English service - June 19, 2022
Messenger: Pastor Jim Allison
Caiaphas’ Plans and God’s Plans
Hello again, everyone here at Open Door and those joining us online. Thank you again, Sherrie, for bringing us the message last time. Today I’d like to continue with you after a couple of months in the message series I’m calling “God’s Unwitting Witnesses.” We’re looking at several times in the stories of Jesus’ life when people, without planning or even noticing it, do things that God has promised beforehand will happen.
As you may recall, this is part of the gospel writers’ larger message that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the one and only Son of God, sent to be the Savior of the world. God demonstrates that He has put His seal of approval on Jesus by giving Him words of deep truth and enabling Him to perform works of miraculous power. But one other way God does His special work through Christ is in certain events that take place which fulfill prophecy. That is, the Lord has promised in the Bible that something particular will happen, and in the actions people take over the course of Jesus’ life—often hundreds of years after the promise is made—God brings about what He has said would occur. In this way, He demonstrates His faithfulness—He keeps His promises. He also shows that ultimately He is in control of all things—He is Lord.
We have seen the story of Jesus’ predicting His own death in one of the cruelest and most unfair ways we can imagine, the cross. Then this actually happens—and becomes the path not only to death but the resurrection. Through this process, we are taught that God is in control, even when evil and suffering are parts of our lives. Also, we have learned again the stories of the failures of faith on the part of Christ’s disciples as the events of the cross and resurrection unfold. There we see that God is in control, even when our faith is weak.
In today’s story, we are backtracking a bit to a time before the events of the Easter story itself, like hikers might go back to an entrance to a side route they have already passed. They take it because it leads to something beautiful they haven’t yet seen and is just too important to miss. We are returning to a time just before Christ enters Jerusalem and begins the final week preceding His death and resurrection. Here we learn the lesson of faith that God is in control, even when our understanding is lacking. (By the way, I’m not planning on talking only about the negative parts of our lives like evil, suffering and ignorance. There are stories of God’s showing His sovereignty, His control over life, through good parts of life, such as faith, hope, and love. We’ll get to them, too!)
Just before today’s story begins, Jesus has raised from the dead His good friend, Lazarus, who had been dead for a number of days. This is wonderful news, but it also raises a big question. If He can do this, what else can He do? Come to think of it, is there anything He cannot do? For “many of the Jews” who have seen this happen (v. 45), it is a reason for great joy, and they put their faith in Him.
But for others, it is upsetting, and they take to the religious and political leaders of the nation the word of what has happened. The “Jews who had come to visit Mary” (v. 45) first take the word of Lazarus’ resurrection to the Pharisees, the conservatives. Pretty soon they are holding a meeting of all the Sanhedrin, that is, the nation’s political-religious leadership. It includes the Sadducees, the liberals. The Sanhedrin has a great deal of power to decide matters such as how to handle a character like Jesus. Soon He is being judged a threat to national security, and the process that will lead to His death is put in motion.
Now that is a truly remarkable way to respond to the wonderful news that a man has been resurrected. Rather than a celebration of life, this series of reactions leads to another death.
There is something here that Christians need to remember. Faith is a gift of God, and it can only be possible through the work of His Spirit in the heart of a human being. Here there are actually people who see with their own eyes the great power and deep love of Christ to bring a person back to life. We may think, “Of course that would make them see that Jesus is the Messiah He claims to be and follow Him in faith.” But that is not what happens. They see the same thing others do that day, yet they respond in a way that shows something basically different in their hearts and minds.
They are in fact an example of what the Bible teaches in a story about a completely different Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31. There, this Lazarus has died and gone to heaven. A man in hell makes a request for his brothers, who are still in our world. He pleads that Lazarus be sent to warn them of how to go to heaven and not hell. But he receives the reply, “They have Moses and the Prophets [that is, the Bible]; let them listen to them. . . . If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead” (vv. 29,31).
Christians have the job of telling the good news of life in Christ to the whole world, and especially when the people we love do not yet know Him as Savior and Lord, we deeply want them to meet Him. Yet there is a warning here for us. We cannot make it happen, and there are other powerful forces at work to stop people from entering the life of faith. That’s why God gives us prayer and teaches us to ask Him to lead people to Himself, in the right time and way, when they are ready to follow. When He does this, it will happen. And He can show us how to actively take part in that process, as He directs and we willingly cooperate in His work of leading people to salvation. That is the assurance on which we can stand.
Why do these visitors at Mary’s home report the news to people who would use it in such a destructive way? It is very likely they know the Pharisees do not like Christ. John 9:22 tells us the religious leaders have already announced that anyone following Jesus will be put out of the synagogue—out of the faith community. Why are they even there at Mary, Martha, and Lazarus’ home? Maybe they are some of the professional mourners who often help with a funeral? Perhaps they are spies sent to check up on Jesus for his enemies among the religious leaders. In any case, the information they report becomes a weapon His adversaries use against Him.
Another thing worth noting appears in the comments made at the meeting of the Sanhedrin. No one claims that the story of “what Jesus had done” (v. 46) is fake news. They do not try to disprove the report that “This man is doing many miraculous signs” (v. 47). In fact, they provide some fairly clear evidence that the version of events John is describing actually happened. Here Christ’s enemies say with their own mouths, “If we let him keep on doing this, everyone will believe in him.” Words like that are generally given more weight than, for example, words of praise from friends, in judging how reliable a report is as a matter of history.
What are the nation’s leaders really worried will happen if many people follow Jesus? They say, “Then the Romans will come. They will take away our temple and our nation” (v. 48). The whole Jewish government, with Herod the king at the top of it, is under the brutal control of the Roman Empire. So the Jewish people always have to pay close attention to what Rome will like and dislike.
But how much of a threat to the Romans is Jesus really? He has taught His fellow Jews to pay the taxes that Rome requires. Soon when He is put on trial before the Roman governor, Pilate, he will say of Jesus, “I find no basis for any charge against him” (John 18:38). The religious-political leaders say their concern is for protecting the temple, God’s house, but the words in the original Greek are “our place,” which most translators say means the place of worship, or “the temple.” Another possible meaning for “our place” may be closer to “our positions of authority” or “our place in control of the country.” Their words may show us more of what Matthew tells us about them (27:18). That is, “. . . The leaders were jealous. . . . This was why they had handed Jesus over to (Pilate).”
And the sad reality of history is that in A.D. 70 the Romans did destroy the temple and the nation anyway. Killing Jesus did not stop it from happening. Israel was not reestablished as a country until 1948, and the amount of suffering the Jewish people have been forced to endure since then is difficult even to describe. From the viewpoint of the Bible writers, especially the gospel evangelists, maybe the most painful truth of all is this: in rejecting Christ, “God’s chosen people” on the whole are closing themselves off from the source of strength and salvation that He so deeply wanted to provide for them through sending them His Son, Jesus.
When we see how the leaders of Palestine (Israel) act in this story, we may think about the ways our leaders behave today. In Jesus’ time, one of the influential voices in the decision-making is Caiaphas. The Old Testament teaches that someone from the family line of Aaron is to be the high priest. But by Jesus’ time, it seems that the government is choosing people on the basis of political or other religious factors. We don’t get the impression that Caiaphas is a particularly spiritual or godly person by reading his words in the debate about Jesus (vv. 49-50). “You don't know anything at all! You don't realize what is good for you.” Later in the story (John 18), the religious-political leaders meet at Caiaphas’ home and continue the legal process that will eventually send Jesus to the cross.
If we look long enough at the lives of human beings who are in positions of leadership, we are always going to find something discouraging. For example, our church has historical links with the Southern Baptist Convention in the U.S. through missionaries who planted Open Door. So it is very disappointing to read in the news of the scandal involving leadership of this organization over many years. There have been charges that claims of sexual abuse by church leaders were not taken seriously but suppressed in order to protect the organization. An outside group was asked to investigate and recently made public its report that the claims do in fact have merit. In its judgment, the Southern Baptist Convention’s top leadership has failed to protect the victims of abuse adequately and tried to escape responsibility for its behavior.
On the level of national and international politics, in seemingly more and more cases, what used to be differences of opinion have deepened into division, then worsened and become disgust, outrage, and even war. In the case of the U.S., with the voters split roughly 50-50, whichever party is in control, about half the nation is dead set against it, and quite a few are willing to act out in violence.
What I see in today’s Bible story is a reminder that Christ’s followers claim Him and Him alone as our Lord and Savior. We do not place our deepest trust in any human leader or organization, and we do not expect our freedom, strength, or happiness to come from them. When we as individuals or organizations are wrong, we must repent and make the changes needed to follow in sincerity and commitment which reflect the character of our Lord, Jesus Christ. If we do not have a faith or actually live out of one, it may become very easy to place unrealistically high hopes in particular people, governments, or whatever. We may expect them to do things for us that they are not prepared to do or that they could not possibly provide. In Christ alone we find a truly reliable guide and power for our lives.
Beneath the ugly humanity on display in today’s Bible story, there is a beautiful message of hope. Caiaphas and those who support him choose a path that leads to the unjust and cruel death of the Son of God. Yet that does not tell the most important part of the whole story, John boldly claims. God is at work here, too, above and beyond what the political and religious leaders notice. Caiaphas declares (v. 50), “It is better if one man dies for the people than if the whole nation is destroyed.”
That is true in a far deeper way than he realizes. As a priest, his job is to stand between the people and God, giving the words of God to the people and the prayers of the people to God. The Lord uses him here for that very purpose. The high priest, unwittingly, predicts that Jesus will die for the Jewish nation. Here we hear echoes of Old Testament stories, such as Joseph, the son of Jacob. When he is reunited with his brothers in Egypt after they have sold him there into slavery, he tells them (Genesis 50:20), “You planned to harm me. But God planned it for good. He planned to do what is now being done. He wanted to save many lives.” When Jonah is in the middle of a terrible storm at sea, somehow he knows that if he is sacrificed, everyone else will be saved. So he says, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea. Then it will become calm.” The prophet Isaiah (chapter 53, especially vv. 4-5,8-10) looks into the future and describes the Messiah, the Christ, whom God is promising to send to save His people.
He suffered the things we should have suffered. He took on himself the pain that should have been ours. But we thought God was punishing him. We thought God was wounding him and making him suffer. But the servant was pierced because we had sinned. He was crushed because we had done what was evil. He was punished to make us whole again. His wounds have healed us. . . . He was arrested and sentenced to death. Then he was taken away. He was cut off from this life. He was punished for the sins of my people. Who among those who were living at that time could have understood those things? He was given a grave with those who were evil. But his body was buried in the tomb of a rich man. He was killed even though he hadn't harmed anyone. And he had never lied to anyone. The LORD says, “It was my plan to crush him and cause him to suffer. I made his life a guilt offering to pay for sin. But he will see all of his children after him. In fact, he will continue to live. My plan will be brought about through him.”
Of course, this is what happens through Christ’s death and resurrection. The people with their hands on the levers of power over political and religious organizations think they will defeat Jesus. But He knows all along what He is doing, what it will take to be killed as a criminal, that His Father will never let Him remain in the tomb, and the great gift of life which He can offer the world’s people after dying to pay for our sins.
I think we saw recently in the news a vivid example of this way God so often does His work. Have you heard about the church in Southern California in the U.S., which was attacked by a gunman? A few dozen people were at Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods when an armed man entered the church, locked the doors, and began shooting people. Most of the members were elderly and with Taiwanese roots. The man with the gun had a mainland Chinese background. He was upset about troubles between Taiwan and mainland China, according to officials.
Dr. John Cheng, a sports medicine physician, was there when the shooting was happening. He ran at the shooter and tackled him, and in the process was shot multiple times and died. The pastor, Billy Chang, was able to hit the accused killer with a chair and hold him down while others tied his hands with an electric cord until police arrived. In this chain of events, five people were injured, but thanks to Dr. Cheng’s sacrifice, no other lives were lost. This man clearly showed that he had learned to live with the spirit of the one he followed as Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Through living a life committed to other people, Dr. Cheng demonstrated what it means to be a follower of Christ.
I suppose it’s always true, but some truly inspiring things like this, along with deeply distressing ones, continue to happen around us from day to day, don’t they. It is difficult to know what may come our way when we wake up in the morning, isn’t it. But we do know that, with whatever combination of joys and sorrows, our lives in this world will end someday. As the Bible says (Hebrews 9:27), “People have to die once. After that, God will judge them.”
The good news I bring to you again today is that, when we stand before our Maker someday, we can have the assurance that Christ will stand with us. None of us is pure or good enough to enter heaven on our own merits. We have all broken God’s law and deserve judgment. But Jesus has opened the path to eternal life by taking our punishment for us. He paid the price of our sin because of His deep love. He lived the life that we should have lived and died the death that we should have died. By believing this and receiving Him into our hearts and minds as Savior and Lord, we can receive the gift of life forever. By giving Him free control over all parts of our lives, we can learn to live in the freedom, strength, and joy of being the children of God. Quietly in your heart, will you join me in asking ask Him to help us do that now?
God, you tell us in your word that Christ died for your children scattered everywhere, to bring us together and make us one. We truly are scattered, separated in so many ways from our best selves, from each other, and from you. But you have reminded us again today that you call us to live in unity. First and most, help us to move into closer and deeper relationship with you. Then make us one with each other as your children and help us to become the kind of peacemakers that our whole world so badly needs today. This is our prayer in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Bible Study. (n.d.) High Priest and Priests in New Testament. Retrieved June 8, 2022 from https://www.biblestudy.org/beginner/new-testament-groups/high- priest-priests.html
Helmore, E. (2022, June 12). US Southern Baptist churches facing ‘apocalypse’ over sexual abuse scandal. The Guardian. Retrieved June 15, 2022 from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/jun/12/southern-baptist-church-sexual-abuse-scandal
Henry, M. (1706). Matthew Henry Commentary on the Whole Bible (Complete). Retrieved June 9, 2022 from https://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/matthew-henry-complete/john/11.html
Levenson, E. and Joseph, E. (2022, May 19). This hero doctor charged a gunman at a church service and prevented further bloodshed, officials say. Cable News Network (CNN). Retrieved June 12, 2022 from https://edition.cnn.com/2022/05/17/us/orange-county-church-doctor-hero/index.html