Over the last few weeks we have been looking at this incredible account of the raising of Lazarus. We’ve looked at Jesus’ reaction when he heard the news of his friends illness, we’ve looked at Mary and Martha, we’ve looked at the way Jesus dealt with the sorrow and grief of the sisters. But today we change scenes. We’d like to see more. We’d like to be in on the celebration and her Lazarus’ story firsthand. But while some party and celebrate . . . .others are plotting. I could have titled this message: “Meanwhile, back in Jerusalem”.
We see that there were two groups of people who left the cemetery that day. One group headed back to the home of Martha and Mary in Bethany to celebrate. The other group took the road to Jerusalem to complain. It’s this later group that we follow this morning. Most likely this information was given to John by Nicodemus who was a member of the Sanhedrin and also a follower of Christ.
The Sanhedrin was a “supreme court” of sorts. It was made up, by some reports, of 71 members who were divided among the Pharisees, the Sadducees and was led by the High Priest. If you think of one of our houses of Congress you wouldn’t miss the picture by much. The Sanhedrin was given a limited scope of power by the Romans to take care of matters in Israel. The Sanhedrin then became a group very concerned about maintaining order so as not to lose the power of self-rule that they had.
In our text this morning we get to listen in on a meeting that took place after Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. I pray you will see with me that Man at his worst is very often the place where we see God at His best.
We See Man at His Worst
Unwilling to Believe
First, we notice that they were unwilling to see the truth. They knew about the miracles, they knew the effect they are having, but they refused to commit themselves to this one who did the works of God. Rather than asking, “is He truly the Messiah?” They asked, “how do we stop Him?”
Filled with rationalizations for their sin
Their first rationalization was: If we don’t stop Him everyone will desert the “true faith”. They saw Jesus as a false teacher and believed He was leading the people astray. Yet they never fully examined His claims. If we don’t stop Him we will lose our position of influence
Second, they said they must do something or they would lose their PLACE. I think we gain some insight into the true objection . . . they were jealous!
Two shopkeepers were bitter rivals. Their stores were directly across the street from each other, and they would spend each day keeping track of each other’s business. If one got a customer, he would smile in triumph at his rival. One night an angel appeared to one of the shopkeepers in a dream and said, “I will give you anything you ask, but whatever you receive, your competitor will receive twice as much. Would you be rich? You can be very rich, but he will be twice as wealthy. Do you wish to live a long and healthy life? You can, but his life will be longer and healthier. What is your desire?” The man frowned, thought for a moment, and then said, “Here is my request: Strike me blind in one eye!”
These men were like the Sanhedrin. They would rather eliminate Jesus rather than accept the blessings He offers
Their third rationalization: If we don’t stop Him we will lose our nation. The Sanhedrin were given the responsibility of watching over Israel and guarding their place in the Roman world. The last thing they wanted was a man being called “King” to incur the wrath of Rome.
But, Jesus never claimed an earthly kingdom. Jesus advocated good citizenship. He told people to “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.”
It is ironic that the very thing they dreaded . . . the destruction of Jerusalem, came in 70 a.d. And most feel it was for killing the Son of God!
Before we shake our heads at the depth of these men’s sin we must look at how easily we rationalize and excuse sin. The cycles is pretty predictable.
1. Transgression, exposure, repentance
2. Transgression, exposure, excuse
3. Transgression, exposure, justification
4. Transgression, exposure, “I didn’t do anything wrong”
5. The one who transgressed blames the one who disagrees with them as being narrow-minded.
We do this with our “white lies”. They are harmless, we say. However, it is difficult to stop telling bigger lies.
We see this at work in the homosexual community. Homosexual was changed to gay, then an alternate lifestyle, then petition for equal protection as a valid sexual preference.
We see rationalization in those who stealing from business. We especially see it in those who defraud their insurance company . . phony lawsuits, collecting from two different policies so that you profit from your illness. You report bigger losses than you actually experienced. And what’s the defense? They are a big corporation and they won’t miss the money. Beside the point entirely.
On this Sanctity of Life Sunday we must also include the abortion debate. It is no longer proper to call people pro-abortion. Instead they want to be known as pro-choice. Why? Because it makes anyone who disagrees with them sound like they don’t want people to make up their own minds. [Mind you, we think people do have a choice . . . and they exercise that free choice when they engage in behavior that might lead to pregnancy.]
You’ve heard the argument: Is it fair to bring an unwanted baby into the world? We must respond with: “fair to whom?” How do you know you won’t want that baby at birth?
We too have become so good at rationalizing our sin that we make evil sound noble. We call it being open minded . . . when it truth it is to be close-minded to the truth of God. So, before you shake your head realize that those men are not much different than we are.
God at His Best
God used Caiaphas to point to an eternal mystery. Caiaphas said, “You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish”. Caiaphas meant that it would be better to kill Jesus than to risk annoying the Romans. But God meant something else.
Christ died for the people. Here we see the idea of substitutionary atonement. Jesus gave His life as a payment for our sins. The sins of the Jews, and for believers around the world.
In Romans 3:21 and following we see that God chose this method of redemption in order to demonstrate His justice (by punishing sin) and to extend His mercy (by granting salvation to those who believe.)
But how can one man do this? It is the value of that one life. If you were holding hostages (and hopefully you never will.) You would be willing to trade several hostages for one prominent individual.
In the same way the life of the President is deemed worth more than the men who protect the President. Why? Because of the office or position He holds. If this is true, what infinite value the Son of God must hold.
Which road are you traveling . . . the road to Bethany to celebrate new life in Christ or the road to Jerusalem where you will continue to resist Him?
But . . . the whole message of the cross is that God has provided a way for people to be forgiven.
- The couple who has had an abortion
- The person who abandoned an elderly parent
- The person who squeezed the life of a relationship because of their jealousy
- The person who has been rationalizing their sin but now wants to be forgiven.
- The abusive parent or spouse
- The dishonest businessman
- The unfaithful mate
- The person who cheated on a test
- The one who lied on a financial disclosure form
- The one who has failed time and time again
If you want to experience His forgiveness there are three steps: First,: Stop making excuses and be honest about your sin. Step Two: Hear the Gospel message . . . understand that Jesus died in your place. Step Three: Surrender your heart to Him by genuinely placing your trust in Him. Apply Christ’s sacrifice to your life.
Max Lucado wrote,
You may be decent. You may pay taxes and kiss your kids and sleep with a clean conscience. But apart from Christ you aren’t holy. So how can you go to Heaven?
Only believe. Accept the work already done, the work of Jesus on the cross.
Accept the goodness of Jesus Christ. Abandon your own works and accept his. Abandon your own decency and accept his. Stand before God in his name, not yours.
It’s that easy? There was nothing easy about it at all. The cross was heavy, the blood was real, and the price was extravagant. It would have bankrupted you or me, so he paid it for us. Call it simple,. Call it a gift. But don’t call it easy.
Call it what it is. Call it grace.
[Max Lucado, A Gentle Thunder]
The death of Christ was a travesty of earthly justice but it was also a wonderful provision of Heavenly mercy and grace. To Him be glory, forever and ever.