Sermon series: Guarding Your Heart
Scriptures: John 12:20-43
Most of us have had an experience of being disappointed by unmet expectations. I recall grocery shopping with my mom and begging her to purchase Peanut Butter Captain Crunch. You may not recognize this brand because the horrible taste prevented the cereal from becoming a breakfast favorite. I was desperate for this cereal because I had seen advertised on TV the incredible toy motorcycle that came inside the box. My mom warned me about the deception of the commercial, but it did not deter my enthusiasm. As you can imagine, I was crushed with disappointment when I opened the cereal box to find a "cheap & cheesy" plastic figure masquerading as a motorcycle. To make it worse, my mom made me eat the disgusting cereal before buying something else for breakfast.
Listen to John Eldredge's description of his Christian experience as coming up short of the promise.
"Let's start with why life is so dang hard. You try to lose weight, but it rarely happens. You think of making a shift in your career, maybe even serving God, but you never actually get to it. You try to recover something with your marriage, and your wife looks at you with a glance that says Nice try ... Isn't it a little late for that? The thing actually blows up into an argument in front of the kids. Yes we have our faith. But even there - maybe especially there - it seems to fall short of the promise. There's talk of freedom and abundant life of peace like a river and joy unspeakable, but we see precious little of it, to be honest." ( Waking the Dead: The Glory of a Heart Fully Alive, Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2003, p. 5)
Eldredge's phrase "see precious little of it" captures the thrust of Jesus' teaching in John 12 which contains the story of people who wanted to follow God, but they could not hear or see the truth of the Kingdom. They were confused because they tried to relate to God by comprehending God's Kingdom as if it were another earthly kingdom - just more powerful.
1. Declaration of two worlds
To experience the fullness of faith promised in the Scriptures we must recognize the reality of two very different worlds. This passage, along with numerous others, declares that our lives are affected by two worlds. We possess a plural existence. Notice the "other world' concepts mentioned in John 12: glorifying the Son of Man, losing life to find life, a voice form heaven, healthy eyes and ears that are blind and deaf to spiritual things, and understanding hearts. We know how to comprehend things with our mind, but how do you understand with your heart? When Jesus was asked why he taught with parables, he said parables communicate spiritual truth that cannot be understood by those with a calloused heart. Those consumed with the things of this world will never see the truth of Christ's Kingdom.
Peggy Noonan, former correspondent with CBS News and speechwriter for Ronald Reagan offered this insightful observation.
"I think we have lost the old knowledge that happiness in this life is overrated. We have lost the sense of mystery about us, our purpose, or meaning, our role. Our ancestors believed in two worlds, and understood this to be a solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short one. We are the first generation of man to actually expect to find happiness here on earth, and our search for it has caused such unhappiness. The reason: If you do not believe in another, higher world, if you believe only in the flat material world around you, if you believe that this is your only chance at happiness, then when the world does not give you a good measure of its riches, you are not disappointed, you are despairing."
Peggy Noonan, "You'd Cry Too," Forbes, 14 September 1992, p. 65
A recent Time magazine article attempted to explain the popularity of fantasy or mythic films like the Wizard of Oz, Star Wars, Harry Potter, and the Lord of the Rings. Some suggested that stressed out Americans look for a brief escape from reality, but the primary reason suggested by the author was closer to the truth. These stories appeal to a deeper level of the heart reminding us that there is something greater going on here than we realize. Dorothy awakens after the tornado and discovers that she is not in Kansas anymore. Luke Skywalker discovers "the force' affects everything in the universe. Frodo is introduced to a cosmic battle of good versus evil when he finds the ring or the "ring finds him." John 12 declares that almighty God controls the universe to bring glory to His name. Some see and hear this truth while others dismiss the voice of God as nothing more than thunder from a storm (John 12: 29).
2. Rejection of truth
The intensity of John 12 increases significantly as the story moves form declaration of two worlds to rejection of the truth. The Bible identifies that Satan conceals the truth from unbelievers. "The god of this age has blinded the minds of the unbelievers so they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ" (2 Cor. 4:4). Satan is a powerful enemy, but the Scripture also clearly states that individuals choose to follow or reject Christ. Jesus exhorts us to "Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness will not overtake you ... believe in the light, so that you may become sons of light" (John 12: 35-36). Verse thirty-seven emphasizes personal accountability for rejecting the truth by informing us that Jesus performed many miracles, but they refused to believe in him. Satan conceals, individuals choose, but the most dramatic revelation of in John 12 is that God closes the door of opportunity.
Verses 39-42 reveal another side of the God's divine character. God is loving and compassionate, but He is also holy and just. Jesus had already taught with the miraculous feeding of the 5,000 that no one could come to the Father unless the Spirit drew him to God (John 6:44). Now, the apostle John reaches back to the prophet Isaiah to explain the the danger of rejecting God's invitation. After hearing a voice from heaven and seeing miraculous signs, God close the opportunity to receive Christ by blinding eyes and hardening hearts. This divine act of judgment prevents the rebellious soul from being converted and experiencing the healing power of God (John 12: 39-41).
Ray Stedman provides an excellent commentary on this harsh passage.
"Many people read this and misunderstand because it sounds as though it is God's fault that people don't believe. There is no sense in trying to explain it away: This passage does, in fact, say that God prevents people from believing - but it is not God's fault that they don't believe. The fact is, these people had and opportunity to believe. They were invited to believe. They were shown miracle after miracle, evidence after evidence. It is not that God arbitrarily chooses some to be saved and some to be damned. These people made a choice to reject the truth, and God simply seals and notarizes the choice they have already made. If you persist in refusing and rejecting the truth, you will eventually lose your ability to recognize the truth when it is right before your eyes. An anonymous poet once observed: There is a line by us unseen, that crosses every path, The hidden boundary between God's patience and his wrath." (Ray C. Stedman, God's Loving Word; Exploring the Gospel of John, Grand Rapids: Discovery House Publishers, 1993, p. 350)
3. Description of traps
Knowing the reality of the spiritual Kingdom and the possibility of missing what God invites us to receive, we must now consider the traps that prevent us from receiving the truth. The first trap illustrated in the text of John 12 is a lack of instruction. The Greeks mentioned in verse 20 were seekers of the truth, and Andrew takes them to see Jesus. Often our blindness is the result of our lack of training or instruction. We must continue to grow in faith to experience the fullness promised in following Christ. A second trap is the lure of the world. Jesus consistently taught that this world could seduce you to the extent that you miss the greater world of His Kingdom. He says in verse twenty-five, "the one who loves his life must lose it, and the one who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life." In the parable of the sower, Jesus warned of the "thorns of the world" consisting of worries of the age and the pleasure of wealth that choke out the word of God.
The third trap which is the loss of identity is the saddest and the most severe. John makes a powerful and poignant statement in verse 42. Many believed but did not confess Christ as Lord because, "they loved the praise of men more than praise of God" (12:42). Why? Because they had lost their identity. We are created by God and for God. When we look to other people or things to validate our lives, we lose our identity. Much of our frustration in life and in our faith is due to seeking fulfillment from some outside source instead of abiding in Christ who abides in us. How much peace is lost or joy forfeited because we are more concerned about the opinions of sinful man in instead of the promises of a loving savior?
One of the most recognized invitation hymns is Turn Your Eyes upon Jesus. We often limit the message of the song to conversion, but listen to the words as a sincere follower struggling to make sense of the dark world in which we live.
O soul, are you weary and troubled?
No light in the darkness you see?
There's light for a look at the Savior,
and life more abundant and free!
Thro death into life ever lasting He passed,
and we follow Him there;
Over us sin no more hath dominion,
for more than conquers we are!
His word shall not fail you, he promised;
Believe him and all will be well:
Then go to a world that is dying;
His perfect salvation to tell!
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in his wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of his glory and grace."
(Helen Lemmel, 1922)