John 11:45-53 (Fifth Sunday in Lent—Series A)
“God’s Plan in Motion”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
March 29, 2020
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Our text is from the Gospel reading recorded in John 11:
45Many 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.
“When one door closes, another door opens.” You’ve heard that before, haven’t you? The ending of one phase of our lives often marks the beginning of something new. That could be said of our entire Gospel reading this morning from John 11, the raising of Lazarus and its aftermath. The Lord Jesus’ raising of Lazarus after being dead four days is the climax of the series of “signs” which characterize John’s record of Jesus’ public ministry. These “signs” served as manifestations of the divine glory that resided in the incarnate Word of God. From the very first of His signs, changing water to wine in Cana of Galilee, we are told by the Evangelist that Jesus “manifested His glory.” Jesus is none other than true God, the Word who became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth. We have seen His glory that He revealed through His miraculous signs that point to Him as true God and true Man, the Lord Christ.
The manifestation of Jesus’ divine glory has reached its high point in the raising of Lazarus. “Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him” (John 11:45). This sign of all signs points to Jesus as the true and living God who gives life to the dead, even one dead four days with decay setting in! He alone has the power over death itself. And the people believed. But the Jewish ruling leaders did not. “When one door closes, another door opens.” The raising of Lazarus triggers the series of events that will culminate in the Passion of our Lord—in His arrest, trial, suffering, death, and burial. And this, dear friends, will climax in His own resurrection from the dead on the third day, according to the Scriptures.
The earthly ministry of Jesus draws to a close here in John’s Gospel. Chapter 12 will take us into Holy Week with the triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Within just a couple weeks of Lazarus’ raising, Jesus was put to death on a cross and interred in Joseph of Arimathea’s new tomb. A tragic event in the course of history? Not at all! It’s God’s divine plan that He set in motion in Genesis 3. The promised Seed of the woman has come. The divine Son of God in human flesh has taken His place among sinful humanity to crush the head of Satan, that ancient snake. God is in control of the whole thing from it’s very beginning in the Garden.
So it should come as no surprise to us that God was there and in control of that hate-filled meeting where it was decided to kill Jesus. The Jewish ruling council, the Sanhedrin, was made up of 71 members, presided over by the high priest and attended by the chief priests, the party of the Sadducees (to which most belonged), and the influential minority, the Pharisees. They were deathly afraid of Jesus’ presence and activity in and around Jerusalem. They noted that they, the Sanhedrin, were doing nothing, while Jesus was doing a great deal! “This man performs many signs. Certainly can’t deny that Lazarus was dead and now is alive again! There were many witnesses to the fact. But 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. We can’t let things get out of control! The Romans won’t tolerate any kind of uprising that this man might lead. He could start a rebellion against the Romans and bring down the wrath of Rome on all of Israel. Already the delirious people have tried to take this Jesus by force and make Him their bread-king (John 6:14-15). What’s to say that won’t happen again and be successful? If this Jesus stirs up the people, the Romans will destroy our temple and this whole Jewish nation.”
But the high priest of that year, Caiaphas, himself a member of the party of the Sadducees, took the Council to task, “You don’t know anything!” The Sadducees were known for being quite rude toward each other. The historian Josephus wrote, “The behavior of the Sadducees one toward another is in some degree wild, and their conversation with those that are of their own party is as barbarous as if they were strangers to them.” But even in his rudeness, we see the work of God in moving along the plan of salvation for the whole world. Caiaphas continued, “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” (John 11:50 ESV). Now, what did Caiaphas mean?
The high priest meant that Jesus needed to be killed. It might not be justice, but it was prudent. It’s a shame that a man has to die unjustly. But the choice between Jesus’ dying and the destruction of the Jewish nation as he saw it, was a no-brainer. Rather than risk a rebellion against Rome by the followers of this Jesus, the advice of Caiaphas was to put him to death. Rather than risk them losing their status and place in society, instead of losing the power of their temple and the authority over their people, Jesus had to go. What’s advantageous to the Sanhedrin was preserving the status quo—their power that will take care of the nation which was put in their control by the Romans.
But God meant something different. Remember, He is at work in this world always for the good of His people. We may not always be aware of what God is doing in the halls of government. We might not always be tuned in to what He is bringing about in our lives through the various day-to-day situations that we encounter. But you can be sure, God is in control. Caiaphas uttered harsh words, “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.” But the readers of this Gospel are given an aside by John. The Holy Spirit wants us to know for certain that Caiaphas and the whole Sanhedrin were not in charge. The plot against Jesus was not just a fluke of history. So, the Holy Spirit inspired these words by John, “[Caiaphas] 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” (John 11:51–52 ESV).
What was said about Jesus is the divine plan of salvation. God controlled this utterance. Caiaphas was not forced in any way, but the words that came to his lips and the words that said just what he wanted said were also the words that said just what God wanted said in this assembly. They wanted to kill Jesus for their purpose. God would let them kill Jesus for His purpose. Jesus would indeed die for the nation, redemptively. He would “lay down His life” for the sheep, even the sheep not of this fold called Israel because Jesus has other sheep and He must bring them into the family of the Father also (John 10:16). You and I are included in that group. The Church Father Cyril of Alexandria wrote, “For we are all called the offspring and children of God inasmuch as he is the Father of all, . . . And also [we are called his children] because we had from the first the honor of being made in his image . . . and were accounted worthy of the divine covenant and enjoyed the life and bliss of paradise. But Satan, unwilling to let us remain in that condition, scattered us and in diverse ways led humanity astray from its nearness to God. And the Christ collected together again and brought us through faith into one fold, the church. . . . We are fashioned again into one new person and worship one God
Jesus, the Good Shepherd, laid down His life for everyone. He gave up His life into death so that we the scattered, sinful, guilty people might be made children of God by grace through faith in this Jesus, the Son of God, who became flesh and dwelt among us to be our Savior. And so the plan of God to save all people from sin, death, and hell was accomplished at the cross and the empty tomb. The plan of God could not be thwarted by idolatry, by unbelief, by selfishness, nor by greed. In the fullness of time, God’s Son was conceived by the Spirit, born of the Virgin Mother, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. To save you from sin. To rescue you from the wrath of God. To assure you that the Lord Himself is always in control. On the third day, He rose again from the dead. Christ the Victor over sin, death, and hell. Christ triumphant over Satan and his evil angels. Christ the King who will come again in the name of Lord to take us to be with Him in Paradise.
St. Paul said it like this in 1 Corinthians 15, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3–4 ESV). God’s plan from the beginning—rescue and salvation for the whole world. As our Lord’s earthly ministry came to a close with the climactic event of Lazarus’ raising from the dead, God the Father opened the final door of our forgiveness and eternal life. Jesus would die for the nation, for the people, for the world He so loved. Christ died for you. He rose for you. Your sins are forgiven. And God is still in control. He is still proclaiming His Gospel to the ends of the earth. He’s still pointing people to Jesus, the Good Shepherd, our Savior, through His Church by means of Word and Sacrament.
In the ever-changing times in which we are living, continue to look with confident faith to Christ, to His cross and empty tomb. By faith, be assured that God’s plans for you are coming to fruition. You have saving faith, forgiveness, and everlasting life. For certain, He who has begun “a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6 ESV). Amen.