Different Responses to the Gospel Message - John 12:26-50
©Copyright June 6, 2021 by Rev. Bruce Goettsche
It is a great mystery why two people, even in the same family, sit in church week after week hearing the Word of God explained and one person turns to the Lord for forgiveness and new life, and the other continues in indifference, and perhaps even hostility to the faith.
I will not solve the mystery of how God works. But I do want you to see not everyone responds to the gospel in the same way. In the passage before us, John 12:26-50, John explains different responses to the Gospel. Some of these verses are hard but we are going to work to understand.
The context is the last week of the life of Jesus. He has performed astounding miracles which were more than sufficient to testify to the truth that Jesus is the Messiah sent to rescue humankind, not so much from the Romans, but from themselves. We are sin-filled people in need of a Savior.
This is the last public teaching of Jesus in the Gospel of John. Everything from here on out is a record of what Jesus was saying to the disciples in his last hours. John and Jesus identify three groups of people: those who do not believe, those who believe but say nothing, and those who believe, trusting God to lead them to life eternal.
Those Who Could Not Believe
After saying these things, Jesus went away and was hidden from them.
37 But despite all the miraculous signs Jesus had done, most of the people still did not believe in him. 38 This is exactly what Isaiah the prophet had predicted:
“Lord, who has believed our message?
To whom has the Lord revealed his powerful arm?”
39 But the people couldn’t believe, for as Isaiah also said,
40 “The Lord has blinded their eyes
and hardened their hearts—
so that their eyes cannot see,
and their hearts cannot understand,
and they cannot turn to me
and have me heal them.”
41 Isaiah was referring to Jesus when he said this, because he saw the future and spoke of the Messiah’s glory.
This is a tough text. It sounds like the Bible is telling us some people don’t believe because God has kept people from believing by hardening their hearts. This provokes an objection: “Why would you punish someone who could not respond because you hardened their heart?’” The text is so troubling that even some ancient texts changed the wording to avoid the discomfort of the text.
These words are quoted several times in the Bible. They find their origin in Isaiah 6 where God said to Isaiah,
8 Then I heard the Lord asking, “Whom should I send as a messenger to this people? Who will go for us?”
I said, “Here I am. Send me.”
9 And he said, “Yes, go, and say to this people,
‘Listen carefully, but do not understand.
Watch closely, but learn nothing.’
10 Harden the hearts of these people.
Plug their ears and shut their eyes.
That way, they will not see with their eyes,
nor hear with their ears,
nor understand with their hearts
and turn to me for healing.”
These are hard words. We are not being told God keeps someone from believing. Hardening happens because of persistently pushing God away. Perhaps it will help us to remember that God hardened Pharoah’s heart. However, Pharoah first hardened his own heart. Pharoah chose to ignore God and became increasingly belligerent to the Lord. Only then do we read God hardened Pharoah’s heart! It seems that God strengthened Pharoah’s resolve to resist Him so He could use Pharoah to accomplish His purpose.
Were it not for the grace of God we would all end up with hardened hearts. We don’t know why God brings some to faith and leaves others to their own destruction, but the Bible says it is what happens. We don’t completely understand this whole concept of hardening but listen to what the Bible says in the Book of Romans,
21 Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused. 22 Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools. 23 And instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols made to look like mere people and birds and animals and reptiles.
24 So God abandoned them to do whatever shameful things their hearts desired. As a result, they did vile and degrading things with each other’s bodies.
There comes a point in the lives of those who will not believe when God says, “Enough!” and allows their hearts to harden. When God “abandons,” hardening is inevitable.
As difficult as the text may be, there is an important warning here: Those who continue to resist the Lord; those who continue to play with faith; or ignore it; are hardening their heart to the truth. They have justified and excused their sin so long that they do not hear the truth. Their hearts have become hardened. They have reached that point when they cannot believe!
Think about it like what has happened with television, the movies and our culture as a whole. We now watch things with our children that would have made us turn off the channel, blush with shame, and write a pointed letter to the network just 20-25 years ago. Now we don’t even notice some of the profanity, godless and immoral situations, and depraved behavior, because our minds have been dulled. Our hearts have become desensitized to that which is profane and sinful. Our society embraces what God condemns!
We can resist God so often it becomes second nature, and we tune out the voice of God’s Spirit. We justify our sin and excuse our inactivity in the things of God, and we put our trust in ourselves; refusing to wait upon the Lord. We think we are fine. We believe we can choose to follow Him any time we want. We don’t see our hearts and minds becoming dull until we no longer see evil and therefore feel no urgency to turn to the Lord. And finally there comes a point God abandons us to our sin-filled choices. And the sad thing is: we do not mourn this reality . . . we just don’t care! We are spiritually dead.
One commentator wrote
This presents us with a sober reality since God has not changed over the years. People think they can wait to commit themselves to Jesus. They want a few more years to enjoy their sin, and they think that at the time of their own choosing they will become Christians and start living as they know they should. They do not realize the hardening effect of unbelief on their hearts, so that it will be increasingly difficult for them to believe. They might come to a time when it is impossible for them to believe. The time came when God gave over the Jews to a judicial hardening, so that, John says, “therefore they could not believe” (John 12:39). When God gives you an invitation of his gospel—the gracious offer to forgive your sins and grant you eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ—that is the time when you should believe, accepting the gospel in trusting faith. The same is true for professing believers who gain some benefit from Christianity but have never truly reckoned with God and surrendered their lives to him. The longer you wait, the greater risk you take.
Those Who Are Secret Believers
42 Many people did believe in him, however, including some of the Jewish leaders. But they wouldn’t admit it for fear that the Pharisees would expel them from the synagogue. 43 For they loved human praise more than the praise of God.
The second group of people mentioned are “closet Christians,” they believe, but do so in secret. We know of two Jewish leaders who believed secretly until after the death of Christ: Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus. We know Nicodemus was a member of Sanhedrin and we are told Joseph was also a member of the Sanhedrin. In John 19 we are told Joseph was a secret disciple because He feared the Jews.
These men knew their careers would be ruined, their good name slandered, and their position likely stripped from them if they confessed to trusting Jesus. It is similar to those who live in Muslim nations where confessing faith in Christ can get your severed from your family or your head severed from your body! Yet many of these people courageously stand for Christ.
I felt like one of those “secret believers” back when I was in High School. I thought I was quite bold because I brought a Bible to school with me. However, it was small enough I could put it in my back pocket. I knew it as there, but I really didn’t want anyone else to know it.
Many of you may be somewhat secret believes. Perhaps you have a job where faith is frowned on. Maybe you are a student, and you would be ridiculed if others knew you put your trust in Christ. Maybe you come from a family who views faith as for the weak. You keep your faith private to “survive.” John Calvin called the praise of men the golden shackles binding man. The principle is simple, if we continue to live our lives in a way designed to please men, we will continue to justify our silence and never fully follow Christ.
We live at a time when Christianity is seen in a much more negative light. It now may cost something to follow Jesus. There will be a cost to holding to Christian morality and Biblical values. Teaching Jesus is the ONLY way to Heaven will cause people to react violently. We are quickly facing the reality that following Christ will lead to difficult choices and may cost us some friendships.
Yet, in Matthew 10:32 and Luke 12:8 quote Jesus who said,
“Everyone who acknowledges me publicly here on earth, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven.
If you really know who Jesus is, if you really believe Jesus rose from the dead, if He has actually transformed your heart, soul, and mind, you can’t keep quiet! The news of God’s forgiveness and new life is the best news possible! Everyone needs to hear it! If you can’t speak up for the Lord, then there is a chance that you don’t really believe the message of the death and resurrection of Christ or you don’t really care about your friends!
It is understandable that new believers are timid at first because they don’t fully understand what happened to them. But there must come a time when you DO stand up. That time came for Joseph and Nicodemus. When Jesus died, they asked for his body so they could give it a proper and fitting burial. They honored the Lord, while others celebrated his death. They stepped out from the shadows and into the light.
There will always be some who say, “I am not an outspoken person, I’m just naturally shy.” That is a true personality trait of some people, but not as many as use that excuse. Do you speak up about politics? Sports? Will you speak up in defense of your children? Do you confront injustice? If so, it is not that you are timid, it is that you are not as sold out to Him as you are to these other things. If that is the case, I hope you see the problem.
The True Believer
44 Jesus shouted to the crowds, “If you trust me, you are trusting not only me, but also God who sent me. 45 For when you see me, you are seeing the one who sent me. 46 I have come as a light to shine in this dark world, so that all who put their trust in me will no longer remain in the dark. 47 I will not judge those who hear me but don’t obey me, for I have come to save the world and not to judge it. 48 But all who reject me and my message will be judged on the day of judgment by the truth I have spoken. 49 I don’t speak on my own authority. The Father who sent me has commanded me what to say and how to say it. 50 And I know his commands lead to eternal life; so I say whatever the Father tells me to say.”
The true believer is the one who trusts Christ. They trust Him for salvation. They trust Him to guide them in the best way to live. They trust Him to give them the words to speak to those who do not know Him. They trust Him to see them through the toughest of circumstances . . . even death.
Jesus said, the one who trusts the work of Christ is also trusting the other persons of the Trinity. When we trust Christ, we also trust the God who sent Him into the world and the Holy Spirit who testifies of Him.
Second, when you truly embrace and depend on Christ, you move out of the darkness and into the light. All the people who spend their lives pursuing pleasure or run around wildly in order to grab the brass ring of success, believe they are living the “good life,” when in reality they are groping around in the dark.
Many people seem to believe living in the way of Christ is a kind of punishment or sacrifice. They look at it as the “yoke they must bear.” However, the truth is that following Christ is the way to light, peace, true and all-encompassing health, and satisfaction.
One more important thing, the one who believes and follows Christ will escape Judgment. Jesus said those who “reject me and my message will be judged on the day of judgment by the truth I have spoken.” It may seem at times like you can do whatever you want without consequence. God does not seem to punish sin. But just because God has not punished sin does not mean He will not punish it. There is coming a day when God will judge us for the way we live.
It is important that we remember even the demons recognized Jesus. They knew who He was. They “believed in Him” but they refused to submit to Him. There are many who are like the demons. They testify that they believe in Jesus, but they will not submit to Him; they will not follow Him; they will not alter their lives or give up their sinful pursuits. These people should not expect a fate any different from what is reserved for the demons.
Those who genuinely follow Jesus will not face this judgment because Jesus took our sin, and it is no longer a barrier between us and the Lord. When we stand before the Father, He will look at us and see the perfection of Christ applied to our account. I imagine when we finally stand before Him, it will be a day when the grace and mercy of God overwhelms us. Imagine standing before Him, knowing all the things you have done in your life and feeling what true and full forgiveness feels like. We will love the Lord with a love that never diminishes or ends.
Our only regret on that day will be that we did not follow Him more fully in this life. Those who played with faith or just “stuck their toe in the water,” but never actually followed Him, will stand before Him and will be judged as those who have rejected Him. They will know they are guilty and deserve the eternal punishment they will receive. They ignored God in life, so they will spend eternity apart from Him in the darkness and isolation of Hell.
Only one question remains: Where are you in your faith? How do you respond? Are you an unbeliever or a pretender? Are you interested in Jesus and maybe even convinced He is God, but you have never taken the step to truly follow Him? Are you better at professing faith than you are at following Him? Where you stand in relation to Christ will determine the quality of your life here, and it will also determine where you spend forever.
If you have never seriously committed your life to Him; if you have been standing on the sidelines comforting yourself by the fact that you are as committed as your other friends; be VERY careful. You may be facing a consequence that will impact your eternity or the eternity of those whom you love. It’s time to make a choice before your heart hardens! Don’t put it off . . . choose to follow Him today.
 Richard D. Phillips, John, ed. Richard D. Phillips, Philip Graham Ryken, and Daniel M. Doriani, 1st ed., vol. 2, Reformed Expository Commentary (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2014), 117.