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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Title:God is sovereign even over those who hate Jesus
Text:John 11:45-57 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Amazing Purpose
 
Preached:2020
Added:2020-12-15
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 136:1-4

Psalm 119:47 (after the law)

Psalm 2

Hymn 78

Psalm 56:1,4,5

Scripture reading:  Numbers 24

Text: John 11:45-57

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of Christ,

It’s no secret that the world is becoming increasingly hostile to biblical Christianity.  You see it especially online.  If there’s a mainstream news story involving Bible-believing Christians and sexuality, and if you look at the comments there’ll almost always be venom and spite.  Especially if you believe what the Bible says about sexual orientation and gender identity, people are going to roast you, slam you, hate you.  You’ll have a target on your back.   

When this happens, we need to have a biblical perspective.  All that animosity has to be understood in the context of what Jesus says in John 15:18-19, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.  If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.”  The world hates Christians because it hates Jesus.

It’s always been there, but we’re seeing it more and more.  It’s now popular to hate Christians and to be open about it.  This is the new reality for us.  And in our passage for this morning, God gives us encouragement in the face of these realities.  He gives us what we need to carry on living for him in this hostile world.

Earlier in chapter 11, Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead.  God used the raising of Lazarus to bring some to belief in Jesus – we see that in verse 45.  But others saw the sign and saw it as a threat, as something dangerous or concerning.  They reported the miracle to the Pharisees, to those who hated Jesus.  And that leads to a meeting of the Jewish religious leaders.   They discuss and deliberate and in the end decide that Jesus must die.  Jesus will die.  They give him the death sentence. 

What you see here are people plotting.  Driven by their hatred, they plot to have Jesus killed.  Yet you have to see something else here too.  Behind it all, the good God is sovereign.  He hasn’t left his throne.  God rules over it all and it’s all going to be for good.  Everything you read about here serves the glorious cause of the gospel.  And so I proclaim to you God’s Word from John 11 and we’ll see how God is sovereign even over those who hate Jesus

We’ll consider:

  1. Why they hate Jesus
  2. How God is sovereign over them

If you look at verse 47, you’ll see that it mentions a meeting of “the council.”  This was the Sanhedrin.  That was the ruling body of the Jews at that time.  It was made up of the Jewish religious leaders, the high priests, the Sadducees, the Pharisees.  Of course, the Romans were ultimately in control.  However, the Romans did give some room for the Jews to govern their own affairs, especially in religious matters. 

So the Sanhedrin came together to discuss the situation with Jesus.  They were deeply concerned about the latest developments in Bethany with Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead.  They’d been unable to do anything about Jesus.  And meanwhile, he was doing all those many signs.  They were at a loss as to how to address this problem.

They couldn’t allow him to continue.  If they did, there’d be consequences.  Verse 48 says that if they let Jesus go on, everyone would believe in him.  They would follow him as the Messiah.  That could spark an uprising among the Jewish people.  There could be political and social unrest.  Whenever there was unrest, the Romans got nervous.  Unrest could provoke the Romans to take full control of the situation.  They could destroy the temple.  They could kill the people or deport them somewhere else.  It could all end very badly. 

Now you’ve got to see the deep irony here in verse 48.  The irony has to do with how things actually unfolded in the years following.  In 70 A.D., the Romans sacked Jerusalem, killed many of the Jews and destroyed the temple.  Thousands of Jews were killed throughout Judea.  It was a horrible disaster.  And Scripture tells us that it was precisely because the Jews didn’t believe in Jesus.  The events of 70 A.D. were God’s judgment on the Jews for rejecting Jesus as the Messiah.  So believing in Jesus didn’t lead to judgment through the Romans, but rejection and hatred of Jesus did.  This is a typical bit of irony that we find in John’s gospel. 

But now let’s look at what’s really going on here.  There’s hatred for Jesus.  But why?  Well, let’s look at what’s driving the Jewish religious leaders.  It’s fear.  What are they afraid of?  In verse 48, they say they’re worried about having their place and nation taken away.  The temple being destroyed and the people decimated.  Verse 49 says that they’re concerned about having the whole nation perish.  However, we shouldn’t take that at face value.  We shouldn’t look at the Sanhedrin as if they were all well-meaning and loving men, concerned about their fellow Jews.  We need to look at this in the light of what God says is really going on.  He tells us in John 12:43.  We’re told that the Jewish religious leaders “loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.”  They loved the praise of people.  They were driven by pride.  So what were they really afraid of?  Losing their power and control to Jesus.  They were afraid of losing their prestige. 

So why do they hate Jesus so much that they want him dead?  They hate Jesus because he’s a threat.  He’s a threat to their prestige, their power, their control.  That’s the bottom line here.  From God’s perspective that’s what this is really all about.  

Later in the New Testament, we read more about one of these Jewish leaders.  We read about how much he hated Jesus.  This leader went out of his way to stop what Jesus was doing in the world.  He was on his way to Damascus to imprison followers of Jesus.  Jesus stopped Saul of Tarsus in his tracks.  Jesus asked Saul, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”  You see, Saul wasn’t just persecuting followers of Jesus.  By persecuting the followers, he was also persecuting Jesus himself.  And you persecute people that you hate.  You don’t persecute people you love.  Later, in 1 Timothy 1:13, the same man, now known as Paul, would write that he’d been a “blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent.”  Until he was converted, he hated Jesus.

Today too there are many who hate Jesus.  They might not say it exactly like that, but their actions say it all.   Why do people hate Jesus today?  Why do people persecute him by persecuting his followers?  It’s because of the threat he seems to present to their pride, their prestige, their power.  People don’t want to give those things up. 

Loved ones, one of the great lies of our present day is that only some people are religious.  According to this lie, most people are not religious.  But here’s the truth:  all people are religious.  Everyone has an ultimate commitment to something.  Whatever you’re ultimately committed to is your god.

Today one of the dominant gods is the god of self.  Every individual is like a god.  That god determines what’s right or wrong.  No one is allowed to question “god.”  The god of the self is ultimate.  Jesus is always going to be perceived as a threat to that god.  Jesus wants to dethrone that god, replace that god. 

People perceive that as a threat.  But really what Jesus wants to do is rescue sinners from themselves.  Loved ones, he wants to rescue us from ourselves.  When we regard ourselves as gods, we’re on a path of self-destruction.  We can’t save ourselves.  We can only add to our misery and troubles.  But Jesus is the Saviour who really does rescue people from their own self-made mess and a destiny of doom. 

The problem is that sin keeps people from seeing it.  Have you ever heard of Stockholm Syndrome?  It’s a well-known psychological thing where people who are kidnapped begin to develop an attachment to their kidnapper.  They start to feel protective of the kidnapper who’s actually a threat to them.  They want to protect the one who’s really harming them.  This is what sin does to us.  It’s what sin did to the Sanhedrin in our passage.  You feel affection for the god (small ‘g’) that’s trying to kill you, but you feel hatred for Jesus who can rescue you.  The only thing that can change this is regeneration by the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit has to open people’s eyes so that they can see things the way they really are.

Loved ones, this is why we sometimes see such a powerful reaction against Christian teachings and against the gospel in our day.  People love their sin, love their path of self-destruction.  And so they hate our Lord Jesus.

However, we shouldn’t despair, as if the situation is hopeless.  Change can happen.  Regeneration does happen.  Enemies of Christ can become followers of Christ.  Think of Saul again on the Damascus road.  By sovereign grace, through the power of the Holy Spirit, God turned him around.  You see, God is sovereign even over those who hate Jesus.

Let’s now look at how that’s shown to be true particularly in our passage from John 11.

Verse 49 introduces us to a particular Jewish leader named Caiaphas.  He was a Sadducee and the high priest.  He was a well-known historical figure – he’s mentioned in extra-biblical writings as well.  Caiaphas was blunt.  He had a direct answer to the dithering going on in the Sanhedrin.  He told them that they didn’t know anything.  He had the answer.  The answer of Caiaphas is in verse 50.  For the benefit of all the Jews, Jesus had to die.  When he says that, he uses sacrificial language.  It’s as if Jesus has to be sacrificed in order for the Jewish people to be kept from being destroyed by the Romans. 

In verse 51, we get divine commentary about what Caiaphas said.  The Holy Spirit tells us that Caiaphas didn’t say this intentionally.  It was not “of his own accord.”  Instead, he was actually an instrument of God’s revelation.  Caiaphas was prophesying, acting as a prophet here.  He did it without even realizing it.  Now to understand this, we need to have some background.  We have to go back to the Old Testament.

In the Old Testament, it wasn’t unheard of for high priests to prophesy.  They could and they did act as agents of God’s revelation.  In fact, God intended for that to be the case right from the start of this office.  You can see it with the ephod that the high priest wore.  The ephod was a special vest worn by the high priest.  The ephod had a breastpiece attached to it.  On that breastpiece was the Urim and the Thummim.  The Urim and the Thummim were probably special stones in the breastpiece.  When the high priest would prophesy under divine inspiration, these stones would probably glow or give off light in order to confirm that the high priest was speaking for God.  By the time of Caiaphas, the Urim and Thummim had disappeared.  Nobody knows where they went.  But the mention of them in the Old Testament confirms for us that high priests did prophesy.

It’s also important to note from the Old Testament that it wasn’t necessary for an individual to be godly in order to prophesy.  You didn’t have to believe in the true God.  We see that clearly in Numbers 23 and 24 with Balaam.  Balaam was not godly.  Balaam was a sorcerer.  He was an idolater.  He worshipped idols.  Yet the sovereign God revealed prophecies through him, including prophecies about the coming of Jesus Christ. 

Loved ones, God is sovereign.  He has supreme power over everyone.  If he wants to bring revelation through Balaam, he can and he did.  If God wants to bring revelation through Caiaphas, who hates Jesus, God will – and he did. 

The sovereign God revealed through Caiaphas that Jesus would die for the Jewish people.  That means that Jesus would die for those Jewish people who would believe in him.  We know that he doesn’t just die for every single Jewish person.  We know that from what Jesus said in John 10.  He makes it clear there that he dies for the sheep.  Jesus dies for those whom God has chosen.  Jesus dies only for those who would believe in him as their Saviour. 

Verse 52 adds that Jesus’ death had a broader scope.  It would be also for the “children of God scattered abroad.”  That refers to the Gentiles, the non-Jewish people of the world.  Again, that’s not referring to every single Gentile head for head, but to those whom God had chosen and who would believe in Christ.  Jesus would gather them together into one body, into his body, into the church.  Here we get a little glimpse into the glorious reality of Christ’s church-gathering work, that church-gathering work which begins in the book of Acts and carries on to the present day.   

Caiaphas had no idea what he was saying.  He had no idea how God was really speaking through him at that moment.  Yet God ensured that this man who hated Jesus so much would yet speak the truth about Jesus and his mission.  God was sovereign over the words that came out of the mouth of Caiaphas that day.

But God’s sovereignty wasn’t only about the words spoken.  It also extended to the actions taken.  Verse 53 tells us that plans were made to put Jesus to death.  Jesus knew about it and so he stayed away from Jerusalem for the time being.  He went to an isolated place with his disciples.  But when the Passover came, everyone in Jerusalem was wondering whether Jesus would make an appearance.  It was expected of him, as a good Jew, that he would make the pilgrimage to celebrate the Passover in Jerusalem.  But there was also the command that had been given that any intelligence on the whereabouts of Jesus had to be handed over so the leaders could arrest him and kill him.

And over these actions as well, God was sovereign, ruling absolutely.  You see, God’s plan was for Jesus to die, but he would die at a set time and place.  Jesus would die as the Lamb of God during the time of Passover.  It’d be no accident.  It would be according to God’s set plan and foreknowledge. 

Loved ones, you see here that wicked people can say wicked things and make wicked plans.  For their wickedness, they are completely responsible.  Yet the Bible teaches us that God is still sovereign over them.  Think of what Peter says in his Pentecost sermon in Acts 2:23, “…this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.”  The Jewish leaders had Jesus crucified.  They bore complete responsibility for that.  Yet God is still sovereign.  God rules over wicked men and their schemes.  Here with our Lord Jesus, God turned all those wicked schemes to the ultimate good, to the ultimate good of our salvation from sin.   

Today there continue to be wicked people and wicked schemes.  There are conspiracies against God’s Word, against Christ, and against the church.  We can think of the so-called conversion therapy legislation being discussed in various places.  That represents a real threat to the ministry of the gospel.  It’s all concerning.  But God’s Word encourages us, brothers and sisters.  Let’s not forget that God reigns supreme over all.  God won’t be outwitted or outmanoeuvred by anyone or anything.  The God who brought salvation through the men who hated Jesus is still God, our God.  He’s going to bring us safely through, despite whatever hatred for Jesus we encounter.  His cause, the cause of the gospel, is going to triumph in the end. 

Loved ones, if we’re faithful to Christ, we can almost be certain that we’re going to face hostility in this world.  The Puritan Samuel Rutherford once said, “If you were not strangers here, the hounds of the world would not bark at you.”  Christians don’t belong here.  We don’t fit in.  That’s why they bark.  It’s because we’re united to Christ, the one they hate so much.  So hostility is something you can count on facing.  But God’s power is something you can depend on to get you through.  God is sovereign over the hounds of the world.  They can bark all they want, they can jump and snap at you, maybe even sometimes bite.  But God will never allow them to hurt you in any ultimate way.  You can count on him.  You can count on his power and his love for you.  And should you ever doubt it, remember Caiaphas and how God was sovereign over him.  And remember how Caiaphas was a big part of driving Jesus to the cross.  It was no accident, no random, freak event.  It was all in God’s good plan.  And so is everything we experience today.  AMEN.

PRAYER

O God our Father,

We’re glad and thankful that you’re in charge.  You rule absolutely over this world.  Nothing is outside your power.  You reigned supreme over Caiapahas even though he hated Jesus.  You still reign supreme over everyone today, including people who hate Jesus.  Father, thank you that not only are you sovereign, but you make good things happen through your sovereignty.  You made the best thing happen through your sovereign power with our Saviour at the cross.  You brought us life and salvation, a relationship of fellowship with you.  We love you for this and adore you for it.  Help us with your Holy Spirit so that we’re always confident that no matter how bad things get, you’re ruling and you have a good plan.  Help us always to be sure of your love and your goodness. 

We do pray for those who don’t love you.  We pray for those who hate our Saviour, who hate the gospel, who hate what the Bible says about sin and salvation.  We pray for your Holy Spirit to come and bring them life.  What you did with Saul of Tarsus do again in our own day.  Father, in your sovereign grace, bring life to those who hate you and war against you and your people.  Bring them to faith in the one they hate right now.  Please do that because we care about them and we also want to see them praising your Name and giving you the glory you deserve. 

  

 




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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