************ Sermon on John 11:50 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on March 2, 2008
"One For Many"
On December 3, 1967, South African surgeon Dr. Christiaan Barnard conducted the first heart transplant. Today, we don't blink an eye about this but in 1967 people were absolutely amazed. What would you think if the South Afrikaans Dutch Reformed Church condemned Dr. Barnard and put a bounty on his head, much like fanatical Muslims today do with Danish cartoonists? That is absurd and doesn't make sense, does it?
I don't know which doctor first figured out the laparoscopic gall-bladder surgery I had last week, but what an amazing surgery – taking out your gall-bladder by cutting 4 small slits. And, this coming Tuesday my kidney stones are being removed without a doctor touching me – sound waves are being aimed at my kidneys and the stones are supposed to be pulverized. What would you say if I demanded the death penalty for doctors who do such surgeries? This too is absurd and doesn't make sense, does it?
Yet, that is exactly why the Sanhedrin plotted to take Jesus' life. As we begin our observance of Lent we notice that the Sanhedrin wanted to kill Jesus because He did something wonderful for a man named Lazarus. Jesus was crucified because of something good He did.
I Belief/Disbelief in the Christ
A Our Bible reading tells us that "many of the Jews ... put their faith in him" (Jn 11:45). That's how our Scripture lesson starts off. Why? Why did they put their faith in Him? Because, as I already said, Jesus does something wonderful, something unbelievable, something that has people talking and thinking for many days to come.
"Many of the Jews ... put their faith in him." What does Jesus do to arouse their faith? All that Jesus does is call in a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!" (Jn 11:43). And a man 4 days dead comes walking out of the tomb. Jesus doesn't touch him. He doesn't do any magic rites. He doesn't use any magic potions.
Topic: DeathIsn't this wonderful?
As a young man, D.L. Moody was called upon suddenly to preach a funeral sermon. He hunted all throughout the four Gospels trying to find one of Christ's funeral sermons, but searched in vain. He found that Christ broke up every funeral he ever attended. Death could not exist where he was. When the dead heard his voice they sprang to life.
Jesus speaks, and death is banished. Jesus speaks, and the dead spring to life. Jesus speaks, and dead people come walking out of tombs. "Therefore," says Scripture, "many of the Jews ... put their faith in him" (Jn 11:45). They see and hear what Jesus does with dead Lazarus and they believe.
This is what is supposed to happen whenever people meet the Lord. They see or hear what He has done and they are supposed to believe. That is why, in fact, John has written about the miracles of Christ:
(John 20:31) But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
I spent some time this past week reading through the Gospel of John. I took note of each of Christ's miracles that John records. I read about the sign at Cana, how Jesus turned water into wine (John 2:1ff); I read about the healing of the official's son (John 4:43ff); I read about the cure of the man at Bethesda pool (John 5:1ff); I read of the multiplication of the fish and loaves and the feeding of the 5000 (John 6:1ff); I read how Jesus walked on water (John 6:16ff); I read how Jesus gave sight to a man born blind (John 9:1ff); I read how He raised Lazarus from the dead (John 11:1ff).
As I read of these miracles, I also took note of what John records about the response to them:
(John 2:11) This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed at Cana in Galilee. He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him ...
(John 2:23) Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many people saw the miraculous signs he was doing and believed in his name.
(John 4:53-54) Then the father realized that this was the exact time at which Jesus had said to him, "Your son will live." So he and all his household believed. (54) This was the second miraculous sign that Jesus performed, having come from Judea to Galilee.
(John 11:45) Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, put their faith in him.
B People see or hear of the miracles of Jesus and they believe. What kind of belief? What do they believe? At the end of his Gospel, John tell us that they are supposed to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, and by believing have life in his name (John 20:31).
The miracles, the signs that Jesus performs, are supposed to make people believe three things about Jesus. First, that He is the Christ. The Christ. The Jewish word here is Messiah, the Anointed One, the King of the Jews. Second, the miracles are also supposed to make people believe that Jesus is from God and of God, that He is the Son of God. I think here of what Nicodemus says to Jesus: "For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him" (John 3:2). You see, the miracles of Jesus are always supposed to point people to God. Third, the miracles are supposed to show that Jesus is the source of life, true life. They show the inadequacy of man and the all-sufficiency of Jesus to supply whatever we need.
"Many of the Jews ... put their faith in him" (vs 45). We can only conclude that they see the miracles and believe Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of God, the source of true life.
"Many of the Jews ... put their faith in him" (vs 45). That should be our response too as we see and hear the miracles of Jesus on the pages of Scripture. Look at the signs and have faith; have faith that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, the source of true life. Don't forget,
(John 20:31) But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
C Even the Pharisees and chief priests admit that Jesus' signs lead to faith. They don't like it and, in our Scripture reading, we hear them complain to each other,
(John 11:47-48) "Here is this man performing many miraculous signs. (48) If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him ..."
What is there to complain about? What is wrong with believing in Jesus? Why don't the Pharisees like what is happening? They say,
(John 11:48) "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." What does belief in Jesus have to do with the Romans? The people see and hear of Jesus' miracles and they believe He is the Christ, the Messiah, the King of the Jews. The Pharisees are concerned about this because Caesar, not Jesus, is supposed to be king. They are concerned that Jesus will stir up the crowds, who then will rise up against the Romans. If the people really believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, then Caesar's armies will have to come marching in. The nation will be destroyed. Homes and businesses will be confiscated. And the Pharisees will lose their positions of leadership and authority.
Notice how the Sanhedrin puts this: our place, our nation. People are believing in Jesus instead of the Pharisees. People are following Jesus instead of the Pharisees. People have faith in Jesus instead of in the Pharisees. Because of Lazarus, Jesus is a threat to the Romans and therefore to the Sanhedrin.
D At heart, the Pharisees' chief problem with Jesus is that they themselves don't believe He is the Christ. When I read through John's Gospel this past week I was struck by their increasing hostility towards and hatred for Jesus. They were angry that Jesus healed on the Sabbath (John 5:16). They became even more angry that Jesus – a mere man – was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God (John 5:18). The evidence was staring them in the face: Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. They saw and heard about each of Christ's miracles, but they refused to believe. With an incredulous tone to his voice John says,
(John 12:37) Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him. John has a hard time understanding how anyone can witness Jesus' signs and still not believe in Him as the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of God, the King of Israel.
John realizes that the unbelief of the Jews fulfills the words of the Old Testament Scriptures. They could not believe, because, as Isaiah says,
(John 12:40) "He has blinded their eyes and deadened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, nor turn--and I would heal them." This reminds us that unless God gives someone the grace to believe, they won't believe. Unless God works in hearts and minds with the Spirit, no sign can bring those people to belief in Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah. To believe, then, we must ask God for His grace and His Spirit – not just for ourselves but for the lost everywhere.
II A Prophecy of a Dying Christ
A Because of Lazarus, the Sanhedrin plotted to take Jesus' life. They should have acclaimed Jesus a hero. They should have put faith in Him. But, instead, they decided to kill Him.
The chief priests and Pharisees had tried to stop Jesus before. One time temple guards had been sent to arrest Jesus, but they came back to the Pharisees empty-handed (John 7:32;45). A couple of times they tried to seize Jesus, but God prevented them from succeeding (John 7:30; 10:39). Another time they picked up stones to stone Jesus, and again God intervened (John 10:31). The Pharisees and chief priests conclude that something has to be done, or else "the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation" (John 11:48). But what can they do? Every time they try something, their plans come to nought.
It is Caiaphas, the high priest, who clarifies the situation and tells the Sanhedrin what needs to be done:
(John 11:50) "You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish." A worldly-wise politician – that's what Caiaphas is. He says it is better that one man, however innocent, should die than that the nation as a whole should perish.
Subtopic: Suffered and Died
During World War II Winston Churchill, the British Prime Minister, faced something similar. The British had managed to break the German code and knew most German plans days or even weeks in advance.
One time this put Churchill in a terrible dilemma. The British knew of a massive air-raid being planned against the city of Coventry. If all the civilians were removed or forewarned, many lives would be saved but the Germans would know their secret code had been cracked. If no warning was issued, many lives would be lost but the secret would be safe and many more lives could be saved in the future.
Churchill decided it was better for some to die in the raid than for many more to die in the future.
The words of Caiaphas marks a turning point. From that day on the Pharisees and chief priests look for ways and means to kill Jesus. Thanks to Caiaphas, they now know what to do. "So from that day on," says Scripture, "they plotted to take his life" (John 11:53). The Sanhedrin decides it is best "that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish."
B Caiaphas doesn't know it, but he is being a mouth-piece for God here. John says,
(John 11:51-52) He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, (52) and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one.
Caiaphas is playing politics, of course, and is but recognizing political realities. God, however, has something much deeper and more significant in mind. God is thinking of sin and salvation. In God's plan, it is necessary that one man die for the nation. Either the nation dies or Jesus dies. But if Jesus dies, than the nation lives. It is His life instead of theirs.
Caiaphas doesn't realize it, but he is speaking of God's eternal plan for our salvation in which it is necessary, absolutely necessary, for the One to die so that the many may live. Unknowingly, Caiaphas is stating the Gospel in a nut-shell. Unknowingly, Caiaphas is stating the very reason for which Christ has entered our world in human flesh.
Subtopic: Became Man's Substitute
During the American Civil War, a farmer named Blake was drafted as a soldier. He was deeply concerned about leaving his family, because his wife had died and there would be no one to support and take care of his children in his absence. The day before he was to leave for the army, his neighbor Charlie Durham came to visit him. "Blake," he said, "I've been thinking. You're needed here at home, so I've decided to go in your place." Blake was so overwhelmed that for a few moments he was speechless. The offer seemed too good to be true. He grasped the hand of the young man and praised God for this one who was willing to go as his substitute. Charlie went to the front-lines and performed his duties. But sad to say, he was shot and killed in the first battle. When Blake heard the news, he immediately saddled his horse and rode out to the battlefield. After searching for some time, he found the body of his friend. He arranged to have it buried in the churchyard near the spot where they had often stopped to talk after the services. On a piece of marble he carved an inscription with his own hands. It was roughly done, but with every blow of the hammer on the chisel tears fell from his eyes. He placed the marker on the grave of his devoted substitute. Many villagers wept as they read the brief but touching inscription: HE DIED FOR ME.
"HE DIED FOR ME." What a wonderful caption to start our observance of Lent. "HE DIED FOR ME." He died in my place. He died in your place. "HE DIED FOR ME."
There is an absolutely wonderful doctrine contained in the words of Caiaphas. Do you know the doctrine? The substitutionary nature of Christ's death. I can't think of this doctrine without thinking of the words of the prophecy of Isaiah:
(Isa 53:4-8) Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. (5) But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. (6) We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (7) He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. (8) By oppression and judgment he was taken away. And who can speak of his descendants? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken.Do you hear that word "our"? Our infirmities, our sorrows, our transgressions, our iniquities ... We have gone astray. We have sinned. But He was punished. He was crucified. He was killed. He was forsaken by God and man. "HE DIED FOR ME." So, I don't have to perish.
C Caiaphas, of course, did not think of Jesus' death this way. He was thinking politics, not salvation. He was thinking Roman soldiers, not sin. Caiaphas, and the other members of the Sanhedrin, had no idea of the extent of their sin. They believed that washing their hands or keeping the Sabbath or wearing a certain kind of clothing, somehow made them holy. Yet, at the same time, they were plotting murder in their hearts. Outwardly they looked pure and clean but inwardly they gave off the stench of death. As Jesus put it, they were whitewashed tombs (Mt 23:27).
My brothers and sisters, Jesus died for sin. His death did not happen for political reasons. His death was not the result of a military struggle. His death was not an accident. His death was for your sin and my sin.
D It is one of the great ironies of history that Caiaphas was wrong. He wanted Jesus to be killed so the nation will not perish. But 40 years later, in A.D. 70, the Romans legions came marching into Jerusalem, they destroyed the Temple, they destroyed the city, they destroyed the nation, and the Sanhedrin was left with nothing.
Caiaphas doesn't know this either, but his words are not big enough.
(John 11:50) "... it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish."Caiaphas thinks of only the Jewish nation. God thinks of the whole world. Caiaphas has decided that Jesus should die to save Israel. God has planned that Jesus should die to save all of His lost children throughout the world.
"It is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish." What a wondrous thought with which to begin our observation of Lent.
But now the question, did He die for you? He did if you are one of those who see and hear what Jesus has done and believe He is the Christ, the Son of the living God.
So I ask you again, did He die for you?
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