Why Not Believe?

Christ Covenant Church
Jon Marq Toombs
2 October 2016 / Ordinary Time
John 12:37-50

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Grace and peace with you.

We ended the story last week with Jesus departing and hiding himself from the crowds.

He did this to show that the glory of God was departing from the temple and that God was going to bring judgment against his covenant people.

This was a sign to that the Lord’s face would no longer shine upon them; that he was bringing curses upon them, turning his back upon them, and leaving them in utter darkness and death.

John’s Gospel was written so that you might believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and have eternal life in his name. And yet, not everyone who reads or hears this story believes. In fact, not everyone who lived the story believed. Why?

That’s what we will explore in our text today. Why do some people not believe in Jesus?

Our sermon text is John 12:37-50. If you are willing and able, I invite you to stand and give your undivided attention to God’s Holy Word.

[37] Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him, [38] 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?” [39] Therefore 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.” [41] Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him. [42] Nevertheless, 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; [43] for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God. [44] And Jesus cried out and said, “Whoever believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me. [45] And whoever sees me sees him who sent me. [46] I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. [47] 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. [48] 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. [49] 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. [50] And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me.” (ESV)

The word of the Lord.

May God add his blessings to the reading, preaching, and hearing of his word. All the church says: Amen. You may be seated.

A couple of years ago some of us guys went to see the movie Fury. On the one hand, it is an intense, dark, and gritty story of war. On the other hand, it was also an insightful, devout, and graceful story of life.

There was one scene that stirred my heart. The tank crew are sitting in the belly of the tank, waiting, drinking, talking when the conversation takes an unexpected turn.

Boyd: Here’s a Bible verse I think about sometimes. Many times. It goes: “And I heard the voice of Lord saying: Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? And I said: Here am I, send me!”

Norman: [Mumbling] Send me.

Wardaddy: Book of Isaiah. Chapter six.

The conversation about Isaiah’s call takes place in the tank before an intense battle. What’s interesting to me is how tank crew identified themselves with Isaiah the prophet. They related their mission with his mission. They felt that their mission would not be complete until they saw buildings laid waste, houses vacated, and the land desolated.

What in the world would compel a group of men to serve a temporal cause and fight against the odds the way they did?

Many years ago I attended a school that emphasized missions and evangelism above all else. Every year the school hosted an evangelism forum that focused on mission, missionaries, and mission work. Between keynote sessions, men and women who felt called to a mission field were invited to walk onto the stage, speak into the mic, tell who they were, and where they wanted to go, and declare, “Here am I. Send me!”

And I still remember my thirty second speech. It was moving to see and hear so many people who wanted to serve the Lord in this way.

“Here am I. Send me;
Lord, send me.”

However, over time it occurred to me that the story of Isaiah’s calling might have been misapplied by us. Like Inigo Montoya I felt like saying,

“You keep using that phrase, but I do not think it means what you think it means.”

True, the words “go” and “send” appear in the story, but that does not make it an evangelistic text per se.

And that brings us to our story.

As John explains, Isaiah the prophet was not sent on an evangelistic mission to soften hearts, sharpen minds, open eyes, or unstop ears. Rather, he was sent on a prophetic mission to harden hearts, dull minds, blind eyes, and plug up ears “lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.” (Isa 6:9-11)

The shocking reality of this mission prompted him to ask, “How long, O Lord?!”

And the Lord God Almighty answered, “Until cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without people, and the land is a desolate waste” (Isa 6:11).

God sent Isaiah to preach his word until judgment came upon his people.

Isaiah was sent on a prophetic mission to the Bible Belt his day. He was not sent to seek and save the lost outsiders of the culture, but to stupefy and shatter the lost insiders of the church — God’s covenant people. He was sent as a sign to seal the fate of his kinsmen, not stir up the faith of his people. He preached,

Bind up the testimony; seal the teaching among my disciples. I will wait for the LORD, who is hiding his face from the house of Jacob, and I will hope in him. (Isaiah 8:16-17 ESV)

Now, what does all that have to do with our story today?

John tells us that what God started doing in Isaiah’s day he continued in Jesus’s day.

Jesus Christ came in the flesh, as a sign and symbol in Israel from the Lord God (cp Isa 8:18). But he is now hiding his face from his people.

He did many signs among them: he turned water into wine, cleansed the temple, saved a little boy, healed a lame man, fed thousands, walked on water, confronted false religion, opened the eyes of a blind man, and raised a man from the dead.

He did all these signs and still got mixed results: they would not believe in him and they could not believe in him.

So much for seeing is believing.

Despite all the signs, they would not believe. Why? 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?”

Despite all the signs, they could not believe. Why? 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.”

They would not believe because they could not believe. Why?

They did not believe because they were not willing to believe, and they did not believe because they were not able to believe.

And they were unwilling and unable to believe because God was not willing to make them able — at least, at that time.

Calvin puts it like this:

in the former passage the prophet testifies that none believe but those whom God, of his free grace, enlightens for his own good pleasure, the reason of which does not appear; for since all are equally ruined, God, of his mere good pleasure, distinguishes from others those whom he thinks fit to distinguish. But, in the latter passage, he speaks of the hardness by which God has punished the wickedness of an ungrateful people.

Now, if this seems like a hard word to you, remember what Jesus said earlier in the story:

No one can see the kingdom of God or enter into it unless he is born of water and the Spirit. (John 3:3, 5 ESV)

All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. (John 6:37 ESV)

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. (John 6:44 ESV)

It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. (John 6:63 ESV)

And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” (John 6:65 ESV)

Apart from the gracious work of God in a person’s heart, no one is able to accept Jesus, believe Jesus, or confess Jesus.

No one wants to hear what I am about to say but here’s the bottom line:

The Spirit did not give them a new heart. The Father did not give them to his Son. The Spirit did not blow them to Jesus. The Father did not draw them to him — at that time.

— at that time.

— at that time.

Why? It has to with God’s purpose of grace and his providential work of sending his Son to the cross for the sins of the world.

Remember: Jesus said (in context) “when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all to myself.” (John 12:32) All kinds of people — Jews and Greeks, sinners and “saints”.

So, after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, some of those who are unwilling and unable to believe in Jesus now, will be quite willing and able to believe in him then, by the grace and mercy of God.

I know this teaching bothers lots of people — our flesh screams against it — but the truth is that faith is a gift not a work; it is a privilege not a right. And God gives it to whom he wants to give it. Just as he hardens whom he wants to harden, and he shows mercy to whom he wants to show mercy.

All this probably raises some questions about yourself in your heart and mind.

Here’s my pastoral counsel to you: If you can believe, then believe. If you cannot believe, pray that you may be able to believe. If you are willing to believe, then believe. If you are unwilling to believe, repent and believe or perish in your sins.

[Note: I should have added this: “If you do believe, then praise God for his grace, but do not boast or gloat about it, as if you are somehow wiser, better, or smarter than those who do not (yet?) believe.” #MondayMorningQB on my own sermon.]

This is a hard saying — who can hear it?

I am echoing what Isaiah preached. Which, as a pastor, raises a question in my mind?

What in the world would compel Isaiah to go on this prophetic mission and preach the way he did?

John says, Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him. In other words, Isaiah saw the Jesus and spoke about him.

In the Book of Isaiah, Chapter 6, the Lord revealed himself to Isaiah. In that God-centered vision the prophet saw the One True King, the Lord Jesus Christ. It was revealed to him that

+ God is Sovereign – “seated on a throne” above the circle of the earth

+ God is exalted and majestic – “high and lifted up”

+ God is Holy – “holy, holy, holy”

+ God is glorious and powerful

I should point out that Isaiah saw the Lord in the Year that King Uzziah died. That is significant because it marks the time that he saw the Lord. It is also significant because it marks the time he saw beyond the mortal human king to the immortal King of kings.

I hope and pray God grants you such a vision today. Especially those of you who are so anxious and worried about politics, elections, and murica.


Jesus is truer and better than any president and every candidate on the scene.

When our political heroes fall out and fade away, the Lord Jesus Christ will still be seated on his majestic throne.

So, let me warn you not to walk in the way of this people (Isaiah 8:11-15):

Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. But the LORD of hosts, him you shall honor as holy.

Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. And he will become a sanctuary to you [who believe in him] and a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling to [those who do not believe in him]…And many shall stumble on him. They shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken. (ESV)

But you who believe in him shall be saved!

Isaiah saw the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ and it moved him to worship God with fear and trembling, in spirit and truth; it even moved him to go on mission with reverence and awe.

That vision shaped the way he thought, felt, and lived — I hope and pray it does the same for you and me.

We might not ever see the Lord in a vision as Isaiah did, but “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his gloryglory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” right here in John’s Gospel. (In fact, we have actually seen more of his glory than Isaiah did!)

That is what shapes our life, worship, and mission.

Now, no sooner do we learn that the people were unwilling and unable to believe in Jesus, John tells us “Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him.”

Then he quickly adds, “but because of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be de-synagogued.”

They wanted their faith in Jesus to be personal and private, not public.

They wanted to keep the light of Christ to themselves; they did not want it to shine out into the darkness. They did not want their friends and family, or their co-workers or classmates, to know that they believed in Jesus. Why?

“for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.”

Ever been there and done that? Can any of you relate to them?

We prefer the immediate pleasure that comes with the praise of men now, to the ultimate pleasure that comes with the praise of God later.


According to Jesus there is no such thing as an anonymous disciple, a secret admirer, or a closet Christian. Part of following him means coming out of darkness into light, coming out of secrecy and shame, into revelation and glory.

You cannot follow Jesus and remain hidden in the shadows, ashamed of who he is, and what you are. You must come out into the light and leave the darkness behind.

The last thing I want to say today is this: God has set a day in which he will judge the living and the dead. And each one of us will stand trial and give account for our life and deeds.

Jesus says, “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.”

None of us will be able to plead ignorance. None of us will be able to say we did not know the truth of the gospel. None of us will be able to explain away our trespasses and sins.

If we reject the gospel and do not receive it by faith, the gospel will rise up to judge us. The very word that was sent to save us will rise up and condemn us; the word of life will become a word of death to everyone who hears the words of Christ but does not hold fast to them.

The commandment of God is life – eternal life for anyone and everyone who believes. Here is the command of God that Jesus has been preaching throughout the Gospel: turn away from your self and trust in Jesus Christ; turn away from darkness and trust in the light that you may become children of light.

May God grant you the grace to obey his command with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength.

Although he is hiding his face from us at the moment, we will wait for him, and hope in him, and even see him face to face in the life to come.

Pastoral Prayer:

[1] Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness! You have given me relief when I was in distress. Be gracious to me and hear my prayer! [2] O men, how long shall my honor be turned into shame? How long will you love vain words and seek after lies? Selah [3] But know that the LORD has set apart the godly for himself; the LORD hears when I call to him. [4] Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. Selah [5] Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the LORD. [6] There are many who say, “Who will show us some good? Lift up the light of your face upon us, O LORD!” [7] You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound. [8] In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety. (Psalm 4 ESV)


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