The Danger of Religiosity, Political Expediency and the Weight of the Cultural Moment

We can be so caught up in our own lives and the world around us that we fail to recognize the God who gave us life and created the world.

I have been reading through the Gospel narratives leading up to the death and resurrection of Jesus during Lent. My reading included the following passage that jumped out at me:

“Then they led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the governor’s headquarters. It was early morning. They themselves did not enter the governor’s headquarters, so that they would not be defiled, but could eat the Passover.” 

John 18:28 ESV

I will get the point, but first we need to build in a little context. This passage describes a passing moment leading up to the crucifixion after Judas betrayed Jesus in the garden. Jesus was taken, first, to the palace of Annas (John 18:13) and then to Caiaphas, the Jewish High Priest. (John 18:14)

After Caiaphas questioned Jesus, Jesus was taken to the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate. The High Priest wanted Jesus put to death for blasphemy, but only the Roman state had authority to impose capital punishment.

Caiaphas was the High Priest who presided over the Sanhedrin, the official religious body recognized by the Romans. Caiaphas was made the High Priest by the Roman procurator Valerius Gratus. Annas, the father-in-law of Caiaphas, had presided over the Sanhedrin before Caiaphas.

They were the official heads of the ruling group of religious leaders in First Century Judea in the time of Jesus, the Sanhedrin. They stood between the Romans, who conquered and controlled the region, and the Jewish people on matters of the Jewish religion.

During this tumultuous time, a group of violent men, the Zealots, who were opposed to Roman rule threatened to upset the political balance and peace. Similarly, the growing, unpredictable following of Jesus posed a threat to the Sanhedrin’s position as trusted middlemen trying to preserve peace and the status quo.

Potential disruption threatened the delicate balance. The Sanhedrin tried to walk the line between the threat of the Roman Empire on the one side and the Zealots and others who might provoke the Romans to tighten their grip on Judea, dismiss the Sanhedrin from their power position, and clamp down on the freedoms of the Jewish people they ruled.

Tensions were not just a threat to the Sanhedrin, who were officially given some overlapping authority the Romans; they were legitimately a threat to the well-being of all the Jews in Judea. Thus, we read in John that Caiaphas advised “advised the Jewish leaders that it would be good if one man died for the people”. (John 18:14)

The suggestion was based on practical expediency. Though Jesus wasn’t a Zealot, he was very popular among the people, likely including the Zealots who hoped Jesus would spell the end of the Roman occupation.

The concerns of the religious leaders were no doubt heightened to a critical level when Jesus came riding into Jerusalem on a donkey in triumphant celebration greeted by a “great crowd” that lined the streets, waiving palm branches and shouting,

“Hosanna!…. Blessed is the king of Israel!”

John 12:12

I am going to get to the danger of religiosity, political expediency and the weight of the cultural moment as the title to this article promises. First, however, I want to develop the backstory a bit further. To do this, we need to jump forward several months in time.

Continue reading “The Danger of Religiosity, Political Expediency and the Weight of the Cultural Moment”

Palm Sunday: the Prelude to the Crucifixion

Jesus didn’t live up to the expectations of the crowd who followed him, and, no longer believing he was the Messiah they had hoped for, they turned on him

Depositphotos Image ID: 14273029 Copyright: zatletic

Today is Palm Sunday. This is the day we celebrate the “triumphal entry” of Jesus into the City of Jerusalem riding on a donkey. Many hundreds of thousands were gathered in Jerusalem for the coming Passover, and John tells us that the people were focused on Jesus because of crowd spreading the word that he had risen Lazarus from the dead just days before. (John 12:17-18 (“Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word. Many people, because they had heard that he had performed this sign, went out to meet him.”))

As Jesus entered the City, people lined the streets with palm branches, threw their cloaks on the road in front him, and venerated him with shouts of “Hosanna!” and “Blessed is the king who come in the name of the Lord!”

This is Luke’s account:

As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road.

When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen:

“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Luke 19:36-38)

And here is John’s account:

The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. 13They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD!” “Blessed is the king of Israel!” (John 12:12-13)

As we celebrate Palm Sunday today, we know that story is about to take a very drastic, tragic turn for the worse. The triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem is not the precursor to celebratory times, but the darkest of times. We should consider the incongruity that just days before Jesus was condemned by an angry crowd yelling, “Crucify him!”, he was hailed King of the Jews by an adoring crowd – and it was likely the same crowd!

What happened?

Continue reading “Palm Sunday: the Prelude to the Crucifixion”

Emptied of Glory and Obedient to Death

Depositphotos: 31617591 Copyright: DesignPicsInc

On Good Friday we remember the ultimate sacrifice God made for us. Not only did He empty Himself of His glory to become like us, taking on human flesh, but He was obedient to the law that He established for us – obedient to death – even death on the cross. We shudder at the thought of hanging on a cross, but it’s hard for us to imagine how utterly shameful crucifixion was in the 1st Century.[1]

This was not just a person, though, this was God who had already shed his glory to become like us and walked in humble obedience to all that He required of us – something that we do not even do ourselves. This man who hung tortuously and shamefully on the cross was also fully God who certainly suffered all the pain and shame that a man and God could possibly feel at the hands of His own creation.

In the article linked at the end of this blog piece, Trevin Wax makes three observations that have stuck with me since I read them: Continue reading “Emptied of Glory and Obedient to Death”

Christmas Thoughts: Psalm 22

We celebrate the humble birth of Christ, knowing that the redemptive work God started then is finished, even as it is playing out in our own lives and the times we live in.

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(c) Can Stock Photo / realcg

I don’t typically think of the Psalms when I think of Christmas. My Christmas thoughts this season have revolved around prophecies in the Old Testament, and that is where the Psalms enter the picture. The Old Testament is full of prophecies that came true in the person of Jesus from Nazareth, who was born in Bethlehem a little over two millennia ago.

Psalm 22 was written by David during his time of exile, either when he was on the run from King Saul, who had turned against him in jealousy, or from his son, Absalom, who sought to wrest the kingdom from David. Psalm 22 is David’s cry to God in the midst of his own circumstance.

But Psalm 22 is more than that. Psalm 22 is a foreshadowing of God’s own cry when His creation turns against Him. It becomes the cry of God, who shed his divine glory to enter His own creation in the form of a man, which we celebrate at Christmastime.  Continue reading “Christmas Thoughts: Psalm 22”

The Historical Christ

Perhaps, the most significant of the New Testament statements of the resurrection comes from Paul’s recollection of the events that occurred after the death of Jesus on the cross (1 Cor. 15:1-8).

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Once a year people remember the death of Jesus Christ on Good Friday. Few historical facts are as well-documented as the death of a man referred to as Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah (Hebrew) or Christ (Greek) around 33 A.D. The claim that he was resurrected from the dead is a different matter. The modern mind, influenced by many centuries of science and discovery and the relatively recent (200 hundred years) of ascension of materialist thought, is highly skeptical.

Looking back at the Gospel accounts with a modern, skeptical filter, the implausibility of the story colors our view. Some modern thinkers conclude that the story was manufactured by the followers of Jesus.

For what end, one might ask. What did it gain those early followers? If they knew it was a lie, why would they die for that lie?  Continue reading “The Historical Christ”