The Fourth
John 12:37-50
“A Reason to Believe”
A. What was seen by them
B. What was said of them
A. The recognition in their belief
B. The refusal in their belief
A. Who you must believe
B. What you must believe
1. In an article on the website of the American Psychological Association,
entitled, “A reason to believe,” a psychologist from Oxford University, named
Justin Barrett, argues that the reason most people in the world hold to some kind
of religion is that human beings are sort-of pre-wired to believe.
2. He says, “…our basic cognitive equipment biases us toward certain kinds of
thinking and leads to thinking about a pre-life, an afterlife, gods, [and] invisible
beings that are doing things…”1
3. In other words, the psychologist says that our brains are pre-programmed to
think about things we cannot see, and to believe they must be there nonetheless.
4. The uniqueness of the Christian gospel is that God did not hide out from His
creation, but rather, when He sent His Son into this world, the “image of the
invisible God” walked among us.
5. In Jesus, God did not leave man to speculate about who He is or what He is
doing, but He walked right up to us and said, “I am the light of the world.”
6. In spite of the fact that God did not play “hide and go seek” with humanity, at
the close of the twelfth chapter of the fourth gospel, we see what we have seen
before in this story – men did not believe the Word of God, even when He took
on flesh and spoke right to them.
7. Far from belief being a very natural thing for fallen man, the Word of God
teaches us that it is a completely supernatural thing when men believe.
8. In this chapter, Jesus makes His final appeal to the crowd in Jerusalem, but it
is to no avail. In spite of all He had done and said; in spite of the fact that He
gave them every reason to believe, they refused to believe.
Azar, Beth, “A reason to believe”, 12/10, www.apa.org, accessed 4/9/14,
Terry Trivette 2014
9. In the end, Jesus speaks beyond them to us, and shows us what believing in
Him is and is not. Do you have a reason to believe?
10. Look over this important passage with me, and notice what the Word of God
says to us about believing. First of all, we see here:
1. If you are paying attention, verses 37-41 in this text is one of those passages
that ought to cause you to say, “Wait a second. Does that say what I think it
2. John tells us in one verse that the Jewish people would not believe, and then
he tells us that they actually could not believe, and the reason they could not
believe was because God had blinded and hardened them. This is really
3. Their unbelief - their failure of faith - was inevitable. What does this mean, and
how are we to understand this truth? Think through this with me.
4. Notice that John reminds us first of all of:
A. What was seen by them
1. Verse 37 says, “But though [Jesus] had done so many miracles before them,
yet they believed not on him.”
2. John has recorded for us some of what He calls the “signs” of Jesus. There
are seven of them recorded in this fourth gospel.
3. At a wedding, Jesus turned the water into wine. When an important official
came and requested help for his dying son, Jesus healed him without even going
to the man’s house.
4. By the pool of Bethesda, Jesus spoke to a man who had been handicapped
and crippled for 38 years, and the man got up and walked away.
5. Jesus took the few bites of a little boy’s lunch and fed a crowd of thousands
with it. Later that night, He walked on the top of a storm-tossed sea to get to his
6. While in Jerusalem on another occasion, Jesus took spit and dirt and used
them to open the eyes of a man who had been blind from birth.
7. Not far from Jerusalem, Jesus stood outside the tomb of his friend Lazarus,
and called his dead body back to life and out of the grave.
Terry Trivette 2014
8. We have the privilege of reading about these miraculous signs in the black and
white, and sometimes, red letters of our Bibles.
9. The people John mentions in verse 37 saw these miraculous things in full
color, real life. They witnessed them first hand, and yet, John said, they still did
not believe on Him.
10. That in itself is remarkable and amazing, and yet what is really remarkable
about their unbelief is not simply what was seen by them, but consider further:
B. What was said of them
1. Notice what John records in verse 38. He says they didn’t believe upon Jesus,
“That the saying of [Isaiah] the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spake, Lord,
who hath believed our report? And to whom hath the arm of the Lord been
2. John says that the unbelief of the Jewish people was simply a fulfillment of
Isaiah’s prophecy in Isaiah 53, that when the Messiah comes, the people will not
recognize Him and won’t believe what God is proclaiming through Him.
3. But John goes even further. Look at verses 39 and 40. “Therefore they could
not believe, because that [Isaiah] said again, He hath blinded their eyes, and
hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand
with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them.”
4. Here John quotes Isaiah again, but this time from Isaiah chapter 6. There the
Lord commissioned Isaiah to go and preach to the people, telling him ahead of
time that they would not listen.
5. At first glance, this doesn’t seem right and fair. The Jews are indicted for not
believing, and yet God had ordained ahead of time that they would not believe.
6. Why would He do this? I think the answer is found in verse 41. Look at it. John
said, “These things said [Isaiah], when he saw his glory, and spake of him.”
7. Whose glory did Isaiah see? It appears that John is referring to Jesus. When
Isaiah had his vision of God on the throne in Isaiah 6, the One He actually saw
was Jesus Christ.
8. And what is the glory of Jesus? Well, in John’s gospel, the hour of Jesus’ glory
is the hour of the cross, when He was lifted up to save sinners by His death.
9. Do you understand this? The blinding and hardening of Israel was yet another
means of God getting His Son to the cross.
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10. You see; the cross is where blind eyes are really opened. The cross is where
hard hearts are broken and remade through the saving power of the gospel!
11. Until sinners can see the glory of Jesus dying on the cross for them, they
can’t really see Him at all.
12. As we look on in this passage that speaks so much to us about believing, we
find here not only, something remarkable: an inevitable failure of belief, but we
see also:
1. Obviously, not all the Jews were blind to Jesus. His disciples were Jews, and
they clearly believed upon Him.
2. There were others among the house of Israel that seemed to be drawn to
Jesus as well. John tells us in this text about a particular group that he said
“believed on him.”
3. What we find, however, is that this group, though not fully rejecting Jesus,
didn’t fully receive Him either. There was something insufficient about their belief.
4. While I doubt there are many in this room that simply don’t believe in Jesus at
all, I fear there may very well be some whose belief in Him is not what it should
5. If so, that is both sad and regrettable. Look at the insufficient belief we find in
this passage. We see:
A. The recognition in their belief
1. Look at verse 42. John says that in spite of the almost wholesale rejection of
Jesus among the Jewish people, “Nevertheless among the chief rulers also many
believed on him...”
2. The phrase, “the chief rulers”, refers to the religious leaders in Jerusalem.
These were scribes, Pharisees, and priests, who oversaw both the civil and
religious life of the people in Israel.
3. As John records, for the most part, this group hated Jesus. He was a threat to
them and their way of life.
4. And yet, we find in John 12 that there were a number of them who actually
recognized that Jesus was something more than a Galilean carpenter-turnedpreacher.
Terry Trivette 2014
5. Rather than trying to explain away His signs, they read them and saw that they
pointed to His divinity.
6. I imagine one of them laying down one night, trying to sleep, while the
testimony of the once-blind man kept running through his mind: “…one thing I
know, that, whereas I was bind, now I see...If this man were not of God, he could
do nothing.” (9:25,33)
7. There, alone with his thoughts, the religious leader said to himself, “He must
be the One. The miracles tell the story.”
8. Like a child connecting the dots and figuring out the picture, these men
recognized who Jesus is.
9. And yet, there was something missing from their belief – something beyond
just seeing the facts and recognizing what they say. We see not only the
recognition in their belief, but we see also:
B. The refusal in their belief
1. Look again at verse 42. John said, “…among the chief rulers also many
believed on him; but (and this is an important ‘but’) because of the Pharisees
they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue.”
2. They recognized who Jesus is, but they also recognized what it would cost
them to say that publicly.
3. They would lose their positions in the Jewish society. They would lose their
power. They would lose what was really their whole life.
4. In the end, they chose to keep quiet about what they recognized in Jesus, and
John diagnosis for us what the real problem was.
5. Verse 43 says, “For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of
6. That is a tragic verse. It was more important to them to be accepted and
appreciated by the people around them than to be accepted and affirmed by the
God above them.
7. Could it be that there are some of you that on one level, you recognize who
Jesus is - you’ve read the Scriptures, heard the evidence, and given a sort-of
mental head-nod to Jesus, saying, “I see who You are. I believe it.”
Terry Trivette 2014
8. And yet, you hesitate to say too much about it, or do too much about it. And at
the root of your hesitance is a fear that you will become an outcast in this society,
and lose your normalcy of life in this world.
9. You don’t talk about Jesus at work, because you don’t want the folks at the
office to think you’re a religious fanatic.
10. You don’t speak His name at school, or talk about your faith in Him with your
friends, because you don’t want to be pushed out of the already tenuous social
structure of the local High School.
11. The truth is: you love the praise and pats on the back of the people around
you more than you love the welcome and “well done” of the Father in heaven.
12. If that is true of you, then I hope you know that this kind of faith will not cut it
with Jesus. It is insufficient, and you’ll live to regret it, for Jesus said in Matthew
“Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also
before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men,
him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.”
13. With all this being said, what does real belief in Jesus entail and involve? As
this chapter closes, the Lord tells us just that.
14. We see here not only something remarkable: an inevitable failure of belief,
and something regrettable: an insufficient form of belief, but we find also thirdly:
1. Though the people refused to embrace Him and believe Him, as He had so
many times before, Jesus offered Himself again to those who clearly wanted
something other than Him.
2. It is here that I believe Jesus speaks over and beyond that crowd to this one.
Jesus is pleading with us today as much as He was with the people on that day.
3. John says in verse 44 that Jesus “cried” out. He lifted His voice so that He
could be heard, and described clearly just how He is to be believed. Can you
hear Him?
4. Notice what He said about the kind of focused, firm belief that is required in
Him if we are to truly receive the eternal life He offers us. For one thing, He
points us to:
A. Who we must believe
Terry Trivette 2014
1. Look at verse 44. Jesus said, “He that believeth on me, believeth not [only] on
me, but on him that sent me.” He continued in verse 45, “And he that seeth me
seeth him that sent me.”
2. This is an important distinction. Jesus did not come merely to show men the
way. He is the way. He did not come merely to give men life. He is the life.
3. The gospel does not call you simply to believe in what Jesus did, but to believe
Jesus Himself.
4. Why? Because Jesus is God, and to believe God is to believe on the Son He
sent into this world.
5. Jesus is not some abstract principle, some idea, some concept that you listen
to and then decide if it makes any sense.
6. Jesus is a living person, who lived a real life on this earth, died a real death,
shed real blood, got up from a real grave, walked out on His real feet,
commanded His disciples from His real mouth, and then ascended back to the
real heaven, where He is alive and well and very real to this day.
7. I fear that some of you are familiar with and even fond of the story of Jesus,
almost like you are fond of the characters in your favorite movies.
8. You like Rocky, or Forrest Gump, or George Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life”.
You are emotionally attracted and attached to them. Yet, you don’t actually think
of them as real people.
9. You can’t afford that kind of mere emotional attachment to Jesus, for He is
real! He never said, “Whoever likes the story of me will not walk in darkness.” He
said, “I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should
not abide in darkness.”
10. The focus of our belief must be in the real person of Jesus. That is who we
must believe, but Jesus also points us in this text to:
B. What we must believe
1. Perhaps you’ve heard the old parable of the blind men and the elephant. Each
of the blind men are standing around an elephant, touching it and trying to figure
out what it is.
2. One of the men feels the trunk of the elephant and says, “It’s a rope.” Another
of the blind men feels the side of the elephant and says, “It is a wall.” Yet another
feels the ear of the elephant and says, “It’s a fan.”
Terry Trivette 2014
3. This parable is often used to describe the way different religions discover who
God is. They feel only certain parts of Him, and do their best to describe what
they think they have found.
4. This past week I heard a pastor named Kevin DeYoung reference this story,
and he pointed out something important.
5. This analogy works only so long as the elephant doesn’t speak. If the elephant
says, “Hey guys, I’m an elephant,” then the blind men and their subjective
guesses have to say, “Well, it must be an elephant.”
6. When it comes to believing in Jesus, He has clearly spoken.
7. Therefore, to believe on Jesus is to believe in who He is, as well as to believe
what He plainly says.
8. Notice what Jesus says at the close of John 12. Beginning in verse 47, He
“And if any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not: for I came not
to judge the world, but to save the world. He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not
my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall
judge him in the last day. For I have not spoken of myself; but the Father which
sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should
9. Jesus indicates here that the real problem is not the people rejected the signs
He performed, but rather that they rejected the words He had spoken.
10. What were His words to them? There were many, but most recently He had
said this to them. Look back at verses 25 and 26:
“He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall
keep it unto life eternal. If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am,
there shall also my servant be…”
11. Friend, if you don’t ever really believe and receive and obey the words that
Jesus has spoken to you, there is coming a day when you will stand face to face
with the real, live Jesus, and there you will hear these words of truth from His
lips: “Depart from me, you workers of iniquity. I never knew you.” (Matt. 7:23)
1. There is every reason for us to believe. Jesus the Son of God came into this
world. He opened His mouth and spoke the words of life to us.
Terry Trivette 2014
2. He took His real life and willingly laid it down on the cross, paying for the sins
that had separated us from God.
3. He then rose from the dead, and He calls us today to turn from our sins, give
up our lives to Him, and obey His call to follow Him from here to eternity.
4. I wonder, can you say of Jesus, what He said of His Father in verse 50, “…I
know that his commandment is life everlasting…” Do you believe this? Do you
believe Him?
5. I close by reminding you of why John wrote this gospel. In John 20:31, John
said, “…these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son
of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.”
Terry Trivette 2014

John 12:37-50 - "A Reason to Believe" (added 4/14