The above audio is from the morning service.
“It is better that one man die for the people.”
In the name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
It is wisdom to be able to hear truth at all times, even in the most unlikely of places, even from the mouth of your enemies. It takes wisdom and great maturity to enter every conversation not seeking to win, especially when facing an “enemy”, but rather seeking to learn. For it is wisdom to know and assume that everyone you talk to knows something you do not. It is wisdom to be able to listen for that truth which even your enemy may utter, from which you can reap a harvest of righteousness. And thus it is with Christ our Lord. He who is the word of God—by which all things were made in the beginning, and apart from which nothing was made that was made—He places in the mouths of His very enemies His very truth. So that in all things He is glorified. Even by the preaching of His enemies. Even by their evil machinations. For truly, on the Last Day every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord of heaven and earth, to the glory of His Father. (Phil. 2:9-11) And even His enemies in their very lives own Him by the words that come forth from their mouths.
On this first day of Lent, Ash Wednesday, we start with the plot. With the death of Lazarus, and his stupefying resurrection, on the very doorstep of Jerusalem (John 11:17-19), just days before Passover. (John 11:55) With more and more Jews believing in Jesus due to this miracle which proved Him to be the Messiah (Isa. 26:19; Ezek. 37:12; Dan. 12:2; Hos. 13:14), the Lord in human vesture. But some of the Jews went to the chief priests and told what He’d done. (John 11:46) And so the plot. The plot to kill Him. (John 11:47-48)
Now it is helpful to realize what was at stake here. It is helpful to honestly examine the motivations and fears of those priests and Jews who lived near Jerusalem, before you judge them too harshly. For Jerusalem was a city of some 40-60,000 that swelled to double, triple, even quadruple that size at Passover. Estimates suggest that anywhere from a quarter to half of the city, or more, was employed in the Temple. Moreover, it was a destination city. The Temple, as rebuilt by Herod, was considered one of the seven wonders of the world in its day (by Josephus). A vacation centre, for the Jews of the world, to come to on those 3 high holy feasts of Passover, Pentecost, and Booths. (Deut. 16:16) This high holy city full of pious priests and Levites who ran the business of the temple were highly invested in the status quo. Our Lord, their God in the flesh, was a danger to that. If He was the Lord of the Temple (Mal. 3:1; Luke 2:49), He might tell them they were doing things wrong in His Temple (as He did when He cleansed the Temple, Luke 19:45-48). If He was The Prophet who would come who would be like Moses (Deut. 18:18-19), He would bring forth a New Covenant, which would supersede the Old Covenant of Moses bringing the Temple and its sacrifices to an end, as Jeremiah had prophesied. (Jer. 31:31-34) They had a lot invested in this. Not only their livelihoods, but the very future of their city. (John 11:48) So do not judge them harshly for their spiritual blindness and unbelief. Would you, faced with such a threat, be any less blind? Or would you fight tooth and nail to preserve the order you had known and your livelihood?
But, whether it was out of expedience and cynical unbelief the Holy Spirit spoke through the appointed high priest that year—rich Caiaphas (whose grave has been dug up from the sands of history). (John 11:52) For this is how God works. He is a God of order. (1 Cor. 14:33) His appointed order, even if it be a cynically expedient man, appointed to the high piresthood, by paying bribes to the Romans (as has been suggested), none the less, he spoke in accordance with the Lord’s will on this occasion.
And so an enemy spoke the truth. A truth to be reckoned with. “It is better for you that one man should die for the people than that the whole nation perish.” (John 11:50)
Now, normally, while this may be a politically smart move, when you have leaders quietly doing away with trouble makers in order to “keep the peace”, it is a sign of a nation far gone. It is a decrepit civilization well past its “best before” date. Corrupt leadership ready to topple. A house of cards that may crumble at any moment. For when the halls of power exist simply to keep the powerful in power, the moral foundation which all Godly authority is built on has crumbled. (Rom. 13:1-7; Ps. 89:14)
And yet, this cynical, power hungry speech declares God’s grace. For in this case it is better that one man die for the people, if that Man is the Lord who came to offer His life as a ransom for many. (Matt. 20:28) For by His death, the whole nation of God would be saved. And not merely the Jewish nation from temporal anihilation as an earthy power, but all who would call on the name of the Lord from hence forth would be saved. (Rom. 10:13) All whom the Lord our God will call have been and are being gathered into His fold as the children of God. (John 11:52; 10:16; Ac. 2:39)
So this sermon is powerful. For it shows that when the Lord laid bare His holy arm to be pierced on the cross (Isa. 52:10), when He let it appear as though evil had defeated Him, when cynical politicians, and corrupt religious leaders got their way, it was not Him, but they who were defeated. For He is so powerful He takes even your sin, and twists it to good. He takes the evil that you have done, and that has befallen you, and repurposes it for your salvation. (Rom. 8:28; 5:8-9) This means, that your sin can not keep you from Him. It can no longer make you a captive plaything of Satan. For that one Man’s death on the cross has granted to you life and salvation. (Rom. 4:25) This was God’s plan before the foundation of the world. (Eph. 1:4-5, 11) You have been known to Him and valued by Him from eternity. His death was not expedient, but intentional. It was Caiaphas who was the catspaw of our Lord. Whose words were used by Him to point many to His eternal purpose to save.
And so, as this Lent begins, as the ash on our forehead reminds us of our own return to dust, due to our sinful failures, let us ponder the truths our Lord’s enemies unwittingly uttered. For they speak the truth. And truth is truth no matter whose mouth it is uttered by. (John 8:32) It was best that Christ die for the nation, for Caiaphas, for all. For even Caiaphas’ own sin has been atoned for by that one Man, Jesus Christ, and if he was granted the grace of saving faith, we may yet see this enemy of Christ in heaven. For Christ does not save the godly, but sinners. (Luke 5:32; 1 Tim. 1:15) He does not come for His friends, but for those who are His enemies. By His salvation, He makes a friend of you who was His enemy. For by His death, He has redeemed a nation for Himself to the praise of His glorious grace. (John 11:50, 52; Eph. 1:5-6; 1 Pet. 2:4-5, 9-11)
In +Jesus’ name, Amen.