Address 36 One Man to Die for the Nation

John 11:47-57

Then gathered the chief priests and the Pharisees a council, and said, What do we? for this man doeth many miracles. If we let him thus alone, all men will believe on him: and the Romans shall come and take away both our place and nation. And one of them, named Caiaphas, being the high priest that same year, said unto them, Ye know nothing at all, nor consider that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not. And this spake he not of himself: but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation; and not for that nation only, but that also he should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad. Then from that day forth they took counsel together for to put him to death. Jesus therefore walked no more openly among the Jews; but went thence unto a country near to the wilderness, into a city called Ephraim, and there continued with his disciples. And the Jews’ passover was nigh at hand: and many went out of the country up to Jerusalem before the passover, to purify themselves. Then sought they for Jesus, and spake among themselves, as they stood in the temple, What think ye, that he will not come to the feast? Now both the chief priests and the Pharisees had given a commandment, that, if any man knew where he were, he should shew it, that they might take him.

We have considered the raising up of Lazarus, that greatest of all our Lord’s signs and miracles, indicating His power over death, proving that He was indeed the Messiah who was to come into the world not only to deliver Israel but to be a means of blessing to all nations and the fulfillment of the promise made to Abraham.

One would have thought that surely so marvelous a sign would have spoken to the hearts of even the worst enemies of the Lord Jesus Christ, proving to them that this Man who was going about among them in so lowly a way, doing such wondrous works of mercy, was truly Immanuel. But no, if men’s consciences are not awakened, if men are determined to resist the truth, miracles will not win them to Christ.

Do you remember the story that Jesus told concerning the rich man? We read that he died and went to hell, and in hell he lifted up his eyes—that man who had enjoyed every privilege and opportunity on earth, but who had only lived to gratify his own desires—and began to pray for his five brethren. What a family: six brothers, one in hell and five on the way! And he cried and prayed to Abraham, whom he could see in Paradise, and said, “Send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame” (Luke 16:24). When told that was impossible, he said, “I pray thee then, send him to my five brethren that they come not to this place of torment” (see vv. 27-28). And Abraham said, “They have Moses and the prophets, let them hear them” (v. 29). That is, they have the Word of God, the Old Testament. Let them read and believe their Bibles. But the rich man replied, “Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, [then would they] repent” (v. 30). But the answer came back with crushing force: “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead” (v. 31).

What a solemn truth we have unfolded here! If men are determined to take their own way, if they will not bow to the testimony of the Word of God, then signs and wonders will never reach their hardened hearts and bring them to repentance. These scribes and Pharisees had set themselves against the Word of God. They had rejected every message, and the raising of Lazarus only stirred them up to make them feel they were likely to lose their hold on the people. They foresaw a possible uprising among the populace to make Jesus King, and the result would be the sending of the Roman legions to enforce Caesar’s will upon them at the point of the sword.

They said, “Now, what are we going to do about it?” You would have thought they would have said something like this: “We must turn to God and confess our sins and face our iniquity. We must get right with God. The resurrection power of Jesus proves that He is one with the Father.” But no, they said, “This thing is likely to draw men after Him. We must take an active stand against this man and His miracles.”

“For this Man doeth many miracles” (John 11:47). They had already dared to tell the crowd that He did the miracles by the power of Beelzebub, thus blaspheming against the Holy Spirit who was working through Him. Now they said, “If we let him thus alone, all men will believe on him” (v. 48). Just think of it! They were afraid to have people believe in Jesus.

I invited a lady sometime ago to a gospel meeting. She said, “I am afraid to go for fear I will be converted.” Afraid! Afraid that one might get right with God! I remember a gentleman well up in business circles out on the West Coast. I said to his wife one day, “I have not seen your husband for quite a while. Has he lost his interest?” She said, “Well, he is afraid to come. For when he comes and hears the Word, it takes him nearly two weeks to get over it.” How we ought to cherish the least evidence that the Spirit of God is speaking to any of us! There are people in this world today, I am afraid, who have heard the last message from the Word of God they will ever hear. It is a solemn thing when God ceases to speak to a soul.

But these Pharisees were determined to have their own way and to reject Christ. They said, “We must break His influence over the people. Otherwise the Romans will destroy our city and nation.” And notice this, the very thing they dreaded was the thing that happened. But it happened, not because the people believed on Jesus, but because they refused His grace. They spurned Him when presented as the Prince of Peace. When Pilate said, “Shall I crucify your King?” they said, “We have no king but Caesar” (19:15). What happened? Jesus was crucified, rejected of men, died there on Calvary’s cross for a world’s redemption.

But what about the nation? Not long after the Romans did indeed come and take away their place and scattered them throughout the world. And all the suffering and the sorrows they have gone through have been the sad result of their not knowing the day of their visitation.

So the very thing that these Pharisees thought they would avoid by rejecting Jesus was the thing that came upon them because they refused Him. So shortsighted are men, so unable to see into the future, that they spurn the testimony that God Himself has given.

As they were debating this thing, one of them took the leadership—Caiaphas, who was the high priest that year. That in itself indicates the objection of the people to the Roman authority. According to God’s original institution, when a son of Aaron was inducted into the office of high priest he remained in it until his death. But the nation had fallen so low that the Romans sold the office of high priest from year to year to the highest bidder. At this particular time Caiaphas was high priest. There were several other men who had been high priests but had been set to one side.

So now Caiaphas, the high priest that year, said unto them, “Ye know nothing at all” (v. 49). That is a good way, somebody has said, when you want to shut out any argument. Just begin, “You know nothing at all. You don’t know what you are talking about.” You cannot reason with folks like that. They know it all, and they won’t admit for a moment that you have any information which might be of any value to them. I think Job’s friends were something like that. You recall he answered them on one occasion, “Ye are the people, and wisdom shall die with you” (Job 12:2). That is, “You think no one knows anything but you.”

That was the stand Caiaphas took: “Ye know nothing at all, nor consider that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not” (v. 49-50). And in this you hear the voice of a contemptible, dastardly politician. He knew that Jesus was innocent of the charges that were being brought against Him. He should have been the deliverer of the innocent, but he, for policy’s sake, was against Jesus. He reasoned, “We must get Him out of the way or we shall suffer, so the best thing is to get rid of Him. Bring false charges, if need be, in order that the nation may be saved.” It was dastardly advice. Yet the marvelous thing is that God was behind it all, and overruled it to work out His own plan. We do not for one moment condone the speech of Caiaphas, but, on the other hand, we have the testimony of the Holy Spirit here to tell us that he was saying more than he really knew. The reason he spoke as he did was because of selfishness, but that which he thereby proposed, in a higher sense than he could ever understand, was to work out the purpose of God in the redemption not only of Israel but of a needy world.

We read here, “This spake he not of himself” (v. 51a). That is, he thought he was giving them advice of a political nature, but the Spirit of God was overruling and controlling him beyond his own thought. To think the Spirit of God could use a wicked man like that! In the case of Balaam, who loved the wages of unrighteousness, we have three chapters in the book of Numbers containing some of the most glorious prophecies in the Bible, which came from his unhallowed lips. God was overruling for blessing.

So God was overruling here, and He used a bad man, a time-serving politician, to utter a tremendous truth. “This spake he not of himself: but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation” (v. 51). He did not know it, but the Spirit of God was speaking through those unclean lips. “He prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation,” though not in the sense that he meant. He meant that the death of this innocent man would be used to save the nation from the Romans. It did not do that, for the Jews were carried away in due time. But the prophecy was true in the sense that He was to become the great sin offering, taking the blame for that nations guilt upon Himself, that load of sin, and bearing it before God and enduring the judgment that sin deserved. This was what Isaiah saw when, looking down through the ages with the eyes of faith, he said, “He was wounded for our transgressions; he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all” (53:5).

“One man should die for the people.” Here was the great Kinsman-Redeemer who looked upon His own nation, sold under sin, and said, “I will pay the price in My own precious blood,” and so He gave Himself a ransom for all. But His death was not only for that nation. We read: “That Jesus should die for that nation, and not for that nation only, but that… he should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad” (vv. 51b-52). That is, the work of our Lord Jesus Christ on Calvary was not to be simply for the nation of Israel. It was for that nation. He did come to bear the sins and guilt of that nation; He did come to redeem His own people. But He also said, “Other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one [flock], and one shepherd” (John 10:16). Those “other sheep” are the Gentiles, the nations outside of Israel, the nations which at that time did not have any written revelation from God. They had no Bible, no prophets, and no teachers. They had the testimony of creation and had turned away from that. Because of this God had given them up to all kinds of sin and uncleanness, yet His heart went out to them. He had settled it that His blessed Son would give Himself a ransom for all. Oh, the amazing grace, that God should send Jesus and that Jesus should gladly come to die for a guilty world. We read, “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners [and the apostle Paul could add]; of whom I am chief” (1 Tim. 1:15). We sing today,

Saved by the blood of the crucified One,
Ransomed from sin and a new life begun;
Sing praise to the Father, and praise to the Son,
I’m saved by the blood of the crucified One.

We dare to say that there is no sinner in all the world today so vile and guilty. But if he will come in the merit of that sacrifice on the cross, God will receive him to Himself, freely forgive him, and give him a new life. Am I addressing anyone who has not realized that He died to “gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad”? Wherever you are today, if you are bowed down beneath the sense of your sin and guilt, if your conscience is accusing you before a holy God and you are saying, “Oh, that I knew how I might make my peace with God, how I might get right with Him,” you do not have to make peace with Him yourself. Jesus made peace by the blood of His cross. Come to Him with a broken and a contrite heart. Confess your iniquity and trust Him as your Savior. You may know His redeeming grace today. You may come just as you are.

But notice further, in connection with the account of this effort to railroad the Son of God to a felon’s death on the part of men who knew Him to be innocent, we read, “Then from that day forth they took counsel together for to put him to death” (John 11:53). There was no softening of the heart nor any sense of their own wickedness. Sin is such a hardening thing. We are warned against the danger of being hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. The only way to deal with sin is to face it honestly before God, who alone can give salvation from its power through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Following this, we are told that “Jesus…walked no more openly among the Jews; but went thence unto a country near to the wilderness, into a city called Ephraim, and there continued with his disciples” (v. 54). The hour had not yet come that He was to be delivered up to death, so He labored on, ministering in another district.

And we are told the Jews’ Passover was at hand. That is a strange expression as we noticed before—the Jews’ Passover. It was originally a feast of the Lord, but they were going on with the outward observances while rejecting the Christ of whom the feast spoke. I think we see something like this at the present time. I am afraid that there are thousands of people who are very punctilious about church membership and attendance on divine service, who lay great stress on Christian ordinances such as the sacred ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and yet are in their hearts rejecting the Savior of whom these things speak. God, who looks down upon them, sees them as empty rites and ceremonies that men in the flesh are carrying out and that avail them nothing because they are refusing the Lord Jesus Christ.

Think of the solemnity, for instance, of observing the Lord’s Supper and taking the bread and wine that speak of a crucified Savior while rejecting that Savior, refusing to trust Him, spurning His grace, eating and drinking judgment to one’s own soul, not discerning the Lord’s body. Let us be honest and face things as they actually are before Him.

The Jews’ Passover was nigh at hand. Many went out of the country up to Jerusalem to purify themselves. These were country people, not the people of the city who had rejected Him, and it is of some of these we read, “The common people heard him gladly” (Mark 12:37).

And as they came to keep the feast of the Passover, they wondered, “Shall we get an opportunity to see Him?” They were anxious to see Him and listen to His teaching. They sought for Him and spoke among themselves: “What think ye, that he will not come to the feast?” (John 11:56). Oh, yes, He would be there. In a little while they would see Him, but alas, all His wondrous grace would not change the attitude of the leaders.

We read, “Now both the chief priests and the Pharisees had given a commandment, that, if any man knew where he were, he should show it, that they might take him” (v. 57). What for? That they might test His claims and face things honestly before God and decide whether this was really the Messiah or not? Oh, no, not that. They gave “commandment, that, if any man knew where he were, he should show it, that they might take him” and arrest Him, and thus bring about His death. How little they realized that one was yet to come forward who would betray Him to them, and that one numbered among His own!