Second Reformed Church

Thursday, July 07, 2016

"For the Sake of the Nation" Sermon: John 11:45-57

 “For the Sake of the Nation”
[John 11:45-57]
July 3, 2016 Second Reformed Church
            If you were a member of Congress, and the President said that the nation was in terrible danger, and the only way to save the nation would be to kill this one person who had never committed a crime, would you vote to kill him? 
Is the nation of more value than any one person?
            Would you give the same answer if you were the person to be killed?
            Jesus had healed a man who had been born blind and declared Himself to be God the Son and Savior, and the Pharisees sought to have Jesus put to death for blasphemy, so He went to the other side of the Jordan.
            While He was there, He got news that His close friend Lazarus was sick, and, in fact, Lazarus died four days before Jesus arrived in Bethany where He met with Lazarus’ sisters, Mary and Martha, and Jesus explained to them that He is Sovereign over spiritual and physical death.
            At the tomb, Jesus wept over His friend’s death and over the unbelief of so many present, so He prayed loudly to God so all those who heard Him would know that He has authority over life and death.  And He told Lazarus to come out of the tomb – after being four days dead in the tomb – and Lazarus came out.
            This morning we consider the results of that miracle.
            First, we see that salvation is God’s work.
            “Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him, but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done.”
            For some people who saw Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead – merely by commanding him to life by His voice – it was at that moment that their eyes and hearts were opened and they believed in Jesus savingly and repented of their sins.
            For others, they didn’t know quite what to make of it, so they went to the Pharisees to report all that had happened so the religious leaders – those who spent their lives studying and interpreting the Scriptures – could tell them just what this meant.
            Why do some believe and some do not believe?
            Some had faith and received Jesus and some did not have faith.  Why?
            Paul writes, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:8-10, ESV).
            Paul tells us that the faith by which we receive the Grace of God is a gift from God, so we are God’s workmanship.  Those who believe are those who God enables to believe.
            John put it this way at the beginning of his Gospel – we may remember, “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:11-13, ESV).
            Paul again explains the role of humans in salvation, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God's fellow workers. You are God's field, God's building”

(1 Corinthians 3:6-9, ESV).
            We are not Jesus, and Jesus finished His work to secure salvation for all those who will ever believe.  But, we are called to preach the Gospel, and we have no excuse, because it is God Who causes people to believe.  If we are explaining Who Jesus is and what He did to the best of our ability, that is our job – that is the work we are called to.  God will cause people to believe – God will give faith and grace to whomever He wills, and those people will believe.
            And that’s what we see here.
            We may wonder why everyone didn’t believe at seeing Lazarus physically raised from the dead after four days.  Not everyone believed because God did not give the grace and the faith to believe to everyone.  Some did not believe because they could not believe – they did not have the ability to believe – God did not give them the ability to believe.
            So, some believed savingly in Jesus at seeing Him raise Lazarus from the dead, and some went to the Pharisees to ask them what they should believe.
            Second, the Pharisees were concerned about losing their wealth and power.
“So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council and said, ‘What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.’”
The Sanhedrin was called – the high council of Judaism – to address the question of Jesus.
They argued thusly:
Jesus has performed many miracles, and the people believe He is the Messiah – the Savior.
If we do not stop Jesus, He will do more miracles, and more people with believe that He is the Messiah.
Eventually, the Romans will step in and remove us from power for not stopping Jesus, and that will be the end of Israel.
The council put forth this pretense of national concern, but they were most concerned about the wealth and power they had – they were most concerned about being able to control people and live in ease. 
We remember that Israel was in a complicated state:  Israel, a nation-state in which the King and Church reigned together, was occupied – limited – by their being conquered by Rome.
The Sanhedrin was being wrong-headed about Jesus.
They should have raised the question:  is Jesus the Messiah?  They should have sought to prove whether or not He was Who He claimed to be.  And if He was – the Church should have welcomed Him and worshipped Him and promoted the Kingdom of God.
But their concern was: “Jesus is inconveniencing our lifestyle, what are we to do about Him?”
They were sure that when God sent the Messiah, He would not be like Jesus; the Messiah they were looking for was One Who would agree with them and expand their power and prestige.
We might pause to ask ourselves why we have any interest at all in God and the things of God.
I hope we love Him.  I hope we could not think of living without Him – that He is all and all to us – not merely our salvation, but One so beautiful, so perfect, so amazing that we desire to worship Him and obey Him and bring others to Him that we all would overwhelmed in awe and thanksgiving.
Jesus said that the summary and fulfillment of the Law is to love God with all our heart and all our soul and all our mind and all our strength, and our neighbors as ourselves.
Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15, ESV).
Are we filled with joy as we love God and keep His commandments?  Is obeying God the most wonderful thing we can engage in?
Jesus told Peter – and we can receive this as the Church as well – Jesus said, “If you love Me, care for My sheep.”  If we love Jesus – if we love God – let us protect each other from threats – from those outside of us – false teachings – from those inside of us – temptations – and let us lead each other under the guidance of the Holy Spirit to those green pastures that God has for us – and let us lean on each other – looking to Jesus – as we journey through the valley of the shadow of death together.
I love Jesus; I love you.
The world wants money, sex, and power.  And those things can be good things with Jesus.  But without Jesus – oh, the insanity of the world – the self-inflicted blindness of the world!  Why would they settle for so little, when the Creator of everything has come to earth in the person of Jesus?
Third, God used evil to accomplish good.
 “But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, ‘You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.’ He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. So from that day on they made plans to put him to death.”
Caiaphas was the high priest that year – the Romans rotated the high priests so no one would get too comfortable in their position, despite God commanding it to be a lifelong position.
Caiaphas was well-known throughout the kingdom.  The historian, Josephus, described Caiaphas as being a master-manipulator, an opportunist, a man who insisted on his own way, one who was only out for himself.
Knowing this about him, we can take his concern for the nation tongue-in-cheek.
Caiaphas bellowed about the Sanhedrin not understanding – there was no question as to what had to be done with Jesus – it was better, he argued, for one man to die for the sake of the nation than the whole nation be torn apart from without and within.
It was extremely important that they understood and passed a verdict of capital punishment against Jesus, or Caiaphas might lose all the perks he had for his year as high priest – that is, the nation would suffer from internal rest about Jesus and from the Romans clamping down on them to avoid an uprising.
Have you ever known someone who loves to talk about themselves and gets annoyed when the subject changes?  That was Caiaphas.  Caiaphas had to be the center – he was not about to allow Jesus to take his limelight.
What Caiaphas couldn’t have known was that God ordained him to be in this position so he would call on the Sanhedrin to back his self-centered, egoistical will. 
Just as we are told about Pharaoh, “For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, ‘For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth’” (Romans 9:17, ESV), God raised up Caiaphas as well.
God raised up this evil man to lead the way to the most horrible act in history, which was absolutely necessary for Jesus to be the Savior of all who call on His Name.
We may remember what Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father” (John 10:14-18, ESV).
Jesus told His disciples that He had to die to save His people – and He explained to them that the people of God – as had been explained to Abraham – are from all the nations and peoples of the world – the Jews and the Gentiles would be blessed through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.
Jesus’ response was to leave, because it was not quite His time.
            “Jesus therefore no longer walked openly among the Jews, but went from there to the region near the wilderness, to a town called Ephraim, and there he stayed with the disciples.”
            Ephraim was about seven miles east of Bethel, and there Jesus got ready for the last week of His life; the rest of the book of John deals with the week before Passover – the week of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
            And some wondered if Jesus had given up – gone into hiding.  Would He come to Jerusalem for the Passover?  If He did, it might well mean His arrest or death.
            “Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and many went up from the country to Jerusalem before the Passover to purify themselves. They were looking for Jesus and saying to one another as they stood in the temple, ‘What do you think? That he will not come to the feast at all?’ Now the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that if anyone knew where he was, he should let them know, so that they might arrest him.”
            But everything was going according to God’s Plan:  God was moving history towards the Crucifixion and Resurrection by allowing evil people to follow their evil desires to accomplish God’s purposes.
            As we move through this election season – debating who is the best candidate – which one God would approve of.  Do we understand that God has already chosen and planned for all the rest of the leaders throughout the world?  Yes, we are to vote wisely, but do we take comfort in knowing that God has already put all things and people in place to accomplish His Will on earth?
            As we reflect on the Sovereignty of God in salvation and in His using an evil man to push for Jesus’ execution, let us take comfort in knowing that just as God was bringing all things to a good end for those of us who love Him, He is doing the same today.  Let us pray to God and trust God and give thanks for the way He has brought history to pass that we would have such a Savior as Jesus.
            Let us pray:
            Almighty God, it is easy to get caught up in the debates about what is right in politics.  Keep us focused on Your Sovereignty.  Keep us looking at You in love and awe.  Help us to see what a wonder Jesus’ persecution to death is.  And may You be praised.  For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

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