"We're All in the Mood for a Melody"
"We're all in the mood for a melody" is what Billy Joel sang in 1973, and just what tunes have you been humming lately? Just as Psalm 137 says the Babylonian captors demanded a song from the OT Church (3), so our would be captors of Fear, Calamity, Pandemic want to press songs out of us too. A grandchild has been whistling, "God's Own Child I Gladly Say It." His song choice is better than mine, but mine go with our text.
"Come together right now over me" sang the Beatles in 1969 in a song John Lennon admitted made no sense. That was typical for 1969 whatever anything was about, it was about me, myself, and I. This is from a 2008 biography of Douglas MacArthur: "In times of social upheaval dazed populations turn to the irrational, the bizarre, the macabre. Laws of social gravity are suspended. People take up wild crazes, behave like freaks, laugh at horror, weep at wit. One of the surest signs of this psychedelic mood is popular music. Nonsense songs catch on, perhaps because sensible lyrics mock a demented world" (American Caesar, 488-489).
1969 was a demented world, so was the time when the NT was blossoming into the fallen world, but then everything came together over Him, Jesus. Chief Priests, who were theological liberals and cooperated with Rome, came together with the Pharisees ,who were theological conservatives and opposed Rome, over Jesus. Our text opens with the verb "came together." That makes it emphatic. "Came together therefore the Chief Priests and Pharisees." They do so because if they allow Jesus to continue to do miraculous signs, like raising a 4-day dead Lazarus, "everyone will believe in Him." They don't attempt to deny the miracle; they don't claim that faith in Him is silly or wrong. No, they come together against Jesus because they fear losing their place and nation.
We can feel our place and our nation slip-sliding away as we are limited in being able to come together over Jesus. In the text, they could come together over Jesus and they did so against Him. We want to come together over Jesus for us and our salvation, for each other, but it's no longer our place according to our nation to do so. You know what our times share with the times in our text? Our coming together is in the hands of God not our own. In the text, the enemies of Jesus were bothered because they weren't doing the right things to stop Him. We're bothered because we're not doing anything and apparently can't. God is not limited. God's plans were not frustrated then and they are not so now.
Skip to the end of the text. Again we find the verb "came together." The first coming together over Jesus was to save people's place and nation from the Romans. This coming together is done by God. He would give His only Son to die for the nation of Israel and for the scattered children of God "to bring them together and make them one." The song "Come Together" drives it meaningless words home with a typical 1960's rock-n-roll beat. Pair that melody with what God shows you He does in this text. He orchestrates world events for the sake of saving His people. Nothing stops Him from redeeming the world of sinners or from gathering His scattered children into the One Body of Christ. Nothing stopped Him then; nothing stops Him now.
Another melody that has been an earworm ever since 2019 became 2020 is 1968's "In the Year 2525". I hear this tune in our text. Twice the Greek has the identical phrase "high priest that year." The Holy Spirit doesn't think you've forgotten less than 50 words later that Caiaphas was high priest that year. He's being emphatic. That much is obvious, but why? God's gift of the office of high priest to His OT Church was a lifelong office. Aaron was the first to fill it. Read Number 20: 22-29. He wasn't allowed to enter the Promised Land because he with Moses rebelled against the Lord at the waters of Meribah. Moses removed his high priestly garments and Aaron drops dead. As long as he had the office he lived; without the office he died. The usual way it worked after that is the high priest died and vacated the office. That he was to serve till death is shown by the bells. Bells were sewn to his garments, so that when he went into the holy of holies once a year with the blood of atonement they would hear them. If they stopped tinkling, he needed to be pulled out by the rope attached to him.
You can read about bells in Exodus 28:35 and how they were connected to him being alive. We are told about the rope from the rabbis of Jesus' era. What I'm trying to emphasize is how serious the Lord was about His lifelong appointment to that office, and by contrast what the Sadducees did to it. The allowed the Romans to shuffle people in and out as they saw fit. That's where you get Chief Priests plural from. They were people who had served in the High Priest office. They did the political equivalent today of a president removing a Supreme Court justice because he stood in his way. The theological equivalent is removing a pastor, who is also called and ordained for life, without Scriptural cause: false teaching, false living, or inability to fulfill his duties.
That little melody "high priest that year" emphasizes how men had devalued the divine office but also how transitory their power was. Within 7 years, Caiaphas wouldn't be high priest. Within 40 the entire OT nation of Israel and OT Church worship would be wiped off the earth. Outwardly, it looks like the coming together of Jesus' enemies is going to put the kibosh on the ministry of Jesus, but really their coming together against Him is going to facilitate the Lord's will to bring together all His scattered children over Jesus.
The tune "In the Year 2025" emphasizes their disrespect for God's gifts to His Church, but it also emphasizes the passing nature of men and even nations. We tend to think whoever is in control in the moment we are in, particularly if it's a stressful one will always be. No, all men are but grass and the best of them are flowers on that grass. Even nations, says Is. 40:15, "are like a drop from a bucket. And are regarded as a speck of dust." It is thought that in 1990 the burial place of Caiaphas was found. Contrast this with his decision that Jesus should die for His nation. He meant to see Jesus dead, buried, and in the grave for good. That didn't happened. O Jesus died, and O how He suffered in doing so, and yes, the Holy Son of God went through being sealed in a stone-cold tomb, but He didn't stay there, did He? Caiaphas did, and worse than that, Caiaphas, as far as we know, went to an eternity in the hell that Jesus suffered so he wouldn't have to.
That takes us to the last melody that expresses our text's mood: "The Ballad of the Green Beret." This 1966 song doesn't have that driving rock sound, but it fits a particular mood expressed in the text. See if you can hear it here: "Back at home a young wife waits/ Her Green Beret has met his fate/ He has died for those oppressed" "Dying for" is all over this text. The Greek word huper (hoo-pair) means in behalf of, for the sake of, in place of. The unbelieving, evil Caiaphas says it first: "It is better for you that one man die huper for the people." Then the Holy Spirit says that "Jesus would die huper for the Jewish nationand not only huper for that nation but also the scattered children of God." This word on behalf of, in place of, expresses the vicarious blood atonement. Vicarious means in place of. The perfect Jesus who never did anything worthy of death is going to die in place of every guilty sinner there ever was. It's going to be His life for all. His suffering, sighing, and dying for all people everywhere. His blood covering the sins of all.
The phrase "vicarious atonement" is key to faithful, Biblical Christianity. Without this melody there is no song of salvation. While the phrase "vicarious atonement" is only used in theology, the concept is seen in "The Ballad of the Green Beret", war movies, and war. The soldier falls on the grenade for others. The soldier pushes a civilian out of the way and dies in their place. The soldier drags a wounded soldier out of the line of fire and dies of the wounds he receives. All of these acts are heroic and moving, and can help us relate to the theological truth of vicarious atonement. We're the rescued civilian, the wounded soldier, the fellow soldier saved from the grenade. Jesus is the heroic soldier who throws Himself on the grenade, who takes the beatings, whipping, and nailing in our place, who drags us out of the way of God's wrath against our sins.
The purpose of Jesus doing this was so all the scattered children of God could "come together" over Him. The blood of Jesus flows worldwide. His blood found the prodigal in a country far from His father; His blood found Peter scattered by his denials of Jesus; His blood found Paul scattered by his murderous rage at all things Christian. The blood of Jesus was shed to cover the sins of all, is meant for the sins of all, and all things that God does, men do, or even the Devil does must serve that blood going out for all.
Our text takes place days before the acceptance of King Jesus on Palm Sunday gives way to the horrible crucifying of Him on Good Friday. If you were a disciple then, you didn't know our text yet. You're going to go from Barry Manilow singing, "Looks like we made it" on Palm Sunday to believing with Barry McGuire on Good Friday that "We're on the eve of destruction." But on Easter morning you're going to sing with Maureen McGovern, "there's got be a morning after." My point is you are not a disciple who knows nothing of our text or of the Easter morning after. You know that while men, mayhem, and malice thought they were in control of things for their sake, God never let go, never gave up, never ceased insuring His will was done and His kingdom came. He worked all things, even as He does now, to insure He provided daily bread and forgave sins. And He didn't abandon His people to temptation but delivered them from evil.
"We're all in the mood for a melody" and reveling in the revelation of our text we hear Tom T. Hall's, "Why me Lord" Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Fifth Sunday in Lent (20200329); John 11: 47-53