Billy Joel wrote a song in the 1970’s called “Only The Good Die Young”. In the song is a lyric that goes, “they say there’s a heaven for those who will wait, some say it’s better but I say it ain’t. I’d rather laugh with the sinners than die with the saints, you know sinning is much more fun, only the good die young.” The song has spooked many away from the Christian life by resurrecting old lies and misconceptions.
Is it only the good that die young? Is it an upward move to deny Jesus? Is it politically expedient to forsake Christ? To answer these questions, let’s take a look at the major players in the trial and death of Christ. We know what happened to Jesus. But what about the other guys, did they get off Scott free?
Political leaders not only make decisions that affect the lives of others, but also their own lives as well. If a man meets one greater than himself, will that man challenge his own assumptions and stretch himself? Or will he shrink back and entrench himself further in his own self deluded importance? Let’s see who did what with Jesus.
When Christ was brought to trial on trumped up charges, Pontius Pilate happened to be the sitting governor of Judea. Under Pax Romana, the governors of the 17 Roman provinces rode a fine line in keeping order and preserving freedom. Governors chosen to rule over Judea were scrutinized carefully because the Jews were “high maintenance” and could depose a governor by threatening revolt. Apparantly, Pilate had considerable diplomatic abilities.
The Jewish leaders became envious of the actions and statements of Jesus and desired to extinguish him. But they couldn’t do so without the civil intervention of Rome. The Jewish leaders get most of the blame, but Pilate was the highest ranking political authority under which the crucifixion took place. His diplomacy in offering a substitute prisoner for execution and washing his hands from the whole affair may have saved his political butt for the moment. Though he made some attempts at justice, tradition looks at Pilate less favorably and history has not been kind. As the only authority figure who appeared to show so some reasonableness between right and wrong in the Jesus imbrolio, he caved in to the demands of Jerusalem’s elite. To this day, he is mentioned every week in churches who recite the Apostle’s Creed, “I believe in…Jesus Christ…Born of the Virgin Mary, Suffered under Pontius Pilate…”
Whether or not Pilate was capable of any action but saving his own political skin, the general tenor of his life after the Christ encounter was one of decline. Not long after there was another Jewish rebellion for which he reacted poorly and irritably. He was sent to Rome for trial, found to be incompetent, and sent to exile on an island. Tradition coldly reports that “calamities forced him to an unavoidable suicide”.
As a member of the Sanhedrin (the Jewish Supreme Court), Caiaphas was the presiding high priest who took a leading role in the trial and condemnation of Jesus. Though religious on the outside, the spirit of this family which dominated the leadership of Israel for years, was one of saturated evil and raw selfish ambition. Caiaphas would preside for just four more years before he was deposed by Vitellius.
The Herodians were known as the mob family of the New Testament with indulgence and cruelty as the family values. It was said of Antipas’ father, Herod the Great, “it’s better to be Herod’s dog than one of his children.” As minor provincial rulers, the Herod’s co-ruled Judea with the governor. Jesus called Antipas “that fox” for attempting to lure him into Jerusalem before the appointed time.
After Jesus was brought to trial, Pilate tried to dish him off to Antipas who was pleased to get an opportunity to see a miracle. When Jesus didn’t cooperate with this fleshly motive, Herod mocked him and sent him back to Pilate. Interestingly, these events improved relations between Pilate and Herod despite their enmity. It’s a strange dynamic that happens to those who reject Christ: they try to deal with the insecurity by seeking strength in alliances with men.
Did forsaking Christ payoff for Anitpas? History reports that shortly after the Christ encounter he had a border dispute. Unable to resolve the conflict, he went to Rome to ask for more territory. Instead, he lost his rule and was sent into exile in southern France where he most likely committed suicide.
Though not a political leader, Judas’ betrayal is worth mentioning as he triggered the sequence of events. His betrayal caused such a guilt that Satan took advantage of it and he commited suicide. His theory was to offset any wrong doing with the pleasures of money, in this case 30 shekels of silver. What he didn’t bank on was the ways of the heart: it is never satisfied with materialism and money is horribly inadequate to atone for guilt. No doubt he heard Jesus’ frequent warning that money was the greatest competitor for allegiance with God in the heart of man and forsook any inheritance he had in heaven by demanding material equivalents here. Now he learned the hard way. In despair, he despised the money he craved and threw it back into the temple.
Is sinning really much more fun? Apparantly Billy Joel never studied the other guys who played a part in forsaking Jesus, and his song is loaded with poor theology. First, there’s no guarantee you’ll live long and prosper if you don’t become a Christian. There have been too many premature deaths because of stupidity. Second, long life is of little value without Christ anyway. Third, we’re all sinners and need God’s grace whether we exploit our sin or not. Fourth, Billy Joel is writing from a perspective of an outsider, having never tasted the joys of fellowship with the Creator that eclipse any physical struggle.
Is sinning really “much more fun”? He doesn’t mention the ravages of guilt and shame that seep into a heart immediately after the sinful pleasure. He’s doesn’t articulate about the war waged in the soul after transgression. One just can’t rid guilt and shame with exercise, money or achievement. This notion of “sinning is much more fun” is extremelly uninitated regarding the ways of the heart.
We learn from the primary players in Christ’s passion event that though the Christian life may be one of suffering at times, betraying Christ was not an upward move spiritually or vocationally. We learn from these men that this world is a deceiver, and things are rarely as they appear. Conscious or not, the weight of guilt and shame clamp down on the one rejecting Christ. Life gets spastic and ornery, desires of the flesh cloud good judgment, and despair sets in. Often life becomes reduced to one of two options: commit suicide or commit to Christ.
We have to answer the question once and for all, “is this world all there is”? If not, where is the most common sense explanation for eternal life found? Who has demonstrated with pragmatic reality where eternal life is found? Ironically, the reality of suffering and death is one of the greatest testaments for the reality of the Christian life.
We have to settle the question once and for all that if death is inevitable, and not just for those who die young, will we live with Christ or hold onto ourselves and perish? Why not turn your loss into a gain by releasing what you cannot keep? This is the crisis of faith an encounter with Christ will produce; and these men failed, deteriorating their existence all the way into hell.
The irony is that Christ is alive today and these men are not. If we’re not consciously living each day for Christ, even crucifying our lusts of selfish ambition, we might be forsaking him. And we know what happens to those who do that. Won’t you humble yourself, forsake the temporary pleasures of the world and trust him to carry you safely into the real reality of His kingdom?
Copyright 2010 by Scott Chandler. All rights reserved.