Who's in Charge Here?
The first question a superior officer asks when coming on a scene is, "Who's in charge here?" and you had better be able to answer quick. Answering quick led to the downfall of Secretary of State Alexander Haig. After an assignation attempt on President Regan, Haig tried to calm the public by saying, "I'm in charge here" in response to who is running the government while the president was in surgery (www.adst.org). That wasn't the correct answer. The Secretary of State is 4th in line to succeed the President. Haig, a former career Army officer, responded as trained and was made to look like he was thirsting for power. But who is in charge here?
The enemies of God think they are. Look what has been redefined in the last 45 or so years. Life has been redefined as beginning outside the womb not in it. Death has been redefined in terms of brain waves not heart beats. Fornication has been redefined to mean marriage and homosexuality to be normal.
And what has happened to those who took charge of what only God can be in charge of? Absolutely nothing. Fire and brimstone didn't come down from heaven to destroy these new Sodom's. Diseases contracted from sexually permissive living were successfully treated by man's medicines. Not only aren't they judged for daring to usurp God's authority, their plans come to fruition. They have successfully overthrown the institution of marriage which had stood since Adam and Eve. They have made those who are opposed to their immorality pay for their abortions, their art, their medicine, and more.
Psalm 2 gives the Christian the right view of these things. It recognizes that the nations conspire against the Lord's Christ, and what is the Lord's reaction? "The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them." In Psalm 37 David sees that the wicked plot against the righteous and says, "The Lord laughs at him." Psalm 59 depicts the men who pursue the Lord's people. And says, "Thou, O Lord doest laugh at them; thou dost scoff at the nations." Psalm 52 depicts the workers of deceit and says that when their judgments come "The righteous will laugh at" them.
The Egyptians persecuted the people of God for 3 hundred years but God overthrew them. For centuries, the Church seemed forgotten by God, but then the Word of the Lord came to John in the wilderness after 400 years. The Church was persecuted by the Jews for 40 years but God overthrew them. The Romans persecuted the Church for 300 years but the Church won. The Church always wins because our God, Savior, Lord, and Redeemer is the One in charge.
But we don't want to have a "Yeah, they'll get theirs" attitude, as if our only problem is that the enemies of God think they are in charge. No, our real problem is that we think we should be, can be. Don't you do that? I do.
I define what is good, best for me. Sickness bad; success good. Happy days good; Death Valley days bad. I may say "Thy will be done" but I'm thinking "My will be done, and quick." And this extends to more than just me. I'm capable of deciding what should happen to everyone. Be it a family member or church member, I think I should be in charge of what comes and goes from their lives. Now, not one of you would want that. You can see how foolhardy it would be to have fallen me in charge of you. In the Spirit of Proverbs, I've "gottcha." If you can see how foolish it would be to have me in charge of you, it's equally bad to have me in charge of me.
Unless by God's grace we come to this realization, we can only end up disappointed in God when what we want to happen, what we know should happen doesn't. It's His fault our plans didn't come to fruition. God has let me down because He didn't do things my way. God isn't as powerful as I thought. Such conclusions don't lead to laughing but crying.
Who's in charge here? If we confess, by God's grace, He is, then be prepared to see awful things in both senses of that word. The modern definition is "very bad or unpleasant." The archaic, but Biblical and theological, definition is "inspiring reverential wonder or fear."
Look at our text. Look whose lips God uses to speak His holy Word. Caiaphas, a Sadducee who denied the resurrection and the existence of angels. A member of the crime family that ran the Temple business for decades by having a family member serve as high priest. The high priest by God's command was a lifetime position. But the Sadducees, as opposed to the Pharisees, were willing to play ball with the Roman oppressors, willing to let them change high priests willy-nilly in order to get the high priesthood for their party. This unfaithfulness is being highlighted by John saying twice that Caiaphas was high priest "that year." The mentioning of the chief priests' does the same thing. These were the men who had once been high priest but were unbiblically moved aside.
You know how disconcerting, disquieting, horrifying it is when movies depict ants, roaches, or snakes pouring out of a person's mouth? Well, here the snake opens his mouth and out comes light, life, holiness. He speaks the Gospel. He says to his fellow haters of Christ, "You know nothing at all," when in truth he didn't know what he was saying. He didn't know how much better it was that Jesus die, and he didn't know that their putting Him to death would lead to them losing their place and nation. Forty years after they put Jesus to death, 40 years after He rose victorious from the grave, the Romans came and destroyed Jerusalem, the Old Testament church, its leaders and put to death 1.1 million people (Josephus, Jewish War, 6).
This very evil man, this enemy of God and Church, who looks as disgusting as a malformed toad, croaks and out come lilies, and roses, and life. Yes, he spoke of judicial murder; yes, he spoke of killing the One they admitted did many miraculous signs verifying He was the Christ. Now this sounds like ants, roaches, and snakes pouring out of his mouth. It sounds like the devil and all his demons are in charge of everything, but they are not. God remains in charge. One of the titles of God is "Thou Who Hearest Prayer" (Psalm 65:2)? Another Biblical title is Thou Who Rulest in the Midst of Thine Enemies (Psalm 110:2).
When devil, disease, death seem to be having their way with you. It's not true. God doesn't abdicate His throne. Even when He stands on trial before the throne of Pilate what does He say to him? You would have no authority over Me except it were given it to you from above. The enemies of God think they are taking charge of the situation when they agree that Jesus should die, but they are fulfilling God's plans.
The Lord is the One who couched the First Gospel Promise in terms of not only Christ crushing the serpent's head but the serpent bruising Christ's heal. It was God who predicted that Jesus would be betrayed by His old familiar friend (Psalm 41:9). It was God who said He would be pleased to crush Him (Isaiah 53:10), that by His wounds we would be healed, that He would be wounded for our transgressed, bruised for our iniquities, and that His punishing would bring us peace (Isaiah 53:5).
Aren't these truly awful things? Being betrayed, tortured, and put to death by your enemies, well that could be a noble thing. That's the stuff of martyrdom and heroes. But to be betrayed by your best friend, to have your own father willingly hurt you for the sake of others, to have your God totally forsake you in the hour of your utmost need, well that's the stuff of hell, of devils, of being punished for sins so horrible they're worthy of a Greek tragedy.
But God's in charge here. He never once drops the reigns of rule or power. Men think they do what they want but they are doing what God wants. And He wants to give up His only beloved Son. He wants to give up His Son who kept every law God ever gave to men, who never sinned like you do every day, who was not sinful in any sense as we are in every sense. He gave Jesus up in place of you and every sinner you know and everyone you don't know. God hands over pure Jesus into the filthy hands of sinners, into the black arms of the powers of darkness, so that He might claim you. Claim you from your enemies who would destroy you and from yourself who would lead you astray.
This illustration could backfire big time, but I hope you can remember at least one time growing up that you were chosen first when kids picked teams. If not, I hope you can remember one time, you weren't chosen last. If not, know that in the game of Life, God chose you first. He chose you over His First-born Son, and sent Him to bear all the fears, all the guilts, all the shames you deserve. This wasn't one of those reluctant picks of kids "O alright I'll take him." No, God the Father said with all joy, "I'll take him." "I pick her," and you were His first pick.
Now back the focus up. Zoom out. All that I've said is true, but the picture is bigger than you. The Holy Spirit says Jesus' sacrificial, substitutionary death was "to bring the scattered children of God together and to make them one." Here is where the awful beauty comes in. Scripture doesn't say there are many churches, but one. It also says, there is one Body of Christ, one Spirit, one Lord, one faith, one Baptism (Eph. 4: 4-5). Yes, there are divisions because people depart from God's Word, and these have to be confessed, but so does the truth that there is still only one Church. And through His Word and Sacraments, God maintains this one holy church across denominational lines, even across the chasm of death.
Our God maintains the Holy Christian Church day in and day out, even without our knowledge, prayers, or recognition in order to bring all His children home. God's enemies try to stop Him, but their best efforts only result in blessings for us. And when we try to take charge, it's like when one of my sons at age 4 or so put on my helmet, my web gear, and my boots and marched around the house. I could only laugh not in derision but in joy. That's what I looked like to God when I sallied forth to take charge of what only He could be in charge of. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Fifth Sunday in Lent (20170402); John 11: 47-53