John 12: 37 – 50 Belief and unbelief among the Jews
Even after Jesus had performed so many signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him. This 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?’
For this reason they could not believe, because, as Isaiah says elsewhere:
‘He has blinded their eyes
and hardened their hearts,
so they can neither see with their eyes,
nor understand with their hearts,
nor turn – and I would heal them.’
Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus’ glory and spoke about him.
This is a difficult passage to understand. At first reading – and second and third readings, too, in my case – it reads as though God has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts deliberately.
It has been pointed out that the Jews of Jesus’ day believed very literally that everything was in God’s plan, therefore God must have blinded the eyes and hardened the hearts. That didn’t help me understand this passage very much, so I looked back into Isaiah and read chapters 5 – 7. What I learned by doing that was that this is a prophecy that applies to more than one event.
In Isaiah’s day, the government of the Jewish nation had become corrupt. When God looked for justice, he saw bloodshed; he looked for righteousness, but he heard cries of distress. The rich were greedy and ungodly. This left the nation weak, and facing the potential of invasion from more than one neighbour. The prophecy is not saying that God will harden the heart of the people; it is a figure of speech saying that this is what will happen, indeed it has already happened through the sins of the people.
And it seems to me that exactly the same applies to the passage in St John’s gospel. The leaders of the nation are greedy and ungodly, and therefore their hearts are hardened and their eyes blinded. It was not God who made them so – but St John says that, just as with Isaiah’s prophecy, the Jewish leaders could not accept the prophet’s message because they were steeped in corruption.
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 they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved human praise more than praise from God.
This paragraph shocks and horrifies me. Some of those leaders who believed would have been present in the Great Sanhedrin that condemned Jesus. The most important and significant event in history; the defining moment of God’s plan; and they were on the wrong side.
What an appalling position they put themselves in by loving human praise more than praise from God!
Then Jesus cried out, ‘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. I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.
‘If anyone hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge that person. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world. There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; the very words I have spoken will condemn them at the last day. For I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me to say all that I have spoken. I know that his command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say.’
This is Jesus’ last public teaching (there was private teaching for the disciples, of course). It’s the same message we’ve been given throughout. We must believe in Jesus, and by doing so we also believe in the one who sent him, the Father. Jesus is the light of the world. Jesus came into the world to save it, not to judge it. Those who reject Jesus, reject the one who sent him, and they will stand condemned by the words he has spoken.
Please help me to follow Jesus more faithfully day by day, that I may do your will and fulfil your purpose for me. You want only the best for me, and I trust you.
In Jesus’ name, Amen
Post Script from yesterday
Yesterday I was confronted by some very challenging conclusions:
“Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be.
Where is Jesus?
Right where he was in Palestine in the first century AD. He’s with the poor; with the sick; with the lepers; on the cross.
So where do I need to be?
That’s right. With the poor; with the sick; with social outcasts; and, if it comes to it, ready to die for Jesus.
I fall a long way short of that.”
I have thought intensively about that, and prayed about it.
Yes, I’m called to have a passionate concern for the poor, the sick, and social outcasts. Yes, I must be ready to die for Jesus if necessary – not very likely in the UK, of course. But Jesus the King has all sorts of servants, from great spiritual warriors to the spiritual equivalent of cooks, cleaners – and scribes.
Jesus called me to this study because I asked him to draw me closer. When I asked to come closer, he said, “You’re a writer. Write a blog. Don’t worry about readers; you’re writing it for you and me.” Through this discipline, he’s made me confront the challenge of discipleship; he’s drawn me closer which is exactly what I asked for. Thank you, Lord!
So, for the present at least, I’m one of his scribes!