Feb 17, 2016 – Nicodemus and Caiaphas
Tonight as we continue through the shadow and light of our Lenten season we turn now to 2 masters in Israel, Nicodemus and Caiaphas. Both of these men were of high standing and in important leadership positions within Israel. These two men are most famous for what they have done in the shadow of night. Though in the case of Nicodemus what he did in the night has lead to the light of life in Jesus Christ for many people.
We first meet Nicodemus in John chapter 3 when he comes to Jesus at night to ask questions. As a Pharisee and a member of the ruling council of the Jews, Nicodemus knows what it means to learn by the asking and answering of questions. Jesus refers to Nicodemus as a ‘teacher of Israel’.
Without Nicodemus’ questions to Jesus, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” we would not have John 3:16 – For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. This one verse alone has led many to a clearer understanding of who Jesus is and why He came. And the next verse, though not a famous, is just as important and says, “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world but to save the world though Him.”
Nicodemus had asked Jesus to explain what it means to be “born again”. So we have Nicodemus to thank for asking the question we all need the answer to. Because of that question we know that only by the name of Jesus Christ do we have the light of salvation.
And then we have the other master, the high priest, Caiaphas. And again his action in the gospels takes place mostly at night. The exception is the verse that we read in scripture today from John. That verse is important because it shows that Caiaphas is squarely behind the plot to kill Jesus. It also shows that God still honored Caiaphas’ role as high priest because of the prophecy that comes from his mouth.
The fulfillment of that prophecy, that one man should die for the nation, and indeed for the world, is what God would use to bring the light of hope and salvation to everyone who, as John 3:16 & 17 tells us, believes in Jesus Christ. We all know that Caiaphas meant one dark and selfish thing by his words, but God used those same words for the greater purpose of revealing Jesus Who is the Light of the world: The one whom God sent to save the world and not condemn it.
We know that both Nicodemus and Caiaphas were fearful. But one was fearful for his power and prestige while the other was in fear of losing his soul. Nicodemus, yes came at night in the beginning because he was, perhaps, afraid to be seen with Jesus. But then because of the love he had for Jesus; at Jesus’ death he publically came to the Roman governor to ask for Jesus’ body. This would not have gone unnoticed by Caiaphas or the other Jewish leaders. Nicodemus had become not just curious about Jesus teachings, but a true devoted follower of Jesus.
Caiaphas also had been curious about Jesus’ teachings and he understood very well their meaning and implications. He knew that if what Jesus was teaching and saying were to be believed and trusted in by the people, then all that Caiaphas understood of his relationship with God, with his position of leadership and his status in the community would all radically change. Caiaphas knew that Jesus’ teachings meant a complete change of identity for the Jewish nation. It also meant a complete change of every individual’s heart and soul, and mind.
If Jesus, this itinerant teacher kept going, then Caiaphas would lose his status and more. He wanted to keep things ‘status quo’ so he could keep his dearly held position of power and leadership. It’s curious that even after Jesus’ resurrection Caiaphas maintained his position as we read in Acts. He and most of the Jews in that time, carried on as though Easter never happened.
And we see the same thing in our world today don’t we? People still carry on in the darkness of their lost condition as though the light of Easter sunrise has never happened. Yet for Nicodemus Easter sunrise brought to naught all the work that he’d done to give Jesus a proper Jewish burial. I’m quite sure that he was not disappointed about that though.
Nicodemus had come through both shadow and light with Jesus Christ. So also had Caiaphas though, as far as we know, he remained unchanged. For Nicodemus however, and for us as well, the prophecy of Caiaphas has come true. In the light of the gospel of the death of one man, Jesus, the nation and the world has, indeed, been saved. And been saved in Jesus name alone, amen.
Sermon #811 Rev. Thomas A. Rhodes, Pastor – Zion Lutheran Church, Bolivar, MO
Holy Gospel John 11:47-53, Matthew 26:57 & John 19:38-40
47 Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin.
“What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many miraculous signs. 48 If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”
49 Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, “You know nothing at all! 50 You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”
51 He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, 52 and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one. 53 So from that day on they plotted to take his life.
57 Those who had arrested Jesus took him to Caiaphas, the high priest, where the teachers of the law and the elders had assembled.
38 Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jews. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. 39 He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. 40 Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs.