Posted by: Johnold J. Strey | February 21, 2016

Sermon on John 11:45-53



 Text: John 11:45-53


Poor Cam Newton. Super Bowl Sunday didn’t end the way he wanted it to end. He and his Carolina Panthers team were favored to win. They had easily trounced their previous two playoff opponents, and now they were six-point favorites to win Super Bowl 50. Cam, the star quarterback of the Panthers, had just won the NFL’s Most Valuable Player award the night before. All they had to do was take the field, play like they had all year, and hoist the Lombardi Trophy at the end of the day.

Cam Newton Super Bowl 50 Press ConferenceBut that’s not how it happened. Instead, the newly-crowned MVP became quite acquainted with Denver’s destructive defense. You know what they say: Defense wins championships! And Denver walked away with the victory on Super Bowl Sunday because they kept Cam Newton in check for most of the game. And that’s what led to the sorry sight of Cam in his post-game press conference: hood over his head, face bowed down, barely answering reporters’ questions, and finally walking away before the press conference was supposed to have ended. This wasn’t the way it was supposed to go. He was supposed to be getting the fame and attention. Instead, all the attention was on the Broncos and Payton Manning, not the Panthers and Cam Newton.

Poor Pharisees. Things weren’t going the way they expected. They were the experts in the law. They were the religious superheroes. They were the ones that everyone respected for their position and knowledge. All they had to do was walk in the temple and immediately they were recognized and treated with the respect that came with their position.

But that’s not how things continued. Jesus came on the scene. He should have been their delight! They should have seen that he was the Messiah they were waiting for! But he was taking away their fame and attention. Ever since Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead in the village of Bethany, everybody and his brother was coming to faith in Jesus. And that meant everybody and his brother was no longer going to the Pharisees as the experts or heaping on them the respect they were so used to receiving. Instead, all the attention was on Jesus, not the Pharisees.


Resurrections don’t happen every day of the week. So when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead in the nearby village of Bethany, you can imagine that the word got out quickly. The news spread like wildfire—even without Facebook hashtags and trending Twitter tweets! Some who spread the news told the Pharisees, members of the religious elite among the ancient Jews. Perhaps these reports came from skeptics. Perhaps these reports came from people who were genuinely amazed by Jesus, but naively assumed the Pharisees would feel the same way. 

Now what? Honor and attention had been taken away from them and redirected toward Jesus, the miracle-working, life-restoring Son of God! What were they supposed to do? Well, they did what every church does when there’s a problem: They called a meeting! “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. 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.’”

What an odd reaction! They wonder what they’re supposed to do to respond to Jesus’ miracles. Apparently “believe” wasn’t on their list of options! Instead of rejoicing, they behave as if they are victims. They feel that they are being left behind in the dust of Jesus’ miraculous signs, when all along they should have been pointing the crowds to Jesus and setting aside their personal pride as they witnessed him fulfilling the Old Testament Scriptures!

The Sanhedrin, the Jewish religious ruling council, was known for being very polite to people in public, but also for being ruthless to one another behind closed doors. If you want evidence of that, just look at the reaction of the High Priest, Caiaphas. “One of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, 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.”

It’s not a good sign when the leader of a group calls everyone else in the group an ignoramus! “You know nothing at all!” A literal translation of the original language captures his harshness strikingly: You don’t know nothing!” (Double negatives are considered bad grammar in English, but they are considered acceptable in Greek—and this double negative certainly gets the point across!) Caiaphas chewed them up six ways to Sunday for being so helpless in the face of the “threat” that they viewed Jesus to be.

But then comes one of the most ironic statements in the Bible. Our Lent sermon series is focusing on several of the ironic statements in the Passion history, and this one surely ranks at or near the top! 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.” And Saint John does us the inspired courtesy to tell us what Caiaphas meant by his ironic statement. “He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one. So from that day on they plotted to take his life.”

The Sanhedrin was stumped, but Caiaphas had a plan. He gave them a proposal in the form of a false dichotomy. Either Jesus die, or the nation is going to die. If they keep their power and keep the people under control, the Romans wouldn’t come in and overtake the nation, remove them from their positions of ruling authority, or destroy the temple. So if they didn’t want that to happen, then the only option that Caiaphas presented was to kill Jesus. And so the story of Lent begins!

But it begins with irony. Caiaphas may have stated his plan—it’s better for Jesus to die for all than for everyone else to die—but God the Father proved once again that even in the face of wicked men and wicked plans, he is still in charge. Without Caiaphas knowing it, he expressed his plan in a way that contained a double meaning: his meaning, and God’s meaning. His meaning was that they kill Jesus so that the nation of Israel would be preserved and restored. But God’s meaning and plan all along was that Jesus go to the cross and die to pay for the sins of the world, so that you, me, and all believers would be freed from hell’s punishment and enjoy a restored relationship with God. What unplanned irony God accomplished through the intense words of an angry high priest named Caiaphas!


Isn’t it ironic that God would take the statement of a jealous high priest and turn it into a gospel-proclaiming statement of comfort and peace? What an unlikely candidate to proclaim something that would map out God’s perfect plan of salvation when he didn’t care for God’s plan in the first place!

But isn’t is just as ironic that God uses us and calls us into his family and leads us to proclaim his gospel to the world. We were as unlikely of candidates as Caiaphas. Hasn’t the sin of the Sanhedrin overtaken our hearts and minds at times, as we wonder what to do and how to take control of a situation without ever pondering if God is in control in the first place. Yes, by all means, follow the old saying that says, “Pray toward heaven, but row toward shore.” But at the same time, isn’t it easy to forget to pray toward heaven and trust the God who is in heaven and who says that all things work out for the good of his people?

Hasn’t the sin of Caiaphas overtaken our hearts and minds at time, as we eliminate God-pleasing approaches to problems under the guise of getting what we want? How often haven’t we pretended there was an imaginary footnote in our Bibles, telling us why this or that sin, this lie or that gossip, this lust or that greed, this negative assumption about another or this inflated opinion of myself is okay just because I want it to be okay? Isn’t it all too easy to excuse and explain our sin than it is to acknowledge and confess it?

We must confess that our own variations of the Sanhedrin’s sin and Caiaphas’ sin show up in our own lives. We must admit that it is ironic that the people of God today could fall into the same ways of thinking that the enemies of Jesus fell into then. And it would not be ironic, but totally just and fair, if God said that our sin puts us in the same boat that Jesus’ ancient enemies chose to sail in, the boat that sails away from God and permanently ports in hell’s prison.

But the greatest irony of Lent still comes in Caiaphas’ ironic statement. He meant that Jesus should die to preserve the Jewish race. But God in heaven intended all along that Jesus would die for all people. Caiaphas wanted to preserve an earthly nation. God wanted to produce a heavenly kingdom. Caiaphas had a plan to keep the Jews in power for a time. God had a plan to keep Christ on the throne of heaven for all eternity, and to place us at his victorious side!

Lent 2010 _06It may be ironic that Jesus’ enemies advanced God’s plan of salvation when they plotted for his death, but for you and for me that is beautiful irony, because the death of Jesus means the death of sin’s accusations against us. It may be ironic that the high priest would speak so strongly against the Son of God, but for you and for me that is beautiful irony, because the sufferings of Jesus mean that Satan cannot hold our guilt against us, for it has been removed at Jesus’ cross. It may be ironic that Caiaphas said that Jesus should die so that the nation would not perish, but for you and for me that is beautiful irony, because Jesus’ death means that we and all believers in him will not perish, but have eternal life.


It has been said that if we had written the Bible, we would never have written it the way God wrote it. We would never had directed events to play out the way God directed history to occur. We would never have told the story of salvation the way God revealed his salvation to us in Christ. And so it comes as no surprise that there is irony all over the Passion history. Every time someone tries to direct the situation one way, God is there, working even through his enemies or through Jesus’ often misguided followers to accomplish his plan and purpose. It may be ironic, but it is also comforting to see how God is ultimately in control of this story. How much more certain we can be that he’s in control of our daily story and our eternal destiny! Amen.



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