Reframing the Plot | John 11:45-12:11

April 28, 2019 Series: REFRAMING JESUS | Portraits of Glory from John's Gospel

Topic: Gospel Passage: John 11:45–12:11


Hello and good morning! My name is Randy, and I’m one of the pastors here – welcome to Damascus Road Church. If you were a first-time visitor last week for Easter, I want to assure you that this is not a bait-and-switch. Chris, who preached last week, is the one who preaches most often – but he’s filling in at Sound City Bible Church in Shoreline and giving their lead pastor a break. So, Chris will be back next week.

This morning we will be continuing our series in the Book of John that we’re calling “Reframing Jesus.” In this series, our goal is not at all to change or redefine who Jesus is, but rather to work hard at reframing our perspective of Jesus and the gospel so that it is alignment with the truth. 

So this morning we will going backward to where we left off two weeks ago – we jumped ahead to preach the resurrection on Easter – and we’ll be starting in John 11:45, rewinding to the week leading up to the crucifixion. 

The Plot to Kill Jesus (John 11:45-57)

John 11:45-46 ESV Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him, -46- but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done.

We are told that there are Jews who had come with Mary – and that they had seen what he (Jesus) did and believed (in Jesus). It’s important to make sure that we understand what had happened immediately before… much of what we are talking about today is connected to it, so let’s just take another step back to recap what had happened.

John records many miracles – or signs – that Jesus performed, but the most powerful up until now was raising this man named Lazarus from the dead. Lazarus was a friend of Jesus, and brother to Mary and Martha. So when this chapter talks about Mary, it’s not the mother of Jesus, and it’s also not Mary Magdalene (who we saw in last week’s passage). It’s Mary, the sister of Lazarus – the guy who Jesus raised from the dead after he had been in the tomb for four days (which is solidly in the bodies have started to smell phase).

Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead. A dead, smelly, corpse is restored to life and there are witnesses. Word spreads. People are talking. It’s a sensational thing to have witnessed. It demonstrates who Jesus is with inescapable clarity. But there are two responses to Jesus revealing his power:

  1. Belief.
  2. Rejection. But not a neutral “not really my cup of tea” rejection… active hatred and vitriol.

And we’ve certainly seen this dynamic of either belief or hatred play out several times throughout the book of John. Jesus says or does something amazing, revealing who he is, and the response of some is to intensify their efforts to get rid of him. This is the third time that we are told in John that something Jesus did caused a division among the Jews. Some believed, some hated.

A question for us to consider this morning is: If some react to Jesus’s revelation with faith and others with hatred, what is it that determines which response someone has? Keep that question in mind as we go along… what is the deciding factor in whether someone trusts Jesus or hates him?

 John 12:47-48 ESV So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council [Sanhedrin] and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. -48- 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.”

So this council forms in order to discuss what should be done about this Jesus. This would have been the Sanhedrin, which consisted of 71 men who were in a position of authority over the Jews… sort of. The Jews, in this point in history, were a vassal state. They were under the reign and rule of the Roman Empire. The Jewish leaders were powerless to do anything to stand up to the Romans. So, although the Sanhedrin was the highest level of human authority to the Jews – the Sanhedrin was afraid of provoking the Roman government to anger.

And so we begin to see that they’re really in a bind. This nobody named Jesus has appeared and is gaining quite a following. In fact, this whole raising Lazarus from the dead thing has really gotten everyone excited about this Jesus. And their kingdom – their position of power, influence, wealth, significance, and superiority – can only exist so long as status quo is maintained. If Jesus gains momentum, they will lose control of the people, and Romans will respond by removing their power. They will no longer “rule” the Jews. All they have worked for will fall apart.

If you take a step back and look at this, what is the real issue they have with Jesus? Is it his theology? Is it really his claim to be God? If it were just these two issues, I could actually respect them for that. If someone walked in here and claimed to be God, I would be upset about that… as would the other elders. We’d have some meetings to discuss the best way to deal with them. We’d denounce them as a heretic. We would actively work to protect the flock from the influence of a maniac. But this isn’t really what the Pharisees’ problem is. So what’s their big problem with Jesus?

He is a threat to their way of life.

And we have to be really careful to not distance ourselves too much from the Pharisees in this sense. Because if we’re honest… if I’m honest… Jesus can be a threat to our way of life. To my way of life. To the idols of our hearts. If you are a Christian, where does Jesus continue to be a threat to your way of life? Finances? Sexual purity? How you spend your spare time? What you say or think about that one person? Your marriage? Your parenting? How we engage with work? Kids: does Jesus get to be in charge of how you clean your room, or how you do your homework, or how you respond to your parents?

In all of these things, Jesus will offend and threaten us at times – and we should be careful to respond with trust rather than refusal and defiance. 

And the plot thickens.

John 11:49-57 ESV But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. -50- 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.” -51- He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, -52- and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. -53- So from that day on they made plans to put him to death. -54- 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. -55- Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and many went up from the country to Jerusalem before the Passover to purify themselves. -56- 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?” -57- 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.

Caiaphas comes to the rescue. Good old Caiaphas. He’s got a solution to their conundrum: murder. He basically tells them, “you’re all idiots – why are you so afraid? All we have to do is have him killed!” And in verse 50, he says something that is pretty stunning – “it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.”

Now, Caiaphas is speaking with evil intent here… and what he is intending to say is “we can preserve our way of being by killing this one man. Otherwise our whole nation is gone.”

But if you’re even a little bit familiar with the bible, this should sound remarkably familiar to the most commonly used and memorized passage in the entire bible. John 3:16-17:

John 3:16-17 ESV “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. -17- For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

And then John adds a nugget of gold for us right here. He tells us that Caiaphas – as the high priest – actually prophesied (made a statement on God’s behalf) that Jesus would die for the nation and not just for the nation for the children of God who are scattered abroad.

What?! Caiaphas foretells that Jesus would, indeed die, both for Israel and for those far off… and we see that God, who caused him to prophesy, has also caused him to pursue the death of Jesus. In this detail, we see a profound truth that is at work – both in the words Caiaphas says and in our lives today. 

Here is the truth that is on display: God is working through the plots of our lives more than we know or can imagine. Just like he was working through this plot of Caiaphas to reveal his glory and accomplish his plan – which was quite literally to save the world through the death of one man (Jesus) – God works in our lives right now.

Remember the story of Joseph from Genesis? After all he went through at the hands of his brothers who tried to kill him, he says “What you meant for evil, God intended for Good.”

One of the most foundational passages in my life is Romans 8:28

Romans 8:28 ESV And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

Caiaphas thinks he knows what he’s doing. He thinks he’s in charge. But he’s not. God was in charge then, and he’s in charge now. God is even using the evil and broken things we see in the world to accomplish his purpose. I hope you can see that is at the very heart of the gospel. Evil men with murderous intent act to bring about the very thing that has brought me life through Christ. 

The great irony of what is happening in Caiaphas’s words is that he believes that by murdering Jesus he is protecting the temple, and the nation of Israel… but not too long after this, Rome comes and destroys the temple and tears down what Caiaphas thinks he’s preserving.

God is working through the plots of our lives more than we know or can imagine. Does that bring you peace? If not, let me encourage you to go back to Romans 8 and read verses 28-38 and see how peace can come from trusting in God’s good and sovereign will. Let me also encourage you to share your struggle with others through gospel community. It’s one of our core values here. If you’re struggling to find peace in this truth, talk with your Road Group. Let them encourage you and pray for you. Let them speak into your life.

The Plot to Worship Jesus (John 12:1-8)

While Caiaphas and the rest are plotting to kill Jesus, another plot is developing… a plot to worship Jesus.

John 12:1-8 ESV Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. -2- So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table. -3- Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. -4- But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, -5- “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” -6- He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it. -7- Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. -8- For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.”

Jesus goes to Bethany for a dinner party thrown in his honor. We see a tender, beautiful, expressive act of devotion from Mary. It takes your breath away to consider what was happening. But, I first want to draw your attention to Martha. What’s Martha doing? Look at verse 2: Martha served. She’s serving the meal. There’s a good chance she had been working for hours to prepare a meal, and she’s still going. Did you know that there’s another record of Martha serving a meal to Jesus? It’s in Luke 10, and it would have pre-dated the meal here in John 12.

Luke 10:38-42 ESV Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. -39- And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching. -40- But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” -41- But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, -42- but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” 

At first, it seems like not much has changed. Martha is serving. Mary is overly expressive an emotive and doesn’t seem to understand that work needs to be done (if you can’t tell, I’m more like Martha than Mary)!

But what’s different about Martha in John 12? She doesn’t complain! When Jesus corrects Martha in Luke 10, he tells here she’s anxious and troubled about many things that don’t matter. He says one thing is necessary. Just one thing. Martha’s heart wasn’t focused on worshipping Jesus. But it seems like that lesson from Jesus impacted Martha… in John 12 she’s serving again, but in that simple statement “Martha served,” what I see is “Martha worshipped.” But that she worshipped in the way she loved to worship… Which was vastly different than Mary’s. When we worship like Martha – by serving others in seemingly ordinary ways with our hearts oriented toward worshipping Jesus – on a heart level, that service is equal to the dramatic, outward worship like Mary’s. God delights in them equally. He uses them equally. 

If you’re a Martha: Don’t let the fact that your service might go unnoticed, uncelebrated, or unappreciated lead you into frustration or disillusionment. But remember that in your service that one same thing is necessary. A heart attitude of worship.

And Mary’s act of worship is incredible. She takes the ointment – I’m assuming nard smells better than it sounds – and anoints Jesus’s feet, and probably his head too (a pound is a lot of ointment for just the feet). Things that stand out about what Mary does:

  1. Her worship was costly. We know this in part because of Judas’s response. The ointment (according to Judas’s calculations) was worth about $36,000 in today’s money. Apparently nard was very costly because its production involved extracting oil from the roots of mountain flowers in the Himalayas. Mary had a pound of pure nard. Does your worship cost you anything?
  2. Her worship was intimate. Mary is wiping Jesus feet with her hair. That doesn’t happen without a great deal of emotional vulnerability. Is your worship intimate? Do you even know how to connect emotionally with God?
  3. Her worship was unhindered/unashamed. What Mary did was sure to raise some eyebrows. Even for a woman to let down her hair in that culture communicated loose morals. And for her to openly express herself in this way required a certain abandon. “Who cares what they think… I love Jesus, and this is how I can express it!” Do you ever feel ashamed to outwardly express your heart’s worship? What’s holding you back? What would it look like for you to let your hair down in worshipping God?

We can learn some things from how Martha and Mary worship Jesus. But we must understand that our worship will be imperfect. I’m encouraging you to embody certain aspects of their worship, but we have to remember that we can’t manufacture that response to who Jesus is. 

So where does this response come from? One element is simply knowing Jesus. Mary spent time listening to Jesus and hearing his voice. But that alone isn’t enough. It’s not enough to say – “I read my Bible… I pray!!” The reality is that Judas spent time with Jesus, and he betrayed Jesus for an amount that would have only bought about one third of Mary’s ointment. Spending time with Jesus is important, but on its own it is nothing more than empty religion that has no lasting value.

Worship is the result of faith in Jesus. It flows out of a heart that understands the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It comes from knowing and believing that you are guilty of sin. And that our sin has earned us the worst possible outcome – eternal separation from God in hell. But, as Paul says in Ephesians 2, God being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us… even when we were dead in our sin… even when we did all we could do to disobey, dishonor, and revile him… even then God made us alive together with Christ. Jesus died to save you. You have been transferred from darkness to light. You have been made a child of God, adopted into his family because of Jesus’s death. God has every right to disown you and turn his face from you but says – you can be my child if you simply believe. That’s all that is required from any of us. We are made right with God through faith in Jesus and are promised an eternity with God.

That’s the reality we can live in as gospel-centered Jesus people. When we do, our hearts can’t help but to sing his praises! That’s how we can live out Paul’s encouragement in Romans 12:1…

Romans 12:1 ESV  I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

The Plot to See Jesus (John 12:9-11)

As we close, we will read just two more verses and I’ll make one final point. 

John 12:9-11 ESV When the large crowd of the Jews learned that Jesus was there, they came, not only on account of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. -10- So the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well, -11- because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus.

It’s plain to see what’s happening here. A living Lazarus has become a problem for the chief priests, and so they decide to kill him too. But I want to close with just one more encouragement that is right here in these verses. Let me start by just asking a question. What do we know about Lazarus?

All we know about Lazarus is that he died and was brought back to life. His words are not recorded. We don’t know of anything he did with his new life. Yet we can see why the chief priests want to murder him. His witness for Jesus is effective, but because of the work Jesus did – not what he himself had done or said. His new life is a monument to Jesus’s power.

Christians, you are Lazarus! Your new life is a miracle! You were dead in the darkness of your sins but God said, “Come out”. And like Lazarus we come out all bound up, but Christ says, “Unbind him and let him go.” The only way to account for the change that happens in the life of a believer is the power of God. If you have new life through Jesus, you are proof of the reality of Jesus Christ. 

Do you think Lazarus carried the miracle of being given new life with him for the rest of his life? I’m sure he did. May we also never forget that we’ve been given new life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

More in REFRAMING JESUS | Portraits of Glory from John's Gospel

September 1, 2019

Reframing Restoration | John 21

August 18, 2019

Reframing Doubt | John 20:24-31

August 4, 2019

Reframing Security | John 20:19-23