John 12:37-13:17: “Even After”
Sunday morning worship, March 4, 2018
We’ve been talking for a while about how we learn to distinguish the voice of God from all the other voices which call to us in this busy world. The last part of John 12 and on into John 13 offers us a few more insights to aid us in this journey by telling us why some people hear and respond to Jesus’ voice while others don’t.
John 12:37 offers the first: “Even after Jesus had performed so many signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him.” I love those first two words, “Even after.” Can we almost hear some frustration, even resignation behind those words? These two words have an interesting history in Scripture. In Genesis 41:20-21 Pharaoh told Joseph that in his dream, “The lean, ugly cows ate up the seven fat cows that came up first. But even after they ate them, no one could tell that they had done so; they looked just as ugly as before.” “Even after…they looked just as ugly.” There are a lot of places we won’t go with that thought this morning. Later, God tried to warn Jeroboam, the first king of the 10 northern tribes of Israel, of where his sins were taking the new nation. God sent a prophet to warn Jeroboam. When Jeroboam tried to shut up the prophet, God shriveled up Jeroboam’s hand. The altar on which Jeroboam was to initiate his new sacrificial system was split apart becoming only “poured out ashes” (see 1 Kings 13). 1 Kings 13:33 says, “Even after this, Jeroboam did not change his evil ways.” In prophetically describing the sins of Judah which led to their captivity in Babylon, Ezekiel quotes God saying, “You engaged in prostitution with the Assyrians too, because you were insatiable; and even after that, you still were not satisfied” (Ezekiel 16:28). Jesus questioned Philip, “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father?’” (John 14:9). The phrase “even after” signifies that God has done His part in leading us to clearly understand what sins we should repent of, what action we should take, or what knowledge we should have internalized. The burden to hear falls on our efforts.
John is saying, like Jesus said to Philip, that the signs Jesus performed publicly should be enough for every human being to draw the conclusion that Jesus is everything He said He was. Jesus was God in human flesh; Jesus in His resurrected and ascended state is still God. If the signs weren’t enough on their own, John says the prophetic words uttered by so many different prophets hundreds of years before only one man, Jesus, publicly fulfilled them should confirm Jesus’ claims. After all, no one else has fulfilled any of these signs before or after Jesus. But the prophetic words from Isaiah cited in today’s Scripture tell why even after these two facts, many then and yet today still did and do not believe: “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” (12:40 from Isaiah 6:10).
As if these two ways still weren’t enough, Jesus said look at his entire life as an example. Jesus actions, His motivation, and His character were flawless. Jesus told the crowds, “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” (12:45-46). Jesus’ life was our example, a way to see God in human flesh. Even after seeing God in human flesh, if that still is/was not enough, the fact that Jesus refused to judge us guilty for rejecting Him and for crucifying him should be: “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” (12:47). Jesus said believe in me because of the signs I performed. Jesus said believe in me because of what was predicted in the Old Testament about me that I alone fulfilled. Jesus said believe in me because of the example I set in which I showed you God’s grace and sacrificial love because I came to save you and not to judge you harshly for rejecting me. If, even after all of this, we refuse to believe, Jesus showed us in His humility what He couldn’t show us in His strength.
“The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus…so [Jesus] got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him” (13:2,4-5). Those Jesus refused to judge He chose to serve. Jesus chose to serve humbly those who rejected Him. Jesus took the lowest position He could take before the one who He knew was about to betray Him. Jesus truly showed us who he was when He washed Judas’ feet. If even after this we refuse to believe, there has to be a reason.
Other Scriptures tell us these reasons. 2 Corinthians 4:4 is key: “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” When I, like maybe you, first read John 12:40, I wondered who the ‘He’ was. Listen again: “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts…” Would God purposely blind people’s eyes and harden their hearts so they won’t be saved and then turn around and condemn them because they didn’t choose to be saved? That seemed a little unfair to me. But if ‘he’ was Satan, then why would Jesus be talking about healing them? So let’s look at the context of Isaiah 6:10 and John 12:40 which quotes it. Isaiah 6 is a famous chapter because it contains the calling of Isaiah to the prophetic ministry. Isaiah is given a vision of the throne room of God and then empowered to speak for God by a live coal placed on Isaiah’s mouth by an angelic seraphim. The words in John 12 are what follow immediately in Isaiah. In Isaiah 5, however, Isaiah pronounced many of the reasons for which God would soon send Judah into exile in Babylon. Isaiah chastises the deeds of the rich for the manner in which they acquired their wealth and what they did with it. Isaiah pronounces God’s woes on “those who call evil good and good evil” (5:20); those who are “wise in their own eyes” (5:21); and those who are “heroes at drinking wine…who acquit the guilty for a bribe but deny justice to the innocent” (5:22-23). Isaiah says, “They have spurned the word of the Holy One of Israel.”
Therein lies the answer: “they have spurned the word of the Holy One of Israel” (5:24). Clearly written but often overlooked in gospel messages is the truth of John 12:42: “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” (12:42-44). The word spurned doesn’t mean they didn’t hear what God and now Jesus were saying. It doesn’t mean they didn’t understand what was being said that needed to be obeyed. Spurned means “to reject with disdain, to treat with contempt” (dictionary.com). For that attitude, Judah went into exile. For “loving human praise more than praise from God” their hearts were hardened and their eyes were blinded. Jesus still offered to heal them. All that was needed was to repent, to turn from human praise and live seeking the praise of God. It sounds so simple, but there comes a point in so many of our lives where what we have—our relationships, our jobs, our toys, our families—become the center of our lives and the thought of losing what we have becomes our paramount concern.
The missionary Jim Elliot made famous the words, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” Israel’s leaders in John 12 kept the praise of men and lost the praise of God. Satan is the “The god of this age [who] has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” Satan keeps our focus off God. After too many years of listening to his voice and losing our focus to the things of this world, God accepts our rejection of Him and completes the process of hardening our hearts and blinding our eyes. Exodus 8:15 states that after the plagues of the Nile turning to blood and the frogs covering the land were ended by the Lord, “when Pharaoh saw that there was relief, he hardened his heart and would not listen to Moses.” Again in Exodus 8:32 after the Lord ended the plagues of the gnats and the flies, “this time also Pharaoh hardened his heart and would not let the people go.” After two more plagues were ended, Exodus 9:12 states, “the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart.” Again and again, Exodus 10:1, 10:20, 10:27, 11:10, 14:4, and 14:8 all state “the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart.”
Jesus’ offer of healing has a lifetime warranty but is offered for a limited time. Jesus was willing to wash Judas’ feet to humbly show Judas how far He was willing to go to see Judas turn and be healed. Jesus performed miraculous signs and wonders, fulfilled 100’s-of-years-old prophecies, set a flawless example, and refused to judge us for our rejection of him, all to give us time to turn and be healed. But there comes a time when we have to make a decision. Each of us has an unknown deadline we have to meet. What ultimately matters is what we will eventually lose or what we will eternally gain. Let’s pray to God to open our eyes and soften our hearts so that we can hear His words and be healed now and eternally. Please, don’t lose the wrong things.