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“The Characters of Lent: Caiaphas”
Matthew 26:57-66

Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Lent Service II—March 4, 2009

A few verses before this evening’s reading, Matthew reports, “The chief priests and the elders of the people assembled in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, and they plotted to arrest Jesus in some sly way and kill him.”

The first and most important thing a detective must determine when investigating a crime is motive.  In the Lenten story, what is the motive for the chief priests and the high priest Caiaphas to murder Jesus?  The vast majority of crimes are solved by following what is called “the money trail,” and following the money trail shows us their motive for Jesus’ death.

Mark reports that on Monday of Holy Week, “Jesus entered the temple area and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money-changers and the benches of those selling doves, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts.”

The temple at Jerusalem had become a big-business.  The historian Josephus tells us that out of the 50,000 citizens of Jerusalem, 10,000 of them were employed at the temple.  The sacrifices of the Old Testament required sacrificial animals, which were bought and sold in the temple courts.  There were also money-changers the temple courts because to pay the annual temple tax required of all Jews, Roman coins, with their with pagan images and inscriptions, had to be exchanged for Jewish currency.

Overseeing all of this commerce, and taking a sizable percentage of the profits for themselves, was the family of Annas, who had been appointed high priest in 6 A.D.  Annas made the high priesthood his family business.  Eventually five of his sons, and his son-in-law, Caiaphas, would occupy the office of high priest.  By the way, archaeology confirmed the New Testament when an elaborate burial box was discovered in an underground tomb near Jerusalem in 1990, bearing the inscription “Caiaphas.”  Most archaeologists believe this is indeed the burial box and even the very bones of the high priest Caiaphas in the Lenten story.

Annas and his sons, and his son-in-law, Caiaphas, transformed the temple into their own lucrative money-making enterprise, but when Jesus clears the temple courts on Monday of Holy Week, they fear he is bringing their profitable business to an end.  As Mark reports, “Jesus taught them, saying, ‘Is it not written: “My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations”? But you have made it “a den of robbers.”’ When the chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this they began looking for a way to kill him.”  That is the motive for the chief priests and the high priest Caiaphas to reject Jesus as the Messiah and to murder him.

Jesus said, “What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, yet lose his own soul?”  For Caiaphas and the other religious leaders who rejected Jesus, it came down to a question of choosing between their lucrative profits or THE Prophet.  Do not be like Caiaphas and the others, who were so focused on earthly profits, that they did not treasure the greatest Prophet of all.

That is the lesson of the Lenten story of Caiaphas.  Amen.

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