Almost 150 days ago we started our walk through the book of John. John is walking us to his objective, which he states very succinctly in John 20:30-31.
Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30-31)
As we read John, his writing is intentional, whether that’s how he uses repetition and themes and hyperlinks or how he arranges his stories. It’s intentional.
We just crossed over the fold of the text where we are now in a sprint in the narrative towards Jesus’ arrest, crucifixion and resurrection. The fold was at Jesus’ raising of Lazarus from the dead. At that moment Jesus went from someone who was respected, someone who was followed, and someone who was sought out, to being someone that was seen as the potential Messiah.
But that messiahship was believed to be leading to a political revolution as opposed to being one that is leading a spiritual revolution.
Remember, John was the last of the four Gospels to be written. The story had unfolded. Many of the readers had an idea how the story was going to play out. But John’s intent for them--for us--for everyone--is to do the work of processing towards belief: belief that Jesus is the Messiah, and belief that there is life in relationship with Him.
And as we walk through John’s writings, it is not a grouping of stories of people that always “got it.” In fact, the commonality right to the end of his letter is people “not really getting it.”
Before we move forward into the second portion of John 12, I want us to remember John 1. He starts of by telling us that Jesus as been from the beginning, and then in verses 9-14 we hear echoes of what we are focusing on today in chapter 12.
The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:9-14)
Some believed. Some didn’t. Many, if not most, didn’t really understand.
I am going to invite us to a moment of belief deconstruction.
Belief can be simplified: “I know what I believe; I am right; and you should believe the same things I believe.”
There are some things of note in this given process: It might oversimplify personal belief (Do I know and understand what I believe? Am I stationary in what I believe?). It might oversimplify correctness of belief (I want to be growing as a person. If I have room to grow, that might mean that I have room to be wrong. If I don’t have room to be wrong, I will not have room for others to be wrong). And it might oversimplify others’ beliefs (“Believe just like me” is saying that belief can be quantified and packaged and doesn’t allow for gray areas or disagreement. This can cause estrangement where differences could actually build strength for the body as a whole).
Because belief is complex and there are challenges to squishing in the before-mentioned box, a simple response can be, “No one can really know what they believe. No one is more right than anyone else. Everyone should just believe whatever they want.” That’s a pendulum swing away from the first mindset!
Well…there can be some issues with this as well.
I actually think the issues are remarkably similar: It might oversimplify personal belief. It might oversimplify correctness of belief. It might oversimplify others’ beliefs.
Let me build into the complexity a little more. Let’s talk about how beliefs are formed.
Beliefs are formed out of sensemaking: I see what is happening and what is not happening in the world. I will form my beliefs in order to try to make sense of the world and of the parts of the world that just don't make sense.
Beliefs are formed out of confirmation bias: The things I see and experience are confirming my existing beliefs and nothing else.
Beliefs are influenced by a hope for a just world: Things should be fair. If they are not fair, then they should be fair in the long run (which can be beyond this life).
Beliefs are influenced by an affinity or aversion for conformity: I want to believe like all the people I love and respect believe -or- I don’t want to believe like all the people I don’t love and respect believe.
Beliefs are shaped out of hindsight bias: Beliefs are sought to be confirmed with hindsight.
My goal here is not to break belief but to foster real, honest, growing, refining belief. Isn’t this what John is trying to build? He doesn’t just tell us what to believe and walk away, but rather he invites us into process.
Today, John comes to a moment where he explodes into the moment of belief. Some do it. Some don’t. But before we get there, let’s build some foundation.
Remember: making belief like concrete has some issues, and making belief like the wind has some issues. Also remember how things impact belief: beliefs are formed out of sensemaking and confirmation bias, they are influenced by a hope for a just world and by an affinity or aversion for conformity, and they are shaped out of hindsight bias.
What are some unhealthy foundations to build belief upon?
What are some healthy foundations to build belief upon?
Belief is complicated. Think about the different things people believe in. With a little Google searching, we found a list online of 100 things people believe in. I look at it and it makes belief even more complicated for me.
2. Love at first sight
3. Generosity, open-handedness
5. Kindness that bounces back like a boomerang
6. The beauty of God's creation
7. The love of family
8. Good healthy food...
...99. Blue deep sky
100. Birds song
Number 1 is God. I get it. This is what we are talking about. I love it, I want it. I believe; help me with my unbelief.
But then there are things like number 21 “green” or number 42 “popcorn.” What? What am I missing? Do I need to believe in green or popcorn? Do I believe in green or popcorn? I didn’t even know it was an option!
How does a person know what to believe in?
What if there is something that someone believes in, and another person doesn’t see it as a big deal or as even something to believe in?
What perspective does a person need to have in order to apply belief in something?
In Mark 9 there is a narrative of a dad who wanted to help his son.
A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.” “You unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.” So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth. Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?” “From childhood,” he answered. “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” “‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.” Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:17-24)
Here again is belief’s complexity. What is belief? What should it be built on? What should it be applied to?
What do you mean when you say “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”?
There are so many things happening in the last two-thirds of chapter 12.
As the story of Lazarus spread, as amazing and compelling stories tend to spread, the Pharisees would have been desperate to regain the focus on themselves. As the news of this story spread throughout the land the number of people who grew in anticipation to see Jesus for themselves began to multiply. Remember that these are people that are living under both Roman and Religious Jewish law. They were oppressed, looked down upon, seen as less than and ultimately unimportant or having no value. As they heard of this and other Jesus stories, hope began to grow among them. This hope culminated in cries of “Hosanna” as Jesus rode into Jerusalem. The crowd may have had a misunderstanding of what Jesus was about to do, but they did place their hope in Him. As these cries for Hosanna and declarations of hope filled the air, the religious leaders claimed that “the world has come after him.”
This would have been a statement of desperation for the religious authorities. They were seeing their grasp on power and privilege slipping away and were willing to do anything to hold onto it a little longer. They needed to combat these stories and steal hope away from the masses. It’s easy to see how they arrived at the conclusion ahead.
Jesus entered Jerusalem on a colt. The people celebrated His entry by spreading out palm branches before him and shouting, “Hosanna!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Blessed is the king of Israel!” The people were so excited about Jesus. The Pharisees wanted to see Him eliminated more than ever. Some Greeks wanted to see Jesus, but Jesus said it wasn’t time for that. There was a thundering voice of God voicing approval of Jesus. Some believed. Some didn’t believe and Jesus acknowledged their unbelief and accredited it to their eyes being cloaked, the message being hidden from them.
Then there is a moment I want us to rest on:
Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not openly acknowledge their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved human praise more than praise from God. (John 12:42-43)
I am going to ask a complex question. If belief is complex, if it can’t be done to you or demanded, if belief is built and grows and is not a passive process… then these people that believed in Jesus, but were afraid of the Pharisees; these people that believed in Jesus, but loved human praise more than praise from God--
Where were these people in the process of belief? What do you see them coming out of and what would be their next step in belief?
Let me read John’s words and then ask you a final question.
Then Jesus cried out, “Whoever believes in me does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me. The one who looks at me is seeing the one who sent me. I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.
“If anyone hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge that person. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world. There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; the very words I have spoken will condemn them at the last day. For I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me to say all that I have spoken. I know that his command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say.” (John 12:44-50)
Belief is complex. It can have good foundations or bad ones. It can be directed at all kinds of things. It can dismiss things that are important to believe in or focus on things that are unimportant to believe in. It is process; it comes out of something and works towards something. It has immediate impact, and its impact is a process.
I am going to ask you a question that brings this together and brings us into the process. This has been a question that has gotten people hurt when they have been honest. But we see here in John 12, Jesus didn’t do that, so let’s strive to answer in safety and also ask the question of people in our world and give them the gift of safety as they answer.
What do you see yourself coming out of in your process of belief? What is your next step in belief in Jesus?
Take It Deeper Questions:
- Read John 12:12-19.
- What is the general draw and appeal to parades? Do they appeal to you? Why?
- What were the people celebrating as Jesus entered Jerusalem?
- What degree of understanding is a prerequisite to transformative belief?
- What happens when your expectations of God don't match reality?
- Is following Christ threatening to your lifestyle? How? Why or why not?
- Who do you personally identify with most and why--the crowd, a disciple, a Pharisee, the young donkey?
Bible Reading Plan:
- Leviticus 1
- Leviticus 2
- Leviticus 3
- John 5
- John 6
- John 7