Jesus Died for the Nations

Yesterday was Good Friday and we wait to celebrate the resurrection tomorrow. It may look dark but Sunday’s coming. We look forward with anticipation because we look back on those events through the knowledge of the first Easter morning.

In my reading this week I discovered a chilling passage of Scripture:

Therefore the chief priests and the Pharisees convened a council, and were saying, “What are we doing? For this man is performing many signs. 48 If we let Him go on like this, all men will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” 49 But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all, 50 nor do you take into account that it is expedient for you that one man die for the people, and that the whole nation not perish.” 51 Now he did not say this on his own initiative, but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation, 52 and not for the nation only, but in order that He might also gather together into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. 53 So from that day on they planned together to kill Him. (John 11:47-53)

First off, notice the motivation of these religious leaders… basically they are saying, if we let Jesus go on like this, the government will come down on us and take our place and our nation. So, they were not concerned for the people, they feared losing their position in society and with the Roman leadership. How often are we also afraid of allowing Jesus control over our lives because we might lose position or status in the community? It may not be like losing your job. It may be more subtle, like “hiding our light under a bushel,” but we do it.

Next, Caiaphas declared that it is better for one man to die (kill this blasphemous rebel) rather than for the people to be led astray. I love John’s commentary at this point, that the High Priest spoke prophetically without realizing it. The reason for this post is to look at the words John used in this passage…

In John 11:50, Caiaphas mentions one man dying for the people. In Greek, the word laos is used, basically, the laity. The same is used today in reference to people in the church. For the most part, and for clarity, the word laity has been used as the people in the church, separated from those who may be considered professional clergy. Caiaphas says that the one man would die for the people, and he adds, in order to save the nation, ethnos, in Greek. He was referring to the nation of Israel under Roman rule.

But in John 11:51-52, notice how the Holy Spirit leads John to write about this prophetic utterance. He does not use the word laos, but rather ethnos. Jesus was not just dying for the people (laos as Caiaphas says), he was dying for the nation. But not just the Jewish nation, Jesus was dying for everyone, all the the nations. This is a great mission passage and we often just read over it on our way to more significant elements in the story.

This is the story of the cross, the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20). We are commanded to make disciples of all nations, pas ethnos, “all of the nations.” All these nations will be gathered together into one family of God (John 11:52). If you are a believer in person and work of Jesus, he died for you that day, and for all who claim Jesus as Lord and Savior.

[Image: Adrian Schiller as Caiaphas in Son of God.]

Called to Separation

I recently listened to Mac Brunson talk about Abraham’s call to leave Ur and go to the place God would show him. Here are a few observations.

First, I see this is God’s covenant with Abraham, not Abram’s covenant with God. We are in connection with a God who invites us into relationship with him on HIS terms, and he is not obligated to allow us into his presence on OUR terms.

Why did God choose Abraham? Why does God choose anyone? Mac told a story about being Billy Graham’s pastor, and Dr. Graham asked the same question, “Why did God call me?” We may ask a similar question, “Of all people, why did you choose me?”

The point of Mac’s talk was, we need to make our lives count for God’s glory and not our own. How can we do this? Life counts when we respond to God’s call for separation.

“Now the Lord said to Abram.” This statement distinguishes our God from all others. Remember Dagon? That idol could not speak, he just fell over before the Ark of the Lord. He couldn’t cry out for help… It was not like the commercial, “Help, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” because all other gods cannot speak.

God tells Abram to separate… go from Ur, go from your people, and go from your father’s house. Perhaps this is a progression from the easiest place to the most difficult. It is one thing to leave and go to a new place, even to reside among a new culture, but leaving your family is nearly out of the question.

Why is God calling him to separate? It is because God is always doing something new: Isaiah 42:9, 43:19, 62:2, Jeremiah 31:31, Ezekiel 11:19, and God wanted to do something new in Abram’s life.

Does God want to do anything new in YOUR life? Be honest. Do we ever WANT God to do something new? The older we get the less we like change, but God is constantly in the business of doing something new.

Think about 2 Corinthians 5:17. Does Paul say that God makes all things like they were 50 years ago? NO, for those in Christ, the old is passed away and all things become NEW. The questions is, “Will we make it difficult when God wants US to do something new?” This is way beyond individuals, what about the church? Is God calling us to change? If so, how? Why do we tend to drag our feet in response to God’s call for change?

God tells Abram to separate himself…

  1. Geographically. He was to leave Ur, with no clue where he was being led. God said to get up from where you are rooted and invested, and go over there to be rooted and invested in another place. God still calls US to get up out of our rootedness. Perhaps you are rooted in your Sunday School class for the past 25 years. Now God may be calling you to get up and plant yourself into the lives of those 3-4 graders, or high school students. They are the future of the church and they need to be developed, and invested into. Will you do it? Or will you hope God calls someone else? Maybe you’re planted in your pew and God wants you to get up and move into the choir. You’ve been invested in that padded seat long enough, it’s time to move on.
  2. Relationally. Abram was leaving his people. God can see down the road of your life and he knows that there are some relationships from which you need to separate. Some relationships are not good personally, and not good spiritually.
  3. Attitudinally. God may be calling you away from your household, the place where you developed your attitudes. Maybe you are bitter, angry, easily offended, irritable, struggling with control. God is calling you to separate from it. Go to the land I will show you. Maybe it is a place that resembles the Fruit of the Spirit because it is unseen in the place you’re in now. Maybe it’s a place with another culture; a place where you will influence others and be a blessing. But don’t fear. God does not leave you. The place where God calls you to go, remember that he is already there. He will show you how to move on and change.

Remember this was said to a 75-year-old man, someone set in his ways. It’s hard for a 20-something single person, how much harder for a family man senior adult? Walk away from all that you know. God did not even let him know where he was going to go. There was no game plan. God never told Abraham that he was going to a Land Flowing with Milk and Honey (that came later). Abraham has no description or picture of how great this move is going to be. Not one detail is given to him.

“And Abraham went forth as God had told him” (Genesis 12:4). No fanfare. No going away party. Perhaps no one even noticed that Abraham left. But he was obedient to the calling and changed the course of history.

Psalm 100

Psalm 100:1-5 is a Processional Hymn – The people may have chanted this psalm as they entered the temple or began their worship.

1 Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth. 2 Serve the Lord with gladness; Come before him with joyful singing. 3 Know that the Lord Himself is God; It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; We are His people and the sheep of His pasture. 4 Enter His gates with thanksgiving, and His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him, bless His name. 5 For the Lord is good; His lovingkindness is everlasting and His faithfulness to all generations.

Thanking the Lord is something we must do with our lives as well as with our lips. How are we supposed to thank God with our lives?

By serving (Psalm 100:2). In some sanctuaries, there is a sign that reads, “Enter to worship—depart to serve.” The trouble with many congregations is that too many people serve themselves rather than serving the Lord. Another issue is that too often we don’t serve the Lord “with gladness.” Do you know any grumpy Christians? The Lord loves a cheerful servant, so let’s not be that church. This whole Essential series is about using our giftedness to serve the Lord and others.

By submitting (Psalm 100:3). As creatures, we submit to the Creator who fashioned the universe and made us as well. As sheep, we submit to the Shepherd who died for us and now leads us down His paths. He not only made us, but He is making us as we yield our lives and submit to Him (remember, we are his workmanship – Ephesians 2:10). For every believer, submission means fulfillment. As you have received a spiritual gift, submit to God’s leadership and use it to serve Him and others.

By sacrificing (Psalm 100:4–5). As a “holy priesthood, we are privileged to offer spiritual sacrifices to the Lord (1 Peter 2:5). Those sacrifices include our songs of praise (Hebrews 13:15), our good works (Hebrews 13:16), and our material gifts (Philippians 4:15–18). Following God in obedience (exercising your giftedness) will involve the sacrifice of your will and submitting to Him, but believe me, it is worth it because of who He is (Psalm 100:5) and what He does for us. Our God is certainly worthy of our joyful thanks.

We’d Rather be on the Bench?

Ken has been very clearly sharing each week about the reality of community life in the church, which causes us to think about our current relationship with God. Perhaps his biblical challenges have forced you to admit that we as a church have often been simply a casual fan of Jesus, rather than a committed follower of Jesus.

We believe just enough to know that heaven is the place we want to go after this life, but not enough to make actual changes in our lives that will allow God to use us and therefore make an eternal impact on his kingdom.

We believe the mission and purpose of God is to call out pastors, teachers, and missionaries to build his kingdom, but we settle for sitting on the bench, or sidelines, never really wanting to get into the game.

  • We’re glad we “made the team” by saying YES to Jesus at some point in the past.
  • We’re wearing the team uniform so others know we are on God’s team, but we really don’t make an impact on the team’s success.
  • We know there’s a playbook we have been given, but admit we have not read it enough to know the team strategy.
  • We regularly show up at practice, but make little preparation for the actual game.
  • We’re content to just sit here on the bench and leave reading the playbook and running the plays to the starting team.

We think to ourselves…

  • “I don’t expect to get in the game so I’m just fine sitting here on the bench, dressed out, and wearing my team’s colors.”
  • “I don’t really like practice all that much: the coach is always telling us what to do and how to do it.”
  • “I don’t like that the coach makes the whole team run, shoot, get in shape, hone our skills, and get prepared for the games.”
  • “I admit that don’t really DO all that stuff. I prefer just sitting over here on my team bench, next to this little orange water cooler filled with Gatorade.”

So, you may be asking, “Why are you even on this team?”

“Well, it’s because I like the crowd cheering for me and my team, knowing I just might make it to the Final Four and the Championship Game because of all the dedication, commitment, skills, and efforts of those five starters who get all the playing time.”

Wow, I didn’t think I would take this illustration so far, but the more I thought about it, how often is this true in the church?

  • My faith is all about ME.
  • My faith is personal.
  • My church is also about ME, and my preferences.
  • My church is here, people know how to find us.
  • My spiritual growth is optional.
  • Finding my place of service is optional.

But the Bible begs to differ. Faith is not something that we just have or live out personally or in isolation. There is way too much evidence in Scripture that the Christian faith is meant to be carried out in the context of community.

We often seek God’s will in our own lives but fail to realize that God has a will for HIS church.

  • The church is the gathered group of Jesus followers.
  • The church is people, those who have confessed allegiance to the One who bought them and saved them, not just to sit and soak, but to serve.
  • The church is gifted to do exactly what the Lord desires for each of us to do and accomplish.

I’m not talking about just volunteering, although that is expected when we have a corporate mentality of Christianity. I’m talking about truly understanding what the church is all about.

  • What does God expect of the church?
  • What is God’s vision that he has shown to pastor Ken?
  • What does a disciple of Jesus look like?
  • Why do we gather in worship?
  • What is the Great Commission (Acts 1:8) and how am I supposed to be a part of it?
  • What are my spiritual gifts and where can I exercise or use them?

Jesus mentioned that there are two great commandments: to love God, and then to love others (Matthew 28:18-20, Matthew 22:36-40). The whole law can be summed up in these two commands, but the Bible also has a lot to say about HOW we live as believers and followers and disciples of Jesus.

This is why Ken has spent so much time casting vision for King’s Grant, defining who we are as a church, helping us to discover our spiritual gifts, and how to exercise and employ the gifts of grace that God has so thoughtfully supplied.

Let God have his way for this church (Philippians 1:6). Stop being content to sit on the bench.

Change of Heart and Mind

What a change occurred in Saul’s perspective after he met Jesus on the road to Damascus! Leaving on his journey, he was sure that what he believed was right. When Jesus’ voice pierced Saul’s heart, his whole worldview turned upside down. Everything Saul thought he knew had to be rethought: his understanding of truth, his worldview, his life mission. This encounter was just the beginning of his transformation from Saul the persecutor to Paul the apostle to the Gentiles. What difference has encountering Jesus made in how you live and lead?

As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. Acts 9:3-5

We often see this passage only in the context of salvation (Saul’s conversion on the Damascus Road) but let’s broaden our understanding of Paul’s experience to being confronted with new truth, which forces him into a decision.

Let’s also make this personal. Active church people need to take the introduction of truth (let’s enter here the preaching of God’s Word on Sunday) and decide what to do with the challenge put in front of us.

Ken is preaching January through February on a topic that we can easily dismiss. Perhaps you will justify, “I am pursuing God because I attend church on Sunday.” When we assume this position, we can easily miss the very thing that the Holy Spirit wants to do in our lives. We each must pray and reflect on where we stand with Jesus to discover what God wants us to do and how he wants us to change.

I hope you will listen again to Ken’s introductory message on moving “From Apathy to Intensity” and see if God is speaking to you and challenging you to make some adjustment toward a higher level intensity in your faith.

[Part of this post is from the January 14 Lead Like Jesus devotional, and the image: SON OF GOD Movie, Scene 10/29 – Damascus Road; Paul (CON O’NEIL) sees Jesus (DIOGO MORGADO) and is thrown from his horse]