Preached at Cornerstone Church in Cascade, IA on October 23, 2016
Open your Bibles to John 12:36-50. Today we are covering something that I believe to be very intriguing on multiple levels, and it has to do with Israel’s unbelief, not only during the times of Jesus, but also today. Before we read out text, I want you to think for a moment about the nation of Israel, and not just the Biblical Israel, but Israel throughout human history. From Abraham until now. There is no other nation like Israel. I recall reading about one Christian's conversion and the spoke about how the existence of Israel through the mellenia was a significant piece of evidence that drew her to Christ. Why? Because Israel has endured persecution like no other nation, yet they continue to exist. The Philistines, the Syrians, the Babylonians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Germans, have all gone against Israel, and currently they are surrounded by nations that hate them, yet they endure. Have you ever wondered why such a little piece of land in the middle East causes so much geo-political strife? There is no doubt that Israel is unique. So with that in mind, let us read our text, pray, and see what God has to say about this nation He created.
John 12:36b-50 - “When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them. 37Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him,38so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “Lord, who has believed what he heard from us, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” 39Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said, 40“He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them.” 41Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him. 42Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; 43for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God. 44And Jesus cried out and said, “Whoever believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me. 45And whoever sees me sees him who sent me. 46I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. 47If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. 48The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day. 49For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak. 50And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me.”
The Light of Christ Upon Israel
One of the major themes in the Gospel of John is that Jesus is the light. If I am not mistaken, John uses it 16 times in his Gospel. We are first introduced to Jesus as the light right out of the gates in John’s prelude at the beginning of the Gospel, John 1:9, “The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.” John 3:19, “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.” John 8:12, “Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 9:5, “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
In Chapter 12 we see it mentioned several times. John 12:35, “So Jesus said to them, “The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. 36While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.” And then we see it again our text this morning, verse 46, “I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.”
As Jesus says, he came into this world as light. And there is no doubt that he is the light of the World, Jews and Gentiles. However, where did His three year earthly ministry occur? It occurred within the nation of Israel for the most part. Sure he stepped out past the boarders on occasion, but as Jesus said to the Canaanite woman, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
As I have mentioned several times before, regarding the amazing things Jesus did, John writes in John 21:25, “Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” Not only that, but he preached the Word of God with a level of authority that is unparalleled in this world. If that wasn’t enough, John the Baptist, the greatest Prophet to have ever existed testified that he was the Messiah, but all of this wasn’t enough. Verse 37 of our text this morning says, “though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him.”
How strange is this? This is Israel. As Paul says about his fellow kinsman in Romans 9:4, “They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. 5To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever.” This is not some random group of people who were casually familiar with God, the Bible, and the promised Messiah. This was a group of people who had been given ample evidence for over 2000 years, yet they did not believe. John 1:11 says it best, “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.” How can this be? Did Jesus fail? Is this a mistake? Had Satan coup actually worked?
The Word of God Fulfilled
Lets look at verses 37-41 “Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him,38so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “Lord, who has believed what he heard from us, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” 39Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said, 40“He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them.” 41Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him.”
So in this text, we see again the immense importance of conjunctions. Verse 38, “so that” verse 39, “therefore” , “For again.” These conjunctions point us to the foundation, the reason, for Israel’s unbelief. And what reason does it give? “so that the Word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled.” The reason why Israel, who had a front row seat the the Son of God, as a whole, rejected Jesus as their king, as their Messiah, as the Son of God was to fulfill the Word of God spoken 700 years earlier by God, through the prophet Isaiah So let us look at the text that is quoted.
Verse 38 “Lord, who has believed what he heard from us, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” This is a quote from Isaiah 53:1. All of us in this Church, young and old, should be familiar with Isaiah 53. Let us all turn to Isaiah 53 together as a Church, and let us read the entire chapter together.
“Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? 2For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. 3He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. 4Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. 5But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. 6All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. 7He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. 8By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? 9And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. 10Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. 11Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. 12Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.”
This is a prophecy of the crucifixion written 700 years before Jesus came. This is the clearest and most comprehensive Old Testament passage pointing forward to the Messiah being crucified. Now, remember, a crucified Messiah makes no sense to the Jews. Their picture of a Messiah was a stronger Herod. Someone who would use the strength of man, the war horse, the chariot to deliver them from Romans oppression, not some man of sorrow.
But as John points out in John 12:38 with the quoting of Isaiah 53:1, “Lord, who has believed what he heard from us, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” The strong arm of the Lord in Jesus Christ had been revealed. The signs and wonders that Jesus displayed is the strong arm of God manifested through this Galilean Carpenter, but who has believed? Very few people in Israel.
Now let’s look at the next old testament reference that John speaks of in verse 40 “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them.” This verse comes from Isaiah 6. Why don't we all turn to this passage, so that we can see it for our own eyes. In Isaiah 6, the prophet Isaiah is given a vision of God upon the throne. And in verse 8, it says, “And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? “ God is looking for a person to send to the people of Israel. Isaiah responds, here I am, send me. Isaiah wants to be the vessel of God's message to God's people.
God's response is found in verse 9, “And he said, “Go, and say to this people: “Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing,d but do not perceive.’ 10Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.”
The message that God gives Israel is not a message of belief, but a message of unbelief. Isaiah role is to harden Israel's heart. And these are the two text that John uses to close out Jesus' public ministry. The suffering servant and the hardening of Israel's heart. Why?
If you recall, Israel was primed to receive the Christ. John the baptist had been stoking the fire before Jesus' arrival. Jesus comes and performs signs that have never been done before on the planet. The entire nation is falling head over heals for him, but what do they want? They want a stronger Herod, a mighty earthly warrior. They want a Political Leader, an Earthly King. They are ready to cast off the chains of Roman oppression with the war horse, but Jesus does not do this.
What does Jesus tell them in John 12:32, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die.” The message of a crucified Messiah made no sense to Israel. The message of Isaiah 53 made no sense to the people of Israel. And it was this message of the cross that was the exact thing that hardened their hearts to reject him as their King. It was the cross that was their stumbling block.
And Christ knew this all along. The message of the cross was the message that would set their hearts against him. Hence why I believe Jesus was so vague and so mysterious about the cross for so long. He knew that the preaching of his crucifixion publicly would be the nails in the coffin, or better yet, the nails in his hands.
And this is still true today. Israel, generally speaking, still does not believe that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah, despite everything lining up perfectly. Why? Because they cannot see past the cross, it makes no sense to them. Why? Because God sovereignly is using the message of the cross to harden their hearts.
So, despite Jesus spending almost all his time with the Jews, and displaying amazing wonders, and preaching with unprecedented authority, and matching the Old Testament prophecies perfectly, the Jews still rejected Him. Why? Because this was God's sovereign plan, that His own people would reject His own son.
And this, for us, is yet again evidence that the Bible is true. For it makes no sense that gentiles throughout the world would repent and place their faith in a jewish messiah, yet the Jews will not. But now we know why? It is God's sovereign plan.
Why Fault and Is Their Hope?
This raises a couple questions? First, if God is hardening their hearts, why are they held accountable for their sins? This is a great question and it is addressed in Romans 9, perhaps one of the hardest chapters in all the Bible, for Paul is covering this exact issue. In Romans 9, Paul starts out saying that he would give up his salvation if it meant that it would help the Jews believe in Jesus. But he knows that the bottom line for you believing in Jesus is not up to the individual, it is up to God's Sovereign grace. Romans 9:16 Paul says, “So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.” Paul knows full well that the foundation of faith is not yourself, it is a gift from God. But then he answers our question about accountability.
Romans 9:19-24 - “You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?”20But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” 21Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? 22What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— 24even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?”
The bottom line is God is sovereign, and we are accountable. That is it. If you don't think this is fair, the answer is harshly stated, “But who are you, O man, to answer back to God?” God is God, and you are not. We are sinners, and God is sovereign. Let us never to forget this.
The second question is, is their hope for Israel? Are God's chosen people destined for God's eternal wrath. The answer is unpacked in Romans 11. Due to time, we can't look at it all, but let read to you Romans 11:25, “I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers:d a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. 26And in this way all Israel will be saved.“ There will come a day, when the age of the Gentiles will be over. At that time, God will soften the hearts of Jews throughout this world and they will repent and put their faith in the suffering savior, Jesus Christ. When that starts to happen, you will know that Christ's return is near. God's plan began with the world, moves to the Jews, back to the World, and will end with the Jews.
So where does this leave us? First, hopefully we have overwhelming gratitude for the Amazing Grace of God that has been poured out on us, Gentiles. God cut the branches off the vine and he has grafted us in, not by our merits, but according to his will. He deserves praise and glory and we should respond in worship.
Second, our faith should shoot through the roof regarding God's sovereign plan. God is in total control of everything on this planet. As the world continues to shake and fracture, we can rest assured that we are a part of a Kingdom that cannot be shaken and God is accomplish all his purposes.