“LORD, WHO HAS BELIEVED...?”
1. Having spent our summer working our way through the Gospel which was written so its readers could believe and have life, we have to ask one of the toughest questions in the world.
a. If Jesus claimed to be the bread of life and the light of the world and the I am and the good shepherd and the resurrection and the life and the way and the truth and the life and the true vine...
b. And if he turned water into wine and made the dying well and enabled the invalid to walk and fed the thousands and walked on the sea and caused the blind man to see and called a dead man from the tomb...
c. Then why did he end up on a cross? How are we supposed to be led to believe by a story of people not believing?
2. If that’s our question, our text is John’s answer to it.
a. It’s a paragraph which serves a crucial purpose in the Gospel of John.
b. It’s a comment positioned right between the long public ministry of Jesus and the last few hours in private with his disciples, in which John offers an explanation of the crisis which was in the process of unfolding.
c. Notice as I read his interest in who has believed, or not believed, and why.
1. Consider First the Responses of the People to the Ministry of Jesus.
a. They could have believed in Jesus, but they did not.
i. “He had done so many signs before them” (v. 37). If it takes evidence to support belief – and it does – Jesus had more that sufficiently demonstrated that he had been sent from God.
ii. But, despite the number and nature of the signs he had done right in front of them, “they still did not believe in him.” John wanted to impress upon his readers that unbelief itself is illogical and unbelievable!
(1) The reason for their behavior is that believing is more than having been presented with convincing evidence. There is a moral side to it. A person either wills to believe or refuses to do so.
(2) One writer observed that “unbelief is not a polite unwillingness to assent to some fact, but is a flat refusal to listen to His truth and to acknowledge His claims on one’s personal life.” (M. Tenney, The Gospel of Belief, p. 196)
iii. Centuries earlier, when the prophet Isaiah had spoked of the one upon whom God would lay the iniquity of us all, he had to ask, “Lord, who has believed what he heard from us...?” (v. 38). John is saying that anyone familiar with the Old Testament should not have been surprised that the ministry of Jesus met that same slowness to believe.
b. Because they did not believe, they eventually could not.
i. The “therefore they could not believe” (v. 39) refers, not to the prophecy, but to the fact that “they still did not believe” in spite of all the signs they witnessed.
ii. It wasn’t that God wouldn’t let them believe, or that somehow he didn’t want them to. The Lord had been doing everything he could do to turn their hearts to him so he could give them life. Isaiah saw his glory in his willingness to submit to the possibility of being treated like this (v. 41).
iii. It’s that refusal to see leads to loss of ability to see. Moral unwillingness to hear results in moral inability to take in news that could help. One who will not hear won’t be able to understand and therefore cannot believe in what would have healed him (v. 40). The impossibility is not on God’s part, but on the part of the person who tries to find life in some other way.
c. Though they would not and could not believe, many did believe.
i. John did not want his readers to get the impression that, in his entire ministry, Jesus had failed to convince anybody who he was.
ii. So, he mentions that in spite of the unbelief of the majority, many did believe in him – many even of the authorities.
iii. The problem was that they did not have the integrity to openly and honestly stand upon their convictions.
(1) “They loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God” (v. 43).
(2) So, out of fear that they would be put out of the synagogue, they did not confess what they really believed (v. 42).
(3) The weakness was in their motives, not in Jesus.
2. Notice the Spiritual Principle at the Center of this Discussion, v. 40.– Though this is regarded as a difficult statement, it must be a very meaningful principle with regard to how God deals with people. It occurs several different times in the Bible – at least six times in the New Testament – and its truth is applied in different circumstances.
a. We hear it first in the commission of Isaiah to the work of a prophet.
i. Isaiah 6:9-10
ii. God was sending Isaiah to close ears by telling them the truth, and to blind eyes by revealing the light, and he wanted him to know ahead of time that the more he preached, the less response he would get.
iii. Sinful Israel had come to the point where they would, by rejecting the only truth which could have saved them, confirm the justice of God’s judgement against them.
b. Jesus used this principle to explain why he taught by using parables.
i. The Lord taught in such a way as to separate those who desire the truth from those who have rejected it. He offered a gold mine of blessings to those who are in earnest, while at the same time bringing the casual and careless under judgement. (cf. L. Morris, Luke, p. 152)
ii. Matthew 13:13-15
iii. C. E. W. Dorris noted that “men usually fail to hear and understand God because they will not do it” (Mark, p. 98). Whether a person saw a parable as an interesting but pointless story or as a revelation of divine truth said something about that person (Tasker, Matthew, p. 135). Those who were not willing to obey his teaching would find the truth hidden from them by its being right in front of them!
c. Paul offered this same principle as the explanation for his turning to the Gentiles with the offer of life in Christ.
i. Acts 28:23-28
i. Notice that Paul had done everything he could to convince them about Jesus from both the Law and the Prophets, but they disbelieved, disagreed, and departed.
ii. He saw the point the Holy Spirit had long since made known: when people resist the news they most need to hear, they soon become callous it, and are finally untouchable with it. Further exposure to it only serves to harden their hearts and to seal their judgement.
3. Crucial Implications from John’s Application of this Truth
a. The opportunity of the word is precious.
i. Those who heard the words of Jesus could have seen, could have understood with their hearts, could have been converted, and could have been healed.
ii. This is the way the Lord has chosen to change us – not through an irresistible spiritual experience, but through the message he has revealed.
iii. Right when any of us hear the word, there is the opportunity for change, the time for healing, the possibility for forgiveness.
(1) James 1:21
(2) Acts 20:32
b. The progress of the word is certain.
i. The Lord’s word is not just information. It is the spiritual force by which he exercises his authority. When his word goes forth, it begins to work on us and accomplish something, one way or another.
(1) Isaiah 55:10, 11
(2) Hebrews 4:12
ii. God’s word will have success. There is never a time when it is sent forth only to accomplish nothing. It either enlightens a person’s life, or exposes his indifference to holy things.
iii. That means that when we hear the word we are never the same afterward. We either grow or we shrivel.
c. The responsibility of the word is awesome.
i. In a way, the same word that goes forth to change and heal has within it the capacity for judgement: it may numb the heart, dull the ear, and the blind the eyes.
ii. It’s the way we respond to the word of the Lord which uncovers our real hearts and begins to drive us toward our ultimate destiny.
iii. Consider a couple of examples.
(1) Think of how Moses responded to what God said, versus the way Pharoah reacted. The same decree that victoriously delivered one from harsh slavery condemned the other to inglorious judgement. It was because of the very different hearts upon which that decree fell – attitudes determined by the two men themselves.
(2) Think of the response of the crowd whose hearts were pricked by Peter on the day of Pentecost, as opposed to the way the crowd reacted when their hearts were pricked by what Stephen said. Some repented in humble obedience, while the others rushed upon the messenger to destroy him. It was because of the very different hearts upon which the word fell.
1. We’re in this story, too. Whether we’re able to hear and believe reveals something about the state of our hearts.
2. Here’s a little parable which may illustrate the point: “Once there was a man who dared God to speak. Burn the bush like you did for Moses, God. And I will follow. Collapse the walls like you did for Joshua, God. And I will fight. Still the waves like you did on Galilee, God. And I will listen. And so the man sat by a bush, near a wall, close to the sea and waited for God to speak. And God heard the man, so God answered. He sent fire, not for a bush, but for a church. He brought down a wall, not of brick, but of sin. He stilled a storm, not of the sea, but of a soul. And God waited...And he waited...And waited. But because the man was looking for bushes, not hearts; bricks and not lives, seas and not souls, he decided that God had done nothing. Finally he looked to God and asked, Have you lost your power? And God looked at him and said, Have you lost your hearing?” (M. Lucado, A Gentle Thunder, p. 9)
3. “Lord, who has believed what he heard from us...?” Those who first gladly received the word of Christ crucified and raised up and exalted to the right hand of God repented and were baptized and were added to the church (Acts 2:41). What about you?