John 11:45-53 Why We Don't Trust God
Sunday, April 13, 2008
Why we don’t trust God
47 . . . “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.” John 11:47-48 NIV
We continue our study in the book of John. It’s the fourth gospel or the fourth account of Christ’s life that we have in the New Testament. It functions as a complement to the other three gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke, which are called the Synoptics because of their similarity in form and content.
As we read John’s gospel, it is obvious that Jesus did many miracles. However, John specifically only tells us of seven of them. This fits into his purpose for writing. (John 20:31) He wants his readers to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.
So the selection of miracles or signs that John tells us about are intended to help us see Jesus as the (Christ) Messiah, the One who has authority over every realm of life. He can change water into wine (2:1–11), multiply a few loaves and fishes to feed thousands (6:1–14); He can walk on water (6:16–21) and heal a man disabled by sickness for multiple years (5:1–18). He can heal a person who is not even in His presence simply by speaking the word (4:46–54). He can give sight to the blind (9:1–41) and even raise the dead (11:1–44). Together, those miracles say it strong and clear: Jesus, the Son of God, has authority over every realm of life.
The section of our present study brings us to the final miraculous sign that Jesus gave so that we would truly believe that He is the Christ. It’s the last of the seven signs in John. All seven signs point to the ultimate miraculous sign that Jesus will display for us, His own resurrection from the dead, completing the work He came to do as the Lamb of God.
Picking up where we left off last week, Jesus has come to Bethany in delayed response to a request by Martha and Mary to heal their brother Lazarus. But, from the perspective of Martha and Mary, and many others in Bethany, this delayed response accounts for why Lazarus now lays dead in the tomb.
John 11:32 & 37 (NIV)
32 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw Him, she fell at His feet and said, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.”
37 But some of them said, “Could not He who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”
Certainly, embedded in these expressions of disappointment was confidence that Jesus was capable of doing miraculous things. But, the fact that He had not done what they had hoped for and maybe even expected, only added to their grief. But, where Mary and Martha and their friends were putting a period, end of sentence, Jesus was putting a comma.
What we see happen next is a combination of the human and the divine. Jesus, fully human and fully God, engages in an act of great compassion and powerful forecast. The act of raising Lazarus from the dead is not simply a response of human emotion on Christ’s part. It is a pre-meditated act of giving these people and the whole world a foretaste of what was soon to happen to Him.
That’s what signs are all about. They point to something beyond themselves. Though we don’t want to miss the compassionate heart of our Lord for Mary and Martha by raising their brother Lazarus, it is important that we see this miracle as a sign that Jesus is the Christ who gives life to all who believe in Him.
Remember the reminder that Jesus gave to Martha just before He called Lazarus out of the tomb? 40 . . ., “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”
Now do you think Jesus was only referring to the glory of Lazarus coming back to life? Or, do you think Jesus was even more so referring to the glory that was still to be revealed when God raised Him from the dead?
You see, back at the beginning of this story in verse 4, Jesus declared 4 . . . “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” Lazarus’ sickness was going to bring glory to the Son of God.
It is so easy for us to focus on the miracle and miss the glory of the miracle worker, who He is and why He has done such a gracious thing for us. We tend to make life to be all about us. But, when we live life that way what we miss out in is full participation in the glory of God’s Son. For, when He is glorified, we are most satisfied.* When we walk in His ways, then our lives point to Him as the Master. And Jesus wants us to know the fullness of life that comes only from walking obediently, and intimately, and worshipfully with Him. O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear, All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.
*Cf. ["God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him." John Piper]
Then Jesus instructed the onlookers at the tomb of Lazarus to take away the stone. And when they took it away, Jesus prayed in a voice that could be heard by those gathered. He did this intentionally for the benefit of those standing by so that they would believe that God had sent Him to this world for the mission of being the Lamb of God.
And, when He finished praying,
43 . . . Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.
Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”
What a grand display of Christ’s power! What a confirming statement that Jesus is the Son of God. To have witnessed such a miracle must have been life-changing for all the people. How could they not all bow down in worship and commit to live as servants of Christ for the remainder of their days?
That seems to me to be a reasonable response to this glorious miracle of Jesus raising Lazarus. Does it not? But, what do we find to be the actual response?
John 11:45-53 (NIV)
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.
Two very different responses. Does that surprise you? One group believing and the others threatened. Or, is this simply a continuation of the established pattern of responses to Jesus? Has it not been true all along that wherever Jesus goes He divides? You see, people can’t be in Christ’s presence and remain neutral.
Here’s what Jesus said in Luke 11:23 (NIV)
23 “He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me, scatters.
It does seem true that as much as Jesus is a uniter, He is also a divider. Matthew records it this way:
Matthew 10:37-39 (NIV)
37 “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me; 38 and anyone who does not take his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me. 39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.
Jesus stands as the proverbial fork in the road. He makes His case to us that He is the Christ, the Son of God, and then says to us, put your trust in Me and you will live. Otherwise, the wrath of God will remain on you. (John 3:36)
Now, for the remainder of our time, I want us to explore our text for reasons we don’t trust Christ.
We are not surprised that many of the Jews put their faith in Jesus. That seems the logical response to the mighty miracle they had just witnessed. But, are we not a bit surprised that some of them could walk away from the risen Lazarus unbelieving and even threatened by this beautiful display of grace and mercy?
So, my question of our text this morning is, Why don’t we trust Jesus? Why are we so easily threatened by Him?
We read in verse 46, John 11:46 (NIV)
46 But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done.
O, we can try, and we may even want to try, to put a positive spin on this verse. Like, “everyone there who witnessed the miracle believed and some of them went to the Pharisees in an attempt to persuade them to also believe in Jesus.”
But, for those who have tried that have found that it just doesn’t fit the context. Nor does it deal with the direction changing, three letter word, “but.” The “except” or the “although” of verse 46 creates a contrast with the people who had put their faith in Jesus.
I believe it is more compelling to see these witnesses who went to the Pharisees as sympathizers, if not actual agents, of the Pharisees.
It was no secret that for most all of Christ’s public ministry the Pharisees were conducting constant examination of what Jesus was saying and doing. So, for someone to feed them information, they had to understand how that would fuel the flames of jealousy and anger. And this particular information regarding Lazarus seemed to be the final straw that set their decision to kill Jesus in cement.
“The Great Sanhedrin in Jerusalem was generally composed of seventy of the leading priests (who were mostly Sadducees) and the revered rabbinic scribes (who were mostly Pharisees), with the ruling high priest serving as the seventy-first member who would vote to break ties in the court.” [Borchert, G. L. (2001, c1996). Vol. 25A: John 1-11 (The New American Commentary (364). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.]
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.
The meeting of the Sanhedrin opens with what could have been a good question if they were really looking for the truth. What are we accomplishing? But, in good business style, they needed to measure their success against their goals and objectives. And, since their primary goal was, like so many politicians, to retain their position of power, they only asked questions presumed to preserve their power. And, the presence of Jesus was threatening their hold on power, or so they thought.
Isn’t it interesting that the answer to what they are accomplishing is to state what Jesus is accomplishing.
That’s like the Mariners asking themselves, what are we accomplishing, and they reply, “the Oakland A’s have won 5 games in a row and if they keep on like that, they will win the division.”
It’s a backwards way of evaluating what the team is accomplishing. And by inference, they aren’t accomplishing very much.
The Sanhedrin does acknowledge, however, that Jesus is performing many miraculous signs and, without some opposition, they project that everyone will believe in Him. But, what’s the problem with that? Would that be a bad thing for their nation?
Well, if that happened, then they won’t have any people to lead. They will be out of a job. And, what jobs can former politicians hold these days?
Notice the power the Sanhedrin think they have over Jesus. “If we let Him go on like this,” as though to say, “we can stop Him. We can stop God from doing what He has planned to do.”
But of greater concern is the false basis on which they make their argument. They are not asking the obvious question, If Jesus is claiming to be the Christ, is there adequate evidence that He is telling us the truth? That would be a good question for them to ask. But, instead, they can only see how Christ is messing with their plans, with their ambitions, with their power. And they don’t like it.
And so someone floats the idea that if Jesus is left alone and everyone follows Him, the Romans will step in and stomp on all of the Jews, including the Sanhedrin. Then they’ll really be in a big pile of hurt.
But, is that a true statement? Would Israel be worse off with the people following Jesus rather than the Sanhedrin in the eyes of the Romans? I don’t know that we can answer that question, other than to say, the Jews had struck a deal with the Romans. But the Jews did not have respect for them. The coziness we see between the Sanhedrin and the Romans at this time is only because the Sanhedrin needed Rome to carry out their dirty work. But, there was no love lost between the Jews and the Romans.
They merely provided a scapegoat to divert attention away from the self-serving scheme of the Sanhedrin. In all likelihood, relations with Rome would improve if everyone followed Jesus instead of the Sanhedrin. For Jesus had told the Pharisees that they should pay their taxes to Roman when He took the coin they gave Him that had Caesar’s image on it and said, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” (Matthew 22:15-22)
If the Sanhedrin would only ask the right questions and truly seek the truth, they would have nothing to fear from Jesus. But, these men are not seeking the truth. They have grounded themselves on a false premise and committed themselves to a lie. And, they are refusing to look at the evidence.
And shamefully, Caiaphas leads the way. As high priest, he was supposed to be an unbiased judge and only act as a tie breaker in decision making. But instead, he led the Sanhedrin in an unjust murder plot on an innocent man.
Why is this? Probably more than anyone else among the Sanhedrin, Caiaphas was most worried that Jesus would displace him in his position of power, even though presently, he wasn’t threatened by Rome. He did, however, feel threatened by Jesus. But, since Jesus’ popularity was growing, and the Romans were not highly regarded, it made for an expedient argument to suggest that Jesus was a threat to the Romans, when in truth, it was Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin who felt threatened by Jesus.
Folks, when we turn our backs on Jesus, when we disregard His instruction and then, when things don’t go well as a result, be alert to how we assess blame for our problems. If the Sanhedrin provides us a model, it may be that when we find ourselves defending a lie that we will focus our accusations on the innocent parties rather than on our own unrepentant hearts. It’s a natural thing to do. The Sanhedrin illustrate it all too well.
You see, the reality for the Sanhedrin is that they don’t want Jesus to be their king, their Messiah. They don’t want Him to be their Lord. They have already determined that surrender to the kingship of Jesus would result in a radically changed lifestyle which they did not want. They wanted to keep power in their hands and not relinquish it to Jesus.
Now, I suggest that we are able to make this assessment of the Pharisees because we generally don’t like them. We certainly don’t think that we are one of them. And, as Christians, we understand that they are our opponents. So, it doesn’t disturb us to see Jesus confront them and call them on their hypocrisy or self-righteousness. In fact, we cheer when that happens.
But what about us? Have we become a lord unto ourselves in our Christian relationship to Christ? Do we pick and choose what we want from Christ and throw out what we don’t want from Him? Does that define our own Christianity?
If that is the case, then, just how different are we from the Pharisees? Are we not retaining for ourselves the position of master of our lives, just as the Pharisees were doing?
Out of their fear of what it will mean if Jesus is truly given His rightful place as Lord of their lives, they reject Jesus. They reject Him to the point of determining to eliminate Him, to kill Him. Caiaphas even comes up with a novel idea that unknown to him is prophetic. He gives the Sanhedrin a rationalization for why they should kill Jesus. It will be for the greater good, he says. Let one man die so that the whole nation will experience peace.
What an admission from the judge even before the trial begins. He says it’s obvious what we are to do. We kill an innocent man.
But, had they examined the evidence, had they been in search of the truth, they would not have had to reject Jesus and kill Him. It was a lie to say that the Romans were going to take their nation away because of Jesus. And I believe Caiaphas knew it. But more than the truth, he was committed to preserving his position of power and remaining his own master.
This is a sad story that only gets sadder. When the trial is taken to Pilate and the people are shouting to take Jesus away and crucify Him, Pilate asks, “Shall I crucify your king?” And who is it that answers him and how do they answer? It is shockingly sad. (John 19:15)
“We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests answered. In rejection of Jesus, they declare their king to be Caesar. What a choice. What a sad choice.
If only the sadness ended there. But, forty years later, the king they chose over Jesus, marched into Jerusalem, ransacked the city, killing 800 thousand to 1.1 million Jews and destroyed their temple. The consequence of their choice exacted a horrific price.
O, it is true that God will accomplish His purposes in the midst of this flagrant disobedience. But, that does not mean that the Pharisees and the Sadducees will repent and turn to Christ. The path the Sanhedrin walked is not the path for us.
So, what is the answer? We must recognize that our fears are unfounded. They rest on false premises. They are rooted in lies from our enemy.
So, why don’t we trust Christ?
1. Because we allow our fears to blind us to the good heart of our Lord. We know in our heads that God is good, that He wants to give us life in its fullness. But, we listen to the lies of the enemy who plants doubts in our heart. He says, “But, you’ve never done this before. It might not work. You’ve got bills to pay. You can’t possibly give that offering. Are you sure you want to step out on that limb?”
Why don’t we trust Christ?
2. We listen to the enemy of our souls tell us how we will be losers if we obey Christ. He says, “You might get demoted if you get too religious. Look at all the friends you can have if you stay away from Christ. If you attach yourself to Jesus, you’ll be all alone.”
Why don’t we trust Christ?
3. We want immediate gratification and abhor waiting for something better. In fact, we can’t imagine that Jesus would raise our Lazarus. Patience means pain and we don’t like pain. So we don’t trust Him.
Why don’t we trust Christ?
4. We are lonely and seek an easy source of friendship rather than the diligence it takes to cultivate intimacy with God. Out of fear of loneliness, we make an idol out of a person. But, the problem is, that person cannot support the weight we lay on him or her.
Why don’t we trust Christ?
5. We value our present position more than the one He wants us to be in. The honors we can receive from the world appear to be more attractive and more immediate. The applause of the world is enticing and addicting.
Why don’t we trust Christ?
6. By staying distant from Christ we never know what we are missing.
Friends, God is so good that we must not let these distractions, these temptations and fears prevent us from enjoying His goodness. Jesus said:
John 10:10-11 (NIV)
10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.
John 4:14 (NIV)
14 but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
John 6:33 (NIV)
33 For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
There’s a freedom that comes from bowing at the feet of Jesus in worship. When we receive His love, then it doesn’t matter what other people think of us.
But folks, we must first repent of not wanting Jesus. We have allowed the lies from our enemy to trick us into thinking we can get by without Jesus. We must repent of this notion. And then, we must welcome the disciplines that build a healthy relationship with Him.
A love relationship with Christ is developed through disciplines. It comes when we reserve time and energy to listen to and speak with our Lord. The discipline of carving out time alone with the Lord takes work and work is not pleasant. But, our hunger for fellowship must first be satisfied in Christ. Then, we can engage in friendships as givers and receivers and not just as takers.
May I suggest that as a response to this message you identify one relationship discipline to which you will renew your commitment this morning? Here are some ideas:
Time alone with the Lord with our Bibles open, reading, meditating or studying.
Time alone with the Lord in prayer.
Time reserved for memorizing and meditating on Scripture.
Time to sing or listen to worship songs.
Lord, may these disciplines bring us closer to You, that we would taste Your goodness and find You to be overwhelmingly satisfying. And in the joy of our fellowship with You, may we fearlessly trust You, courageously walk with You and unashamedly identify ourselves with You.