LIFE TO THE DEAD CONSPIRACY
by Pastor Mike Fortune
June 28, 2008
Introduction: YouTube: Cardboard Testimonies
- Conspiracies come from fear [John 11:45-48; Isaiah 43:1-3,5]
- Conspiracies justify injustice [John 11:49-52; Micah 6:8]
- But life comes from serving God wisely [John 11:53-57; Matthew 10:23]
“45Many of the people who were with Mary believed in Jesus when they saw this happen. 46But some went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. 47Then the leading priests and Pharisees called the high council together. “What are we going to do?” they asked each other. “This man certainly performs many miraculous signs. 48If we allow him to go on like this, soon everyone will believe in him. Then the Roman army will come and destroy both our Temple and our nation.” 49Caiaphas, who was high priest at that time, said, “You don’t know what you’re talking about! 50You don’t realize that it’s better for you that one man should die for the people than for the whole nation to be destroyed.” 51He did not say this on his own; as high priest at that time he was led to prophesy that Jesus would die for the entire nation. 52And not only for that nation, but to bring together and unite all the children of God scattered around the world. 53So from that time on, the Jewish leaders began to plot Jesus’ death. 54As a result, Jesus stopped his public ministry among the people and left Jerusalem. He went to a place near the wilderness, to the village of Ephraim, and stayed there with his disciples. 55It was now almost time for the Jewish Passover celebration, and many people from all over the country arrived in Jerusalem several days early so they could go through the purification ceremony before Passover began. 56They kept looking for Jesus, but as they stood around in the Temple, they said to each other, “What do you think? He won’t come for Passover, will he?” 57Meanwhile, the leading priests and Pharisees had publicly ordered that anyone seeing Jesus must report it immediately so they could arrest him.”
First, Jesus cleared the temple. Tossing over tables and driving the money changers out of the temple in John 2:13-22. Then, he heals a chronically paralyzed person on the Sabbath in John 5:1-18. Then, on the last day of Feast of Tabernacles, he stands and shouts at the climax of their ceremony in John 7:37-39 that He is the water of life. And as a follow up in John 8, He proclaims He is also the Light of the World effectively replacing both symbols of divine intervention the children of Israel were celebrating when God led them out of slavery and into the Promised Land. Then, in John 9:1-16, Jesus heals a man born blind crushing their false theology of sin and salvation by obedience. And in case they don’t connect the dots, he straight out tells them in John 10:30-33 that we can know all of the above is true because He is God because the Father and He are one. Six dramatic impossible to ignore episodes in the pages of John leave little to the imagination. There was nothing secretive about them. For God always operates in broad daylight. He has nothing to hide. And to top it all off, the 7 th and most dramatic of all as we studied last time, Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead.
Which in and of itself is mind boggling. That Jesus is the resurrection and the life. But it had to be especially mind boggling to the Sadducees because that group of people didn’t even believe in a resurrection! The Pharisees did. And as Allan pointed out a couple weeks ago, Martha did too. Long before the Adventist Church started preaching it, she said to Jesus in John 11:24, “I know Lazarus will rise when every one rises at the last day.” But the Sadducees did not.
So can you imagine how devastating it was for them to see Lazarus walking around? Their entire theology about the end times and life after death was crushed with just a few short words from the Giver of Life. How do we respond when we have to change our minds? Whether that’s about caring for our Creator’s planet or the less fortunate in it or about how to make the Sabbath delightful? How as followers of Christ do we respond when confronted with people that say prayer changes nothing? That it’s selfish to ask God to help us help the helpless? That God doesn’t care if people can afford to buy bread much less gasoline? How should we respond when we reach conclusions we’ve never considered before?
If you haven’t picked up paper I passed out a few weeks ago, please do so today. It’s by Dr. Fritz Guy and is entitled “The Inescapable Reasons For Theological Modesty.” It’s on the table in the foyer of the church. The point of that paper is to remind us to have the humility to react better than the Sadducees did when they were forced to come to new conclusions. Because all this time, they along with a couple other Pharisees like Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus as John reveals later in his book, were the ones saying, “No, Jesus is just helping the helpless. He’s not hurting anyone. We have nothing to be afraid of. Look, when we tried to crown in King, He ran to hills.”
But as soon as their false theology got crushed, they changed their minds. What they thought they knew about Jesus was more important to them than actually knowing Jesus. And that is a bone chilling sobering lesson for us to learn too isn’t it! But as soon as Jesus prayed eyes wide open, “Lazarus, come forth”, the Sadducees went forth too. And joined forced with the Pharisees. And then together, they conspired to kill Jesus. Which leads us to point number one: Conspiracies come from fear.
That’s what the Bible says in verses 47-48 so let’s look at that. “47Then the leading priests and Pharisees called the high council together. “What are we going to do?” they asked each other. “This man certainly performs many miraculous signs. 48If we allow him to go on like this, soon everyone will believe in him. Then the Roman army will come and destroy both our Temple and our nation.”
What were they afraid of? They were afraid of two things. One, that their positions among the people would be compromised. And two and even worse, that any shred of political power they held over them and their lucrative temple tax system would be completely removed. Rome tolerated many things. But one thing Israel’s occupying power would not tolerate was insurrection. Which is why they swapped high priests like baseball cards. From times of old, the high priest was elected to a position of life term. But since the Roman occupation, that application was removed. And Rome would put in whoever they wanted whenever they wanted. Luke 3:1 says at this time, that the current high priest was Caiphas. Who aside from being selfish was apparently a headstrong pompous fellow. We know this is true because of what he says next.
Look at verse 49 and 50. “49Caiaphas, who was high priest at that time, said, “You don’t know what you’re talking about! [Another version says: “How can you be so stupid?”] 50You don’t realize that it’s better for you that one man should die for the people than for the whole nation to be destroyed.”
And at the time, that probably made a lot of sense. Because this was a known principle of operation inside and outside faith communities. Though it originally derived from pagan cultures as the rationale for sacrificing one’s first born to the fires, it would be later attested to in rabbinical literature saying “Better one life should be risked than that all should be certain to die” [SDABC p.1017]. The implication of Caiphas’ argument being that even if Jesus was innocent [which He was], it would still be better for us if He died.
And little did he know how true that was! Now there are 3 places in Scripture where spiritual gifts are listed. Ephesians 4, 1 Corinthians 12, and Romans 12. And in each of those places, prophecy or the gift of prophecy is listed. So obviously it is something God ordains and uses in people from time to time. But no where in those lists is the gift of unconscious prophecy listed. But maybe it should be! Because Caiphas definitely had it! We know this is true because of what John says about what Caiphas says in verses 51-52 so let’s go there.
John says in John 11:51, “51He [Caiphas] did not say this on his own; as high priest at that time he was led to prophesy that Jesus would die for the entire nation. 52And not only for that nation, but to bring together and unite all the children of God scattered around the world.”
Praise the Lord right? But this statement is not only prophetic, it is also ironic. Why? Because remember, John is likely writing the Gospel within the safe confines of the church in Ephesus. One of the 7 literal churches of Revelation in Asia Minor. He’s a bishop there and looking back over his life, he sees all that has been written about Jesus, so he writes the magnus opus of the life of Jesus. Telling stories nobody else told. Filling in the blanks. Emphasizing the most important themes. Telling the truth as it is in Jesus [cf. Ephesians 4:21]. But most importantly, John is writing 65 years after the crucifixion to 2 nd century believers who already know Jesus was crucified. He is writing also writing over 25 years after the very things they were most afraid of, namely, losing their positions and their power, because both those things actually occurred when the Romans came in 70AD and destroyed everything. So when those believe read this book, they’d have cracked up laughing at Caiphas’ statement. They would have seen and appreciated his unconscious gift of prophecy. For more on that, read this book called Irony in the Fourth Gospel.
But in case you don’t read any further, don’t forget point number one. Conspiracies come from fear. But God does everything in broad daylight. He is the Light of the World. He is not conspiring against you. Trying to make your life miserable. He loves you! And wants to make your life better! And even life isn’t good, and it won’t always be good, God doesn’t want us to be afraid when life conspires against us. Because Isaiah 43:1-3,5 says, “ 1 But now, O Jacob, listen to the Lord who created you. O Israel, the one who formed you says, ‘Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine. 2When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. 3For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”
That’s point number one. And point number two is: Conspiracies justify injustice. I don’t know why this is such a difficult concept for Christians to grasp. But just this week, as word of our Prayer at the Pump and all night Prayer Summit hit the media, there has been a mixed reaction. I’ll give you an example. One sincere guy who Googled me said: “As a Christian, it concerns me greatly how the world views us as a whole. While I don’t blame you for wanting to keep gas prices down in any way possible, it seems a bit self-serving and materialistic (i.e. money) to make such a fuss about cost-of-living increases in this way.” Which is a risk, I told him, worth the reward. Because not only would we be helping Ohio’s 13% of people who can’t afford to buy bread much less gas as [as Psalm 82:3 says we should] but more people in my community inside and outside of my church would also be [re] learning to pray "Not our will, but thy will be done". More people in my community would also wake up to the fact that we have misused the earth and need to rid ourselves of consumer Christianity because we have not given Lordship and stewardship of our earth to God [cf.Psalm 24:1]. And more and more people will learn that "We can be confident that God will listen to us whenever we ask Him for anything in line with His will" [1 John 5:14] all of which are good things. Our emphasis on prayer has also opened up relationships with 9 other pastors from other churches in Toledo all of whom partnered with us in asking God to intervene in every aspect of our lives. I told him God doesn’t care what issue it is that makes people turn to Him. Even if the reasons are materialistic. God only cares that we come. Jesus said in John 6:37, "All who come unto Me I will never drive away." So we traded emails a little bit like that. And I thought I was making some sense, but then he ends one of them with “Good luck with the prayers, if the prices go down I can get that Nintendo Wii I’ve been coveting.”
Talk about ironic! He doesn’t get it at all! And many people in the media won’t either. And if we’re going to really care about asking God to help us help the hopeless and oppressed, we have to be okay with that. That’s why I signed one of my replies like this: “So you can be cynical if you want. But I will be praying you purchase some bread for your local food bank instead of a Nintendo Wii!!!” Micah 6:8 tells us what Christians are supposed to be doing. “To do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” Another version says “To do justly. And to love mercy. And to walk humbly with your God.” Our job is to do justly. Even when conspiracies justify injustice. The poorest people of Ohio should be able to afford to buy bread. But rising gas prices will make it much more difficult for them to do so. That’s the bottom line according to our Governor Ted Strickland.
Mock me if you want to for me taking him seriously. They mocked Jesus too. But He still took care of those around him. And this becomes obvious in point number three. So let’s close with that. Let’s look at verses 53-54. “53So from that time on, the Jewish leaders began to plot Jesus’ death. 54As a result, Jesus stopped his public ministry among the people and left Jerusalem. He went to a place near the wilderness, to the village of Ephraim, and stayed there with his disciples.”
Ephraim was 14 miles north of Jerusalem and 4 miles east of Bethel. It was near the wilderness extending along the Jordan valley. Jesus didn’t stop working. He just stopped working there. He knew His time was rapidly approaching. He knew conspiracies come from fear. He knew conspiracies justify injustice. But I think when He took His disciples away from all that chaos, He was showing us He also knew that life comes from serving God wisely.
He told his disciples the same thing earlier in Matthew 10:23. There it says, “23When you are persecuted in one town, flee to the next. I tell you the truth, the Son of Man will return before you have reached all the towns of Israel.”
In other words, just because you can’t work here, that doesn’t mean you should stop working for the Lord. It just means that you should serve God wisely somewhere else. Go somewhere else. Try something else. Do something else. He’s not saying go do nothing. He’s saying go do something! Don’t just stand there complaining how selfish and materialistic Western Christians are. Don’t just stand there doubting believers will ever consume less energy and take better care of God’s Creation. Our God whom we serve is able! The God we serve can raise the dead! And if He can raise the physically dead, He can certainly raise the spiritually dead and selfish and confused. Amen?
I refuse to sit here and do nothing while my brothers and sisters less fortunate than me can’t afford to buy bread. Now is not the time to cave in to media pressure and preconceived ideas of what Christians should and should not pray for. Psalm 24:1 says the earth is the Lord’s and every thing and every one in it. Whether they realize that or not! We have a sacred responsibility to wise as serpents and harmless as doves. We have a sacred responsibility to go into all the world shouting the Gospel with our lives. And that’s what we’re going to do tomorrow from 2-6pm at the Aurora House. We’re going to celebrate the many different cultures God has created and delights in and together we’re going to thank him for the way He is leading in the lives of the people who live in our city. We’re gong to ask God to continue to bless the good work that the volunteers and women at the Aurora House are doing to transform the lives of entire families of people in our own backyard. All those folks need is someone to believe in them. Someone to encourage them. Someone to remind that God always hears our prayers when we pray like Jesus, “Not my will, but thy will be done.”
If we could just show up tomorrow and love on people and tell them how precious they are to Jesus, our very presence there will cause mini-resurrections of hope and joy and love in their lives. It will so mess with their heads that they will never be the same. And neither will you. So I challenge you today to do something for Christ’s sake. Because point number three, life comes from serving God wisely. Our passage today concludes with the crowds wondering if Jesus would return. If He would show up. If He would keep serving God. And there are many people out there wondering the same thing about us. What if things don’t go the way you want? What if gas prices don’t go down? What if Hezekiah’s sundial didn’t go backward 10 steps? You can read all about how it actually did in 2 Kings 20. But regardless of what happens and what people think, I think we have to just decide to serve God wisely no matter what. Because there will always be conspiracies of some kind because conspiracies come from fear. There will always be those that justify injustice. But we don’t have to be like them. Because we can choose to serve God wisely. Like Jesus did. Is that your desire? May God in His infinite grace give us the wisdom and strength we need to do that tomorrow at the Aurora House and every day for the rest of our lives as we sincerely serve Him. Amen.