John 12:37-50 (90 Days with Jesus, Day 61)
37Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him. 38This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet: “Lord, who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” 39For this reason they could not believe, because, as Isaiah says elsewhere: 40″He has blinded their eyes and deadened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, nor turn—and I would heal them.” 41Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus’ glory and spoke about him. 42Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not confess their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; 43for they loved praise from men more than praise from God. 44Then Jesus cried out, “When a man believes in me, he does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me. 45When he looks at me, he sees the one who sent me. 46I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness. 47″As for the person who hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge him. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save it. 48There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day. 49For I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it. 50I know that his command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say.”
John begins his last section of chapter 12 with some rather grim words: “…they still would not believe in him.” In my estimation, this is the most tragic verse in all of Scripture. Despite the evidence, they still would not believe. It’s not even about the consequences of unbelief although those consequences must be overlooked, underestimated, or explained away. I believe Scripture mentions in great detail the consequences of unbelief.
So, as the Holy Spirit says:
“Today, if you hear his voice,
8do not harden your hearts
as you did in the rebellion,
during the time of testing in the desert,
9where your fathers tested and tried me
and for forty years saw what I did.
10That is why I was angry with that generation,
and I said, ‘Their hearts are always going astray,
and they have not known my ways.’
11So I declared on oath in my anger,
‘They shall never enter my rest.’ “–Hebrews 3:7-11, NIV
It is unbelief that is so difficult for me to understand and I don’t say that condescendingly either. I mean it. Why is it some things seem so obvious, so evident, so clear: And yet people still won’t believe? Why the persistence in untruth? Why the captivity to hostility and violence and retribution? The good Calvinist explains it away: God has bound them over the unbelief. In other words, God has made them that way. I cannot accept that. Say what you want, but I find it simply repugnant to think that God is the author of unbelief. But it appears that John says this: Since they didn’t believe the message, since they didn’t accept the ‘revealed’ arm of the Lord (which probably refers to Jesus’ miracles in v 37), well, then, they couldn’t believe. First they wouldn’t; then they couldn’t. The hardening only came after the refusal to believe in the message of the Lord. This was precisely the conversation Jesus had in chapter 9 of this same Gospel:
Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.” 40Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, “What? Are we blind too?” 41Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.
Thus, God doesn’t cause unbelief; he does, however, solidify it. If people want to not believe, then he will blind their eyes so that they cannot believe. Or, as written by Mark Krause, “I would contend that Isaiah 6:9-10 does not say that God ordains unbelief so much as that he uses it. If there had not been strong unbelief among the Jewish religious leaders, the atoning death of Jesus for the sins of the world might have been avoided, and Jesus would not have become the ‘Savior of the World’ (Mark Krause, John, 279).
I have been asked to tell you what Christians believe, and I am going to begin by telling one thing that Christians do not need to believe. If you are a Christian you do not have to believe that all the other religions are simply wrong all through. If you are an atheist you do have to believe that the main point in all the religions are simply wrong all through. If you are an atheist you do have to believe that the main point ina ll the relions of the whole world is simply one huge mistake. If you are a Christian, you are free to think that all these religions, even the queerest ones, contain a least some hint of the truth. When I was an atheist I had to try to persuade myself that most of the human race have always been wrong about the question that mattered to them most; when I became a Christian I was able to take a more liberal view. But, of course, being a Christian does mean thinking that where Christianity differs from other religions, Christianity is right and they are wrong. As in arithmetic—there is only one right answer to a sum, and all other answers are wrong: but some of the wrong answers are much nearer being right than others.” (CS Lewis, Mere Christianity, 43)
Jesus then explains belief as belief in himself. True belief is in the Son of God and when we belief in Him we believe in the One who sent Him, namely, God. I think that in this is an announcment by Jesus of his Divinity. Furthermore, he aligns himself and his purposes with those of God. He is, therefore, not outside of God’s will. And those who align themselves with Jesus are, in fact, aligning themselves with God.
You see God does not desire for people to remain clueless (in darkness). He announced from the beginning of John that Jesus is the Light come into the world to save mankind. God has provided a way for us to be saved: Jesus. God has provided sufficient revelation of Himself: Jesus. God has spoken to us plainly: In Jesus. All that we need to know, all that we sufficiently need, is found in Jesus. In other words, we do have to believe in Jesus and we have to believe that He, and He alone, is our sufficiency before God, that God has ordained Him to speak truth, and that we ignore the Words of Christ to our peril: “There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day.” Why?
1In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. 3The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. 4So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs” (Hebrews 1:1-4, NIV).
There is no other provision. There is no other word. In these last days God has spoken to us finally (as in for the last time, and completely sufficiently) in Christ Jesus.
Nestled in the middle of this scene is something that perhaps seems out of place: “Yet at that time many even among the leaders believe in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not confess their faith for fear they would be put out of the synogogue for they loved praise from men more than praise from God.” It seems strange, doesn’t it, that people believed and yet were afraid? But don’t we see this too in our world? Don’t we see people who have all the evidence at their fingertips, all the words of Jesus in a book, all the witness and testimony of lives changed, and all the hope of blessed assurance and salvation, and yet still people are more in love with this world than with God.
I wonder what happens to people who read this? I wonder what becomes of those who, in the church or out of the church, fall into this category of people who believe and yet won’t confess their belief? Why this shame? I presume that more church folk read this than not-church folk. So what is John saying about belief to church folk? We don’t have to worry about being thrown out of synagogues, but I suppose that some Christians do have to worry about being thrown out of other places like their good paying job, their science academy, or other. But I think that is the message here: Belief in Jesus is not a quiet thing. This is why Jesus ‘shouted’ (v 44, ‘cried out’). Belief in Jesus is not something we do in silence, or fear, or apprehension. Belief in Jesus is not just ‘something we do’. Belief in Jesus is what we are. (Again, it sounds bad, but it is true.) Our identity as humans is our very belief in Jesus. It sets us apart. It puts us at risk. It challenges the status quo, and it might cost us everything.
I’d like to challenge your belief. Is it quiet? Is it silent? Is it full of shame? Are you terrified to announce or confess your belief because you might lose something? Jesus said:
34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36 What good is it for you to gain the whole world, yet forfeit your soul? 37 Or what can you give in exchange for your soul? 38 If any of you are ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of you when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”
Some wouldn’t believe. Some couldn’t believe. Some believed and wouldn’t admit it. And in the middle of it all is Isaiah who saw, believed, and proclaimed. Jesus says: Believe without reservation. Believe without equivocation. Believe without hesitation. Don’t neglect my word!
My prayer for you is this: Believe in Jesus. Believe in Jesus.
Soli Deo Gloria!