John 12:37-50 9.45 & 11.30am 16/9/18
By porthkerryandrhoose, Oct 23 2018 10:15AM
Many of you will know that one of my favourite places in the whole world is Blackpool. It was where I spent many happy family holidays as a child and now my children have their own memories of October half terms being blown along the promenade. Even if you've never visited, you'll know that one of the biggest attractions in Blackpool is its Tower. Not only does it house the famous Ballroom and circus, but you can also go almost to the top and see panoramic views across the town, as far as the hills of the Lake District. On the highest level there is a glass panel built into the floor which you can walk over and see the cars and people below, looking like tiny toys. Of course not everyone wants to walk over it. I can remember a time we visited with my mum. Hannah was 3 and took great delight in running across. My mum and her stick walked across. A very large man also walked across, but there were 2 teenagers, standing by the side who refused to set foot on it. They were egging each other on, but neither would try. They were afraid that the glass wouldn't hold. It didn't matter that it had been a feature for decades and that thousands of people had walked across without incident. Neither did it matter that they had seen people with their own eyes safely walk over. The evidence meant nothing, their minds were made up.
Now, in the great scheme of things, it doesn't really matter whether those teenagers walked over the glass floor or not, it's just a bit of fun. But in our Bible reading today we'll see a situation when ignoring the evidence has life or death consequences.
Let's remember where we are up to in John's gospel. We have journeyed all the way from the poetic prologue and Jesus' arrival on the scene, heralded by John to Baptist, to the final few days of his earthly life. We have seen the 8 amazing signs that John has recorded for us, 8 out of many. He turned water in wine, cleansed the temple of the money changers and sellers, healed an official's son, made a paralysed man walk, fed over 5000 people with a packed lunch, stilled a storm with a word, opened the eyes of a man born blind, and finally brought Lazarus back from the dead. Each incident was witnessed by many people who saw Jesus doing things that no ordinary person could do. Who even today can stop a storm with a word, or feed thousands with a few fish sandwiches or bring back to life a man dead for 4 days? No one! Each sign was like a big newsflash announcing Jesus is the Messiah! Jesus is God! The evidence was right there before their eyes. And yet John says, v37 "Even after Jesus had performed so many signs in their presence, they still would not believe." People saw a dead man raised, they ate the loaves and fish and yet they still did not believe. Today, 2000 years later, with the eye witness record of scripture and the evidence of billions of changed lives down the centuries, still most people do not believe in Jesus. Why? John gives us two reasons: the will and the fear of others. Let's look at them:
The will. Look again at v37. It's not just that the people did not believe in Jesus. John tells us 'they would not believe in him.' It's a matter of the will. We all have a tendency towards rebellion. A friend said that the hardest part of bringing his children up wasn't their will power, but their 'won't power'. It's true, isn't it? Just come on a Monday morning and watch the mums trying to get their children back into their buggies to go home. They try the 'stiff as a board' move, or the snake body, anything to stop their mums strapping them in. We don't change as adults, we just find different ways of rebelling, because we are all sinners. The people in Jesus' day refused to believe because they were sinners, and that's where we all are, but for the grace of God. Isaiah saw it 800 years before Jesus, and he noted a startling phenomenon. It's in Isaiah 6:10, quoted here by John in v40 "He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes nor understand with their hearts, nor turn." The people wouldn't believe and so God ratified their choice and they couldn't believe. We see it in the Old Testament with Pharaoh. Each time Moses asked him to let the people go, he hardened his heart until he had hardened it so much that God sealed his choice. It raises the question 'can our hearts be hardened?' The answer is 'yes' but only after perpetual warnings. The Bible is full of hope and opportunity. God never hardens anyone until that person has rejected Jesus again and again. You see, persistent unbelief has a hardening effect. Every time I say no to God it makes it harder to say yes next time. Every time I shut out the call of the Holy Spirit it is harder to respond the next time. We can't say when the point of hardening by God has come. Look at the two thieves on the cross, both convicted criminals. One responded to Jesus right at the end of his life. He was saved so that no-one need despair. But the other man, as far as we know, was lost, and he was lost so that no-one may presume. The important question is - how do you respond to the evidence about Jesus? If the Holy Spirit is nudging you, your heart is not yet hard.
So the first reason for disbelief is the will. The second is the fear of others. v42 "Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not openly acknowledge their faith for fear of being put out of the synagogue; for they loved human praise more than praise from God." These people had seen the miracles and knew that Jesus was the Messiah and God's son, yet they weren't prepared to act on it because they were afraid of what people might think. There are many folk like this today. They may even kid themselves that they are just 'private Christians'. But Jesus said in v26 "Whoever serves me must follow me". You can't be a private Christian. To know what you ought to do and then not do it isn't faith, it's unbelief. And it is so short sighted. You gain the approval of people for a few years but the judgement of God for eternity. The praise of people who will die, rather than the living God.
Jesus knew how important this was, and so he cried out v44 "Whoever believes in me does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me. The one who looks at me is seeing the one who sent me." How we respond to Jesus is vital, because Jesus is God. If we want to see God, we look at Jesus. Believing in him is believing in God. We can't divide it up. He came to bring people out of darkness. But there is a choice to be made. Do we believe or not? It is the difference between salvation and judgement. Don't misunderstand v47. Jesus wasn't saying he won't ever judge. He was saying that at that time he was in the business of saving, but that there would come a day for judgement, and that judgement will be based on whether we accept Jesus' words or not. His words are the means of our salvation or our judgement. One or the other, because his words are the very words of God v49 "For I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me to say all that I have spoken." Those words will save us or condemn us, depending on how we respond to them.
So how will you respond? If you've never taken the step of truly trusting in Jesus and his word, now might be the time. Light, clarity, eternity, it's all there. Don't worry what others think. They are but a blink in eternity. If you have been living your life with Jesus, let his words encourage you that as you stand up and are counted, he is with you and will never leave you. His words are the very words of God. They can be trusted. They won't be superseded by the next good idea or chucked out because they're not relevant. They are always relevant because they contain God's message of salvation for you and for every man, woman and child in the world. v50 "I know that his command leads to eternal life."