It's Better That One Man Die
A sermon based on John 11:45-53
Wednesday, March 8, 2017 – Midweek Lent 2
In 2012 Rabbi Jonathan Cahn wrote a book called The Harbinger. In it, he described how several national leaders, including the President of the United States, President Barack Obama, repeatedly quoted Isaiah 9:10 as the memorial to the World Trade Centers was completed.
They said, "The bricks have fallen down, but we will rebuild with dressed stone; the fig trees have been felled, but we will replace them with cedars."
And they meant it as a message of national pride and determination not to let our enemies ever get the best of us. Whatever they destroy, we will rebuild stronger and better and more resilient.
But ironically, it would seem that they never checked the context of Isaiah 9:10. Apparently some speech writer just searched for Bible passages with "bricks" and "fallen," because Isaiah 9:10 wasn't really a great verse to quote.
Here it is in its context… (Isaiah 9:9-19)
The Lord has sent a message against Jacob; it will fall on Israel. All the people will know it… who say with pride and arrogance of heart, "The bricks have fallen down, but we will rebuild with dressed stone; the fig trees have been felled, but we will replace them with cedars."
But the Lord has strengthened… foes against them and has spurred their enemies on…. [They] have devoured Israel with open mouth. Yet for all this, his anger is not turned away, his hand is still upraised. But the people have not returned to him who struck them, nor have they sought the Lord Almighty. So the Lord will cut off from Israel both… the elders and… the prophets who teach lies… By the wrath of the Lord Almighty the land will be scorched and the people will be fuel for the fire…"
You get the point? God was saying, "I sent enemies to attack you and knock down your walls, to discipline you and call you back to me. Yet in your arrogance you still refuse to repent of your sin and admit that you need me. You just cry, 'No big deal! We can rebuild!' Therefore, God will punish you even more."
What our leaders meant as a rally cry to rise up and rebuild what our enemies have destroyed, was really, in its context a defiant rebellion against God, shaking the fist, not at one's enemies, but at him.
How ironic! Though Isaiah 9, and President Obama's bold assertion that Isaiah 9:10 applies to us, may be prophetic for our nation, as Rabbi Jonathan Cahn suggests it is, I don't think our leaders understood what they were saying at all.
In a similar way, the leader of the nation of Israel, the high priest to whom all Israelites looked for direction and instruction, made a bold assertion that he didn't really understand. He meant one thing by it, but God, speaking through him, meant something completely different. And how ironic it was.
Our text for consideration this evening is found in John 11:45-53…
45 Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did [in raising Lazarus from the dead], put their faith in him. 46 But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. 47 Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin.
"What are we accomplishing?" they asked. "Here is this man performing many miraculous signs. 48 If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation."
49 Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, "You know nothing at all! 50 You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish."
51 He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, 52 and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one. 53 So from that day on they plotted to take his life.
How ironic! The miracles that Jesus did should have proved to everyone who he really was: The very Son of God with power over sickness and disease and even over death itself! And while many believed, it was only many, not everyone!
How ironic! The chief priests and Pharisees readily admitted, "Here is this man performing many miraculous signs." They didn't deny that Lazarus had been dead, but now was alive! Yet, they refused to follow those clear and obvious signs to their logical conclusion! It was like someone visiting a city they've never been to before and then refusing to listen to the GPS or even look at a map when they get there.
These leaders—who should have been on the lookout for the coming Messiah and ready to point the people to the one who had finally come to fulfill the prophecies of their sacred writings and rescue his people from their sin—these were so concerned that they might lose their positions, their authority, their power and prestige, that they were willing to plot murder just to keep their cushy jobs.
And they were willing to justify framing and executing an innocent man in their own minds because of what was at stake. With a Machiavellian attitude that believed the ends justified the means, their spokesman, Caiaphas declared, "It is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish." And, "from that day on they plotted to take his life."
So what does any of this have to do with us? Well, if we're honest, we have to admit that we are just like Caiaphas in this account.
"Wait… what?! 'Like Caiaphas' did you just say?! Not me! I've never plotted an assassination to keep my position. I'd never dream of having someone whacked just to keep my job!"
Okay, granted, you may not have plotted murder. But you surely have committed other sins—sins which you planned ahead of time, sins which you plotted. You too have had the same pride in your heart that has rejected God's plan for your life and as has taken on your own.
And while your sin may not have cost another person their life, you know that your sin has certainly hurt other people—whether physically or emotionally. (And you know that the scars last longer with that latter kind of hurt.) It may not have been so blatant as our national leaders quoting Isaiah 9:10 or Caiaphas declaring that Jesus had to die, but you too have stood defiantly shaking your fist at God.
And you too have tried to justify your sin. "If I don't follow the crowd in their sin, I'll lose my friends. Then how can I be a witness to them?" "If I don't cheat a little at work—and that's just the way everyone operates, the boss expects it—then I could get fired. And if that happens, I'd have nothing to put in the offering plate." "If I don't sit around lazily, I'd wear myself out. Then I'd have no energy to serve Jesus." "Don't you know that's it better for me to sin just this once than that the whole church should perish?" It's sad, isn't it?
And you know what you deserve for it all. To quote Isaiah, "By the wrath of the Lord Almighty the land will be scorched and the people will be fuel for the fire…" (Isaiah 9:19) Just like Caiaphas and those Israelite leaders did, just like all who defy God in their arrogance do, you and I deserve hell for our sin against God.
But… Thank God that we don't get what we deserve because what Caiaphas declared was all a part of his plan.
Caiaphas… spoke up, "You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish."
51 He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, 52 and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one.
How ironic! Caiaphas told the Sanhedrin that they knew nothing at all. But as he spoke, he knew nothing at all about what he was saying. He meant they had to put a hit out on Jesus to maintain their positions and their authority. But God meant something completely different.
How ironic! That the man who's job description was to point people to Jesus—and that's what the Jewish priests were supposed to do: by the daily sacrifices and regular rituals, point the people to the coming Messiah who would take away their sins—was ready to kill the Messiah. How ironic! That the man who wanted to kill Jesus actually preached the Gospel message of what Jesus had come to do!
"It is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish." And, "As high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation…"
How ironic! That using Caiaphas and his pride and his paranoia at losing his job, God set in motion the events that would lead to Jesus' death—the very death the daily sacrifices at the temple made by every priest pointed to. He would become the Lamb of sacrifice, the substitute that the Scapegoat and the sacrificial goat were every year on the Day of Atonement—the same that Caiaphas would kill year after year sprinkling its blood in the Most Holy Place.
Sadly, though Caiaphas saw all of those signs—at least in the Word, if not in the rituals—nevertheless, he refused to follow those clear and obvious signs to their logical conclusion; that Jesus was the Messiah, the anointed one who came to save his people from their sins—and not only them, but all people.
What Caiaphas said wasn't just better for the Sanhedrin. "It is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish."
You deserve hell. You deserve to be "fuel for the fire," for your stubborn rebellion against God. But you don't get what you deserve because one man—the God-man—died for the people, for all people, "not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God…" that is, for all people everywhere.
Jesus lived a perfect life in your place, always submitting to God's will and God's law, never raising his fist at the Father, never questioning his ways or disobeying in any way. And he gave you his perfection.
Then Jesus died an innocent death as a result of what Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin insisted Pilate do to him. And on that cross he was not only tortured and killed in a horrific way, but he also endured the punishment for every sin that you and I deserve. He endured the hell of the Father's wrath. By the wrath of the Lord Almighty Jesus was scorched. He became fuel for the fire so you and I don't have to.
Now, through faith in him, you are forgiven of every sin you've ever committed, of every time you've raised the fist to God, or arrogantly defied him by breaking one of his commands. Through faith in him you have become "children of God…"—dearly loved sons and daughters of God the Father, whom he loves dearly and longs to have join him in heaven. How wonderfully ironic!
So rejoice, dear friends, in this forgiveness that is yours because one man died for the people. And go and prophecy as Caiaphas did. Let others know the ironic message of that high priest: that he died for them too "for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one." In Jesus' name, dear friends, amen.