Why People Don't Believe
Have you ever wondered why they didn't believe Jesus when He was on earth? All kinds of stories that we see throughout the gospels of people not believing Him. But have you ever wondered why? After all, He performed miracles, He taught the people about heavenly things.
He didn't sin in any way in order to hurt their potential for believing in Him. I've heard some say, you know, if I was back there, I would have believed. If I could take a time machine and go back a couple of thousand years and I could be there in the crowd and I could see the miracles and I could hear the, I would've believed.
But think about it for a moment. The people who were actually there, they didn't believe. Why? Well, the short answer is they didn't like what He was about to do and they didn't like what He was asking them to do, so my lesson from John chapter 12 is given to demonstrate this point.
So let's set the scene here, John chapter 12, this of course is the scene of Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Jesus's final public appearance as a free man, He'll appear in public later but not as a free man.
It is the culmination of his earthly ministry. With the raising of Lazarus from the dead, witnessed by many, the news about him spread quickly, that the miracle worker was here along with His closest disciples.
There was great excitement and anticipation among the people They saw in Jesus a potential national leader who could change their condition. And so let's read before I get any further into the commentary here, let's read some of this passage, it says, on the next day, the large crowd who had come to see the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, took the branches of the palm trees and went out to meet him and began to shout, Hosanna, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the king of Israel.
Jesus, finding a young donkey, sat on it, as it is written, Fear not, daughter of Zion. Behold, your king is coming, seated on a donkey's colt. These things his disciples did not understand at first but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written of him and that they had done these things to him so the people who were with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to testify about him.
For this reason also the people went and met him because they heard that he had performed this sign. So the Pharisees said to one another, you see that you are not doing any good, look, the world has gone after him.
So as I mentioned, great excitement, great anticipation among the people. As I mentioned, they saw in Jesus a potential national leader who could change their condition, I mean, if he could raise a man from the dead, he could perhaps raise a nation from bondage and poverty to freedom and prosperity, no longer under the yoke of Roman oppression.
This was it. Their time was here. And so they hailed him as king. I mean, only kings entered a city with the populace cheering them, it wasn't something that was done for just anybody, this was an ancient custom of making a king out of one who showed leadership or bravery or as in Jesus's case, showed signs that they were from God so they didn't just cheer him as he entered the city, they were ready to make him their king so Jesus has received their enthusiastic welcome.
Notice without a word as he enters the city but the scene and the mood will change very quickly over the words or when the words that Jesus speaks to the crowd are said. So while this frenzied activity is going on, a seemingly insignificant event occurs.
Just that doesn't seem to match, that kind of breaks the rhythm of what's going on here. Two Greeks in the crowd seek to speak with Jesus.
20Now there were some Greeks among those who were going up to worship at the feast; 21these then came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida of Galilee, and began to ask him, saying, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus." 22Philip came and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip came and told Jesus.
- John 12:20-22
Now John doesn't tell us if these two actually spoke to the Lord, however, we do know that at this point Jesus was ready to reveal the will of God concerning his plan for man's salvation. I'm only speculating here but perhaps this was the topic of their private conversation that Jesus chooses to share with the crowd in the following verses. He may have talked to these two Greeks about some of the things he was going to share with the adoring crowd.
It's likely that the appearance of these two Greek converts to Judaism arriving so close to Jesus's final work on the cross, hinted at the fact that the good news of his death and his burial and his resurrection would soon be preached to all men according to God's plan, designed before the foundation of the world, (I Peter 1:20).
So at this point, John changes from kind of a general narrative of what was taking place and he telescopes into a closeup of Jesus addressing the excited crowd that has gathered around him. And without any introduction or preamble Jesus preaches the core gospel message to them.
23And Jesus answered them, saying, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal. 26If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also; if anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him.
- John 12:23-26
And so in these few words Jesus reveals the mystery concerning the way God has engineered the salvation of mankind, and the part that each one plays in God's plan. And so you have God's part. Well, God's part includes a crucified savior, that's God's part, that's his contribution. God's way to deal with the cause of mankind's present suffering and eventual condemnation and eternal spiritual death, his manner of dealing with that is through a process called atonement, that's his answer to that.
The death of one in payment for the sins of all. The perfect sinless life of Jesus freely offered to remove the offenses and the guilt of mankind. You see, unlike animal sacrifices where creatures that have no conscience, therefore they have no sin and creatures that not only have no conscience but they have no free will, therefore, they really don't have any spiritual value.
These creatures were offered as a preview of the true atonement that was to come. Well, then, Jesus will be offered and done so as an act of his will and he will offer himself as a perfect sacrifice, he had no sin because he had perfectly obeyed and fulfilled God's law.
And his offering atoned for all sin because his offering was perfect and divine since he was the divine son of God. And so Jesus reveals how God chose to deal with sin. The offering of his son as atonement or payment, if you wish, for the sins of all men.
There would now be a remedy, there would now be a final solution for the curse of sin and death that affected all of mankind, both Jew and Gentile. And so God's part in this plan was to provide a crucified savior.
That was God's part. There's also man's part. Man's part would be a crucified life. The continual putting to death of the carnal man. The continual putting to death of pride and selfishness and greed and sexual immorality and so on and so forth.
The continual putting to death of these things and the raising up of the spiritual man in humility and submissiveness, this was the ongoing task of the true disciple of Jesus. This was basically the choice and how to implement that correct choice in one's life.
God provides the crucified savior. We provide the crucified life and so that was the proposal that Jesus was making here in the beginning of his speech and so the crowd is listening to him and they respond and how do the crowd respond? Well, they didn't like it, that's how they responded.
They didn't like the idea of a crucified savior and even less the idea of a crucified life.
27"Now My soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, 'Father, save Me from this hour'? But for this purpose I came to this hour. 28Father, glorify Your name." Then a voice came out of heaven: "I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again." 29So the crowd of people who stood by and heard it were saying that it had thundered; others were saying, "An angel has spoken to Him." 30Jesus answered and said, "This voice has not come for My sake, but for your sakes.
- John 12:27-30
So Jesus continues his discourse with a prayer, if there was any doubt about his person or the authority of his message, the audible response from heaven should have dispelled all doubt, right? Wrong.
What do people say when they hear this voice from heaven? Well, some sort of tossed it aside as a natural occurrence. I think there was some thunder, must have been some thunder or lightning or something.
Others compromised and said well, maybe it was an angel that spoke to Jesus, no one, however, accepted that it was God himself, not only God himself but God was confirming what Jesus was saying about the crucified savior and the crucified life so we see here that some of the previous excitement and support for Jesus begins to falter.
Jesus' words acting as a sobering shower of reality for the crowd, now in case there was any doubt about what was said previously, Jesus is even more graphic in his description of the final step in his mission and its results and so we read in verse 31:
31Now judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out. 32And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself." 33But He was saying this to indicate the kind of death by which He was to die.
- John 12:31-33
The world disintegrated because of sin and in bondage because of its fear of death had tried to, you know, organize itself without God and had selected a new ruler, a new prince. The devil himself. Now, however, this order was changed forever because with his atoning sacrifice, Jesus would blot out sin He would free the captives from the fear of death and he would destroy forever the power of Satan.
Now the hard news in all of this for his hearers was that all of these things would be accomplished through his death on the cross and his glorious resurrection and not through some new political order where he would lead the Jewish nation to freedom and prosperity as their earthly king.
Forget this king business, he's saying to them. The only way that you'll be free from death and condemnation is if I die and I resurrect, only if this happens can you be free. And so we see a second response from the crowd and you know what the second response is? They didn't like it.
They didn't like the first thing he said and they didn't like the second thing that he said.
The crowd then answered Him, "We have heard out of the Law that the Christ is to remain forever; and how can You say, 'The Son of Man must be lifted up'? Who is this Son of Man?"
- John 12:34
And so the crowd goes from adulation, think now, adulation, to doubt, and now to outright scorn and challenge. After all, they're saying who is this son of man? Our Messiah is going to live forever. Our Messiah will be great and powerful. Our Messiah, he's not going to be some dead sacrifice, he's not going to be humble or meek on the servant, on the contrary, he's going to be a king.
And he's going to bring with him everything that a king brings. The point of the lesson is right here, if you're wondering. Right here. They didn't like or accept a crucified savior. Their Messiah was not envisioned as a servant with a meek and a humble spirit. In addition to this, they didn't like or want a crucified life. Their vision of deliverance didn't picture a life of service in humility and obedience as the prerequisite for discipleship, they wanted greatness.
They wanted to share in the earthly glory that a powerful leader could bring. Not the same of the cross borne by the sacrificial lamb of God, this was not what they saw in their future. Now we see Jesus responding to the crowd.
35So Jesus said to them, "For a little while longer the Light is among you. Walk while you have the Light, so that darkness will not overtake you; he who walks in the darkness does not know where he goes. 36While you have the Light, believe in the Light, so that you may become sons of Light." These things Jesus spoke, and He went away and hid Himself from them.
- John 12:35-36
And so the Lord does not respond with another miracle or a sign, that would have been a very human thing to do, right, you don't believe me, watch this, you know, poof, no, he doesn't respond in that way. He doesn't even respond with more teaching in order to prove them wrong. Instead, he gives them a caution. A warning. Walk while you have the light. Put your trust, he says, in the light. Jesus, who could read men's hearts, saw what was in their hearts.
They wanted to find God in signs and miracles, external manifestations, earthly glory, rewards, they were looking for him there. They looked for God with physical eyes in ways that they saw other men, but Jesus cautions them to find God, to find the truth and the way to life through the eyes of light that is sent from God, from above, and not from below, in other words, they could only see the truth through God's light and not through their own light.
God's light was brought to them by Jesus. Not his personal physical presence but through the words and the teachings that he brought from God. That was the light, this was the light that God himself provided to enable men to see him and to know him and to find him.
So what are the results? Well, do you remember the original question? Why didn't they believe him? And even some might say, if I was there, I would've believed. What happens next?
37But though He had performed so many signs before them, yet they were not believing in Him. 38This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet which he spoke: "Lord, who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?" 39For this reason they could not believe, for Isaiah said again, 40"He has blinded their eyes and He hardened their heart, so that they would not see with their eyes and perceive with their heart, and be converted and I heal them." 41These things Isaiah said because he saw His glory, and he spoke of Him. 42Nevertheless many even of the rulers believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they were not confessing Him, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue; 43for they loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God.
- John 12:37-43
These verses explained that they did not believe him because their hearts were hardened by sin and indifference. This was evident long before Jesus appeared but even the miracles and the signs and the teachings that he did did not and were not able to pierce their hard hearts.
Even after raising Lazarus from the dead, if you read that passage, he's just raised Lazarus from the dead, they know it's not a trick because Lazarus they know has been in the grave for like four days, he stinks. And yet he comes out, at Jesus's word and what was their response? Their response was to make a plot to figure a way to kill him. We can't let this guy keep going. He's raising people from the dead.
We've got to get rid of him, think about that for a second. They want to get rid of the guy who has the power to raise people from the dead. What chance do you think they have of doing that? And Jesus also says, they cared more about what men would say than what God would say.
They were so invested in this world that they would not risk their stake in this world in order to take hold of the better world that was to come. Even though the signs and miracles pointed them towards a sure but unseen life after this life, they refused to take a step towards it for fear of losing their place in the physical world they could still see and touch.
There's a sort of an epilogue to this story and it comes in the form of a promise in verse 44.
44And Jesus cried out and said, "He who believes in Me, does not believe in Me but in Him who sent Me. 45He who sees Me sees the One who sent Me. 46I have come as Light into the world, so that everyone who believes in Me will not remain in darkness. 47If anyone hears My sayings and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world. 48He who rejects Me and does not receive My sayings, has one who judges him; the word I spoke is what will judge him at the last day. 49For I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me a commandment as to what to say and what to speak. 50I know that His commandment is eternal life; therefore the things I speak, I speak just as the Father has told Me."
- John 12:44-50
So what's the promise? Well, the promise is very plain and clear. For those who believe, Jesus assures the believer that his faith and his way is secure.
Because God was the source of the light that guided him into eternity. Don't be afraid, be absolutely sure that you are going to go where the Bible is promising you to go because the one who is promising is God himself and then conversely, he says to disbelievers, the promise that the way offered to them was the very way that led to God and this fact would be confirmed on the last day.
Isn't that interesting? He says to believers, you're not going to make it 'cause you didn't believe. He says to them, the promise I'm giving you is the promise you need to get to heaven. He is reminding them that they are rejecting the truth.
That they are rejecting the sure promise of heaven. In effect, these were two sides of the same promise. For those who believed and obeyed, they were words of salvation and welcome on the last day and for those who disbelieved, they would be words of condemnation and rejection on the last day.
It's almost like a parent saying to a child, I told you so. I told you if you rode your bike out in the traffic, you might get hit by a car, I told you so. This is what he's saying, I'm telling you. But we're asking the same question today, aren't we? Why don't people believe? Some might say that it's because Jesus isn't here in the flesh, performing miracles but that can't be the reason since they refused to believe when he was here on earth performing many miracles.
No, the answer is the same today as it was then. Belief continues to require a crucified Lord and a crucified life. And people do not like that any better now than they did back then. Today, we continue to want a Lord who will allow us to live our lives in our own way since crucifixion of the flesh, even metaphorically, is still repugnant to most people.
Our lack of faith or our weak faith renders us at times unable to give up earthly physical things in order to require eternal heavenly things. Perhaps I should have entitled this lesson why do men still disbelieve? Because nothing has changed and I have no better response to mankind's disbelief than what Jesus himself has prescribed to offer a largely disbelieving world.
The message today is exactly the same as the message that Jesus gave to his disciples.
15And He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. 16He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned.
- Mark 16:15-16
Such a short verse that compresses everything down to just two ideas. Those who believe and are baptized, they'll be saved and those who disbelieve, well, obviously, if they disbelieve, they won't accept baptism but those who disbelieve will be condemned and I chose this passage because on Bible Talk, you know, our internet teaching ministry, you couldn't believe how many people write to us on this verse.
Rejecting this verse, saying it doesn't really mean this, it means something else or they say it's not legitimate. It doesn't appear in certain manuscripts. Everything they can think of to try to discredit this simple verse where Jesus is simply laying out 2000 years later the very same choice that the people in the crowd had on that day when they celebrated his entrance into the city of Jerusalem and then when he began to talk to them about the crucified Lord and the crucified life, oh, they backed up, is that really God speaking? Maybe that was just thunder, maybe that was just something I heard, maybe it's just a phase I went through.
Surely you can't be asking us to do this. The very same objections that they were voicing to the one who did miracles in their presence. He had just raised someone from the dead and yet they continued to nitpick at the things that he was saying, 2000 years later, people continue to nitpick at this and other passages where Jesus is saying to his followers, his would be followers, I am the crucified Lord.
And if you wish to follow me, then you will have a crucified life and it begins, it begins with a confession of faith and an immersion in water in order to have sins forgiven. The light that Jesus brought into the world continues to shine brightly, leading all of mankind to the revelation that Jesus dies to atone for the sins of all and that forgiveness and eternal life are now freely offered to all who believe in him.
I encourage everyone to trust this light. Trust this light and obey this light and live by this light until Jesus returns, why? Because this is the only light that he gives us that will lead us to where we want to go and where we want to go is heaven where Jesus is now and will be forever.