Matthew 27:15-27; Mark 15:6-15
Pilate responded, "Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?" They shouted back, "Crucify him!" – Matthew 27:22 NLT
Envy is a powerful force. It can cause normally rational and reasonable people to do things they would never dream of doing. It can drive the heart to enter previously unknown territory. And it's fascinating that both Matthew and Mark make it quite clear that the motivation behind the blind rage of the Jewish religious leaders against Jesus was envy – pure and simple. Matthew records, "He [Pilate] knew very well that the religious leaders had arrested Jesus out of envy" (Matthew 27:18 NLT). Mark confirms it with very similar words. "For he [Pilate] realized by now that the leading priests had arrested Jesus out of envy" (Mark 15:10 NLT). Even Pilate, the Roman governor, saw through the charade of a trial to which they were subjecting Jesus. He would later attempt to absolve himself of any responsibility for Jesus' death, because he found no reason for which to execute Him. "I am innocent of this man's blood. The responsibility is yours!" (Matthew 27:24 NLT).
Envy sounds like such an innocent and harmless term. We think of envying our neighbor's new car or our coworker's promotion. We know it's probably wrong to envy, but we justify that it isn't really doing anybody any real harm. But envy is a heart disease. It is a symptom of a much greater malady taking place within us. These pious, religious-looking men in their flowing robes, who stood before Pilate that day, gave off the appearance of righteousness and super-spirituality, but they were filled with a cancer that, while unseen to the eye, revealed itself through a variety of hideous symptoms. It reminds me of Paul's description of those who had rejected God, only to be turned over to their own sinful passions. "Since they thought it foolish to acknowledge God, he abandoned them to their foolish thinking and let them do things that should never be done. Their lives became full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, quarreling, deception, malicious behavior, and gossip. They are backstabbers, haters of God, insolent, proud, and boastful. They invent new ways of sinning, and they disobey their parents" (Romans 1:28-30 NLT). In this passage, Paul is actually describing those who have become so depraved that they have twisted God's original intent for human sexual relationships "and the men, instead of having normal sexual relations with women, burned with lust for each other" (Romans 1:27 NLT). But notice that right in the middle of Paul's long list of outward signs of these peoples' inward sickness, he lists envy. These people were marked by a variety of serious issues, envy being just one of them. And the same was true of the men who stood before Pilate accusing Jesus of fabricated crimes just so they could eliminate Him as a rival. They were jealous of Jesus. They were envious of His popularity. But these men were more than just envious. They too were wicked, deceptive, malicious, backstabbers, proud, boastful, and ultimately, haters of God. The very fact that they were willing to kill the Son of God showed just how much they truly hated God. They were rejecting the very one whom God had sent to save them from the very sins that drove their actions.
Their envy of Jesus caused them to whip the crowd into a frenzy and turn them against Jesus. Remember, these were many of the very same people who had shouted, "Hosanna!" when Jesus rode into Jerusalem the previous Sunday. The leading priests and elders worked their way through the crowd, spreading their cancer of hate and causing the people demand the death of Jesus. When Pilate, shocked by their demand that he crucify Jesus, asked for an explanation, the "mob roared even louder, "Crucify him!" (Matthew 27:23 NLT). Their envy had spread, infecting the crowd and causing them to turn against Jesus, condemning an innocent man to death. Not only were they willing to demand Jesus' death, they were willing to take full responsibility. "And the people yelled back, ‘We will take responsibility for his death – we and our children’” (Matthew 27:25 NLT). The envy of the religious leaders had blinded the people to the reality of what they were doing. After Jesus' resurrection and ascension, Peter would preach to the crowds at Pentecost, saying, "With the help of lawless Gentiles, you nailed him to a cross and killed him" (Acts 2:23 NLT). He went on to tell them, "So let everyone in Israel know for certain that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, to be both Lord and Messiah!" (Acts 2:36 NLT). Luke tells us that the words of Peter "pierced their hearts" and they demanded to know what they should do. There was still hope for them. And more than 3,000 people came to know Christ that day. Their actions were forgivable. Their part in the crucifixion of Jesus was not unpardonable. But the religious leaders would continue to reject Jesus as the Messiah, because their envy was really a symptom of a much greater problem. Even with the evidence of His resurrection and the power revealed through the transformed disciples, these men continued to reject the plan of God. Their pride, arrogance, self-righteousness and self-centeredness would prevent them from seeing the one who could heal them of the disease of sin from which they suffered and for which they would eventually die. Envy was just a symptom of a much-greater need for which Jesus was the solution.
Father, there are so many symptoms that show up in our lives that appear so innocent and harmless, but they are just the tip of the iceberg. There is something far beneath the surface that is driving our behavior and motivating our actions. Give us spiritual eyes to see what is truly taking place within us. Use Your Word like an X-ray machine to look deep inside us and reveal the true nature of our problem. Don't allow us to justify our actions and diminish our problem. Ultimately, all sin is against You, and Your Son is the only solution. Amen.