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“For Us”

John 11:45-53
Bob DeGray
April 14, 2019

Key Sentence

Jesus laid down his life for us.


I. Huper Humon . . .
II. He Lays Down His Life For . . .
III. One Man to Die For . . .
IV. Hosanna . . .


Romans 5:6-8 is a familiar, key text. “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7For one will scarcely die for a righteous person, though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die. 8But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

For a good person one might even dare to die. On February 1, 1944, on Kwajalein Atoll, Marine Private First Class Richard B. Anderson hurled his body on a grenade to save his companions, taking the full impact of the explosion. On September 15, 1944 Marine Corporal Lewis K. Bausell covered an exploding Japanese hand grenade to protect his comrades, and died of his wounds three days later. On July 23, 1944 near Afua, New Guinea, Army Second Lieutenant George W. G. Boyce, Jr, after being ambushed by superior enemy forces, was planning a response with his platoon. During this planning, a grenade fell in between him and his men, and he threw himself on the grenade to save his men. On December 24, 1942 Army First Sergeant Elmer J. Burr smothered a grenade with his body, sacrificing himself to save others around him.

On April 16, 1945 Marine Corporal Richard E. Bush, was a squadron leader during the final assault against Mt. Yaetake on Okinawa. He led his troops up the rocky precipice, over the ridge and drove out defending Japanese troops. While being evacuated for his wounds a Japanese grenade landed in the midst of his group. He pulled it into his body, taking the full force of the blast. In Best, Holland, on September 18, 1944 Army Private First Class Joe E. Mann boldly crept to within rocket-launcher range of an enemy artillery position and, in the face of heavy enemy fire, destroyed an 88-mm gun and an ammunition dump. He was wounded four times. He insisted on remaining in a forward position to stand guard during the night. The following morning the enemy launched a concerted attack and advanced to within a few yards of the position, throwing hand grenades as they approached. One landed within a few feet of Pfc. Mann. Unable to raise his arms, which were bandaged to his body, he yelled "Grenade" and threw his body over the grenade as it exploded.

Each of these soldiers was awarded the Medal of Honor because they gave their lives for others and for their nation. And yes, the a word in that sentence turns out to be the word ‘for.’ This word is so important to the Scriptures that we are going to address it in each of the four services that we’ll have this week. So important is this word that I’m going to teach it to you in Greek, though I’m terrible at pronouncing Greek. But it’s a simple word, “huper.”

It doesn’t mean “for” in the broadest use of our English word, but it does mean “for” in the more limited sense of “on behalf of,” or “for the sake of,” or “in place of.” It’s used in this sense over and over again in the New Testament to describe the sacrifice of Jesus. The verse we started with says “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” “huper,” in fact, “huper humon,” for us, on our behalf. While we were still sinners Christ died in our place.

Why is this important? Because as we celebrate the death and resurrection of Christ, this year and every year, we want to get a deeper sense of “why did Christ die?” He died “for us.” The theological way of saying that is that he was a substitute, his death was a substitution. Listen to a few of these “huper” verses, to how they point to substitution: 1 John 3:16 “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” Ephesians 5:2 “Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” John 6:51 “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” John 10:11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

These verses also tie into the Old Testament imagery of sacrifice. “He gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” The sacrifices were substitution, an offering of one life to take a penalty deserved by another. This was called atonement. Leviticus 17:11 “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life.” Later this week we’ll have a Passover Seder. In the Passover a lamb was slain and the blood placed on the door. When the angel of death saw the blood, he did not kill the firstborn. He knew a life had already been given. Jesus took this image and transformed it into communion, the Lord’s supper by saying “this is my body which is for you.” “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.” My life poured out for you. Your sin will be passed over, atonement will be made.

But atonement, especially substitutionary atonement, has been debated throughout church history. Did Jesus really die for our sins, take our punishment and endure God’s wrath for us? Or was his death more of an example, or only a victory over Satan and death and the fall? There are, in fact, two debates about atonement. One concerns the exact Biblical meanings of the words that are used to describe and even to translate the word atonement. In this debate all the words have something to do with substitution and nearly all the debaters admit that there was a substitution happening on the Cross. Most people would agree that words like “redemption,” “reconciliation,” “justification,” and “propitiation” or “atoning sacrifice” are each more-or-less substitutionary.

As John Stott says in his marvelous book “The Cross of Christ,” “They are not alternative explanations of the cross, providing us with a range to choose from, but complementary to one another, each contributing a vital part to the whole…. ‘propitiation’ introduces us to rituals of sacrifice, ‘redemption’ to transactions in a market-place, ‘justification’ to proceedings in a lawcourt, and ‘reconciliation’ to experiences in a home or family. My contention is that ‘substitution’ is not a further ‘theory’ or ‘image’ to be set alongside the others, but rather the foundation of them all, without which each lacks clarity and power. If God in Christ did not die in our place, there could be neither propitiation, nor redemption, nor justification, nor reconciliation.”

But at least two “theories of atonement: not centered in substitution have been proposed. One of them is called the “moral influence theory,” in which, Stott says “the power of the cross lies not in any objective, sin-bearing transaction but in its subjective inspiration, not in its legal efficacy (changing our status before God) but in its moral influence (changing our attitudes and actions).” One key verse used to support this theory is 1 Peter 2:21, where Peter exhorts his readers to endure suffering and says “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.” Christ is our example, and those who hold solely to a moral influence theory would say that that’s the power of the cross.

The second, and more common alternate theory of the atonement is called “Christus Victor,” Christ the victor. On the cross Jesus defeated Satan and won the victory over death and even sin. The key verse used to show this great victory is often Colossians 2:15 Christ “disarmed the powers and authorities. He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” Gustav Aulen, back in the 1900’s claimed this was the atonement theory held by the early church and that legalistic and judicial understandings of the work of Christ only crept in later. But, Stott says, this isn’t a case of either/or. “Aulén … made too sharp a contrast between the ‘substitution’ and the ‘victory’ motifs, as if they are mutually incompatible. But the New Testament does not oblige us to choose between them, for it includes both. Thus, God took the initiative and won the victory through Christ, but one of the tyrants from whom he liberated us was the very sin which he died to atone for.” He quotes John Eadie “On the cross was the purchase made, and on the cross was the victory gained. The blood which wipes out the sentence against us was there shed, and the death which was the death-blow of Satan’s kingdom was there endured.”

“In fact,” Stott says, “all three explanations of the death of Christ contain biblical truth and can be embraced. . . Jesus Christ is successively the Savior, Teacher and Victor, because we ourselves are guilty, apathetic and in bondage.”

I myself, in fact, would be willing to concede that the victory of Christ is the primary idea in the atonement, as long as it is recognized that the victory itself was achieved through substitution. Because substitution shows up everywhere. Today we’re celebrating the triumphal entry of Jesus to Jerusalem. In that event we see various aspects of the atonement. It is, certainly, a foretaste of his victory. But it also contains substitution, as Jesus comes to die for the nation. So let’s look at our main text, John 11:45-53, which precedes the triumphal entry but follows the raising of Lazarus.

John 11:45-53 Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him, 46but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. 47So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. 48If 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.” 49But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. 50Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” 51He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, 52and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. 53So from that day on they made plans to put him to death.

People look out for their own interests. And sometimes that’s a good thing. The resurrection of Lazarus made a huge impact on those who were wavering in their response to Jesus. For many who had come to comfort Mary and Martha, this was what pushed them over to faith. They saw God’s glory revealed in this miraculous sign, and seeing it, they could no longer deny who Jesus was.

But to some raising Lazarus from death made Jesus a greater threat, more acclaimed by the people and thus more likely to create a popular uprising, which would only lead to destruction by the Romans. Some who had witnessed these events went and reported to the Pharisees. The Pharisees themselves could not take judicial action. Under Roman authority the Jewish Sanhedrin controlled all internal affairs. It was the judiciary, the legislature, and, through the chief priest, the executive. At this time, chief priest was a hereditary appointment. You had to be from a certain set of families: you also had to be in with the Romans. In fact, the whole Sanhedrin existed only at the whim of the Romans. Everyone had a vested interest in keeping peace, because that’s how they kept their position and their power. So it was natural that perceived ‘problem’ of Jesus would become a pressing concern for the Sanhedrin.

All this is reflected in their words: “the man is performing many miraculous signs; if this goes on everybody will believe in him.” They lived in constant fear of a popular revolt or anything that would bring the full weight of Rome upon their heads, leading to the destruction of 'our place,' almost certainly a reference to the temple, and ‘our nation,’ in its precarious, semi-autonomous existence. This may have, partly, been a true concern for the nation and the people, but it was deeply mixed with natural human self-interest, the desire to preserve their power and prestige.

In verse 49 we learn that Caiahphas was the high priest presiding over the Sanhedrin. He had been appointed high priest in 18 AD by the Romans. He breaks into the Sanhedrin’s lament to say “You know nothing at all!” “You don’t know what you’re talking about.” Caiaphas may have kow-towed to the Romans, but as leader of this group he was far from mild mannered. He says “it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” Notice the for, the “huper,” “one man should die for the people.” Caiaphas is using “for” as sacrificial language, the same way Jesus used it when he said “I lay down my life for my sheep.” But Caiaphas didn’t mean it redemptively. He spoke politically. Jesus was to be 'devoted' to death, sacrificed as a scapegoat, in order to spare the nation and its leaders.

Readers living after the cross saw more. Caiaphas spoke of a nation and as a people, and the apostles would speak of themselves as a new nation and a new people, the church. Verse 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, c52and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.” Caiaphas didn’t say this on his own. This doesn’t mean God used Caiaphas like a puppet. Caiaphas spoke his own considered if calloused opinion. But when he spoke, God was also speaking, saying something different through the same words, that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation.

Again, 'to die for the nation' is sacrificial language, a ransom. Both Caiaphas and John see Jesus' death as substitutionary: either Jesus dies, or the nation dies. But while Caiaphas is thinking at the purely political level, John invites his readers to think in terms of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. John says this sacrificial death is not only for that nation but for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one. In a purely Jewish context, 'the scattered children of God' would be the Jews of the diaspora, who would be gathered in the promised land to share in the kingdom. Christians quickly drew new connections: the children of God are also those who, though dispersed as Gentiles in the world, received the risen Christ and believed in his name.

They are then gathered, not only when Jesus comes again, but now into the church, the community of the Messiah. Even in John 10 Jesus said that as the Good Shepherd he must draw his sheep, for whom he would lay down his life, from many sheep pens into one flock, under one shepherd. John’s Gospel makes it clear that people become children of God only by receiving Christ by faith, because he lays down his life for us. He is the one man who will die for you, for me, for the whole community of faith worldwide and across the centuries.

So, what Caiaphas said was prophetic. He didn’t consciously point to Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. Far from it. But God allowed him to speak truth. Jesus was on the road to death because that death was the centerpiece of God’s plan of salvation, the climax of God’s Big Story. Many prophets prior to Caiaphas had already seen this. Isaiah, chapter 53: “Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. 5But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” It’s often been said that Jesus was born to die.

Verse 53 “So from that day on they made plans to put him to death.” His enemies made the plans, but it was God’s plan that he lay down his life, on the cross, “huper humon,” for us, for my sins and for yours. His enemies acted in their own self-interest, to preserve their place and power, their wealth and comfort. In their math, the death of one man was preferable to the loss of those things. But in God’s math the death of this one man was a sufficient substitute for the salvation of many both from the nation of Israel and from the nations of the world. Substitution is at the heart of the atonement we celebrate this week.

But we cannot deny, must not deny that victory is also a fruit of the atonement. It’s that victory that we see foreshadowed in the triumphal entry. John 12:12-19 The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. 13So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” 14And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written, 15“Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!” 16His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him. 17The crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness. 18The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign. 19So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him.”

After the resurrection of Lazarus, large crowds began to come to see him, which was natural, considering he’d been dead. The Pharisees, in their single-minded desire to forestall a revolt, decided, rather irrationally, that, like Jesus, Lazarus needed to die, again. But before they could carry out their deadly schemes, the Passover week was upon them. On Sunday morning, Jesus leaves Bethany and makes the two mile trip to the gates of Jerusalem. On the way he is met by a great crowd that has come for the feast. Many who had heard of the resurrection of Lazarus were there. They gather palm branches from the abundant date palms. Though nothing in the Bible specifies the use of palm branches at Passover, there is a command to wave palm fronds at the feast of Tabernacles. In fact palm branches were a national symbol. Both ancient and modern Jewish coins display them. They waved these branches as we might wave a flag, expressing the desire for freedom and a Messianic king.

But this crowd didn’t limit itself to visuals. They give voice to their hopes as well: "Hosanna!" "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" "Blessed is the King of Israel!" In Hebrew the cry ‘Hosanna!’ means ‘Give salvation now.’ It’s a term of praise and worship, found in Psalm 118, verses 25-27: O Lord, save us; - or ‘hosanna’ - O Lord, grant us success. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. From the house of the Lord we bless you. The Lord is God, and he has made his light shine upon us. With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession up to the horns of the altar.” This very Palm Sunday-ish Psalm was loved as a prophecy of the Messiah.

The next line shows the crowd’s hope and expectation “Blessed is the King of Israel.” The crowd proclaims Jesus both Messiah and King. This isn’t the first time John has called Jesus king, though it’s relatively rare, not his main theme. In chapter 1 Nathanael declared, "Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel." In John 18 and 19, as Jesus stands before Pilate, the central issue will be whether Jesus is the king of the Jews. We know is that he is the king, the victorious rescuer, Christus Victor, but he has not yet taken his throne. He’s on a different mission. The triumphal entry is an early celebration of his victory which will lead to his reign not only in heaven but on earth.

In John 12:14-16 John emphasizes that on this road to the cross, Jesus fulfills prophecy. Jesus doesn’t enter the city on a war horse as a conqueror. Instead he rides the donkey in gentle peace. Verse 15 partially quotes Zechariah 9:9; ‘gentle and riding on a donkey.’ In Zechariah, the peace this gentle king brings is proclaimed to all nations, and his coming is associated with the blood of God’s covenant, a covenant of release for prisoners and water for the thirsty. It is only through the blood of Jesus, shed “huper humon” that these promises are made good.

However, the impact of this at the time was minimal because John says not even the disciples caught this meaning until after Jesus was glorified. They made the connection on our side of the cross, after Jesus had died, been raised, ascended into heaven and sent the Holy Spirit to guard and guide his people. That’s what John means when he says ‘glorified’. On this side the reason to celebrate is clear: Jesus is the king who came in peace for us, to make peace with us.

In verse 17 we learn that the folks who had seen him raise Lazarus continued to spread the word and many went out to see him. But the Pharisees stand apart from this celebration and pass judgment; they cling to their position and power, see Jesus as a threat, and are even more threatened as they see the crowd going after him. What should be a cause of celebration, that the whole world was following the Messiah, becomes instead more fuel for murderous anger. From their point of view the triumphal entry was about the worst thing that could have happened, because to declare Jesus king was to heighten the risk that the Romans would react violently. This victorious spectacle caused them to double down on their commitment that this one man should die for the sake of the people, to preserve both the nation and their power.

But as John said, they spoke the “for” prophetically. It was necessary for one man to die for the people, even for his enemies, to become the substitute and pay the price of sin for the salvation of who would come to him in faith. “For us.”

Romans 5:6-11 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.