In John 11, Jesus' public ministry comes to a climax as he raises his friend Lazarus from the dead. Can you imagine it?! A man who'd been dead and buried four days suddenly walked out of a cave at Jesus' command! It would've been insanely awesome to be in Bethany that day. We're told in response to this miracle that some of the people there believed in Jesus (John 11:45). When I read that, my response is, "Well, duh!" This would seem an obvious conclusion. Jesus made a decomposing corpse come alive and begin breathing again! Certainly everyone there immediately put their faith in Jesus, right? Yet not every witness responded positively to this miracle. Some, instead of believing in Jesus as Messiah, went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done (v.46). In other words, they tattled on Jesus, looking to score some brownie points with the religious leaders.
In response to the snitches' report, the chief priests and the Pharisees determined that they had to do something about this Jesus guy. He was performing way too many powerful signs! If it continued on, more and more might be persuaded to believe in him. So they conspired together to get rid of him.
What's frightening to me as I read this passage is not the fact that a group of people witnessed the miracles of Jesus and were still unpersuaded that he was the Messiah. This indeed makes me scratch my head and provokes me to ask myself, "Could I ever be this blind?" (The answer is "Yes." but that's a different blog). Yet it's clear to me that the minds of these folks were already made up. Jesus was not going to be their Christ; they were looking for someone else. There was no way they were ever going to be convinced that Jesus of Nazareth could possibly be the Rescuer they were waiting for. John summarizes this group in the next chapter when he writes, "Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him." (John 12:37). Clearly, this group was willfully blind to what was obviously there to see about Jesus. Their deliberate lack of faith in Jesus is dumbfounding, but it's less daunting to me than another group John mentions...
In verses 42 and 43 of John Chapter 12 we meet a different set of individuals. These folks actually do believe in Jesus...They were convinced by his signs and sermons that he was the Son of God...Yet John tells us that when push came to shove, they rejected him. To me, this is frightening. In fact, one of the scariest ideas found in Scripture is that a person can believe in Jesus and still not really believe in him...that it is possible to accept Jesus' words and be moved by his miracles, yet not genuinely trust in him.
One of the scariest ideas found in Scripture is that a person can believe in Jesus and still not really believe in him...that it is possible to accept Jesus' words and be moved by his miracles, yet not genuinely trust in 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. (John 12:42-43)
There were many walking around Israel in Jesus' day who were compelled by his signs and convicted by his teaching, yet they chose to reject him because they would rather have man's approval than's Jesus' salvation. John says they were chasing after a glory that comes from men rather than the glory that comes from God. They did not want to forfeit their social standing or their acceptance in the community, so they would not confess Jesus as Lord.
As I type that last paragraph it sounds so ludicrous. Why in the world would a person give up the opportunity to align themselves with a man who's just raised a guy from the dead to maintain acceptance from a group of old religious curmudgeons?! Frankly, because they didn't see the eternal glory of Jesus as a more valuable reality than the fleeting glory of man's approval. Their glory scales were busted.
In John 6, after Jesus spoke some really hard words to a listening crowd, we're told that most of the people departed and walked away from Jesus. Just one day before they had watched him multiply five biscuits of barley bread and two sardines into a feast that fed thousands of people. While their stomachs were still digesting that miraculous meal, they abandoned their faith in him. Jesus' words were apparently less digestible than the fish and loaves. Ironically, they had just declared "This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!" Now, suddenly, they've lost their appetite for his ministry. It seems that they "believed in Jesus" as long he benefitted them, or didn't say or do anything that offended them or upset their normal way of life. Once he crossed that line, they bailed. The people wanted a Jesus that fit their agenda, that met their needs and catered to their vain pursuits of lesser-glories. Jesus, to them, was a means to an end. In the end they were not enamored with his glory; they were obsessed with their own.
After most of the crowd had walked away, Jesus turned to his disciples and asked, "Are you going to leave as well?" And in one of my favorite lines in all of scripture, Peter replied, "Where else would we go? You have the words of eternal life." This is such an honest moment. I don't picture him saying those words confidently. I imagine he was just as puzzled as the crowd was by Jesus's perplexing exhortation to eat his flesh and drink his blood. Yet Peter knew that he couldn’t walk away. Jesus was an enigma, but he was the way to true life. Peter stayed, choosing the glory of Christ over the lesser-glories of this world. He exhibited true, abiding faith.
Authentic belief in Jesus is a glory exchange.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warned of many who, on the day of judgement, will presume to have a saving faith in him, but instead they'll be told, "Depart from me you wicked worker of iniquity, I never knew you." It's terrifying to me that it's possible to believe in Jesus, but not truly believe in him; that you can have an orthodox opinion of Jesus, and a heterodox faith. Jesus makes it explicitly clear that authentic faith is more than a cognitive conviction about his identity. It's an embrace of him as Master; it's a public surrender to him as Lord. It is following him even when it's hard, and staying with him when everyone else leaves. Faith might require that you're found inglorious by others in this life in order to relish the glory of Christ for eternity. Authentic belief in Jesus is a glory exchange.
In Matthew 13:44 Jesus depicted the Kingdom of Heaven as a man who was working in a field. While he was working, he found a buried treasure. Brimming with joy over that discovery, he immediately went and sold everything he owned in order to get the money to buy that plot of land, to obtain the buried treasure. When Jesus told that parable, he was talking about himself. He's the treasure in the story! And he's calling us to go and sell the lesser glories of our lives in order to gain Him! He's saying to us, "I'm worth it. I'm the only glory worth chasing after."
Andy Adkison (@andyadkison) // Pastor of Preaching & Vision // Immanuel Church