People’s Unbelif and Jesus’ Passion


John 12:37-50; Isaiah 52:13-53:6
Rev. Dr. Kwangho Song

Main Points:
I. People’s unbelief (vs. 37-43)
II. Jesus’ passion (vs. 44-50)

Ch. 12 of John’s Gospel is an interesting and important chapter. Interesting because by the end of this chapter, Jesus’ public ministry is ended. I mean, Jesus no longer appears before the public, but stays with His disciples and prepares for the coming suffering and the redeeming death on the cross. And this disappearance of Jesus from people’s eyes is stated at the end of v. 36 in these words: “When Jesus had said these things, He departed and hid Himself from [people].” No longer could the Jews hear Jesus’ teaching on the streets or in the temple.

It’s also an important chapter because its first half deals with Jesus’ preparation for His death and the second half gives us a short and clear summary of the Lord’s public ministry which is our passage for contemplation for today.

So, although our text passage to read is from v. 37, I’d like to begin with the second half of v. 36 as the introduction – ‘Jesus departed and hid Himself from people.’ This is to some extent a sad thing to hear. The Lord departed from people. It sounds like the light from heaven has finally disappeared and now the people face darkness. Jesus the light of the world departed from people – that’s what closes v. 36. As we all do after a day’s work, what follows in vs. 37-50 is a concluding remark. Jesus’ public ministry has been completed; there’s no more public teaching or healing left undone; it’s all over now. And the sun has disappeared over the horizon.

In this summary remark, we find that firstly, ‘people did not believe in Jesus,’ and secondly, ‘Jesus the Lord declares consistently and passionately His message of saving souls and invites people to faith in Him, thus, to salvation.’ We’ll consider each of these two points.

Thinking about people’s response to Jesus’ saving works, it is strange to hear that they did not believe in Him. In a sense, hearing that those who met, heard and even witnessed Jesus’ power of healing the sick and raising dead people disbelieved the Saviour of the world amazes us. Is Jesus’ work to the Jews unsuccessful? The work started from His birth and continued up to this far in His life, that is over thirty-three years of labour, is it ineffective? Listen to v. 37’s summary statement: “Though He had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in Him.”

Translating this into our own everyday language, it might sound like this: ‘I’ve done so much so hard in this year, but I’ve got hardly any result of my works.’ William Carey, a missionary to India in the early 1800s, wrote this memo some years after his arrival at India and hard missionary work: ‘This is indeed the valley of the shadow of death to me.’ When he wrote this, he had been laboured over seven years in mission and had only one convert out of millions on that land. In the meantime, he had lost his five-year-old son to dysentery which caused his wife to become mentally ill – she suffered and died not too long after that. William Carey was disheartened. And the first part of this summary of Jesus’ labour of saving souls sounds disheartened – people did not believe in Him!

Why didn’t they? To ask such a question is quite natural. Why did the Jews of Jesus’ time disbelieve in the Lord?

Our text passage gives us two reasons for the Jews’ unbelief. Firstly, they disbelieved Jesus because they thought that Jesus was not good enough to be their Saviour and Lord. Listen to v. 38 which is a quote from the OT, especially from Isa. 53:1, “Lord, who has believed what he heard from us, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” No one believed, the prophet Isaiah means, because – as you go on and read Isa. 53:2 and following – people would regard the promised Messiah as a ‘root that came out of dry ground’ with no ‘form or majesty’ that might attract their eyes. So, people would despise Him who had come from above, esteeming Him not. In a word, Jesus had nothing fad or exciting to their eyes. His words and miraculous signs did not give them any satisfactory sensual pleasure. They thought that a few with their infirmities could benefit from Jesus or those of lowly class like the demon-possessed and poor and prostitutes might gather together around Him because He welcomed them, but they themselves who were of high class or even commoners with wealth and health prepared with all necessities for their life, didn’t need Him. Why would they, as they were more than satisfied with their present life setting? So, they did not believe in Jesus. Sadly, this has never been changed since Jesus’ time or since Isaiah’s time. We see this still the first reason why so many people don’t believe in Jesus – nothing fancy do they find from and with Jesus and His teaching and church. Despite the fact that Jesus’ gospel has reached everyone’s ears, people did not and still do not believe in the Saviour and Lord of the world.

While people’s self-satisfaction is the first reason for their unbelief, the second reason is a completely different one; it is from above; God caused them to disbelieve in the Son of God. Strange it might sound, but this is what v. 39 and the first half of v. 40 teach. Listen to these words: “Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said, ‘He [i.e., God] has blinded [people’s] eyes and hardened their heart.’” People, as in v. 37, ‘did not’ believe, but here in v. 40, they ‘could not’ believe in the Lord Jesus. Why couldn’t they? Because God blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts. God caused them, so they could not believe in Jesus. Like the case of the Egyptian Pharaoh at the time of exodus, God so hardened the hearts of the Jews that they could not believe in the Son of God.

This teaching is neither to confuse anyone, nor to give any unbeliever an excuse for his disbelief in the Saviour. This teaching is not to say that God is the author of anyone’s unbelief, thus, He is responsible for anyone’s judgment. No, not at all. Rather, this teaching explains us the relationship between all who reject Jesus and God who is the sovereign Creator and Ruler of the world. People refuse Jesus, thus, God, but they’re always under the will and power and wisdom of the sovereign God. God is the Creator and men are His creatures. So, this means that the unbeliever’s dismissal of God would never kick Him out of His heavenly throne, not even out of any individual unbeliever’s life; rather, their rejection of the Saviour of the world, thus, His Father in heaven, is their own dismissal from the Creator’s world. An illustration of this could be a student’s dismissal of the school’s principal. What would be its result? That student would be dismissed, not the principal; and the principal would officiate the student’s removal from the school, but he would never intrigue the student or cause him to that trouble. This also teaches that no one can claim the Lord’s salvation without faith in Jesus – he can’t whatsoever. For this reason those who didn’t believe in Jesus could not also believe in Him.

Having said, there’s another form of unbelief we need to consider. As vs. 42-43 tell us, some people did believe in Jesus, but they hid their faith from the public. No one around them knows they’re Christians. Some Christians do hide their faith from their authorities because, if found, they would be persecuted and even killed. But that’s not what we hear from vs. 42-43. Some people choose to be seen as unbelievers, hiding their faith in Jesus, because they want to maintain their social, economic and various other benefits from their status quo.

A typical example we find is Nicodemus of Jn. 3. He was a Pharisee, one of the rulers of the Jews. Also Joseph of Arimathea who took the body of Jesus from the cross and put it in his new tomb was another in this group. As Jn. 19:38 tells us, they followed and believed in Jesus but secretly because they feared the Jews. Those ‘secret’ believers didn’t want any disadvantage that might be laid on them because of their Christian faith. These ‘secret’ believers seek the best of both worlds which is impossible to achieve. Listen to the verdict given in v. 43: “they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.” To these ‘secret’ Christians, our Lord Jesus says in Mt. 10:32-33, “everyone who acknowledges Me before men, I also will acknowledge before My Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies Me before men, I also will deny before My Father who is in heaven.”

In this way and reasons, people disbelieved in Jesus and many still do not come to Him, the Lord.

Then, what about the summary of Jesus’ message proclaimed throughout His life? It’s one and the same gospel, that is, ‘whoever believes in Jesus is saved.’ It’s a simple yet rich message. To save all who believe in Him, Jesus came to earth. He is the Light of the world, as in v. 46, so whoever comes to Him believing, he/she may not remain in darkness. It’s as simple as that.

Listening to these words of Jesus from vs. 44-50, we find our Saviour’s passion, His zeal, His fervour, for people like us and many others in the world. In these seven verses, not a single word wanders off but hits the mark altogether, that is, the Lord’s message of ‘I came to save you, so believe in Me, thus, believe in the Father who sent Me, and receive the eternal life.’ Here, He sounds like His heart is burning with sincere love for all who need salvation. He even ‘cried out’ when He said this, as v. 44 points out. Here, this expression, ‘cried out,’ is the same word that described the thirst of the two blind men of Mt. 9 who followed Jesus and cried aloud, saying, “Have mercy on us.” They desperately wanted to see; and they knew that Jesus was the only chance they’d got for recovering their eyesight. So, they cried out. Our Lord’s cry for our attention, thus, response to Him in faith shows His deep love and mercy for us. Do you hear His invitation to faith and His eternal life? Believing in Him is to believe the Father and seeing Him is to see the Father in heaven (vs. 44-45).

Having said, let me go back to the point I made earlier that this Jesus’ message is a simple yet rich message for faith and salvation. Truly, our Saviour’s message is simple; it tells us that if you believe, you don’t remain in darkness but dwell in His light, having and enjoying His eternal life. But, if anyone doesn’t believe in the Son, he’ll be judged on the last day.

Translating this to our everyday language, it is like our attitude toward the traffic signs on the road we travel and the result we get. If you don’t follow those signs, you’ll surely be judged. If a sign indicates danger at a critical location like a steep cliff or a rail crossing, receiving its message and slowing down and driving carefully means life, and rejection of that message surely brings a serious judgment, most likely death.

In fact, the same rule applies with everything in our life. If your coffee is hot, you should be careful; otherwise, you’d be judged and burnt. You should be careful with your hands and feet and tongue, otherwise, you’d surely be judged and pay a due penalty. So, if accepting this basic rule of life and following it gives you a trouble-free, hassle-free life, how much better would your life be with your acceptance of the universal truth about believing in the Lord Jesus Christ?

This is why all who deeply trust in the Lord look relaxed in and with all things of their life, while those with shallow faith struggle with almost everything. If you’re under the bright light of Jesus, your sins are clearly visible, and this leads you to repentance, and your repentance brings to you Lord’s forgiveness, and His forgiveness will surely deepen your trust, thus, joy in Him; this also deepens your life-experience with the Lord, thus, your confidence in your Lord and God. But anyone who is barely in the light of Jesus, his eyes and hands are on both the worldly pleasure and Christian joy. But it’s obvious that such a person will quickly realise that having both is impossible; they contradict and expel each other. Christian joy and worldly pleasure don’t mix and can’t coexist. So, he constantly struggles between two, being torn between two – whether to pursue the choices of the world or Christian’s satisfaction in heart and soul. Such a struggle quickly wears one out, and hardly will there be any moment of peace in his heart.

Jesus our Lord’s saving message is consistent and compassionate. Soon, He was going to guarantee the full benefit of His invitation by laying His life on the cross for sinners like us!

Summing it up, let me remind you of people’s unbelief. As did the Jews of Jesus’ time, many people out there outside of these walls don’t see Jesus and His message attractive to their eyes or worth to attend their ears. Although Jesus’ kingdom expands rapidly, it doesn’t seem to be what is happening around us in this society. We’re surrounded by many unbelievers. So, in this crooked generation, we’re tempted to weaken our faith in Jesus and hindered from deepening our trust in our Saviour. In many situations and occasions, we’re lured and even pushed to choose worldly pleasures and to put our desire for Christian joy aside.

But you and I should never be dismayed but give our heartfelt thanks to our Saviour and trust in Him more. And out of our thanks and gratitude, we should joyfully bring Jesus and His good news, the message of His free grace, to the ears and hearts of the unbelieving people. This is because Jesus has sent us, God’s children who bear the name of Jesus, to the unbelievers around us. Listen to Jn. 20:21 where the risen Lord speaks to His disciples and us: “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent Me, even so I am sending you.” He means, as the Father sent the Son to us with all authority of heaven and earth, Jesus is also sending us to the world with all His authority. Moreover, He has sent His Spirit to us and He indwells us! So, in this way, we’re participating Christ’s great work of saving souls, and this is our great joy. Let us altogether rejoice in the Lord who enables us for all these works to the glory of Him, our Saviour and Lord, Jesus Christ! ***


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