy compromise had been forged over the years with Rome. Ever since the Romans had conquered Israel in 63 BC under Pompey, there had been all kinds of uprisings led by wannbe “messiahs”. Another, Caiaphas thought, would push Rome’s patience too far. The balance where Rome gave Israel a bit of freedom to practice their religion and allow him to have the power and authority would be shattered. Jesus needed to be dealt with. But not during the feast.
There were religious reasons too for plotting against him. People were hailing Jesus to be more than just a man. And Jesus didn’t seem to deny the things people were saying about him. Yeah, there were the wonders he performed but they could be explained. They were hoaxes; they were done by the Devil with whom Jesus was in cahoots. They needed to get rid of him. But not during the feast.
And then there were the personal reasons each had a bone to pick with Jesus. Every public debate that came up between them and Jesus always ended embarrassing the leaders. He called them “vipers,” “whitewashed sepulchers,” “devourers of widow’s houses.” They agreed to get rid of him but not during the feast.
So the plan was set. An unholy plan. An evil plan. Done their way and in their timeframe. We need to get rid of him, but not during the feast.
That’s the way it is with people – people of faith and people with no faith. We have our own plans but forget to say, “Thy will be done.” These “spiritual” leaders had a lot of gall. Murder is not the will of God. It never is. No evil plan has the blessing of God.
That not only applies to evil plans but also to plans that might be the best intentioned except it was not submitted to God’s Word and to God in prayer. What are the motives? Would God approve if he were sitting across the desk from you? Are you willing to accept the answer no and abandon the plan. James writes, “Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15 Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.”
A clergyman, better than a century ago, pronounced from his pulpit and in a periodical he edited that a heavier-than-air flight was both impossible and contrary to the will of God. Oh, the irony that Bishop Wright said those words and he had two sons, Orville and Wilbur! Wright was wrong. Sure of himself, but wrong.That’s an irony, isn’t it?
So it was in Jerusalem where the Caiaphas and the leaders were and where Jesus was with his disciples in another part of the city. “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.”
The religious leaders would get their way for parts of three days. They put Jesus out of commission for all three days. He would die, all right! But it would not last! So they didn’t get their way. Because God had a different will.
“But not during the feast” didn’t turn out that way at all. There would be nothing secret or sly about what would happen to Jesus. He wasn’t going to be stabbed in the back by a paid assassin on some back alley street. He wasn’t going to just disappear with his body buried in some grave never to be found again.
But not during the feast was laughably untrue. By definition, crucifixion was a public act. Romans were the only ones who could execute. Jewish leadership did not have authority to execute. The death sentence required a legal proceeding. It was on the record. Nothing was in secret here either.
In Jerusalem, it meant that Jesus
had to march throughout the streets bearing the instrument which would cause his death. The victim had to march through streets of the city to where executions took place. Nothing about Jesus’ death was what the Jewish leaders expected or wanted. We can see who was really in charge here.
Crucifixion involved tying or nailing the victim to a post and letting him hang, sometimes for days, until he died, for all to see. Nothing secret about that. God announced the crucifixion with an eerie darkness that all experienced. Nothing about that either.
Sure God used the Passover to deliver his people from Egypt, but there was a greater more important and more necessary picture that they saw and we see.
Israel was in bondage to Egypt. The world is in even greater bondage – to our own sin, its curse of death.
For freedom God commanded Israel to slay a sheep, without spot or blemish. Jesus is the perfect Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
For freedom God commanded the blood to be smeared on the doorposts of the homes. How can we not see the blood stains on the cross?
The angel of death would pass over and spare the lives of the members of that household. The blood of Jesus saves us.
Sin can no longer condemn those who in Christ Jesus. Death becomes the gateway to the real Promised Land, the eternal one, the forever one.
So what is the irony of these words? The real irony is not in their fears of what would happen if they killed Jesus during the feast, the real irony is that God used their hatred to save.