Friday, March 11, 2005

Sermon on John 11:47-53

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The sermon text is the Gospel reading, John 11:47-53,

Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin. "What are we accomplishing?" they asked. "Here is this man performing many miraculous signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation." Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, "You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish." He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one. So from that day on they plotted to take his life.

Trouble was brewing in Judea. It was clear that Jesus was becoming a threat. The Pharisees and chief priests were greatly disturbed at Jesus’ teachings and miracles. Who was this man who claimed to be the Son of God; who said He was the true Light; who said that if you believed in Him you would have eternal life? How could a man say such things? And how could He have just raised Lazarus from the dead? All of these miracles that Jesus was performing were gathering quite a following of believers. Healing the blind and the lame, curing the sick, and now raising a man from the dead? They had to put a stop to this. What was it that they feared? They feared that if this kept on going, everyone would believe in Him. They were obviously at cross-purposes with Jesus. He wanted people to believe in Him, promising them forgiveness and eternal life, while they were trying to stop people from believing in Him.

We live in a world today that sees Jesus as a threat. Society and government has become increasingly uncomfortable even with art and symbols associated with Christianity or the Bible, seeing nearly every display of our Christian identity as somehow threatening to the freedom of religion. Of course these things come as no surprise, since Jesus told His followers that if the world hated them, it was only because they hated Him first. But sometimes the reaction against Jesus even comes from within the church. Jesus is seen as a threat to the “success” of the church because of His harsh denunciations of sin and bold claims of heavenly authority. So people try to “tame” Jesus by watering down His teachings, and sometimes even outright denying His claims of divinity. The world’s reactions against Jesus and His follower’s today ranges from outright rejection to acceptance—but only acceptance on their terms. If they accept or tolerate Jesus and Christianity, it is only in a form that is weak enough that they no longer see it as a threat.

The Jews in Jesus time also feared that if Jesus kept getting more popular and gained more followers, that the Romans would take away their temple and their nation. It seems that they thought Jesus was going to cause a political uprising by gathering a large contingent of loyal followers and then declaring Himself King of the Jews. Apparently this is what some of Jesus’ followers thought too, for they had tried to make Him King by force after he had fed the 5,000 with bread (John 6:15). So they feared that if Jesus incited such an uprising against the Romans, the Romans would come in and destroy the Jewish nation and the temple. So the Pharisees thought it was in their best interest to stop this man, and thereby preserve the nation and the temple. But both they and the misguided followers of Jesus were wrong: He wasn’t seeking to establish a political kingdom in Israel, on earth. This much was clear from His conversation with Pilate, where Jesus declared, “My kingdom is not of this world”…and He also said, “For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth” (John 18:36,37). Neither should Christians today misunderstand what Jesus’ real purpose was. He was not out to set up an earthly kingdom in this world, neither in first century Palestine, nor in the 21st century. We are mistaken if we think that there is going to be some sort of “Christian World Government” established before the Last Day. Christ’s kingdom is being prepared for the New Heavens and Earth, after this world passes away.

Its rather ironic, really, that the Jewish leaders claimed to be worried about Jesus causing an uprising or revolt that would cause the Romans to destroy their nation. Ironic, because the man they asked to have set free instead of Jesus was guilty of those very crimes. Barabbas was a notorious criminal who had been arrested for being part of a rebellion, and had murdered during the revolt. It makes you wonder if their hatred for Jesus really had much if anything to do with their loyalty to Caesar and Rome.

But Caiaphas, the high priest at that time, rebuked his fellow leaders among the chief priests and Pharisees. “You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.” He had the true solution to this threat. Though he spoke out of hatred for Jesus and His teachings, he unwittingly spoke the very truth about the necessity of Jesus death. But Caiaphas saw the matter only in terms of what was politically expedient—that Jesus be killed instead of a genocide against the nation. This suggestion was very pleasing to the Pharisees and chief priests, for from that day on they began to make plans on how to kill Jesus.

Much like then, today we have enemies of the Gospel who wish they could get rid of this troublesome Jesus. Most often it seems Jesus is a threat to their comfortable way of sinning, and they would like to silence Him. But of course they can’t re-crucify Jesus, so instead they pour ridicule on Him and us His followers. Radical artists try to create offensive and degrading exhibits to mock Christ and His church. Books are written that portray Jesus as having a secret affair with Mary Magdalene. Christians are depicted as narrow-minded, intolerant, and bigoted, with foolish backward notions that are threatening to the free spirit of society. As Christians today, we stand at cross-purposes with the world. They are fighting hard to silence God’s Word and to persecute believers. And we Christians are seeking to bring the message of Christ’s saving Word and forgiveness to more and more people who have not heard the good news. But the world does not want to hear that it is sinful, so it hates the church and opposes it.

But what about Caiaphas and his solution for eliminating Jesus? Caiaphas couldn’t realize the full truth of his words, “It is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.” Despite his hatred toward God’s incarnate Son, God used Caiaphas to speak this prophecy; not of Caiaphas’ own intention, but to show that Jesus’ death was going to be not only for the Jews but also for the Gentiles, the scattered children of God around the earth. Through Christ’s death He was going to make the two one, and bring together the Jew and Gentile that had been separated—uniting them in Christ. Caiaphas only thought in terms of the benefit of having Jesus die to keep the Jewish nation safe. But the deeper truth that God was speaking through Him was that it was in fact better for Jesus to die on our behalf for sin, than for all people to perish. It was better for Jesus to die as a substitute for all sinners, both Jew and Gentile, than that we all perish eternally from the wages of our sins. Its ironic that Caiaphas, the high priest, who would have made the sacrifices for the guilt of the whole nation of Israel on the Day of Atonement, was now unwittingly prophesying the death of the True High Priest as a sacrifice for the guilt of the whole nation of Israel, and also the scattered children of God, on the day when all sin was atoned for. Ironic that he, the high priest did not recognize Jesus as the True High Priest, who was the fulfillment of both Caiaphas’ office and his work. Ironic that the High Priest of Israel was at cross-purposes with the True High Priest.

Yes, by all appearances, the Jewish leaders truly appeared to be at cross-purposes with Jesus. He was a threat and they wanted to put Him to death. Jesus, on the other hand, spoke of bringing eternal life. He wanted to make people alive by faith in Him. They wanted death for Him, and He wanted life for them and for all people. But despite the fact that they appeared to be at such odds with each other, these two cross-purposes intersected with each other at the cross. In the cross these cross-purposes were brought together in Jesus’ crucifixion, where they succeeded in killing Jesus—but in another twist of irony, by His very death Jesus destroyed death, and by His resurrection He made us alive. At the cross, the hatred of the world toward Jesus intersected with God’s forgiving love from Jesus. Sin and death intersected with Christ’s righteousness and life. What they did not realize was that in seeking their purpose of putting Jesus to death, they were in fact fulfilling God’s purpose in sending Jesus to die at the cross as a substitute for the Jewish people and also for us, the Gentiles. They had succeeding in putting to death, and Jesus had succeeded in making alive. His death and resurrection became the victory that united Jew and Gentile as one. One children of God, by faith in His name. Through the Word of this good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection; the Word that continues to go out to the world even today, scattered children of God have been gathered from all over the world—Jew and Gentile alike. We are those scattered children of God who have been gathered to His one family. We were scattered and lost in sin, but have been gathered by the Holy Spirit’s gift of faith in the True High Priest, who died as our substitute. Amen.

Now may the peace of God, which passes all human understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.

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