5th Sunday in Lent – 3/26/2023
"Who needs Jesus anyway!" exclaimed the woman in her anger. The Lord did not seem to hear her cries and prayers for her husband to be healed but instead allowed him to die. As she sat, eyes full of tears and hands still clutching what was now the very cold and lifeless hand of her expired husband, I was overwhelmed with a sense of utter sadness. "Did she mean she didn't need or want Jesus, or was it all simply a temporary insanity caused by the pain of her loss?"
As time passed, the widow's anger with Jesus subsided somewhat, but sadly, her relationship with Him was never again what it once was. Her worship life degenerated. Her joy vanished. It became increasingly apparent that she was more than disappointed that Jesus did not save her husband from dying. She felt betrayed by Jesus. It also became clear that the Jesus she had always put her faith in was not the real, Biblical Jesus. Her Jesus was not the Jesus' who was willing to defeat death by succumbing to suffering and death in her husband's place, in her place. No, her Jesus had always been some genie in a bottle, a Jesus she could count on to grant all her wishes. This time, however, her wish was not granted. Her genie had turned on her. The real, Biblical Jesus threatened her, so she preferred to have little, if anything, to do with Him.
Astonishingly, the most significant celebrity in our world is still Jesus Christ of Nazareth. His book, The Holy Bible, is still the number one bestseller. And, as the new movie "Jesus Revolution" now being played in theaters across the country, as well as the popular new series "The Chosen" illustrates, many remain fascinated by Jesus. Unfortunately, as often happens, novels and movies concerning Jesus or His message are only sometimes wholly factual, historical, or Biblical portrayals of Jesus or what He taught. The writers and producers often utilize extensive artistic license. Their Jesus can be quite a different Jesus than the One of the Holy Bible. All too often, their Jesus is not the Jesus of the cross.
Enter the chief priests, Pharisees, and other elders of the Sanhedrin of the first century. Upon hearing the wonderful news that Jesus had miraculously raised Lazarus of Bethany from the dead, simply by His word, these pious men began to feel even more threatened by Jesus. They had long been working to discredit Jesus and undermine his teachings. However, this undeniable miracle of bringing a decomposing corpse to life made it almost impossible to explain Jesus' divine authority away. "What are we to do?" they asked one another. "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 our place and our nation."
Unbelievable! These religious leaders would have been overjoyed for Mary and Martha, not Lazarus. But you see, for these leaders in Israel, it wasn't about Lazarus, Mary, or Martha. It wasn't even about the truth! It was all about what this might mean for their power base. Sure, they could appreciate his miracle as an act of compassion, which it was. But Jesus was not playing the game their way. He was not the Messiah they wanted—a leader who would take direction from them and rid them and their nation of the dominance of the Romans.
The real Jesus, however, had no political ambitions, and He made it clear on many occasions that He had not come to give credence and support to the wayward leadership of the corrupt ruling Jews. He cast out their money changers from the temple grounds. He even publicly labeled them "blind guides... hypocrites... white-washed tombs that appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness" (Matt. 23:27). Jesus also emphasized that He had not come to be served but to serve and give His life as a ransom for many. His reign was to be marked by compassion, not a sword.
So we see in Jesus' raising of Lazarus. It was all about compassion for those in need. John tells us that Jesus was visibly "troubled in spirit" (v. 35). This word, translated as "troubled," has to do with a very physical and observable shaking of the body. In other words, anyone could readily see the empathy and emotional investment of Jesus in this whole affair.
But for these self-righteous leaders, what Jesus did was not about how loving and compassionate He was to help the grief-stricken. Instead, what Jesus did was irrefutable testimony that Jesus was someone to reckon with—someone whose claims to be the Son of God needed to be taken seriously. And this threatened their theology, not to mention their political grip on the nation.
There's no denying that Jesus' miracles were, in fact, bold testimony to Jesus' true identity as the Son of God. Consistently in his Gospel, John calls these miracles "signs." John specifically narrates six of them, beginning with the changing of water into wine at the wedding feast in Cana. The others are:
- The healing of the nobleman's son in Chapter 4.
- The feeding of the five thousand in Chapter 6.
- The restoration of the sick at Bethesda in Chapter 5.
- The healing of the man born blind in Chapter 9.
The accumulating effect of these tremendous miraculous signs, especially as they culminated in the resurrection of Lazarus, left little doubt that Jesus had to be more than a prophet, more than even a miracle worker.
I'm convinced that if Jesus had, throughout his three years of public ministry, made it a point to tamper down his rhetoric a bit, that is, not to be so insistent that He and God the Father are one or to insist that He is the true living bread that comes down out of heaven and that if any one eats of Him, he will live forever. These religious leaders might not have been so bothered by His miracles. After all, know the Pharisees believed in angels and miracles, unlike the Sadducees. They even believed in the resurrection of all believers on the last day. They also acknowledged the incredible feats God had done through His holy prophets.
But given all of Jesus' claims to be the Messiah and the Son of God Himself, and given that His miraculous works were so numerous, his latest miraculous sign of raising a man from his grave made it impossible to tolerate Jesus any longer. Jesus was becoming the de facto king of Israel. Among the populace that already despised Rome's Caesar and had little respect for the Sanhedrin, someone who exhibited power over death was a shoo-in to be made king and be crowned the Messiah. The religious leaders knew that would spell disaster for them. If the people had their long-awaited Messiah, they would have little use for the Sanhedrin. And all this would bring the wrath of Caesar upon them all. To say that they felt threatened by Jesus was an understatement. For them, it spelled inevitable disaster. The real Jesus had to go!
I'm afraid we have a whole world of people, even some who claim membership in Christ's church, who the real, biblical Jesus still threatens. Now, please take me right. They want and praise a compassionate Jesus who helps people with their needs, Who says pleasant and nice things about everyone, and Who doesn't hurt a fly? But they also love their Jesus to be someone who tolerates everyone, no matter what they believe or how they choose to live their lives, and who doesn't make them feel guilty about their evil thoughts or deeds. On top of it all, they relish a Jesus who can do great miracles, especially those who benefit their lives. They're happy to tell everyone they love this Jesus!
But here's the rub: Jesus is not a politician seeking election who is willing to be a chameleon and become whatever people want him to be so that he can be elected. Jesus is who He is, and He is as He has revealed himself in His word. He is, after all, the Word made flesh (Jn. 1:14). Jesus Himself has said, "You are either with me or against me" (Matt. 12:30). He has not come into our world to be what each one of us wants Him to be for us.
He has come as God in human flesh for one reason only—to win for us the deliverance we, as sinners, need more than anything else. He has come to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins to receive our punishment in our place.
Suppose people feel threatened by the actual, historical, Biblical Jesus or reject His teachings. How are they different from this group of Israel's religious elites seeking to kill Jesus of Nazareth? After all, if we reject those portions of the Bible that threaten our way of thinking about morality, our self-chosen lifestyle, or the worldview we want to hold, are we not also rejecting Him? Who is the Word Made Flesh?
The remarkable thing is, however, that even where Jesus is not revered as the Son of God—where people feel threatened by the true Jesus—where His Word is maligned and not taught rightly or believed sincerely—God can and will still bring forth the truth even from the lips of His enemies, if need be, as a testimony against them. Did He not, in the days of the prophet Balaam, open up the mouth of a donkey to proclaim His truth? (Num. 22:28-30)
So it is one of Jesus' foremost antagonists, the reigning high priest, Caiaphas, who is the one who speaks out the truth to his comrades in the Sanhedrin: "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." John makes it clear that Caiaphas was not speaking entirely on his own. He was unwittingly serving as the mouthpiece of God. John says that he was "prophesying."
You and I need not doubt that Caiaphas truly believed Jesus' death was necessary to save his position and the nation of Israel from the recrimination sure to come from Rome should Jesus be proclaimed God and King by the people.
But ironically, what Caiaphas said—that one should die for the sake of all—was correct, not politically but in reality to save all sinners from the consequences of their sins. There had to be a sacrifice to atone for the world's sins.
And it could not be just any sacrifice. It could not be any animal sacrifices that Caiaphas, the high priest, offered up in smoke on the altar in the Holy Temple. It had to be a genuinely unblemished, perfect sacrifice that could truly replace sinful human beings. It had to be a human sacrifice—a perfect man who kept God's law fully and at the same time was someone whose blood could be applied to everyone—blood so precious that no amount of silver or gold could purchase it (I Pet. 1:18–19). It would have to be God's blood. This sacrifice had to be offered, not by a high priest like Caiaphas, but by a high priest who did not first need to offer up a sacrifice for his sin and then one on behalf of the people but offered up His perfect, holy, and precious self. And, yes, even though this very truth threatened Caiaphas, it could only be Jesus from Nazareth, who alone was and is both God and man in one person, who had to offer up Himself in sacrifice for not only the whole nation but for every nation, every person, for you, and me!
There is no reason to be threatened by the real Jesus. Some of His teachings sound difficult and harsh to our 21st-century ears. But our ears have been molded by generations of false theology and philosophy of men, not to mention the lusts of our sinful hearts and the wicked schemes of our pop culture. But His words, and his alone, are truth and life! (John 14:6).
Yes, it is true: Jesus does not heal all our diseases when and where we think He should, and He does allow even His people to die before what we might think is their time. But he is Jesus crucified. His cross has sanctified our suffering to be as He was—a means to an eternally good end for us.
The real Jesus does not always give us what we want in this life. His love for us and our eternal welfare is more significant than that. His love moves him to work all things for our eternal good (Romans 8) and always to give us what we truly need to be saved for eternal life!
The real, biblical Jesus does not allow for any other way to heaven than through faith in Him. But so what? Do we want to end up in hell singing, "I did it my way? " I have the Jesus of my heart"? Or do we want to be able to rejoice for all of eternity in the heavenly presence of God with all of God's other children singing to the praise of the real Jesus, "He graciously saved me, a sinner, His way... by His holy, precious, sacrificial, and divine blood?"
Only the real Jesus, son of Mary and son of God, crucified for us sinners and raised for our justification, is the resurrection and the life, who breathes life into dead bones and makes them live! That is the Jesus we need and have in Jesus of Nazareth!