The pastor, author, and theologian John MacArthur has been a great encouragement to many of us around SonRise for many years. His books fill our shelves, his podcast fills our ear buds, and his and the content of his teaching fills our hearts. I remember one specific time I was listening to him speaking about pastoral ministry, and he brought up a meeting that he’d never forgotten. Things had been growing and expanding enormously at Grace Community Church and by God’s grace lives were being changed left and right. It was a joyful season of ministry, one that he was immensely grateful for. Right in the middle of this season he walked into their regular Tuesday morning staff meeting and was shocked. His entire staff was already present and by the looks on their faces it was clear that they were not as happy as he was about what was taking place at the church. The conversation began, they told him that they we’re all quitting that day, and they all walked out. Looking back at this event MacArthur said the day came to be known around the church as ‘Black Tuesday.’
In our text today there is a similarly severe meeting. A meeting that would change the course of Jesus’ life and ministry as He knew it. A meeting that would pave the way for His crucifixion. You heard Toni read it, let’s turn to it now.
John 11:45-57 reveals the results of Lazarus’ resurrection. A council is sought, that council gathers, and that council decides on a certain course of action. For those of you taking notes those are our three headings this morning.
The Council is Sought (v45-47a)
In the beginning of our passage the results of Lazarus being raised are clear. The people are once again divided. We see belief in v45. We learn that many of the Jews who had been there at the funeral not only saw Lazarus raised, they believed in Jesus because they saw Lazarus raised. For these Jews that believed, what they saw with their eyes confirmed what they had already heard with their ears. Or in other words the miracle of Jesus was evidence, a stamp of approval, or a validation of the teaching of Jesus. This is the purpose of signs and wonders all throughout the Scripture, to affirm the message proclaimed. They saw Jesus raise a dead man to new life and immediately believed that His prior claims to be the Son of God were true! For these new believers the funeral indeed became a celebration of new life, not only in Lazarus but in themselves as well. But not all present were so happy. Standing in contrast to the belief we see in v45 we see unbelief in v46. The text says other Jews saw the miracle and rather than rejoicing or being struck with awe at Jesus they went straight to the Pharisees and told them about it. D.A. Carson, in his commentary on John, says of this group in v46, “One might charitably hope that the motive of at least some of them was to win the Pharisees to the truth, but the contrast set up between those who believe and those who go to the Pharisees suggests that their intent was more malicious.”
This division here in v45-46 is evidence that when people encounter Christ the one thing that never happens is nothing. People see Christ, people hear His Word, and one of two things occur. They are either warmed and come to Him in repentance and faith or they are distressed and grow in their hostility to Him. We’ve seen this division over and over in John’s gospel and most of you wouldn’t be surprised to hear that the same things still occur today. Mention something about your favorite sports team playing well and beating another team and you may ruffle some feathers. Mention something about politics or who you voted for and you will certainly ruffle more feathers. But mention Jesus Christ and you’ll hit a nerve. Jesus Christ is the most divisive Person in the history of the world. This is why Paul will later say that upon hearing the gospel of Christ some smell the sweet aroma of life and draw near, while others smell the putrid aroma of death and flee for the hills. Hear in this a call to pray, that in your own life, in your families life, and in the life of this congregation many would smell the aroma of life and be saved!
Well, this second group in v46 goes off tattling to the Pharisees, no doubt making them aware so that they’ll do something about this Jesus. And there in v47a we see the severe meeting begin as the council is called together.
The Council is Gathered (v47b-52)
Once gathered the initial hullabaloo of the council (made up of chief priests and Pharisees) begins with the words we find in v47b-48, “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.” These words expose much about their hearts.
Firstly, they’re at a loss. They acknowledge that Jesus has truly performed many miracles and that everyone will believe if they continue allowing Him the freedom to do so. It’s understandable that they would feel like this but do you see how they’re making a bit of an exaggeration? Have they forgotten how the massive crowds left Him once He began teaching hard things at the end of John 6? Have they forgotten that just now a group of Jews came to tattle on Jesus after raising Lazarus from the dead? Have they forgotten that not everyone has believed in Him? It seems they have.
Secondly, note their continuing unbelief. They do truly acknowledge that Jesus has done these miracles, yet this acknowledgement doesn’t lead to belief, it only spurs them toward a more wholehearted opposition. This is usually not what we see happen. People in Scripture who recognize Jesus’ power to do what no one else can do usually respond to Him by falling at His feet calling Him Lord. So why do these guys grow more hostile after recognizing His true power? Perhaps an example will help explain. During my first year and a half of college, before I had become a Christian, I knew of a certain guy on campus who was always sharing the gospel with any student he could. So naturally I avoided him. But in the months leading up to my conversion I not only continued to avoid him, I grew to strangely dislike him. Every time I’d see him I would try to linger around long enough that our eyes would meet so I could give him a cold glare from a distance. Looking back on my dislike of this man is curious to me. I now know that the reason I didn’t like him and didn’t want to talk with him wasn’t because I thought the gospel was false. No, his very presence convicted my heart and cut me to the core because deep down I knew the gospel was true. So I avoided him because I also knew that once I embraced the gospel, everything about my life had to change, and I loved my sin too much to leave it. One of the ironies of my life is that five years later this man and I served on staff at a church together in downtown Atlanta, and we often looked back and laughed on my previous dislike of him. You see…these chief priests were just like that in this passage. They know Jesus’ miracles to be true, to be powerful, and therefore they know His claims to be God must be true as well. But that doesn’t push them toward belief. It pushed them deeper into unbelief.
Thirdly, they’re fearful and anxious. If Jesus continues to gain momentum with the people they believe they’ll lose two things: their place and their nation. By referring to their ‘nation’ they mean the Romans will see Jesus’ movement as a rogue religious Jewish threat and desire to put a quick end to it militarily. If that happens they’ll lose the religious freedom Rome now gives them as a nation and since their religion is what by and large defines them as a nation, Israel as a whole would be lost. But I’m not convinced that’s their main concern. By stating the concern they have for their ‘place’ first shows what they’re really worried about. Sure the nation may be lost, sure their religion could be wiped out by Rome, but if all that goes what also goes with it? Their prominent role in the spotlight as chief priests, scribes, and Pharisees. So, Jesus was threatening their position of power and prestige among the people. This was their main concern.
After this first outburst of anxiety this council is silenced by their leader. Caiaphas, the high priest, spoke up in v49-50 saying, “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.” Into this frazzled mix Caiaphas brings sharp rebuke. He makes it clear that they have no idea how to see this situation for what it is and that only he has a clear enough insight to see things as they are and give the needed answer. In his wisdom he suggests that they need to kill Jesus in order to save the people. Now be sure to understand that he didn’t mean this in a Christian sense, he meant that they must execute Jesus so that their ‘place’ and ‘nation’ as a whole would continue to exist. But we, and really any reader of John’s gospel after the cross, can’t help but see more in his words. Caiaphas calls for the execution of Jesus for the purpose of self-preservation, but we see a call for the execution of Jesus for the purpose salvation. Lest we think we’re just reading too much into Caiaphas’ words, the beloved disciple John gives us proper interpretation in v51-52, “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.”
Now we must pause and linger to see what is being said to us.
I bring these things up because in v51-52 we come face to face with one of the most important matters in the entire Scripture, the atonement of Jesus Christ. The questions ‘Why did Jesus die?’, ‘Who did Jesus die for?’, and ‘What did His death accomplish?’ are all answered for us in this text. In its simplest form we’re told here that Jesus’ death was a death for others and not a death for Himself. How is it a death for others? It is a death intended to gather in the children of God spread across the nations. In theological terms we’re told here that Jesus’ death was a substitutionary death. Meaning that on the cross, Jesus offered Himself up as a sacrifice, taking our curse upon Himself, bearing the penalty we deserve, satisfying divine justice in our place as our substitute, so sinners like us could be reconciled to God and welcomed into His family at the feather touch of faith. Caiaphas believed it was either the nation or Jesus that would die, and that if Jesus died the nation would live. It would be his life for theirs. Caiaphas callously and cynically was speaking only in political terms of what Jesus’ death would mean for Israel. But unbeknownst to him, he spoke (prophesied) of what Jesus had come to do as the Lamb of God, not just for believing Israelites but for all those from every nation who believe as well. The irony John points out to us here is that what Caiaphas intended for harm God intended for the eternal salvation of His global people. Be reminded, in v51-52, why Jesus died, who He died for, and what His death accomplished. But also be reminded that His death is a death that is global in its scope. Any person, from any nation, people, or tribe that hears the gospel, and is struck by the depth of their sin, struck by the breadth of Christ’s beauty, turns away from that sin, and turns toward Christ in faith will become children of God!
So church, because the gospel is global in its scope every ministry in every nation should be global in its scope. This not only moves us toward giving to missions and sending missionaries to spread the gospel in other parts of the world, this moves us toward being intentional about becoming a congregation that reflects the global nature of the gospel. In our racially divided world, do you see what a breath of fresh air the Church ought to be? It is a sad truth of our time that Sunday morning is one of the most segregated hours of the week. v52 ought to make you grieve at that reality. The global nature of the gospel demands that the culture of Christ’s Church not be defined by the color of our skin but in our common bond in Christ.
Church, since Christ’s death is multi-ethnic in its scope we must strive to be more than a mono-ethnic congregation. Since Christ’s death is multi-ethnic in its scope we must strive to cease living mono-ethnic lives. From seeing the global nature of the atonement we must embrace the global scope of the gospel. May this be your desire: there is a wideness in God’s mercy as wide as the sea, far it be from me that His mercy ends with me.
The Council is Decided (v53-57)
We’ve seen the council sought out, we’ve seen the council gather. Now as v53 comes to us we see the council decide on a course of action. Beginning there we read, “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.”
The decision is made. They will kill Him. Now they just have to do it. Jesus therefore left to be with the disciples in Ephraim, and even as the festivities of Passover began once again, their attention is on finding Jesus so they might arrest Him, and no doubt, carry out their plans.
In this callous council we’ve seen horribly fearful and sinful men – led by Caiaphas – make a plan to kill Jesus so no one kills them. Why? Because He raised someone from the dead. It was the last straw, they could take no more, and so they decided not to. Genesis 3 was a sad day when our first parents fell and brought death to us all, but in all of history there is no plan as wicked as the plan made here in these verses to kill Christ. But these sinful men weren’t the only ones planning were they? God didn’t just turn their plan to a good end, He was in it from the beginning of the world, planning, and plotting to gather in all His elect children from the four corner’s of the globe. How would He do it? By substitution!
In 1874 Philip Bliss rejoiced in this very thought and wrote words to a hymn called ‘Man of Sorrows What A Name.’ I’ll end with the words of this hymn:
Man of sorrows what a name,
for the Son of God, who came,
ruined sinners to reclaim:
Hallelujah, what a Savior!
Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
in my place condemned He stood,
sealed my pardon with His blood:
Hallelujah, what a Savior!
Guilty, helpless, lost were we;
blameless Lamb of God was He,
sacrificed to set us free:
Hallelujah, what a Savior!
Lifted up was He to die;
“It is finished” was His cry;
now in heaven exalted high:
Hallelujah, what a Savior!
When He comes, our glorious King,
all His ransomed home to bring,
then anew this song we’ll sing:
Hallelujah, what a Savior!
 D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John – PNTC, page 419.
 Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John – NICNT, page 563.
 Carson, page 420-421.
 R.C. Sproul, John – St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary, page 215-216.
 Morris, page 567.
 Carson, page 422.
 Morris, page 568.
 Morris, page 568.