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Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
January 21, 2018
Conspiracy to Murder
Turn again to John 11. This morning we will examine in detail the responses to Jesus’ miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead which we have studied the last two weeks. In this passage we see God’s sovereign hand at work in a way that gives us a glimpse into the age old question of the relationship between God sovereignty and man’s freedom of will to defy Him.
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 (Romans 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 already seen the truth of what William Cowper wrote in our previous two studies in John 11. Martha and Mary 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 journey to Bethany of Judea (John 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. (See: Sickness for the Glory God)
Jesus had a specific purpose in waiting until Lazarus had died and he 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 verses 40 & 41, Jesus did glorify both the Father and Himself through this miracle. (See: The Man Who Can Raise the Dead)
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 came 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 scriptures are clear that we were born dead in our trespasses and sin (Eph. 2:1). Faith cannot come until the Holy Spirit quickens our depraved and darkened minds to understand and believe the truth of God. Our conscience must be activated and then convicted of the offenses we have made against God. Our will is given the ability to respond and we are made alive together with Christ (Ephesians 2:5). The spiritually dead are raised to life.
Mixed Response of the Observers – John 11:45-46
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 (vs. 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 in vs. 27 that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God who comes into the world. 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. Saving faith continues.
Rejecters (vs. 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 the resurrection of Lazarus, 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.
Conspiracy to Murder Jesus – John 11:47-50, 53
The Council (vs 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 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 made up of seventy men. Their power was limited because they had been conquered by Rome, but they still basically ran the nation.
The topic of their meeting was, “What are we doing?” 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! We present the truth knowing that if they respond in belief to the gospel message, it is because the Holy Spirit is working on them. That is why prayer is so crucial to evangelism. It is the work of the Holy Spirit. 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?
Their Fear (vs. 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 that their fears are completely based in their unbelief. They had a greater fear of Rome than of God.
First, all of them would have been well versed in Jewish history and known of God’s protection of the nation in the past. They knew about Joshua, the various judges and kings including Deborah & Barak, Gideon, David, and the angel that protected Hezekiah from the Assyrians. They should have known both the Torah, the Mosaic Law, and their history well enough to know the promised blessings of prosperity and protection if the nation followed God, and the warnings of oppression by enemies and catastrophes that would happen if they did not follow God (Deuteronomy 27-28). However, they do not believe in the power of God to protect them from the Romans. Perhaps their source of fear was founded in the fact that they knew they were not following God, so their only hope of protection was in their own political maneuvering. But then, even that would be unbelief that God would carry out His promised curses for their disobedience.
Second, they did not believe Jesus was the Messiah, for if they did, 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 had to figure out a way to get rid of Jesus and keep Rome placated.
They were in fear because their own sinful quest for power blinded them to what God was doing in their midst. They did not believe their own history and therefore did not trust God 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 nation’s 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 in positions of governmental authority are servants of God (Romans 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 have had those from within 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 any other government position. 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 to be involved in politics because it is our responsibility, not because it is our hope. We are to live in fear of God, not man.
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 (vs. 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 has the same fear as the rest of the Sanhedrin, but he also had a plan. 50 It is expedient for you that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation should not perish (vs. 50). What does he mean by this? 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. Jesus was not the leader of a rebellion against Rome and so was not a threat to them, but Jesus was a threat to Caiaphas and the hypocritical religious leaders. This was in reality a cold, calculated method for Caiaphas to destroy Jesus whom he considered a rival and by that protect his position, power and very lucrative religious enterprises, especially his control over the money changes and sellers of sacrificial animals at the Temple.
The historical irony is that it is the opposite that happened. They murdered Jesus and in doing so sealed their own doom. In rejecting the Messiah they removed themselves from God’s protection and placed themselves under God’s curses and were left to their own devices. The influence of Zealots resulted in a revolt against Rome which then came and destroyed the nation laying siege to Jerusalem and finally burning it and the Temple in 70 A.D. Killing Jesus did not protect them.
The Agreement (vs. 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. The utter hypocrisy of the group is seen in this evil and illegal agreement that was in violation of the Mosaic law which they claimed to value so much.
God’s Sovereignty – John 11:51-52
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. 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, 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 (Exodus 28:30). God used him accordingly.
Consider whom 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 blessings on Israel in Numbers 23-24. And speaking of Balaam, did not God even use a donkey to verbally rebuke Balaam in Numbers 22?
The Holy Spirit came upon Saul and he prophesied in 1 Samuel 10:10. The same occurred to some messengers Saul sent to David in 1 Samuel 19:20. Even the prophets themselves did not always understand what they had said and sought to understand the prophecy’s meaning according to 1 Peter 1:10. It should not 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 as stated in 2 Corinthians 4:4, and his understanding is darkened according to Ephesians 4:18, and his attempted deeds of righteous are as filthy rags before God as declared in Isaiah 64:6. Even deeds that would generally be considered to be good such as philanthropy would be done with motives that do not meet God’s standard of perfect righteousness. As stated in Psalm 14 and Romans 3, “They have all turned aside, together they have become corrupt; There is no one who does good, not even one.” People are slaves of sin until they are redeemed (Romans 6). It is not until after you are saved from your sin that you have the additional freedom of will to choose to do right.
Sinful man has the “freedom of will” to reject following God, but that does not free him from being used as God desires. 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 (Matthew 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; Matthew 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 which in this case were evil ones. Caiaphas was not prevented 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 was ignorant of God, yet became His 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 (vs. 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 (John 10:16). Jesus would be the propitiation for our sins through His substitutionary death for us at Calvary.
Responses to the Plot – John 11:54-57. 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 (vs. 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. There is some uncertainty about the location of the city of “Ephraim,” but the name and description suggests it was north of Jerusalem in the territory that had been assigned to the half tribe of Ephraim. It is thought to have been on or near the border of what was then called Judah and Samaria.
Wondering Pilgrims (vs. 55-56). We do not know how long Jesus stayed in Ephraim. We will pick up the narrative in Luke 17 again next week where we find He is passing between the border of Samaria and Galilee on His way to Jerusalem for Passover. John 11 concludes with the increased interest by the multitudes about Jesus and what He was going to do next as Passover approached. 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 (vs. 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. You can too. We don’t know what the future holds, but we know Who holds it in His hands. Perfect love casts out all fear (1 John 4:18), and God’s perfect love was demonstrated in Jesus’ death on the cross to redeem man from sin. If you have placed your faith in Jesus, then you need not fear the future no matter what may come.
If you have not placed your faith in Jesus, you need to do so today, but even if you do not, you can be sure that God will use you as He sees fit whether you are willing or not. That is how powerful He is. He is sovereign over everything.
Sermon Notes – 1/21/2018
Conspiracy to Murder: John 11:46-57
This passage gives us a __________into the relationship of God’s sovereignty and man’s freedom to disobey
The Lord’s ways are ________our understanding (Romans 11:33), but always in keeping with His character
Lazarus becomes sick and Jesus purposely until he _____before going to Bethany to raise him from the dead
The resurrection of Lazarus__days after death glorified the Father & the Son and prompted people to believe
The Bible records this _____________, so it still accomplishes its purpose today
Jesus is still accomplishing similar miracles today every time a sinner _____________ and believes
Lazarus’ resurrection required an immediate reversal and healing of __decomposition and restoration to life
Saving faith requires a reversal of spiritual decomposition and __________of mind & conscience to believe
Response of Belief – John 11:45
Some who had been antagonistic were ______________ in heart and mind to believe in Jesus
Saving faith is not momentary assent but is on-going and _____________
Response of Rejection – John 11:46
Though they did not display their rejection openly, their actions demonstrated their _________ hearts
Conspiracy to Murder Jesus – John 11:47-50, 53
The Council (vs 47)
The chief priests were mostly Sadducees who were __________, and the Pharisees were conservative
The Sanhedrin was the ruling Jewish body of______ elders who ran the nation under Roman jurisdiction
Though usually antagonistic to each other, Jesus’ miracles were a _______to both groups who rejected Him
Their Fear (vs. 48)
Their ____________ causes them to fear Rome more than God
They knew Jewish history, yet _______its witness to God’s promises to bless obedience and curse rebellion
They rejected Jesus as the Messiah despite the evidence because He was a ______to their positions & power
Their sin _________them to God’s promises and actions, so they resorted to their own devices for protection
Christian responsibility includes politics, but politics ____________save our nation – only God is sovereign
We must not be like them in becoming fearful of ________ instead of God
Caiaphas (vs. 49-50)
Caiaphas was a rude and arrogant Sadducee improperly appointed by the ____________ to be High Priest
Caiaphas theorized that if the nation followed Jesus, _______would come & destroy them, so Jesus must die
Historical irony: In rejecting the Messiah, they _____God’s protection, and Rome did come & destroy them
The Agreement (vs. 53)
The Sanhedrin entered into a hypocritical and ______________ conspiracy to murder Jesus
God’s Sovereignty – John 11:51-52
Ignorant Prophet (51)
God sovereignly used Caiaphas as an ignorant and unwitting _________to proclaim God’s purpose for Jesus
Caiaphas is an example of God using a wicked man pursing his own evil to do _________what God desired
Incredible Prophecy (vs. 51-52)
Jesus would die as the substitute _______________ for the nation – and for Gentiles too
Responses to the Plot – John 11:54-57
Wise Precaution (vs. 54).
Jesus stays away from the Jews and goes _________ to Ephraim on the border of Samaria
Wondering Pilgrims (vs. 55-56)
As Passover approached, the pilgrims in Jerusalem looked for ________ and wondered if He would come
Waiting Conspirators (vs. 57)
The chief priests & Pharisees were planning to __________, then murder Jesus when He came
Jesus was not afraid for He rested in God’s sovereignty – we can have the same __________- 1 John 4:18
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 in John 11:45-57? Why did Jesus wait until Lazarus had died before coming to Bethany? What similarity is there between Lazarus’ resurrection and a person being “born again” spiritually? What were the two responses to Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead? The chief priest were mostly Sadducees – who were then and what did they believe? Who were the Pharisees and what did they believe? What was the Sanhedrin? Why did Lazarus’ resurrection antagonize them against Jesus? What did they fear? Was this a valid fear? Explain. How does this fear demonstrate their unbelief in God? What is a Christian’s responsibility toward politics? Can politics save our nation? Explain. How can our nation be saved? Who was Caiaphas? What was he like? What was under his control? What was his solution to their perceived problem? How 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? Give other examples of God using wicked people to do His own will. 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?
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