Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
August 6, 2000
This seeming conflict is more than just a difference in perspective as expressed by the Kansas preacher who visited a man who whose house had just been blown away by a tornado. The preacher saw this as an opportunity and said to the man, “Punishment for sin is inevitable.” “O really,” the man responded, “and did you know your house was also blown away?” “Well, ” said the preacher, “the Lord’s ways are beyond understanding” (Oren Arnold, Snappy Steeple Stories).
The Lord’s ways are beyond our understanding (Rom. 11:33), but we can rest and be at peace knowing that whatever He does will always be in keeping with His character. William Cowper expressed the Christian’s perspective on this in “Light Shining Out of Darkness“
God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea, And rides upon the storm.
Deep in unfathomable mines Of never failing skill,
He treasures up His bright designs, And works His sovereign will,
Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take; the clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy, and shall break In blessings on your head.
We have seen the truth of what William Cowper wrote in the first part of John 11 which we have studied the past two weeks. Mary and Martha had sent a message to Jesus that “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick” (John 11:3). Jesus sent back a message that “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified by it” (John 11:4). Jesus then purposely waited two days until Lazarus had died before starting on the two day journey to Bethany (11:6,11,14,15). This delay seems cruel on the surface, and perhaps if we did not know the rest of the story we might even conclude it was cruel. But God is never cruel. He has a reason for doing what He does and allowing what He does. We must always keep in mind that God does not exist for our benefit, but we exist for His purposes and pleasure.
Jesus had a specific purpose in waiting until Lazarus had died and had been dead for four days before arriving. It was His plan to glorify God the Father and God the Son while prompting belief in Himself through raising Lazarus from the dead (11:4, 15). As I pointed out last week from verse 40 & 41, Jesus did glorify both the Father and Himself through this miracle.
Some people might wish they had lived during that time to see Jesus do all these miracles. I admit that there is a part of me that would like to have been present to see Jesus raise Lazarus from the grave. Some people think seeing such a thing would have increased their faith. That may or may not be true. I know that my own faith in Jesus would not be any greater than it is now even if I had been present. Why? Two reasons. First, the Bible tells me of this miracle and I believe it so my faith is already strengthened by it. Second, Jesus is still accomplishing a similar miracle today every time someone comes to faith in Him and is saved from their sins.
Lazarus had died physically. His body no longer worked and was in fact decaying. When Jesus cried out, “Lazarus, come forth” and Lazarus come out from the grave, several miracles had to happen instantly. The process of decay not only had to be stopped and reversed, but all the decomposition that had already taken place had to be instantly healed. His physical body was immediately brought back to a healthy condition. His dead ears became alive and heard Jesus’ call. In addition, Lazarus’ soul had to be rejoined to that body so that he would have controlled his brain and body to respond to the call.
When a person is saved from sin, similar miracles involving the spirit also have to occur. The scripture is clear that we were born dead in our trespasses and sin (Eph. 2:1). When the Holy Spirit begins His work in our life our depraved and darkened minds must be quickened to understand and believe the truth of God. Our conscience must be activated and made tender to the offenses we have made against God. Our will is given the ability to respond and we are made alive togther with Christ (Eph. 2:5). The spiritually dead are raised to life.
MIXED RESPONSE OF THE OBSERVERS (45,46)
There was a mixed response to Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. There has always been a mixed response to God. There are those who will believe and those who will reject.
BELIEVERS (45) Many therefore of the Jews, who had come to Mary and beheld what He had done, believed in Him. Some of those that had previously been antagonistic toward Jesus have a change of heart and mind as they beheld what Jesus did. I think we are safe in assuming that for some of these this is the same kind of belief that Martha had expressed that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God who comes into the world (vs. 27). For others, we may want to be a little more cautious since John has previously pointed out some who “believed” and then only a short time later rejected Jesus’ claims (John 8:30-59). The nature of true belief is that it is on-going. Saving faith is not a momentary intellectual assent to truth, but a conviction of truth that changes the person and therefore their thinking, attitudes and actions.
REJECTERS (46). Others had the opposite response. But some of them went away to the Pharisees, and told them the things which Jesus had done. They were wise enough not to express it openly in the midst of a crowd astounded by Lazarus resurrection, but they rejected Jesus just the same. We know they did not go to report Jesus actions to the Pharisees in a favorable manner because of the reaction the Pharisees had when they heard.
THE PLOT TO KILL JESUS (47-53)
THE COUNCIL (47) Therefore the chief priests and the Pharisees convened a council, and were saying, “What are we doing? For this man is performing many signs.
The chief priests were mostly Sadducees. The Sadducees could be considered the liberal religious/political party while the Pharisees were the conservative religious/political party. The Sadducees rejected things like Angels, a spirit or the resurrection (Acts. 23:8). They also would work with the Romans in order to get what they wanted. The Pharisees and Sadducees were generally antagonistic to each other, but when they had a common purpose they could work with each other. They both had a common purpose in being against Jesus.
When the chief priests and the Pharisees received the news about Lazarus’ resurrection, they called a meeting of the Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin was the official governmental ruling body of Judea. Their power was limited because they had been conquered by Rome, but they still basically ran the nation.
They topic of their meeting was, “What are we doing?” or as the NKJV states, “What shall we do? They fully recognized that Jesus was doing many miraculous signs, but that did not cause them to believe in Him. You should keep that in mind when you are witnessing to people about Jesus. Don’t expect people to believe just because you have presented the truth to them. You cannot argue someone into the kingdom of heaven regardless of evidence you present. Jesus could not do that even after raising the dead! If they respond in belief to the gospel message it is because the Holy Spirit is working on them. We witness because God commands us to do so and we want to see God at work.
Lazarus’ resurrection should have brought them to belief, but instead, it increased their antagonism against Him. Why? Verse 48.
THEIR FEAR (48) “If we let Him [go on] like this, all men will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”
The chief priests and Pharisees were afraid of the Romans and of losing their positions of power. Note the unbelief that is the basis of their fears.
First, they do not believe in the power of God to protect them from the Romans. They all would have been well versed in Jewish history and known of His protection in the past. They knew about Joshua, the various judges including Deborah & Barak, Gideon, David, and the angel that protected Hezekiah from the Assyrians. They knew their history well enough to know that when the nation followed God, they prospered and were protected by Him, but when the nation did not follow God, then they were oppressed by their enemies. Their source of fear was founded in the fact that they knew they were not following God, so for them their only hope of protection was in their own political maneuvering.
Second, if they believed Jesus was the Messiah then they would have also held to Him being their source of protection. Remember that Jesus had already had problems with some of the people because they wanted Him to take the role of political Messiah (John 6:15). Jesus’ miracles and teaching attested that He was the Messiah, but they had to reject Him as such or they endangered their own positions of power and influence. Those were positions they were unwilling to give up.
That is the bottom line of their reason for rejecting Jesus. They did not want the people following Him or they would lose their influence, and all the miracles Jesus was doing was causing that. Therefore, they must somehow get rid of Jesus and keep Rome placated.
They were in fear because their own sinful quest for power blinded them to what was happening in their midst. They did not believe their own history and therefore did not trust God in anyway for themselves or the nation. They looked to themselves as the means of their own salvation.
We also must be careful of falling into the same trap they did when it comes to the future of our own nation. We have the great privilege of being involved in our nations politics and we should take that privilege seriously by studying the issues and the candidates and voting appropriately. As Christians, we should understand that those on positions of governmental authority are servants of God (Rom. 13). Therefore, there should be those among us that will run for public office and serve God in that capacity, and I am glad that we do have some in our congregation that have done just that. However, we must also be careful of ever thinking that political power is the salvation of our country. It is not. God is sovereign regardless of who is President or who is in Congress. We pray and seek to persuade people to our position. We plead for God’s mercy and grace upon us and we encourage people to vote. We are involved in politics because it is our responsibility, not because it is our hope.
The chief priests and Pharisees forgot the history of their nation. They forgot the God of their nation. The result is that they lived in fear of Rome instead of the fear of God. They sought to solve their problems through politics instead of righteousness. We must be careful that we never do the same.
CAIAPHAS (49-50) In verses 49 & 50 we meet Caiaphas, the epitome of a political maneuverer, yet even He is subject to the sovereign will of God.
But a certain one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all, 50 nor do you take into account that it is expedient for you that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation should not perish.”
The historian Josephus said of the Sadducees that they were, “even among themselves, rather savage in their conduct, and in their intercourse with their peers are as ungentle as they are to aliens” (Jewish War II, viii, 14). Caiaphas is a good example of a rude and arrogant Sadducee. His statement to the rest of the Sanhedrin, “You know nothing at all,” should be taken in the sense of calling them all ignorant and stupid. That is quite an insult, especially when you consider he was saying this not only to the Pharisees but also to his fellow Sadducees.
All the various Biblical references to Caiaphas as well as other historical accounts present him to be a very shrewd and calculating opportunist. He was the son-in-law of the previous High Priest, Annas, who held that position from 6-15 A.D. The High Priest had a lot of political power including being the chairman of the Sanhedrin. The Romans had taken over the right to appoint the High Priest and Valerius Gratus, the predecessor of Pontius Pilate, had appointed him in A.D. 18. From this position, Caiaphas controlled various aspects of national life.
Caiaphas takes to hear the fear that the rest of the Sanhedrin was expressing for he had the same fear, but he also had a plan. It is expedient for you that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation should not perish (vs. 50). It sounded like a rational plan to them, but it was in reality a cold, calculated method for Caiaphas to destroy Jesus who he considered a rival. Caiaphas’ premise was that if the nation followed Jesus, then the nation would be destroyed by Rome. Therefore, it was better for Jesus to be destroyed than for the whole nation. But a false premise leads to a false conclusion. The historical irony is that it is the opposite that happened. They murdered Jesus and in doing so sealed their own doom for the Romans did come and destroy the Temple, the city and the nation. Killing Jesus did not protect them.
THE AGREEMENT (53) If you drop down to verse 53 you see that they all agreed to Caiaphas’ plan. So from that day on they planned together to kill Him. The Sanhedrin as a body entered into a conspiracy to murder Jesus. There was no charge brought against Jesus. There was no trial. There were no witnesses and no one present to defend Him, yet they condemned Him to death. They utter hypocrisy of the group is seen in this evil, and illegal agreement.
GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY (51-52)
IGNORANT PROPHET (51)
Caiaphas was acting according to his own calculated plan to get rid of Jesus whom he considered his enemy. Yet, God was doing something else at the same time. John 11:51 Now this he did not say on his own initiative; but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation . . .”. Caiaphas was an ignorant, or unwitting prophet. He said what he said for his own purposes to fulfill his own plans, yet God sovereignly used Caiaphas for His own purposes.
This may surprise some that God would use Caiaphas in such a way, yet this was appropriate. Caiaphas was the High Priest even if he arrived at that office improperly in an ungodly manner and was not of the proper lineage. But God is not limited by man or man’s sin. Part of the historic role of the High Priest was prophecy (Ex. 28:30). God used him accordingly.
Consider who God used in times past. Balaam is condemned as being wicked in Joshua, 2 Peter, Jude and Revelation because of his pursuit of unrighteous wages, yet God used Him to prophecy a blessing on Israel (Numbers 23,24). And speaking of Balaam, did not God even use a donkey to verbally rebuke Balaam? (Numb. 22).
The Holy Spirit came upon Saul and he prophesied (1 Sam. 10:10). The same occurred to some messengers Saul sent to David (1 Sam. 19:20). Even the prophets themselves did not always understand what they had said and sought to understand the prophecy’s meaning (1 Peter 1:10). It should not really surprise us then that God could and would use Caiaphas for His own purposes even though they were in direct opposition to Caiaphas’ own intent.
It is exactly at this point that we see the interaction of God’s sovereignty and man’s so called “free will.” I say “so called ‘free will'” because sinful man does not have the free will to choose to do right. His mind is blinded (2 Cor. 4:4) and his understanding is darkened (Eph. 4:18), and his attempted deeds of righteous are as filthy rags before God (Isa. 64:6). Until a person is redeemed, they are slaves of sin. After they are saved from their sin, then they have additional freedom of will to choose to do right.
Sinful man has the “freedom of will” to reject following God. Caiaphas does reject following God, but God still uses Him for His own purposes even while Caiaphas’ is planning to murder Jesus.
Caiaphas is not the only example of this. Consider Pharaoh who continually hardened his heart against God until God hardened it for him, and yet God used Pharaoh for His own glory. The Assyrians were a wicked people, yet God used them for His own purposes in chastising His people, Israel (see Habakkuk). The same is true for many of the other nations that surrounded Israel and Judah. Herod was a wicked king who committed grave evil acts, yet God used Him to fulfill prophesy (Mt. 2:17,18). Satan entered into Judas, and yet God still used him to complete the evil deed that must have been done to bring about our redemption (Luke 22:3; Mt. 26:24).
I know there is a lot of controversy over the sovereignty of God and the “free will” of man, but it is not a controversy that should cause division among God’s people. As the example of Caiaphas demonstrates, God can and does sovereignly use people even while they are in the midst of pursuing their own goals. In this case, evil ones. Caiaphas was not prevented in anyway from saying what was in his evil mind, and yet, God directed the choice of words so that the very expression of this wicked man’s plan to murder Jesus was also the expression of the most sublime and glorious truth regarding God’s redemptive love. Caiaphas became an unwitting prophet and glorified God. If God’s sovereignty can do that with Caiaphas, then what can He do with those who are already seeking to follow Him?
INCREDIBLE PROPHECY (51,52). It is incredible that Caiaphas became a prophet, but what he prophesied is even more incredible. 51 Now this he did not say on his own initiative; but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation, 52 and not for the nation only, but that He might also gather together into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.
Jesus was going to die for the nation. The preposition here means, “in behalf of.” It is the idea of substitution. Jesus would die as the substitute for the nation. The reference is specifically to the nation of Israel, but then verse 52 expands the scope of the substitution to include all the “children of God who are scattered abroad.” Jesus’ death would be on behalf of all who belong to God, both Jew and gentile alike. We are included. Those who listen to the voice of the savior will become one flock with one shepherd (see 10:16). Jesus would be the propitiation for our sins through His substitutionary death for us.
RESPONSES TO THE PLOT (54-57). Neither Caiaphas nor the Sanhedrin realized the importance of what he had just said. They only thought in the immediate terms of trying to get rid of Jesus. So, as verse 53 states, from that day on they planned together to kill Him.
WISE PRECAUTION (54). Jesus would have been aware of their plan and so proceeds with wise precaution. Jesus therefore no longer continued to walk publicly among the Jews, but went away from there to the country near the wilderness, into a city called Ephraim; and there He stayed with the disciples.
Basically, Jesus simply stayed away from those Jews that were antagonistic to Him. He stayed out in the country. It is uncertain where the city of “Ephraim,” but the name and description would suggest it was north of Jerusalem on the eastern slopes of the hills that descended into the Jordan valley.
WONDERING PILGRIMS (55,56). As Passover approached there was more interest by the multitudes about Jesus and what He was going to do next. 55 Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and many went up to Jerusalem out of the country before the Passover, to purify themselves. 56 Therefore they were seeking for Jesus, and were saying to one another, as they stood in the temple, “What do you think; that He will not come to the feast at all?”
Many of the pilgrims would go to Jerusalem in advance so they could complete purification rites before Passover actually began. Jesus was on the minds of the multitudes and they were looking for Him, but not finding Him, they began to wonder among themselves if Jesus would come. The form of the question assumes that He would not. Why would they think Jesus might choose to miss the Passover celebration? Because of the actions of the Chief priests and Pharisees.
WAITING CONSPIRATORS (57) Now the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that if anyone knew where He was, he should report it, that they might seize Him. They wanted to put their plan to murder Jesus into action, but they wanted to give it the appearance of legality by having Him arrested first.
Was Jesus afraid of this? No. He rested in the sovereign plan of God. We can too. We don’t know what the future holds, but we know Who holds it and He loves us and will do what is right.
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help. Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Count how many times a reference is made to God’s sovereignty. 2) Discuss with your parents what God’s control over life means to you.
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others. What is the background of today’s study (John 11:45-57)? Why did Jesus wait until Lazarus had died before coming to Bethany? What similarity is there between a Lazarus’ resurrection and a person being “born again” spiritually? What were the two responses to Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead? What do the Sadducees believe? What was the Sanhedrin? Why did Lazarus’ resurrection antagonize them against Jesus? What did they fear? Was this a valid fear? Why or why not? What was their practical belief about God’s role in their life and that of the nation? Are you in danger of treating God the same way? Who was Caiaphas? What was he like? What was his solution to their perceived problem? Was this solution the expression of his own wicked heart? God used Caiaphas as a vehicle of prophecy because he was the High Priest. What insight does this give you into God’s sovereignty? How did the prophecy Caiaphas give differ from his own meaning in what he said? Does man have a “free will” Explain. What was the resolution of the Sanhedrin? What was Jesus’ response? What was the response of the pilgrims
Jesus waited until Lazarus was dead for four days before arriving in Bethany because __________________
A miracle similar to resurrection occurs every time someone comes to faith in Jesus and is saved from sin.
Mixed Response of the Observers (45,46)
Some believed as did Martha (vs. 27). Others may have believed only for a short time (John 8:30-59)
The Plot to Kill Jesus (47-53)
The Council (47)
The chief priest were most Sadducees and would be considered the __________ religious/political party.
The Sanhedrin was the ___________ ______________ _____________ of Israel.
Their Fear (48). Their fear was based in unbelief.
They did not believe God would protect them from _________
They did not believe Jesus was the Messiah despite the miracles He performed and teaching He gave.
They were unwilling to give up their own ___________ of ___________
We can fall into the same trap. We are involved in politics because it is our responsibility, not our hope.
A good example of a rude and arrogant _________________.
The Agreement (53)
God’s Sovereignty (51-52)
Ignorant Prophet (51)
Caiaphas said what he said for his own purposes to fulfill his own plans, yet God ____________ used Caiaphas for His own purposes.
Examples: Pharaoh. Assyrians (Habakkuk), Herod, Judas.
Incredible Prophecy (51,52)
Jesus would be the propitiation for our sins through His _____________ death for us.
Responses to the Plot (54-57)
Wise Precaution (54)
Wondering Pilgrims (55,56)
Waiting Conspirators (57)
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