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Walking with Jesus towards Easter

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Walking with Jesus towards Easter John 11:45–57 (NIV) 45 Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, believed 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 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 temple 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. 54 Therefore Jesus no longer moved about publicly among the people of Judea. Instead he withdrew to a region near the wilderness, to a village called Ephraim, where he stayed with his disciples. 55 When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, many went up from the country to Jerusalem for their ceremonial cleansing before the Passover. 56 They kept looking for Jesus, and as they stood in the temple courts, they asked one another, “What do you think? Isn’t he coming to the festival at all?” 57 But the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that anyone who found out where Jesus was should report it so that they might arrest him. When Jesus finally announced that they would travel to visit Martha and Mary in the village of Bethany, just 3.2km from Jerusalem, Thomas turned to the other disciples and shrugged his shoulders and said: “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (John 11:16). Thomas’ fear was not unreasonable. On their last visit, an angry mob sought to stone Jesus. Look at John 8 where the leaders quizzed Jesus about His identity. According to verse 59 they tried to stone Him because they didn’t like His answer. And in John 10 during the Festival of Dedication they quizzed Jesus again: “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” 25 Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me, 26 but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. 27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.” 31 Again his Jewish opponents picked up stones to stone him, 32 but Jesus said to them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?” 33 “We are not stoning you for any good work,” they replied, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.” John 10:24–33 (NIV) Their answer shows clearly that the religious rulers undoubtedly understood Jesus’ message: When He said, “I and the Father are one.” He said in effect, “I am your Messiah, I am Israel’s priest-king. I am the bringer of eternal life. Yield your authority to Me, and let’s begin building the new kingdom.” Yes, they clearly grasped what He said, but the absolutely questioned the veracity of it. That is why his Jewish opponents picked up stones again to stone Him. And when Jesus questioned their action they responded: “We are not stoning you for any good work, but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.” Oh yes, they knew exactly what Jesus meant and they didn’t like it at all. But it was the resurrection of Lazarus that was the last straw for the Jewish religious leaders. This is where our Scripture passage fits in. After Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, He won over new followers. These people come to understand that no mere man could do what Jesus did. So, they believed what He said about Himself – that He and the Father were one and the same Being; that He indeed was the Messiah; that He really was who the angels claimed Him to be “Immanuel – God with us!”. However, not everyone who saw this came to faith. Many of the Jews did, but not everyone. Some of them went to the religious leaders and report to them what they saw: Jesus’ growing popularity. And the response to that news is what our Scripture passage reveals. As I said a moment ago this was the last straw for the Jewish religious leaders, so the plot to kill Jesus began in all seriousness... John consistently revealed Jesus’ mission to us – salvation. Listen with me to John 3:14–17 (NIV): “ ‘Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.’ 16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” To understand this, we need to know about the bronze snake. Numbers 21 tells the story of the bronze snake. The Israelites, rescued by God from their slavery, grew impatient during their Exodus from Egypt en route to the promised land. They spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!” 6 Then the Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. 7 The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” So, Moses prayed for the people. 8 The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” Numbers 21:5–8 (NIV) This is what John 3 reminds us of: healing, salvation eternal life comes through faith in God through Jesus. During the rest of their Exodus journey the Israelites had to keep their eyes focused of the bronze snake to take away the consequences of their unfaithfulness. Listen carefully: When God answered Moses’ prayer with the instruction to make a snake, He addressed the Israelites dilemma, but not the way they requested. Their request was: “Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” They wanted the problem to disappear, but God gave them a way to deal with an ever-present problem. The snakes stayed. They still got bitten. But if they kept their focus on the snake, so long as what they trusted God’s solution, they were safe. It taught then to do what God wanted them to do – focus their faith on God. The New Testament picture is the same. What must man do to accomplish the deeds that God require? Jesus said, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent” (John 6:29). Yes, we are told that with the arrival of Jesus, the kingdom of God ceased to be one defined by geography, because it became one established in the hearts of those who choose to believe. This is the crossroad where Jesus’ mission and our future meets: In this life mankind needs to keep Jesus in their sight: “the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” So often that is not what we want: God must take our hurt, our suffering, our hardship, our conflict, our pain, our illness, you can add whatever you like in here, God must take it away. But God responds by giving us a different way to deal with it – like He did with the Israelites in the Exodus. They had to keep their focus on the uplifted snake – we need to keep our focus on Jesus like the author of the letter to the Hebrews reminds us: “Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:1–2 (NIV) The stumbling blocks are there, the hinderances, the sins that so easily entangles us still surround us– regardless, maybe even more correctly, because they stay with us, we should keep our focus on Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith. This is what Paul had to learn regarding the torn in in flesh (2 Corinthians 12). His thorn stayed with him. But as long as he focused on God’s grace it proofed to be sufficient to keep him going. Let’s move on. Friends, our passage reveals something else of major importance – we find it in the difference in focus between Jesus and the religious leaders. John consistently reminds us that Jesus’ focus always remained on doing the will of God. In contrast the Jewish religious leaders were focused on serving their own interests. This contrast surface regularly in John’s Gospel. We have a good example of this contrast in the incident where Jesus healed the invalid on the Sabbath at the pool of Bethesda. You find in in John 5. Jesus healed a man paralysed for 38 years. By doing this Jesus was doing His Father’s will. But it didn’t fit in with the will of the religious leaders. “So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jewish leaders began to persecute him. 17 In his defense Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.” 18 For this reason they tried all the more to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God. 19 Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. 20 For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, and he will show him even greater works than these, so that you will be amazed.” John 5:16–20 (NIV) Jesus went even so far as telling the people not to believe in Him unless He did the works of His Father. (John 10:37) The Jewish religious leaders demanded the opposite: that people do what they demand regardless whether it fits with God’s will or not! This contrast is stark in John 11. Listen carefully. Jesus concern was the eternal well-being of people. His ministry was a ministry of reconciliation – a ministry where God and man are reconciled – a ministry where the consequences of mankind’s sinful rebellion against God are finally uplifted – a ministry where mankind is restored to live eternally in the presence of God. In contrast the religious leaders – the chief priests, the high priest, the Pharisees, yes, the Sanhedrin, focussed on their own interest – the preservation of their status. Our passage reveals this explicitly in the language they used to express their views. Look at their concerns: “What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many 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 temple and our nation.” Jesus’ ministry emphasised God’s miraculous salvation power. His overriding concern was that God’s will be done. Their overriding concern was at best nationalistic but most definitely personal. They argued that it they allow Jesus to continue His ministry it would destroy the status quo. The implication of this is that they, the religious leaders, the Sanhedrin, would lose the power and privilege they possessed within Israel. Yes, it would mean that God would get His rightful place back, but at the cost of them losing theirs. That they simply could not permit. So, the keepers of the sacred customs of Israel were reduced to the level of the radical self-serving bureaucrats they really were. Their primary issue was not one of religious principle but of self-preservation. They were not concerned about God’s honour. Oh no, their concern was the continuation of their status as the privileged elite. Caiaphas’ pitch is such a cynical one. “You know nothing at all! 50 You do not realize that it is better for you that one man dies for the people than that the whole nation perishes.” Jesus has become a threat to their well-being and that of the nation as a whole. He must go. Caiaphas is sneering at the religious leaders’ gullible, hesitant conversations. So, he challenged them: “You know nothing at all! 50 You do not realize that it is better for you that one man dies for the people than that the whole nation perishes.” Do you not realize that it is beneficial that one man should die so that the “people,” God’s chosen ones, and the “nation,” the civil organization that we represent, would not perish? Caiaphas shares his own view, but unwittingly he proclaimed a judgement from God. “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.” Ironically, his radical act of self-preservation brought about the true meaning of Jesus ministry and death. Caiaphas tried to arrange Jesus’ death by convincing his fellow councillors that it is better that one man dies than all of them and Israel losing their privileged status. He knew if he could influence them to agree with him, he would preserve his status as high priest and member of the Sanhedrin. Never had one man gotten it so wrong. This act of self-preservation, John says, would become God’s world-wide act of salvation. Jesus’ death arranged by Caiaphas and his fellow council members, was not only for the salvation of Israel, but for all God’s children scattered abroad. Not only those separated geographically, but those divided culturally and spiritually. All mankind, Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female, would be drawn to Jesus, “lifted up,” partaking in a common life with Him and with one another. This “gathering together” is John’s way of speaking of the church (John 11:52). God’s dispersed are to be gathered into one family by Jesus as He gathered up the fragments at the feeding of the five thousand. John’s reference to the scattered children of God included not only the Jews spread throughout the world but also all those who would believe. We too are among the scattered for whom Jesus died. in Ephesians 2:14–22 Paul reminds us that Jesus Himself is our peace who through His death created in Himself a new humanity reconciling God and man on the cross. Listen to Paul’s summary of Jesus’ ministry: “He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. 19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.” Ephesians 2:17–20 (NIV) Through his death Jesus provides the way all people can be reconciled to God first and then to each other. Unity in Christ is not a sentimental feeling but a reality that we can experience even within the limitations of a sinful world. When our sins are pardoned, we have the freedom to truly relate to each other in love. In their eagerness to eliminate Jesus, Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin demonstrated their willingness to deliberately misuse truth to serve their own needs. • They began with the right question (“What are we accomplishing?”) but were not open to its most obvious answer (“We are rejecting the Messiah”). • They admitted in private that Jesus did miracles, but they publicly rejected the truth of those miracles. • They realized that people were actually believing in Jesus, but they regarded their belief as a threat. • Caiaphas affirmed their ignorance of the real issues. • Caiaphas proposed the exchange of one person’s life to maintain their power. He missed the actual plan of God—exchanging Jesus’ life for the salvation of anyone who believes. Friends, in my mind our passage reveals a sobering truth that we need to acknowledge: Even when confronted point-blank with the power of Jesus’ true identity – that He is indeed Immanuel – God with us, some people will still refuse to believe. In our passage these eyewitnesses did not only rejected Jesus, their unwillingness to believe also caused the plotting of His death and His eventual murder. They were so hardened that they preferred to reject God in the flesh rather than admit they were wrong. However, be aware, self-serving always lead to a downfall. Just consider Judas Iscariot. He heard the request of the religious leaders: But the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that anyone who found out where Jesus was should report it so that they might arrest him. Because of self-serving reasons, he betrayed Jesus, and reported where Jesus could be found. Remember his outcome. What then should we do? How then should we respond? We could either accept Jesus for who He really is and adapt our lives accordingly or we can continue to deny Him for self-serving reasons by continuing to live the way we like to live. However, I think that we should learn from this passage: to be aware of a self-serving faith. If we allow it to grow, it will lead us into enormous sin. Like the author of the letter to the Hebrews said in Hebrews 10:35–36 (NIV) “Do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. 36 You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.”
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