November 27th 2022: Ian Middlemist

John 12:36-43

“The Lord Jesus Christ is to be trusted.”

            Is Jesus trustworthy? This is my question. Think about situations you come to for the first time. A new job, or a new school, or a new place to live. Are the people you meet for the first time trustworthy? Can you trust these people with your life?

            We live on the edge of eternity. There are now eight billion people on planet earth. All of us live here on this wonderful planet, but we all face death at any moment, and so we live on the edge of eternity. Well, in the gospel of Jesus Christ we find that He is the only one who can take us into eternity with any hope. The Lord Jesus will take you through life here on earth, and He will carry you into eternity, for He is the only one who can do this. He is the only one who is really trustworthy.

            But still some may say: ‘but is Jesus really trustworthy?’ ‘Is He capable of bringing us through to eternity?’ At the time of His first coming when the people met Jesus they did not immediately trust Him. They asked: ‘is Jesus the Messiah?’ ‘Is He trustworthy?’ Of course, their thinking about the expected Messiah was not really correct, but still they asked the question of this man Jesus: ‘is He trustworthy?’ People of today must ask this same question: ‘is the Lord Jesus Christ as He is presented to us in Scripture trustworthy?’ ‘Can I rest my life wholly upon Him and His ways and words?’ If not, then we had better find out. If the Lord Jesus Christ is just an historical figure, even a great one, or if He is merely a myth made up to make people obedient, well we had better be sure. Is Christ Jesus trustworthy and reliable? If not then we of all people are to be pitied:

If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.  (1Corinthians 15:19).

Well, of course the Lord Jesus Christ can be trusted! For though He was rejected and vilified by men, even to this day, nevertheless the Lord God, the Father, accepted Him and glorified Him. If God both accepted Him, was pleased with Him, and glorified Him, surely then He must be truly trustworthy? What value is man’s estimation of things?

            In this message we shall consider two things which should lead to an acceptance of Christ’s full trustworthiness.

[1] He had done so many signs before them. (John 12:37).

            Despite the fact that the Lord Jesus had done so many indisputable and awesome signs and miracles in front of their very eyes, yet still “they did not believe in Him.” In our text we are given two Old Testament quotations, and the first comes from Isaiah 53:1 whilst the second from Isaiah 6:9,10. Both of these indicate God’s sovereignty and demonstrate that God rules over all. We shall consider the first of these here and the second under my second point in a moment.

            John 12:38 brings in a quote from Isaiah 53;1, where we read of one was “despised and rejected by men,” who was “a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief,” and who was “despised” and not esteemed by us. In Isaiah 53:4 we discover that this one was considered to worthy of being struck (“yet we esteemed Him stricken”), and He was “smitten by God and afflicted.” Could such a person be considered as the Servant of the Lord, the Messiah? But the text of Isaiah 53 tells us much more, for it leads us to look for one not only despised and stricken, but one who also “has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows,” who was “wounded for our transgressions,” who was “bruised for our iniquities,” and who “bore the sin of many” (Isaiah 53:4,5,12). Though many would reject Him as not worth consideration, He is still God’s Servant! Through Him we are made right with the Creator, for He has come to deal with our great problem – sin – and has come to bring complete restoration.

            But why are so many people not turning to Him? Given the awesome nature of His mission, and given the great lengths He went to, to secure salvation, why do so many turn away and reject Him? If He was the one prophesied according to Isaiah 53, then why didn’t many people in New Testament days turn to Him for salvation, and why aren’t people doing so now? Still today so many people do not believe. Has something gone wrong? Is the Lord’s plan not working out? NO! By no means! For the text John quotes from Isaiah 53:1 shows everyone that the Lord knew about man’s rejection of His Servant. This did not surprise the Father. The rejection by man of the Servant of the Lord was not only expected, it was also foretold, and so when it comes to pass as John notes, such is a tremendous sign for us to believe! Look at verse 38 before the quote is given, where we read:

that the word of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spoke … (John 12:38).

So that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah “might be fulfilled”! The Lord had all things planned down to the very detail of man’s foolish rejection of their Saviour. The rejection of Christ by men was not unexpected and it was most certainly foretold. The great question we need to ask ourselves is: ‘why on earth do men (including us) ever reject this incredible and glorious Servant of the Lord?’ They did reject Him and we have done so too, save for His incredible grace and salvation that brought us in. But why do we? The only answer to this is human pride and foolish rebellion. And so the very unbelief of the people at the time of Jesus was the very proof that Christ Jesus was the one expected, the Servant of the Lord, as prophesied by Isaiah.

            Even though there is such grief and trouble in the world, yet still society at large rejects Christ and people do their best to push Christ out of conscience and thought. Why? Why do they do this? People are very concerned about the future of the world today. We constantly hear about ‘climate change’ and the need to ‘save the planet,’ and yet they utterly reject the Saviour of the world who came not only as a ransom for men, but also as the Creator of the new heavens and earth. Well for believers the answer is that despite the rejection of Christ we readily see all around us, nevertheless God is still in complete control.

            A question that might be asked concerning this prophecy of man’s rejection of Christ and His sovereign rule over all is, ‘Does this make God guilty of making people unbelievers?’ To which question we must answer: ‘NO! By no means!’ For the Lord God has “done so many signs before them” (John 12:37). Consider the great efforts that Christ Himself went to in His ministry. Not only did He do “so many signs before them,” but He taught them in great patience and love. The Lord has not hidden Himself away, for He has given incredible witness to the truth by Creation, in and through His people (the patriarchs, Israel, the Church), by means of providence and in other ways besides. There are a ‘plethora’ of witnesses to God’s truths. And all of these were given unto mankind that he might not suffer eternal damnation in the fires and torments of hell. Our text comes shortly after one of the greatest miracles that Christ carried out – the raising of Lazarus who had been in the grave for four days (John 11). Why did the people not turn and repent on account of this incredible sign? Jesus simply issued a command that Lazarus should “come forth” which must have jolted their minds to consider creation, for Christ merely spoke and what He said was done (John 11:43). But the miracles were not the purpose of His coming. Miracles were designed to point to the fact that the Lord Jesus was the promised Messiah, in whom can be found the Father’s delight. The main point of the raising of Lazarus was to teach that Christ Himself was “the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25). He came primarily to take away sin. Is this not enough to render all who reject Jesus Christ as Saviour guilty? Yes, it most certainly is! The apologists use great arguments to prove the existence of God, but the truth is that there is no reason not to believe, for there were “so many signs” done in full view of the people, all of which signalled that the Messiah had come and they also displayed details concerning Him.

[2] He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts. (John 12:40).

            Many (at times it seems like all) reject Jesus. Yet how can we say that God is just if He makes people blind and hardens their hearts in unbelief? Do the words of John 12:40 mean that God is the cause of unbelief? NO! By no means! The second quote is from Isaiah 6:9,10. In this chapter of Isaiah the theme is holiness as we see, for example, the angels cry out in Isaiah 6:3: “holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts” (this theme runs throughout the book as can be shown by the frequent use of the title “the Holy One of Israel”). The prophet Isaiah witnessed the holiness of God, and he was “undone” (Isaiah 6:5) as he recognised his own sinful state. All those who see the glory of God are immediately humbled. We see it here with Isaiah, we can see it also with Ezekiel in the first chapter of his book (Ezekiel 1:28), and we see it also with John the apostle in the book of Revelation (Revelation 1:17). Once Isaiah was humbled to see his sin, atonement comes to him almost immediately, and following this we see Isaiah offering himself in service. This is always the case when we look at salvation. A person meets with God, recognises their own sinful state, repents of sin and turns to God for mercy, and then when so delivered, they come to the Lord for service: “here am I! send me,”  (Isaiah 6:8).

            God showers us with forgiveness. He is utterly faithful to His gospel – all who come to Him and all who receive the Lord will be blessed, and incredibly so (Matthew 11:28-30; John 1:12,13). Those so forgiven are those who want then to follow and serve the Lord. Consider the former cricketer turned missionary C. T. Studd who once declared:

If Jesus Christ be God and died for me, then no sacrifice can be too great for me to make for Him.

Peter, after he denied the Lord three times, was brought back and was told to feed the Lord’s sheep (John 21:15,16,17).

            Isaiah was sent out by God just as the Lord Jesus was sent by the Father, and both faced this terrible rejection of men. (Jeremiah seemed to experience it in a greater way which is probably why some thought of the Lord as the return of Jeremiah – see Matthew 16:14). Isaiah might have expected people to hear what God had to say, but instead the Lord told him they would not. But Isaiah was still to preach even if the people would not hear, and even if they would not come to hear him.

            There is an interesting tale concerning an American Sunday School Union meeting place out in Midwest America. On one Sunday morning one of the overseers went in the depths of winter to see how this work was progressing. As he approached, he could see smoke rising from the chimney of the place and heard the bell ringing to call the people to attend. Stirred with expectation he arrived at the hall and on entering discovered that there was just one fourteen year old boy there. So the overseer asked the boy, ‘Was that the last bell?’ The boy replied, ‘yes.’ The overseer asked how the work was progressing since this boy was all alone. The boy replied, ‘first rate, until this bad weather came along.’ So the overseer asked: ‘how many came last Sunday?’ The boy replied, ‘just me.’ So he asked again, ‘what about two weeks ago?’ The boy replied again,’ just me.’ But then the boy continued saying, ‘I come and warm the place and ring the bell for who knows whether they will come or not? What happens if I am not here and some come?’

            Isaiah was called to be faithful even though the prospects looked terribly bleak. And as he preached, the people seemed to get harder in heart against the word of God. This we may call a ‘judicial hardening.’ But do not think that God is unjust here. God never stops people from believing. The idea that God prevents people from believing is wicked. Rather we learn from Scripture that God takes no delight nor “pleasure in the death of the wicked” (Ezekiel 33:11), and would that all mankind would come and “be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth” (1Timothy 2:4). But the simple fact of the situation is that every person is responsible for their own heart and way. The Lord sends His people to preach the word “in and out of season” (2Timothy 4:2). He is gracious and compassionate and long-suffering towards mankind. But people reject the message. How many times does the message come to a people and they reject it? Only the Lord knows the answer to that question (Genesis 6:3; 15:16), but there comes a time when the Lord allows those who reject His word to be confirmed in their rejection (Revelation 22:11). The people were determined to disbelieve Christ. They were stubborn and stiff necked. But there comes a time when the Lord will strive no more and the worst of all judgments falls upon such who act in stubborn pride – the hardening of their heart. We see such happening to Pharaoh in the book of Exodus. How many opportunities did Pharaoh have? But still he hardened his heart and God confirmed him in his settled desires.

What then shall we do?

            Christ Jesus is worthy of our trust. Give Him your whole life. Be captivated by Him. Trust in the finished work of the cross. You will not be disappointed, and you will be saved!

            God calls His servants to faithfulness and so we must continue to witness and preach the word, for today is still the “day of salvation” (2Corinthians 6:2).

            Both Pharaoh and Judas hardened their hearts against the Lord and His gospel. But neither of these prevailed, for God still worked out His purposes to bring about salvation despite their evil intentions. So even if all your neighbours, your friends, and your colleagues refuse to hear and reject your witness, do not fear for you are in good company. Keep witnessing to the truth and keep preaching the word, for God will prevail and all His plans will succeed.