45 Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him, 46 but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. 47 So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the Council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. 48 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.”49 But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. 50 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.” 51 He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation,52 and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. 53 So from that day on they made plans to put him to death. 54 Jesus therefore 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. 55Now 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.
When we say that a person is polarizing, we do not often mean it as a compliment. On the face of it, being a polarizing person simply means that those around you are divided into differing, conflicting camps concerning what to make of you or of some position you are advocating. Many great men and women are polarizing people. Of course, many bad men and women are polarizing. People may be polarizing for any number of reasons, sometimes good and sometimes bad.
The Lord Jesus was and is polarizing. He was perfect and right, good and without sin, but His person and presence and teaching and works set men and women at odds with one another and, oftentimes, at odds with Him. Of course, Jesus acknowledge this fact. In Matthew 10, Jesus said:
34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. 36 And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. 37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38And whoever 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.
It almost seems like the most polarizing moments in the life of the Lord Jesus were those moments following some great display of His own power and glory. This can be seen in the aftermath of Jesus’ raising of Lazarus from the dead at the end of John 11.
The reactions to Jesus in the wake of this healing were fascinating. They reveal much about the minds, hearts, and socio-political atmosphere of first century Judaism. They are also fascinating for how they mirror the reactions Jesus receives today.
I. Acceptance and Belief (v.45)
It is a sad but realistic fact that the gospels record more instances of people rejecting Jesus than of people accepting Jesus. Most of the gospel of John is tragically tied up with Jesus’ conflict with those who rejected Him. This is sad, but also necessary, for, in point of fact, most people rejected Jesus then as most people reject Him now. So while we wish the gospels offered us long passages chronicling wave after wave of converts, we know that this neither was nor is the case.
That being said, those brief unadorned passages in which we see people coming to Jesus in acceptance and belief are indescribably beautiful. Consider verse 45 and its record of those who were moved to belief after seeing the raising of Lazarus.
45 Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him
Like a largely-silent revolution in the midst of clamoring doubters, we see that many do come to Jesus. “Many” is not “most,” but it is still significant. Notice that those who believe are from that group that went with Mary to meet Jesus and saw what He did at the tomb of Lazarus. They believed because they saw His power exhibited and His glory displayed.
In John 20, we see that Thomas believed only after seeing the wounds of the cross. In reaction to this, Jesus spoke of those who believe because they have witnessed miracles and those who believe without having seen miracles:
27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Indeed, it is even more beautiful when a person believes outside of physical evidence, but it is still no small thing when people believe because of physical evidence. These who believe here believe because of what they witnessed at the tomb of Lazarus.
Some of you have likewise believed because of what you have seen. It required more than the instruction of your parents to believe. It required more than words from the pulpit. Some of you have seen some great work of God and have been brought to faith through a great display of God’s power.
Some of you have not seen physical evidences, but you were overwhelmed at some point by the power of the gospel itself. You believed because you heard and the truth of what you heard pierced your heart. The gospel was the miracle, and that miracle was enough.
Some of you have not believed, either because you demand enough evidence to remove all question or because you have heard the gospel and you hate it. If this is you, you will see that there are those in our text who were the same way. But scripture pictures unbelief in a tragic light, not in a noble light.
Belief is the minority position in scripture, but it is the path to salvation.
II. Indecision and Appeal to Religious Authorities (v.46)
Others seem to be unable to decide. Caught in the throws of their indecision, they revert to the comfort of religious authority. In other words, they run to the religious powers-that-be.
46 but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done.
There is a kind of comfort in religious authority, is there not? Many people feel the pull of the gospel, the appeal and power of Jesus. Many feel drawn to Him but will not come because of how the teachings and person of Jesus conflict with their religious customs.
So many do what these indecisive people do: they run to their priest, their rabbi, their preacher, their imam, their whatever. Standing on the edge of belief, they collapse back into the safe sanctuary of religious authority.
To be sure, these who went to the Pharisees may have had more deliberately pernicious goals. Perhaps some of them simply wanted to “rat Jesus out” so that He would be caught and punished. But there can be no doubt that many ran to the Pharisees because of the comfort that their authoritative-sounding pronouncements offered those who were threatened by this new and strange teaching.
Have you ever experienced the conflict between religious tradition and the pull of the gospel of Jesus Christ? Have you experienced His attractive appeal only to be unable to break free from the religious authorities and their pronouncements?
Once again we see the conflict between religious custom and the living, breathing, Word of God. Once again we see the power of religious authorities over the God-Man, Jesus the Christ. Beware the religious customs that keep you from Jesus.
III. Rejection Based on Fear at What Acceptance of Jesus Will Cost (v.47-48)
Many of the chief priests and Pharisees rejected Jesus on different grounds. John’s gospel allows us to overhear their concerns:
47 So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the Council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. 48 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.”
Their concerns seem to be two-fold:
· Jesus is threatening to take their followers away from them.
· Jesus, by drawing the attention of the Roman, threatens the safety and security of the nation.
The concerns are quite different in many ways, but what they have in common is a fear of the cost of Jesus for themselves and their national identity. They fear, in other words, that Jesus might overthrow their own personal kingdoms as the religious elites as well as their national identity.
Say what you will about the priests’ and Pharisees’ rejection of Jesus, but you must admit that they rightly understood the cost of accepting Jesus. They rightly understood that Jesus is a threat to the status quo, to the normal conditions to which they had become accustomed.
There is a cost to accepting Jesus. Jesus said this Himself many times, perhaps most notably in Luke 14:
25 Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. 28 For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30 saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31 Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. 33 So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.
Yes, there is, indeed, a cost to accepting Jesus. William Faulkner said this well in his novel, If I Forget Thee Jerusalem.
“If Jesus returned today we would have to crucify him quick in our own defense, to justify and preserve the civilization we have worked and suffered and died shrieking and cursing in rage and impotence and terror for two thousand years to create in man’s own image…”
The cost of following Jesus is the loss of our own kingdom, our own vision of reality itself. For this reason, many of the religious authorities rejected Jesus. The truth of the matter is that, in rejecting Jesus on the grounds that the cost of accepting Him was too great, many of the chief priests and Pharisees were being more honest than we are when we attempt to accept Him with no regard to the cost at all.
Let me ask you: what has it cost you to accept Jesus? What have you had to give up? What threat did or does Jesus pose to your own comfort?
It is not for me or you to make definitive pronouncements on the spiritual condition of a man or woman who claims to have accepted Christ. Only God knows the true state of a person’s standing before Him. But is it not fair and right to say that if a person claims to have accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and if that person has never had to give anything up for Christ, and if that person has never felt the great threat that Jesus and His gospel poses to the status quo, to the way things were before that person came to Christ, that that person has likely never come to Christ at all?
Many are those who turn from Christ because they are unwilling to pay the price of following Him. They rightly see that Jesus comes to threaten our personal kingdoms and our personal prestige and our personal comfort.
Many, still, are those who have seen the cost, ignored it, and claimed to be in Christ anyway. But this, too, is actually a rejection. Both of these are profound mistakes.
IV. Rejection for Reasons of Personal Advantage (v.49-53)
As the priests and Pharisees expressed their concern about the threat that Jesus was posing to their lives and to the general order of their society, the high priest Caiaphas, who would figure so prominently in the events of Jesus’ passion, stepped forward with some most unusual words.
49 But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. 50 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.” 51 He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, 52 and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.
What is happening here? What does Caiaphas mean? On the surface of it, this sounds almost Christian, almost as if Caiaphas understands the significance of Jesus’ death for the world. But this is not the case at all.
In point of fact, in mentioning that one man could die for the nation, Caiaphas was appealing to a Jewish belief that, in some sense, one person might die for the nation’s good. It was a tradition, a general belief, prevalent in first century Judaism, that this could happen.
Please note that when Caiaphas speaks of the benefit of Jesus dying for the people, he does not have in mind the Christian gospel. He is not thinking of Jesus taking on the sins of the people, paying the price for those sins, defeating sin, death, and hell, and then being raised again. He is not thinking of Jesus’ saving substitution on the cross, of Jesus dying as a propitiation for our sins.
In point of fact, Caiaphas is viewing the death of Jesus as an act of political expediency and advantage. He has rejected Christ and His claims of deity. He wants to see Jesus die. Yes, he believes that, in some strange way, the death of Jesus might benefit the Jews. But this is not faith. This is not trust. This is not acceptance. This is a rejection born on the wings of promised advantage.
Caiaphas is being an opportunist here, a politician. He is being self-serving. Any faith he is showing here is mainly faith in the supposed benefits and general idea of one man dying for the many. It is faith in an assumption, not in a Savior. It is faith in a hope, not in Jesus. He hopes that the death of Jesus might benefit them all, might spare Roman tyranny any further advance.
His argument seems plausible, and it carries the day.
53 So from that day on they made plans to put him to death. 54 Jesus therefore 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. 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.
The stage is set. The motives behind the rejection of Jesus varied with the people. Most rejected and some believed. Those that rejected did so to remove a threat, to punish an assumed blasphemy, or to benefit the nation politically. Many and varied are the reasons why people reject Jesus. But those who truly come do so for one reason: because they see Jesus as Lord and Savior and King and God and Master of all. Those who reject Jesus walked many paths to reject Him. Those who come to Jesus, however, come only and always on bended knees of praise and joy.
How about you? Where do you stand in this tapestry of reaction to Jesus? Have you accepted Him, trusted in Him, embraced Him as Savior? Or have you been spurned by what it will cost to follow Him? Have you been encouraged to reject Him by some thought of personal advance and security in the world?
Oh, there is a cost to following Jesus, but it is a blessed, sweet cost. There is freedom in giving all to come to Christ. There is freedom in His yoke. There is freedom in slavery to Christ.
Do not follow the many who reject.
Come to Him in faith and receive the gift of eternal life, now and hereafter.