Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him. But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin.
“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.”
This short passage comes just after Jesus has raised Lazarus from the dead. As with most miracles Jesus performed, people believed in him and followed him after he demonstrated his power over sickness, death and demons. Jesus was not drawing attention to himself or creating a spectacle by healing people, but rather was giving glory to God and demonstrating the power of the Kingdom to all who would believe that he was the promised Messiah – God’s son and the one sent to save people from their sins. In fact many times Jesus said these things happened so that the glory of God might be displayed. (John 9:3; John 11:4)
Despite this, the Chief Priests and Pharisees found his ministry highly disruptive. It was an affront to what they considered their God-given authority in spiritual, religious and political matters. They regarded Jesus as a threat to the comfortable position they had engineered for themselves, through establishment of a religious hierarchy amongst the Jews, and the construction of an empire where they were all-powerful, whilst on the other hand acquiescing and compromising to avoid any conflict with their Roman occupiers.
Jesus was a threat to them on these fronts because an uprising against the religious status quo would reveal their hypocisy and jeopardise the freedoms that the Romans afforded the Jews to continue with their way of life. The crazy thing is that Jesus was the promised Messiah that the Jewish nation had been promised for centuries, and yet the leaders couldn’t recognise him even though he was right under their noses!
They held a meeting to discuss the “Jesus problem” and their true motivation for silencing him is very apparent. They don’t discuss whether or not he is the Messiah. They are only interested in whether or not he will interfere with their position and comfort – “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.”
In other words they are saying “If we don’t keep him quiet the people will follow him and believe what he says. We’ve worked hard to get where we are and we won’t relinquish any position or status to this scruffy preacher from Nazareth. We won’t let Jesus turn everything to dust when the Romans get wind of an uprising and take everything away from us.”
Further on in John’s gospel it says that many of the leaders did recognise Jesus teaching and believe in him, but they wouldn’t act on it because it endangered their status in society and their comfortable life:
Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not openly acknowledge their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved human praise more than praise from God. John 12:42-43
In basic terms, Jesus was a massive inconvenience to them and their world order.
It is easy to read this account two thousand years later and deride the Pharisees for their blindness and hypocrisy, but I wonder if we sometimes have the same attitude towards Jesus as the religious leaders of his day. It’s very easy to get comfortable with the status quo of our church life, especially when we are very seldom subjected to persecution for our faith in the UK. The established church and so-called “new church movements” are equally susceptible to protecting an organisation that looks like the church, but where empire building has overshadowed the emphasis on Kingdom building, and where the church structure, name, denomination or brand has become an idol in itself. Are we too concerned about protecting our little piece of “church territory” and fearful of losing all that we have worked for and forsaking all that Jesus wants to do through us. Are church leaders too wrapped up in the status and position of leadership to relinquish control to the Holy Spirit to move in power and shake us out of our slumber? This equally applies to our individual relationships with Jesus – are we just too comfortable to let Jesus in and disrupt everything for the sake of his Kingdom?
Now I’m not suggesting that this is the case for every church family and every individual – far from it. What I am keen to do is pose these uncomfortable questions because if we are in the position of holding tight to our own little domains, we will squeeze the life out of our spiritual walk and the hinder the progress of the church and God’s Kingdom in our sphere. If we don’t leave room for the Spirit to move in HIS church, then it will become something that is unrecognisable as the family of God and will be more akin to a social enterprise at best. If this is the case, God will look elsewhere for people to build His Kingdom – because it will be built! We need to be open to Jesus shaking us out of any stagnation that may have crept in, despite our best intentions, but this will only happen when we are immersed in prayer and the word of God, when we are living in communities formed from radical discipleship, and when we are fully committed to the spread of the gospel no matter what the cost.
Lets not behave like the Chief Priests and Pharisees and treat Jesus as an inconvenience who threatens to take away our earthly securities. Whilst it may be uncomfortable to allow him to challenge and shake us, His way is the only way to build something that is lasting and glorifies God. The Pharisees motives are exposed when they say “what are we accomplishing?” – the emphasis is on the protection of their human efforts and their agenda. The question they should have asked, and we should be asking ourselves is “what is God accomplishing?”
As the Psalmist says: Unless the LORD builds the house, the builders labor in vain. Psalm 127:1
I encourage you to commit this to prayer and ask the Holy Spirit to bring to light any areas where you may be building your own kingdom, rather than God’s.