atoning death of Jesus

John 11:45-53, “Made-Up Minds, Hardened Hearts”

Have you ever met someone with the attitude, “My mind is made up; don’t confuse me with facts!” Today I’d like to talk to you about Made-Up Minds and Hardened Hearts. Stay tuned!

Made-Up Minds

“My mind is made up; don’t confuse me with facts!”


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Ever hear anyone say that? Perhaps you’ve never heard someone say it in quite those terms, but most of us have dealt with unreasonable people. And in our most honest moments, we might even admit to having made up our minds before considering all the facts.

That’s what we find in John 11.

No Neutral Ground

In John 11, Jesus did what no ordinary man could do. A friend named Lazarus had died. Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus, had sent word to Jesus that Lazarus was sick. They wanted Jesus to come and heal him. Jesus was far away and it would have taken him about four days to get there. But instead of rushing to his sick friend, Jesus delayed his departure.

God works on a different timezone. Actually, He is the Creator of time and works outside of time. He is never in a hurry, and sometimes it seems to us that He is late. So in John 11, by the time Jesus arrived, Lazarus was cold stone dead. In fact, it was the fourth day since he had died.

But the story does not end there. Jesus goes to the tomb. He asks that the huge stone blocking the entrance to the tomb be removed. Martha, always the practical sister, protests that there would be an odor after four days. But Jesus responds, “Did not I tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”

It is often said that seeing is believing, but that is not true. This story demonstrates that those who see do not always believe. Only those who believe really see: “Did not I tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”

The death of Lazarus was all about belief. When Jesus announced to his disciples that Lazarus was dead, he told them,

John 11:15 ESV …for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe…”

When Martha professed faith that Lazarus would “rise again in the resurrection on the last day,”

John 11:25-27 NLT Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. 26 Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die. Do you believe this, Martha?” 27 “Yes, Lord,” she told him. “I have always believed you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who has come into the world from God.”

Now as they stand at the open tomb, Jesus prays to His Father so that the people may believe:

John 11:41-42 NLT So they rolled the stone aside. Then Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Father, thank you for hearing me. 42 You always hear me, but I said it out loud for the sake of all these people standing here, so that they will believe you sent me.”

Jesus called the dead man by name. With a loud voice he cried out, “Lazarus, come out!” Did you know that someday Jesus will call you from the grave? Jesus had already said in John 5,

John 5:28-29 ESV Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice 29 and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.

Do not imagine for a moment that it’s all over when they toss the last clump of dirt on your casket. The hymn by Will L. Thompson (1847-1909) speaks of that day:

There’s a great day coming, a great day coming;
There’s a great day coming by and by,
When the saints and the sinners shall be parted right and left,
Are you ready for that day to come?


There’s a bright day coming, a bright day coming;
There’s a bright day coming by and by.
But its brightness shall only come to them that love the Lord.
Are you ready for that day to come?


There’s a sad day coming, a sad day coming;
There’s a sad day coming by and by,
When the sinner shall hear his doom: “Depart, I know you not!”
Are you ready for that day to come?


Are you ready? Are you ready?
Are you ready for the judgment day?
Are you ready? Are you ready?
For the judgment day?

Jesus stood by the tomb of Lazarus and called him forth.

John 11:44 NLT And the dead man came out, his hands and feet bound in graveclothes, his face wrapped in a headcloth. Jesus told them, “Unwrap him and let him go!”


Well, what do you do with that? Jesus does just what he says he will do.

John 11:45 NLT Many of the people who were with Mary believed in Jesus when they saw this happen.

It would seem that everyone should believe in the face of such evidence, but that was not the case. The next verse tells us,

John 11:46 NLT But some went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done.

These informers were hardened in their unbelief. They run to the Pharisees not merely to inform them of what has happened, and certainly not to persuade them to believe in Jesus. No, these informers have sided with the Pharisees against Jesus. They want to get in good with these people of power and influence.

Throughout the Gospels, the Pharisees continually oppose Jesus. He challenges their superficial understanding of the Scriptures. He exposes their hypocrisy. Rather than humble themselves and repent, they resist Jesus and try to bury the truth. Those people who reported the miracle to the Pharisees had already made up their minds about Jesus. They had made-up minds and hardened hearts. So the raising of Lazarus only deepened the division over Jesus.

It is much the same today. “There are some things in life about which it is possible to be neutral and others about which this is not possible.”[1] For example, it probably does not matter to you what color your neighbor paints his house. But if the teenage boy next-door is throwing stones at your three year old son, you cannot be neutral. You cannot be neutral when women and children are abused or when babies are aborted. You cannot be neutral about moral issues.

People are not neutral about Jesus. They are either for him or against him, or they are very selective about what they believe about him. I was talking with a man this week who professed a certain veneration for Jesus, but he did not believe what Jesus said about himself. He did not believe that Jesus told the truth when he said that he was the only way to God. This man did not believe that Jesus was raised from the dead, or that Jesus was coming back as the Scriptures declare. It makes no sense to say that Jesus was a great teacher if you reject his teaching. This is actually a hidden hostility toward Jesus.

Throughout the Gospel of John, we have seen people divided over Jesus and his claims. In John 7, when Jesus claimed to be the source of living water, “the crowd was divided about him” (John 7:37-43, NLT).

When he healed a blind man on the Sabbath, some said that he was not from God because he did the work on the Sabbath, but others asked how a sinner would do such signs (John 9:16).

When Jesus claimed to be the Good Shepherd, “the people were again divided in their opinions about him” (John 10:19, NLT).

Now in John 11, when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, many of the people believed in Jesus. Who were these people? They were friends of Martha and Mary. They had gone to console them in their loss. They had accompanied Mary to the tomb and there they “found themselves face to face with a stupendous work of God.”[2]

John 11:45 NLT Many of the people who were with Mary believed in Jesus when they saw this happen.

John’s whole purpose in writing this Gospel is to bring people to faith in Christ:

John 20:30-31 ESV Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

“…the reaction of these people is the kind of reaction [John] is looking for from his readers generally.”[3]


But belief was not the only response to the raising of Lazarus. Some Jews “went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done” (John 11:46).

John 11:47 ESV So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs.

A miracle like the raising of Lazarus should have compelled belief, but that was not the case. Some Jews told the Pharisees. The Pharisees and the religious authorities had a meeting. The facts are not in question: “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs.”

“Many signs,” they said. In Jerusalem alone Jesus performed numerous signs. Already in John 2, people in Jerusalem believed in Jesus because of the signs which he did. In John 5, Jesus healed a man who had been lame for 38 years. In John 9, he healed a man who had been blind from birth. Now in Bethany, just three kilometers from Jerusalem, Jesus has raised a man from the dead.

The enemies of Jesus admit that he has performed many signs, but they fail to believe what the signs signify.

These signs were written, John said, so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God… (20:31).

That is the very thing that they refuse to believe. The religious authorities wanted to kill Jesus in John 5:18 when he made himself equal with God and claimed the prerogatives of God. The picked up stones to stone him in John 5:58 because he claimed the pre-existence of God. Again they wanted to stone him in John 10:30-33 “because you, being a man, make yourself God.”

The religious authorities did not contest the authenticity of Jesus’ miracles. But he had to be stopped. Why did he have to be stopped? Jesus had to be stopped because…

Jesus Was a Dangerous Man

A man like Jesus was simply too dangerous to let loose on the public. Israel was not a sovereign nation. Israel was a nation under Rome. Every member of the Sanhedrin—the Supreme Court of Israel—every member knew that the Roman Empire held the real authority. The High Priest was appointed by Rome, and Rome could change the appointment or even completely revoke any local authority whenever it wanted to.

As long as things went smoothly in the country, as long as there was peace in the streets, the chief priests could maintain the position of prestige, power, and wealth. But a man like Jesus was a serious threat to their position. Too many people were following him. Rome could become very uneasy about a new people movement in Israel.

John 11:47-48 ESV So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. 48 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 chide themselves for not having solved the problem sooner. “What are we doing?” they asked. “We are getting nowhere fast!”

How often does concern for one’s position or place keep one from believing in Christ? In many places in the world, schools and universities are supposed to be places of academic freedom, as long as you accept the party line. As long as you believe that there is no absolute truth. As long as you believe in evolution. As long as you believe in abortion on demand. And the list goes on. If you do not accept these articles of faith, you risk losing your position.

The chief priests and Pharisees did not contest the reality of the miraculous signs but refused to believe what the signs said about Jesus. “Unbelief can mean a complete failure to reckon with the facts.”[4] These men saw that Jesus put their position in danger and they wanted none of it.

The Unconscious Prophecy

At this point, John points out that Caiaphas was the high priest that fateful year. Caiaphas was as concerned as any of them for his position. As high priest, he was the most powerful man of the Sanhedrin. Powerful and arrogant.

John 11:49-50 NLT Caiaphas, who was high priest at that time, said, “You don’t know what you’re talking about! 50 You don’t realize that it’s better for you that one man should die for the people than for the whole nation to be destroyed.”

Caiaphas felt his superiority: “You don’t know anything!” He points to their incompetence. They are unable to find a solution to this man who continues to work many miracles. They focus on the people and the consequences: “Everyone will believe in him,” they say, “and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”

Caiaphas focuses not on the results but on the cause. He could not be bothered with questions of justice or morality. For him, the end justified the means. All you have to do is kill the man who works the miracles. Kill the miracle worker and you kill the movement: “it is expedient for you that one man die for the people, and that the whole nation not perish” (John 11:50 NAU). Not “it is right,” but “it is expedient.”

It did not matter whether or not Jesus was guilty of a crime; the solution to the problem posed by his growing popularity was [not simply to silence him or imprison him, but] to have him killed. If he was put out of the way, there would be no problem; the nation would be saved.[5]

But Caiaphas spoke better than he knew.

The irony is, Caiaphas was talking about the nation of Israel being saved from the wrath of Rome, while the prophecy—as John turns it—is that he’s will die for people all over the world so they could be saved from God’s wrath![6]

He was not a religious man; he was an unprincipled politician. Nonetheless, as high priest, he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation. Though an ungodly man, the words in his mouth had been put there by God.

God often uses wicked men for His own purposes. On the Day of Pentecost, Peter will declare that the people of Israel delivered up Jesus “according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23).

Leon Morris says this of Caiaphas:

God used him to enunciate a truth that was greater and more significant than Caiaphas ever dreamed. Jesus would die for the nation, but he would do more than that. He would die for all God’s children and gather them “into one” (v. 52). Scattered abroad through the world they might be, but the atoning death of Jesus would form a bond of unity. To this day those who have been saved through Christ’s death are one with each other in a way that surpasses all merely human unities.[7]

Here the words of Caiaphas are prophetic: Jesus would die for the nation, but not for the nation only, John tells us, “but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.”

This is exactly what Christ came to do. The Good Shepherd came to lay down his life for the sheep. In the previous chapter, Jesus has said,

John 10:14-16 ESV I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.

The Good Shepherd would die for the nation and for all the future children of God scattered abroad. Jesus would die not only for the Jews, but for you and me.

Hardened hearts.

John 11:53 NLT So from that time on, the Jewish leaders began to plot Jesus’ death.

Made-up minds. Hardened hearts.

What will you do with Jesus? You cannot ignore him. He does not allow that. Jesus pushes the envelope, so to speak. He allows no room for neutrality. He is unconventional; he breaks with tradition. He works on the Sabbath and when called to account for his actions, he simply replies that he is only doing what God has always done on the Sabbath. He quotes no authorities; he is the final authority. He will not be silenced; his words ring out through the centuries. You can kill him and bury him, but he won’t stay put; he rises from the dead.

The facts were never called into question. No one doubted that Jesus had healed the lame man, or opened the eyes of the man born blind, or raised Lazarus from the dead. And when Jesus himself rose from the dead, the authorities never questioned the testimony of the disciples or the hundreds of other witnesses to his resurrection. Facts are facts. But facts do not force faith. Faith is turning to Christ and trusting him for your eternal welfare. It is trusting him for your salvation: not the good things that you do. Not keeping the Sabbath. Faith recognizes that our righteousness stinks. Christ is our only hope. He died in our place to save us from the wrath of God.

So what will you do with Jesus?

Romans 10:9-13 NLT If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are saved. 11 As the Scriptures tell us, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced.” 12 Jew and Gentile are the same in this respect. They have the same Lord, who gives generously to all who call on him. 13 For “Everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved.”

Turn to him and be saved.

[1] Leon Morris, Reflections, p. 418.

[2] Leon Morris, Reflections, p. 420.

[3] Leon Morris, Reflections, p. 420.

[4] Leon Morris, Reflections, p. 422.

[5] Leon Morris, Reflections, p. 424.

[6] Philip W. Comfort, Opening the Gospel of John, p. 192.

[7] Leon Morris, Reflections, p. 424.

See also “Gospel of John”: