John 11:45-54 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.
Can any of you kids remember the main reason John wrote his Gospel? For bonus points, do any of you remember where John tells us?
John 20:30-31 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
As we continue to move through John’s Gospel and consider the different stories he shares with us about Jesus, let’s keep in mind that the two primary applications of them all is to believe that Jesus is the Christ. But let’s also remember that believing that Jesus is the Christ has implications for every aspect of our lives, every corner of the universe, and every pocket of society. In other words, believing that Jesus is the Christ has countless practical implications. As I’ve said before, is that in the same way that truly believing this room is on fire necessarily means taking action, truly believing that Jesus is the Christ necessitates certain action as well. John helps us in all these ways—knowing that Jesus is the Christ, what that means, and how we ought to respond.
Grace, I invite you to be in continual prayer that the Spirit would be pleased to work all of that out in us in increasing measures as we continue to make our way through this Gospel.
That said, as he has consistently done, in our passage for this morning John describes the response of those who witnessed Jesus’ miracle (raising Lazarus from the dead). Once again, it’s critical for us to notice that John often spends as much time describing the effects of Jesus teaching and actions as he does Jesus teaching and actions. As his purpose statement indicates, he’s as concerned with how people responded to Jesus as he is with how Jesus engaged the people in the first place.
We’re told, therefore, how “many of the Jews” reacted to Lazarus’s resurrection. Some believed and some didn’t. Those who didn’t told the religious leaders. Most of the religious leaders were knowingly confused. One, however, had a measure of (misguided) insight. And as a result of all of that Jesus laid low as His time was near.
The big idea of this passage is that by believing in Jesus we gain everything by giving up everything. And the main takeaway is to take a fresh count of the cost of following Jesus. Let’s pray.
THE VARIOUS RESPONSES
When we read the Bible, we need to do so prayerfully. We will never understand or appreciate it apart from the Spirit’s help. We also need to read it thoughtfully. We need to have our brains engaged as we seek to make sense of what the author intended to communicate and how that fits in with the larger story of the Bible. And we need to read it personally. We need to imagine ourselves in the story and in the place of the readers.
Along those lines, I invite you to imagine yourself having just witnessed Jesus bringing a man back to life after he’d been dead for four days. How do you think you’d respond? What do you think you’d say or do (or not say or not do)? Would you tell someone? Would you try to question Jesus? Would you freeze up? Something else?
John records four main responses of the witnesses and then Jesus’ response to the responses.
Some of the Jews Believed (45)
First, most simply, and most understandably, John tells us that some of the witnesses to Lazarus’s resurrection believed in Jesus.
45 Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him…
We are right to wonder how anyone could respond in any other way?! How is it possible to witness someone with the power to raise someone from the dead and not believe they are who they say they are? How could they not believe?
And yet, as we’ve seen several times already in John’s Gospel, witnessing and even being the object of Jesus’ miracles does not have any direct connection to believing in Jesus.
What’s more, we’ve also seen that “believing in Jesus” and “Believing in Jesus” are not the same thing. There is belief and there is unbelieving belief. Genuine, Holy Spirit enabled belief is the conduit by which the Father has determined to convey saving and sanctifying grace. Unbelieving belief, however, is useless. Unlike ordinary unbelief, it’s harder to detect (in others and in ourselves). It looks a lot like genuine belief. But it is different on the most fundamental level. It is imposter belief. It is a veneer of belief. It is hollow belief. It is impressed by some aspect of Jesus and believes some things Jesus says, but falls short of the kind of belief/trust/faith God calls for. It is the kind of belief that accepts some of Jesus’ Christness, but not all of it. It is a pick-and-choose kind of belief. Again, it is useless. It is not sufficient to carry the grace of God.
John has taught us to always be on the lookout for this imposter belief. He has taught us to be careful of mistaking unbelieving belief for the real thing. Many in John’s Gospel who “believed” initially (usually after witnessing one of Jesus’ miracles or hearing Him teach something profound), end up turning away from Jesus once the cost of following Him gets too high for their liking—that is, once what it means to genuinely believe in Jesus becomes clear. Therein they demonstrate the inauthenticity of their initial “belief”.
John does not explicitly tell us what kind of belief these people had. He uses the same language that he’s used in the past to describe the belief of both genuine believers and unbelieving believers.
The upshot of all of this for you and me is twofold. First, we need to be careful to examine our belief. It is proved genuine, not by intensity of feeling or any particular experience, but by perseverance and fruitfulness. Where genuine belief is present, it will continue and it will produce increasingly good fruit. That’s because genuine belief is always produced, empowered, and kept by the Holy Spirit. Second, this is also a warning against building a ministry around the kind of “alter-call” approach that was so popular for so long. We need to proclaim the gospel of Jesus and we need to call people to respond to it and it is good to do so with both individuals and (large) crowds, but our aim is not professions of faith, it’s followers/disciples of Jesus who are eager to trust in Jesus and obey all of His commands.
None of this should make us inherently skeptical when someone claims to be trusting in Jesus, but it should turn our prayers and actions quickly toward discipleship. Where genuine belief is present, it needs to be (again, by God’s design) nurtured and cared for. It needs to be shepherded and tended. Grace, I urge you, therefore, to learn about or make use of the discipleship tracks we have here. They are intended to help you obey Jesus’ Great Commission and help people understand the true nature of belief.
We don’t know the nature of the belief of the “many Jews” of v.45, but it is good to thank God for the spark of faith that Jesus’ miracle produced in them and remain hopeful that it grew into something mature and bright and persevering. That ought to be our disposition today as well.
Some of the Jews Didn’t Believe (46)
When we are confronted with the claims of Jesus, there is genuine belief, unbelieving believing belief, and outright unbelief. John tells us that many fell into one of the first two categories. He also tells us that some fell into the third.
The text doesn’t explicitly tell us that they didn’t believe, but it clearly implies it. John describes the second group in contrast with the first. There were those who believed…
46 but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done.
John doesn’t tell us exactly why this second group felt the need to tell the Pharisees. Perhaps, like the parents of the blind man Jesus healed (in chapter 9), they were simply afraid of being put out of the Synagogue for not reporting such a thing. Perhaps, it was because they genuinely believed this was a matter for the Pharisees to handle. Or, perhaps it was for some other reason altogether. Regardless, John makes it clear that doing so was the result of the fact that they didn’t believe that Jesus was the Christ. They didn’t believe that Jesus’ miracle was from God.
Again, we’re left with the question of how this is possible. How could people see what this group had just seen and not truly believe in Jesus? This is a big theme for John. He highlights it over and over so that we don’t miss it. His consistent answer is that sin’s blinding power is so thorough that there is nothing besides the regenerating power of God that can overcome it. There truly is nothing in heaven or earth that can open our eyes to see Jesus for who He truly is other than God Himself. There is no argument persuasive enough, now miracle spectacular enough, no love deep enough, no sacrifice sacrificial enough, no experience powerful enough, no thing beautiful enough, and no teaching profound enough to convince us that Jesus is the Christ on their own.
God’s grace will open our eyes to see what’s there or we will remain dead in our trespasses and sins. And God does so, always, only through the gospel of Jesus. It alone is the power of God unto salvation. So we must proclaim it continually, boldly, joyfully, hopefully, and expectantly. And then we must trust in God to use our faithful proclamation as He sees fit.
I’m making it a point to say this over and over because John, under the inspiration of the Spirit, has put it in front of us over and over. This is a lesson that we must learn and relearn and be reminded of over and over again. Share Christ and entrust the results to God. Grieve those who respond in unbelief, but rest in the knowledge that God is able to open the eyes of even His most hostile opponents, the most convinced unbelieving believers, the most apathetic teenager, and the one who’s heard and rejected the gospel the most.
Most of the Jewish Leaders Were Confused (47-48)
The next reported response is that of the Pharisees. Having been told by the unbelievers what Jesus was up to,
47 … the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the Council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs.
After what I just said (about the impenetrable blindness of sin), my own reaction to this question/observation doesn’t make sense. Despite what I believe doctrinally, every part of my mind and heart is overwhelmed by this response. What we to do?! He keeps performing miracles in the name of God. He turns water into wine. He makes the lame walk. He makes the blind see. He knows our hearts. He speaks with authority never heard before. What are we to do?!
You fall down at His feet and cry out for His mercy and grace! Entrust yourself to Him entirely. Hang on His every word. Follow Him wherever He goes. Thank God for sending Him in love. Worship Him with everything you’ve got. That’s what you do!
Again, sin’s blinding power is complete. When you can’t see, you can’t see, and boy, could they not see!
As if that weren’t enough, the Pharisees named their two greatest fears. If they refrained from intervening, or if they don’t get it right, they imagined the worst-case-scenario. First…
48 If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him…
The first, worst possible outcome in their minds was that everyone would believe in Jesus. Again, I’m trying hard to remember my doctrine and keep my sarcasm in check, but it’s hard. Sin had taken hold of all mankind through Adam. Death reigned. Justice demanded that nothing but eternal destruction awaited every man, woman, and child. God sent salvation into the world and offered it to everyone who would receive it, not by performing admirably or accomplishing a list of difficult tasks or by proving themselves worthy, but by simply trusting in His saving grace.
John 3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
And after witnessing a man raised from the dead, the Pharisees couldn’t imagine anything worse than people receiving the grace of the very God they claimed to love. Sin is sinful. It’s blinding. And it leads to the most foolish foolishness.
The second worst possible outcome of failing to properly censure Jesus in their minds was that, “ 48 … the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”
To take away “our place” is most likely a reference to the temple. That is, they feared that if things got out of hand among the Jewish people, the Romans would restrict their access to their place of worship and sacrifice. This would, of course, be a significant blow to the practice of their religion and way of life.
Along with this, the Pharisees also feared that by allowing Jesus to continue unimpeded, the Romans would take away their nation as well. This likely did not mean they feared being driven out of the land altogether, but rather losing all remaining autonomy they had within it.
In addition to being shocked at their persistent disbelief in spite of every evidence, there are some things we don’t want to miss from the response of the Pharisees.
First, this “Council” was the Sanhedrin. It was the Jewish governing body acknowledged by the Romans. It was mainly made up of the chief priests who were mainly Sadducees. It also consisted, as John makes clear here, of a minority of Pharisees. The two groups were constantly at odds with one another. It is very much akin to the Republican and Democratic parties in the U.S. today. The main point, as we’ll see in the coming chapters of John’s Gospel is that Jesus united them in their fear and hatred of Him. That was a remarkable accomplishment.
Second, there is tremendous irony in the Council’s fear of losing the temple by allowing Jesus to continue. The crowds would be stirred and the temple would be taken away, but not by the Romans. The actions of these religious leaders, the Jews themselves, would destroy their temple. It would come to pass, as Jesus promised, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19). The Temple itself stood in front of them and they were actively working to destroy Him. They completely missed the real thing for the shadow.
Third, these verses (along with v.50) indicate that the Council members weren’t worried about the Jewish nation as a whole, much less the glory of God. They were worried primarily about losing their own place of power and prominence. Their fear was that the Romans would take away “our place and nation” and that by doing something now it would be better for them (v.50).
And fourth, there are significant echoes of Egypt in these words. God called the Israelites out of the nations in order to be blessed by Him and a light to them. The Jewish people were to trust in God and live according to His commands as a means of showing the world that God is real, God is good, God is greater than all other gods, and obedience to God is the only and sure path of blessing. Instead, however, the Jews loved God’s blessings more than they loved God and so they often sought the blessings in places other than God. In that way, God became nothing more than a means to an end for them. God punished them for this disobedience by handing them over to the nations they were supposed to be an example to. Rather than be a light to the Romans and boldly call the Romans out of their darkness, they were oppressed by the Romans. But rather than leading them to repentance, it led them to continue to fight to hang on to the scraps the Romans allowed them. Again, this is very much like the Israelites in Exodus.
Exodus 16:2-3 And the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, 3 and the people of Israel said to them, “Would that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”
Like their ancestors, the Council was more worried about losing Roman crumbs than eating at the banquet table of God!
Do you care more about maintaining a certain lifestyle or measure of freedom than you do following Jesus? Are you clinging in any way to the crumbs of the world instead of feasting with God? Have you given yourself to the shadows of blessing rather than the Blessing itself? Likewise, are you afraid to speak truth to the powers that be when they step outside of their God-given role and authority, fearing their wrath more than God’s? Are you content to go along with the sinful current of the culture rather than speaking the truth in love to it as Jesus did?
One of the Pharisees was Clear In His Own Mind (49-53)
The final response recorded by John was that of the high priest, a man named Caiaphas. He had a harsh rebuke for the entire Council. He “said to them, ‘You know nothing at all.’”
That’s true. So far, so good, right? Perhaps he saw the folly of their ways and was about to stop them from making the biggest mistake of all time.
He went on, “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.”
That sounds even better, right? Does he get it? It almost seems like he understands what Jesus came to accomplish and is trying to set everyone else straight. Jesus did come to die for the people, His life for theirs. It is better that Jesus would die in our place, than for all of us to die.
But to make sure his readers didn’t come to this mistaken conclusion, John clarified in the next few verses.
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.
Do you see what this means, Grace? There was some sense in which Caiaphas was given a prophetic word from God. It was supernaturally revealed to him that Jesus would die for the nation of Israel and for all those whom the Father had given to Him. That’s amazing in its own right. What’s more amazing, however, is how badly Caiaphas misunderstood the prophecy. As the next verse indicates, He understood that to mean that they ought to work to end Jesus’ life, rather than mournfully rejoice that Jesus came to offer it freely.
53 So from that day on they made plans to put him to death.
Again, it’s hard to overstate the tragedy in this blunder. The High Priest had received a word from the LORD. It was a true word. It was a word of greatest hope and love. It was a word of life and salvation. Instead, he took it as a Divine mandate to put to death a troublemaker. He took it as a charge to end Jesus’ life so that He couldn’t bring the hammer of Rome down upon the Jews. It really is difficult to imagine a more costly and significant mistake.
As I mentioned above, we need to be people of the Word of God. And to be people of the Word of God means prayerfully, thoughtfully, and personally reading God’s Word consistently. But as we see here, it also means reading it humbly. And at the very least, that means being slow to believe we understand God’s Word rightly when no one else does/has. It means reading it corporately, with the help of brothers and sisters in Christ, near and far, living and dead. And reading the Word humbly means making sure it’s the Word we’re looking to and not our own impressions or feelings, or simply the impressions or conclusions of others.
Jesus Withdrew (54)
With the Passover mere weeks away, the one at which Jesus would die for the nation and also the scattered children of God, and the one at which entire Sanhedrin determined to see Him killed, Jesus withdrew to prepare.
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.
The big idea of this passage is that by believing in Jesus we gain everything by giving up everything. We can’t hang on to any of our own ways or the ways of this world. We must surrender all to Him. But insodoing, we’re given infinitely more in the reconciliation, fellowship, and satisfaction of God. And the main takeaway is to take a fresh count of the cost of following Jesus. Is that the nature of your belief. Where it is, praise God and continue pursuing Jesus in faith. Rejoice in the gospel, the good news that God has provided and is providing for you all that He requires of you.
But where it isn’t, where you find that you are like the religious leaders of Jesus’ day who were not willing to give up everything, who weren’t even willing to give up the leftovers of their oppressors to gain the eternal and unlimited feast of the Son of God, be warned. This is for you a blaring warning siren calling you to consider your own life and destiny. It is a fresh call to cast aside every lesser treasure that is coming between you and the Greatest Treasure.
It is good, that we now turn to the Lord’s Table, the beginning of the Feast that awaits us.
As we do, you’ll notice a few simple changes to our liturgy.
First, we’re acknowledging that we’ve already examined ourselves during the exhortation and assurance of pardon. We recognize that we don’t need to do it again.
Second, in light of the vision we’ve cast for the past year concerning the relationship between membership, baptism, and communion, and our recent decision to amend our constitution in that regard, you’ll notice that we remind you of God’s intended order. We are meant to come to faith in Jesus, be baptized as a sign of our inclusion in the family of God, and then take part in this family meal. For all kinds of reasons, this order can get confused in our lives. In my own life, I came to faith in Jesus through a parachurch ministry that didn’t emphasize baptism at all and neither did the church I attended at the time. For that reason, without realizing anything was off, I took communion for years before being baptized. If your hope is in Jesus, we invite you to take part in this meal today, but if you haven’t yet been baptized as a believer we encourage you to come speak to one of the pastors/elders about why the order matters.
And third, with these changes, the order is changed slightly. Momentarily, I’ll read our new, slightly modified invitation and then pray. Immediately after I pray the ushers will dismiss you by row. Having already examined ourselves according to Christ’s command, we’re glad to sing together as we’re coming up to get the bread and juice. Once everyone is seated again, we’ll pray the same corporate prayer that we’ve prayed in the past and then eat and drink together.