Mark E. Hardgrove
Are you ready for Jesus to move in your life? Before you answer that, consider the Jewish leaders of Jesus’ day. They had been talking about, and claimed to be looking for, a coming Messiah, and yet when Jesus came and walked among them, they rejected Him. He fulfilled prophecy in His birth, “born of a virgin,” in His place of birth, “Bethlehem,” and in His works, “the blind see, the lame walk, the dead are raised to life.” Still, even in the face of the great miracle of the raising to life of a man who had been dead for four days, the religious leaders rejected Jesus and cemented their resolve to have Jesus put to death.
We would quickly declare that we would never do that, and yet we may already be guilty. I don’t want this to be a downer sermon. I don’t want you to leave here feeling beat down with guilt and condemnation. But I do want us to hear and heed the warning today that sometimes Jesus doesn’t fit into our nice little boxes. Sometimes Jesus does what we thought couldn’t be done. Sometimes Jesus says what we didn’t think He would say. Sometimes Jesus calls us to do things that we never thought He’d ask us to do.
Now, before we run out of here and claim some crazy agenda and try to pin it on Jesus, let me pause to tell you that God has given us His word as a touchstone, by His revealed Word we are to determine the genuineness of prophetic or rhema word. For example, if a man tells me that God told him to divorce his wife and find another so that he can fulfill ministry opportunities, I know that that man is in error. God is not a man that He should lie, and He will not contradict His Word to us.
But sometimes God does work outside of the lines of our traditions. Sometimes God does challenge our rituals and our liturgy and He says, “I appreciate what you’ve been doing for all these years, but I’m about to do a new thing and if you want to be a part of this blessing, then you’re going to have to be willing to step out of the familiar wilderness that you’ve been wandering in for the past forty years, and be willing to cross over into a promise, into a blessing, into your destiny.”
Look at your text with me. Remember that Jesus has just raised Lazarus from the dead. The people are celebrating and rejoicing the fame of Jesus is beginning to spread like a flame fanned by the winds of change.
I) SOME WERE READY TO RECEIVE
45Then many of the Jews who had come to Mary, and had seen the things Jesus did, believed in Him.
Some folks just come to church ready to receive whatever God wants to give them. I know of several times when I’ve preached and seen men come to the altar for salvation and early in my ministry I believed it was my great oratory that had convinced them to come forward. But after talking to many of these men, I later discovered that it was their mother, their wife, their children, their neighbors who had witnessed to them, and the Holy Spirit who convicted and convinced them of sin. These men came to church ready to receive salvation. I probably could have simply quoted John 3:16 and gave an altar call and they would have come running to Jesus for forgiveness.
We ought to come to church ready to receive. We may not know what Jesus is going to do, but we know that if He does it, it’s gonna be good and we want it!
Jesus was doing things that had never been done. Jesus was challenging the impotence of the established religious system. He stood up in the sight of priests, Pharisees, and Saducees and did something that they could not do. Indeed, Jesus did something that none of them believed could be done.
I can see the crowd fall silent when Jesus prayed to the Father—every eye on Jesus, every ear open to His prayer. And then when Jesus said, “Lazarus come forth,” every head turned in unison to look at the tomb as they held their breath in anticipation of the impossible. The stone had been rolled away. The prayer had been prayed. The command had been given. And suddenly a dead man was alive and hopping out of the tomb still wrapped in grave clothes. Jesus said, “Loose him, and let him go.”
Something like that will bring revival to the deadest church. Something like that will make believers out of skeptics, and followers out of scoffers. Many Jews believed. Many who had been critical, many who had been cautious, many who had been calloused now believed that this Jesus was someone special. He was doing the works that only the Messiah could do. He was speaking with an authority that the religious elite could not match. He was doing works that no other man, priest or prophet had ever done. Many Jews believed.
I believe in miracles. I believe that healing Abigail Oliver, and Hilda Henderson, and many others, are miracles that can soften hardened hearts and draw people to Jesus. But the truth is, that some folks are not fazed by what God is doing. Some folks simply will not recognize or respond to the hand of God even when it hits them upside the head.
II) SOME WERE READY TO REJECT
46But some of them went away to the Pharisees and told them the things Jesus did. 47Then the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered a council and said, “What shall we do? For this Man works many signs.
The word “but” implies a contrast. In contrast to those who believed and who no doubt rejoiced with Martha, Mary and Lazarus, there were some that ran to the Pharisees to tell them what had happened. They didn’t particularly care if Jesus was the Messiah or not, they saw someone who was challenging the establishment and so to curry favor with the Pharisees, they ran to the religious instead of submitting to the Savior. They wanted pats on the back from the Pharisees instead of commendation from the Christ.
There are some people who are more concerned with the commendation of man, than that of God. Some are more concerned about what men think of them, than in what God thinks of them.
We must always examine our motives. We must always ask the question of ourselves, “Do we seek to please God, or man?” The Apostle Paul was willing to become a very unpopular person because he declared to the Jews that the Law was no longer sufficient for salvation, we need a Savior, and that Savior’s name is Jesus. Peter was willing to put his life on the line when we stood before some of the very ones who had cried out for Christ’s crucifixion and said, “You killed Him, but God has raised Him up and neither is there any other name given among men whereby you must be saved.”
It may not be popular in the school to be and live like a Christian. A crazy teenager with a gun to your head could ask, “Do you believe in God?” What will your answer be?
It may not be popular on the job. The boss may want you to lie for him or cover up for her, but will you stand on moral ground, or sink into the sand of compromise?
It may not be popular in the home. Other family members my poke fun at you, or try to get you to compromise your faith. Will you stand for Jesus or will you go along to get along?
It may not be popular in the religious world to say, “I still believe the virgin birth, I still believe in a Savior who died on a cross, was buried and raised again on the third day. It may not be popular to say that I believe that righteousness exalts a nation. It may not be popular to stand against abortion, homosexuality, or sex outside of marriage. In a world of religious compromise, it may not be popular, but it is as right as rain.
There are religious people who are more concerned with popularity and political positioning than they are in believing in Jesus. There are people who are ready to reject Jesus if it curries favor with the crowds. There are people with itching ears who look for preachers and teachers to tell them what they want to hear. And, God help us, there are teachers and preachers ready to tell the people whatever they want to hear if it will fill the house and improve the finances.
Some of the same people who saw Jesus raise the dead, who saw with their own eyes the power of God on display, were ready to reject Jesus so that they could gain favor with the Pharisees. And there are still people in the church today who have seen God’s power at work in the church and in their own families and homes, and still they reject the Lordship of Jesus in their lives. These people come to church to criticize and to critique everything that goes on. They can’t wait to get in the car on the way home from church start complaining about something in the service.
These people come to church empty and dry. They leave empty and dry. And they’ll be lonely and miserable when they die. They don’t come ready to receive; they come ready to reject. They reject the authority of God in their lives. They reject the leadership of the pastor in the church. They reject the Word of God in their heart. They reject the love of the church, the ministry of the brethren, and the fellowship of the body. They are clouds without water, they are religious, but they’re self-righteous and wrapped-up in themselves.
III) SOME WERE READY TO REACT WITH AN ATTACK
48If we let Him alone like this, everyone will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and nation.” 49And one of them, Caiaphas, being high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all, 50nor do you consider that it is expedient for us that one man should die for the people, and not that the whole nation should perish.” 51Now this he did not say on his own authority; but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, 52and not for that nation only, but also that He would gather together in one the children of God who were scattered abroad.
Some folks are ready to reject, but this is relatively passive. They may complain, and criticize but that’s about as far as it goes. They care too much about public opinion to engage in an all out attack. But there are others who are so concerned with their position, so entrenched in their rut, so rigorously and religiously tied to their tradition that they are ready to attack anyone or anything that would challenge their place in the spotlight.
The religious leaders did not deny the miracles. They could not refute the teachings of Jesus. They did not accuse Him of unrighteous deeds. The only thing they were afraid of was that Jesus would rock the political boat and the Romans would come and remove them from their positions of power and authority. So they plan to react.
When Jesus challenges us; when our traditions are challenged by what God is doing in our midst; when our preconceptions are put to the test and we find that God has something else in mind; we can either react by laying aside our rags of self-righteousness and putting on Jesus, or we can plan to attack the message and the messenger. We can’t deny the miracles. We can’t deny the growth. We can’t deny the spirit of revival. So the only thing left to do is to reject the message and the messenger and to react with an attack.
People like this will claim to have the best interests of the church at heart. They will talk about how others have been hurt and how they are only trying to help all those who are wounded. But the truth is that it is not about others at all, it is about self, about my wants, my ego, my place, my preferences. And people who react this way are ready to sacrifice others, and even their own relationship with God, in the pursuit of preserving their own place and preferences.
There are people in the Middle East who are ready to kill themselves as long as they take out others with them. We thank God that Christians aren’t like that. We preach love and we preach patience, but we practice spiritual suicide bombings. When we reject the message of God, when we reject the move of God, when we reject the miracles of God and rush headlong into a pit of self-pity and pride, then we may take some with us. We may destroy a brother or sister in the process. We may take our children with us, we may destroy our marriage, we may hurt and wound others, but we will die in the pews with a scowl on our face, a beam in our eye, and thorn in our heart.
Not everything will be just like we want it. Sometimes Jesus moves in ways that challenge us, or humble us, or teach us. But how we react to what Jesus is doing will determine whether we grow in grace, or whether we doubt, pout and do without. The religious leaders were willing to kill an innocent man, were willing to kill their own Messiah, to preserve their traditions. In the end their temple was destroyed and the Jewish nation dispersed for almost two thousand years.
53Then, from that day on, they plotted to put Him to death.
Those who rejected Jesus and reacted wrongly began to plot the death of Jesus from that day on. They thought they were plotting the demise of Jesus. But in truth, they were planning their own funerals.
I believe that God is up to something good here at the Conyers Church of God. We’ve been seeing miracles. People are being healed in their bodies and in their spirits. There is a new joy here. There is a new unity and love here that greets you in the face when you walk in the doors. Some people receive this. They are willing to lay down anything that would hinder the move of God in their lives and step into the water with Jesus. There people come ready to give praise to God and ready to receive Jesus for Who He is and what He wants to do.
Others, however, come to critique and criticize. They don’t care what Jesus is doing, because it ain’t what they want. Others are willing to go on the offensive and attack what God is trying to do. I don’t know where you are today, but I’m ready to receive.
God is up to something good. I believe we are on the brink of a great revival right here. I believe that we are about to enter into a season of harvest. And some of you are ready to receive it. You come to church ready to receive your miracles. You come to church ready to receive you healing. You come to church ready to praise, ready to rejoice, ready to give God the glory. You are the ones who will be blessed in down sitting and your uprising. You are the ones who are going to see God’s hand at work in your health, in your house, and in your heart. You are the ones who are going to experience revival in you lives as God opens up the windows of heaven over your home.
But not everyone who sees Jesus at work is ready to receive. Not everyone who has heard His voice is ready to respond. Some are ready to reject and to react in anger and pride. And though it may have looked like Lazarus was toast, one word from Jesus and the dead live again! It may have looked like Conyers Church of God was down for the count, but I believe I heard Jesus say, “Conyers, come forth!” We’re getting up. But now it is time for the church to be loosed. It is time to rip away the grave-clothes of hurt, of disappointment, and of doubt and be loosed. Loosed in our praise. Loosed in our witness. Loosed in our joy. It’s time to walk in liberty, for where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty.
I want some people here today who are ready to receive to come forth. It’s time to be loosed. Somebody who has been bound in your finances, if you’re ready to receive, it’s time to be loosed. Somebody who has been bound in your spirit, if you’re ready to receive, it’s time to be loosed. Somebody who has been bound by fear, if you’re ready to receive, it’s time to be loosed. Somebody who has been bound in depression, if you’re ready to receive, it’s time to be loosed.