Sermon: God Meant it for Good!
Martin G. Collins
Given 13-Nov-21; 63 minutes
Today, the persecution of Christians, Jews, and many conservatives in general is increasingly being promoted by corrupt global and national, political, and religious leaders. On February 18, 2020, Forbes ran an article titled, "Persecuted Christians Are Not Given Much Hope 2020." In January, 2020, Open Doors, an international NGO (which is a non-government organization), advocating on behalf of persecuted Christians released their annual World Watch list. The World Watch list provides an assessment of 50 countries where Christians face the most severe types of persecution. At the very top of the list of the countries which show extreme levels of persecution, we see in North Korea, Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya, Pakistan, Eritrea, Sudan, Yemen, Iran, India, and Syria. That does not really surprise us, does it? Because they are not known for being Christian areas.
The World Watch list in 2020 does not give much hope for the persecuted communities. Indeed, it presents a grim picture of the situation of Christians globally, making it very clear that the persecution encountered by them continues to get worse. The report identifies that, "In 2020, 260 million Christians live in the World Watch lists top 50 countries where Christians are at risk of high, very high, or extreme levels of persecution. And this is up from 245 million the year before ". That is 15 million more just in one year being persecuted, seriously persecuted, or very persecuted. The report also emphasizes some important negative changes within global trends of the persecution of Christians.
Furthermore, it identified that "countries which had previously avoided more intense levels of persecution, such as Sri Lanka and Burkina Faso, have in the reporting period experienced destabilizing violence, highlighting the fragile persecution context in West Africa and South Asia." According to the report, the situation in China continues to worsen as more and more churches in China are experiencing pressure at the hands of the Chinese state. Indeed, in the reporting period over 5,500 churches have been destroyed, opposed, or confiscated.
In India, Christian minorities are subjected to extreme persecution which manifested in at least 1,445 physical attacks and death threats against Christians in 2019. The last one in Nigeria in 2019, approximately 1,350 Christians were killed for their faith. Indeed, these numbers do not give much hope to the persecuted.
To the average mainstream Christian, reports such as these of violent persecutions around the world and the obvious rapid expansion of the demonization of Christians followed by violence, can be devastatingly depressing. It would be easy to fall into a sense of hopelessness. But we do have hope, unlike the world, because of God's plan for us.
Please turn with me to Genesis 50. Remember what Joseph said to his brothers about the hatred they showed toward him and the resulting purpose God had for him. That was not anywhere on the level of the persecution that I mentioned in these statistics, but it still nevertheless was hatred enough to sell him into slavery. So this is what Joseph says to his brothers:
Genesis 50:20 "But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive."
The title of this sermon is, God Meant It For Good, taking it from this scripture.
We should never be afraid and especially not ashamed to openly living God's way of life and expressing the Scriptures in conversation with anyone in the world or in the church. No matter how good a witness we are, no matter how much good we do for others, the world, speaking generally, still hates us, and the world still despises us. It laughs at us and ridicules us behind our backs and some of it is done to our faces. (But most of it is done behind our backs.) Even people that we consider "friends" in the world or acquaintances or family members.
Please turn over to John 15. Now, especially when we have done something right and good, often we will be hated by those in authority. Sometimes it is a hard hatred and often it is just a soft hatred, but hatred it is. Biblically, hatred usually means to love less. But in the cases where it is hatred against Jesus Christ and His followers it often signifies viciousness.
John 15:18-19 "If the world hates you, you know it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore, the world hates you."
In contrast, the world loves and rewards its own because they are together in spiritual darkness, at best bedfellows. Why do the wicked prosper? Because they reward each other.
John 15:23-25 "He who hates Me hates My Father also. If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would have no sin; but now they have seen and also hated both Me and My Father. But this happened that the word might be fulfilled which is written in their law, 'They hated Me without a cause.'"
The world needs no excuse to hate. But they despise our association with Jesus Christ because we are together in spiritual light as conquerors of sin, which exposes their depravity and they do not like that one bit.
John 17:14 "I have given them Your word [Jesus speaking to God the Father]; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world."
Let us take a look at this word hatred a moment. Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary defines hatred as
Strong dislike, disregard, or even indifference towards someone or something. As such, hate may be seated in a person's emotions or will. Various degrees and types of hatred are described in the Bible and this makes it difficult to define hatred in simple absolute terms. The people of God are to hate what God Himself hates with an absolute hatred of sin. But God is also said to hate human beings, as when he declared, "Jacob I have loved but Esau I have hated." And this is a relative hatred. It is not the opposite of love but a diminished love. God loved Jacob so much that He chose him to become the father of the nation of Israel. He did not love Esau in the same way. To hate our relatives for the sake of Christ means to love them less than we love Christ. And it does not mean to hate them absolutely. Believers ought to love their enemies but hate their enemies sins. Wicked people living under the power of Satan will hate the Lord Jesus Christ, His followers, and their righteous deeds. It is the Christian's duty not to strike back, but to do good to his enemies.
I thought that was a good summary of the word hatred and a good coverage of it briefly.
Now let us go back a few chapters to John 11 where Jesus raised Lazarus from the grave. Having finished His prayer, Jesus called to Lazarus with a loud voice so all could hear. Lazarus of course would have heard even if He had whispered. So everyone there could hear, He chose to say it in a loud voice.
John 11:43-44 Now when He had said these things, He cried with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come forth!" [The story continues by reporting with great understatement] And he who died came out bound hand and foot with graveclothes, and his face was wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, "Loose him, and let him go."
Here is the climax of the miracle and it is here that it must be applied spiritually. The resurrection of Lazarus happened. But we notice that it is also what happened spiritually whenever God calls a sinner out of the world.
Please turn over to Ephesians 2. According to Scripture, anyone without Christ is dead spiritually. He is dead in trespasses and sins, as Paul wrote it to the Ephesians. As such, he is helpless and there is nothing he can do to improve his condition.
Ephesians 2:1-5 And you [members of God's church] He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of the flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others. But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved).
Ephesians 2:8-10 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.
We are no longer dead in trespasses, but we are alive in Christ.
Although it was Jesus alone who could bring the dead to life, nevertheless, He was pleased to involve the bystanders in the miracle involving Lazarus. First, they were told to move the stone and then after the miracle they were told to unbind Lazarus. True, we cannot bring the dead to life, but we can bring the Word of Christ to them. We can be part of that, and we can do preparatory work and we can do work afterward. We can help to remove stones—stones of ignorance, and error and prejudice and despair. And after the miracle we can help the new Christian by unwinding the graveclothes, so to speak, of doubt, fear, self-centeredness, and discouragement.
Why did Jesus have others do the physical work? Did He need help? This miracle was one of Jesus' Father's work. So Jesus prayed and thanked God for the answer He knew would follow. It did not require the disciples help, yet Jesus commanded them. John 11, verses 39 and 44 put together say, "take away the stone" and "loose him and let him go." They had things to do and by spiritual principle, we also have things to do to serve Christ. Jesus always used His power wisely, never wastefully, frivolously, or unnecessarily. By involving His disciples in the event, He shows that we participate in God's way of life and teaching with Him. Each and every one of us have that responsibility. The ministry just has it on a more full-time basis, so to speak.
The miracle is the Father's and Christ's, but there is work for us to do if we will do it. That is the question. If we will do it, we will make the effort. Jesus used Ananias to reach Paul, even after he had been struck down on the road to Damascus. He used Peter to reach Cornelius, Philip preached to the Ethiopian. So do you doubt that He would use you for a similar purpose? And are you ready for such work as that?
What was the intended result of this miracle? After His prayer, Jesus, in whom is life and who is the life, shouts to Lazarus with a strong, confident voice and he walks from his grave alive. It is an almost incredible thing to read. Can you imagine the effect that it had on those who witnessed it, who knew Lazarus, and who stood there watching this? And as the conclusion of John 11 and Luke 12 shows this miracle had diverse results. Many Jews believed in Him, but it only angered His enemies, making them more determined to rid themselves of Him.
Please turn with me to Luke 12. Now, the high priest Caiaphas, a dupe of Rome and the Sadducees, who did not believe in resurrection, suggests to the council that they must kill Jesus rather than lose their positions. The words and works of Jesus divided light from darkness, the believing from the unbelieving, and there is still division today because of Him.
Luke 12:51-53 "Do you suppose that I came to give peace on earth? I tell you, not at all, but rather division. For from now on five in one house will be divided: three against two, and two against three. Father will be divided against son and son against father, and mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law."
So we have division in nations and towns and families because of Christ's teachings to this day, all part of God's plan in choosing specific people at this time to be firstfruits.
The resurrection of Lazarus by Jesus was over, and the people who had been standing by and had witnessed a miracle, were left to wonder at it. But what was to be their reaction? Would they believe Jesus or would they fail to believe? Would they become His followers or His enemies? As we read the sequel to the story of Lazarus, we are not surprised to find that both are true, that is, some believed while others disbelieved. There were people who had come to Mary and had seen the things that Jesus did and put their faith in Him. Their case reminds us of the report of the people of Samaria who had come to Jesus through the testimony of the woman whom Jesus met at the well and who had then believed.
John 4:42 Then they said to the woman, "Now we believe, not because of what you said, for we ourselves have heard Him and we know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world."
Theirs was a wonderful experience and an example. We would do well to be like them and be like Mary and the women at Samaria, whom others believed.
Turn over to John 11 once again. No sooner are we told that some believed, then we are also told that others did not. In fact, these did worse than merely disbelieve. These reported on Jesus to the authorities who then held a council.
John 11:45-46 Then many of the Jews who had come to Mary, had seen the things Jesus did, believed in Him. But some of them went away to the Pharisees and told them the things Jesus did.
This was an evil, strange council that Caiaphas set up once they received this knowledge about what Christ did. They had been planning to do something all along, but this was the final straw.
Look at the action of those who had witnessed the raising of Lazarus, then went and told the Pharisees. In reaction to that, we say, "How could they show such animosity toward Jesus? How could they be so intolerable of Him and so impervious to His miracles?" But then we look at those to whom they reported and the hatred of the first group seems mild by comparison. Presumably the bystanders reported to the Pharisees, who in turn informed the Sadducees, who then called a meeting either officially or unofficially of the great Sanhedrin, the supreme governing body of the nation.
So here were the greatest men of the nation, at least in their own opinion, and there were chief priests in their robes. The chief priests were all Sadducees. There were Pharisees, the holiest men of all in their phylacteries, and these met in holy council. No doubt they opened their meeting with prayer. Yet, what were they meeting for? They were meeting to oppose and persecute a perfectly innocent Man. He was a man who had been doing great miracles. So great, in fact, that a proper council would have been one on how to encourage His work and lead multitudes to follow Him, not look for a way to do away with Him.
It was an unlikely coalition: the Pharisees, strictly speaking, were not a political party at all, though they had political power because they were so highly regarded. They were a religious party or denomination. They were concerned primarily with observing each tiny requirement of the law and with encouraging others to do so. They were sticklers for detail. To this day, the Jews' law is one of burden and the leaders are sticklers for detail. (I remember Mark Kaplan was training to be a rabbi and an elder in the Worldwide Church of God. He told us that one of the laws on the Sabbath was that they could not carry a sandwich any farther than one block and so they would stash sandwiches every block on the Sabbath so they could eat lunch.)
One example of this council's outlook is seen in the objection of Nicodemus, who was probably a Pharisee, and to proceedings in the council held earlier. Nicodemus is reported to have said, "Does our law condemn anyone without first hearing him and to find out what he is doing?" This council that was pulled together totally ignored their own law and we are proceeding without "the labor" of having to abide by their law.
On the other hand, there were the Sadducees. These were not religious men, though some undoubtedly played at religion for their own ends. These were the politicians. They were wealthy and aristocratic and they collaborated with the Romans to preserve their privileged position. These men had much to lose, particularly if there was a civil disorder because that would bring swift intervention by the Romans. They compromised to preserve their position. If justice and civil order ever came into conflict, the Sadducees would always be found on the side of the Romans in preserving civil order.
The interesting thing is that these two groups were enemies or rivals. They hated each other and often opposed each other bitterly. Like Republicans and Democrats (or something of the sort) sadly in our country. Yet lo and behold, we find them working together here in their opposition to Jesus. Why? Obviously because their opposition to Jesus was more important than their rivalry with each other. The Pharisees hated Jesus for His religious views. He exposed their sin and the Sadducees hated Him for being a threat to their privileged position. Both hated Him and so they collaborated.
A short time later we find the same thing in connection with Herod and Pilate, who are also enemies but who made common cause in doing away with Jesus.
Luke 23:11-12 Then Herod, with his men of war, treated Him [Jesus] with contempt and mocked Him, arrayed Him in a gorgeous robe, and sent Him back to Pilate. That very day, Pilate and Herod became friends with each other, for previously they had been at an enmity with each other.
So the situation gives us insight into the hearts of sinful men and women. "The enemy of my enemy is my friend" is a saying that the world has. People would rather unite with their enemies than follow Jesus. Many people are like that spiritually to this day. They will agree with anyone and work with anyone rather than Jesus Christ.
The council of the Pharisees and Sadducees convened with such an evil intent they proceeded next to equally evil deliberations. First, they muddled about in indecision.
John 11:47-48 Then the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered a council and said, "What shall we do? For this Man works many signs. If we let Him alone like this, everyone will believe Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and nation."
The most remarkable thing about this decision is its unintentional confession of Jesus Christ's strength versus their weakness. They admitted that they were weak against Him, but that He was strong and that He was drawing people to Him. It is more dramatic in that it happens on several levels. For one thing, there is no attempt to deny the miracles. Here is this "Man performing many [miraculous] signs" was their testimony. They admitted it. There was an earlier point when these same men sent officers to arrest Jesus and admitted after the soldiers had returned emptyhanded that they really did not know what He was doing. I mentioned earlier that Nicodemus defended Jesus' rights by Jewish law in John 17:51, where he said, "Does our law judge a man before it hears Him and knows what He is doing?"
So here again, they admitted that they were going against their own law, but now they know what Jesus is doing and still they deny Him. They admitted He performed the miracle, yet they opposed He who performed it. They had blinded themselves willfully. Also, they admitted that they had been powerless over a considerable period of time because this is the effect of the question with which the discussion began. What are we accomplishing? The religious leaders were acknowledging that their efforts have been ineffective and that they were now at their wits end. We might capture the force of the question by translating this sentence in this way: "Look how Jesus is growing in popularity. What are we going to do about it?"
Implied in the question is the admission that a new approach is needed precisely because the old one is not working, arrest, trying to silence Him was not working. Jesus' plans were working, but their efforts were weak. He was strong and He continually showed that. The Pharisees and Sadducees collaborated against their natural instincts to do away with Jesus, which reveals the nature of sin in the human heart, that it will blind itself to get its own way if it is fearful.
In fact, they would not even raise the question of whether His miracles should be taken as evidence that He was who He said He was, or even that He was a prophet to whom they should listen. They had already shut their ears to such issues and were only seeking a way to stifle His influence or eliminate Him. Does this seem extreme or even foolish? It is foolish of course, but it is not that different from what many do today. Sadly, some people criticize everything someone they do not like says. This is very common with people on social media. For church members to verbally attack another member or especially the ministry is tantamount to criticizing Jesus Christ because we are the body of Christ, we members.
But what did they do? How did their council end? One of them named Caiaphas stood up and advocated despicable self-interest. He did not put it in that way, of course. He said, as politicians always do, "We must think of the good of the people." Does that sound familiar? But this is what he meant. He succeeded in swaying the council too because it was on this level, the level of self-interest and not on any high level of rule of law or good of the nation that these malicious men were compliant. The rest of them agreed with him. They may have had their doubts, but nevertheless, they agreed.
John 11:49-50 And one of them, Caiaphas, being high priest that year, said to them, "You know nothing at all, nor do you consider that it is expedient for us that one man should die for the people, and not that the whole nation should perish."
Caiaphas spoke clearly. He began by dismissing all comments by all the previous speakers, "You know nothing at all" he said arrogantly, and that is, everything said thus far is foolishness. So he in his foolishness, claiming that everyone else was foolish, then eloquently and simply he advised that it was better that one man die, though innocent, than that all should perish. And he won the argument and they all followed him.
First, he won in the council. We read,
John 11:53 Then, from that day on, they plotted to put Him to death.
Second, he won before Pilate because it was when Pilate perceived that a riot was developing and that he could be held responsible before Caesar and even viewed as an insurrectionist himself, that he released Jesus for crucifixion. Expediency. It was convenient and practical despite being improper and immoral and that was the lever then, as it is today. It is in the name of expediency and self-interest that many of the most terrible things are done by the leaders of the world. Even leaders of corporations and on down. Caiaphas had said it was better to kill Jesus than that the entire nation perishes. Do you not love your fellow Americans? Why will you not get vaccinated? Same exact argument, put in a different way.
True, they temporarily eliminated Jesus in one sense, but in the aftermath of the crucifixion and the gradual scattering of the Christians from Jerusalem, the revolutionary spirit began to grow with intensity. In Palestine, a war broke out and the Romans intervened to crush the rebellion. And in that great war, all the strongholds of Israel were overthrown. Jerusalem was besieged and destroyed and the Temple was left in ruins. In fact, as Josephus tells us, a plow was even drawn across the Temple area to stress the desolation—plow up everything, nothing.
These men did not receive their Messiah. They resisted Him and the sin of resistance had consequences. In their effort to save their nation, they destroyed it. Since the destruction of Jerusalem took place about AD 70 and since John was writing in about AD 90, according to conservative estimates, no one who read the gospel in John's day would miss this irony. Also, they would not miss the irony inherent in a thriving Christianity either.
The Sanhedrin had acted as it did in order to put down Jesus. "If we let Him go on like this," they said, "everyone will believe in Him." But what happened? Men believed in Him anyway and they killed Him, but it was through His death that the gospel spread, not only throughout Judaism, but to all nations of the world. As John wrote, there were Christians in every major city and in every country of the empire. None can oppose Him. The consequences must be paid. No, none can hinder God's plan. Proverbs 19:21 says, "There are many plans in a man's heart, nevertheless the Lord's counsel—that will stand."
Now, let me turn the story of the Jerusalem Council around in order to make it personal for us. It began with a question: What are we accomplishing? What am I doing with Jesus, the miracle worker? By doing anything at all? There are are only three main choices for us and linking us with the story.
The first is, try to ignore Him. Many try this, but they do not get very far with it. Why? Because He does too many miracles in our lives and in the world. He did them then and He does them still today in interventions in many areas.
The second choice is to oppose Him. Many have taken this course too. As we know, Caiaphas was the first, but certainly not the only or even the worst persecutor of Jesus. History is full of those who opposed Christ, but where are they today? The church remains, but what happened to the persecutors? They all eventually died. Not long after the persecution of the early Christians instituted by Caiaphas and other the other leaders of the Jews, Rome also tried to stamp out the church under Nero. The Christians in Rome were gathered up and executed as falsely accused for the great fire. Some were sewn up in animal skins and mauled by bloodhounds. Some were bound to oxen which ripped them to pieces in the arena. Many were crucified, some were dipped in pitch and set on fire like torches to light the gardens of the mentally deranged emperor. Under Diocletian several centuries later, churches were destroyed, sacred books confiscated, clergy imprisoned, and many believers forced to sacrifice to pagan gods by torture.
But the more they were persecuted, the more the Christians thrived secretly and sometimes openly as today.
Psalm 2:2-4 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against His Anointed, saying, "Let us break their bonds in pieces and cast away their cords from us." He who sits in the heavens shall laugh; the Lord shall hold them in derision.
The third of the three choices is the only sensible one. Have faith in Jesus, accept Him as your personal Savior, and follow Him. Jesus Christ's death, burial, and resurrection are truly understood by very few people. Few doubt that He died. Certainly everyone must die. Few doubt that He died by crucifixion. But why Jesus died or what His death means is a puzzle to most of them. As we might expect, the answer being of great importance is found throughout the Bible. And the illustrations provided by the Old Testament sacrificial system in prophecies such as Isaiah 53, in narrative, and in explicit doctoral teaching. There is ample evidence and proof, but the world is blind because they have not received God's Holy Spirit to enable them to understand.
But there are few verses that speak of the death of Jesus as deeply, so to speak, and in as short space as here in John 11. In John 11, John records the unwitting prophecy of Caiaphas, the high priest of Israel at the time of the death of Christ. He said is it is better that one man die for the people.
John 11:50-53 "Nor do you consider that it is expedient for us that one man should die for the people and not that the whole nation should perish." Now this he [that is, Caiaphas] did not say on his own authority; but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also that He would gather together in one the children of God who were scattered abroad. Then, from that day on, they plotted to put Him to death.
It is interesting and somewhat surprising that a prophecy of the meaning of Christ's death would come from this source. Because of all the self-seeking and ruthless men who made up the Sanhedrin in that year, Caiaphas must have been the most self-centered and the most brutal. Those who attended the council at which the decision was reached to kill Jesus were distressed and confused, and they confessed that Jesus was doing many miracles. They expressed their fear that unless something was done, it was likely that everyone would believe in Him. But they did not know what to do. They were dumbfounded as they sought a legal solution and as we saw, they could not find a legal solution.
There was one man in the group who did know his mind, however, and that was Caiaphas. He had no doubt, he knew what he wanted to do. Others may have been confused, but Caiaphas was not. In essence he said, there is one thing to be done, never mind about the miracles, never mind about His teaching, never mind about His character. The man must die because every minute that He lives, the danger to ourselves and our prerogatives is intensified. Caiaphas expressed this in terms of the greater good of the people, as we saw earlier. Nevertheless, his advice to the council was clearly pure self-interest and expediency. And it was very effective and convincing because the decision was reached immediately to do away with Jesus. What an extreme decision to make about an innocent Man.
Politicians are well known for using this argument all the way down to today, that their dictates are for the greater good or for the health of the people. It is the deception that collateral damage or casualties of government policies are acceptable so others may live. We see this in the human reasoning regarding the manufactured endless Covid crisis. The point of this is that Caiaphas appealed to the council on the premise that it was for the greater good of the people, but like any self-serving politician, he was motivated by pure self-interest and expediency.
Getting back to the 11th chapter of John, the amazing thing is that in John 11:41-52, John tells us that in giving his ruthless counsel Caiaphas prophesied unwittingly. For being high priest that year He prophesied, John says. That is, intentionally Caiaphas foretold not only that Jesus would die, but also why He would die and the scope of His sacrifice. It does seem strange that the prophecy came from such an evil source, but it does not remain strange when we look at it in the light of God's dealings with men throughout biblical history. Here are biblical examples of this very thing.
The Spirit of God came upon Balaam to prophesy there are Numbers 24:2. Is there anything incredible about a man prophesying unconsciously? Pilate did so when he nailed over the cross, "This is the King of the Jews" and wrote it in Hebrew, in Greek, and in Latin thinking it was a sarcastic disrespect of Jesus' accusers while he was proclaiming an everlasting truth. The Pharisee stood at the foot of the cross and taunted Him. "He saved others, Himself He cannot save." They too spoke deeper things than they knew.
The words of this unworthy, selfish, immature, unscrupulous, cruel priest unconsciously proclaimed the glorious central truth in a sense of Christianity. That Christ not only died for the nation that slew Him and rejected Him, but also for the whole world, guilty of sin as well.
We learn from this that God sometimes uses even the wrath of man to accomplish His purposes. Isaiah 14:26-27 says, "This is the purpose that is purposed against the whole earth, and this is the hand that is stretched out over all the nations. For the Lord of hosts has purposed, and who will annul it? His hand is stretched out, and who will turn it back?"
I mentioned this following example earlier in the sermon. Jesus may well have said a similar thing to the devious high priest as Joseph did his brothers after he had revealed himself to them in Egypt. Again in Genesis 50:20, "But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring about as it is this day, to save many people alive."
Now, there is more to the prophecy of Caiaphas than a mere statement of the purpose of Jesus' sacrifice, because John goes on to say in John 11:52 that his prophecy was that Jesus should die, not only for that nation, but also for the scattered children of God. This verse amplifies his previous statement because having informed us of the purpose of Christ's death, he now likewise informs us of the power and scope of it. The great sacrifice was not offered to God at random. The redemption price which was paid, was offered by definite design. Nothing haphazard about it. And Christ died not only to make salvation possible, but to make it certain. Christ died so that He might bring many sons into glory among whom are people from every race, language, ethnicity, and nation.
The end of chapter 11 marks an important division in John's gospel. Second in importance perhaps only to the close of chapter 12, it closes what has been called by some scholars, "The Book of Signs." According to these commentators, John has to be divided into four parts. The prelude and introduction involving the whole of chapter 1, the Book of Signs involving chapters 2 through 11, the passion narrative, as they word it, chapters 12 through 20, and the postscript, chapter 21.
John 11:54-57 mark the halfway point of the gospel and form a transition to the beginning of the last and most eventful week of Christ's ministry. At the end of chapter 11, verses 54 through 57 are significant. For one thing, the verses reflect a great tension, a tension broken finally only by the dramatic appearance of Jesus in Jerusalem. For another thing, they summarize the point to which three significant characters and the final struggle had come. These main characters were the people, the leaders of the people, and Jesus. Therefore, in summarizing the period of Jesus' public ministry centered in the signs, we should look at each one individually.
The common people are an important character component that figures in the action in that the Pharisees and the chief priests proceed as they do because of their fear that if they arrest Jesus openly, the people will riot in support of Him. Nevertheless, they seemed generally confused. They are onlookers, spectators as the majority of people have always been. Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead and this was so spectacular and so public that the leaders of the people had proceeded to hold a council at which the decision was made to arrest Jesus, to bring Him to trial, and execute Him. Jesus, however, knew that His hour had not fully come, and true, it was close at hand—within days He would go up to Jerusalem for the final time. Still, it was not yet quite at hand. So with His disciples, He left the Jerusalem area, to go up to a place where He could not easily be found.
John 11:54 Therefore Jesus no longer walked openly among the Jews, but went from there into the country near the wilderness, to the city called Ephraim, and there remained with His disciples.
So all this had happened on the verge of the Passover and this meant that at the time when Jesus left the area of the capital, many Jews from throughout the country were going up to Jerusalem. Before they could attend any feast they had to be ceremonially clean. So many came to Jerusalem early with the intention of purifying themselves through the prescribed ceremonial washings and offerings. All of this took time. So while they waited, they apparently gathered in little groups and eagerly discussed the major topic of the hour. Where is Jesus?, they ask. "Do you think He will not come to the feast?" The way they phrased the question indicates that they did not expect Him to come because they knew, as Jesus did, that the leaders had determined to arrest and execute Him.
Surely, this is a deplorable picture. True, the people had not yet set themselves in opposition to Jesus as the Pharisees and chief priests had done, but neither had they come out for Him in support. Also, they were content merely to observe the outcome which they knew might well mean the execution of a perfectly innocent Man and to do it even while they went about the aspects of their ceremonial religion.
What did it matter that Jesus was innocent? They could see what would happen and enjoy it. What did it matter that He was God's own Passover who would that very week give His life for the sins of the people? It did not matter to them, as long as they can enjoy their own Passover with its delightful ceremonies. Their traditions, as it always has been, superseded the Word of God, superseded Jesus Christ, superseded the Messiah, soon superseded God the Father. These people were interested in Jesus, even sympathetic to Him, but they would not stick out their own necks and be identified with His cause. Furthermore, they were religious while they watched Him be crucified. I am not saying all of them were that way, but the majority of them certainly were.
Please turn with me to I Corinthians 11. We see something similar to this today. Throughout America, there are thousands of people who, while they are very careful about their church membership and about the details of Christian worship, nevertheless, in their hearts, they are unwilling to be identified with Jesus. In fact, they reject Him. The churches claim to be Christian, but are too embarrassed to have God's name or Jesus Christ's name for their church. It is everything from the Gospel Church, to the Community Church, to this church and that church—too embarrassed to put Christ's name on it or God the Father's.
Now, regarding members of the church, they may have been baptized and they may faithfully attend Sabbath services, but they will not even mention Jesus Christ's name during the work week. Such people cause division in the church because they are not convicted about Christ.
I Corinthians 11:17-19 Now in giving these instructions, I do not praise you [Paul speaking to the church in Corinth], since you come together not for the better but for the worse. For first of all, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it. For there must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you.
So there will be tares and there will be people who are not really members of God's church spiritually, that will be placed among us here and everywhere that there is the church of God, and there have been throughout 2,000 years. We cannot even tell what tares are until the harvest, but they are there to test the rest of us and to show God who we are. He knows who we are, but I mean, so that we prove to ourselves our conviction to Him.
Please turn back with me to John 11. The second important character component who figure in the events of Christ's last week are the rulers, and these were the chief priests and Pharisees who had given a command that if anyone knew where Jesus was, he should tell them because they wanted to arrest Him.
John 11:55-57 And the Passover of the Jews was near, and many went from the country up to Jerusalem before the Passover, to purify themselves. Then they sought Jesus, and spoke among themselves as they stood in the temple, "What do you think—that He will not come to the feast?" Now both the chief priests and the Pharisees had given a command, that if anyone knew where He was, he should report it, that they might seize Him.
These men were opposed to Jesus and were determined to eliminate His presence from their lives and the land. It is an amazing fact but a true one, that the raising of Lazarus had intensified the hostility these rulers had to Jesus. We might have expected them to have been convinced by the miracles, at least, we would expect them to have been curious. But neither of these things happened. They were not the least bit curious, not enough to look into it. Rather, instead of belief and curiosity, we find hatred.
The same thing happened before, at the beginning of the chapter 5, where their hostility originated. We find that they were angered that Jesus had healed the invalid who had spent 38 years at the Pool of Bethesda. Why? Because He had healed the man on the Sabbath. They seem to have been entirely insensitive to the needs of the man, and indifferent to the great wonder that had been performed by Jesus.
In chapter 9, we find that they become even more angry at the healing of the man born blind. Again, it is because of the violation of their own little, puny laws that they have added for the Sabbath. They are not even awestruck at the great healing, nor do they rejoice with the one who had been so miraculously delivered from a nighttime of darkness.
Notice further that these were not acts performed over a period of many centuries by many different men or in far flung regions of the Jewish state. Jesus' miracles were done in a very small area. These acts were done either in Jerusalem or in the immediate area of the city by one Man during a period of just a few years. There was a concentrated dose of miraculous happenings that they had. Furthermore, they were abundantly witnessed by many hundreds, if not thousands of people. Still, they would not believe. What a picture of traditional religion without God's Spirit this is! It hardens the heart, dulls the conscious, narrows the mind, and sets the will against the true God who is revealed—Jesus Christ.
The third of the three important character components is Jesus. Yet He hardly seems to be a main character at this point, so great is His mastery of the situation. This has all been talked about Him while He was with His disciples in a place that was not easy to find. Three factors contribute to that mastery that Jesus had.
First, there is His knowledge of the people and with that His knowledge of all that was transpiring. This is suggested at the beginning of a passage by the word "therefore" in John 11, in verse 54. We are told that "Therefore Jesus no longer walked openly among the Jews, but went from there into the country near the wilderness, to a city called Ephraim, and there remained with His disciples."
What does it mean, "Therefore Jesus no longer [moved about publicly]"? Simply that He knew of the decision of the council reported just one verse earlier. We have no reason to suppose that someone told Him what had transpired, at least nothing like that is suggested. Jesus simply knew what was going to happen. No wonder John, who witnessed this, told us earlier in John 2:24-25, "But Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men, and had no need that anyone should testify of man, for He knew what was in man." Nothing anyone has ever done has caught Him by surprise—nothing.
Second, Jesus had a sense of God's timing. Jesus knew that He was to be crucified. He did not shrink from it. In fact, He praised just one chapter later,
John 12:27-28 "Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say, 'Father, save Me from this hour'? But for this purpose I came to this hour. Father, glorify Your name."
Though the hour was coming, it had nevertheless not yet come, so He waited. At the precise moment and with great determination, He entered Jerusalem, which leads to,
Third, His courage. The people, as they waited in Jerusalem, concluded that He would not come. After all, a man would certainly have to be out of His mind to take on the whole power and authority of the Jewish officialdom. No one could expect Him to come to this feast, things being what they were. But the people had underestimated Jesus, of course. He was not fearful. He was courageous under God and consequently when the time came for His appearance nothing, not all the rulers of Israel, not Satan and his swarms of demons, would hinder Jesus. Courage is in those who submit to God and follow Jesus Christ. We do not fear the consequences of doing the right thing. We fear the consequences of not doing it.
Let us begin to wrap this up. Where are you in this summary of these three important character components? Each of us must be identified with one. Of course we are all hopeful we are identified with Jesus Christ. Are you in the camp of the common people who were sympathetic but who would not admit openly their loyalty and affection to Jesus Christ? Jesus was there among them but they could not decide either for Him or against Him. Thus, one week they were with the mob who welcomed Him into Jerusalem with palm branches, shouting, "Blessed is the King of Israel who comes in the name of the Lord!" and next they were the mob who shouted "Crucify Him! Crucify Him!" Not everyone in the mob, but there were some being called in both those mobs, so to speak. I would suspect though that the ones who were being called were at least the second time they said "Crucify Him! Crucify Him!" were probably at a distance.
We must not allow ourselves to cower in fear of being exposed that we are true Christians. Mark 8:38 says, "For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with His holy angels." Matthew 10:32-33 says, "Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My father who is in heaven." So many deniers are victims of their own sin and selfishness because to them, it is just too costly to be identified with Jesus Christ.
We must let our light shine as Matthew 5:16 says, "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven."
What must we do to be identified with Jesus Christ? We must renunciate the world's way of life. When Jesus asked people to come to Him, the simplest form of His call was "follow Me." The impact of that statement has far-reaching implications. It is just not following Him, it is doing everything that He does—imitating Him completely and obeying Him. The simplest form of His call was "follow Me." But there can be no following without a previous forsaking of all that keeps us from Him.
The disciples had forsaken all and we must overcome the attitude of pride, and self-centeredness and unthankfulness to forsake the world. But when His disciples were with Jesus in Ephraim, the common people who were in Jerusalem had forsaken nothing. So they were not with Jesus and did not even know where they might find Him. Some people are in these shoes today because they will not truly renounce sin.
We must purge our lives of the distractions that hinder maintaining our relationship with God. Prioritizing our life's events and interests on a daily basis is necessary to sustain a spiritually focused life. Our days must start and end with prayer, acknowledging the sovereignty of our God, praying for one another, and more first thing in the morning. Thanking Him, praying for one another, and more before bed at night. In addition, we should be praying multiple times of varying lengths and purposes during the day. For example, thankful prayers at meals, solution prayers for wisdom and intervention when physical and spiritual problems arise in our lives during the day and during the night.
It is not the quantity of prayers that is important, but the quality, the genuineness, the humility of the prayer, and asking for God's will to be done, which is essential. The apostle Paul tells us in Romans 8:28, "And we know that all things work together for good, to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose."
So when you look back at past trials, and are in them, always remember, God meant it for good.