Last week we began taking a look at Jesus’ final appeal to the masses. For the remaining chapters of John’s Gospel, chapters 13-21, Jesus will devote Himself to His followers as He makes His way to the cross. Today, we will pick up where we left off last week and finish our study of John 12. If you will remember our study from last week, Jesus told the people they would have the light “just a little while longer” (12:35) While Jesus, “the Light,” had been among them, He had taught like no teacher had ever taught before, He had performed miracles that had left people in awe, and He had made appeal after appeal for people to trust in Him. Yet, John told us, in John 12:37,
37 Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him. (John 12:37 NIVO)
Rather than being amazed, in stunned disbelief, by the people’s unwillingness to believe, John remembered two prophecies from the prophet Isaiah which let us know that God knew all along that His Chosen People wouldn’t turn to the Messiah. This lays the groundwork for the Scripture we will spend our time with this morning. If you would turn with me to John 12:42-50. Let’s read it together.
42 Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not confess their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; 43 for they loved praise from men more than praise from God. 44 Then Jesus cried out, “When a man believes in me, he does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me. 45 When he looks at me, he sees the one who sent me. 46 I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness. 47 “As for the person who hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge him. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save it. 48 There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day. 49 For I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it. 50 I know that his command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say.” (John 12:42-50 NIVO)
The very first verse of our text for the morning teaches us a very important lesson. Even though the masses turned away from Jesus, some did believe. Even though John told us in John 1:11, “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.” Though the vast majority of the Jews did not believe, some did believe. Even though God knew His people wouldn’t trust in Jesus, some did believe. Throughout history there has always been a remnant who would trust and believe even when the masses turned away. In verse 37, John told us, “Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him.” (John 12:37 NIVO) Just five verses later John tells us, “Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him.” (John 12:42 NIVO) The belief of those John mentions in verse 42 is an interesting kind of belief that we need to take a look at, but first let’s take a moment to try and understand what the “remnant” is all about.
All throughout God’s Word we find that God, time after time, extends His love and mercy to people, but time and again they turn away in disobedience. In Romans 9-11 Paul wrote extensively about God’s relationship with Israel. In Romans 10:21, Paul wrote,
21 “But concerning Israel he says, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and obstinate people.” (Romans 10:21 NIVO)
“Disobedient.” “Obstinate.” Those are two words which are consistently used to describe God’s people. Those aren’t harsh words. They aren’t an expression of skepticism. They are accurate in every sense if you will only take the time to read about Israel’s relationship with God. Yet, in the very next verses, Romans 11:1-5, we find Paul mention the “remnant.” Read along with me.
1 I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. 2 God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew. Don’t you know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah– how he appealed to God against Israel: 3 “Lord, they have killed your prophets and torn down your altars; I am the only one left, and they are trying to kill me”? 4 And what was God’s answer to him? “I have reserved for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” 5 So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. (Romans 11:1-5 NIVO)
Elijah thought he was all alone. He felt like everyone else had turned to the false god, Baal, but God reassured Elijah that there was a remnant of 7,000 faithful followers that Elijah didn’t even know existed. There are four different Hebrew words that are used in the Hebrew Bible which are translated as “remnant” and can give us great insight into this powerful truth of God. I want to take a moment to look at one of those words. The Hebrew word, “?????????” (she’eriyth) means, “remnant, remainder, rest,” or “what is left.” The word appears 66 times in the Old Testament, but 44 times it is translated as “remnant.” Let me show you just a few of the places where it appears.
The first place it appears is in Genesis 45:6-8 where Joseph speaks to his brothers that had sold him into slavery. The brothers were just trying to get rid of Joseph, but at some point in time Joseph recognized God’s hand in his horrible ordeal. If you will remember Pharaoh had a dream that none of his wise sages could interpret. Joseph told Pharaoh the meaning of his dream. There would be seven years of incredible prosperity, more grain for the Egyptians than they had ever harvested before. The seven years of plenty would be followed by seven years of famine where the crops would fail miserably. Pharaoh put Joseph in charge of managing the seven years of prosperity so that the Egyptians would be able to survive the seven years of famine. The famine was so bad that Joseph’s family back in Israel was starving. Joseph’s dad, Jacob, sent some of his sons to Egypt to try and buy some grain. Eventually Joseph would reveal himself to them, but more important for us today is how Joseph understood what had happened to him. He told his brothers,
6 For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will not be plowing and reaping. 7 But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. 8 “So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt. (Genesis 45:6-8 NIVO)
God knew about the famine before everyone else. He knew Jacob’s family would need grain and the only place they would be able to find it would be in Egypt. The problem was that here was great animosity between the Egyptians and the Israelites. God knew all about the animosity and Joseph eventually recognized that God had sent him in order to preserve his own family. Joseph told his brothers, “God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.” Many died in the famine, but God preserved a remnant.
In Amos 5:15 we find the Hebrew word for “remnant” once again. It’s important to remember that even though the larger society rejected God’s counsel, they refused to submit and serve Him, yet God continued to invite those who were willing to follow Him. Amos, the prophet, spoke to God’s rebellious people and urged them,
15 Hate evil, love good; maintain justice in the courts. Perhaps the LORD God Almighty will have mercy on the remnant of Joseph. (Amos 5:15 NIVO)
The prophets were all cut out of the same mold. God sent them to a rebellious people. Their ministries in no way could be considered as successful if you gauge their success the way we view success today. And yet, with each of the prophets we find God making His appeal. At the beginning of Micah’s ministry the people of the Northern and Southern Kingdoms were living large. The wealthy were living it up and taking advantage of the poor. The powerful were abusing their power and God promised that His judgment was on its way. Yet, for the remnant who refused to go along with the masses, for those who would trust God, God would do something they could have never imagined. Look at Micah 2:12-13 with me.
12 “I will surely gather all of you, O Jacob; I will surely bring together the remnant of Israel. I will bring them together like sheep in a pen, like a flock in its pasture; the place will throng with people. 13 One who breaks open the way will go up before them; they will break through the gate and go out. Their king will pass through before them, the LORD at their head.” (Micah 2:12-13 NIVO)
What a powerful picture! God will gather His faithful people. He will bring them together, the remnant of Israel. Their king will lead them, the LORD leading the charges.
In every age, in every generation there has remained the remnant. The same was true in Jesus’ day. John told us, in the opening of his Gospel, “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.” That’s not exactly true when you consider that Jesus’ disciples were Jewish. Paul, a hard-line Pharisee who opposed the followers of Jesus before he was converted, in Romans 11 asked, “Did God reject his people?” He answered his own question by saying, “By no means!” Then he used himself as exhibit #1 to prove his point. Listen to this:
1 I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. (Romans 11:1 NIVO)
The Apostle Paul was part of the remnant who, even though the masses turned away, Paul turned to Jesus and trusted Him for the rest of his life. I wanted to take some time this morning to try and help us understand this because I believe it has great relevance and application in our day as well. Even though it seems like our nation has shown God the door, there are still some who believe. Even though last week we learned that there is a rising population of people in our nation who claim no faith whatsoever, there are still some who believe. In the years ahead, long after those of us who are older are gone, you who are young may very well face increasing antagonism and adversity because of your faith in Jesus as the only way to be reconciled to God. Though there may be times that you feel like Elijah, like you are the only follower of Jesus left, you need to know that there will still be some who believe. Regardless of what everyone else does or believes, hold fast to Jesus, don’t flinch in the face of adversity, don’t falter when your faith is called into question.
This past Wednesday night in our study of 2 Timothy, we read a powerful Scripture about what happened to Paul when he was on trial. Paul said that no one came to support him, everyone deserted him. Turn to 2 Timothy 4:16-17 and read along with me.
16 At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them. 17 But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion’s mouth. (2 Timothy 4:16-17 NIVO)
Nobody came to stand with Paul, but Paul knew he wasn’t alone because the “Lord stood at my side and gave me strength…” Before we wrap up our study of John 12 I want us to go back to those who John told us did believe. Let’s take a look at John 12:42-43.
42 Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not confess their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; 43 for they loved praise from men more than praise from God. (John 12:42-43 NIVO)
This is such an interesting section of God’s Word. There were many, “even among the leaders” who believed in Jesus. They believed, but they wouldn’t confess their faith in Jesus, they wouldn’t go public as a follower of Jesus. There are three important verbs that are used in these verses. First of all, there were those among the leaders who “believed in him.” Over and over again John tells us that people believed in Jesus. In John 10:42, after the religious leaders had tried to seize Jesus, we are told that He went back to the Jordan river where John had been baptizing folks. Many people went out to Him and then in verse 42 we read, “And in that place many believed in Jesus.” One of the most pertinent stories for our study this morning is found in John 9 where Jesus healed a man who had been blind from the time he had been born. After he had been healed Jesus evidently left the man until He heard that the man had been thrown out of the synagogue. Turn with me to John 9:35-38 and let’s read together.
35 Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36 “Who is he, sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.” 37 Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.” 38 Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him. (John 9:35-38 NIVO)
John said that those among the leaders “believed in Him,” but were unwilling to go public with their beliefs. The man born blind, if you read the story, never flinched in giving credit to Jesus for healing him. He still believed even though they threw him out of the synagogue. When he learned that Jesus was the Son of Man he said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped Jesus.
The second verb John used to describe those who believed in Jesus is the Greek word, “????????” (homologeo) which is translated “confess” in verse 42. The word means, “to say the same thing, to agree with,” or “to declare openly.” John tells us that those who believed wouldn’t confess because they feared being put out of the synagogue, they loved the praise from people more than they loved the praise from God.
As I’ve been reading this verse the past couple of weeks I was reminded of another story in God’s Word where people wouldn’t confess openly because they feared being put out of the synagogue. We need to go back to the story of the healing of the man born blind to find the example I’m talking about. Let me set the scene for you. Once the man had been healed the Pharisees got involved. They questioned the man but didn’t get the answers they were looking for so they brought the man’s parents in and questioned them. Turn to John 9:20-22 and let’s listen in on the conversation between the man’s parents and the Pharisees.
20 “We know he is our son,” the parents answered, “and we know he was born blind. 21 But how he can see now, or who opened his eyes, we don’t know. Ask him. He is of age; he will speak for himself.” 22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews, for already the Jews had decided that anyone who acknowledged that Jesus was the Christ would be put out of the synagogue. (John 9:20-22 NIVO)
The word, “acknowledged” is the same Greek word that we read in John 12 where those who believed wouldn’t confess. Neither the man’s parents nor those who were among the leaders were willing to go public with their faith because of the possible consequences of their confession. Before we are too hard on these folks we need to recognize that Jesus made it very clear that being His follower carries a cost. Jesus never hesitated to tell those who admired Him, followed Him, and listened in whenever He would speak that to be His disciple you had to die to yourself in order to live for Him. In Matthew 16:24-26 Jesus said,
24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? (Matthew 16:24-26 NIVO)
They believed, but they wouldn’t openly confess their belief in Jesus. That brings us to the third verb that I want to point out for us. John wrote that the people “believed,” they wouldn’t “confess,” and then last of all, “they loved.” It wasn’t “love” that was the problem, it was the object of their love. John tells us “they loved praise from men more than praise from God.” I don’t know anyone that doesn’t want others to like them. It’s only natural that we want others to like us, to approve of us, and to accept us. When we place our desire for the approval of others above our desire for the approval of God then we are headed for trouble. Every single one of us who takes our walk with the Lord seriously knows the battle that is to be fought on a continuous basis. It’s a battle that you’ll have to deal with regardless of your profession, whether you are young or old, rich or poor. We are wired to want the approval of others and yet this can cause us great problems in life and in our relationship with the Lord.
I think this is one of the biggest battles that pastor’s face. It’s so tempting to try and please everyone in the pews, especially those who are in leadership and underwriting the church’s budget. Let’s keep it real: If folks are unhappy and stop giving then I’m out of a job. So, to try and keep our jobs, pastors are tempted to try and keep everyone happy. I can remember years ago when our church was fighting to just stay alive. We began to reach out to the community and the church began to come to life. New people were coming to our church, but the new people weren’t Ward and June Cleaver or Ozzie and Harriet’s family. I began to hear some talk. There was some mumbling going on. So, at our next Elder’s meeting I simply laid my cards on the table. I told the Elders that I understood some things were going on that those who had been in the church were unfamiliar with, even uncomfortable with. I said, “I know what kind of ministry the Lord has called me to and if that doesn’t match what this church is called to do then please let me know. There won’t be any hard feelings, we can shake hands, pray for one another, and I’ll head on down the road.” I’m grateful the Elders, even though they weren’t sure about what was taking place, saw God’s hand in it all and didn’t ask me to leave.
You and I are to love the approval of God more than, infinitely more than, the approval of people. This is so important, not just for pastors, but for every one of us. Never compromise your commitment to Jesus so that you can fit in with those around you. Recognize that your commitment to Jesus might very well cost you the approval of others.
I’ve shared parts of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s life with you at times past. Bonhoeffer was a pastor in Germany at the time that Adolf Hitler rose to power and many of the leaders of the churches pledged their allegiance to Hitler, many even wore swaztikas on their pastoral robes, Bonhoeffer spoke out. In Bonhoeffer’s book, “The Cost of Discipleship,” there is a foreward written by Dr. Bonhoeffer’s brother-in-law, Gerhard Leibholz. He writes,
When war seemed inevitable, Bonhoeffer’s friends abroad wanted him to leave Germany to save his life, for he was unalterably opposed to serving in the Army in an aggressive war…. In June 1939, American friends got him out of Germany. But soon he felt that he could not stay there, but that he had to return to his country. When he came to England on his return from the United States, his friends quickly realized that Bonhoeffer’s heart belonged to his oppressed and persecuted fellow Christians in Germany and that he would not desert them at a time when they needed him most. “I shall have no right,” Bonhoeffer wrote to Niebuhr before leaving America, “to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share the trials of this time with my people.” …Bonhoeffer never regretted this decision, not even in prison, where he wrote in later years: “I am sure of God’s hand and guidance… You must never doubt that I am thankful and glad to go the way which I am being led. My past life is abundantly full of God’s mercy, and, above all sin, stands the forgiving love of the Crucified.” (Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. The Cost of Discipleship. pg. 18)
In September of 1940 Dr. Bonhoeffer was forbidden to speak in public. That didn’t stop him from speaking out and professing his faith in Jesus while denouncing the evils of the Gestapo. He wore himself out teaching, preaching, smuggling Jews out of Germany, and speaking out against Hitler. Finally, in October of 1944, Bonhoeffer was arrested and placed in prison in Berlin. In February of 1945 he was moved to Buchenwald and then on to Flossenburg’s concentration camp where on April 9, at the age 39 with a promising career before him, he was hanged. The SS doctor who witnessed his death later recalled a man “devout . . . brave and composed. His death ensued after a few seconds…I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God.” In his book, “The Cost of Discipleship,” Bonhoeffer wrote, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”
I want to urge you this morning to refuse to be like those nameless people of John 12 who believed but would not go public with their faith for fear of being ostracized. Maybe you are here this morning and you believe, but you’ve never gone public with your faith in Jesus. I want to encourage you to go public this morning.
Britton Christian Church
January 31, 2016