Seeing isn’t always believing…


“While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.” When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them. Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him, 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?” Therefore they could not believe. 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.” Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him. 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; for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God. And Jesus cried out and said, “Whoever believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me. And whoever sees me sees him who sent me. I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. 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. 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. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me.” (John‬ ‭12:36-50‬ ‭ESV‬‬)
Last week, we ended with a brief discussion of Jesus’ statement, “walk while you have the light, because the night is coming and it is difficult to walk in the dark (my paraphrase).” I want to pick up there this week and expand on that subject… Notice our passage this morning begins with that same basic idea; “Believe while you have the light so that you may be sons of light.” Then John tells us that Jesus left (the crowds) and “hid himself from them.” From this point forward, Jesus won’t speak to the crowds or teach publicly. In the chapters that follow, all of Jesus’ words are spoken to the disciples in a private setting. 

In essence, he’s telling the crowds that they’ve had opportunity to see God’s glory and grace firsthand. They’ve witnessed the signs, seen the miracles and heard the very living Word of God. If they’re going to believe because of the evidence, they had better make a move, now! The light is about to go out, and believing is about to get harder. In many ways, His words are still being fulfilled. Believing is getting harder by the day…

But, that’s not because there’s insufficient evidence. It’s because of the hardness of our hearts. If you’ll remember, we talked a few weeks ago about becoming spiritually deaf. Our ability to hear and discern the truth and God’s voice has declined almost to the point of non-existence. Not because God has gone silent, but because the noise of life has left us deaf to God’s voice. I shared with you how difficult it is for me to participate in a conversation in a busy, crowded, noisy restaurant. I know the folks around me are talking, but I cannot distinguish their words from the background noise. It makes having a social conversation difficult, if not impossible. 

Consider this from Isaiah chapter 6…

“And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.” And he said, “Go, and say to this people: “‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.”” (Isaiah‬ ‭6:8-10‬ ‭ESV‬‬)

When you initially read this exchange between the prophet Isaiah and God it makes you wonder what God really means. God, and his various messengers, often use hyperbole as a means of emphasizing a point. In this instance, God is stressing the fact that He has sent many messengers with the same message and the people have grown increasingly antagonistic towards Him. Listen to this…

“When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood.” (Isaiah‬ ‭1:15‬ ‭ESV‬‬)

The people offer up many prayers,” yet their prayers are empty and hollow as evidenced by the blood on their hands. Will God hear and answer such empty prayers? No, he tells the people, I will not listen to your empty words! It is hard for us to hear these words, but necessary. We often hear nothing but the promises of God’s love and forgiveness. But, consider Jesus’ own words regarding the sin of lust…

“If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.” (Matthew‬ ‭5:29-30‬ ‭ESV‬‬)

We tend to view sin as something inconvenient, at most, and generally just irrelevant. While there can be little doubt that our culture has rejected the notion of sin altogether, the church has even taken a new and significantly lighter view of sin. While we may take sin lightly, God takes it seriously and that’s where the problem really lies. We think that God doesn’t care about our actions as long as our religious beliefs are orthodox and accurate. However, that’s precisely the viewpoint Jesus battled with the Pharisees time and time again. It isn’t sufficient to believe the right things if those beliefs are so loosely held they have no practical effect on your actions. 

This is one area where millennials are spot on. They are very good at spotting hypocrisy and they often point the finger at Christianity and, sometimes, for very good reasons. We have a bad habit of being very much like our old friends, the Pharisees. We claim spiritual superiority while tenaciously clinging to our favorite sin(s). For example, we proudly profess Jesus as our Savior while ignoring His Lordship over our possessions. Lord, you have all of me.. just don’t ask me to give up my new boat or camper to support global missions or to feed the homeless.

Or, we embrace the ideology of the Ten Commandments and fight for the right to display them in public spaces while ignoring their admonition to reject idols or religious displays that are replacements for the worship of the one true God. Or we fight for the right to display them all while lusting after some pornographic image we found while “innocently” surfing the Internet. In other words, God would rather have us obeying them than displaying them. Go back and read that last statement, again. 

So, what’s my point in all this? Jesus says we must walk while we have light and don’t claim to walk in the light when you are ignoring His commands.

“”If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John‬ ‭14:15‬ ‭ESV‬‬)

“For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments… (1 John‬ ‭5:3‬a ESV‬‬)

One last comment before I move on… any, and I do mean ANY, display of racism, bigotry, hatred or claim of racial superiority is in direct violation of God’s commands and Jesus’ example. Anyone who claims to participate in an act of racial hatred or bigotry in the name of Christianity is simply a liar…

“This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.” (1 John‬ ‭1:5-6‬ ‭ESV‬‬)

Now, notice that even though Jesus had performed many signs “before them” they still didn’t believe. We tend to think, if only there was some evidence or proof then we, and others, might find it easier to believe in God. This crowd had witnessed the resurrection of Lazarus and heard the very voice of God but, they still refused to believe. 

“…he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men…” (Isaiah‬ ‭53:2b-3a‬ ‭ESV‬‬)

Our belief problem is not one of evidence, it is a problem with sin and sovereignty. What I mean by that is That we love our sin and God, because of his holiness, hates it and its effects on our lives. In His sovereignty, He has every right to hold us accountable and to judge our actions. 

We wouldn’t have a problem with God’s existence at all if it wasn’t for these facts. If God were more like a “cool, hippy father” and simply looked at our sin and selfishness and said, “that’s cool, just don’t be stupid, and don’t hurt anyone;” then our culture would have no problem with the existence of God. You see, our problem with God is that we need God but don’t want God to exist. We need God to deal with our sin, but we despise God because He wants to ruin, I mean run, our lives. 

We know there’s something desperately wrong with our world. As stated by G.K. Chesterton in his book “Orthodoxy,” 

Modern masters of science are much impressed with the need of beginning all inquiry with a fact. The ancient masters of religion were quite equally impressed with that necessity. They began with the fact of sin–a fact as practical as potatoes. Whether or no man could be washed in miraculous waters, there was no doubt at any rate that he wanted washing. But certain religious leaders in London, not mere materialists, have begun in our day not to deny the highly disputable water, but to deny the indisputable dirt. Certain new theologians dispute original sin, which is the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved.”

Sin is the indisputable fact of man’s existence. We just saw it in Charlottesville, and we will see it today, and tomorrow, in some other place just as clearly and just as ugly. We try and deny its origins, but the fact that it exists in each of us simply confirms our deepest need, and greatest fear. We need someone bigger, better than ourselves to do something. We need God to do something about this deep seated brokenness in us, but to do so requires that we acknowledge our inability, our need for a savior. A savior that is more than a mere man. Someone who can do more than we ever could. Someone who is worthy of our worship and obedience. Someone who is God. Which leads us to my final point… 

Why Jesus? Why not Buddha, Muhammad or Ghandi? Why is Jesus so special? Why can’t all or any of these other religious beliefs suffice? Because none of them offer what Jesus offered, himself. Every major religion outside of Christianity offers a solution to the sin problem. However, their solution is simply a colorized version of the same old story, do enough good and you offset the bad. Work your way to God, or whatever you call him/it. 

Christianity acknowledges and addresses the root cause, man’s inherent sinfulness. If man could work his way to God, he would. In fact, his pride demands it. That IS the problem. The very thing that causes our problem keeps us from resolving our own problem. The very sin that put us in this mess is what keeps us from fixing the mess ourselves. But, the entire biblical story is about how God has been working His plan for fixing the problem and that’s precisely where John has brought us… to the threshold of salvation. He has shown us the problem and he has shown us the savior. Will you believe? 

“I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.” (v. 46)

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