The Practice of Unbelief
Before we get started I wanted to announce that Bermuda short Sunday has been postponed until further notice. So, we'll have to wait until the weather gets a little warmer before we do that. I'm so glad to see all of you that have come today. I trust that the roads were clear for you. There may be those who have been hindered by the weather still and have not been able to come, but we want to enjoy our fellowship together this morning.
We're looking in the Gospel of John, the Word became flesh. We're studying together today an event that happened at winter, so it's appropriate I guess for us to look at that. It's the Feast of Dedication when we come to our text in John 10, the last portion of John 10, beginning in the 22nd verse there this morning. I want us to look at a message I've entitled The Practice of Unbelief.
And it seems that the Lord has chosen this ceremony in order to point out a tremendous unbelief that exists in the lives of the Jews there in Jerusalem. Certainly He used . . . in the previous portions of John that we've already looked at…he used the Feast of Tabernacles and all of the ceremonies that took place to point out some things, to try to show them that what was symbolized in that ceremony was standing right in front of them…the real Messiah, the real Bread of Life, the real Light of the World, and the water that quenches your thirst. And at this celebration, He is going to use this symbolism, I think also, to attack their practical unbelief.
All of us run the risk of finding ourselves from time to time practicing unbelief. Now that sounds strange. If you say, "Well, no! I believe in Jesus." Well, you know you can believe in Jesus and yet find your life to be one that gets caught up in unbelief. That is the history of Israel. We want to look at that as well this morning. They had times that though they trusted YHWH, they had a practical unbelief about them. And I want us to see the consequences of that, not only in the Pharisees that are surrounding Jesus in our text today, but I want us to see how that can affect us so that we may stem that tide of unbelief that's so pervasive in our society today.
The Feast of Dedication that was in connection with the celebration of Hanukkah in the winter was a celebration that was the result of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who was a dictator that ruled around 168 B.C. there in Jerusalem. Some 190 years earlier, he had gotten to the point where he set up an idol of Zeus that was made to look like him there in the temple, the idea being that he wanted to be worshipped as God. The title Epiphanes means glorious one. And he saw himself as a God. It was a title given to a god; it was a title he had given himself.
And through the events that later became the celebration of Hanukkah, through the rebellion of the Jews during that day, he was overthrown. He dies, the idol is removed, and the priests rededicate that temple. And it is that dedication that is commemorated at the Feast of Dedication. So the central focus is the temple.
Now that's where the Jews are gathered and that's where Jesus is. In fact, He's walking across Solomon's portico or Solomon's porch in the front part of the temple complex when the Pharisees notice Him. And they surround Him and they want to question Him yet again. Verse 22 of John chapter 10 says, "Now it was the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem, and it was winter. And Jesus walked in the temple, in Solomon’s porch. Then the Jews surrounded Him and said to Him, 'How long do You keep us in doubt? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly.'"
Now this is just got to cause Jesus' eyes to roll because He has spent His entire ministry demonstrating by His works, by His miracles, and by His statements. And every time He does so it's met with opposition by this very group. When the man born blind is given sight…a man who was blind from birth is given sight…and he stands before the Pharisees to tell them that this man called Jesus had given him sight, they just refused to see it themselves. They're blinded to the reality of his sight. They will not accept the fact that Jesus has done this great work.
And when Jesus makes those statements about Himself, they want to pick up stones to throw at Him. So narrow-minded is their practical unbelief. So narrow-minded is their religion that they can't see the object of their worship when it's right in front of them. How sad for anyone who cannot see the very thing you dream of, the very thing you worship, the thing you long for, when it's right there in front of you. How sad indeed!
And that's exactly what's going on with these Pharisees. They say, "Well, just tell us! We're tired of guessing. Tell us plainly!" And Jesus says, "I've been telling you this over and over and over!" Listen to Him in verse 25: "Jesus answered them, 'I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in My Father’s name, they bear witness of Me. But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep, as I said to you.'" And we looked at that even last week.
"'My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand. I and My Father are one.'" Let me tell you one more time, "'I and My Father are one.'"
And as a good shepherd, this blind man has been given sight, he has come to Me by faith and he will never lose his salvation. He is in My hand, he is in the Father's hand, and nobody can snatch them out of Our hand. Whew! Right over the tops of the Pharisees' heads! Verse 31: "Then the Jews took up stones again to stone Him. Jesus answered them, 'Many good works I have shown you from My Father. For which of those works do you stone Me?' The Jews answered Him, saying, 'For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy, and because You, being a Man, make Yourself God.'
Jesus answered them, 'Is it not written in your law, "I said, 'You are gods'"? If He called them gods, to whom the word of God came (and the Scripture cannot be broken), do you say of Him whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, "You are blaspheming," because I said, "I am the Son of God"? If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; but if I do, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, that you may know and believe that the Father is in Me, and I in Him.' Therefore they sought again to seize Him, but He escaped out of their hand."
Jesus says, "You're accusing Me because I said I'm the Son of God. Look at the works! If you don't believe me, believe the works!" God doesn't allow these works to be done through a charlatan! God doesn't allow these works to be done through a false prophet! These works have been done as a sign to you, as a testimony that I am who I am!
When the Lord allowed these miracles to take place in the New Testament…that's why they took place by the way…it was secondarily to heal somebody. It was primarily to show who Jesus was. It primarily to show the real Church! It was primarily to show whom God had His hand on. And it was clear to anybody, it should have been, that Jesus was God, that He and the Father were one.
So why didn't they see it? Why would they refuse to accept what seems to us to be such an obvious proof? Because of unbelief. Unbelief. It's like when Elijah stood up on Mount Carmel back in 1 Kings 18:21: "And Elijah came to all the people, and said, 'How long will you falter between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.' But the people answered him not a word."
Elijah stands up and says, "You people don't know which way to go! You're allowing this Baal worship led by Jezebel to take hold and take root in the land of YHWH, in God's land. You need to decide today, are you going to follow God or are you going to follow Baal? Just make a choice! Choose who you're going to follow!"
And the Pharisees are given that choice whether they like it or not. Choose whether you're going to believe what you see and accept that truth or whether unbelief is going to drive you away from the truth. My friends, what happens to the Pharisees needs not be put on the shelf as "what happened to foolish people." But it really needs to be the example of what can happen to all of us.
These Pharisees were not ignorant of the Scriptures. They were not people who had never gone to the Synagogue or had failed to study the prophecies of the coming Messiah. They knew it; they memorized it. They knew it better than anyone. They tried their best to live by it. So then how is it that with such knowledge they can't see that truth? How is it that unbelief takes such root?
Well, the Bible talks about that, and I want to just draw your attention for a few moments over to another passage of Scripture, over to the book of Hebrews. Hebrews was written to a group of believers, Hebrew Christians, thus the name Hebrews. And it was Hebrew Christians who were being tempted to go back into their Judaistic practices, who were being pulled by their families and by their peers to go back into readopting some of those practices they had stepped out of.
They began to fear that maybe in order to please God they needed to keep up with some of those religions, some of those traditions, some of those 365 works that the Pharisees had developed in their additions to the Law of Moses. And so Hebrews is written to show one by one how Jesus Christ is superior to so many things.
But in the midst of that, in chapter 3, there's such a tell-tale set of verses here that I think speak to our heart today and shows us the consequences and the downward spiral of unbelief. Notice with me in chapter 3 of Hebrews, beginning in verse 12. There it says, "Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God."
Now notice, first of all, that he says "brethren." He's talking to believers. He's talking to believers about having a heart of unbelief. He's warning them, "Beware!" He's warning them. He's showing that though they've been saved by faith, they may not choose to live by faith. Though that they have received Christ as their Savior, they may turn away from Him as their Lord and Master. They may find their life to be a life of unbelief which he calls, very bluntly, "an evil heart of unbelief."
I tell you what, he doesn't think very highly of unbelief at all. Unbelief causes you to depart experientially from God. Unbelief causes you to depart from God and lose fellowship with Him. And he warns them that that can happen. He warns them against this heart of unbelief. In fact, that is sort of the beginning of practical unbelief. The practice of unbelief begins simply with a departure from God. You depart from following and trusting God wholly.
But notice the second thing that happens here in Hebrews. First, there is a departure from God, but notice that it leads to a hardening of the heart. In verses 13 and 14 he says, "…but exhort one another daily, while it is called 'Today,' lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end."
We've become partakers of the blessings, and the joy, and the glory of the Christian life if we do not allow the deceitfulness of sin to break that fellowship with God. Notice back in 13: exhort one another lest you be hardened by that deceitfulness. You see, when you just step off the path of God. When you just let a little something come in and then just a little something else come in, oh, soon, you've departed in fellowship from Him. And when you depart in fellowship from God, no matter how much you might try, your heart hardens. That means that it becomes more and more difficult for you to be sensitive to the things of God, to the needs of those around you.
You see what he's says in 13, "…but exhort one another daily." Oh, Hebrews is all full of the importance of us fellowshipping together, the importance of us being aware of the weaknesses of our brethren, of us being in the faith and in belief so that when we see others drifting off we can encourage them to get back on the right path because we understand the danger. And the danger is the hardening of the heart.
It doesn't take long at all before God's conviction, before the impact of the world seems to just hit tremendous resistance. And church becomes a religion. It becomes a Sunday-thing. Christ becomes an answer in trivia, something you took care of in your teen years, but not a daily part of your life. You learn to separate your religion from the rest of your life, from your work life, from your school life, from your home life. That's a hardening of the heart. That's a deceitfulness of sin.
A departure from God leads to a hardening of the heart. And notice the responsibility is on believers for the brother who may be weak in faith, who may not be availing himself of God's support, of God's help, in whatever difficulty he's going through in life. And thus we're to exhort one another. And that becomes difficult when the heart gets hardened. And when the heart hardens, Hebrews tells us that then leads to acts of rebellion.
Notice in verse 15. He says, "…while it is said: 'Today, if you will hear His voice,'" Now that ties us right back to John, doesn't it? Jesus just said my sheep…what? "Hear My voice . . . and they follow Me." And notice what he says here: "'If you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.'" And that rebellion was the rebellion at Kadesh Barnea, the rebellion of the Israelites.
Verse 16, "For who, having heard, rebelled? Indeed, was it not all who came out of Egypt, led by Moses?" Now notice what he's saying here. Verse 17, "Now with whom was He angry forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose corpses fell in the wilderness?" You see, they developed a hardness of heart. This same group that had bought into the plan of God, who by faith had marched out of Egypt, who by faith had put the blood on the lintels and doorposts of their houses, who by faith had been delivered from the death angel, and by faith had crossed over the great sea, who by faith were following God, they had hardened their hearts.
And their hardness of heart toward God led to rebellion against Him. It led to a rebellion. This generation that Jesus is talking to was in a similar situation to their forefathers at Kadesh Barnea. They are also standing at the edge of a Promised Land. They're standing there with the Messiah beckoning and inviting them into a fellowship with Him and into His presence, and into a joy, an abundant joy, an abundant life. But because their hearts were hardened they're going to not hear Him. Because their hearts were hardened they're going to be misled by their own set of spies. Because their hearts were hardened they would not follow Christ, they would not hear the voice of Christ.
Some would! There were Joshuas and Calebs in the days of Jesus but by and large their hearts were hardened against Him. And that led to rebellion. My friends, it's possible for redeemed people to respond in unbelief to God's promises. And when that happens, it causes redeemed people to lose the blessing that God has for those who walk in a life by faith. It's is possible for you to have heard the voice of God and received Him as Savior and then later not to hear the voice of your Shepherd and to lose the temporal blessings of this life that God offers you.
And that's exactly what happened to the children of Israel. They didn't quit becoming the chosen nation. By faith they had become the chosen nation and they stayed the chosen nation. But they lost the blessing that was theirs because of their own hardness of heart. And it led to that rebellion. And that rebellion led to the loss of promised blessings.
Look with me finally in verses 18 and 19 of Hebrews 3: "And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who did not obey? So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief." There was a rest for the people of God, there was a Promised Land, a land flowing with milk and honey, a land where houses were already built and vineyards were already growing, where villages were already established and roads were already built.
God was going to give them a nation. He was going to give them the structure. He was going to give them the physical plant. He was going to give them…they were just going to walk into something already growing. They were going to run out all of those that were there and they were going to be given a fully productive Promised Land. They were going enter into rest.
They've been slaves in Egypt for 400 years. And they were going to walk into a land that was already growing. But they didn't enter…why? Because of unbelief. You understand what may keep you as a believer from receiving what God has purposed for your life? You understand that it is possible that though you've received Christ as Savior, when you choose not to walk in fellowship with Him, when you allow the things of this world and the problems and struggles of this world to cause you to not trust God, to become a person who doesn't believe in God in that moment, in that struggle, in that sickness, in that bankruptcy, in that difficulty, that the result is that your heart can harden against God? That the result is that you will rebel against God? And the result of that is that you'll lose the blessings that God has for you.
You lose the blessings. Just as the Pharisees did, so you and I can if we choose to go down that spiraling path of unbelief. And, oh, it is a downward spiral! Notice this spiral that's in Hebrews here. Unbelief. It's unbelief brought on by hardships. The letter to the Hebrews was written to a group of people who were thinking that they needed to go back into their Judaistic practices because as Christians they were being persecuted.
They were finding life very difficult. There were hardships. And those hardships were causing them to think, Well, maybe God is mad at me. And I need to go back to this other way. And so hardships have a way of causing all of us to question God, don't they? They cause us to say, God, do you not care about me? We're no different from the children of Israel in that respect! We have a bad diagnosis, we have bad finances, we have bad relationships, and we all cry out…do we not…God, have you left me here to die in the wilderness? And our hearts get hardened to the things of God.
Well, I used to go to church all the time, I used to do everything that . . . you know, it just doesn't seem to do much for me. So I've kinda backed off a little bit. I'm gonna kinda go my own path. I'm gonna have my own private religion. And our hearts get hardened. And then we began to rebel, don't we?
Well, I don't think that's so bad. That practice isn't so bad. I think I can do this a little bit. I don't think I have to do that. That Bible was written a long time ago. My situation is unique and different. And we rebel. And guess what happens each and every time? We lose the promise that God had for us, the abundant life that Jesus died…not only to give us in heaven, but to give us in this life. If only we'll stay true to Him.
So, yes, we have hardships. And yes, we're tempted in our hardships that God really loves us or that God is really powerful. But if we allow those doubts to turn into unbelief and we begin to practice unbelief…we may come to church, we may sit on a committee, we may teach a class, but when practical unbelief gets a hold of our life our heart is hardened.
And that's what happens here. Unbelief brought on by hardships or uncertainty leads to complaining, and complaining leads to departure from fellowship with God. And that departure hardens the heart. And once the heart is hardened, rebellion sets in. My own plan sets in. My own way sets in. "I'm going my own path" sets in. And then that spiral ends in a loss of all that God could have given.
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