Books, Faith, Guest posting

Spiritual Growth Lessons from…Caiaphas?

Spiritual Growth Lessons from…Caiaphas?

 As we wind down these final days until Refine {the retreat} I’ve invited a friend to write here today. I’m honored to share the following article from my friend, and fellow Author, Ed Cyzewski.

Spiritual Growth Lessons from… Caiaphas?

When I think of Caiaphas, I think of a scheming, murderous, angry priest dressed in black who became obsessed with murdering Jesus. Just about everybody loves Jesus, so it’s hard to imagine how anyone could plot to kill him. Caiaphas appears so evil that he’s hardly recognizable as a real historical character.

I used to see Caiaphas as a kind of foil for Jesus. We need him in the Gospel stories to show us just how good Jesus could be, even forgiving his worst enemies.


I’ve since learned that there’s another way we can relate to Caiaphas. Yes, we may not be plotting the murder of a major religious figure, but we can learn from the qualities, actions, and values that made Caiaphas who he was and determined the course his life took. We may never turn out anywhere near as bad as Caiaphas, but he does serve as a magnifying glass for the ways we can go off track in life.

As we meditate on the Gospel stories during Lent this year, why not spend a little time walking through the Gospel stories from the perspective of Caiaphas? He’s an essential character in the lead up to the cross, and he has a lot to teach us.

The Downside of Self-Reliance

While Caiaphas was certainly open to God swooping down to destroy the Roman occupiers of Israel, he wasn’t all that hot about the manifestations of God’s power in his time. A peasant miracle worker from a no name town in the backwaters of Galilee was the last thing he wanted.

Caiaphas had a pretty clear picture of how things were supposed to go, and if anything, he wanted to preserve the status quo. Mind you, the status quo was filled with Roman spears and temperamental rulers who could fly off the handle at any moment and declare themselves deities. However, he chose to work with the devils he knew.

I can see the practicality of Caiaphas in the Gospel stories. He was just trying to keep the peace on all sides, and if one man had to be framed as an insurrectionist in order to attain that goal, it was a small price to pay. He has the cold, calculating reasoning we would expect to find in a show like House of Cards today.

Caiaphas wasn’t open to the work of God around him. He didn’t have faith or hope, let alone love. He wasn’t curious if this miracle worker named Jesus could be the answer to their hopes and prayers because he most likely wasn’t hoping or praying for much. Caiaphas was a man who planned, prepared, and then took decisive action. Today we may call him a practical atheist who practiced a religion.

If Jesus was going to provoke the Romans to destroy Jerusalem with his miracles and cryptic teachings about the Kingdom of God, Caiaphas knew he had to develop a plan and carry it out immediately.

Ironically, as Jesus died on the cross to save humanity from the powers of death, Caiaphas thought that he’d saved Jerusalem from the power of Rome. In other words, both saw themselves as playing the roles of “Savior.”


Relying on My Own Plans

I’ve never planned anything quite as bad as Caiaphas, but I’ve also fallen into similar kinds of traps. I’ve learned quite a bit while in seminary. I’ve minimized the power of God. I’ve become fixated on my own practical plans. I’ve schemed and plotted to get my own way.

Perhaps the greatest fault of Caiaphas is a small view of God that fueled his self-reliance and planning. Over time he struggled to make the best of bad situations without faith in the presence and power of God. His only resort along the way was to compromise. A little bribe here, a little political pressure there, and then a conspiracy or two start to add up.

Caiaphas was so consumed with his own plans that had been built on a foundation of doubt in the power of God that he couldn’t even consider that Jesus was from God.

Relying on ourselves over time will take its toll. We’ll start to drift away from God and make “practical, sensible” decisions. We won’t take leaps of faith. We won’t make sacrifices for the sake of others. We won’t see the ways God could be working in unlikely places around us.

The lower our view of God’s power, the more likely we are wallow in our own fears, relying on ourselves to provide the best solution—hardly stopping long enough to ask, “Hey, maybe I should pray about this?”

Caiaphas didn’t become an arch villain of the Bible overnight. That’s always how sin works. It’s almost always one small, “harmless,” incremental step after another away from God that eventually warps our thinking.

Caiaphas was so warped that he refused to enter Pilate’s palace, lest he make himself unclean, while plotting to murder Jesus. Sin twists our minds gradually so that we won’t spot its progress as we take small but dangerous steps away from God.

We find a chilling reminder in the story of Caiaphas that even the small sins leave us vulnerable and add up over time. We may never fall away from God so completely as Caiaphas, but we can all doubt God’s power, lose faith, and begin to drift away.  Just as Caiaphas drifted away because of the small things in his life, we can build up our faith in the same way: small practices such as prayer, faith, and study of scripture. There is tremendous power in daily acts of faithfulness that build up our faith and provide the strength we need to resist the gradual lure of sin in our lives. God is present with us today, and taking that small leap of faith is the most certain path to never duplicating the failures of Caiaphas in our own lives.

Learn more about Caiaphas and the other Unfollowers of Jesus in Unfollowers: Unlikely Lessons on Faith from the Doubters of Jesus by Ed Cyzewski and Derek Cooper.

Ed CyzewskiEd Cyzewski is the co-author of Unfollowers: Unlikely Lessons on Faith from the Doubters of Jesus and The Good News of Revelation. His imperfect/sarcastic thoughts about following Jesus are at







    1. That struck me as well, Kelli. I know self-reliance has been a long time struggle for me. I am always insisting on my own capabilities. God is gracious and good to remind me that it is by HIS strength, not mine.

  1. Herm

    It is so easy to defend pragmatism when your flock so vigorously
    hails your leadership based solely on their carnal family values. Our religious institutions, especially
    Christian and Muslim, are full of sensible leaders such as Caisphas who manage secular/spiritual
    balance in their organizations. Most human
    religious authorities today are no different than Caisphas and no less loved by
    Jesus. They teach with closed hearts and
    minds to the Spirit of God because it makes more sense to do so. Their direction is accepted and applauded, as
    was Caisphas’. by too many who would be first to yell from the crowd “crucify
    that divine Heretic who threatens our peace!”

    The book Unfollowers has further helped me to place my peace of mind and heart under only the authority of the Counselor. The sign to me that this is so is that I really do love even more those who would pragmatically crucify me in the name of Jesus Christ. I am closer to them in my journey to perfection than I am to God.


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