Today I have a Sunday off, but the ministry of the word continues at Lansdowne through one of our elders, Lawrence Ovenden. This message is a continuation of a long-running series that Lawrence was preaching on Sunday evenings before the Covid-19 lock down began.
None of Lawrence’s previous messages are available online, but this message stands alone and will link to further messages in the future. Lawrence has been doing most of our church’s midweek Bible studies, in a series on 1 John. You can find these here.
Lawrence has also produced notes for those without access to the internet. There is a copy of these below the video.
This passage comes immediately after the raising of Lazarus. Lazarus was really dead but we do speak of it as a resurrection as he will die again so it is a raising. We will look at this passage under the headings of What? Who? Where?
Verses 45 to 48 are the What?
Some seeing the raising of Lazarus, believe in him. It is difficult to know exactly what is meant here by believed. It could be sign based faith as in John 2:23: now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. John 8:31 describes Jews who have believed in Jesus but in John 8:44 Jesus himself describes them as children of the devil. Some seeing the raising Lazarus in some sense believe but verse 46 shows some did not. Both groups saw the raising of Lazarus but they have different responses
Verses 46-47 describe the second group. They tell the Pharisees what Jesus Christ had done. Clearly this is not a positive report. They do not deny Jesus Christ raised Lazarus. They saw Lazarus raised, knew a miracle happened, they had the evidence of their own senses but unlike the first group they did not believe. In verse 47 the Jewish Sanhedrin or council meet. The Sanhedrin was the Jewish judicial, legislative and executive body under Roman jurisdiction that managed Jewish internal affairs. Most of the Sanhedrin were Sadducees who denied the resurrection of the body. The Pharisees were an influential minority. The Sanhedrin are perplexed, what are we to do? The simple answer is, believe. The mention of “many” signs includes the raising of Lazarus as well as the signs in John chapters 5 and 9.
Verses 46 and 47 show that without faith a miracle is just another example of the view held in society that strange things happen. It is a question of belief not evidence. If you believe you will see the glory of God not just a dead man walking out of his grave but something glorious and wonderful about God. It will not be a bare act of power but show you something about God. Without faith even a raising from the dead would not necessarily bring belief. In Luke 16:30-31 there is the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. Please note the Lazarus in Luke 16 is not the Lazarus of John 11. The presence of mourners and cost of the ointment in John 12:3 show Lazarus, Martha and Mary were fairly well off. In Luke 16 the rich man in hell says to Abraham in heaven, No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent. He [Abraham] said to him, If they do not hear Moses and Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.
Without the work of God the Holy Spirit no miracle or evidence will convince anyone. We need the work of God the Holy Spirit to open our minds, renew our wills so make us able to accept the truth in Jesus Christ. The word of God, the Bible, is sufficient for belief. The word of God says Jesus Christ was the Son of God he died and rose again. No miracle is going to provide greater evidence than that found in the word of God
Verses 46-47 also show it is possible to believe in God but not believe God. The Sanhedrin were religious and believed in God but did not believe God. In the raising of Lazarus they didn’t see the glory of God. Belief is not merely agreement with the facts in the head but belief that what God says about himself, about Jesus Christ, your sin and the way to eternal life true. John 14:6 says the only way to God is through Jesus Christ. I am sure that you believe in God but do you believe God?
Verse 48 for the Sanhedrin the worst thing would be people believe in Jesus Christ so they decide they better put a stop to it. Their fear about the Romans needs a bit of unpacking. We are to understand our place to mean primarily the temple. In Acts 6:13-14 false witnesses speak against Stephen by saying, this man never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law, for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses delivered to us. The accusers of Paul in Acts 21:28, say, Men of Israel, help! This is the man who is teaching everyone everywhere against the people and the law and this place. Moreover, he even brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.
The Jews believed that when the Messiah came he would rid them of the Roman oppression through military might and this led to frequent small uprisings to overthrow Rome. The Sanhedrin fear that if “everyone” believes in Jesus Christ popular Messianic expectations would fuel a large uprising and the full force of Rome would come on them and destroy the temple and remove the semi-autonomous status Israel had, that is the nation
Verses 49 to 53 is the Who?
Caiaphas the High Priest was a Sadducee. He was High Priest from 18-38 so “that year” doesn’t mean the High Priest was changed every year but that he was High Priest in a year of momentous events. As often in John, Caiaphas speaks more than knows. Caiaphas advices that politically the death of one person as a scapegoat will be a substitute for the death of many. He preferred a lesser evil over a greater one.
Verses 51-52 John gives the real significance of Who Caiaphas spoke about. Everything Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin feared happened but not in way they anticipated. There is irony because the advice of Caiaphas coincided with God’s plan. It is always true that the plan that matters is God’s plan. Peter on the day of Pentecost says in Acts 2:22-23, Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know – this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.
Caiaphas was thinking on the political level. John directs us to think in terms of the vicarious substitutionary death of Jesus Christ on the cross. One did die but not for political reasons but for the purpose of God to save the people of God. The children of God here is to be understood to mean gentiles. There are many Old Testament passages that speak of this for example Isaiah 2:2-3, It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, and many peoples shall come, and say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
We are to understand John 17:20-21 to be referring to gentiles. John 17:20-21, I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.
The death Jesus Christ was substitutionary it was on behalf of all the children of God those near and those scattered. Jesus Christ died for all the Jews who would believe in him. Jesus Christ died for all the gentiles that would believe in him
Verses 53-57 is the Where?
Where Jesus Christ went and where is he? Jesus withdraws not because he was afraid but it was not the right time for him to die. The idea of the right time is an important theme in John. The village of Ephraim was about 20 miles north of Jerusalem. Verse 55: Passover was one of the three pilgrim festivals where men were required to go to Jerusalem. It says many went and it has been estimated that during these festivals the estimated population of Jerusalem grew from 100000 to around one million people. There is irony in that they come to purify themselves a time when the religious leaders were guilty of plotting to kill the only truly pure one. Verses 56-57 is a typical conversation reported by John. For example, John 7:12-13, And there was much muttering about him among the people. While some said, “He is a good man”, others said, “No, he is leading the people astray.” Yet for fear of the Jews no one spoke openly of him. In John 11 the discussion means, would someone as pious as Jesus Christ miss a major pilgrim festival?
For the Sanhedrin and Caiaphas their identity was built on nationalism, tradition religion but not God. Their concern was my place, my position, my religion. Their religious position and status was what defined them, not God. Søren Kierkegaard the 19th century Danish philosopher said, sin is building your identity on anything besides God. If you know God through Jesus Christ what defines you and what defines me is being in Jesus Christ, not my upbringing, culture, colour or religious associations. Jesus Christ threatened the identity of Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin so they sought to kill him and in so doing lost they everything. Luke 17:33: whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it; John 12:25: Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.
Question, where do you get your identity? In AD70 the Romans did take away the place and the nation. However, something far more devastating than Roman legions is coming and that is the judgement God. On that day if you don’t know God through Jesus Christ your place will be destroyed meaning the eternal conscious judgement of God Jesus Christ in Matthew 6:21 says, where your treasure is there your heart will be also. Where is your treasure?
Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin in being merely religious were trying to be outside in clean. This is the attitude of many for them religion is to avoid bad activities and bad people, if I pray and read my Bible, if I try really hard to be good, then God will see that I’m worthy and accept me. The trouble is that this doesn’t work. You will never feel good enough. Praying and trying your best to be good doesn’t change your heart. Indeed you can become more anxious as you never know if you are trying hard enough. Religion doesn’t change the heart. Religion is outside in; but the gospel is inside out. That is it comes from a heart changed by the power of God the Holy Spirit. As long as Jesus Christ remains outside of us and we are separated from him all that he has suffered and done for the salvation of the scattered children God remains useless and of no value to us.
Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin lost their place as Jesus Christ replaced temple as the place where people meet God. Jesus Christ fulfils the temple as the place where God and human beings meet. Jesus Christ not like the temple he is temple. Jesus Christ is the true tabernacle temple, he fulfils the temple. Revelation 21:22: and I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.
The temple had the blood of bulls and goats but it had no atonement to take away sin. The temple had the seven branched candlestick but the Holy Spirit was not yet given. The temple had the show bread but it had no food for souls. The temple had the types but Jesus Christ is the reality.
John 2:13-22 describes Jesus cleansing the temple. This is not primarily the purifying and reforming false religion in the temple but replacing the temple as the place of worship. The physical destruction of the temple happened in AD70. However, the spiritual destruction of the temple happened in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The resurrection of Jesus Christ was the rebuilding of the temple as Zechariah 6:12-13 says, Thus says the Lord of hosts, Behold, the man whose name is the Branch: for he shall branch out from his place, and he shall build the temple of the Lord. It is he who shall build the temple of the Lord and shall bear royal honour, and shall sit and rule on his throne. And there shall be a priest on his throne, and the counsel of peace shall be between them both.
The physical temple will never be rebuilt, or if it is it will be of no religious significance, more of a tourist attraction, now Jesus Christ has come the purpose of the temple, the place to meet God, has been fulfilled. Jesus Christ is the presence of God for all the people of God.
Jesus Christ is not an ancient miracle worker or good teacher but the son of God in whom the fullness of God dwells. The implication is that if you have accepted him as Saviour and Lord he will never leave you or forsake you. He will protect, comfort and guide you in this life. And in the ages to come you will not lose your place but be with him for ever. Do you believe God?