Today’s passages: Jeremiah, chapters 5-6; John, chapter 12
Scripture: John 12:36b-43 (NRSV) – After Jesus had said this, he departed and hid from them. Although he had performed so many signs in their presence, they did not believe in him. This was to fulfill the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah: ‘Lord, who has believed our message, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?’ And so they could not believe, because Isaiah also said, ‘He has blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart, so that they might not look with their eyes, and understand with their heart and turn – and I would heal them.’ Isaiah said this because he saw his glory and spoke about him. Nevertheless many, even of the authorities, believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they did not confess it, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved human glory more than the glory that comes from God.
Observations: Two things grab my attention today. First is the “struggle to believe.” John says that “they did not believe in him,” but he later says that “many, even of the authorities, believed in him.” It’s easy to believe in the face of miracles, but what is it that people believe? They believe that a miracle has been done; they may even believe that there is a supernatural power behind that miracle. But when John talks about people “believing in” Jesus, he’s referring to the kind of life-changing belief that Jesus is the one and only Son of God, who came to give his life for us. It is the “life-changing” part that is the struggle, as we see in the last verse of this passage: But because of the Pharisees they did not confess it for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved human glory more than the glory that comes from God. In the same way, a lot of people are willing to “believe” as long as that “belief” makes them feel better, or gives them some sort of hope – but when it comes to the life-changing transformation that Jesus calls us to, they’re not willing to go that far.
That brings me to the second thing: Isaiah’s prophecy that God “had blinded their eyes, and hardened their hearts,” so that they wouldn’t believe. That sounds rather harsh to us – as though it’s not their fault that they didn’t believe. But God clarifies this in Jeremiah 6:19: “Hear, O earth; I am going to bring disaster on this people, the fruit of their schemes, because they have not given heed to my words; and as for my teaching, they have rejected it.” What God decreed through Isaiah is the same message that runs through Scripture, from beginning to end: disobedience has consequences. Any “belief” in Jesus that convinces us that sin is acceptable and disobedience is inevitable is not the “real” belief to which Jesus calls us. We cannot shy away from the inevitable results of “real” belief in Jesus. When he transforms us, there will be people who reject us; there may come a time when we will face danger because of our belief. We need to allow God to prepare us for that – and he will. “Real” belief is not dependent on circumstances, or results; it is based solely in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
Applications: God is teaching me today that he prepares us to face the “big” challenges by going through the “little” challenges of day-to-day life: being willing to share our faith; making decisions based on how God leads us, rather than just what we prefer, or what others around us prefer. We cannot fall into the trap of thinking that the message of Jesus will be popular; the call to come and die will not be popular. But when we’ve already died with Christ, he lives in us – and we do not need to be afraid of anything that the enemy may throw at us. God is calling me to be more bold in speaking and doing what he tells me to, rather than worrying about how it will be received.
Prayer: Father, I confess that at times it is hard to be bold. With the man whose son was oppressed by a demon, I say, “I believe; help my unbelief.” Strengthen my faith today, and help me to be fearless in my obedience, so that your Kingdom may come and your will be done, on earth as in heaven. Amen.