In a famous quote of President Harry Truman in 1948, complaining about what he felt was duplicitous rhetoric of Republicans, he said, “On the one hand, the Republicans are telling industrial workers that the high cost of food in the cities is due to this government’s farm policy. On the other hand, the Republicans are telling the farmers that the high cost of manufactured goods on the farm is due to this government’s labor policy. That’s plain hokum. It’s an old political trick: ‘If you can’t convince ’em, confuse ’em.’”
In our reading today in John 11 recording the reactions of various people to the raising of Lazarus, we see some people who were convinced of Christ’s messiah status, yet also of the religious leaders who were confused – evidently believing Jesus to be some sort of magician.
Frankly, it would seem to me that such an indisputable miracle as Christ performed could only be rejected if you REALLY wanted to disbelieve. And that was certainly the situation with the religious leaders.
45 Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, believed 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 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 temple and our nation.”
Students of the Scriptures should be more aware of this verse 48, for it summarizes in a few words the feelings and perspectives of the Jewish religious leadership toward the works and words of Jesus. This is a first century Jerusalem illustration of what we call today “inside the beltway thinking.” We see politicians on all sides who go to Washington and forget there is a real world outside the DC beltway – their self-preservation becomes the full impetus and motivation feeding their perspectives and decisions.
Truly, the religious leadership had reached the end of tolerance for this Galilean preacher dude. He was now a serious problem. If he was allowed to continue and to gain a larger following, the Romans were sure to step in and bust up everything. (This actually did happen about 40 years later under Titus.) Speaking up was Caiaphas – the high priest at that time who was allowed by the Romans to serve for a limited period of time …
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.
Caiaphas says it would be better to see one person dead – Jesus – than to risk the loss of the whole nation to a Roman smack-down. And so, the plot was hatched and affirmed from that time forward: Killing Jesus was then the name of the plot – not the name of Bill O’Reilly’s bestselling book!
John – writing after the conclusion of these events – under the inspiration of the Spirit identifies the irony in the words of the high priest. Jesus was indeed dying for the nation; and not only for Israel, but for all of God’s elect of all time.
54 Therefore Jesus no longer moved about publicly among the people of Judea. Instead he withdrew to a region near the wilderness, to a village called Ephraim, where he stayed with his disciples.
55 When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, many went up from the country to Jerusalem for their ceremonial cleansing before the Passover. 56 They kept looking for Jesus, and as they stood in the temple courts they asked one another, “What do you think? Isn’t he coming to the festival at all?”57 But the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that anyone who found out where Jesus was should report it so that they might arrest him.
So Jesus relocates to a remote region about another 15 miles to the north. It was approaching the time of the Passover – a time when many pilgrims were already beginning to drift into the city of Jerusalem. Throughout the city and temple courts, eyes were watching for Jesus to arrive, which he would before long in a manner that fulfilled Scripture.
It appears to me that, as incredible as it may seem that people like the Jewish religious leaders would reject an obvious miracle because of their hostility to change, the same thing occurs today. The bulk of humanity continues to reject Christ out of hostility to the idea that his authority would rule over them. They fear the change of a loss of their individual power to control their lives and destiny – a sort of individualized “inside the beltway” manner of thinking. But the irony is that true freedom only comes from yieldedness to Christ as Lord.