ENEMIES OF THE GOSPEL
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
October 25, 2020
45 Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him, 46 but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. 47 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.” 49 But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. 50 Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” 51 He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, 52 and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. 53 So from that day on they made plans to put him to death. 54 Jesus therefore no longer walked openly among the Jews, but went from there to the region near the wilderness, to a town called Ephraim, and there he stayed with the disciples. 55 Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and many went up from the country to Jerusalem before the Passover to purify themselves. 56 They were looking for Jesus and saying to one another as they stood in the temple, “What do you think? That he will not come to the feast at all?” 57 Now the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that if anyone knew where he was, he should let them know, so that they might arrest him.
— John 11:45-57, ESV
The resurrection of Lazarus from the dead is the perfect vindication of the word of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ. The miracle emanates from the power of Jesus’ short sermon, “Lazarus, come forth.” Furthermore, the episode aptly illustrates the irresistible grace of God in salvation when one is called from spiritual death unto everlasting life.
How could one have witnessed this seventh of seven signs in the Gospel of John and not become a believer in Jesus Christ? “Many ... did believe in Him” (vs. 45). Praise the Lord! But most did not, and still do not believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Unbelief is not neutrality. Jesus said, “He who is not with me is against me” (ref. Matthew 12:30). Unbelief is enmity (ref. Romans 8:7). Unbelief is the natural condition of an unsaved human being (ref. 1 Corinthians 2:14; Ephesians 2:1). Unbelief, often cloaked in garments of faith, eventually exposes itself in obvious ways. We see some of these enemies of the gospel in the aftermath of the resurrection of Lazarus.
Legalism Without Grace
Ungodly unbelief, masking itself in godliness, often reveals itself is in a legalistic view of salvation that pledges no allegiance to the grace of God. It is any sort of salvation by works, or salvation by superiority, that mistakenly thinks it merits favor with God. It is actually unbelief, and its poster child, once again, is the Pharisees. Boo!
After the resurrection of Lazarus, after a few more people professed faith in Jesus, the unfaithful made a fast track to the Pharisees. The Pharisees had already set themselves up as superior to Jesus, adversaries of Jesus, and therefore enemies of God and the gospel. Christ’s message, announced in the seven “I Am” statements and illustrated in the seven signs (most notably Lazarus’ resurrection), offered the gospel of grace alone through faith alone in Him, in Christ, alone. The Pharisees begged to differ, and poor beggars they were.
Works righteousness is a false gospel touted by religious legalists that seeks to legislate a person into Heaven. Whether it be keeping the Pharisees’ meticulous Sabbath rules, or keeping off of alcohol and caffeine, or even keeping actual Scriptural commandments, any attempt to treat salvation like a prize for keeping rules is an enemy of Jesus and the gospel. As is moral superiority, which the Pharisee played to the hilt when he prayed with the tax collector (ref. Luke 18:9ff). Just because you are morally superior to others does not make you acceptable to God, and feeling morally superior to others usually indicates a total absence of grace.
Jesus’ true gospel of salvation is for sinners, for those who know they are sinners, and for those who are sick and tired of their sin. It is grace, God’s grace, that makes us aware of sin’s estrangement and enmity, and grace gives us the desire for making a place for Jesus, first place, in our lives.
Legalism runs and tells the Pharisees. Grace runs as fast as it can to God. Which way are you running?
Religion Without Faith
Though the Pharisees were the populists in Jesus’ day, they did not sit on the top of religious power in Jerusalem. The high priest’s office was held by Sadducees, Annas and his son-in-law and successor, Caiaphas. Unbelief ran to legalism, and legalism ran to religion, religion without faith, which is another arch enemy of the gospel.
The Sadducees liked the pomp and circumstance of religion, but without the dogma. They did not want to be bogged down in beliefs, doctrines, truths. They did not believe in the supernatural, in persons and powers you cannot see, so they really did not believe in God, at all. So when Jesus came, claiming to be God, the Sadducees teamed up with the Pharisees to ensure the deluded Jesus would be destroyed.
There are beautiful religious edifices, Christian church buildings, that I have seen all over America, eastern and western Europe, and both sides of Russia. Their steeples are gold, their architecture is ornate wood, their facades are beautiful brick and stone, their chancels or altars draw your eyes to astounding crosses. But inside there is no faith. There is ritual, moral instruction without biblical standards, and therapy for the parishioners. But there is no belief in the authority of Scripture nor the exclusive claims of Jesus Christ.
Likewise, there are trendy megachurch warehouses franchising themselves all over the world now, offering rock music, amusement park amenities for kids, social justice coffees for millennials, smooth marketing, and state of the art technology. What they don’t have, however, are orthodox statements of faith, pastors who’ve taken a class in systematic theology, verse by verse Bible study, and reverent prayers and hymns that honor God.
Today’s world is long on religion and short on faith. It sells out Jesus for thirty pieces of silver, or political prestige, or merely a big crowd. It makes even spiritually dead people feel good about themselves, and the pomp or pop music is so loud, they cannot even hear if Jesus should come calling.
It is tempting to give lip service to the gospel. It is easy and personally beneficial to join most churches, where the perks and programs are many and the demands of discipleship are null and void. Christianity is more of a passing culture today than a primary faith.
But gospel faith holds the whole counsel of the word of God to be true, and preaches the Lord Jesus Christ as the only one who can take away our sin and impute His saving righteousness, by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Therefore, all false-hearted or half-hearted attempts to follow Christ are enemies of the gospel.
Politics without God
So what did the legalistic Pharisees and faithless Sadducees do when they got together to get rid of the Lord Jesus Christ? They turned to the greatest worldly power and enemy of the gospel. They played politics.
Politics is the governing of a people. When informed by God and God’s word, like the experiment that became the United States of America, it can make a nation a city on a hill, a bright beacon of hope, an arbiter of justice. Without God, like atheistic communism or secular socialism, it becomes immoral, tyrannical, unjust.
The death and resurrection of Lazarus led directly to the death and resurrection of Jesus. The miracle performed at Lazarus’ tomb was the last straw for the unbelievers, the Pharisees, and the Sadducees. It was at this moment that the high priest, with ironic credit from John, decided to mix the politics of Jerusalem with the power of Rome and hatch the plot that would punish the Lord Jesus Christ with crucifixion.
Jesus would duck it for a few days by leaving Bethany and taking cover in nearby Ephraim. But as this central chapter turns to the second half of John’s Gospel, Jesus will go from Ephraim, to Bethany, to Jerusalem, to the Passover, and to the cross.
At the cross, Jesus faced the enemies of the gospel: legalism without grace, religion without faith, and politics without God. We must face them today.
Face them squarely by asking a few questions:
Are you saved because of what you’ve done for God, or because of what God has done for you? Are you trusting in your own goodness (ref. Romans 3:10), or the atoning death and imputed righteousness that comes by grace through faith in Jesus Christ (ref. 2 Corinthians 5:21; Ephesians 2:8-10)?
Do you abide by the external etiquette of a religion you’ve mostly made up for yourself, or is your conscience held captive by the word of God? Is faith simply your personal interpretation of select Bible verses (ref. Deuteronomy 12:8; 2 Peter 1:20), or is the faith the cardinal and systematic doctrines presented in the inspired pages of the word of God (ref. Psalm 119:105; 2 Timothy 3:16ff)?
If you could only devote yourself to one cause, the success of your particular political party, candidate, or cause; or, the cause of Christ expressed by regular worship, responsible church membership, and world missions, which would you choose? Is politics your god, or does the true and living God reign over your politics and every other area of your life?
These questions, and the answers you give, will determine whether you are a friend of God or one of the many enemies of the gospel.
Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org