Throughout John 11, Jesus has challenged both the Jews and us on what Love, Death, Grief and Resurrection look like in the Kingdom of God.
• And as we will see, because His challenges are at odds with the status quo, they demand to be reckoned with.
• In our text today, three areas of contention are brought to bear as the Jews reckon with the Kingdom of God.
o The first is Reason’s relationship to Belief
o The second is Jesus’ Identity
o The third is who is in Control
1) IN THE KINGDOM OF GOD – REASON IS NOT ENOUGH
John 11:45–46 (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.
This text is remarkable in what it implies.
• Some of those who were mourning with Mary and Martha over the death of Lazarus actually “believed in him” because of Lazarus.
• And remember, in John, to believe in Jesus means, among other things, that Jesus is of the Father and works under his authority.
• Remarkably, however, some actually did not believe in Him!
• They were confronted with the most awesome of supernatural miracles and still did not believe.
o Surely they believed Lazarus was now alive.
o Surely they believed Jesus had something to do with it.
o However, their conclusion was Jesus was a potential problem not a Messiah.
o I think the Gospel of John teaches clearly that those that aren’t called, drawn, and given by the Father to Christ, simply didn’t have eyes to see.
o They interpreted the evidence as their hearts saw fit.
• This begs the question, was the raising of Lazarus really the source of belief for those that believed?
o Or was it something else?
o The miracle was perhaps just a means to call the called.
• Jesus Himself has addressed the presence of unbelief by those who witness His power and authority.
o How does He account for it?
Just last week Lewis Wolpert, an atheist biologist at University College London, made the following comments in an episode of Unbelievable? Radio:
• He says God is a “mystical person for which there is zero evidence”.
• And wants to know if God is real why He doesn’t perform a miracle.
• In fact, God certainly hasn’t performed a miracle in the last 2000 years, Wolpert claims.
• He says, “If God is so jolly clever, why doesn’t he give us a more recent example [of a miracle], like tomorrow?”
• This is because, “a miracle would be very helpful in explaining the existence of God”.
What is Wolpert saying?
• Now, does the unbelief that persisted before the very presence of the incarnate Word of God’s raising Lazarus from the dead shed light on the premise of Mr. Wolpert?
• In other words, does belief in God necessarily follow from witnessing a miracle?
Contrasted with Wolpert, G.K. Chesterton has the following to say about miracles:
• “I had always vaguely felt facts to be miracles in the sense that they are wonderful: now I began to think them miracles in the stricter sense that they were willful.”
• Hebrews 1:3 (ESV) — 3a He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.
• Colossians 1:17 (ESV) — 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
• Psalm 75:3 (ESV) — 3 When the earth totters, and all its inhabitants, it is I who keep steady its pillars. Selah
From the perspective and teaching of John’s Gospel, what is the difference between Lewis Wolpert who sees God in nothing and Chesterton who sees a miracle of God in the fact that there are facts that we can know?
2) IN THE KINGDOM OF GOD – WHO IS JESUS?
Within the kingdom that Jesus is inaugurating, the Jews inevitably had to answer two questions.
• We will deal with each separately.
John 11:47–48 (ESV) — 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.”
Who Is Jesus – Messiah or Threat?
• The unbelievers told the Pharisees, and then the Pharisees convened the Sanhedrin.
• Rightly, the Pharisees and the Sanhedrin were greatly concerned with the implications Jesus’ work would have on them.
• Unfortunately, however, their concern was misplaced.
• They were preoccupied with the political implications instead of the spiritual implications of Jesus’ work.
• And worse still, notice that they specifically were concerned that the Romans would take away, “our place” and “our nation”.
• Their fear was a self-serving; “this Jesus is going to screw up our cozy arrangements with the Romans”.
Why did they have this fear?
• There are at least two reasons.
• Rome allowed the Jews to remain semi-autonomous.
• They could worship their God.
• They could maintain their temple, etc.
• However, in threat of an uprising by the Jews the Romans would crack down.
• Peace would be maintained but at the loss of liberty.
Jesus’ own words and actions:
• With His words and actions, Jesus was drawing large crowds, many of which were seeking to label Him the Messiah and overthrow Rome.
• These same words and actions were also seen as an affront to God and Judaism.
• And because of this, certain events began to draw the ire of the Jewish establishment.
o Healing on the Sabbath – John 5:15-17
o Claiming Equality with God – John 5:18
o His Self Proclamation – John 7:28-30
o His “I Am” Statement – John 8:58-59
So, having decided Jesus was a threat to their status quo, a solution had to be found.
• This leads us to our second question.
3) IN THE KINGDOM OF GOD – WHO IS IN CONTROL?
John 11:49–54 (ESV) — 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.
Who is in control – God or man?
• Here we have a powerful, in your face example of the sovereignty of God.
• Caiaphas, in agreement with the “our place” and “our nation” talk, knew exactly what they had to do to solve their problem.
• Kill Jesus so that everyone else would not go down in flames at the hands of a Roman crackdown.
• We know this because John tells us that after Caiaphas’ words, they, “made plans to put him to death” (vs. 53).
• Beasley-Murray tells us that the language of vs. 53 is so definitive it means that there is no adjudication to take place because the verdict has already been rendered.
o Jesus has already been found guilty.
o “All that remains is to find a way to accomplish their purpose.”
• The logic was that if they killed Jesus, they could prevent a messianic frenzy and thus the loss of the “whole nation”.
o Ironically, Jesus himself feared such an upheaval (John 6:14-15).
o Moreover, the Kingdom of God and its new covenant could not be thwarted.
o 70 A.D. would bring an end to Jewish temple life and their cozy arrangements.
But John makes a startling admission about Caiaphas’ words.
• He says, “He did not say this of his own accord” (vs. 51).
• In fact, Caiaphas’ words were a prophecy that “Jesus would die for the nation” (vs. 51).
• And that Jesus would even die for the “scattered abroad” (v. 52).
o These are the Gentiles in anticipation of the Gentile mission.
So we half to ask, did Caiaphas speak these words because he wanted to say them or because God wanted him to say them?
• Scholars are certain that Caiaphas’ “certainly did not mean [his words] in a Christian sense” – D. A. Carson.
• But as we just pointed out, John says Caiaphas did not speak “of his own accord”, “on his own”, or “own his own initiative”.
So if both Caiaphas and God are speaking, the answer to our question has to be, paradoxically, “yes”.
• D.A. Carson puts it like this, “Caiaphas spoke his considered if calloused opinion. But when Caiaphas spoke, God was also speaking, even if they were not saying the same things” – D.A. Carson.
• In other words, Caiaphas meant what he intended and at the same time God spoke through Caiaphas His intended meaning.
• Joseph puts it like this:
o Genesis 50:20 (ESV) — 20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.
So, in the Clash of the Kingdoms who is in control?
• Can the answer be both?
• This is one of the most profound mysteries of the Bible, the relationship between God’s sovereignty and man’s actions.
• As we see in our text, and in those that come, Jesus Christ is ground zero for this mystery.
Jesus was killed due to the sinful actions of man.
• Yet, God the Father had chosen to kill Him from the beginning.
o It was God’s will and desire that Jesus should die.
• Did the Father illicit the sinful actions of the Jews and Romans to kill Jesus?
o Placing before the people the exact circumstances in which He knew they would choose to kill Jesus in the way He desired.
• Or was He simply a skillful chess player that saw their move and made his move?
o If so, how many steps ahead of man’s actions does God stay?
• How much control, exactly, does God have?
• How does man’s freewill exist within God’s sovereignty?
o John’s Gospel has already made clear this relationship with respect to salvation.
o But what of the rest of our actions?
o We will save this for another day.