Our Response to God’s Glory through Suffering

Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him, but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. 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.” But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. 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.” He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. So from that day on they made plans to put him to death. 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. Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and many went up from the country to Jerusalem before the Passover to purify themselves. 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?” 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.” (John‬ ‭11:45-57‬ ‭ESV‬‬)

The last several weeks we’ve taken a look at how Jesus responds to the pain and suffering we face. Over this time we’ve seen how pain can be purposeful or, at the very least, redeemed through the love and power of God. Jesus taught us that the ultimate goal of Lazarus’ illness wasn’t death but God’s glory. John then took us on a journey through one of the toughest circumstances of life, the death of a close family member and Jesus powerful presence in the midst of that pain and struggle. 

We took a look at the process of praying in the midst of suffering and hurting. We discussed how our prayers, during these times of struggle, often reflect unrealistic expectations and demands of God. We neglect and ignore God until we hit bottom and then we want Him to dash in like a hero and fix the situation, but always according to our expectations and demands. 

We then discussed how John specifically points out Jesus’ love for Mary, Martha and Lazarus but how his love is expressed in a way that we initially question or doubt. If Jesus truly loved Lazarus and the sisters then why would he delay his arrival and permit Lazarus to suffer illness and even death? Why would God let me go through these struggles if he really loved me? But, if Jesus truly loves us and we love him shouldn’t we be willing to trust his judgment and actions? We may not always understand, but can we trust His heart? 

Next, we talked about what happens when we lapse into doubts. How does Jesus respond to our doubts? He weeps over our doubts and he speaks truth into the midst of our doubts. He assures us of His power, of His authority over life and death. He reminds us of His deep, deep love for us and then He draws us back towards faith and trusting love. Then He demonstrates His awesome power and calls us to live in the reality of who He is and what that means in the midst of our struggles. His perfect love and His awesome power and authority over life and death can drive away all fear from our lives. We live now in the power of Jesus’ resurrection and we must shed the “grave clothes” of our past life and begin living as resurrected people.

The Truth on Trial…

So, we now come to last few verses of John chapter 11… in them we see how those who participated in this miraculous event respond. Immediately following Lazarus miraculous resurrection we see two reactions, life altering belief and angry rejection. Many people today respond in similar ways. Many say: “If I just had proof, I’d believe in God.” However, just like this story, some would, but many wouldn’t. For some, the events of this day drove them to their knees in humble submission to the obvious authority of the Son of God while others immediately scampered to the Jewish leadership reporting what they’d just witnessed. 

Now here is the truly amazing part of this entire story, the witnesses reported the facts of what they’d personally witnessed but the Jewish leaders simply rejected the evidence. They didn’t appear to question the trustworthiness of the witnesses, but simply rejected what the evidence clearly indicated… Jesus is the incredible, powerful and authoritative Son of God. 

Why would they reject the evidence? Why do we reject evidence? Our beliefs and opinions are so deeply rooted in our hearts, we can reject truth without recognizing that we’ve done so. It is called confirmation bias. We search out and accept only what supports our existing beliefs or desires and we reject everything else. By the way, this happens to all of us regardless of whether we are liberal or conservative, Christian or Atheist, Democrat or Republican, educated or uneducated. In fact, while our modern culture didn’t cause the condition, it most certainly heavily contributes to its ongoing existence and expansion. We become so deeply entrenched in our ways, beliefs or even desires that we become blind and deaf to anything else. 

What greater evidence could there be for who Jesus is than these miracles and the powerful evidence for his own resurrection? Why do so many reject it? It doesn’t fit their expectations, their existing beliefs or their ultimate desires. 

A Very Real Threat…

When we are happy and satisfied with where we are and what we are then we don’t readily grab onto things that bring radical change or disruption to our lives. Why did the disciples initially reject or question the powerful evidence of the resurrection? It didn’t fit their expectations or even their definition of what was even possible. In the same way, the Jewish leadership is satisfied and comfortable with their view of God and the world. Jesus is just a disruption, a nuisance, even a challenge to their own leadership. Jesus didn’t fit their expectations or desires for how God would respond to their life circumstances. Jesus was a threat to their leadership and position. 

We face the same issue. Many today reject Jesus not because of the evidence of who He is but because He doesn’t fit their desires or expectations. In fact, John intentionally presented this stark contrast of desires and expectations. 

Notice how the leaders respond to the evidence of Lazarus resurrection…

What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. 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.” (v. 47-48)

John puts the acceptance of Jesus in direct contrast with the Jewish temple. In other words, you can have God in your midst physically in the person and power of Jesus or you can continue to try and know and experience God through a substitute, the temple high priest. So, would you rather have the real thing or a substitute? 

It wasn’t that these men had blatantly rejected God, they had simply become so comfortable, so attached to their position and power that they felt threatened when God actually showed up. They were so blinded by their own bias, their own dreams, goals and desires that they rejected the very one they claimed to be seeking. They were so consumed by their earthly treasures the rejected the very treasure of heaven. Listen to how they said it, “if we let Him continue everyone will believe Him, and we will lose everything, our place/position and our nation.” 

You face this same choice today. You can see and hear the evidence and decide to believe Him and lose everything you think is personally valuable but gain life, real life. Life to its fullest (John 10:10). Or you can cling to your place, position and power and, in the end, discover that they were all empty promises, shallow dreams, dead end pursuits. It is your choice. But, I’m not going to hide one obvious and glaring fact that you need to know…

The Sacrifice is Great…

John makes one more very clear and distinct contrast in this passage that you need to consider. He contrasts Jesus with the Passover sacrificial lamb from the Exodus. First, he tells us that the High Priest believes it would be better that one man die than the whole nation perish. It is better that one man be sacrificed for the people than for all of them to die at the hands of their Roman oppressors. Notice how John attributes these words to the fact that he was High Priest and, though he opposed God’s purpose and plan, he was still used as an instrument of prophetic truth. John then goes on to point out what time of the year this happened… preparation for Passover. 

Don’t miss this, it is critically important. Historically, the Jews had observed the Passover in the same manner since its inception at the Exodus. 

Each year, the family would select an unblemished lamb from their flock and bring it in among the household livestock and feed and care for it for at least ten days. It would then be slaughtered and the blood collected in a bowl or pan. On the evening of the Passover, the father would take the blood and using a hyssop branch he would smear the blood on the doorposts and lintel (header) of the family home. The lamb would then be roasted and become a part of the evening meal and Passover remembrance ceremony. 

Remember what? They must remember, and we must remember, that the salvation of God’s people from lives of slavery required an intervention from God and the blood of lamb applied to the doorposts of our lives. Just like the Exodus, our salvation from a life of slavery to sin required and intervention from God and the blood of a lamb. So, the sacrifice is great because it required the sacrifice of God’s spotless, unblemished, sinless lamb, His own Son. 

But, before I tell you how the blood of this lamb of God can be applied to your doorposts I must tell you of another sacrifice. You can never earn what God offers through Jesus. The cost is simply too great. So great that only God could pay it. So, if Jesus is the only one who could pay this price then what sacrifice is left to make? The sacrifice of your own pride and fears. Don’t make the same mistake the Jewish Sanhedrin Council made. The same mistake so many make. They were unwilling to sacrifice their own desires, dreams, hopes and ambitions to receive the greater gift of God’s love and grace. 

Ultimately, they rejected Jesus as the Son of God and, in the process, rejected all that they truly desired and longed for. Jesus himself said the cost of being a disciple was great and should be carefully considered… (see Luke 14:25-33, Matt 10:38, Mark 10:21, Acts 4:29-30). In fact, John was personally familiar with this loss. He knew well of Stephen’s sacrifice (Acts 7), James – his own brother (Acts 12:12), and even Peter, Paul, and probably Thomas and Andrew. John watched all of his friends and family give themselves to the cause of Christ. If anyone was familiar with the cost of following Jesus, he was one. 

Consider one last witness of the cost and the value… the Apostle Paul. A former persecutor who now feels the sting of the whip and the ridicule.

“I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith. I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!” (Philippians‬ ‭3:7-11‬ ‭NLT‬‬)

How will you respond? Will you sacrifice whatever you consider gain to get the greatest gift? Are you willing to allow God to use your suffering for His purpose and glory? 

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