John 11:45-48 (ESV): 45 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. 47 So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council 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.”
At the end of John 11, we see an articulation by the Pharisees of the actual plot to kill Jesus. If you aren’t familiar with the Bible, you might find it a surprising fact that the Pharisees were actually very religious. Furthermore, it wasn’t just any religion. They were leaders of the Jewish people that followed the God of the Old Testament. In fact, to the common observer they followed the God of Israel with a very high level of commitment. The Pharisees even added to the law found in the Old Testament, an astonishing statement if you know anything about the regulations it contains! These men would have been extremely well versed in the Old Testament, very familiar with the law and with such topics as prophecies concerning the coming of the Messiah, the hope of Israel.
But, when Jesus, the actual Messiah and central figure to which the Old Testament points, interacts with them directly, it typically doesn’t end well for them. Jesus wasn’t impressed with their external conformance to their trumped up version of the law. That’s because Jesus knew their hearts. Matthew 23 contains a list of pronouncements that Jesus makes against the Pharisees. Just to give you a taste, it involves calling them “blind guides,” “hypocrites,” and “fools.” Matthew 23:27-28 provides a nice summary statement regarding where the Pharisees, by in large, got off track.
Matthew 23:27-28 (ESV): 27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. 28 So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
Jesus says the Pharisees are like one of those beautiful above ground tombs in New Orleans. Outside, it’s ornate marble, and inside, it’s full of death. They got so obsessed with the regulations that they lost sight of the point of the regulations. The law points to our need for Christ. If we could be righteous on our own, then why did Jesus, the Son of God, have to come and die? God’s holiness is unapproachable. In light of that, we are all dead in our sin apart from being born again of the Spirit. To think that we can follow rules in order to be holy enough to enter into heaven is to trample the cross underfoot.
In the Pharisees’ attempt to keep the law to the fullest extent and then some, they actually ended up exchanging the law for lawlessness. They became their own gods, and failed miserably at accomplishing the very essence of the law: loving God and loving others. And here, in John 11:45-48, upon being told of the fact that Jesus had raised someone from the dead their first reaction is not awe and wonder, but malice and murder. The Son of God that they have read about their whole lives is in front of their face. The very culmination of the law that they have worked so hard to keep is clothed with flesh. And, at best, they don’t recognize him and want to kill him for threatening their powerful positions. At worst, they do recognize him and still want to do the same.
With regard to holiness, the sequencing is very important. The Pharisees thought that working to be holy would make them holy. But, Jesus tells them that it is the reverse. You have to be made holy before you can become holy. In contrast to ornate tombs full of death, this treasure is the free gift of God placed into ordinary clay vessels, repentant sinners that turn to Christ for forgiveness. Then, and only then, the outside can start to conform to the light that now shines within.
- Author Michael Green
- Date November 20, 2015