The glory of his revealing - John 12:37-50

This is a sermon by Lee McMunn from the evening service on 11th October 2009.

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What do you think would happen if Jesus himself was in charge of the next Identity course? What kind of response would we get? I don’t know if you are planning to come. Suppose Jesus is doing the talks. Not just that. He is in charge of the refreshments. The best vintage is produced. He notices someone with a disability. He heals him. Later on in the course someone dies during the meeting. Jesus raises him from the dead. You have witnessed all of this. What do you think would happen as Jesus finishes off the final evening and asks for people to follow him? Do you think everyone would decide to become a Christian?

2000 years ago Jesus did all those things and more. He changed water into wine. He healed the sick. He raised the dead. He preached powerful sermons. What do you think happened when he did these things back then? Do you think everyone became a Christian?

Look at what we are told in verse 37. “Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him.”

John’s Gospel is in two parts. Chapters 1-12 is often called the Book of Signs. It describes the more public ministry of Jesus. We hear his words and read about his works. As this section draws to an end, John decides to give us a summary of what happened as a result of all this activity.

I guess what he says is quite shocking. “Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him.”

Who was doing these things? Jesus himself. Not a bad speaker!

What was he doing? Not just speaking. He was performing miracles.

Where was he doing them? In their presence. Not like watching Derren Brown on TV. These people were there. They were not one stage removed.

And yet not everyone decided to follow Jesus as a result. The question is why not? We’re told why in verses 38 to 40.

“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.””

What are we being told? The Old Testament had predicted this response. Who was responsible for the Old Testament? God. God had said this would be the case and so he made sure this was the case.

You’ll notice that John quotes two passages from the book of Isaiah. One from Isaiah chapter 53 and one from Isaiah chapter 6.

This is an aside but I thought I would say it in passing. When I was at Bible college it was very common to hear people talk about the book of Isaiah being written by more than one author, normally three. John just nails that idea. Who does he say wrote Isaiah 53? Isaiah. Who does he say wrote Isaiah 6? Isaiah. Who do you think wrote the book of Isaiah? Isaiah.

What do we actually discover from these quotations? Let’s take the quotation in Isaiah 53 first of all. Go back and read around the actually quote. This is what we read.

“Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?  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.”

God has said it and so it will be so. That’s why John says “For this reason they could not believe.”

Why was this outcome guaranteed? John now quotes from Isaiah 6.

God has done it before. To ensure the end results he had predicted he hardened the hearts of those who listened. This is what he did during the ministry of the prophet Isaiah.

When Isaiah 6 is often read it is stopped short. It’s a favourite text at ordination services. It seems very positive to stop at ‘Here I am send me.’ What was this young prophet told? Go and preach and I will use your preaching to harden the hearts of those who listen. You can just hear Isaiah saying ‘Bring it on Lord’, can’t you?

God will harden hearts and keep eyes closed when he chooses. He chose this method to make sure his word predicted in Isaiah 53 was fulfilled perfectly in the ministry of Jesus.

Notice what John writes in verse 41. “Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus’ glory and spoke about him.”

Just to be sure we know what Isaiah originally meant. He said all this because he saw Jesus highly exalted on a throne. He saw the glory of the second member of the Trinity. He also saw how he would one day be sent to the earth to suffer and die. This is also seeing his glory. It is not just what he saw on the throne. It is also what he saw would happen one day when the Son came to earth.

Why did Isaiah see it and all those others who heard the words of Jesus and saw the works of Jesus not see it?

It wasn’t because Isaiah was a righteous man. In Isaiah 6 he knows he is a sinful man. “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.”

It is all about grace. God graciously cleansed him and opened his eyes so that he could see what would happen many hundreds of years later when the one he saw on the throne would be born as a man and so to the cross to suffer and die.

And the reason those who heard Jesus’ words and witnessed the miracles did not see the glory of Jesus is because their hearts were hardened to make sure they could not believe.

How does this work? At the same time we must hold the truths together that they would not believe and they could not believe.

Passive hardening. The heart is naturally rebellious. God withdraws his mercy and so lets the heart harden itself. God actively withdraws. More of this in your Exodus home groups this week. He also sends his word to harden people.

Why is this important? Two reasons. We can boast of nothing. The very revealing of the identity of Jesus is a glorious and gracious work of God. We can take credit for nothing. God gets the glory for our salvation. The Father gets glory when he opens our eyes by his Spirit so we can see the true identity of Jesus. There is glory in the revelation of Jesus to us.

It is also a great encouragement to us as we seek to speak about Jesus to other people. Do you think it is true that everyone can become a Christian if only they hear the gospel presented in the right way with the right arguments? If so, then who is to blame if they don’t? There is such a responsibility on our puny shoulder if this was true.

Think of Jesus. The best preacher in the world. The best miracle worker who had ever lived. And yet they did not all believe. Some were not granted mercy and so their hearts were allowed to harden.

Our job is to share the gospel and leave the results to God.

So far we’ve looked at verses 37 to 41. This section explains why not everyone believed in him. But it would be completely wrong to say that no one believed in him as a result of what he had said and did.

Not everyone believed but look at what we are told in verse 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; for they loved praise from men more than praise from God.”

There is a definite contrast. However, what we read is also very surprising but very honest. They did believe but their belief was not quite what it should be. They kept it to themselves.

It was just them and Jesus. It was a personal thing.

Why? They valued the praise of men much more than the praise of God.

What will help us hold firm to difficult biblical truths? Let us value the praise of God more than the praise of men.

What will help us speak more of Jesus to other people?

Talking about God to each other will help. Alastair Campbell is famous for saying of the Blair Government, “We don’t do God.’

Sometimes we don’t do God outside the service part of church.
We increasingly show desire the praise of God more than the praise men.

It is our desire to be well liked by others that often means we don’t invite people to hear about Jesus or speak to them about Jesus ourselves.

It is possible to change. There is an example later on of someone who was in this category and who later changed. End of chapter 19. Joseph of Arimathea. We’re told that he was a disciple of Jesus but secretly because he feared the Jews. He went public by collecting the body of Jesus.

Let’s see the inadequacy of this secret belief and ask God to change us so that we will do things not for the audience of people we can see but for the unseen audience of one - the one who really counts – our glorious Father in heaven.

With all this talk of God’s hardening and revealing, you might be tempted to think that there is no responsibility on our shoulders to believe. Should we not simply sit back and let God do whatever he will do?

Before you make up your mind listen to what Jesus says in verses 44 to 46. “Then Jesus cried out, “When a man believes in me, he does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me.  45 When he looks at me, he sees the one who sent me.  46 I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.”

We have a responsibly to believe. When we believe we discover that God has enabled us to believe. But we must believe in Jesus.

Why is this so urgent and necessary? People are in darkness without Jesus. Confused and clueless in this world.

There is also a future day of judgement to avoid. Look at what Jesus says in verse 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. 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.”

It really does matter how you respond to Jesus. It has eternal implications.

His very words will be your judge if you do not believe. ‘Do you not remember what I said then?’

The reason his words can be used for such an important event is given in verses 49 and 50. “For I did not speak on my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it. I know that his command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say.”

The Father has taught his Incarnate Son everything he needed to say. Not just content but delivery style. Did you notice that? What to say and how to say it. That’s why the earthly words of Jesus will be used on the last day at the great judgement.

What does all this mean for us?

See the urgency and importance of Jesus. Believe in him. Come into the light. Save yourself from eternal darkness.

Come to Identity. It won’t be Jesus in person but you’ll look at what he said and did.

And for those of us who do believe. Let us desire the praise of God more than the praise of men. Let us be faithful in our task. And let us realise that in the end the revelation of Jesus is in the glorious hands of our heavenly Father.

Let’s pray.

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