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Wednesday, March 03, 2010

What did they really want?

Matthew 27:18 reads, “For he knew that because of envy they had handed Him over.”

Jesus was standing before Pilate, hearing all the abuses the chief priests and elders were raising against Him. The governor was amazed that Jesus said nothing in return. What did they want from Jesus that they did not have that they should envy Him?

The Merriam-Webster definition of envy is, “the painful or resentful awareness of an advantage enjoyed by another with a desire to possess the same advantage.” An obsolete definition is simply, “malice.” Middle English and old French (envie) and the Latin (invidia), have been understood to mean, “grudge, jealousy, ill-will.” This includes the idea of coveting, craving or desiring. The Greek word used in the passage is pronounced “fthontos” and means, “spite, jealousy.”

So what were the people jealous of? What did they covet of Jesus? What was driving their desire that they should turn Him over to be killed? This can cause us to press toward another question: why do people hate Jesus?

One place to begin would be to consider what one thinks of God, for how one responds to Him leads to a certain and particular response. “And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice . . .” (Romans 1:18-19). The chief priests and elders reached this point of hatred due to the decentrality of God. They had broken God’s civil law, God’s ceremonial law and are continuing to break God’s moral law. God is no longer a point of interest to them.

The sentence does not simply say they delivered Him up because they were envious of Jesus; rather, it says they delivered Him up because of envy. This is why the two concepts are different: the root of the Greek word here means, “waste, shrivel, whither, to spoil, ruin, corrupt, defile, destroy.” This explains how envy works as opposed to where it comes from. Perhaps an illustration would suffice here:

Two meteorologists were heard discussing tornadoes and how science affirms they exist (like the eyes and ears do not?), where they come from and how they work. The head-scratcher for them is, “why that shape? How does that happen?” They understand what forms the tornadoes; how wind, temperature and moisture cause the event; but, they do not know how or why a column of wind punches a hole in the clouds and forms a vacuum hose on the earth’s surface. They have the “why” but not the “how.”

This is like our little word her. We see it happen, we can certainly witness the aftermath; but, how does envy form? I believe the Apostle Paul helps us understand through two different letters:

First, “Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from good will; the latter do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment.” (Philippians 1:15-17) Selfishness is the motivation for envy, and this is idolatry. The ambition to Jesus’ accusers was to see Him dead, just as Paul’s enemies wanted him dead (at this point he was just in prison)—but why?

Second, “If anyone advocates a different doctrine and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness, he is conceited and understands nothing; but he has a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions, and constant friction between men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain.” (1 Timothy 6:3-5) It’s all there: denial, rejection, replacement.

One may ask, “if envy finds its source in rejecting God and it’s motivation is self-exaltation, then what exactly does this mean as it regards the demeanor with which Jesus was handed over?” The answer is that the persecutors and accusers of Jesus are demonstrating their rejection of God, God’s plan and God’s Messiah. They were looking (as many still are) for their own Savior who will be able to deliver their own agenda! This is envy!

Now we can ask, “What could they possibly want, and be jealous of?” Certainly it was one thing for Jesus as God to claim to be God, to act like God and speak like God. These well-trained religious leaders were no match for Him in word or work—so of course they would be jealous of a carpenter’s son! But is that it? Is this reason enough to deliver on over to die—because of jealousy? Of certainty one cannot ignore God’s instruction to not covet and to not kill, but one certainly does not exist without the other! If God and His word are denied and replaced, then what else could they be replaced with, but the one who does the denial and his way of doing things! No wonder Pilate could recognize envy when he saw it.

Imagine your neighbor has something you want. Your options are to go get something like what your neighbor (get the same kind of item); or, go take the very item from your neighbor. The second option disrupts peace, security, friendship, trust—everything is destroyed through violation. Jesus’ persecutors desired to destroy Jesus to get what He had. They wanted to exalt themselves as God because of their love for sin—that’s the bottom line. They wanted to strip Jesus of His divinity but He’d already beat them to it. He did not regard his deity as a thing they (or anyone) could understand, so He laid aside His glory and took up the form of a bondservant, that He might become obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross!

What we read in Romans 1:28-29 should come as no surprise. The one who does not acknowledge God does what is not proper and is full on envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice! Those who preach the gospel in order to elevate themselves also do it to discredit, ruin, hurt, and defile those who do it out of obedient love for their Lord. Those who are good at controversy are a controversy to themselves!

Pilate saw the crowd, listened to their words and saw them coming with envy. Pilate, in his own way, tried to divert the effort by offering an alternative—sort of.

Now, here’s a point of application:

1) In what ways have you participated in handing Jesus over with envy? You may say, “I wasn’t there, so I did no handing over of anybody.” True, but scripture is plain: there is none righteous, not even one. We are all sinners and, like the crowd, have broken God’s moral law by lying, stealing, committing adultery, blasphemy, and the list goes on. How are you acknowledging God in every aspect of your life? Have you done this your entire life?

2) Are you doing the things which are proper? Have you asked for the Holy Spirit to fill your life so that you may be more like Him, and by faith, put away the sins of the flesh because of His death, burial and resurrection?

God wants to build up.
Satan wants to tear down.
God wants encouragement.
Satan wants envy.
What do you want?

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