The last judgement - John 12:37-50

This is a sermon by Malcolm Peters from the Riverside Church service on 23rd September 2007.

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Some of you might know that I used to work for the Bank of England regulating banks.  And so it won’t surprise you to know that I’ve been very interested in the Northern Rock saga.  And without getting into the details, the main point was that Northern Rock wasn’t bust.    Northern Rock itself said so;  the Bank of England effectively said so and so did the Government.    And if you’ve got less than £35K in any one bank, then even if it goes bust, you’re covered by deposit protection insurance anyway.  In short, all the signs said:  if you’ve got a few quid in Northern Rock, don’t panic.  Have faith in the system and don't bother spending hours in a queue to get your savings out.  All the signs say that same thing:  don’t panic and have faith. But of course, lots of people ignored the signs, panicked and made the situation a whole lot worse.

And that’s what the first verse of our reading was saying in Jn 12:37. So if you’re not already there, pl turn back to Jn 12 on p [1003/  1672];   and look with me at v37:

V37: “Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still wouldn’t believe in him.”

If you remember from last week, we’re at the turning point in John’s Gospel.    Because, like a football match, John’s Gospel is a Gospel of 2 halves.     And the first half is chapter s 1-11, where we saw Jesus making lots of claims about himself:    I am the bread of life;  I am the resurrection and the life;  I am the gateway to eternal life;  indeed, I am God himself visiting his people.  I am the son of Man, the Messiah or Christ that was promised in the OT.  In short, I am everything you’ve been waiting for and only I can satisfy the deep spiritual hunger that’s inside each and every one of us.  The claims of Jesus then.  But as well as making staggering claims, Jesus performed various signs.   Signs like changing water into wine.  Signs like feeding the 5,000;  signs like healing the sick and most spectacularly in chapter 11, signs like raising the dead. 

And last week we saw that J’s claims and signs are brought together in chapter 12.  So look back with me to 12:23:

23  , "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.

We’re nearly there.  My hour has now come says Jesus.  I’m about to do what I came for.    Die on a cross that is, taking the punishment for all the sins of all God’s people.    [J died for Margaret and James.  And]  Jesus died for me.  Because I’m a sinner and was facing an eternity in hell as a just punishment for my sins.  But Jesus died for me.  On the cross Jesus took the punishment that I deserved, so that I could be forgiven.   

And that’s what the second half of John’s Gospel is all about.  The last week of J's life which led to the cross.    And last week in v36, we saw Jesus withdrawing from the crowds as a sort of judgement on their unbelief.   But in this week’s passage, Jesus reappears for one final public teaching session. Because from chapter 13 onwards, Jesus withdraws totally from the public arena and only teaches his disciples;  from chapter 13 onwards, Jesus only teaches those who’ve already accepted him his claims. 

And so this week, it’s as if we’re in the last chance Saloon.  We’re being offered one last chance to respond to the claims of J;  a last chance to accept what the signs are saying.      And for us, we listen to J’s claims and examine His signs as we read His written Word, the Bible.  As John puts is in 20:30: 

30Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31But these are written that you may[a] believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

J was God.  God the Word.  God the second person of the eternal Trinity.  And God the Word, became a man.  He made His dwelling among His people.    He died in obedience to His Father’s will;  according to the plan of God the F.  And J's job was to reveal the F and to sort out the problem of sin.  First for the Jew, and then for the Gentiles, the non-Jews that is.  As we were told in the prologue back in chapter 1, Jesus came to His own, to the Jews that is, but his own did not receive Him.  Which is what v37 is saying. 

V37:  “Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him.”

And the ‘they’ being referred to here are the crowds back in v34-36;  his own;  the Jews, the religious people of the day.    Because the fact is that the vast majority of Jews did not accept Jesus as the Messiah.  He came to that which was His own, but own did not receive Him.    

Yet to all who did receive Him, to those who believed in J's name, he gave them eternal life.  Lots of people who’d been clueless about the OT, when they were told about Jesus, they became Christians in droves.  But for the Jews:  well most of them said no thanks. 

And we can see that same pattern today.  Historically, the Christian church has been strongest in the West.  Indeed, one could argue that Western civilisation grew out of its Christian roots.  But today, the Western church is very sick.  Both the Church in England as well as the CofE are in decline.  Only last term, the Newland URC church closed down because of unsustainable numbers;  perhaps you know of other examples.

But in other parts of the world that had no historic Christian presence, the church is exploding.  In Latin America, 64,000 people are becoming Christians every day, which means that 460 churches are planted every week.  At the beginning of the 19C, only 4% of Africans were Christian.   by 1975, 40% of were Christian, and that’s including the massive population explosion over those years.  In Kenya, the percentage was as high as 63%.    And it’s the same story in Asia: in S Korea you can find churches were 8,000 people turn up to a prayer mtg on a Bank Holiday weekend;  and some mega-churches that seat 1000s have up to 6 services a day to accommodate those wanting to come learn about Jesus.  China boasts not just the world’s fastest growing economy, but also the fastest rate of church growth in the world. 

Why did the Jews reject J?    v38-40

Why is that?  Why are people all over the world that had no cultural background in Christianity turning to Jesus in droves;  why, on the whole, are our fellow British citizens who’ve grown up in a Bible-shaped culture, saying no to J?  

It’s the same question the Jewish Christians of the first century were asking.  Why have most of our fellow Jews said no to the Jewish Messiah?

And the answer’s in v38-40.  Look again at v38:

38This was to fulfil the word of Isaiah the prophet:  "Lord, who has believed our message
and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?"

It’s a quote from the passage in Isaiah 53 we looked at last week.   It’s one of those questions where the answer is obvious.  And the answer’s no one, or at least not very many.  Because Is 53 goes on to say: 

“He was despised and rejected by men….. he was despised and we esteemed him not.”

This key OT passage foretold the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ;  it  foretold J’s sufferings on the cross in the place of His people so they could be forgiven;  but this very passage also predicted that, on the whole, God’s people would reject him.  He was despised and we esteemed Him not. 

So when Jesus came along, most Jews didn’t get it.  It’s like one of those multicoloured 3D puzzle pictures;   you know the sort:  they’ve got a 3D picture of the Queen or something, but you have to look through a sea of multicoloured dots to get the picture;  but most people just see the dots. 

And that’s the kind of reaction most people have to Jesus in Hull isn’t it.  If they think about Jesus at all, then he’s just another religious leader like Gandhi or Mohammad.  Just another dot lost in a sea of multicoloured dots;  and it doesn’t matter if you get the picture of not.  What’s for lunch darling?

That was the answer to the Jewish dilemma.  The OT had predicted that most Jews would reject Jesus.  But there’s more.  Look onto v39:

39For 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."

He’s quoting from Isaiah again, but this time from chapter 6 which we read earlier in the service. And in chapter 6, Isaiah’s commissioned as a prophet;  commissioned to reveal God to the people;  but right up front on the passage that John quotes, Isaiah’s told that they won't respond.  It’s not simply prediction of their rejection;  No Isaiah is told that God himself won’t not open their blind eyes;  he won’t open they deaf years and won’t soften the hard hearts of His people.    The Lord is sovereign over everything and everyone.  And unless the Lord enables us, none of us are able to respond to the Word of God. 

And that’s the point John’s making in v39-40.  The Jew’s have rejected Jesus because God hadn’t healed them of their blind eyes and deaf ears.  God hadn’t permitted them to really see, hear and understand the message of Jesus.  Just like one of the multi-coloured dot pictures, they may have even seen Jesus in the flesh, but the arm of the Lord hadn’t been revealed to them.  They didn’t get it, because God hadn’t allowed them to get it. 

And when we first come across this doctrine in Scripture, the doctrine of predestination that is, most of us instinctively think:  O I must’ve read that bit wrong.  It can’t surely be saying that God decides who becomes a Christian and who doesn’t?  What about free will and all that?

That’s certainly how I reacted as a young Christian when I came across texts like this.  I went to my vicar and said:  I decided to become a Christian a few months ago, but these texts I’ve been reading appear to saying that God chose me.  But that can’t be right can it?    And the answer was yes, that’s exactly what it’s saying. 

Now some of you might be thinking, well if that’s true, then I don’t like that kind of God.  He sounds unjust. Am I right.  Were you thinking that?  And if you were, then God’s reply in Rom chapter 9 is this:

Rom 9:15:  “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion."    V20  who are you, O man, to talk back to God? "Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, 'Why did you make me like this?' " 21Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?

The point is that we’re all guilty sinners.  God would have been totally just if he hadn’t chosen any of us.  We all deserve his punishment.    But in His great mercy, he has chosen some of us to be saved from that just judgement.  And bearing in mind he seems not to be blessing our nation very much at the moment, if you’re a Christian here this morning, then we should be especially grateful that he’s chosen you. 

And this is the answer to the perplexing question of Jewish Christians in the 1C:  why didn’t more Jews embrace the Jewish Messiah.  Answer because, for his own reasons that must be consistent with his perfect character of love and justice, for His own good and perfect reason, God had decided that most of them wouldn’t become Christians.  God decided that the early church was to became a mainly non-Jewish church.  And that led to Jewish Apostles like Paul to cry out to God to have mercy on their fellow Jews.   

And so the application for us is not to accuse God of injustice.  No, like the apostle Paul, we’re to cry out to God the he would have mercy on our spiritually sick nation.  O Lord, have mercy on our nation like you’ve had in previous centuries and like you’re having on Africa, Asia and Latin America. 

Lord, in your wrath against our nation and it leaders, remember mercy.  But the question is, am I bovvered?  Are we bovvered enough to pray like that; to pray that revival might once again come to our nation?    It’s certainly been a challenge to me this week as I prepared this talk.  What about you?

 

Some Jews/ religious people did trust ion Jesus (v42-43)

Most of God’s historic people didn’t become Christians then.  But just like Margaret and James  some were different .  Look again at v42:

V42: Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him.

Some Jews did respond.  And even some of the Jewish leaders;  leaders like Nicodemus and Joseph of Arithmetical who later buried Jesus.  But look at the rest of the verse:

But because of the Pharisees they wouldn’t confess their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; 43for they loved praise from men more than praise from God.

It’s easy to be a Christian here in church, or if you work for a predominantly Christian organisation, or if you live in a cosy Christian culture.  But in J’s day, as we see in v42, the religious leaders had threatened to chuck people out of the synagogue if they accepted Jesus. 

Before the fall of communism, a Russian church service was going on;  an illegal service in an underground church.  But then it got raided by the KGB;  by masked KGB gunmen who stood at the front and said:  you’ve got 5 min to renounce your faith and get out the building.  Anyone left in 5 min will be shot.   And half the congregation got up and left.  So 5 min later, the gunmen put their guns down and took off their masks.  They were KGB, but they’d become Christians ands wanted to be sure there were no fake Christians around before they revealed their identity. 

Not exactly the kind of behaviour we should be copying as Christians, but it makes the point doesn’t it.  Persecution in whatever form certainly sorts the spiritual men from the boys doesn’t it?  As Jesus said elsewhere:  Not everyone who says to me on the last day, Lord Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven.  Or in other words, not everyone who claims to be a Christian is the real thing.  Tesco Value Cola is not the same as real Coke.    How can you spot a fake Christian?  Well ultimately only God sees deep into our hearts.  So perhaps a better question is:  am I a real Christian.  Am I faking it?    Are you faking it?  How can you tell?

Well there’s a couple of tests.  First in v43, do you fear people more than God?    Are you more worried about what other people think or say about you than about J’s verdict on the last day. 

Mt 7:21"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but [on that day] …. I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'

Do you fear people more than God?  That’s the first test.  But then back in v42 there’s another:  are you prepared to be known as a Christian.  Like Margaret and James who’ve made a pubic profession of their faith here this morning in baptism.  Are you known publically as a Christian:  at work, at school, at college, out with your mates.  Do you ever mention the God or Jesus word, except as a swear word that is?    Now we’re not all called to be evangelists and Christians are given a variety of gifts, but if your friends, your family, your colleagues don’t even know that you claim to be a Christian, then the chances are, you’re faking it.  And when the chips are down, you’ll be out the door, and out of heaven. 

A final Warning about the Last Judgement   (v44-50)

And if that’s you, or if you’re one of those back in v37 who’ve rejected Jesus and you know that you’re not a Christian, then v44-50 are for you.  Because in v44-50, we’ve got a final warning of the last Judgement.     Look with me at v47:

47"As for the person who hears my words but does not keep them, I don’t judge him. For I didn’t come to judge the world, but to save it. 48There 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.

The person who hears the Gospel and rejects it will be judged on the last day.   And that rejection can be an outright rejection, a half-hearted acceptance of Jesus or just plain English indifference:  “whatever”.  They will be judged by the words they have heard.  By the words of Jesus you’ve been hearing this morning. 

So who will be the judge?  Well it’s God the Father.   Because in v44, we see that the one who believes in Jesus, believes in the One who sent him, which we discover in v49 was the Father himself.  And logically, the opposite is true:  if you reject Jesus then you’re rejecting God the Father.   You can’t have God the Father without God the son.    A Unitarian Christian is a contradiction in terms. Because God is Trinitarian:  One God in Persons who are all equally God.  And yet who act in such a united way, that they’re still One God and not three.  As Jesus puts in v49: 

49For I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it. 50I know that his command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say."

You can’t be right with God the Father if you’ve rejected God the Son;  if you’ve rejected Jesus that is.    Any understanding of God that cuts Jesus out is wrong.  Worse, it’s a rejection of the One true God.   As Jesus says in v46: 

46I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.

We’re in the last chance saloon again.  It’s a final warning about the last judgement to come. 

The doctrine of predestination doesn’t overrule our human responsibility.  With our limited minds, we might no be able to explain how God can be totally sovereign and yet we’re still accountable to Him.  But the message of the Bible from Gen to Jesus is that God is both totally sovereign over everything and everyone, and yet we’re also morally responsible for what we make of Jesus.   The doctrine of predestination doesn’t give us an excuse to say: 

“Then Why does God blame us –for who resists his will” [Rom 9:19].  No, in v47 God the F sent His son Jesus into save the world.  And we’re all commanded to repent of our sins and turn to J;  turn to the light of the world so we can receive forgiveness for your sins.  But sooner rather than later, the light will be turned off, and if we haven’t embraced the light by then, we really will be in outer darkness.  As Jesus put it in v35:  Walk while you have the light before darkness masters you.  Let’s pray.

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