Summary: Who is responsible for Jesus' death? Consider the men who plotted and carried it out.
Who is responsible for Jesus’ death? Judas bears guilt. He is the disciple who betrayed Jesus into the hands of his enemies. Peter and the other disciples bear guilt. They did not defend their Lord. Judas represents those whose purpose in life is merely to get ahead, to take advantage of whatever presents itself (even religion) to meet one’s own interests. The disciples represent those who put too much confidence in themselves rather than humbly seek the grace and strength of God.
What about others? Who else is culpable for Jesus’ death? This morning we meet the men who plotted and carried out his downfall.
Then those who had seized Jesus led him to Caiaphas the high priest, where the scribes and the elders had gathered.
We spent a fair amount of time last week pondering the motivation for Judas to betray Jesus. It remains a perplexing question. It is not so difficult, however, to perceive the motivation of these religious leaders. They hated Jesus. Why? Why such animosity? Quite simply, they were scandalized by Jesus. They were scandalized by what Jesus said about them, and what he claimed about himself.
First, about them. Consider this diatribe against the scribes and Pharisees.
“The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, 3 so practice and observe whatever they tell you—but not what they do. For they preach, but do not practice. 4 They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. 5 They do all their deeds to be seen by others….
“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in. 15 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.
16 “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ 17 You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred?... 23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. 24 You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!
25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.
27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. 28 So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
29 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, 30 saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. 33 You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? (Matthew 23:1-33).
You are a respected religious leader in your community and even in your country. Would you take kindly to such a public dressing down? And this is just one instance of Jesus speaking such harsh words publicly.
The other major religious group of leaders was that of the Sadducees. Many of the chief priests came from their party. Indeed, they might be regarded as the aristocracy of the Jewish community. They are not as highlighted as the Pharisees, but they also contested with Jesus and he gave warning against them as well: “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (Matthew 16:6). But the incident that would have insured their hostility and that of all the chief priests was his insolence on the temple grounds:
And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. 13 He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers” (Matthew 21:12-13). The chief priests had the authority to allow the selling that was going on and no doubt benefited from the activity. It doesn’t take a great deal of perception to see how Jesus’ words and actions have created enemies.