Faithlife
Faithlife

John 12:37-43 An unsatisfactory believing

Notes & Transcripts

Sunday, October 12, 2008

An unsatisfactory believing

John 12:37-43

37 Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in Him. -- 39 For this reason they could not believe, because, as Isaiah says elsewhere: -- 42 Yet 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; 43 for they loved praise from men more than praise from God.          John 12:37, 39 & 42-43 NIV


Would you open your Bibles, please, to the Gospel of John chapter 12? Our text this morning comes from verses 37-43 of John’s Gospel. I would like us to read this passage together and I invite you to stand as we read. This is the Word of God and we read it in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

___

We find ourselves in the middle of the Gospel of John. We are three years into the public ministry of Jesus. And here in chapter 12, the chapter that stands as the turning point of the Gospel, we find the Apostle John helping us see the initial stages of the culmination of Jesus’ life and ministry.

The Passover looms on the horizon. Chapter 12 is the gathering point of all that is about to happen. Just as the people were making their way to Jerusalem from all directions, so a wide variety of events and people were responding and reacting to the central character of the upcoming Passover, even though most people did not understand that Jesus was the ultimate Passover Lamb.

So, John 12 opens with the banquet given by Mary, Martha, Lazarus and Simon to honor Jesus, probably for the miraculous raising back to life of Lazarus just a few weeks earlier. It was at that dinner that Mary takes some very expensive perfume and pours it on Jesus’ feet and wipes His feet with her hair. Her action was immediately challenged by Judas Iscariot. But Jesus defends her extravagant behavior by announcing that she was anointing Him for His burial.

Thus, with the anointing of Jesus as the opening scene in chapter 12, John is saying that the focus of this chapter is the impending death of Jesus as the Passover Lamb. His death would be like the kernel of wheat that dies and, as a result, bears much fruit. Thus, the anointing is so extravagant it makes us aware that the One being anointed is indeed the King who came to be the Savior of the world.

Furthermore, the implications of this anointing for Mary was that she sacrificed her life’s savings, she depleted her dowry, demonstrating a huge commitment to Jesus as her Lord. Her worship of Jesus came at a great price.

What this banquet also did was bring together two hugely popular personalities: Jesus and Lazarus, the Raiser of the dead and the raised from the dead. Thus, when the word got out that these two were in Bethany, it is not surprising that crowds of people made haste to go there. Among those who gathered were those who were leaning in favor of Jesus, probably pretty impressed with Him and open to what He had to say. Then there were those who were very critical of Jesus and could only see Him as a threat to their positions of power. So threatened were the Pharisees that they not only were re-energized in their determination to kill Jesus, but as they saw more of their people going over to Jesus because of Lazarus, they now included Lazarus in their execution orders.

This burst of popularity grew into a parade of sorts when Jesus decided to go up to Jerusalem. But, keep two things clearly in mind as you envision what it meant for Jesus to go to Jerusalem. First, as much as there was a friendly crowd welcoming Him, there was a hostile crowd determined to put Him to death. Second, Jesus was under no illusion about His purpose for going into Jerusalem. He was going there to die. And it would be on His terms, though His critics and even His friends wouldn’t figure that out until later.

Last week I listed the seven groups of people whom John mentions as participants during Christ’s entry into Jerusalem. These groups provide us with a rich study in character as well as presenting us with a broad cross section of humanity and a wide spectrum of responses and reactions to Jesus. Everything from the sacrificial worship we saw in Mary of Bethany to the devilish behavior of religious leaders who were consumed by their envy and hatred.

Had we been sympathetic bystanders during these events, it’s likely that we would be experiencing a wide range of emotions, much like what some of us are experiencing as we follow the polls of the candidates for our upcoming election. One day it looks like it’s all over for our candidate. Than, the next, it looks like victory is in sight. And when it changes, so do our emotions.

I suggest that had we been in Jerusalem that week, our emotions early in the week would have been rather upbeat. Jesus was exhibiting strong confidence and wasn’t sidetracked by his opponents. But, by the time we get to the middle of the week, we would have begun to be filled with anxiety, wondering if Jesus was be able to triumphant over the overwhelming odds against Him.

Jesus was being very direct with the people about what was going to happen to Him in Jerusalem. But, it’s understandable if His friends didn’t really want to hear the death word. How could Jesus’ dying help the cause?

Yet, He explained to them that every kernel of wheat had to die if it was going to bear much fruit. If that didn’t make sense, He expanded that truth with His statement that 25 The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. So, Jesus wasn’t just talking about His own death. He was speaking to all of His followers that there was a death they, too, needed to enter into to find real, lasting, eternal life.

And then with ultimate clarity, Jesus stationed Himself right in the middle of our paths and created a crisis for each of us. He declared Himself to be the fork in the road for every human being. Our eternal destiny will be determined by our response to this crisis. 26 Whoever serves Me must follow Me; and where I am, My servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves Me.  

Jesus is making an appeal to us that we act in faith and believe that our lives will be better off in the long run if we will choose to die with Him, if we will give up our rights to be in charge of our lives and truly let Him be the Lord and Master of our lives. Jesus is saying that when we love God so much that He becomes primary in everything and our human existence becomes secondary, that is when we really find life.

If only we could see that the things of this world that we hold on to so tightly will gain us nothing in eternity. Compared to the multiplied fruit of the kernel of wheat that dies, all that this world offers is nothing.

If only we could see! Certainly, if we could see our behavior would fall in line. Certainly, if we saw the signs and miracles that Jesus did, we would believe in Him and follow Him. Yet, so many did not.

In the text we focus on today, we find ourselves asking, what more could Jesus have done to convince these people? Why were so many still refusing to believe?

John 12:37 (NIV) 37 Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in Him.

In the first half of his Gospel, John highlights seven miraculous signs that Jesus did.

He turns water into wine (John 2:1–12)

He heals a nobleman’s son (John 4:46–54)

He heals a lame man at the pool of Bethesda (John 5:1–17)

He feeds 5,000 (John 6:1–14)

He walks on water, stills a storm (John 6:15–21)

He heals a man blind from birth (John 9:1–41)

He raises Lazarus from the dead (John 11:17–45) [1]

What more does a person need to be convinced that Jesus is worthy to be believed in, to be trusted?

John is probably writing with sadness in his heart when he says,

John 12:37 (NIV) 37 Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in Him.

The implication is obvious. The problem was not with Jesus or with what He did. The problem was with the people. They willed not to believe. They refused to believe.

What a dangerous position to take. Surely there are consequences when we are given truth and we willfully brush it off.

It’s like opportunities. Paul says to make the most of every opportunity. Why? Because opportunities don’t always repeat themselves. Tomorrow doesn’t always come or the circumstances of today that created the opportunity may not exist tomorrow and the opportunity may not appear.

To turn down truth today may actually be an eternal rejection simply because that truth may not come our way again.

Why do you suppose the Scriptures say, Today is the day of salvation?

2 Corinthians 6:1-2 (NIV)

1 As God’s fellow workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain. 2 For He says,

“In the time of My favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.”

I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.

Today is the day of salvation because we have no guarantee for tomorrow.

To willfully brush off truth is like disregarding warnings. We have no guarantee that we will be given an additional warning after the first one before we have to face the consequences for ignoring it. Yet, how often do we say to ourselves, “I’ll get right with God tomorrow or after I get through this period of time or this series of events.”

But, each time we willfully ignore the invitation of our Lord, that action becomes more ingrained in our souls, like the formation of a habit, like the growing of a callous. Almost without knowing it, we become hardened in our hearts toward the work of God in our lives. We almost don’t hear Him anymore.

Warren Wiersbe writes: “When a person starts to resist the light, something begins to change within him; and he comes to the place where he cannot believe. There is ‘judicial blindness’ that God permits to come over the eyes of people who do not take the truth seriously. (This quotation is found in a number of places in the New Testament. See Matt. 13:14–15; Mark 4:12; Luke 8:10; Acts 28:25–27; Rom. 11:8.) It is a serious thing to treat God’s truth lightly, for a person could well miss his opportunity to be saved. ‘Seek the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near’” (Isa. 55:6).[2]

So, why do we resist God’s direction in our lives? Why do we find so many reasons to not do what He says?

We must not ignore the most obvious, our own sin nature. Though John does not address this fact in these verses, it certainly is a primary factor. We are rebellious by nature. We need God to intervene and initiate within us the faith that will enable us to trust Him.

I believe that is God’s heart for all of us. He wants us to believe. John has written this Gospel, with the inspiration of God Himself, so that we would believe.

John 20:31 (NIV)

31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.

That is not just John’s desire. That is God’s desire. Thus, I believe that even when He allows us to become calloused in our disobedience to Him, even when He takes it on Himself to harden our hearts, He does so with the desire that we will come to our senses, repent, and walk with Him in obedience.

As John answers the question of why this disbelief in the presence of such powerful testimonies, it’s hard to not conclude that God somehow shares in the blame. But, given all the invitations from God for us to believe in Him, obey and follow Him, we must live with this tension and mystery that places personal responsibility on humanity while at the same time ascribes responsibility to God.

But, let me be clear in my position. God does not prevent people from being converted. In His judgment, as a result of man’s unbelief, God sometimes hardens the heart.[3]

This mystery is a bit easier to accept when we have a proper definition of God which must include that He is all-knowing, all-powerful and omnipresent. When we take that data and compare it to our limited knowledge, our limited power and our confinement to one location at a time, it really shouldn’t surprise us that we are mystified in trying to understand God.

As we read these next verses, keep in mind that God’s actions do not excuse our sinful behavior, which suggests strongly to me that we still have an out through repentance if we choose to surrender ourselves to Almighty God.

John 12:37 (NIV) 37 Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in Him. 38 This 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?”

39 For 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.”

Notice, John is quoting Isaiah from two different passages. First, from Isaiah 53:1. Then, beginning with verse 40, he is paraphrasing Isaiah 6:10.

Isaiah 53:1 (NIV)

1 Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?

That verse is an interesting preface to a description of our Lord Jesus as the suffering servant and the one who would take our sins upon Himself so that we would not have to.

Isaiah 53:2-6 (NIV)

2 He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him, nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him.

3 He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces He was despised, and we esteemed Him not.

 

4 Surely He took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered Him stricken by God, smitten by Him, and afflicted.

5 But 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. 6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

It’s a very fitting chapter from Isaiah from which to draw a quote as Jesus was preparing to go into Jerusalem to be the Passover Lamb. But, John uses verse 1 to raise the question about why were the miraculous signs not enough for the people to believe in Jesus?

John then turns to Isaiah 6 to give the answer.

Isaiah 6:10 (NIV)

10 Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes.Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.”

Why God claims responsibility for hardening the hearts of these people, making their ears dull and closing their eyes, is quite a mystery to me. Nevertheless, “Human responsibility for sin and unbelief is never excused in the Bible.”[4]

Furthermore, Isaiah’s pronouncements were said in the context of Israel’s consistent disobedience. [5]

Peeking ahead to verse 42 in our text adds to the mystery. Here John has been telling us why so many did not believe even after having seen the miraculous signs of Jesus. Now he is telling us that many did believe, even from among the leaders.

Such a combination of disbelief and belief can only lead to us scratching the tops of our heads in wonder.

41 Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus’ glory and spoke about Him.

Likely, John is referring to the opening words of Isaiah 6, the same chapter from which he paraphrased verse 10.

Isaiah 6:1-3 (NIV)

1 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of His robe filled the temple. 2 Above Him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. 3 And they were calling to one another:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of His glory.”

After seeing the Lord in His glory, Isaiah heard the voice of Lord ask, “Whom shall I send?” And Isaiah responded, “Here am I. Send me!”

The Lord then gave Isaiah the words to speak to the people.

Isaiah 6:9-10 (NIV)

9 He said, “Go and tell this people: “ ‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’

10 Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.”

I have an optimistic perspective on this problematic text. I believe that the overriding desire of the Lord is that even those with calloused hearts and those who are dull of hearing and blind would eventually see, hear, understand, turn and be healed. These actions of God to harden hearts, dull ears and close eyes may very well be means of helping these people come to the end of their ropes, face the consequences of their sinfulness, and turn in repentance to the One who can truly save them.

We’ve already peeked at part of verse 42. But though there is at the beginning of v.42 a strongly positive statement of belief, in verse 43, John gives a stingingly hard word about these secret believers,

42 Yet 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; 43 for they loved praise from men more than praise from God.

Because I believe that among these secret believers are two men that we know, Lazarus and Joseph of Arimathea, I lean toward giving these believers the benefit of the doubt. Thus, I would characterize them as young believers in the process of growing up in the faith.

John 19:38-39 (NIV)

38 Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jews. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. 39 He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds.

Here John is not rebuking these men for their actions as secret disciples of Jesus. It’s possible that this was their stepping forward and ceasing to being secret disciples. Paul’s equation from Romans 10 says . . .

Romans 10:9-10 (NIV)

9 That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.

Such a formula challenges any theory that suggests we can remain silent about our association with Christ and remain in good standing with Him. Yet, keep in mind the frequent rebukes that Jesus gave to His disciples. They often exhibited their fear of men and their love for the praises of men.

There’s something here that wants to both receive the rebuke and refrain from judgment. Maybe it has more to do with our personal situations.

Too many of us are just plain old wimps when it comes to identifying ourselves with Jesus Christ. We love the praise of men more than the praise of God and we allow that to shape and form our schedules and relationships even at the expense of failing to do what God says and cultivate relationships that God has appointed for us.

For others, to publicly confess Christ would not just cost them their job, it could cost them their lives. For them, I am willing to give them some slack. It also appears that God does, as well. There are places around the world that if you let it be known that you are a Christian, you will become permanently unemployed. Many are beaten and even killed for their confession of faith in Christ. In these cases, it’s doubtful that the driving force for keeping their faith secret is a love for the praise of men. Rather, it is a means of providing food and shelter for a believing man’s family.

But, that is not our situation. We really don’t have any excuse if we are a secret believer. Yet, the pressure is on for us to stay silent and go underground.

I come back to the admonishment of our Lord Jesus in John 12:24-26 (NIV)

24 I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 25 The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves Me must follow Me; and where I am, My servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves Me.

So, where am I on the spectrum of belief? Am I among those like Mary of Bethany who worships our Lord with great sacrifice and total commitment? Or, am I unconvinced that Jesus has any right to exercise authority in my life?

Now is the day of salvation. None of us in this room needs to be among those who would not believe. We can place our faith in Christ today, right now, and enter into the fullness of life in Christ, now and for eternity.

“Lord, who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”

Lord, we believe. We are Your servants.


----

[1]MacArthur, J. J. (1997, c1997). The MacArthur Study Bible (electronic ed.) (Jn 2:14). Nashville: Word Pub.

[2]Wiersbe, W. W. (1996, c1989). The Bible exposition commentary. "An exposition of the New Testament comprising the entire 'BE' series"--Jkt. (Jn 12:37). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.

[3]KJV Bible commentary. 1997, c1994 (2107). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[4]Borchert, G. L. (2002). Vol. 25B: John 12-21. The new American commentary, New International Version (65). Nashville: Broadman & Holman.

[5]Borchert, G. L. (2002). Vol. 25B: John 12-21. The new American commentary, New International Version (65). Nashville: Broadman & Holman.

RELATED MEDIA
See the rest →
RELATED SERMONS
See the rest →