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John 11:53-57 Celebrity, Criminal or the Christ?

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Sunday, April 20, 2008

Celebrity, criminal or the Christ?

John 11:53-57

56 They kept looking for Jesus, and as they stood in the temple area they asked one another, “What do you think? Isn’t He coming to the Feast at all?” 57 But the chief priests and Pharisees had given orders that if anyone found out where Jesus was, He should report it so that they might arrest Him.            John 11:56-57 NIV

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If I were to ask you what is the central story of John chapter 11, it is likely you would answer, “The raising of Lazarus.”

Chapter 11 began with Mary and Martha sending an urgent request to Jesus to come to Bethany because their brother, Lazarus, whom He loved, was sick. Jesus made an intentional decision to delay in going to Bethany because He understood the larger purpose for His life. You see, there were some emergencies that, quite honestly, would only be distractions to His God-given assignment.

From the perspective of Martha and Mary, they couldn’t understand why their emergency didn’t become top priority on Jesus’ schedule. They were expecting Him to drop everything and meet their need. But, Jesus was responding from a different perspective where He could see that His most loving action would be to delay.

When we are on the receiving end of delay, it can be very difficult to accept and even more difficult to understand.

As chapter 11 unfolds, we see the larger picture that brings together the needs of Mary and Martha with the purposes God has for His Son, Jesus Christ. As painful as it was for his sisters, Lazarus died, but his death provided the opportunity for God to could show the glory of His Son and declare resoundingly that one day there will be a resurrection of the dead.

But this display of Christ’s glory by raising Lazarus did not make believers out of everyone. Or, maybe more accurately, it didn’t translate into everyone becoming obedient followers. Many believed and followed. But some determined all the more to resist Jesus and oppose Him. Sadly, it was the religious leaders who were foremost in leading the opposition.

Here’s a portion of our text from last week.

John 11:47-50 (NIV)

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 miraculous 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 place and our nation.”

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.”

This morning, we take up the story at verse 53. These final verses from John chapter 11 serve as a transition from a large section of John that displayed Christ’s role in the Jewish festivals, including the Sabbath and Passover, that coincidently stirred up opposition that we now see coming to a climax.

Follow with me, if you would, as I read our text for today.

John 11:53-57 (NIV)

53 So from that day on they plotted to take His life.

54 Therefore Jesus no longer moved about publicly among the Jews. Instead He withdrew to a region near the desert, 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 area they asked one another, “What do you think? Isn’t He coming to the Feast at all?” 57 But the chief priests and Pharisees had given orders that if anyone found out where Jesus was, he should report it so that they might arrest Him.

I would like to address three themes from this text. Retreat, Countdown and Decision.

First, Retreat.

53 So from that day on they plotted to take His life.

54 Therefore Jesus no longer moved about publicly among the Jews. Instead He withdrew to a region near the desert, to a village called Ephraim, where He stayed with His disciples.

Jesus withdrew from the public spotlight. Can anyone of us blame Him for this? It isn’t hard for anyone of us to identify with His predicament. And, I would suspect, we would all support His decision to retreat. Unless, however, we are the ones with an emergency to which we needed Him to fix for us.

But, would we not say that it is wise to get away periodically from the hubbub and pressures of life for rest, relaxation and renewal? Even for us who live with a multitude of time-saving devices need to carve out times to retreat so we can be replenished in our bodies and our souls.

This idea of retreats is really nothing new for Jesus. He practiced them routinely. Mark tells us that He would go off to a solitary place early in the morning. Most likely this was a daily (time alone with God) discipline of His to be alone with His Father in prayer.

Mark 1:35 (NIV) 35 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where He prayed.

Mark also tells us that He would retreat with His disciples to have undistracted time with them.

Mark 4:33-34 (NIV)

33 With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand. 34 He did not say anything to them without using a parable. But when He was alone with His own disciples, He explained everything.

Luke records that Jesus regularly set aside time to honor the Sabbath day and spent that day with fellow worshipers feeding on the Word of God and fellowshipping.

Luke 4:16 (NIV)

16 He went to Nazareth, where He had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day He went into the synagogue, as was His custom. And He stood up to read.

Mark helps us see that when the schedule got overwhelming that Jesus initiated periodic & extended retreats from the stress in order to get some rest, to be quiet and be renewed in the presence of God.

Mark 6:30-32 (NIV)

30 The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to Him all they had done and taught. 31 Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, He said to them, “Come with Me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”

32 So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place.

Therefore, it doesn’t surprise us that we would read in our text for today that Jesus would retreat to a secluded place at this particular time and do it with His disciples.

54 Therefore Jesus no longer moved about publicly among the Jews. Instead He withdrew to a region near the desert, to a village called Ephraim, where He stayed with His disciples.

So there we have three different types of retreat. One, a daily retreat to be alone with God to listen to Him and to speak with Him. We see Jesus carving out that time early in the morning. A time when the distractions were few. The phone was not ringing. The solicitors were not approaching. And most were still sleeping. A daily retreat to be alone with God. Jesus considered it a necessity for His life.

The second type of retreat Jesus consistently engaged in was the weekly Sabbath rest. It was a day spent with fellow worshipers praising God, hearing God’s Word and in fellowship together. Even as Lord of the Sabbath, Jesus honored that day as a time of spiritual renewal and mutual encouragement with those who understood that God is worthy to be worshiped. Thus, He reserved the Sabbath day as the Lord’s Day, a time for worship and fellowship with others who loved God. It was a weekly retreat.

The third type of retreat we see Jesus employ in His life was a periodic or episodic retreat in response to the excess burdens and pressures that life was laying on Him These retreats were for the purpose of spiritual and physical rest and renewal. Clearly, these were in addition to His daily and weekly retreats. They appear to often be extended in time; like the one in our text for today where He took His disciples to Ephraim. This retreat could have been several days and possibly even as long as a couple of weeks.

So, here we see in our text that Jesus valued and practiced retreat as a significant part of maintaining His strength, His vibrancy and His focus.

The second theme that rises out of our text is what I am calling Countdown. Countdown is the honest recognition that we are all finite beings while residing on planet earth. There is appointed for each of us a time to die.

We read in Hebrews 9:27-28 (NIV)

27 Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, 28 so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and He will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him.

Jesus understood better than anyone around Him that His earthly life was rapidly coming to a close. He knew that He was the supreme Passover Lamb and that that Lamb was going to be sacrificed at this upcoming Passover celebration, now only days away.

Jesus understood the Countdown. He understood that it was integral to His purpose for being here.

This was going to be a very different Passover. It would mean an end of the sacrificial system because His sacrifice would be perfect, covering the sins of all people, past, present and future. There would no longer be a need for the temporary, yearly sin sacrifice of lambs and goats.

Now, just think how differently these next words would sound to Jesus than even to His disciples who still didn’t grasp that Jesus would die in Jerusalem.

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 area they asked one another, “What do you think? Isn’t He coming to the Feast at all?”

Jesus had established a pattern of coming to the Jewish Passover. It’s very possible that from the age of 12, He made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem for Passover, singing the Psalms of Ascent as He approached Jerusalem. But now, in the past two years, He had become a highly controversial figure. And this year, there was a warrant out for His arrest. There may even have been the equivalent of Most Wanted posters at all points of entry into Jerusalem and around the Temple. The word was out for all to know that if anyone found out where Jesus was, he should report it so that the Sanhedrin might arrest Him.

So as the general population was anticipating another Passover and were preparing themselves by doing the ceremonial cleansing, Jesus was viewing the approach of Passover with the heaviness of the toughest part of His life’s mission still ahead of Him. When He would leave this special place of retreat, He would be walking with resolve and purpose to the cross where He would die.

As a nation we will soon be remembering those who have given their lives in service to our country. They, and many others who died for the preservation of life, share something very special with Jesus. For Him, His greatest fulfillment was going to be found in His death.

Jesus understood His purpose and He understood the Countdown to its fulfillment. He lived His life to fulfill His purpose. But, He also knew He lived within a limited time frame to accomplish His life’s mission.

As we see the converging of two conflicting purposes that will meet head to head in Jerusalem, we must heed the warning that resides in this conflict. Only one life, it will soon be past. Only what's done for Christ will last. We must be giving ourselves to the purpose and mission assignment that God has given to us. We must understand that we are living in a countdown. We do not have forever to accomplish our life’s purpose.

We must take our cues from our Lord Jesus Christ about how to live life and be exceedingly wary walking in the path of the Sanhedrin. They were giving themselves to outward righteousness without inward righteousness. They were washing the outside of the cup and failing to wash the inside.

Here they were preparing for Passover by observing ceremonial cleansing and at the same time were plotting the murder of, not only an innocent man, but the Savior of the world. How can these two behaviors co-exist in the same person?

In Mark 7:9 (NIV) Jesus spoke to this hypocrisy and made it clear that adherence to traditions did not equate to obedience of God’s commands.

9 And He said to them: “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!

Their hypocrisy is sadly obvious when they take Jesus to Pilate to get him to do their dirty work. Amazingly, they were trying to avoid becoming ceremonially unclean while blatantly trying to murder Jesus.

John 18:28 (NIV)

28 Then the Jews led Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor. By now it was early morning, and to avoid ceremonial uncleanness the Jews did not enter the palace; they wanted to be able to eat the Passover.

Did these men really believe they could stand before God on judgment day and think God would be pleased with them?

They, too, were on a countdown. Their days were numbered and the time of accountability was coming. Eternity was waiting and their present actions were determining where they would spend eternity.

The third theme that I see in our text is what I call Decision. Jesus needed to make a decision. John represents the decision in the form of giving an answer to the people’s question: Would Jesus come to Jerusalem for the Passover this year?

Jesus understood that He could not fulfill His life’s mission if He did not go to Jerusalem. Even with an abusively cruel trial awaiting Him there, He would go because the eternal destiny of humanity was at stake. He would go because He knew He was the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world.

But, Jesus was not the only one needing to make a decision. You see, Jesus understood the implications of going to Jerusalem for Himself and for the people. But, did the people understand the implications of Jesus coming to Jerusalem? Do they realize the dividing line that Jesus is? They cannot remain as mere onlookers. They were being pushed to takes sides. Therefore, they (the people) had a decision to make. Am I with Jesus or am I against Jesus? Where do I stand?

57 But the chief priests and Pharisees had given orders that if anyone found out where Jesus was, He should report it so that they might arrest Him.

So, had you been in Jerusalem at this time, would you have turned Jesus in had you known where He was? What if there was a considerable reward for doing so? What if there was a severe penalty for not doing so? What would your price be to turn Jesus in to the Sanhedrin?

On what basis would you make your decision? His innocence? Your faith in Him as truly being the Son of God? Your allegiance to Him because of some blessing you had received from Him?

If you realized that alignment with Jesus meant you risked suffering the same fate as He did, would you really be as willing to attach yourself to Him? Would you be compelled to live obediently while being mocked, ridiculed and possibly even jailed?

Jesus isn’t the only one who has a decision to make. So do we.

What will make our decision easier is if we have developed and cultivated the disciplines of retreat. It is during those times of retreat that our relationship with Christ is solidified. It’s in those minutes and hours of relating with Christ that our relationship gets personal and tight. He becomes our true friend and Savior. We become eager to serve Him as our Lord.

I commend to you three disciplines of retreat.

The First Retreat is our Daily time alone with our Lord, hearing from Him through His Word and talking with Him in prayer. These can be as little as 5 minutes, though the benefits increase with longer times.

The Second Retreat is our Weekly Sabbath Rest with fellow worshipers. This is the discipline of reserving Sunday as the Lord’s Day to be renewed in spirit and body by engaging in worship of our Lord, instruction from God’s Word and fellowship with God’s people. That is precisely what we have designed Sunday mornings to offer you.

Jesus considered this so important that He made it a practice to reserve time to honor the Weekly Sabbath Rest.

It is the opinion and observation of many, many Christian leaders that when a Christian honors the Lord’s Day, the likelihood for spiritual growth, maturity and vitality increases in direct proportion to the honor it is given.

The Third Retreat is our Periodic or Episodic Retreat. These are extended times of spiritual and physical rest and renewal. We need to schedule times to get away for spiritual refreshment. Attending special conferences can meet this need. Attending week long or weekend Christian conferences as part of a vacation can bring a spiritual dimension to your relaxation that will make your physical renewal even more lasting.

With the advent of DVD players and so many good Christian teaching series’ available on DVD, creating your own Christian conference as part of a personal or family vacation can raise the significance and benefit from an extended retreat.

Would you in the next few moments review your commitment to these three retreats?

1. When in your daily schedule will you get alone with God to be in His word and prayer?

2. How do you assess your commitment to your weekly retreat of keeping the Sabbath rest by honoring the Lord’s Day by worshiping and fellowshipping with fellow believers?

3. And, lastly, when are you planning an extended retreat that will refresh both your body and your soul?

Take a moment of quiet. What is God saying? Then, we will close by listening to the Cadet Sisters sing, Oh, I want to know You more.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b5YjbOfoDH4

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