Jack Graham - The Passover Plot
There are conspiracy theories that abound. We're fascinated by these theories of what happened... what about the grassy knolls, were there multiple shooters? Conspiracy theories... We like to read them in literature whether it's fact or fiction. We think and the mystery involved. We go to movies that are about conspiracies. Conspiracy theories of all kinds! There was a conspiracy to kill Jesus. We're not talking about killing a president. We're talking about killing God; killing Jesus. And here's how it happened:
"Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread drew near, which is called the Passover. And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to put him to death, for they feared the people. Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was of the number of the twelve. He went away and conferred with the chief priests (there's conspiracy... conferring) with the chief priests and officers how he might betray him to them. And they were glad, and agreed to give him money. So he consented and sought an opportunity to betray him to them in the absence of the crowd". In this conspiracy... this Passover plot there are several scenes that I want you to view. One is what I'm going to call "confrontation".
What got Jesus killed? Well, let me remind you that Jesus rode into Jerusalem on that Sunday on the back of a donkey. His deity and His royalty on display as some were worshipping Him, thousands laying palm branches at His feet singing, "Hosanna, Hosanna to the King". And yet in humility on the back of that donkey our Lord came into the city. And then He cried over the city. He wept as He looked over the city in anticipation of the judgment that would come upon the city of Jerusalem as a few short years later in AD 70 it would be destroyed by Titus and the Roman legionnaires and the destruction that would come and the dispersion of the Jews into all the world. Jesus wept when He contemplated that. He wept as He saw the rejection of His own people, for the Scripture says, "He came unto His own and His own received Him not".
So Jesus cried. Not silently sobbing but copiously crying, heaving with sadness and brokenness over the city of Jerusalem. On Monday He would arrive at the Temple Mount and there He would cleanse the Temple, overturning tables. It was a violent act! Taking a whip and driving out the moneychangers; people who were abusing their role in the Temple and who were keeping outsiders, in particulars Gentiles from worshipping God. So Jesus became angry, righteously indignant, infuriated, outraged at what He saw taking place! And He cleansed the Temple and then took command of the Temple, because we know that on Monday, and then on Tuesday, and then on Wednesday that Jesus was in the Temple, teaching. The Gospel writers tell us He was also healing and blessing the people.
And in chapter 22 of verses... or chapter 21 of Luke rather, we know what Jesus was doing in the evening. Verse 37 and 38: "And every day He was teaching in the Temple. (okay, we've got that) and at night He went out and lodged on the mount called Olivet. And early in the morning all the people came to Him in the Temple to hear Him". So that's Tuesday and Wednesday. Imagine that! God the Creator sleeping on the side of a little hill called the Mount of Olives that He created! The one who put the stars in orbit is now sleeping under the stars. He's out there at night, camping with His disciples. And then He goes to the Temple on those days to follow, and He's teaching. And what was He teaching? We're told in the Gospel accounts that He was speaking of things to come, the Last Days, the final hours of human history. He was also speaking of the coming judgment upon Jerusalem. These were hard sayings.
I daresay when we arrive at a passage of judgment in the Scripture, you're not all that fired up about hearing a judgment sermon, but Jesus was giving judgment sermons that day. He was speaking of His deity and His authority. He was speaking of His death and His resurrection. And then He was speaking as well about practical things... about the relationship between God and government, and man and money, as He took the widow's mite and He demonstrated through the sacrifice of that widow how we are all to live generously. You see, Jesus refused to allow people to get comfortable in their religion. Jesus is not a comfortable, cozy Savior! That might surprise some of you.
As a matter of fact it can be unsettling to see the real Jesus, unnerving to hear some of the hard things that He said. Jesus comforts those who are troubled, and He troubles those who are comfortable. He came to comfort the afflicted but also to afflict the comfortable. And that made Him not only friends, but enemies. Jesus especially attacked false religion. He was especially strong against hypocrisy and living a lie! He was in one sense a revolutionary! But not in the political sense, not just to upset the status quo and to engage in a political showdown, but rather He came to bring a spiritual revolution! To change peoples' hearts and lives! He was not a mere reformer; He came to be the Redeemer, the Savior!
So Jesus came with a different kind of mission and a different kind of message, and that was confrontation. Jesus confronted all of this. How did Jesus come to die? I mean, how could He? It's surreal, isn't it? That the most perfect person who ever walked on planet earth was brutally murdered and shamefully executed? How in the world... dear God, how could that have happened? What killed Jesus? Who killed Jesus? How did it go so wrong? A conspiracy! A conspiracy between the Roman world and the religious world plotted the greatest crime in history during a Jewish festival known as Passover. In a time which the people could have and should have been drawing closer to God, the Messiah was murdered.
Hundreds of thousands of Jewish pilgrims had gathered in Jerusalem for this Passover festival, as many as two million would have been in and around Jerusalem at this time, expecting the celebration of Passover. Passover was a commemoration and a celebration; it was a time of remembrance the Exodus of Egypt as they remembered the Passover lamb, the blood of the lamb which was an anticipation of the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world. They remembered that; they reflected on that; and they rejoiced in their freedom! So thousands, and even millions were there! So the Romans were tense. The Romans... they never understood the Jews. In fact, the world really has never really understood God's plan and God's purposes with the Jews. But the Romans... they were really uptight about an uprising, a potential for a Jewish uprising. They were constantly on guard with this and for this. They were ready to put down any so-called messiah or deliverer that would cause them trouble.
Passover had strong political overtones because of the whole idea of the Exodus and the freedom of Israel, and then the anticipation of a Messiah among so many. So the plot was hatched. And who are the players in the plot? The conspiracy that killed Jesus. Well, let's start with the religious establishment. We've talked about them. The High Priest Caiaphas and his cohorts in the Temple, they plotted this. That's what we read just a moment ago, that at the feast of the unleavened bread in chapter 22 and verse 3: "the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to put Him to death". They were contemplating, they were conspiring, collaborating together. The religious establishment of Israel, the Sadducees, as I mentioned, they were rich, they were respected among many, they were religious. The Sadducees were part priests, part politicians and they loved their power and control. And they determined to stay in power regardless of the cost.
And Jesus, therefore, was a major threat to the power and the position of these Sadducees. Along with the Sadducees, the Pharisees, they stayed ticked off. They hated Jesus. They had rejected Jesus as the Messiah. So they're apart. And so you could say that superficial religion conspired against Christ. Religion without true faith and true repentance, religion of any kind, whether it is Jewish or Christian religion, without true repentance, without true faith is extremely dangerous! Hazardous to the health of your soul. And the people who plotted to murder Jesus were self-righteous and superficial and religious. Many people who profess religion do not possess a personal relationship with God. Many people who claim Christianity do not have a relationship with Jesus; they have never followed Jesus. They have traditional religion but not true righteousness.
And let me just pause here to say that religious position, religious power, religious professionalism, religious proximity, religious persuasion cannot, will not save! Never can, never could, never will! Religion without the love of God is powerless to change lives! Superficial religion, external religion is empty! Jesus summed it up, the Law and the Prophets by saying the first and greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, your mind, your soul, your strength; and the second commandment sums up the totality of the Law which is to love your neighbor as yourself! It's love! And the way you know the love of God is to experience the love of God! Jesus made it possible for us to love like this! Jesus made it possible for us to love people as God expects us to love people! This is why we talk about a personal relationship with Christ. We have experienced His love, we know His presence. It's not superficial; it's not religion; we know Jesus.
Superficial religion, the religious establishment conspired, and still does against Christ. That's number one. Number two, Judas Iscariot, which he represents blatant, godless, Satan-fueled hypocrisy. Verse 3 says "then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot who was of the number of the twelve". It's shocking but really not all that surprising that Satan would choose one of the inner circle of Jesus to participate in the plot to destroy Jesus. Satan entered into Judas. Satan didn't send one of his minions or demons; Satan himself embodied Judas Iscariot. So it's dark; it's sinister. Satan had always sought to foil the love of God and the plan of God. From the dawn of creation when Satan fell, throughout history there is this cosmic clash between Light and darkness, and good and evil, and God and Satan, and heaven and hell!
And so Satan enters into Judas and Judas goes to the religious established, the High Priest, the court of the high priest, and there he offers to sell out Jesus, and he settles for thirty pieces of silver! A paltry sum, really, for such a colossal crime! Thirty pieces of silver, basically the price of a slave. He sold his soul. He sold out His Savior for thirty pieces of silver. They say, every man has his price. What would you do for money? Sometimes we see other, view other sins as greater sins than the love of money, but the love of money, greed, put Jesus on the cross. There are all kinds of ideas as to why Judas did what he did. What would motivate this mole? Why would he do what he did? Some, of course, suggest it was because he was disillusioned, disappointed in Jesus. There's people today that get disillusioned in the Christian faith. Disillusioned because He's not the Savior that they anticipated. He didn't do what we expected Him to do, so we turn our backs.
Well, that was Judas! He was expecting a military Messiah. He was expecting a man to take charge, and perhaps even it's suggested that Judas was a part of Zelote party, or the party of the Zealots. We don't know, but he certainly could have been... probably was disappointed in Jesus and disillusioned. That may have contributed. Others have a more favorable view of why Judas did what he did. That he was trying to force the hand of Jesus, thinking, well, he believed in Jesus... Here's the idea: He believed in Jesus, but because Jesus was going in a different direction... Maybe Jesus was a little confused (he thought) and so if he set Him up against the Romans... against the religious established, then Jesus would rise up and take charge! Poor Judas, he was just mistaken, according to some. But it's very clear to me that he was motivated most likely for the money! We can make all kinds of excuses for this man, but Jesus said he did what he did because he was an unbeliever!
You say, "Where? How do you know he was an unbeliever"? John 6:64. This is not a man who was saved and lost his salvation. Jesus said he never believed. John 6:64: "Jesus knew from the beginning who they were that believed not, or did not believe, and who would betray Him". It was not a surprise that Judas did what he did. Now it was a surprise to the other disciples because the other disciples assumed Judas was a believer. After all, they elected him treasurer of the disciple band. They put him in charge of the safe! He must have been extremely respectable among the disciples. But John chapter 12 tells us that "he kept the bag". He held the possessions of the disciples. When Jesus at the Last Supper said, "One of you will betray me," the disciples never pointed a finger at Judas, but they said, "Is it me? Is it I"?
They didn't expect Judas to be the betrayer but he was! He was empowered by Satan; an unbeliever! And because of his greed, and perhaps his disillusionment, certainly his unbelief, he became a fertile plot, ground for this plot hatched out of hell. He was a hypocrite. Look, hypocrisy is one of Satan's weapons of mass destruction. Yes, millions are in hell because they believed the lies of Satan, and those who lied about God. They judged Jesus because they judged a hypocrite. Don't choose to reject Jesus because of a fraud. Look, there are frauds in every way of life, in every professions. There are frauds in the church. Unfortunately I'm all too familiar with that. I see it on a regular basis.
Jesus had a counterfeit out of the twelve He chose to accompany Him. The disciples, the apostles. But He also had eleven men who believed and changed the world. Empowered by the cross and the resurrection, these men martyred their lives for the sake of the Gospel! They suffered and shared the Gospel around the world! And let me tell you, while there are hypocrites in the Christian faith and among those of us in the church, yes, there are hypocrites, but there are millions of true believers who are in the Christian faith for all the right reasons! And who will love you like nobody else will love you. So don't throw Christ away because of some Judas. Don't go to hell because of some Judas... some liar, some thief, some unbeliever, some hypocrite! So now Satan controls the betrayer. He's the hit-man, but the divine plan of God is at work.
So I'm going to bring this message to a close, because there's a final point that you just have to hear, alright, Because while Satan and the enemies of Christ are collaborating to kill Jesus, God is planning, God is plotting a counter-conspiracy, a counter-attack to destroy the powers of sin and death on the cross! The Passover plot is the eternal plan of God! God Himself, before the foundation of the world, planned His mission on earth! And Peter in preaching in Acts chapter 2, verses 23 and 24 said this, "Men of Israel, hear these words. Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through Him in your midst as you yourselves know! This Jesus delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men".
So Peter boldly proclaims that while lawless, ruthless men... religious men as well, turned Him over to be killed, the Hand of God was in charge and in control. The prophet Isaiah tells us why. Isaiah 53, verse 5: "But He was wounded for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities, and upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace and with His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray. We've turned everyone to his own way". In other words, if you want to know who killed Jesus; who's a part of the plot, look in the mirror! Look in the mirror. It was our anger and our hate and our lust for power and control. Our sin, our ruthlessness, our hatred that plotted to put Christ on the cross.
But ultimately, eternally the last part of verse 6 says, "And the Lord has laid upon Him our iniquity". Later on in verse 10 it says, "Yet, it was the will of the Lord to crush Him". God the Father put His darling Son upon the cross. He prepared every step. He planned it. It's a counter-conspiracy. Out of His great love for us, to forgive us and to change us, and to save us, to redeem us from our sin God put Him on the cross. God was all in on the conspiracy. God is guilty of love in the first degree, in giving us His Son. And intense evil produced infinite good. And the cross is proof-positive that God takes evil and wickedness and transforms it by the power of His love.