The Cause and Cure of Unbelief (John 12:37-50)
By Andrew E. Courtis
What happens in your house when the power goes out? After you manage to not trip over the furniture or the toys on the floor, and you have found candles or torches, does it become a manageable situation? When the power goes out in your house it has the potential to be rather fun or relaxing. The distractions of technology and the busyness of life slow down. Families can talk and laugh, people can be still and think. That is the fun side of a power outage, but there is a dark side (pardon the pun) to a power outage. The effects of the power going out can cause car accidents, fear, and people can even get lost. At times like this we learn to really appreciate the light and the benefits it brings!
Sadly, this condition of darkness is where the entire world is at, unless the light of the glorious gospel has taken hold of their lives. Jesus said, “I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness” (John 12:46). The only hope the world has is the Light of the Word (John 8:12). One of the ways the Lord Jesus Christ causes this light to shine is through the witness of His people (Matt. 5:14; Phil. 2:15).
As we arrive at this last section of John 12, this follows a gracious offer of salvation (12:35-36), an offer that has been given many times. Yet, as we begin this passage, we are confronted with those who do not believe. John writes, “Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him” (12:37). This verse looks back on all that we have seen in the Gospel of John. Jesus preformed many signs and wonders, but John recorded seven selected signs that revealed who Jesus was and what He alone can provide. Even after all these amazing signs, people still didn’t believe in Him. This proves that their unbelief was not due to a lack of evidence; there was something else that caused their unbelief.
This passage brings the reader to the end of the Lord’s public ministry (the end of the “Book of Signs”). As you enter into the next chapter Jesus is only speaking with His disciples behind closed doors. The Gospel of John begins with a statement that Jesus came to His own people but they did not receive Him (John 1:11), and this is the way His public ministry ended (John 12:37-43).
Sermon Summary: In this message we will see the cause of unbelief and the gracious cure for unbelief
1. THE CAUSE OF UNBELIEF (12:37-43)
In the following verses we discover two reasons why many of the Jews did not believe in Christ. We will consider this from the Divine amd human perspective.
The Sovereign Plan of God
The first thing to know about the widespread unbelief at the time of Jesus’ ministry is that it did not catch God by surprise. This unbelief was a part of the Sovereign plan of God. John goes on to quote two verses from the prophet Isaiah. These verses predict the widespread unbelief that was just mentioned. John tells us that despite the evidence they didn’t believe,
So 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?” Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said, “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” (12:38-40)
In a way that goes beyond our ability to understand or comprehend, God was in perfect sovereign control of all of this. By means of His sovereign plan, God caused their unbelief. How? I believe the answer is found in the context of those two quotes from the prophet Isaiah. The first quotation (John 12:38) is from Isaiah 53:1. Isaiah 53 describes for us the Messiah in terms of a suffering servant. After verse 1 he goes on to say,
“he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He 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” (Isaiah 53:2-3).
This is not the kind of Messiah the people wanted, so when Jesus came on the scene, they rejected Him. Furthermore, John also quotes Isaiah 6:10 in John 12:10. The context of this quote is the occasion Isaiah had a vision in the temple. In this vision Isaiah was confronted and humbled by the majestic holiness of God! Again, this is not what the people wanted. John adds, “Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him” (12:41). That is to say, Jesus is both the suffering servant and the glorious One in the throne room of God. So by means of His sovereign plan, God sent His Son into the world as a lowly servant, who was majestic in holiness. But that is not what the Jewish people wanted. For this reason they would not listen, they would not believe and they became blind. Despite the many opportunities God gave them, they refused to believe and this lead to a hardening of heart and blinding of eyes and they could not believe. This is a devastating condition. It is getting to the point of no return with unbelief.
Even though this sad unbelief occurred, God still used this in such a way to bring good out of it. In his letter to the Romans Paul writes to explain that this rejection brings about the opportunity for the gospel to extend to the Gentiles (Rom. 11:11). This is what has been pictured in the previous verses of this chapter (cf. 12:12-36).
The Sinful Rejection of Man
The second reason way this crowd of people didn’t believe in Jesus is because of their own sinful rejection. This is looking at it from the human perspective. It is absolutely true that God is sovereign over all things, but this does not negate human responsibility. These people didn’t believe because they personally rejected Jesus as the Messiah.
Sadly, there was a category of people who intellectually believed that Jesus was who He said He was, “but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God” (John 12:42-43). It appears that this group saw themselves as believers, but this was not genuine faith (cf. Mark 8:38). At the root of this unbelief was a love of self. That really is at the core of all unbelief. If someone does not believe in Jesus Christ it is because they love themselves more than Christ.
2. THE CURE FOR UNBELIEF (12:44-50)
If you had the cure for the worst disease or sickness in the world, you would shout out the cure from the rooftops! In these final verses, Jesus provides the only cure for the horrible condition of unbelief. The verses that follow serve as the final public offer of salvation Jesus gave in His ministry. After this He spends the night before His crucifixion with His disciples. Notice how this cure for unbelief begins, “And Jesus cried out and said” (12:44a). This is referring to a loud and commanding shout. Jesus has the cure and it is belief in Him. In these verses we will see four reasons believing in Jesus Christ is the only cure for unbelief.
Because Jesus is God (12:44-45)
John records, “And Jesus cried out and said, ‘Whoever believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me. And whoever sees me sees him who sent me’”. That is to say, you can’t believe in Jesus apart from the Father because they are both God. Jesus Christ is God and that is why He is to be trusted.
Because Jesus is the Light (12:46)
Jesus continued by saying, “I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness” (12:46). Though we may be in darkness, the only way to receive life is to look to Jesus Christ and trust Him for our salvation. Only He can transfer us from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light (Col. 1:13).
Because Jesus is the Judge (12:47-48)
A third reason we should believe in Jesus is because there are horrible consequences if we don’t. He said,
“If 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. The 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” (12:47-48).
Because Jesus is Authoritative (12:49-50)
The final reason why we should believe in Jesus in this passage is because He is authoritative. His message is not mere opinion or tradition. He said,
“For 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. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me” (12:49-50).
The only hope in a dark world is the glorious light that Jesus Christ brings. There is salvation no other (cf. Acts 4:12). If you were to ignore the warning of a red light there could be devastating consequences. The consequences of ignoring the Lord Jesus Christ will bring eternal judgment. Come to Christ while the light is still shinning. The day is coming in which it will be too late and all that He will provide to unbelievers is judgment.