It is better that one man die than that the whole nation perish

That you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God

Scripture Readings

  • Isaiah 49:1-7
  • John 11:45-57


We continue our series of sermons following the Gospel of John. In the next few weeks we will look at the theme of life and death, as we follow our Saviour, from closely before He was arrested, to the end of his ministry.

Towards the end of his Gospel, John explains the purpose of his Gospel in these words:

Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30–31, NIV)

As we hear the Word of God speak to us from John’s Gospel chapter 11:45 onwards, this stated purpose of John will be our guide.  So, we pray that God will enlighten our minds as we read and hear the Word preached, that we will believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing we will receive life in his Name.

Our theme for this sermon is: It is better that one man die than that the whole nation perish.
We will open the Word of God under these headings:

  • Jesus Christ: inaction to his life-giving Gospel impossible
  • Jesus Christ, the last Passover Lamb appointed by the last High Priest
  • Jesus Christ, no authority stronger than his
  • Jesus Christ, arresting those desiring to arrest Him

Jesus Christ: inaction to his life-giving Gospel impossible

The last miracle our Lord performed, as recorded by John, was to raise Lazarus from the dead.  John does not record the fact that Jesus healed the ear of Malchus, a soldier, after Peter had cut it off with his sword; only Luke, who was a doctor by profession, records that fact.  John, however, wants us to understand the thrust of the Gospel as Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who came to restore life, and that in abundance, by giving his life to die for our sin, to pay the price of righteousness before God, to destroy death, and to prepare eternal life for us.

So, immediately after recording the raising of Lazarus, John tells us about the plot to kill Jesus.  In this plot, Caiaphas, the last High Priest, made this remark:

You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.” (John 11:50, NIV)

It is almost beyond comprehension to understand the reaction of the crowd who witnessed the miracle of Lazarus.  This man had been dead for four days, and yet, death had to yield its power to Christ when He spoke and called the dead man to life.

We indeed have to turn to Chapter 12 to understand something of the events better.  It was at this dinner in honour of Jesus that we find Lazarus among those reclining at the table with Jesus.  We also understand from verse 12, that:

Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. (John 12:9, NIV)

So, it seems that between verse 9 and 12 of this chapter, and verse 45 of the previous chapter two things happened:

Many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, believed in Him.

Some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. (John 11:45–46, NIV)

These two reactions spells out the theme of life and death very clearly:  those believed in Jesus as the son of God, received life;  those who did not receive Him by faith, did not receive eternal life, but they, being children of death and darkness, could not stand seeing Jesus perform any miracle or teach anything about the life-giving message of the Kingdom of heaven in their midst anymore.  In their sight, there was only one possible path for Him:  He had to die; He could not be allowed to be part of their world; they would not be told how they should conduct their lives by one Man who claims to be the Son of God.
Earlier in John’s Gospel our Lord confronts the Jews who did not believe in Him, although they boasted about the fact that they were children of Abraham.  Jesus said:

I know that you are Abraham’s descendants. Yet you are looking for a way to kill me, because you have no room for my word. I am telling you what I have seen in the Father’s presence, and you are doing what you have heard from your father.” (John 8:37–38, NIV)

Further on our Lord explains to them why they were planning to kill Him:

Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me! (John 8:43–45, NIV)

We have witnessed unheard of hatred and contempt of a national leader last week with the burial of Baroness Margaret Thatcher. One can only wonder if such and outburst of hostility could only be attributed to her policies as leader of Great Britain.  It struck me that Mrs Thatcher chose the Scripture readings for her funeral herself.  They came from Ephesians 6:10 and onwards where it speaks about the armour of battle against the evil spirits in the air; the other reading was from John 14 where the words of our Lord is recorded, “I am going to prepare a place for you.”

Were these readings just by accident or ceremonial?  I don’t think so.  In a speech before the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, Mrs Thatcher made this remark:

“…we must not profess the Christian faith and go to Church simply because we want social reforms and benefits or a better standard of behaviour; but because we accept the sanctity of life, the responsibility that comes with freedom and the supreme sacrifice of Christ expressed so well in the hymn: “When I survey the wondrous Cross, On which the Prince of glory died, My richest gain I count but loss, And pour contempt on all my pride.”

I think the hatred poured out against this brave woman was aimed at her stance for Christ.

We see it happening all over again every day in our own land.  It disturbs us when people make a mockery of our Lord and his church, when they blaspheme his holy Name on every possible way, but actually we should not be surprised, this world who has rejected life, rejects the One who gives life; the only option is to now love death.  And we see it in the ways death is celebrated in same-sex marriages (no new life is possible out of such a union); euthanasia (everyone has the right to choose how he/she wants to die); and abortion (mothers should have the right to have their unborn children killed).

Jesus Christ, the last Passover Lamb appointed by the last High Priest

So, those who saw what Jesus did and yet did not believe in Him as the Son of God, went ahead and reported to the Pharisees, who then went to report it to the Sadducees, who as a group made up the Sanhedrin, the Jewish Council.  It will help us to understand the make-up of this council.

The Pharisees, strictly speaking, were not a political party at all, though they had political power because they were so highly regarded. Actually, they were a religious party or denomination. They were concerned chiefly with observing each minute requirement of the law and with encouraging others to do so.  They saw in Jesus the enemy:  He laboured on the Sabbath day by healing the sick, and even allowing his disciples to pick some grain for food on the Sabbath day.  Jesus confronted them and called them hypocrites, white-washed graves full of dead bones.  Our Lord uttered other things against the Pharisees who thought and taught that their strict way of observing the Law would secure them a place in heaven.  They found that offensive and decided that Jesus should be removed from the scene because He made their teachings of the Bible look and sound ridiculous.

The Sadducees were not religious leaders as such, but they were a political party.  They were wealthy and aristocratic, and they collaborated with the Romans to preserve their privileged position. These men had much to lose, particularly if there should be a civil disorder; for that would bring swift intervention by the Romans.  As far as their religious beliefs are concerned, they did not believe in the resurrection of the dead.  Here they are faced with the reality of Lazarus who is alive, being brought back to life through our Lord.  What now?  Easy, kill the One who raise from the dead, and the resurrection of the dead is impossible.  Also, kill Lazarus who had been raised from the dead and the stories about the resurrection and the One who makes it possible will go away.  They had a problem on their hands:

“What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many signs. If we let Him go on like this, everyone will believe in Him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.” (John 11:47–48, NIV)

The concerns of both the Pharisees and the Sadducees are mentioned in this one sentence:  If we let Him go on like this, everyone will believe in Him [the religious argument], and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation  [the political argument].

Jesus Christ, no authority stronger than his

This statement is an acknowledgement that things were out of hand for them. The message of the Pharisees are rejected as the people saw and experienced the freedom of the Gospel of our Lord;  that the resurrection from the dead is true and that people believe as a result of it, flew in the face of the teachings of the Sadducees.  They could not, both groups, do anything against the power of Christ – even if they would decided to have Him killed: death would not hold Him, and by his death He would rescue the dying.  No matter what they did, they would loose the battle.  The very fact that we still preach this message is a testimony of the power of the life, love and Gospel of Christ over the powers of darkness.

Montgomery-Boice tells this story.

A number of years ago a lady was invited by a friend to go to a gospel meeting. “I am afraid to go for fear I will get converted,” she answered. Imagine! She was afraid that she might get straightened out with God. On another occasion a minister said to a certain woman in his congregation, “I have not seen your husband lately. Has he lost interest in the gospel?” She answered, “Well, he is afraid to come; for when he comes and hears the Word, it takes him nearly two weeks to get over it.”So, as someone else said, “Being convinced of sin and the conviction they we stand guilty before God, should not make us run away from Him, but should drive us to run to Him!”

Caiaphas, the High Priest, got up.  He was also a Sadducee and in effect the political leader dressed in a purple clerical robe of the Jewish people.  “Let’s think of the good of the people. Isn’t it better that one man die and the nation lives?  If everyone believes in this man, the Romans will come and take away our place [the Temple] and our nation.  So, it is our duty as leaders of the God’s elected people to have this Jesus Christ killed, and so save the nation [which is actually a speech to save his own position].

The very events they dreaded happened. They eliminated Jesus—in one sense at least. But in the aftermath of the crucifixion and the gradual scattering of the Christians from Jerusalem, the revolutionary spirit began to grow with intensity in Palestine, a war broke out, and the Romans intervened to crush the rebellion. In that great war all the strongholds of Israel were overthrown, Jerusalem was besieged and destroyed, and the temple was left in ruins. In fact, as Josephus tells us, a plow was even drawn across the temple area to stress the desolation. How different events might have been if these men had received their Messiah! But they did not. They resisted him, and the sin of resistance had consequences.

No one can frustrate God; no one can oppose Him.  If anyone would try to oppose Him, he will pay the consequences, as did these men. You may oppose him, but Christianity will spread. The Bible says, “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will be established”. If only the enemy of the Gospel of our Lord will understand this.  If only those who are hard of heart understand this.

Jesus Christ, arresting those desiring to arrest Him

It seems there are times when those who mostly oppose the coming of the Kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ could become the wisest preachers of the kingdom.  Caiaphas was one in point.  The Bible helps us to understand:

He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one. (John 11:51–52, NIV)

God would have the High Priest preach the Gospel, even if he did not understand it himself.  His words sound like they were concocted in hell, but actually they were formulated by the Father. So also,  Pilate had a plaque made for his soldiers to nail to the cross of Jesus.  The intention was to deride the Son of Man: He is the King of the Jews.  He could not be more on the mark; He was the King, not only of the Jews but of the world.  He proved it on the third day when He conquered death.

Those gathered in the council room of the Jews had a few choices, but the choices were not choices of freewill; it was forced upon them.  It is of course the same choices we face as we have to deal with Jesus; it is the same choices the world has to deal with in regards to our Lord.

They had to answer this question: Christ is either Christ or anti-Christ, He cannot be both.  He raised Lazarus in the Name of the Father for the glory of the Father. Did the people who flocked to Him and believed in Him did so because He is from the Father or against the Father?”  Does He give life because all life was through Him in the beginning, or does He give life acting in the name of Belial? But fact of the matter is this, one cannot ignore Him!  You fall at his feet and worship Him, or you take the hammer and nail Him to the cross.  By doing so the choice is between life and death.

If one cannot ignore Him, another possibility is to oppose Him.  There is a warning here; not only do the Jewish Council serve as a warning that one cannot stand against the Son of God, the Bible also warns:

Kiss his Son, or He will be angry and your way will lead to your destruction, for his wrath can flare up in a moment. Blessed are all who take refuge in Him. (Psalm 2:12, NIV)

Can you oppose him? If you do, do you really believe that you will be successful? Will you not rather be in the deplorable company of those rulers who “take counsel together against the Lord and against his Anointed, ‘Let us break their chains,’ they say, ‘and throw off their fetters,’ ” of whom we are told, “The one enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them” (Ps. 2:2–4)?

You can believe on Jesus and follow him. His way is the way of the cross. But the cross is the way to victory, for it is only by losing life that a man can save it. It is only by following Jesus that the victory is won. But there is a price:  we have to take up our cross and follow Him.  That’s life.


The Gospel is preached – even today it has been preached.  It is the Word of God.  It was God’s eternal plan for us to hear it.  Why?

But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30–31, NIV)

Did we hear his voice? Sure we have.  But we cannot remain without reaction.  We can try to ignore Him, or oppose Him, of worship Him.  The right choice is a choice between life and death.


Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on 21st April 2013




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