Sermon on John 11:45-57, preached on Sunday, 24 March 2019.
Bible Readings: (OT) Psalm 40:1-17 / (NT) John 11:44-57
I. Jesus died to save the wicked
II. Jesus died to accomplish God’s promise
III. Jesus died to reconcile the sinners to God
This is what happened after Jesus’ raising Lazarus from the tomb four days after his death. It was a great miracle. Everyone who was there could not believe their eyes – a dead person rose from death, walked out of his own tomb and dwelt among the living! Could anyone there – or any of us – explain how that was possible? No human being can ever do that. As much marvellous as it was to all there by the empty tomb in Bethany in the 1st century, it still stuns all of us. The Lord Jesus shouted and called out, “Lazarus, come out!” About this awe-filled miracle which revealed not only Jesus’ authority over death but also His power as the Creator God, a Puritan theologian commented that, had Jesus not called out Lazarus’ name, He would’ve emptied the whole cemetery. What an apt comment that is! Imagine what might’ve happened when Jesus commanded, saying, ‘Come out!’ The whole cemetery would’ve surely been emptied as all the dead walked out!
This mind-blowing excitement is continuing in our text passage. People’s heart and mind are still overwhelmingly shocked. Although the apostle John – the author of this gospel – calmly narrates what follows this miracle, please don’t forget how strongly the Jews were astounded. Like what is happening at present in the northern part of WA and the NT with cyclones, a bomb was blasted before their eyes – a dead person rose!
Telling this miracle story to us, the apostle John points out what the Spirit of God teaches, namely, Jesus will die for saving the sinners like them and us. He raised a dead man, yet, He is going to die soon for the sinners including Lazarus and many who saw his rising, and including you and me. In a word, approaching Jesus’ death is focused and its nature is explained in our text passage. So, let us hear what Jesus’ death means.
I. JESUS DIED TO SAVE THE WICKED
First of all, our Lord died to save the wicked and depraved. Jesus gave His life to the liars and murderers and thieves and selfish fools. Let me explain why I say this. People saw Lazarus walking out of his tomb four days after his death and burial. Jesus simply cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”, like the way He had done in the creation of everything in the beginning. People heard His voice, saw His power over death, and were marvelled, shocked and astonished. But, most of them did not believe Him as the Lord and Saviour!
You might like to put your hand up and say to me, ‘I beg your pardon? V. 45 says that many of the Jews did believe in Jesus.’ Yes, you’re right; v. 45 clearly tells us that many Jews who had seen this miracle of Jesus believed in Him. But, my point is that most of these Jews didn’t continue in that faith but abandoned the Lord at Calvary. Except just a handful of people, all of them were not by the dying Lord on Calvary. Instead, all spat on Him, cursed and shouted to crucify Him. So, even though v. 45 says that many Jews believed, most of them proved not too long after this moment that they were none but liars, murderers, thieves and sinners.
What about the others who went to the Jewish leaders and brought an ill report about Lazarus’ rising? Their disbelief was clear; they saw the miracle – not just a miracle but a mind-blowing, out-of-this-world kind of wonder – but they derided it; they treated Jesus and His miraculous power with disdain. Frankly speaking, their disbelief truly amazes me! How could anyone disbelieve such a miracle and reject Jesus’ message? They’re stubborn in their heart, unbelievably arrogant and hard as a stone.
They remind me of a man in the story I heard some time ago. This man was self-convinced that he was dead, lifeless, deceased. He visited his doctor. So his doctor tried to reason with this man that he was really still alive. Being a bit heated up after several words across, this doctor asked the man, ‘Do dead men bleed? If you cut a dead person, does he bleed?’ The man replied, ‘No, the heart is not beating, there’s no blood pressure. So if you cut a dead person, he does not bleed.’ Hearing this, the doctor took a needle and poked the end of this man’s finger, and he started to bleed. As the blood came out, the doctor said to the man who believed he was dead, ‘See? You’re bleeding. What does this tell you?’ And the man answered, ‘Well, I guess, dead men do bleed after all!’
Truth is that we all are like this self-convinced man. He is the representative of all human beings. He thought he was dead, but all natural men and women are self-convinced that we’re good and righteous. No one can talk to any of these insane minds because of two reasons – first, there’s no one with a sane mind and, second, although there is one with sane mind, no one will listen to others – everyone is the ruler of his/her own world. No wonder why all Israelites who had seen not one but ten miracles of God in Egypt and many more great ones like crossing the Red Sea by foot, eating the manna and quails for forty years in the wilderness never stopped doubting, grumbling and complaining against God.
The greatest surprise incomparable to all those miracles is Jesus’ death for such sinners! God gave His life for these wicked people! Dying for them, the Lord takes away every sin of those He chose to save; He cleanses their sins! How marvellous is His grace! The psalmist knew it as the Holy Spirit had moved his heart, and says in Ps. 40 that the Lord drew him up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set his feet upon a rock, making his steps secure, putting a new song in his mouth (vs. 2-3). Jesus died to save the wicked sinners and cleanse them from their depravity.
II. JESUS DIED TO ACCOMPLISH GOD’S PROMISE
This is not all; there’s more with the nature of Jesus’ death. His death proves that God is faithful and never forgets but keeps what He has said and promised. Also, Jesus’ death tells us that God is in control of history, He rules the world and runs His will and plan for all living beings.
Let’s consider, first, that how His death proves God’s faithfulness. In a word, Jesus’ death is exactly as prophesied in the OT. In numerous places of the OT, the Messiah’s death was foretold and none of them was omitted in their fulfilment. For example, Isaiah foretold that the Messiah would die being pierced for the transgressions of many, crushed for the iniquities of those who have gone astray like sheep – everyone turned to his own way – and the Messiah would lay on Him the iniquity of them all (Isa. 53:5-6). And He would be the ‘light for the nations’ and the Lord’s salvation would ‘reach to the end of the earth’ (Isa. 49:6). In addition, the Messiah’s death is also imaged in the OT. One of the clear examples is Abraham’s finding a ram on a mountain prepared by God for sacrifice instead of Isaac his son. Abraham called that place, ‘Jehovah-Jireh’ (meaning, ‘the LORD will provide’), in other word, the Lamb of God came to die for the sinners. Every OT prophecy fulfilled in Jesus’ death is an unquestionable proof of God’s faithfulness. He speaks and He keeps His promise.
This means that, as God was faithful to what He had said about the nature of His Son’s death, He is faithful now in the present. Furthermore, He will always be faithful in the coming years to the end of this age and eternity. Our Lord’s death is the guarantee of the Father’s sincerity. The Father’s love and compassion for us is also proved in the Son’s death. 1 Cor. 1:9 confirms this, saying, “God is faithful, by whom [we] were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” Also, 2 Thess. 3:3 assures us of His continuing faithfulness, saying this: “the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one.” All these are proved in and through Jesus’ death.
Another important truth about Jesus’ death is that God is in full control over history, He is in charge of all things of the world. God rules the world and runs it and all things in it according to His will and plan. This truth is the foundation of Christian’s joy and hope.
V. 49 and following in our text passage teaches us this truth. Caiaphas the high priest points out in vs. 49 and 50 why Jesus should die for many. He talks about this unintentionally, not knowing what he is saying. V. 51 explains that he does this because of the office he holds; God speaks through the mouth of a high priest of the time. How great this is! Caiaphas together with his fellow Sadducees intend to stop what Jesus was doing and finally kill Him. But, Caiaphas says this as a prophecy regarding the nature of Jesus’ death.
Caiaphas and his fellow Sadducees thought that they were in charge of the affairs of Israel; furthermore, they now have the Pharisees on their side. Traditionally, the Sadducees and the Pharisees used to be rivals to each other. They used to be like the Australian political parties like Liberal-national and Labor; in American politics, like Republicans and Democrats. These two groups don’t stand next to each other in many areas. But here in Jn. 11, they are in full agreement. They think that they are in charge. But that’s not the case; God has the full control. He uses the mouth of their head, the depraved mind of the high priest of the time declares the nature of the Messiah’s death and confirms God’s unchangeable and unchallengeable plan and will! This makes me smile and, I believe, it would surely make you smile too.
God’s sense of humour is amazing, don’t you think? God’s humour is mostly expressed whenever He wants to show His sovereignty – in other words, to show how He is in control of history and in charge of all living beings. Think about the case of David and Goliath for example. Picturing that confrontation in your mind, you’d surely laugh at its humorous absurdity. A teenage boy against a giant veteran warrior? Staff and slingshot verses javelin, spear and sword? This is a joke, isn’t it? You can see who is laughing – it’s God, sovereign and powerful Ruler of all! What about the Philistines who captured the ark of the covenant in 1 Sam. 5? They took it as a spoil or trophy of their victory. They placed it in the temple of their god Dagon. What happened, then? Their idol fell face down before the ark. Placing it back to its position, the following morning that idol fell again with its hands and head broken off. Had you been there seeing it all, you would’ve laughed out loud, wouldn’t you? Likewise, when the Jewish leaders plot to kill the Saviour, God opens the mouth of their ‘leader’ and reminds them and us all of His faithfulness and sovereignty, His full and righteous power and authority to control and rule all things! Jesus’ death fulfilled God’s promise and, by fulfilling God’s promise, proves His faithfulness. So, His death becomes the foundation of our faith!
III. JESUS DIED TO RECONCILE THE SINNERS TO GOD
In this way, Jesus saves the wicked sinners; despite their self-convinced, self-centred arrogance and stubbornness in sin, Jesus died to give His life to His elect and cleanse them like He did that dead stinking Lazarus and granted him the fragrance of the Saviour’s eternal life. In addition to this, our Lord’s death proves God’s faithfulness and His sovereign control over all lives.
The one last point Jesus’ death teaches us is His work of reconciliation. Dying for the wicked, He reconciles us, sinners, to God; dying to prove God’s faithfulness and sovereign power, our Lord reunites us to God, making us His sons and daughters.
Yet, Jesus carries out this work of reconciliation carefully and lovingly. This is what vs. 54 and following explains. We’re told that Jesus ‘withdrew’ and no longer walked openly among the Jews. Is this because He was afraid of the Jews? No. Then, why did He go into hiding? Isn’t it strange? Doesn’t it make you confused and say, ‘Why?’ He is the Lord, Almighty God, who is sovereign, who rules all things and runs all things according to His own will and plan; none can stop Him. Then, why did He pull back and stay away from the Jews?
The answer is, because Jesus reconciles us to God in a careful and loving way. In other words, He waits for the fullness of time set for each one’s salvation and reconciliation to the Father. Here, in Jn. 11, Jesus moved away from the Jewish leaders and made their search in vain. By this, Jesus kept them free from committing any foolish sin, for example, capturing Jesus before His time and trying to kill Him before God’s time. It would never happen, but had it happened, they would’ve been crushed under God’s punishment. Do you see the point? Truth is that a good number of Pharisees who had plotted to kill Jesus repented later of their sins and became Jesus’ disciples as members of the early NT church. Jesus the Lord withdrew from them only to preserve His own for a while until the fullness of time set for each one’s salvation and reconciliation.
Having withdrawn, the Lord visited and stayed at a town called Ephraim. The location of this town is unclear, but people assume that it may be located north of Jerusalem about a day’s walking distance. Jesus surely had many people to save in that rather unknown town. This redirects our attention back to v. 52 which teaches us that our Lord’s plan and work of calling and reconciling sinners is for not only the known unbelievers around us, but also the unknown sinners in every corner of this earth. See what v. 52 defines the scope of Jesus’ saving work: “Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.”
Sometimes, the sovereign Lord, Ruler of the whole world and everything in it does act strangely to our eyes. He withdraws in one moment and in another moment advances forward. God is in control, yet, He seems at present withdrawing from our society. Many evils have recently been raised and adopted as laws and rules by the leaders and people of this nation alongside some other nations in the world. The spiritual darkness seems to spread its wings wider, so, our spiritual eyesight seems to be dim these days. But, never should you and I be concerned, never should anyone doubt Him and His power because God is always in control, He is our sovereign Lord and King. His sceptre and rod are always in His hand and none can take it away from Him. So, when He withdraws, there must be a reason. And that reason is always for strengthening the saved and for calling His children scattered abroad, and by calling them, reconciling them to God, making them the children of God. After all, He has been patient with each of us in His work of reconciling us to our Heavenly Father.
So, you and I must remember that Jesus died to cleanse us of our wickedness. So, we ought to die with Him daily by submitting to His work of cleansing us through His word and Spirit.
Also, we need to remember that our Lord’s death is the purest and surest guarantee of His faithfulness toward us. As did in the past, He’ll keep His promise now and eternity. No matter what might try to block your heavenward journey, you’re in the Lord’s faithful hand now, as has always been, and in the future.
Lastly, you and I ought to keep in mind that God withdraws and advances according to His plan and will only to reconcile all His children to Himself and to strengthen us all. We trust Him and His work, and rejoice in Him. So, may the Lord deepen our Lord’s death in you and me, that His life may richly be at work in us to His glory! ***