John 11:45-57 | Limited Government | Andrew Gutierrez
Topic: Worship Gatherings Passage: John 11:45–11:57
Please turn with me, for the final time, to John 11. Our text for the morning is found in verses 45 through 57. And while it’s our final message in John 11, it’s actually the first message through this next series in the book of John. See, the Scripture verses, the verse numbers and the chapter numbers, are not inspired by the Lord, so I’m safe to say that I wish this was more part of chapter 12 than chapter 11. But we’ll allow the Bible translators a little bit of leeway this morning.
We start our new series here in John 11 and it goes through the end of chapter 12, so probably six or seven weeks or so we’ll be in this series. And this series we’re entitling “Jesus, Israel, and the World.” In this part of John, you see clearly the government of Israel which was a religious government. The religious leaders of Israel start to formally reject Christ and expect the average Joe in the nation to do the same.
So there’s really a turning point here. There’s official rejection of Jesus Christ by the government. Remember back to John 1:11-12 it said this of Jesus: “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.” He came to Israel 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.” So that verse in John told us—it kind of gave us a preview of what was to come in John later on.
In John later on, we will see, John says in John 1, Jesus came to his own people, the nation of Israel, and God had always been coming to his people, right? Through the judges, the kings, the prophets; and what did the people do? Disregarded them, disobeyed them, killed them. There’s no difference in Jesus.
God then sends his own Son to Israel and in chapters 11 and 12, we see Israel rejects Jesus and ultimately kills Jesus. But as is the way with God, God’s got a larger plan for Israel. This isn’t the end of Israel. And in fact, Israel’s rejection has led to your salvation, if you are not Jewish. Anybody with Italian ancestry or Ethiopian ancestry or Mexican American or Canadian, whatever it may be, part of your story is found in these two chapters. The end of chapter 11 and chapter 12.
We’ll get more into that in the coming weeks, but this morning we come to John 11:45-57. Please follow along as I read.
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. 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.” 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.
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.
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.
I’ve entitled this sermon “Limited Government.” There is a political philosophy that really you could trace back to the 1200s in the signing of the Magna Carta, which limited government’s power. Government was getting out of hand—surprise, surprise—and a group of concerned citizens and leaders said it’s important that everyone know that the government is below the law. The government is not above the law but below the law.
Well, this passage this morning shows us how the government of Israel and the religious powers of Israel are limited when it comes to Christ. They are under the purposes of Christ. They think that they’re over the purposes of Christ. They overemphasize their power and they even believe they have more power than they actually do have. And we see in this whole section, but specifically in these verses this morning, that really their government is rather limited.
Now, how is it that you read a passage like I just read and you know the future of Jesus and ultimately they get their desire, don’t they? He’s handed over to them by Jews. He’s put on a mock trial, a number of mock trials in rapid succession, and then he’s executed on a cross. How in the world do we find encouragement from that message? Well, we’ll follow these verses and the rest of John and find out.
But it’s important to see this morning, for the purposes of going through this text, four features of the relationship between Jesus, Israel, and the world. How do we find encouragement in a story like this? Well, we see encouragement, we find encouragement because we learn how Jesus is relating to Israel and how he’s relating to the world. And there’s more to just what the Pharisees and chief priests think there is to this story. There’s more to it than that.
1. A Typical Division
So this morning we’ll see four features of the relationship between Jesus, Israel, and the world. And here’s the first feature we see: We see a typical division in verses 45 through 46, a typical division. When Jesus works, anytime in the world, there’s division. Some like the work; some hate the work. Some follow him because of his work; some reject him because of his work. This is typical.
And isn’t this typical in John? How many signs does Jesus do in the book of John? Audience participation time. Seven. You’ve been following, at least a few of you have been following. Seven signs. This is the seventh, and the seventh is really maybe the most profound, the most amazing. He raises a man from the dead in front of the public.
Now, a lot of his signs, you see the sign, you read of the sign—turning water into wine, healing the official’s son—you see the signs and people believe in him and some reject. This sign isn’t like water to wine. This sign is death to life. You would think that that would be the end of the story. Everyone who saw it would say, okay, okay, I’ll follow him. But no. People who saw Lazarus come out of the tomb four days after he died rejected Christ.
You know what that shows? The power of unbelief. And we see that here. It’s a typical division. Verse 45: “Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary [to the tomb] and had seen what he did [raised Lazarus], believed in him.” So many saw what happened and believed in him, trusted him, gave their lives to him, followed him. “[B]ut some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done.”
Now, we have a word for this. You parents have a word for this: tattletales. That’s what this is saying. Some people saw Lazarus come out of the tomb, fell to their knees, looked at Jesus, looked at Lazarus and said, I’m with this guy now. And some went away and went and told on Jesus.
Now, if you’re a parent, you know what tattling looks like and you don’t really like it all the time. And you can almost hear it coming. The steps come into your room: “Mom, Dad,” and you know what’s coming. The other sibling has done something wrong. They wrote on the wall, they let the air out of the tire, or whatever it may be. But when a sibling comes in a room and says, “Mom, Dad, Sister raised someone from the dead,” you kind of tell the child right in front of you, there’s nothing wrong with that. They didn’t do anything wrong. Really, there’s something wrong with you if you think that’s a problem.
That’s the case here. These people go to the chief priests and Pharisees and say, he raised someone from the dead. And we 21st century American believers go, so, isn’t that good? Doesn’t he deserve something for that, like your life? But no, they think there’s a problem there. Why do they think there’s a problem? Why do the people who see the resurrection happen think that that’s a problem? Because they know that Jesus is at odds, is an enemy of the state, the leaders, the religious leaders. They know that’s a problem, so they go and tell the religious leaders he’s doing something wrong, even if it’s something like raising a dead man.
Verse 47: “So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council and said, ‘What are we to do? For this man performs many signs.’” Now, if you all went to lunch and then went home and got a phone call around two o’clock this afternoon, and we called all the members of Canyon Bible Church of Prescott and said, “Listen, there’s a meeting at three o’clock at Prescott High School in the theater. Meeting at three o’clock today. Be there.” You would know that this is a big deal. This is a big meeting. We don’t just call a random meeting.
Well, this is what happened. They were told something’s wrong, so they called the 70 members of the Sanhedrin, sent messengers. Maybe if it was early in the morning, they rustled them out of bed. If it was later in the afternoon, they interrupted them from whatever they were doing. They interrupted their lives and said, we’ve got to meet together; something’s wrong. This is significant. You don’t just call an impromptu meeting of the Sanhedrin. This is what happened.
The chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs.” What does this show? This shows how irrational unbelief is. There were eyewitnesses to the resurrection of Lazarus that went and told on Jesus, that didn’t believe in Jesus, that rejected Jesus.
The chief priests—you would think that if you were one of the Pharisees or chief priests and you were just kind of going along your business and this group of people come and they say, we need to talk to you. Okay, what is it? You know that Jesus of Nazareth man? Yeah, I know him; we tried to stone him recently. You know where he is? Yeah, a couple miles away outside of Bethany. He just raised a man from the dead.
Now, I would hope that in that moment I wouldn’t say, bring him here; we got to get him. I would hope that I’d say, what did you say? He just did what? Tell me more about that. Well, he’s doing things he shouldn’t do. No, no, forget that. Tell me who rolled the stone away, who came out, what did you see?
But you see unbelief and it makes sense—2 Corinthians 4:4—that Satan is said to blind the minds of those who are perishing. Blinds the minds of those who don’t believe. There’s something more happening here. These men are blinded. They can’t look at the facts. They just don’t like what the facts point to. They don’t like that some of their influence is going to be taken away.
I want you to turn for a moment to 1 Corinthians 2, and as you’re turning, have you ever thought, maybe you’ve been with someone who’s not a follower of Christ and you went to a church service or somewhere where the gospel was preached or someone saw something amazing in the Scriptures. You see clearly, oh, my goodness, they’re definitely coming to Christ today. There’s no way they could hear that sermon, read that text, have that conversation, know what happened and still go on rejecting Christ. Have you ever experienced that? There’s no way they’re going to reject Christ after this.
But they do. Why? Because belief isn’t a natural thing. We don’t persuade people by the cleverness of our arguments. Something supernatural has to happen. 1 Corinthians 2:6-8 says this: “Yet among the mature [this is Paul writing to the Corinthian church] we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory.”
So Paul is saying, listen, those in Christ, we’re trying to bring you wisdom from God. It’s a spiritual wisdom that someone can’t get by reading Plato or Aristotle. This is from God. We’re trying to teach you so that you know the mind of God. Verse 8: “None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.”
So why in the world do the chief priests and Pharisees hear that he raised a man from the dead and still determine to kill him? Because they don’t have the wisdom that comes only from God. Look at verse 12 of chapter 2: “Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.” How are you wiser than unbelievers? How do you understand who God is and unbelievers don’t? Because you’re brilliant? Because you believe some arguments and you’re the one that gets credit for salvation? No. Because that wisdom is from heaven. Praise the Lord, right? Praise the Lord.
Verses 13-14: “And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person [chief priests and Pharisees and maybe some of your neighbors and family members] does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”
The natural man doesn’t understand why in the world we sing to someone we can’t see. The natural man doesn’t understand why we sacrifice to come here Sunday after Sunday, why we sacrifice to serve people in the body of Christ when the world doesn’t know about service. The world knows about me, myself and I. The natural person doesn’t understand this. The reason we do understand it is because God was gracious to show us. That’s why we understand, and the chief priests and Pharisees do not understand this whole thing.
Unbelief is powerful. And this would be cause to hang our heads when we think of family and friends that we love. But I will remind you of two things: one, your heart was changed; you were shown wisdom from above. That God is still at work. And two, 2 Corinthians 4, I told you in verse 4 it talks about the god of this world blinds the mind of those who are perishing. Well, verse 6 says that God says the one who said let there be light has shown in our hearts to give us the knowledge of God, the glory of God in the face of Christ Jesus. Somehow, some way we saw Christ and it went from despising him, rejecting him, not really caring about him to thinking he is precious and he is the image of God and I am following him. Something happened there. God spoke life.
But I told you about verse 4 and verse 6, but what’s verse 5? Verse 5 of 2 Corinthians 4 is Paul saying we came to serve you and we preached Jesus Christ as Lord. What changes … what opens someone’s eyes from being blinded to now having sight? How does God do that? God does that by using men and women to preach the gospel of Christ so that people say, oh, my goodness, I want him as my Lord. He is my Lord. So God using human means opens up blind eyes.
So we see here a pretty devastating and sad account of people who rejected Christ and ultimately put him on the cross, but we know there’s still power working that can change those minds. But you see first here in these first two verses a typical division. When you think of Jesus, Israel, and the nations, it’s a typical division. And this wasn’t just a division in Jesus’ time; it’s a division here and now. You can hear a sermon, you can hear a passage read, you can read the Bible with someone who doesn’t follow Christ, and you read that and you see glory, and they read it and they think that stinks. Typical division.
2. An Amusing Irony
Secondly—second feature of the relationship between Jesus, Israel, and the world: We see an amusing irony. An amusing irony. Verses 47-50, the chief priests and Pharisees say this: “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.” Now remember, the Jewish nation was allowed to exist by Rome. Rome was the super power. Rome was the empire over the world. The Roman empire was strong. Any other government that was allowed to exist was simply allowed to exist by Rome.
And so the Jewish leaders got really good at appeasing Rome, not angering them, so they could still keep their temple and their land and their nation. So the Jewish leaders are afraid that if people start following Jesus, they won’t follow us, and maybe Rome will be upset because there’s chaos, and this isn’t good. Then we’ll lose our identity as a nation, we’ll lose our temple. This is not good. So they’re afraid.
They’re afraid and so they say, “If we let him go on like this,” as if they have control over Jesus. “If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him.” And then they do what people who are fearful do. They project onto the future things that haven’t happened yet. If we let him do this, then this is going to happen and this is going to happen and this is going to happen and it ends with all of us dead. They’re typical fearful people. They’re afraid that if people follow Christ, things will turn to chaos.
Verse 49: “But one of them, Caiaphas [who, by the way, wasn’t just one of them; he was the leader of them], 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.’” Caiaphas is saying, listen, you guys are thinking too small. They’re thinking, how do we stop him from talking, how do we silence him? And he’s like, guys, you don’t get it. He needs to die. It’s better that he die, one man, and the rest of the nation live. Caiaphas is trying to get them to think, listen, we can do something about this, men. You’re thinking too little, too small. You’re not thinking rightly here.
And isn’t that exactly what would happen? Jesus would die for the nation. Caiaphus had no clue what he was saying. And if you were a follower of Christ who was eavesdropping on this conversation, if you were a follower of Christ in that moment, not knowing about what was to come, and you heard Caiaphus say, guys, we’re going to kill him, because it’s better that he dies and the nation be saved. If you were a follower of Christ, you would be sad, heartbroken, nervous, worried. Now, as followers of Christ on this side of the cross and the empty tomb, we say, yeah, preach it Caiaphus. Preach it! If he dies, we live.
Now, I was going through this message with one of my friends earlier this week and I told him about this second point—an amusing irony—and I won’t name him. He happens to be an associate pastor of our church. But he was like, I’m not wild about you calling it an amusing irony. And because I trust what this man says, I said, I was kind of like, okay, I’m listening. What is it you don’t like? And he said, we’re talking about the death of Jesus. That’s not amusing. And so I did what all good pastors do—I went Bible on him. I said, I hear your objection. I’m going Bible on you, my friend. So let’s go Bible on Jason Drumm for a moment. I don’t know where you are but …
Psalm 2—you can listen or you can turn there. Psalm 2:1-4. The Psalmist says this: “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?” Pause right there, this is John 11, isn’t it? Why are the chief priests and Pharisees in a rage? Why are they plotting things that aren’t going to work? “The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his Anointed.” So you can see the chief priests and Pharisees, you can see the Sadducees and Pharisees, who did not get along, go arm in arm saying, we’re together and we’re against him.
Why do they “set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his Anointed”—Christ. Here’s what they say: “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.” Isn’t this what the world does today, too? Keep your Bible away from us. Keep your constricting rules and regulations away from us. This is my body; I’ll do what I want with it. This is what the world does and this is what they did. Why are they saying these things? What are they doing this for?
Verse 4, Psalm 2: “He who sits in the heavens” hires lawyers; “He who sits in the heavens” assembles lobbyists”; “He who sits in the heavens laughs.” We’re not going to let Jesus’ influence get into this nation, this school, this community. And God in heaven doesn’t sit there trembling. He sits there laughing at the vanity of all that, at the worthlessness of all of that. “He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision.”
That’s why this is so amusing, because it’s amusing to God. People hear of the chief priests and Pharisees making plans and they think, oh, my goodness, our leader, the one we follow, Jesus Christ, the one that did all these signs, he’s going to die and be no more. And people around are trembling, weeping, concerned, sad. And God has a smile, thinking this is part of the plan for me to gather in worshipers from every nation. Part of the plan. It’s an amusing irony.
I can just see John—remember John wrote this book, the one we’re studying, John wrote this book after the death and resurrection of Christ. And you can just see John writing what Caiaphus said, laughing. Caiaphus said it’s better if he die for the whole nation and they thought that meant something—and he’s just laughing, thinking everyone else who ever reads this is going to smile and smirk.
We know what God is doing here. We know exactly what God is doing. They are not in charge. God alone is sovereign. God alone is sovereign over his Son’s death. Read Acts 4. He planned it. They didn’t plan it. This is the second feature in the relationship between Jesus, Israel, and the world. There’s a typical division. There’s an amusing irony.
3. An Inclusive Atonement
Third, there’s an inclusive atonement. Another feature of Jesus’ relationship with this nation and the rest of the world is that there is an inclusive atonement. Verse 51: “He did not say this of his own accord [Caiaphus], but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation.” Caiaphus was high priest for about 18 years, which is a lot longer than most of the high priests around him.
But John singles out this particular year. He prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation in this particular year. This year of such importance to the history of the world. John makes the point for the reader that Jesus’ death was for the nation of Israel, because if you’re just reading this and you don’t know the rest of the story, you think that if Jesus dies, then Israel will be okay because Rome will allow them to exist, unharmed. So it’s better that Jesus die for that reason.
But John is saying, no, Jesus dies so that Israel might live eternally. It has nothing to do with Rome. We’re talking about bigger things at stake. Eternal life. John makes the case for this atonement. The word “atonement” is important to define. Atonement is the work Christ did in his life and death to earn our salvation. We would add that this atonement isn’t just something that Jesus did in his life; it’s something he did in his death. So in that sense it’s a substitutionary atonement. So don’t let the length of those words trick you. It simply means that Jesus died for your sin and he gave you his righteousness. There’s substitution taking place there. 2 Corinthians 5:21. There’s substitution.
So Jesus died for the salvation of Israel, not just temporarily with Rome, but eternally before the Father. You know Isaiah 53, that great passage that points to the death of Christ. “Surely he has borne our griefs.” Substitution. He takes on our griefs. “[A]nd carried our sorrows.” Now you would think that the nation of Israel would say, we know one is coming that’s going to take our griefs and take our sorrow. It appears to be Christ. But they don’t do that. And Isaiah 53 prophecies of their rejection.
“Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows, yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” He dies; we’re healed. “All we like sheep have gone astray. We’ve turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him [substitution, atonement] the iniquity of us all.”
He was oppressed. He was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth. Why in the world was Jesus executed and didn’t say a word? Because it was his plan, along with the Father’s plan, that this would happen. And his executors had no clue why this was good. He opened not his mouth. “[L]ike a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that is before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.”
John tells us right here in the gospel of John that when he dies, it has an effect, a positive effect on the nation of Israel. The leaders think it has a positive effect before Rome. We know it has a positive effect before God the Father. Verse 52 of John 11. Back to verse 51, just to remind you. “He did not say this on his accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation.” Now, who’s the nation? Israel. Verse 52. “[A]nd not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.”
Jesus did not just die for Israel. He died for Zimbabwe. He died for everyone under the sun. He died for all kinds of people from every tribe, tongue and nation. That’s why we’re in a Christian worship service in the United States, because of his death. Remember gods in the Scripture were local gods. Jesus is different. He’s not a local god. He’s the God of the whole entire earth that desires all men to be saved and all men to know him from everywhere. Not only for Israel, but for the rest of the children of God, Gentiles as well.
It’s very simplistic to say that Jesus died for my sins. That’s a true statement, but it’s not the full picture. The full picture is Jesus died for the sins of people all over the world to bring them into one corporate community. It’s bigger than just you and me. Jesus didn’t live and die just for me. He lived and died to bring people from all over the world, to show the rest of the world, he is Lord over all. That’s why he died.
So they—get the picture—they gathered together to shut him up, to kill him. In that death, he gathers together the world to worship him. That’s pretty ironic. It points to his wonderful atonement. Let me say this: If there was ever a sin committed by a Christian that proved that they failed to understand the purpose of God for human history, it’s racism. If there was ever a sin that a Christian committed that showed that they do not understand God’s plan for history, it’s racism.
People who are racists and claim to be Christians don’t read their Old Testament right. They think, oh, see, he kept Israel separate. No intermarriage. See that’s what we got to do today. He did that so they wouldn’t be influenced by the other nations, but they were meant to be a light to the other nations. He told Jonah, go to Nineveh. Jonah’s like, no; I’m a racist. Go to Nineveh! I have people in Nineveh.
And what was Israel supposed to do? Show the light of God to the world. Gentile salvation, by the way, is all over the Old Testament. Read Ephesians 3 this week at some point. The purpose of God after the cross is to unite people from all over the place together. That’s why in so many of Paul’s letters he’s telling Jews and Gentiles, stop hating each other, Christians! Get together. Join one another.
The sin of racism is a horrible misunderstanding of who God is. It shows that a person reads their Old Testament wrong and doesn’t even think that there’s a New Testament. Just read the New Testament. It’s all over the place, including this verse right here.
What was the purpose of Christ’s death? Well, to die for the nation of Israel, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. Revelation 5:9. Part of what heaven rejoices in is the absence of racism. Revelation 5:9-10: “And they sang a new song.” Heaven is singing. “They sang a new song. Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on earth.”
You might ask the question: Why are you guys so concerned with churches and unbelievers in Nicaragua? We have unbelievers here in Prescott. Yes, we do. And we’re concerned about that, too. But it is good for Christians to know that other people matter who aren’t part of their ethnicity. For the glory of God, we want the nations to come to Christ. There are no ethnic neighborhoods in heaven. You got Americans in this part of heaven and Nicaraguans in that part. “Hey, don’t come too close to our side of the tracks.” There’s none of that in heaven. There are block parties with all sorts of foods being eaten, all sorts of world languages being spoken and celebrated. We’re all together under Christ.
And the diversity of heaven shows the greatness of Christ. Every single group that isolates itself says, what isolates us, what makes us different than another group, makes us better than that other group. The Christian church by nature says, we’re from all over the map because the most important thing isn’t where we’re from, it’s who we all worship. That’s the beauty of this whole thing. Christ is Lord of all. So no racism allowed here, okay? This is an inclusive atonement. Christ has a heart for the nations and so should we.
4. A Legislative “Prohibition”
The fourth feature of the relationship between Jesus, Israel and the world: We see a legislative “prohibition.” And I put “prohibition” in quotes because they can’t make a legislative prohibition. But we see this happening. Don’t we see this with Jesus, Israel, the world all throughout human history? Governments make prohibitions against Jesus. You’re not allowed to preach here, pray there, read the Bible there. A legislative “prohibition.” It’s not uncommon and it started here.
Verse 53: “So from that day on they made plans to put him to death.” This was their official declaration saying, the action point from this meeting, gentlemen, is that we’re going to plan a way to kill him. That’s what they decided. Verse 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.”
Jesus knows that the Jews are looking to kill him, knows that the time of his execution is coming, but it’s not his time to die yet. Why? Because it’s not Passover yet. He needs to die on Passover to show that he’s the Passover lamb. But we’re still a couple days away, so Jesus goes away from Jerusalem.
Verse 55: “Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand.” So there’s time between verses 54 and 55. Jesus goes away to Ephraim for a couple of days probably. It wasn’t very long. And then we get to verse 55. “Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand.” And it doesn’t mean it was the day of Passover. It means it was the time of Passover, so it’s the seven-day festival where people would be coming in to the city for an entire week from all over the world. Over a million people would be coming to Jerusalem for the Passover.
“Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand.” That means a seven-day period. “[A]nd many went up from the country to Jerusalem before the Passover to purify themselves.” There was this spiritual process before they took the Passover meal, enjoyed the Passover meal, later in the week. And this group is coming from all over the place to Jerusalem. Over a million people to this festival. And they’re purifying themselves because you have to be ceremonially clean to take the Passover meal. So they’re going through all the ritual to do that.
Verse 56. What was the buzz about at that current Passover? A million people in the city or more; and the buzz is, have you heard what Jesus did? He raised a man from the dead. Did he really? Are you serious? Were you there? Well, no, but Frank was and … The buzz is about Jesus, and they’re wondering, is he going to come? Does he have the guts to show his face? Is he going to come?
“And the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and many went out 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?’” Some might have been saying, there’s no way he shows his face here. And others were saying, oh, no, I bet he shows up. They’re wondering: Is he going to show up?
Verse 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.” Now, this is different. So far in John, Jesus is preaching in the temple area. They try to stone him. They, the leaders, try to stone him. He escapes. Now, they’re saying, we’re formally making plans to kill him. And now what do they do? They go to every single one under their leadership authority, and they say, it’s not just our plan anymore, by the way; if you see him, you need to turn him over to us. They bring the people into this.
So you can no longer be someone who just kind of kept his head down and minded your own business. I know they hate him. There’s some feud going on, but I don’t know what’s going on. I’m just going to the store. I don’t know. You’re no longer allowed to do that. The chief priests and Pharisees say, no, if you see him, you need to turn him over to us. So now you can see the wanted posters around town. This man is wanted. Bring him to us. They take the nation, the people and they make them the enemies of Christ.
What’s beautiful about this—by the way, another reason I’m not a big fan of the chapter division between 11 and 12—what’s beautiful about this is that in chapter 12 (we’ll get to this next week), you see in response to the leaders saying, if you’re near him, bring him to us. You see Mary, Martha and Lazarus—Jesus is eating at their home—and they don’t say, aha, you’re here; we’re bringing you to the authorities. You see one of the greatest acts of devotion to Jesus Christ the world has ever known. Mary pouring the costly perfume on the feet of Jesus, adoring him in worship. This is after the religious leaders say, anyone of you see him, you bring him to us. She does the exact opposite. What a beautiful picture.
Jesus is Lord and no human institution can prohibit a person’s allegiance to him. Can’t. Can’t do it. You can put someone in a cell, put someone in a shipping container, where some of our brothers and sisters are as we speak around the world, and you cannot stop them from giving their allegiance to Jesus Christ.
In Acts 5—I mean picture where we’re at in Acts 5. They’ve killed Jesus. Done. Now, we can finally get some rest around here. They killed Jesus. He rises from the dead. Goes around and is seen by a number of witnesses. Meets his disciples. Shows them himself. Ascends to heaven and says, go preach my message everywhere. In Act 5, you’d think that the authorities are—well, there’s no way they’re going to say anything. They’re done. I mean, they didn’t even go to the cross. Only John and some of the ladies were there. They all fled. That one that hung around him so closely—Peter—he denied him. They’re all gone. We’re done. No more threat.
Acts 5—they beat Peter for speaking about Christ. How did Peter get so bold all of a sudden. That’s what happens when your best friend rises from the dead. That’s what happens. Peter speaking about Christ, Acts 5:27-29 says, “And when they brought them, they set them before the council.” Same council, by the way. “And the high priest”—who is that? Caiaphus—same high priest. “And the high priest”—and he probably thinks this nothing. We dealt with Jesus; we just got one of his little fisherman followers. Caiaphus walks in, “And the high priest questioned them, saying, ‘We strictly charged you not to teach in his name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.’” You’re blaming us for this?
“But Peter and the apostles answered, ‘We must obey God rather than men.’” With respect, sir, I’m not shutting up. You can legislate whatever you want against me. I’m not going to be quiet. I’ll submit to you in so many things, but when I have to obey the Lord versus you, I’m obeying him. You can’t do anything.
And by the way, in the chapter before that, Acts 4, they were beaten. They were beaten, and you can see the chief priests and the high priest say, that’ll show ‘em. But they’re beaten and they go back to the church rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer for him. I mean, talk about backfiring. Our beating of them will just encourage them. The beating of them encouraged them! There’s nothing that a government can do to Christians to stop them. Nothing.
These four features that happen in John 11 are the same things that happen today. There’s a typical division. When the Scriptures are opened today, when Christ is made known today, there’s a division. Some embrace him; some reject him. There’s also an amusing irony. People think that they can stifle Christ, shut Christians up; but that’s just how the work of Christ is fueled.
You look at China where, by the way, a report from Voice of the Martyrs came out this morning saying that the government is starting again to crack down on home churches. Recently, for a time, the government kind of took their hands off, in a sense, of the home churches. It wasn’t as bad as it once was. Evidence that even this morning China is starting to harass home churches even more. But it’s interesting, isn’t it? China was closed to Christianity. Japan was open to Christianity. Chinese Christians are more spiritually and theologically healthy than Japanese Christians. In the persecution, the message of Christ thrives. Thrives. Worship happens. They can’t do anything about the work of Christ.
There’s also an inclusive atonement, even today. Christ is gathering in the Gentiles; and in the future, Israel will repent of what they’ve done and how they’ve rejected Christ. You can see that all over the Old Testament, all over the New. Romans 9 through 11. If you need help on that, read Romans 9 through 11 today. In a sense, we as Gentiles are making Israel jealous. We have what they should have, and one day they will come back and we’ll all be one.
We also know that today there are legislative prohibitions going on. Governments try over and over, don’t they, to stop the message of Christ going out. This set of verses in John 11 show us that doesn’t work. Yes, Christ dies, but in that death, there’s a victory for all people and he’s risen from the grave.
I mentioned and I read a little bit of Isaiah 53 earlier. There’s a video—you can probably find it on YouTube; maybe we’ll put it on the church website or send it out in an email or something—but there’s a video where a Jewish Christian goes to a number of Jewish people who are not followers of Christ and he has them read Isaiah 53. And what’s interesting about Isaiah 53, in most synagogues it’s not allowed. Isaiah 53 is not allowed to be read in most synagogues. Why? Because people will start asking questions if it was read.
Isaiah 53, about the one from the nation who would bear the sins of the nation and be rejected by the leaders of the nation, is not allowed to be read in Jewish synagogues. You understand why. So this man goes to these Jewish people and he asks them if they know, if they’ve ever read Isaiah 53, if they know what it’s about. And they—no, I don’t know what this is about. So he says, would you like to know? And they say yes. So he has them, some of them read it. He reads it to some of them. And he just walks them plainly through it. They say, yes, there’s going to be a man that takes the sin of the people, and he’s going to be rejected by the leaders. And they walk through the whole thing.
And he says, have you ever known a man who fits this? And some of them say, no. And one even says, if you hear of him, let me know. No. One young man says, Yeshua? Jesus? The Christian man walks them through the gospel, walks them through how Christ takes away sin, if we repent and believe, because all of us have gone astray, and put our trust in the one who was willing to die for us and give us his righteousness. If we’ll put our faith in him and trust in him, we’ll have eternal life just like he has.
And you see the light bulbs start to go on in some of their heads, especially this one young man. It’s a great picture that leaders can try to do whatever they want to shut Christ up and to shut Christians up, but the power of the gospel is one that is a spiritual power. It’s greater than anything that man can do.
So what do we do with all this? There aren’t any commands in here for the New Testament believer in this passage. There aren’t things to do. But listen, Canyon Bible Church of Prescott, there is a lot to believe in this passage. Let this put steel in your bones. Mine is the one. Mine is the Christ that no one can stop me from talking about. Mine is the Christ that died for the nations and rose again and no one can stop him. I’m on the winning team, and I’m not going to stop talking about that.
That’s what we need to believe. There’s something bigger here than the nations relate and understand. And we’re all a part of it. Let’s pray.
Father, we thank you that the death of Christ is not final. The death of Christ won a victory, and the death of Christ was followed by the resurrection of Christ. We know how amusing this story is on this side of the cross. We see how great and sovereign the Father, Son and Spirit are because we’re on this side of the cross. Lord, give us as a people belief, trust, boldness, perseverance; keep us from cowardice, fear, shrinking back. We have a message for the nations. We have a message for the nations that their sin can be forgiven through the blood of Jesus Christ. And Lord Jesus Christ, it was your Father’s plan; you executed it, you made it happen. You pursued the cross, you embraced the cross because of your love for us and our brothers and sisters.
We pray today, Lord, for those who are suffering persecution around the world; give them an extra measure of comfort. Let them even know there are people, brothers and sisters, praying for them. Lord, we’d be honored if you would hear our prayers and bring comfort to them, fortify them, strengthen them, comfort them, give them joy in the midst of persecution. And Father, should we ever go through anything like that, make us a strong people, a joyful people. We need your strength. We pray this in your Son’s name. Amen.
More in Jesus, Israel, and the World
March 12, 2017John 12:44-50 | The Final Appeal | Andrew Gutierrez
March 5, 2017John 12:37-43| A Pathology of Unbelief | Andrew Gutierrez
February 19, 2017John 12:27-36 | The Victorious Death of Christ | Andrew Gutierrez