Unbelief vs. Belief (John 12:37-50)Jesus "cried out" (verse 44), imploring the people to believe. Jesus’ vehemence underscores the importance of His message. Jesus made a patient, persistent effort to win over the people. The crowds had long vacillated between belief and unbelief. But, despite all his past miracles and the marvelous wisdom Jesus has shown in responding to many difficult questions, the vast majority did not believe.
John quotes from Isaiah in verses 38 and 40. Isaiah was a type of Christ in that his message from God was also rejected. The apostle Paul, frustrated by the general Jewish rejection of Jesus as the Messiah, quoted the same verse from Isaiah in Romans 10:16. As quoted by John in verse 40, it speaks of God hardening the hearts of the people. The idea of God hardening a heart immediately brings to mind the Egyptian Pharaoh of the Exodus, whose heart God also eventually hardened. For with each miracle that Pharaoh saw, he made his own heart harder and harder until God finally confirmed him on the path he chose. That Pharaoh is a particularly apt Old Testament type for those who saw Jesus’ miracles, especially the Jewish leaders; for with each miracle Jesus performed, they made their hearts harder and harder, until God hardened their hearts in the direction they had chosen.
Of course, some did believe what Jesus said. In verse 42, John mentions that some among the leaders did. However, for this group the belief was mere "head knowledge." There was no commitment. They would not openly confess Christ, because they would then be excommunicated from the synagogue. The man born blind had been thrown out for confessing Jesus, but he had little vested interest in the Pharisees. These Jewish leaders would lose their positions of leadership if they were expelled from the synagogue. So they kept quiet about the truth Jesus spoke, letting the Son of God take a back seat to their own desire for influence, power, praise and other earthly honors in their positions which they felt were so important. Jesus had previously denounced such behavior in John 5:44: "How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God?" This is the complete opposite of what Jesus did. Jesus disavowed all earthly honor except that of his Father.
The response God is looking for is true belief, which Paul sums up in Romans 10:10: "For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved." God isn’t looking for a belief that is a mere "head knowledge" that results in no action, like that of these silent Jewish leaders. God desires that we respond with a full commitment from the heart to actively follow Jesus. Jesus summed up what this means in verses 25-26: "The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me."
It is important to note that believers are not to hate the world, but rather to "hate" their life in this world, the self-serving ways of the sinful nature. We are to die to self and follow Jesus in the way of servant-hood. The principle of "dying before living," is not only true of Jesus but also of his followers. We are to die to self-gratification, personal pursuits and all the glittery attractions of this passing world order. The priority of our life is to "put on Christ" and glorify God by doing what He says. As Paul said in Galatians 2: 20, "I have been crucified with Christ; I no longer live but Christ lives in me."
Now the daily walk of dying to selfishness is not easy. The Holy Spirit will lead us only if we let Him. All too often we act like the little boy on the kitchen floor who was crying because his hand was stuck in the cookie jar. The reason he couldn’t get his hand out of the jar was because his fist was full of cookies that he wouldn’t let go of! Try and fuss as he might, he couldn’t get his hand out as long as he had a vise grip on those cookies. And the more he struggled, the more the cookies turned into crumbs. What he was trying so hard to save was mere crumbs! Crumbs! That’s also what we try to save when we hang onto those self-serving agendas. The rewards of self-gratification are mere crumbs compared to what God has to offer. Note Jesus promise in verse 26: "The Father will honor the one who serves me." Or as Paul puts it: "For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all." (2nd Corinthians 4:17) "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him." (1st Corinthians 2: 9)