Summary: God orders everything for his glory and for saving his people.
Back in January we resumed our study in John at chapter seven. Since then we have moved verse by verse, arriving now at the end of chapter eleven. (Next week, Lord willing, we will begin a summer series on the Dynamic Church.) Here is a convenient place to pause, because we are at a major break in John’s story.
John’s Gospel began with a prologue, the first 18 verses. Then he writes what we call, “The Book of Signs.” Through chapter 11, John records seven of Jesus’ miracles. Each proves his divinity and points to his ministry. Today we conclude the Book of Signs; Jesus’ only other miracle is his own resurrection from the grave. Chapter 12 transitions us to the last week of his life and changes the focus from Jesus’ public ministry to the preparation of the disciples for his passion and their new life in the Messianic community.
In concluding his description of Jesus’ public ministry, John reminds us of two things. First, who Jesus is. God has come to die for and redeem his people. We must understand the person and work of Christ. Then, second, John confronts us with the necessity of response. Some believe in Jesus, and their lives were forever altered. Others hate the Lord and ensure their own destruction by plotting his. A third group appears to do nothing, they are intrigued by the drama but indifferent to his claims. But when push comes to shove, they too will turn against the Messiah. How will we respond? [Read John 11.45-57. Pray.]
We are a “creedal church.” In other words, we write down what we believe the Bible teaches. We insist that all of these documents and their statements are “subject to and subordinate to the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, the inerrant Word Of God,” (“Preface” to the PCA Book of Church Order). Nevertheless, we know the value (even the necessity) of stating exactly what we believe.
The Disciples of Christ is a denomination known for complaining about creeds and confessions. They have the somewhat clever slogan, “No creed but Christ,” for they claim creeds should never exclude anyone. But if you read their materials, they actually have creeds; “No Creed but Christ,” turns out to be a marketing gimmick. For example, the insist: “Christians must be baptized by immersion,” certainly a creed. But Americans like to make up their own minds on matters of religion, so the Disciples keep their creeds quiet and secretive.
Our practice is exactly opposite. We know that anyone can claim to believe the Bible and to follow Jesus, yet deny truths basic and essential to Christianity. So we state our beliefs as clearly and specifically as we know how, in a confession of faith. It is not perfect; it can be changed; it remains under the authority of the Bible — yet it explains our beliefs. I remind you of these issues, because verses 49-51 reveal a doctrine of God’s sovereignty which offends human sensibilities.
ESV John 11.49-52: But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “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.” He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.
That narrative wraps around a core of God’s sovereignty over all creatures and actions. In other words, God so controls everything which comes to pass that even evil Caiaphas, spewing hatred of God’s grace in Jesus — even Caiaphas, does the will and work of God. Our Confession of Faith explains the doctrine taught in these verses:
3.1: God, from all eternity, did — by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will — freely and unchangeably ordain whatever comes to pass. Yet he ordered all things in such a way that he is not the author of sin, nor does he force his creatures to act against their wills; neither is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.
3.2: Although God knows whatever may or can come to pass under all conceivable conditions, yet he has not decreed anything because he foresaw it as future or as that which would come to pass under such conditions. (From the © 1993 Modern English Study Version of the Westminster Confession of Faith, prepared by the Committee on Christian Education of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.)
Both Caiaphas and the Confession teach that God orders all things; now I remind you that the sovereign Lord “now commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” Two things for us to note: