Ironies of the Passion
Not During the Feast
A sermon based on Matthew 26:1-5
Wednesday, March 15, 2017 – Midweek Lent 2
Timing is everything. Timing is important in comedy. The difference between a good joke and a late comeback is all in the timing. Timing is essential when dealing with other people. You don't ask for a raise when business is not going well and you don't ask for a favor when someone is angry. Timing is critical in cooking. The juicy burger on the grill is a lump of raw meat if under-cooked and a clump of charcoal if overcooked. Timing is important in hunting. Shoot too soon and you miss a better shot. Wait too long and your game might be spooked without you getting a shot at all. Timing makes all the difference in finance. When you buy and when you sell makes the difference between whether you make money or lose it. Yes, timing is everything.
That's how the chief priests and elders of Israel felt. They wanted Jesus dead. And they had plans to make it happen. But they needed to time it just right. They wanted Jesus arrested and killed, but in secret. They didn't want to get caught. They didn't want a riot to break out. So they plotted and planned to make the timing just right.
But, ironically, in spite of their best efforts and their timing, Jesus did things his own way. And his timing to be arrested and killed perfectly coincided with the only time they didn't want him arrested or killed. They said, "Not during the feast." But God's timing was perfect. Our text for consideration this evening is found in Matthew 26:1-5…
When Jesus had finished saying all these things, he said to his disciples, 2 "As you know, the Passover is two days away—and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified."
3 Then the chief priests and the elders of the people assembled in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, 4 and they plotted to arrest Jesus in some sly way and kill him. 5 "But not during the Feast," they said, "or there may be a riot among the people."
The chief priests and elders wanted to time Jesus' arrest and death to take place away from the crowds and away from watchful eyes. They wanted to keep their treacherous sin secret. And to do that, they wanted to avoid any public trials, they wanted to avoid the pilgrims that were in town for the feast—that is, the Passover celebration. One estimate said that Jerusalem swelled from 50,000 residents during most of the year to five times that at 250,000 residents during the Festival of the Passover. That's like the entire population of the Peninsula jumping to half the population of Anchorage (or sort of like what we see every year during the fishing season).
So if they wanted to keep their murder quiet, they certainly didn't need extra witnesses around. And they didn't want huge crowds of people—many of whom loved Jesus and believed him to be a miracle worker even if not the Messiah—ready to riot should they find out what the priests and elders intended to do with Jesus.
"They plotted to arrest Jesus in some sly way and kill him. 'But not during the Feast,' they said, 'or there may be a riot among the people.'"
Well, we get it don't we? We understand what the priests and elders were up to, because we've done it ourselves. Okay, so maybe we haven't plotted a secret murder. (I don't know. If you have, you've at least kept it secret from me.) But we have plotted our own sins in their various forms. We get impatient waiting for God's promised blessings. Heaven seems so far away. And we want immediate gratification right now, not delayed gratification for someday some number of decades from now! So when God's timing conflicts with ours, we do what we can to get what we want.
And like those priests and elders, we, of course, want to keep our sin a secret. So we plan to carry it out in some sly way… When no one else is at home, when we think no one else is watching, when it's late and night and everyone else is asleep, that's when we pull our pet sins, and take them out of the cage to run around a bit. That's when we do the things we'd never dream of doing if we knew others were watching. That's when we sin "in some sly way… or there may be a riot…" among my family, among my friends, among those I respect and care about.
And in a sense, that's when we too kill Jesus. After all, it was for our sins—the one's we slip into and the ones we love to pull out in secret—that Jesus had to die.
And, of course, you know that we can't keep any secrets from God. When we think no one else is at home, that no one else is watching, you know who's really looking right over your shoulder, who's watching as you again shatter his commandments, whose heart is breaking at your rebellion. You know that God sees it all.
And you know that in spite of your timing, in time you will regret your sin… always! You will either regret it in genuine contrition and repentance, or you will regret it eternally in suffering and torment. As one author once put it: We all face the choice between two pains: (And we must choose one!) The pain of self-denial or the pain of regret.
Since, in our impatience with God, we've often chosen self-indulgence over self-denial, then please, choose the pain of regret now in sincere repentance, rather than the pain of eternal regret. And when we do, we find the wonderful comfort that God has removed our sin in his good time…
Our timing is so often faulty. That's why the jokes fail and we rub others the wrong way. That's why we sometimes burn dinner and miss the shot. That's why we lose money in the market. And that's why we sin against God. If timing is everything, ours is so often waaaay off.
But God's timing… his is always spot on. God's timing is perfect. There's an old German proverb that says, "Der Mensch denkt, Gott lenkt." Translated literally, it's "Man thinks, God controls." You might say, "Man proposes, God disposes." It's a pithy way of paraphrasing Proverbs 19:21: "Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails." Sinful man plans for things to go one way, but our plans fail. God plans things another way, and his plans always work out.
It should be no surprise to you that it's always been this way; that God is in control of events and their timing. Galatians 4:4 says, "But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law…" God timed the events of Jesus' birth when things were just right according to his plan. When Mary told Jesus to deal with the lack of wine at a friend's wedding, Jesus replied (in John 2:4), "Dear woman, why do you involve me? … My time has not yet come." When his brothers told him, "Now is the time to capitalize on your celebrity," he told them (in John 7:6,8), "The right time for me has not yet come; for you any time is right… You go to the Feast. I am not yet going up to this Feast, because for me the right time has not yet come."
John 7:30 says, "They tried to seize [Jesus], but no one laid a hand on him, because his time had not yet come." And John 8:20 repeats it: "He spoke… in the temple area… Yet no one seized him, because his time had not yet come." Time and again, people made their plans for Jesus. But Jesus was in control of the events and of their timing.
And it was certainly the case with the timing of Jesus' arrest and death, that God, not the priests and elders, was in control. The priests and elders wanted to time their murder of Jesus in a way that would keep it secret. But God wanted to make it public. He timed it just right to have a large audience in Jerusalem (maybe 250,000 people!) gathered there for the Passover celebration. They wanted it any time except during the festival. But God wanted it during the festival. So Jesus told his disciples, "As you know, the Passover is two days away—and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified." That's when it would happen, when God was good and ready—not a moment before, nor a spit second after—no matter what the priests and elders tried to do.
And with Judas' betrayal, the hand of the priests and elders was forced to act right then! This was the opportunity they were waiting for. And, so, ironically, because they acted when they did, Jesus' arrest took place at the very time they had hoped to avoid—right during the Feast.
And God timed it just right, not only so there would be a large crowd from all over the Roman empire to witness or hear of Jesus' death, but it was timed perfectly to coincide with the Feast to highlight Jesus' death as the fulfillment of the Passover picture.
Remember what the Passover was all about? They were to take a lamb (one without any blemishes or defects) and keep it in their home for several days to grow attached to the cute, cuddly thing. Then on the day of the Feast, they were to slaughter it, drain its blood into a bowl, and paint it on the door frame of their house. They were to roast it whole (without breaking any bones) and eat it with their family all as a reenactment of that first Passover—the last of the 10 Plagues—that took place in Egypt right before God's people were freed from slavery and promised a new home, a Promised Land. And while God warned that the firstborn male of every home would be executed by his angel of death, he also promised that for those who painted the blood of the lamb on the door frames of their homes, the angel of death would pass over and they would be free. Thus the name, "Passover."
And of course, you see the clear picture of Jesus: a man without any blemishes or defects, morally perfect and pure, sinless in every way. And though he was very dear to the father, he was slaughtered for sinful mankind—and that without breaking a single bone! And for those who trust God's promise—that by his blood shed for us our sins are removed (even our "secret" sins that no one knows but us and God) and we too become perfect and pure, sinless just as he is—God's wrath will pass over us on the day of his judgment. And we have been set free from slavery to sin and promised a new home, a "Promised Land," not in the Middle East, but in heaven.
How fitting that Jesus' arrest and death took place during the Feast of Passover! Just as the lamb was slaughtered, so too Jesus became "the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29) And we too reenact the Passover, eating and drinking, not lamb and wine, but Jesus' very body and blood given and shed for us to take away our sin and give us the forgiveness he won in his death. Thank God for his perfect timing!
And now, this peace we have with God, with our every sin—public or secret—forgiven, erased, gone! …we find a peace and contentment that gives us patience while we wait for God's timing in our lives, even as we wait for the heaven he's promised each of us.
Woody Allen once said, "If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans." That was his way of saying, "Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails." (Proverbs 19:21) Don't let that stop you from planning ahead, but do know that God is ultimately in control. And that's definitely how you want it to be because God's plans mean your eternal salvation. Then, seeing how he timed it all perfectly for Jesus to pay for your sins and give you peace with him, don't plan to sin anymore. And when you do sin by mistake, don't plan to hide it and cover it up, but confess it. Plan to come hear those comforting words again, that in Jesus you are forgiven: "God, our heavenly Father, has forgiven all your sins. By the perfect life and innocent death of our Lord Jesus Christ, he has removed your guilt forever. You are his own dear child. May God give you strength to live according to his will." In the name of Jesus, the Lamb of God who took away the sin of the world, dear friends, amen.