In the cartoons, when a character realizes something unexpected, a light bulb is shown going on in his head. The Germans call this moment of discovery the blick. There are several opportunities for the light bulb to go on in our text.
The first light pops on when we realize miracles don't convert anyone. Miracles don't create faith. Of course, people say otherwise. They say what is lacking from the Church today is miracles. We don't have people eager to join our church because miracles aren't happening here. If people were speaking in tongues, if people were being healed of this or that, then people would be convinced that the powerful God is here.
Can this be supported by Scripture? Israel saw tremendous miracles, yet we know most of them didn't believe. They saw the powerful killing of all the firstborn in Egypt and still concluded God was powerless to help them at the Red Sea. They saw God rain manna down from heaven, but still bemoaned losing the fleshpots of Egypt. Pharaoh saw 10 astonishing miracles but was only hardened by them.
Ah but we, or at least me, still think that if only God would do this or that miracle, then people would believe. If just one time when I was praying over a sick person, they got up and walked away healthy, then people would be converted. If just one time, a demon would be seen shrieking away from Baptism, then people would be convinced. But Jesus says in Luke 16 that if people aren't converted by hearing the Word, they won't believe even if they see someone rise from the dead.
Our text bears this out. The reason the Jewish leaders convened the meeting about Jesus is because He had just raised Lazarus from the dead. They had come from seeing a man 4 days dead, that's good and dead, raised before their eyes. They don't deny it took place, yet they're unconverted. They regard it as a miraculous sign alright, but for them it points to the fact that they must do something about Jesus soon.
Blick! There's one light. Miracles don't convert people. The second light to pop is, clergymen can plot against God. People of course say otherwise. No clergymen is really opposed to God. They can refuse to Baptize babies, re-sacrifice Christ on their altar, claim they can transmit the Holy Spirit by their hands, or do prayer services with pagans, but they're still not enemies of God. People feel free to declare particular political things good or bad, but about spiritual things they will only say that they all come from good intentions.
Scripture says otherwise. It says clergymen can walk around in sheep's clothing but inwardly be ferocious wolves. Scripture says that since Satan himself can appear as an angel of light don't be surprised that his messengers can look so attractive. Scripture says that one of the apostles who preached, taught, and baptized was nevertheless a devil, a thief, and a traitor.
Our text bears this out. The people who plot against Christ aren't the thugs and harlots of Jerusalem; they aren't those despising the Word of God by not hearing it on Sundays. They aren't those sitting in the pews. They are the clergymen, the leaders of the Church. The ones everyone thought most holy. But not just them. The highest official in God's Church on earth, the high priest is involved. He himself proposes murdering Jesus.
Understand this: these clergymen are opposed to Jesus because He refused to recognize their good intentions. He refused to excuse their false teachings about the Sabbath by saying, "They mean well." He refused to say that their man-made doctrines did some good. He refused to say, "You know you have to admit they're sincere." No, He called these clergymen, these pastors, these priests, hypocrites, stinking graves, poisonous snakes!
Miracles don't convert anyone although most everyone thinks they do. Clergymen can plot against God though most everyone thinks they can't. Pop, pop, blick, blick. But there's more. Another bulb that is to pop on because of this text is: God works through evil men and the evil they do.
Of course people think otherwise, at least I do. I don't think God can work through evil men and so I despair. Evil men who care nothing for Christ and His Church seem in charge of every facet of my life. Even in the church I see men who serve their own bellies in positions of power and others eager to support them. What can I do but hang my head and say, "Woe is me"?
The best I ever do is say to myself, "O God can use evil men to do good." That is true, but that's not enough. Then I'm only saying that every now and then God causes evil men do something good. But that's no comfort when I see them doing far more evil than good. And Scripture says more than that. Scripture says that God uses the evil itself for His good. For example, Laban is an evil man. He manipulates Jacob for 20 years. He has nothing but his own belly in view. But what does God do? He uses Laban's evil for Jacob's good. Joseph's brothers have no intention but to harm Joseph. They have only evil in mind; they do only evil, but their evil works Joseph's good.
The light bulb still hasn't popped on for you. I know what you're thinking. You think I am saying no more than Romans 8: all things work together for good. Yes, that's true. But out text says something more, not just all things but evil things in their evilness work for our good. Our text says clergymen got together to murder Christ, to murder God in flesh and blood. They only want to stop Jesus, punish Jesus, hurt Jesus. That's all they have in mind. They only want to see a tortured, humiliated, dead Jesus hanging on a cross.
And God lets them do what they want. Just like God might let evil men punish, torture, and humiliate you. Just like God might let evil disease hurt, harm, and kill you. Just like God might let Satan persecute, torment, and chase you. But what comes from the Jesus killed without mercy? Mercy, grace, and peace, forgiveness, life and salvation, Baptism, Absolution, Communion and every other blessing. From an evilly tortured, murdered, dead Jesus comes blessings unimaginable. No artist has ever pictured the chalice of Communion or the font of Baptism being filled by water or blood cushing from the side of a risen Jesus. They don't even show it flowing from a dying Jesus. No, such precious blessings only flow from a dead Jesus.
If God can work such good from such evil, the worst evil ever plotted by Satan and carried out by evil men, surely He can work good through the evil that evil men plot against me! If God can bring life and salvation from Christ's tortured body, than He surely won't fail to bring good from the disease that tortures my body! If God can defeat the devil by allowing the devil to carry out his most heinous plan, than surely whatever evil the devil is hatching in my life can only work for my good! Blick!
There's one more light to switch on. This is the most difficult because we all think this light doesn't need to be turned on: Jesus dies in place of all people. But we think otherwise in the recesses of our heart. That's why when we're suffering, we think we're somehow being paid back for our sins. We think, act, and feel as if there is still something left to be paid on our note, as if Jesus didn't pay the full amount, but cried, "It's almost finished," Or, "It's close to being finished." If I really believed that Jesus died for all, I would not think when I hear of particularly evil people suffering, "See, they're getting what they deserve." When I believe that, I'm really saying that when Jesus cried, "It is finished," He really meant, "It is finished for some people."
You see they don't have faith going on like I do. They don't have religion going on like I do. But neither our text or any other Scripture says that Jesus died for believers. If you think that, the light hasn't and won't won't blick on. You'll put all the comfort, all your hope in that word faith. And that's not where it belongs. Let me show you why not.
Isaiah says, "All of us like sheep have gone astray... But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him." Romans 5 teaches us, "Though one failure by Adam, condemnation came to all people, so also through one righteous act, acquittal came to all people." And Romans 5 says that Christ died for the ungodly, for those still His enemies. II Corinthians 5 teaches us, "In Christ God reconciled the world to Himself by not counting their sins against them." I John 2 says "Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only ours but also for the sins of the whole world."
None of those passages mention the word "faith", do they? Faith is the means by which we receive the forgiveness Christ won for all. But focus on the deed and in the Word all, focus on what One did for all not in the fact that you believe it. Why? Because your believing is weak and sporadic at best. Your believing is marred by doubts and questions. What God does is sure and certain.
Blick the light pops on. If Christ suffered and died for all, than I must be included, indeed I can't be excluded. If a group of us goes to Luby's and one pays for all, there can be do doubt that I'm included. I can't protest that it might not be for me. I can't try to pay for myself because even Luby's won't let you pay for a bill twice. It wouldn't be honest. It would screw up their books. Could our God be less honest than Luby's? Could heaven's books be less accurate then theirs?
Blick. Even though I never see a miracle, even though I continue to see leading clergymen plotting against Christ, even though I see evil relentlessly stalking me, none of this takes away from what Christ did for all including me. Everything looks different in light of that. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Fifth Sunday in Lent (3-13-05); John 11: 47-53