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Summary: Why do people not believe in Christ even in the face of overwhelming evidence? As a person resists the Holy Spirit his heart becomes calloused and his sensitivity to God diminished. The interaction of human will and divine judgement is examined in the lig

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Calloused Hearts of Unbelief

Fortifying the Foundations # 29

John 12:37-50[1]

2-29-04

This morning in our study of the gospel of John we stand at the end of Jesus’ public ministry. In chapters 13-17 Jesus is alone with his disciples before his arrest. He has much to say to them. There is much ahead for us in this book. But his public offer to Israel concludes here in Chapter 12:36. In our text John now reflects on Jesus’ message and Israel’s response to their Messiah.[2]

He begins with an expression of amazement. John 12:37 “Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous sings in their presence, they still would not believe in him.”

Have you ever been amazed at people’s capacity to explain away the works of God? To begin with, all of creation bears record of God’s existence and goodness. Every flower that blooms, every star that glitters, every bird that sings is a declaration that God is. A person has to work very hard to deny that witness. Men devise elaborate theories of evolution to try to explain it all away. A germ becomes an amoeba, an amoeba becomes a fish, a fish becomes a lizard, a lizard becomes a monkey, and a monkey becomes a man. Of course, even if a person could believe such unfounded theory, no reasonable explanation of first cause is ever given. Experience tells us that something has to come from something—but why all the effort to deny that it all came from God? (Oh, the amazing concoctions of unbelief)

Jesus came in demonstration and power. There were miracles over the laws of nature. Water was turned to wine. Storms were calmed as his command. The disciples watched him walk on water. There were healings—mighty healings. He spoke the word and the nobleman’s son was healed. He touched the eyes of the blind and they saw. The lame walked and the deaf heard. He even raised the dead. The resurrection of Lazarus was an undeniable miracle before many credible witnesses.

But the response is amazing. Instead of bowing to Christ and turning their lives over to him by far the vast majority chose not to believe in him. It is easy for us to think that if people could just see a big enough miracle—if church were just interesting enough and exciting enough—the world would turn their lives over to God. But one lesson Jesus’ ministry teaches us is this: miracles alone do not guarantee faith. Miracles are an opportunity for faith. A miracle from God is a message from God calling people to a decision—a decision to either acknowledge the hand of God and submit to Him/ or a decision to explain it away and to live independent of God.

This response of unbelief was exactly what the prophets said would happen. In Isaiah 53:1 the prophet cried out, “Lord, who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” The arm of the Lord refers to the power of God.[3] The sad answer to that question is that very few believed. There were the twelve. But one of them was a devil. There were some who did respond in faith. But even with all this demonstration of the power of God, very few believed. Why? The answer is that their hearts had become hardened. They had lost their tenderness toward God. They had become insensitive to what He was doing.

How does a heart become so hardened that it cannot believe? I want to suggest to you this morning that it happens because of resistance—resistance to the workings of the Holy Spirit.

There is something that happens to a man’s hands when he works at manual labor over a period of time. As his fingers rub against the handle of a hammer or the handle of a shovel they become calloused. His hands lose their sensitivity because the friction between his hands and other things create a callous. Our word callous comes from a Latin word meaning “hard skin”.[4]

These people in Jesus’ day had become hard hearted—a callous[5] had formed over their hearts. They were not sensitive or responsive to what Jesus was doing. The natural consequence of resisting God is spiritual numbness and insensitivity.

Life brings to each and every one of us events that can potentially harden us. There is a natural tenderness and innocence in our infancy. A baby is born soft and tender. But as a person goes through life he or she is exposed to the elements. Disappointments come. Injustices happen. And if we’re not careful the way we respond to all that is to simply harden our emotions and lose sensitivity.

Can we get through this life without becoming emotionally hardened? In the evenings my wife often rubs lotion on her hands. Her hands are softer than mine because she regularly moisturizes them with lotions. In the same way, the soul that regularly comes before God for the anointing of the Holy Spirit also remains soft and sensitive. It is the oil of the Holy Spirit applied to our hearts that keeps us from becoming hardened through life’s experiences.

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Mel Howton

commented on Apr 10, 2011

Richard...an excellent expostion of this passage...even better application. Thank you!

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