There is no other name is the history of the world that has caused such an impact than the name of Jesus. When it comes to Jesus of Nazareth, the world is filled with opinions concerning His identity and message. Religions from around the world have various teachings concerning Him, but sadly many distortions have occurred. One thing remains clear; Jesus had an undeniable impact and influence on His time and history. After the event of raising Lazarus up from the dead (11:38-44) we learn that a group of people brought a report of the numbers of people believing in Jesus. This caused the religious to ask the practical question concerning Jesus, “What are we to do?” (11:47). Sadly, this was not a soul-searching question for them. It was an agenda item to eliminate a threat. This passage provides us with a sad display of what unbelief does. If people are not prepared to acknowledge their sinfulness and their need for the Saviour, then the destructive pattern of unbelief will wreak havoc in their lives. This passage unfolds by means of three dramatic events that revolve around different groups of people – the problem, the prophecy, and the plot.
Sermon Summary: In this message we will walk our way through three scenes that unmask the consequences of unbelief.
THE PROBLEM (11:45-48)
The religious leaders had a problem that they could not solve. The problem was that many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary had believed in Jesus (11:45). This is such a joyful thing to read about. Here is a group of people who went about living their lives going about the normal routines, and then, by God’s grace they came to the understanding that Jesus is the Christ and that He alone can save them from their sins. Every time we hear of people truly believing in Christ for salvation ought to full our hearts with joy. We ought to long to see more people believe in Jesus Christ for the salvation of their soul. The large numbers of people believing in Jesus was a problem the religious leaders had faced for the last three years of Jesus’ public ministry, but in their view this has now intensified. We read,
Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him, but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done (11:45-46).
These verses introduce us to three different groups. We have the many Jews who “believed in Him”, the “some” who went to the Pharisees and thirdly there are the Pharisees. It is the first of these three groups that consists of true believers. The other two were marked by unbelief. Interestingly their unbelief has escalated to the point where they utterly disregard and reject the miracles Jesus performed. This reminds us that when people display unbelief concerning Jesus Christ, this is never ultimately due to a lack of evidence. Their unbelief is an issue of rebellion. They refuse to see their sin, and therefore are blinded to see their need for the Saviour. This problem leads to a gathering together of the big wigs of Israel. John tells us “the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council” (11:47a). The council was the religious governing body of Israel called the Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin was the highest and most influential authority and court for the Jewish people in the life of Jesus. The Sanhedrin contained 71 members and the head of this party was the Jewish high priest. As they gathered together there was one question on their agenda when it comes to Jesus,
“What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation” (11:47b-48).
They did not know what to do with Jesus, so in a formal setting they plan to address this problem. Their fear was that an overwhelming number will believe in Him and this will get the attention of the Romans. Once this takes place, they will lose their power in the temple and their nation. Sadly, their concern was selfish. In these opening verses we see a number of people who don’t trust Jesus Christ and they willingly overlook the evidence. They are blinded by their selfish desires.
THE PROPHECY (11:49-53)
Now we approach the second scene. As the powerful gathering was taking place the most powerful man in the room speaks. He was the chairman, the leader or the top dog. We read, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all” (11:49). Caiaphas was a clever politician, but he was also an arrogant and hypocritical man. In a rude manner he informed the council that they did not know what they are talking about. Then he proceeded to give a practical and pragmatic reason for killing Jesus. He said, “Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish” (11:50). His logic was this, “If Jesus is killed, the nation will continue. If Jesus lives, the nation will perish. Therefore, it is best to eliminate Him”. Caiaphas was a clear thinker and an ideas man. But as he uttered these words, unwittingly his words speak of the substitutionary atonement of Jesus’ death. Though Caiaphas meant something completely different, the Lord spoke through him and a prophecy concerning the death of Jesus was made. John tells us
“He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that 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” (11:51-52).
After this conversation took place John records, “So from that day on they made plans to put him to death” (11:53). They have plotted to do this before, but now it is an official decision from the religious leaders of Israel. Under the leadership of Caiaphas the religious leaders of Israel have made a deliberate decision to eliminate Jesus. It is a very sad thing when people get to this point with Jesus. They know who He is and they do all they can to remove Him from conversations and their lives. They get angry and arrogant at the mere mention of His name. Unbelief makes us act in an arrogant manner.
THE PLOT (11:54-57)
The third scene in this passage is the darkest of all. What we have here is the ugly fruit of unbelief. Because of their plans, we are told that Jesus “no longer walked openly among the Jews, but went from there to the region near the wilderness, to a town called Ephraim, and there he stayed with the disciples” (11:54). Between verses 53 and 54 many events occur that don’t appear in the Gospel of John. During this time Jesus healed ten lepers (Luke 17:12-19), taught concerning the coming kingdom (Luke 17:20-37), divorce (Matt. 19:1-12), gave the parables of the persistent widow and the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:1-14). He meets the rich young ruler (Matt. 19:16-30), foretold His death and resurrection (Mat.t 20:17-19) and healed blind Bartimaeus (Matt. 20:29-34). Busy times! With time elapsing and leading up to the week before the crucifixion John records,
55 Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and many went up from the country to Jerusalem before the Passover to purify themselves. 56 They were looking for Jesus and saying to one another as they stood in the temple, “What do you think? That he will not come to the feast at all?” 57 Now the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that if anyone knew where he was, he should let them know, so that they might arrest him.
What is really sad about those verses is that in the midst of people going up to celebrate the Passover, at the background was a sinister plot to arrest Jesus so that He could be murdered. It is estimated that there were around 80,000 living in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus. The reason why it was necessary for them to give orders so as to find out where He was is because during the Passover the population would increase to well over 250,000. There were 71 members in the Sanhedrin and 6,000 Pharisees in Israel. So “united by a cause” a team is strategically set to find Jesus, arrest Him and kill Him. It is devastating to see a crowd of people here made up of those who can go out religious duties and do good works, and yet be indifferent to truly worshiping God. Hypocrisy is an ugly fruit of unbelief.
The crowds and the religious leaders could not deny escape from the influence of Jesus Christ. This led the religious to asking the question concerning Jesus, “What are we to do?” This is the question we are also to ask. You can give the answer of the indifferent crowd of people and go about various religious or moral practices and not have your life transformed. Too many people show an interest in Jesus but never submit to His Lordship and live their lives to His glory. You can give the answer of the religious leaders by doing what you can to eliminate Jesus from as much as life as you can. They made plans to arrest and kill Him; today people like this try their best to remove Him from their lives, conversation and society. Finally, you can give the answer of those found in verse 45. The only way to receive eternal life is to come to the Lord Jesus Christ and trust Him alone for the forgiveness of your sins and follow Him. Regardless of what anyone thinks of Jesus Christ, you cannot escape His claims, His power and His influence. When it comes down to it, we are all left with this question, “What are we to do with Jesus?”