Post-Mortem Pow Wow

Delivered September 12, 1999 by Dr. Ronald W. Scates

Sermon Text:
John 11:45-53
45 Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what
Jesus did, put their faith in him.
46 But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done.
47 Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin.
“What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many
miraculous signs.
48 If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans
will come and take away both our place and our nation.”
49 Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up,
“You know nothing at all!
50 You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than
that the whole nation perish.”
51 He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that
Jesus would die for the Jewish nation,
52 and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring
them together and make them one.
53 So from that day on they plotted to take his life.

If you had been standing in a grocery store check-out line in Jerusalem on that week before the first Passover back in 33 AD, and you happened to be scanning the tabloid front covers, right under the headline of the Palestinian Examiner that said, “Elvis sited in West Bank Burger King.”, you would have seen the story line that said, “Bethany man raised from the dead.” Now people didn’t rise from the dead any more in the first century than they do in the twentieth century. Dead people just don’t rise from the dead.

Death is final, except when Jesus is involved. With Jesus, the impossible becomes possible. Pro wrestling could even become real. Tabloid headlines could even become true. In fact, that headline, “Bethany Man Raised From The Dead” really sets to context for the Scripture passage we are about to read.

Throughout his public ministry, Jesus performed many miracles. He first turned water into wine. He upped the ante and then walked on water. He multiplied loaves and fishes. He healed people. And now in Bethany he pulls the ultimate death-defying act. He raises someone from the dead Lazarus, brother to Mary and Martha.

As usual, when people come into a genuine encounter with the person and work of Christ, the reactions are mixed. Let’s take a look. Join me, open your Bibles to the gospel of John, the eleventh chapter of John’s gospel; and this morning, let’s take a look at verses 45-53. I would invite you to keep your Bibles open during this sermon, as we will be referring back to the text. John, chapter 11, beginning to read at verse 45. This is the word of God:

Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, put their faith in him. But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin.

“What are we accomplishing?” They asked. “Here is this man performing many miraculous signs. If we let him go on like this, every one will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”

Then one of them, name Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, “You know nothing at all ! You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”

He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, and not only for the nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one. So from that day on they plotted to take his life.

Join me as we pray: And now Father as my words are true to your word, may they be taken to heart. But as my words should stray from your word, may they be quickly forgotten. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

Just about half of the almost six billion people on this planet are continually faced with a question. The question is this, What do we do with Jesus? That involves you and me. We are part of the evangelized world. That part of the world, about half of its population, that have been exposed to the gospel in some way. And the other half of the world? Well, that is the reason we are a missions-oriented congregation. That question, What do we do with Jesus?, is the most important question of human existence. It is a question we are convinced that God wants every person on this globe to have the privilege and opportunity of answering.

What do we do with Jesus? We see in our text this morning in verses 45 and 46, that there are mixed reactions to Jesus having raised Lazarus from the dead. There is a crowd there, they had come to comfort Mary the sister of Lazarus. And as Jesus arrives, he goes out and he calls Lazarus forth from the tomb.

Now Lazarus has been dead. I mean dead as a doornail. There was no question about it. He had been in that stinking tomb for four days. And Jesus steps forward and does the unbelievable, ‘Lazarus come forth.’ And unbelievably, Lazarus came out of that tomb.

Now you would think that everybody right there would fall down and worship Christ, wouldn’t you? No. It says some of them did. Verse 45, some of them we are told put their faith in him. They believe in him. They see the miracle. They say, ‘A-ha, this miracles attests to the veracity of the claims that this man has made about himself, that he is the son of God.’ But you know, it is really more than just a matter of belief. It is really a matter of allegiance. They recognized him to be Lord. They began to follow him.

But that is not what the whole crowd does. Look at verse 46. Some of them don’t follow Christ. Again, it is not so much a matter of belief. Everybody there with their own two eyes were first-hand witnesses to the rising of Lazarus. They couldn’t deny that. The tomb was empty. But their allegiance lay elsewhere. And so they skedaddle and tattle to the Pharisees.

It is not so much a matter of belief. It is not so much a matter of, Did it really happen or not? No, it is how do you answer that question, What do we do with Jesus? And we get these two reactions. Do we follow him, or do we turn him in?

We see in verse 47, that the Pharisees get together with the chief priests and they call a meeting of the Sanhedrin. Now the Sanhedrin was that Jewish governing body that the occupational Roman government allowed to continue on in a limited way, dealing primarily with internal Jewish religious affairs. The Pharisees made up part of that Sanhedrin. And Jesus raising Lazarus back to life, this resuscitation of a corpse, provides a big theological problem for the pharisees; because you see, their picture of a messiah doesn’t fit this guy Jesus. And then there is an even more in-your-face theological problem when it comes the chief priests, because most of the chief priests were Sadducees. The Sadducees were that party that did not recognize any life after death at all. When you are dead, you are dead and gone. It is final. And Lazarus was dead. But now Lazarus is alive. That creates a big problem.

You see, death is final my friends. Death is final, unless Jesus is involved. Then the impossible becomes the possible. Now the Pharisees didn’t much care for the Sadducees theologically. But nothing unites people like a common enemy. So they come together against Jesus. They come together around the question, What are we going to do with Jesus? What are we going to do with Jesus?

And it is not so much a matter of belief. Really with them, it is not even so much a matter of allegiance. Look at verse 48 of your text. We see here that the Sadducees, the chief priests, the Pharisees, they hook up really around the issue of political expediency. The empire of Rome had made a political and a religious niche in the empire for the Jews to peacefully coexist along side of them, as long as the Jews stayed submissive to the Roman government spiritually and politically, and did not rock the boat. In the past there had been nationalistic movements that had risen up in Israel, and Rome was quick to come in and crush them with an iron fist. In the past there had been false messiahs that gathered people, and Rome nipped it in the bud.

The Sanhedrin knew. They knew that this raising of Lazarus was rocking the Roman boat. And our text tells us that many of the Israelites were hopping in that boat. And the boat was rocking even more. And the Sanhedrin knew that if some kind of groundswell emerged around Jesus, then Rome was going to come down on them hard. Why they might wipe out the Sanhedrin! They might do away with temple worship! What are we to do with Jesus?

Well that was the pretty obvious question that faced the Sanhedrin. The answer was not quite as obvious. In fact, in the text we get the picture of them pretty much sitting around wringing their hands, ‘What are we going to do? What are we going to do?’

There was a reason Caiaphas was high priest. He was one sharp dude. Caiaphas knew the bottom line, politically if not spiritually. It is no different back then than today. There are folks, men and women, who rise to high positions in leadership of the church not because they have an authentic piety, not because they have a personal relationship with God, but more out of political savvy. If that is not true, then why is a bishop allowed to publicly make statements like I am going to read, with no recourse whatsoever. Listen to this:

“There is no God external to life. The Bible is not the word of God in any literal or verbal sense. It never has been. The gospels are not inerrant works divinely authored. All evangelical and missionary activities designed to convert the heathen are expressions of our superiority and our hostility toward those who are different. I would choose to loathe rather than worship a deity who required the sacrifice of his son.”

Those are the words of Episcopal Bishop John Spong in his book, Why Christianity Must Change or Die.

Caiaphas sat there in that Sanhedrin meeting and he was sick and tired of listening to the whining and the worrying. Finally he can’t stand it anymore. In verses 49 and 50, he throws on the table a most practical, prudent, political procedure for exterminating this upstart Messiah. “Waste him! What do we do with Jesus? Are you guys a bunch of idiots? Can’t you see that it is better off that he be sacrificed, than all of us? If we are going to save our faces, if we are going to save our jobs, if we are going to save Rome from coming in here and just wiping us out, Jesus has got to go! That is the only way that it is going to work folks!”

What do we do with Jesus? We are told that from that moment on, the plot to exterminate Jesus, (which would culminate very soon with his crucifixion) was hatched that day.

Now as the plot thickens and sickens, I want you not to miss something that is mind-boggling, unbelievably wonderful and beautiful. Look at verses 51 and 52 of your text. In a sense the Holy Spirit here is pulling back slightly the veil across eternity, and allowing you and me to get a little bit of a glimpse. A glimpse of the fact that not everything in life is exactly the way it looks on the surface. The fact that the sovereignty and the love of God often times intersects even with our human sin and vileness, in what we might call a mystery of grace.

Here is Caiaphas. He speaks out, and it looks like just one more suave savvy political hatchet man putting together a great plot to solve a problem, to get rid of this Jesus. That is what it looks like on the surface. But what does the text tell us? The text tells us that God rarely ever deserts or destroys even his enemies.

What do these verses tell us? They tell us that not everything is the way it looks on the surface. There is more going on behind the scenes. Even though Caiaphas was an Antichrist, God still respects the office of high priest and its prophetic function. And Caiaphas utters what he thinks is merely a matter of personal and national security. But we are told in the text that he did not utter that on his own. That actually God was speaking through him in a prophetic way.

Prophesying that this execution of Jesus would not be just a limited parochial, political martyrdom; but that God was going to transform it into his plan of global salvation.

We get a glimpse into the missionary heart of God. Not only would this be true for the nation of Israel, but for every person of whatever nationality, ethnic group, social status. That the death of Jesus would be the gateway, the only gateway ,through which you and I must walk in order to become a child of God, in order to become a part of the eternal body of Christ.

So Caiaphas thinks he is saying one thing, God is working another thing. That is a reminder to you and me, that not all of “reality” is real. There is often times more going on than we can see. You know what this means? It means that all injustice and evil in the world must eventually cooperate with the ultimate plan of God. It means that tragedy, and illness, and injustice in your life and in my life; those things are very real. But it means that God is more real. That he is always at work, even in and through those things. He can take human sin and transform it, work through it, ultimately for our salvation.

Caiaphas had one thing in mind. God gives him the freedom to do that. But God is also working through Caiaphas, to prophesy our salvation through Jesus Christ. What an amazing God! What a merciful God! What a gracious God, that he works even through our human sin. Even through our rebellion against him, in order to bring about our ultimate salvation. A reminder to you and me, that God’s enemies are never as strong as they think, and often times we think they are. A reminder to you and me, that evil, sin, injustice, death are not the finalities that they appear to be on the surface. Jesus must and will have the last word.

That is all good, but when the dust clears on all that, it is still September 12, 1999; and you and I are left with that original question. What do we do with Jesus? Now before you are too quick to say, ‘Well I have figured that out for my life. I know just what to do with Christ.’ Wait a minute. It is really not ultimately a matter of belief. I think most of us here believe. We believe Jesus is God. We believe he died and rose again. We believe he is who he said he is. There are some here who don’t. Hang with me.

It is not even really a matter of allegiance. Most of us here have accepted Christ as our Lord and Savior. We try to follow him to the best of our ability. I can only answer for myself, but I have a hunch that it is probably true for you, that when I look at my life and my struggle to follow Christ, this question, What do we do with Jesus?, comes back at me in the area of convenience. We are not exactly like Lazarus. But if you are honest, and if I am honest with myself, there are those areas in our lives that are spiritually dead. Where we have sold out to the world, rather than Jesus Christ. And Christ is always showing up. He is always showing up in our lives, and always calling you and me out of those dead areas into spiritual aliveness. And every time Jesus shows up, it is uncomfortable, and it is threatening, and it is terribly, terribly inconvenient.

Just when we thought we have figured this discipleship business out, just when we made a few sacrifices, and thought that we were following Christ, and God was giving us an A+, and he must be terribly pleased with us. Just when at that point where life has gotten kind of comfortable as Christians, we find Jesus standing in the way. There he is .

You are a Christian businessman, and someone comes to you with a great deal. It is going to make beaucoup bucks. It is not illegal, but you know what I mean. And there is Jesus standing in the way.

We all want to be sexually fulfilled right? That is the mantra of our culture. ‘I am in love with Joe, and he has invited me away for the weekend, and I think he is a committed Christian.’ And low and behold, there is Jesus standing in the way.

Or we have gotten hold of a juicy piece of gossip and we can’t wait to share it, as a prayer concern. And there is Jesus standing in the way. Or we love just stereotyping people racially because it makes us feel superior and good. And there is Jesus standing in the way. What do we do with Jesus?

We are really not that much different than the chief priests and the Pharisees. We have our self image to protect. We have carefully mapped out our lives. We have our hopes and dreams. We know just how it should go. We have designed our lives with built in satisfaction, and fulfillment, and comfort, and happiness. And all of the sudden there is Jesus standing in the way.

We are not like Caiaphas or anything. We don’t say “waste him.” No, never! We are much more subtle than that in terms of sacrificing Christ. Maybe we just rachet down our commitment to Christ to that level that we affectionately know as nominal Christianity. Or maybe we decide, ‘Well, I’ll just stop reading the Bible and praying. Maybe he will go away.’ Or we go to another church where maybe they will preach a more domesticated Christ. Or we hop on the post-modern bandwagon and deconstruct everything, deconstruct who Jesus is and what he said. Like the Jesus Seminar. Then we don’t have to take anything that he said seriously. It works! Or maybe we just get so busy in our lives that we don’t have to think about any of that stuff. Or maybe we decide to just plain ignore him. Of course, still wearing a Christ-centered name tag.

Friends, Jesus is very, very inconvenient; but unbelievably gracious. Jesus is very, very discomforting, but it’s always because he loves us and wants only God’s best for your life and mine. Christian, non-Christian, lay people, reverends, what do we do with Jesus?

What do we do with Jesus? I’ve got news for you. He is here this morning . He is here. I’ve got more news for you, he is in the way. Ironically, he is the way. What do we do with Jesus? You and I will spend the rest of our week answering that question. One way or another.

Join me as we pray:
Lord God, we know how our lives should run. I do, I know just how I want it to go. And there you are often times standing in the way. Oh Lord, give each of us here this morning a deeper measure of faith, that we might really believe that wherever you stand in the way, and wherever you call us, that it is ultimately for our good, for the salvation of others, and for the fulfillment of your kingdom, of which we are gracious heirs, through Jesus Christ. Amen.