Perilous Times

Scripture: Isaiah 53:4-12; Psalm 27;1-6; John 11:54-12:11

The raising of Lazarus from the dead had set in motion the events of the final days of the life of Jesus on earth.

There existed within the Temple the Sanhedrin, the religious system’s high court, whose leader was the high priest Caiaphas. Also serving with him were the scribes, most of whom were Pharisees. These people served at the pleasure of the Roman government. They were expected to keep peace in the country. There are political consequences to Jesus’ popularity.

Even though the appointment of the High Priest was a lifetime appointment, during Roman rule the High Priest held office only as the discretion of the Roman government. The religious leaders have decided to serve Rome as well as God. Pilate’s predecessor had appointed Caiaphas as high priest and Pilate had retained him; Caiaphas had a 19-year tenure as high priest. Caiaphas knew how to cooperate with the Roman government. We would say that they had him “in their pocket.” Pilate, on the other hand, was afraid of the Sanhedrin over which Caiaphas presided. Caiaphas was in charge of the Temple treasury; he controlled the lower ranking priests and the Temple attendants. Caiaphas was in charge of the money changers and the animal merchants who occupied the porch of the Temple during Passover and no doubt profited from them.

And yet, Caiaphas, as the High Priest, was the religious leader in the Temple who once a year entered the Holy of Holies to offer sacrifice to Yahweh on behalf of the sins of the people!

Now what they hold most valuable, their position and their power, is at risk. They say to one another, “The Romans will come and take away from us the holy place and the nation.” They seem not to be concerned about the Romans coming and destroying Jerusalem. It is their power within the political and religious system that they are determined not to lose.

Caiaphas ends a meeting of the Sanhedrin with the decision that “It is better that this man be killed than the totality be punished on his account.” Political expediency.

It will be the Roman government, under Pilate, who actually decrees the death of Jesus when he is convinced that Jesus is a threat to his power within the Roman Empire. Caiaphas issues an arrest warrant for Jesus. “If anyone knows where He is, he should report it so that the Temple police might seize Him.”

Therefore, Jesus takes his disciples with Him and goes to the village of Ephraim located in the wild, uncultivated hill country about thirteen miles to the northeast of Jerusalem. Jesus is not attempting to avoid the inevitable, but his sacrificial death will happen on the time of his heavenly Father’s choosing, not on the schedule of Caiaphas.

When Passover is near, Jesus and the disciples begin their final journey toward Jerusalem and the celebration of remembrance. This is more than a geographical journey; it is a journey that will change the course of spiritual history. This Passover will be different. At this Passover Jesus will talk with them about how his body will be broken and how his blood will be shed. It is reasonable to believe that none of those disciples, except perhaps Judas, has any real comprehension of the horrible events that lie ahead.

On the way, they stop in Bethany where they spend time with some of Jesus’ closest friends, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. While they are there, the family holds a dinner for them. That stop at the home of his friends creates another problem. Such an event cannot be contained in secrecy. The news has spread far and wide.

Nothing in their experience has ever been witnessed by anyone before. It almost must be seen to be believed that a man who was dead has been restored to life, and now both he and the One who had made that happen were in the same house. When the people hear that both Jesus and Lazarus are in the same house a great crowd gathers outside of the house in the hope of seeing both of them. It is no longer safe for Lazarus to go out into public either. The Sanhedrin also think that it will be necessary to somehow kill him as well so that Lazarus is no longer a walking, talking example of the power of this man Jesus.

It is at the dinner that night that Mary is overcome with such love and gratitude for who Jesus is and what Jesus has done that she breaks open a pound of pure nard and pours it on his feet and dries them with her hair. Mary is always the one of the two sisters who so easily expresses her devotion to Jesus.

The bottle of precious perfume with which Mary has anointed Jesus would have represented what today for us would have been our investment account. Its cost represented a year’s salary in that day. In today’s economy, a pound of pure nard, an oil that is made from plants grown in Nepal and China, and India, would cost about $6,000. When the oil was poured out its fragrance would have filled the house with a sweet aroma.

It is in that very moment of Mary’s tender expression of love and thanksgiving that Judas speaks, and we have our first clue about his real character. Paraphrasing, Judas asks, “Why are you wasting all of that money on Jesus when you could have sold it, given it to me for the treasury, and we could have helped the poor?” Poor Judas! He is a thief. He is an embezzler. He helps himself to what he wants to use from the disciples’ treasury. He cares nothing for the poor. He cares only for himself.

The burden of sadness upon Jesus must have been almost unbearable. He has called this man, Judas, to be one of his disciples, to learn of Him, to follow Him, and to teach others about Him. Jesus has surely known all about Judas, but forgiveness is still available if only Judas would change his mind about his intentions.

Jesus speaks freely to the family about his impending death. Mary has anointed Him with this costly perfume prior to his death. There must have been an overwhelming grief among all those present who so loved Him. There must have been much protesting, much pleading with Him, to not let this happen.

Outside the noise of the great crowd of people can be heard calling for Jesus and Lazarus to come out. Among the crowd of people were the Temple authorities.

Their safety is in grave danger from the Temple authorities and the curiosity seekers who surround the house. They will not go outside until the next day when the crowd had dispersed.

On the morrow Jesus will make arrangements for his final journey into the city of Jerusalem. They must prepare for Passover. Judas will strike a bargain for the betrayal of Jesus. The Man who has the power to raise people from the dead will give himself as a sacrifice for the sins of all people so that eternal life is possible for all who will accept it.

This is now our fifth week of the observance of Lent, the days of our journey with Jesus to Jerusalem. These have been intended to be our days of

  • examination of our spiritual relationship with Jesus;
  • seeking forgiveness where it is needed from God and from others (praying “forgive us our sins against You in the same way we forgive those who we believe have sinned against us;
  • committing ourselves for the first time or renewing our commitment to be followers of Jesus Christ as Lord,
  • committing ourselves to be the person that God has called us to be, and to do what God has called us and equipped us to do.

Jesus had taught those who gathered around him so often, “If anyone wishes to follow Me, let that person deny himself/herself, and take up their cross daily and follow Me, conform wholly to my example in living, and, if need be, in dying.” (Luke 9:23 Amplified New Testament) “And the person who does not conform wholly to my example in living, and if need be in dying also, is not worthy of Me.” (Matthew 9:38 Amplified New Testament)

The words of Jesus are at once an invitation to follow Him and instructions for our living. May we be found faithful in our living, and if need be, in our dying.