************ Sermon on John 12:37-38 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on April 13, 2008
"Why Don't They Believe?"
This year, we've been looking at the Gospel of John for Lent, Good Friday, and Easter. We started with the plot to kill Jesus in John 11. We looked at the anointing of Jesus by Mary. We've looked at the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. We looked at the law of the seed and Jesus' cry, "Father, glorify your name!" We looked at the spiritual darkness of those who first came to the tomb on Easter Sunday.
Remember the common theme that was coming up over and over again – the raising of Lazarus! The Sanhedrin decided to kill Jesus because of Lazarus. Mary anointed Jesus because of Lazarus. The crowds of Palm Sunday greeted Jesus because of Lazarus. The law of the seed glorified the Father's name because of Lazarus. And, after the raising of Lazarus, there was no real excuse for the spiritual darkness that surrounded Easter Sunday.
Lazarus is central to John's Gospel. In the Lazarus' miracle, God was preparing His people for something and someone greater than Lazarus – Jesus and Easter's resurrection.
I The Question of Why
A You may realize that John's Gospel is divided into two books: the book of signs and the book of glory. The passage in front of us is the end of the book of signs. Before John turns to the book of glory he wants to evaluate, to weigh, to measure, to reflect on what is going on. John has one question. It comes in two forms. His question is "Why?" Why do some people believe? And why do others not believe?
Why? Why do some people believe? Take John the Baptist, for instance: one day he sees Jesus coming toward him and says, "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" (Jn 1:29). One look, and he believes. Why? Or Andrew, Simon, Philip, and Nathaniel: they hear John the Baptist, the Lord calls them, and they believe Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, the King of Israel (Jn 1:41,49). Why do they believe? Or the Samaritans: the woman at the well tells them about Jesus and they believe He "really is the Savior of the world" (Jn 4:39-42). Why? Or those whom John simply identifies as the "people": they see Jesus' miraculous signs, and they believe (Jn 2:23; 7:31; 10:42; 11:45); on Palm Sunday they wave their branches and shout "Hosanna! Blessed is the King of Israel!" (Jn 12:12ff). How come they believe?
I hope I am correct in saying that all of you in front of me this morning believe in Jesus. I hope I am correct in saying that all of you believe Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, the Messiah. But now, let me ask you: Why? Why do you believe?
B And others, why don't they believe? I think here of the sad note with which the Gospel writer John starts off his gospel:
(Jn 1:11) He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. John tells us that the people of God did not accept Jesus. The people to whom God gave the promise of a Messiah, refused to accept Him when He came. The people who had been waiting, watching, and praying for the appearance of the Christ would not accept Him when He came.
Who are these people, "his own" (Jn 1:11), who do not receive Him? Some of them John simply identifies as the "Jews." They persecuted Jesus (Jn 5:16), they tried to seize Him (Jn 7:30), they tried to stone Him (Jn 8:59; 10:31), they plotted to take His life (Jn 11:53). Why? Why wouldn't they believe? Why didn't they accept Him? There are others that John simply identifies as "disciples." In a moment of disgust they stopped following Jesus (Jn 6:66). Why? Why didn't they keep believing? Why didn't they accept Him?
C We know that this was a question and a burden that was uppermost in the mind of the Apostle Paul. He says,
(Rom 9:2-4) I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. (3) For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, (4) the people of Israel. Paul wishes that it was him and not the Jewish people who were cut off from Christ. He cries for his people.
Paul then recounts all the spiritual blessings that have been given to the Jews:
(Rom 9:4-5) Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. (5) Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.Paul just cannot understand how the Jews, blessed in such a fashion, could reject their own Messiah. So why? Why don't they believe? Why won't they accept Christ?
Paul, of course, is not the only one with such questions. We have them too:
-Perhaps we ask about a son or daughter: raised in a Christian home, educated in a Christian school, sent to Church School and Catechism, involved in the youth programs. Why? Why don't they believe? With all of the spiritual riches given to them, why won't they accept Christ?
-Perhaps we ask about a husband or wife: we've witnessed to them, we and our families have prayed about them, we have tried to be examples. Why? Why don't they believe? Why won't they accept Christ?
-Perhaps we ask about a neighbor: for years we've worked on them, we've invited them to worship and to special programs, we've been there to help whenever tragedy or accident occurs. Why? Why don't they believe? Why won't they accept Christ?
-I don't know if you have noticed this, but every year around Easter, secular magazines publish articles denying Easter's resurrection. I am always amazed that they can find a Christian minister or theologian to quote who asserts that the resurrection did not happen. This year was no exception. I thought I safely made it through the Easter season without such nonsense when I came across an article entitled, "Jesus, Entombed in Heaven," by Rev. William Alberts. This is what Rev. Alberts said in denial of Scripture: "Contrary to the New Testament record, no resurrected Jesus appeared to his disciples shortly after his crucifixion ..." Why would a minister of the Gospel talk this way? Isn't it his job to proclaim the resurrection? Why does he deny it? Why doesn't he believe?
D In today's Scripture reading we hear the Gospel writer John asking why. Why won't the Jews believe? Why won't they accept Christ? John says,
(Jn 12:37) Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him. Jesus did so many signs. Jesus turned water into wine (John 2:1ff); He healed the official's son (John 4:43ff); He cured the man at Bethesda pool (John 5:1ff); He multiplied the fish and loaves and fed the 5000 (John 6:1ff); He walked on water (John 6:16ff); He gave sight to a man born blind (John 9:1ff); He raised Lazarus from the dead (John 11:1ff). The Jews saw and/or heard of each of these signs. There was no doubt that all of these signs were real, authentic, that they actually happened. Yet even after all these signs the Jews refused to believe. Why? Why didn't they accept Jesus?
From the Gospel writer John we hear echoes of Moses. He too wondered why, why people who had seen so many signs, did not believe.
(Deut 29:2-4) Moses summoned all the Israelites and said to them: Your eyes have seen all that the LORD did in Egypt to Pharaoh, to all his officials and to all his land. (3) With your own eyes you saw those great trials, those miraculous signs and great wonders. (4) But to this day the LORD has not given you a mind that understands or eyes that see or ears that hear.How is this possible? wonders Moses. How is this possible? wonders John. How come they don't believe?
II No One Seeks for God
A Over and over again John states the necessity of faith, of belief, in Jesus and His name. "Belief" is a major theme of his Gospel, being mentioned 88 times. All men are called to believe, to place their faith, in Jesus Christ. But the Jews – the Pharisees and chief priests – they refused to believe. They hardened their hearts against Jesus and refused to accept Him for Who He was and is and always will be. Using Isaiah, John cries out, "Lord, who has believed our message?" (Jn 12:38). It seems to him that hardly any bother to believe.
This says something about sin and lostness – not just of the Pharisees but of the entire human race. We are so lost and so fallen that on our own we cannot repent and believe and have faith in Jesus.
Do you remember what Paul says, quoting from Psalms 14 & 53:
(Rom 3:10-11) "There is no one righteous, not even one; (11) there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God."No one seeks God. No one seeks to believe in Jesus. No one.
B Why is it so important to believe, to have faith, in Jesus Christ? The best known text of the Bible answers this question:
(Jn 3:16) "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."And, in telling us why he wrote his Gospel, John says,
(Jn 20:31) 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. Belief is necessary so that we can have life, eternal life.
A little boy was offered the opportunity to select a dog for his birthday present. At the pet store, he was shown a number of puppies. From them he picked one whose tail was wagging furiously. When he was asked why he selected that particular dog, the little boy said, "I wanted the one with the happy ending."If we want to reach out for a life with a happy ending, we have no choice but to accept and believe in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.
Belief is also necessary so that we do not perish. If you don't have faith, if you don't believe in Jesus – like the scribes and Pharisees – then there is only judgment and condemnation. Says Jesus,
(Jn 3:16) "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish ..."That's the condition of everyone without faith in Christ: they are in a freefall to death and hell's destruction. The only thing that can save them is faith in Christ and in Christ alone.
A couple of nights ago we were watching a documentary on TV. People were jumping off a cliff and parachuting to the ground. An enterprising photographer also jumped off. He was so intent on taking his pictures that he literally forgot to open his parachute.
We either have life or we perish. The only difference between the two is belief or faith.
"Lord," asks Isaiah, "who has believed our message?" (Jn 12:38). The number who respond are so few. Are you one of them? How do you respond to Jesus: in faith or in unbelief?
Why? Why do some not believe? The answer lies in the persons themselves. They do not open themselves to the Word of God. They harden their hearts against the Lord. They refuse to believe. They are so lost and so fallen that they do not seek for God and Jesus. They are so lost and so fallen that they cannot seek for God and Jesus. It is simply impossible.
III The Grace of God
A Why? In the midst of all this unbelief, why is it that some do believe? The answer lies in Almighty God. John sees this in the prophecy of Isaiah. Isaiah too wondered about the stubborn unbelief of the Jews. And Isaiah realizes – and John comes to that realization too – that only those believe in whom God has worked belief. Remember the question of both Isaiah and John:
(Jn 12:38) "Lord, who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?" Did you catch that last phrase: "to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed"? In other words, only those believe to whom it has been given to believe.
Doesn't Moses say the exact same thing? I quoted this passage earlier:
(Deut 29:2-4) Moses summoned all the Israelites and said to them: Your eyes have seen all that the LORD did in Egypt to Pharaoh, to all his officials and to all his land. (3) With your own eyes you saw those great trials, those miraculous signs and great wonders. (4) But to this day the LORD has not given you a mind that understands or eyes that see or ears that hear.Did you catch that last sentence: "But to this day the LORD has not given you a mind that understands or eyes that see or ears that hear"?
There is a song that we sing, one of my favorite songs, that speaks to this:
I sought the Lord, and afterward I knew
he moved my soul to seek him, seeking me;
it was not I that found, O Savior true;
no, I was found, was found of thee.
It was not I that found, O Savior true;
no, I was found, was found of thee.
(P.H. # 498)
Ben's song this morning, based on the parable of the Prodigal Son, speaks to the same point: the Father runs to us; we do not run to the Father.
We have to talk here about God's election mercy, about the operation of His Spirit, about the softening of hard hearts, and the opening of closed minds. Without this act of God, all of us – like the chief priests and Pharisees – would reject Christ. Without this act of God, all of us – like the chief priests and Pharisees – would be blind in our eyes, dead in our hearts, and deaf in our ears.
B Think of Father Jacob, as an example. Jacob tricked his twin brother, Esau, out of the birthright that belongs to the oldest. So, Jacob ended up fleeing for his life because his twin brother Esau had vowed to kill him once their father was dead. On the way from Beersheba to his uncle's place in Haran, Jacob stopped for the night in a place he later called Bethel. There Jacob had a dream of a stairway linking heaven with earth. In the dream God stood by Jacob and blessed Jacob. I want you to notice, Jacob did not seek God – "no one seeks for God" (Rom 3:11). Rather, God sought Jacob (Genesis 28).
Most people today want to believe that belief and faith are their choice, their decision. They make the choice to seek God. It was that way at the Tower of Babel. Man made an attempt to reach God, on his own, on his own terms, when he made a tower that reaches to the heavens (Gen 11). As Jacob found out, though, it is God Who reaches down to us. Interestingly enough, what Jacob saw in his dream was not really a ladder but – as the Hebrew suggests – a massive stone structure with a winding staircase. Jacob saw something similar to the Tower of Babel. But Jacob's structure did not enable Jacob to climb upwards towards God; rather, it was used by God Himself to come down.
"To whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?" (Jn 12:38). To whom has the Lord come down?
Why? Why do some believe? Why do some not believe? The question is important. But even more important is the question, "Do you believe?"
By the grace of God, are you one of those who believe Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and by believing have life in His name?
Do you believe? In you heart and mind do you believe in Jesus? John wants you to have more than an intellectual or emotional faith, however. He wants you to have a faith that is open and up front and not hidden. John tells us that some of the Pharisees and chief priests believed in Jesus.
(Jn 12:42) But because of the Pharisees they would not confess their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue.In a simply devastating commentary he says, "they loved praise from men more than praise from God" (Jn 12:43).
By the grace of God, are you one of those who openly believe and confess that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and by believing have life in His name? I think here of Nicodemus. He was one of those leaders who believed in Jesus, but was quiet and even secretive about his faith. Remember how he came to Jesus in the middle of the night (Jn 3:2)? Joseph of Arimathea was the same way – a secret disciple of Jesus (Jn 19:38). Somewhere along the line these two knew this kind of faith was deficient. They came out of the closet, so to speak, when Jesus died. They went to Pilate and put Jesus' body in the grave. How tragic that they waited until it seemed too late.
So I ask you again, by the grace of God, are you one of those who openly believe and confess that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and by believing have life in His name? Remember, we either have life or we perish. The only difference between the two is belief or faith.
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