March 1st, 2020 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)
[Jhn 11:45-57 ESV] 45 Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him, 46 but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. 47 So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. 48 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.” 49 But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. 50 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.” 51 He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, 52 and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. 53 So from that day on they made plans to put him to death. 54 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. 55 Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and many went up from the country to Jerusalem before the Passover to purify themselves. 56 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?” 57 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.
I. SOME BELIEVED AND SOME DID NOT
Many of Jews therefore believed in him.
Jesus’ miracle (of raising Lazarus) was not without fruit. Through it some were brought to faith in Jesus Christ.
Remember we just had the miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead. He who had been in the tomb for four days. He who “stinketh.” And Jesus said “Lazarus, Come Out” and … he did! By the power of Jesus’ words, by the power of his voice, the dead are raised. Isn’t that amazing, Lazarus came out from the tomb. And we see in our own time many come out from the ungodly lives they are leading and follow the Lord because of the gratitude they have in knowing that they are saved by the blood of Jesus Christ.
So this miracle has some of the Jews believing. And why were the Jews there in the first place? They came to console their Mary and Martha. They came for a funeral. They came to see a dead man. And instead they saw that same man living.
Some of the Jews come to faith. And I’ve found this also quite shocking because we often think of all of the Jewish leaders as opposing Christ. But I’ve noted before that some of them do come to faith. Nicodemus is one. Paul, a pharisee of pharisees, is another. And so from this we can see that even the most hardened opposition to Christ can come to believe in him.
But what of the ones who do not believe! What would it take! Lazarus has been risen from the dead. And what do they think. Do they close their eyes, stick their fingers in the ears, and say “la la la” so as not to hear? How, just how, do you avoid the fact that Jesus is the Son of God?!
[Luk 16:31 ESV] 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.'”
Jesus certainly had in mind his own resurrection there, but we see the same result in the rising of Lazarus. Some are not convinced even though he has risen from the dead.
The text actually says that the Jews are concerned because Jesus performs “many signs.” So the raising of Lazarus is merely the latest. But it is the coup de grace; the latest and most important of the signs. These Jews saw Jesus’ miracles in Jerusalem when he was there for the feast of tabernacles. Perhaps some of them have now come to the house of Mary and Martha and Lazarus even hoping to see another miracle of Jesus. Or, the ones who are most hardened against Christ may be there to find fault in Jesus; reason enough to have him arrested or killed.
And those Jews ask in their counsel “What are we to do? [REPEAT: What are we to do?]
Calvin says this:
“Such is the confidence of wicked men, by which they lay claim to everything, as if it were in their power to do as they please, and as if even the result of the work depended on their wishes.”
Today, a worldwide fear has been growing of the Coronavirus. And consider the haughtiness of the politicians. I heard that one said we must immediately give 5 Billion dollars to help fight this outbreak. Another said, no we need 8 Billion. And yet another said, we need 10 Billion. One wonders, “why not 20 Billion?” Or 100 Billion. But the attitude of “What are we to do” is that same attitude of the council in Jesus’ time. They believe they can control more than they actually can control.
II. TWO UNWITTING PROPHECIES
The Jews presume to know “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 fear is that Jesus will gain followers as a political messiah and draw the attention of the Romans as a threat to their control of the area. The irony is that despite the fact that Jesus is killed the Romans come and destroy the nation.
Without fear-mongering, I think it is right to say that Coronavirus will spread with about the same effectiveness whether we give 5 Billion or 100 Billion dollars to the politicians.
Calvin says “they are fully convinced that it lies in their power to block up Christ’s path, so that he shall go no farther, provided that they earnestly strive against him.”
In the book of acts we perhaps see more wisdom in the Jewish leader Gamaliel who said
Acts 5:38-39 “if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them [the apostles].”
But here in John it is Caiaphas that answers.
“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.”
So we’ve had two unwitting prophecies
1. The Jews unwitting prophecy – That the Romans would come and destroy their nation.
2. Jewish high priest Caiaphas’ unwitting prophecy – That Jesus would die for the people.
It is not the wish of the council that the Romans would come and destroy the nation. That is exactly what they don’t want to have happen. But it is an unwitting prophecy fulfilled in the Jewish Wars and especially the sack of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. by the Roman General Titus.
Then we have a second unwitting prophecy. This is from Caiaphas, the high priest. It says in the text that he was high priest that year. I don’t think that means he ceased to be high priest at the end of the year. Rather, it is thought that he was high priest for quite some time. And Caiaphas had the backing of his father-in-law Annas, a former high priest who likely retained influence on him.
This idea of an unwitting prophecy is not knew to John’s Gospel. It occurs often when we look at the Old Testament prophets. They were led by God—in fact, it is said the Word of God came to them. And they would give a prophecy of something that was to come. Often times, however, the prophets of the Old Testament did not completely understand their own prophecies. They may have been speaking to a then contemporary concern, but the Lord would fulfill their prophecy at some later time, especially in the person of Jesus Christ.
So Caiaphas says it is better that one man should die for the people than for the whole nation to perish. He is thinking purely on physical, earthly, and Israelite terms. The fulfillment of the unwitting prophecy is two-fold. Though Jesus is killed, the nation does virtually perish in the war (or wars) against Rome. But the real importance to Caiaphas’ statement is the spiritual reality it unwittingly conveys. Jesus in fact dies for His people so that they do not eternally perish in the flames of hell. And in that sense it certainly is better (for us, His people) that one man should die rather than we all perish.
The text actually tells us that this was a prophesy, in verses 51 and 52. And what is interesting is that the text not only says it was a prophecy but that role of High Priest somehow functioned in that role.
51 He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, 52 and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.
By Caiaphas prophesying as such, the Jews would have less excuse. They would be found not to have listened even to their own supposed spiritual leader.
“Not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.” This gives the context to know that Jesus isn’t dying for the political reality of Israel or the ethnic reality or Israel, but he is dying for His people both Jew and Gentile.
EXAMPLE: Jonah – being thrown overboard.
The idea of one man dying for the whole nation is foreshadowed in the book of Jonah. When the storm comes upon the ship it is decided that Jonah is to be thrown overboard rather than letting the wrath of God come down upon the whole crew and the ship. One man is to drown for the rest. Or so that is what they think. But Jonah did not drown. And after three days in the belly of the fish he was back on dry land and calling for the people of Nineveh to repent.
APPLICATION – HOW TO DELIBERATE IN A PROPER AND HOLY MANNER
Calvin – “The only way to deliberate in a proper and holy manner is this. First, we ought to inquire what is the will of God. [in the Scriptures] next, we ought to follow boldly whatever he enjoins, and not to be discouraged by any fear, though we were besieged by a thousand deaths; for our actions must not be moved by any gust of wind, but must be constantly regulated by the will of God alone.”
That is, we don’t ask, like the Jewish leaders “what is best for my own gain” or “what is best for the nation” etc. In all things we are to ask “what is the will of God?” What does God command us to do in his holy Word? When it says “thou shall not murder” then we shouldn’t murder. And no ingenious argument can be devised to make it look good.
The Jewish leaders are almost to level of the character Roskolnakov in Dosteoveky’s Crime and Punishment. He reasons that his scrupulous pawn dealer has more money that she needs, while he and others are desperate need, and so by killing her and taking her money he’ll improve the world. But God says simply “Thou shall not kill.”
Very often in an Ethics class you’ll find complicated scenarios such as these. Maybe something like “there’s a person tied to the train tracks” and you can save them by re-routing the train, but you’ll end up running down other people on the other line. Well these scenarios have all that pretend knowledge of the Jews – as if they KNOW exactly what will happen, and so take things into their own hands. But the law of God is simple. It is simple for us normal simple people. Thou shall not kill. There is no calculation to be done as to whether killing is right or wrong in any given instance.
And this is in all things. We are to deliberate in a holy manner. We are to make decisions based on the word of God. Granted not all decisions will be easy, but following God’s laws – especially the 10 commandments – will massively simplify things.
III. A DOUBLE TRANSITION POINT IN JOHN’S GOSPEL
54 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. 55 Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and many went up from the country to Jerusalem before the Passover to purify themselves. 56 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?” 57 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.
This marks a transition in status for Jesus, relative to the authorities. Sure, he was already considered to be a threat, but now it was more official. He no longer walked openly among the Jews.
The time is now short because Passover is at hand, and it is at the time of this very festival that Jesus will be crucified. We’ve seen Jesus coming and going from a number of festivals. But at this last passover he will meet his first earthly end.
And this makes for a transition point in John’s Gospel. For a number of chapters now we have been seeing the interaction of Jesus and the Jews. Now it will transition to interactions between Jesus and his disciples, where he will be teaching them about himself and the work he has been sent to do.
So we’ve had eleven chapters covering Jesus’ life up to this point, and then there are 10 more chapters covering merely that last period in Jesus life. Sure, the Apostle John considers this to be the crucial point in the life of Jesus that he would spend such a section of his Gospel on it.
But as I conclude I want to go back to that central important point earlier. That Jesus would die for the people. This prophecy is later fulfilled in this very Gospel account. And it is that very teaching that is itself the Gospel. The good news is that Jesus died for His people.
We should deliberate in a holy manner, but we don’t always succeed. Sin continues to effect us. But in Jesus Christ our sins are atoned for, they are covered up by His blood.
And the gospel, as John tells us is successful. The apostle John, in verse 52, explains the unwitting prophecy of Caiaphas saying that “Jesus WOULD die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also TO gather in one the children of God who are scattered abroad.” For John, the fact that God’s people will be gathered up by Jesus Christ is just as assured as the fact of Jesus’s death. And it is Jesus’s death that leads to this ingathering of his people. And that is the good new for us, that Jesus died for the children of God and that they will be gathered into his flock, forever protected by the Good Shepherd.