Once a person believes in Jesus for eternal life, one of their early struggles comes when they observe those in the world who flat-out reject a relationship with God. The Christian’s thoughts often fall along these lines: Why don’t others believe in Jesus? Why can’t they see that this is what we, as humans, were made for? Why would someone reject a relationship with the One who knows us the best, and Who offers to make us eternally safe? Why would anyone pass that up?
Most of the time, when we talk about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, we focus on the miracle. We have learned a lot by doing so. But looking at what happened afterward can help us think through our current question.
The people who watched Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead had one of two different reactions:
Therefore, many of the Jews who came to Mary and saw what He did believed in Him. But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. So the chief priests and the Pharisees convened the Sanhedrin and were saying, “What are we going to do since this man is doing many signs?”
The religious leaders didn’t discount the signs and miracles. Honestly, they couldn’t. There was a crowd of eye-witnesses that saw a dead man walk out of a tomb. If it were just one or two people, perhaps the Sanhedrin assembly could scare them into staying silent or even convince them that they had been mistaken in what they “thought” they saw. But could they prevent a crowd from spreading the news of a resurrection? Not a chance.
But let’s think about this…why try to stop Jesus? If He truly is the Messiah that Israel has been waiting for…for thousands of years, generation after generation watching, waiting, praying for God’s deliverance; IF this “Jesus” is the promised Redeemer, then why are they rejecting Him? Here’s what they said:
“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.”
They would have to give up control. They were concerned they would lose their current position of influence and status. They were comfortable in their arrangement with Rome. Sure, they were not the top-dog-in-charge, but they had the ruling freedom to do – and get away with – most whatever they wanted.
Keep in mind that within the previous 200 years, others had come, claiming to be the Messiah. And obviously, those claims had been wrong. But Rome would not tolerate any form of authority outside of its own, so Caesar stood ready to crush any attempt at rebellion.
In the minds of the Pharisees, they had three options:
1. If Jesus was not the Messiah: Rome would put their full force toward stopping Jesus’ movement. And if the Jewish religious leaders had put their support behind Him, they would also be considered an enemy of the state. If the Jewish religious leaders had not supported Him, Rome wouldn’t discriminate. Rome would definitely come in and forcefully remove them from their position of leadership and their attempt to protect what was left of Israel. And by “remove” it was likely be all of them being put to death.
2. If Jesus was the Messiah: Rome would still put their full force toward stopping Jesus’ movement. But even if Jesus was able to remove the Roman authority and governance and rescue Israel…the Pharisee leaders and entire Sanhedrin assembly would not be in power any longer. How often had they opposed and tried to undermine Jesus? Why would the Pharisees expect Jesus to keep them around?
3. Find a way to get rid of Jesus. This would maintain the status quo and their own control over the situation.
They chose #3.
John 11:53-54, 57
So from that day on they plotted to kill Him. Jesus therefore no longer walked openly among the Jews but departed from there to the countryside near the wilderness, to a town called Ephraim, and He stayed there with the disciples…The chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that if anyone knew where He was he should report it so that they could arrest Him.
They chose to be comfortable in what they knew, instead of trusting Jesus with who He said He was. For most of the Pharisees, they decided that the cost of believing in Jesus was too great. They were willing to remain subservient to their cruel Roman occupiers in order to keep the status quo, rather than let Jesus rescue them.
When we get right down to it, we find a similar attitude in wealthy 1st world societies. We look at our careers, our house, our cars, our hobbies, our toys…and…we’re comfortable. We’re not the top-dog, but for the most part, we can do – and get away with – what we want to do. People who measure life only by what’s in front of them will never risk losing the amount of control they currently enjoy. They are hesitant to venture into a relationship with Jesus, because it requires putting their trust in someone other than themselves…and they don’t want to risk being wrong, because being wrong would cost them everything.
We can’t choose for them. So what’s a Christian to do with those who reject or are even hostile toward God?
Jesus told us in the Sermon on the Mount:
You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor” [Leviticus 19:18] and hate your enemy. But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven. For he causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.