Although he had performed so many signs in their presence, they did not believe in him. This was to fulfil the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah: “Lord, who has believed our message, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” And so they could not believe, because Isaiah also said, “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, so that they might not look with their eyes, and understand with their heart and turn and I would heal them.” Isaiah said this because he saw his glory and spoke about him. Nevertheless many, even of the authorities, believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they did not confess it, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved human glory more than the glory that comes from God.Then Jesus cried aloud: “Whoever believes in me believes not in me but in him who sent me. And whoever sees me sees him who sent me. I have come as light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me should not remain in the darkness. I do not judge anyone who hears my words and does not keep them, for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world. The one who rejects me and does not receive my word has a judge; on the last day the word that I have spoken will serve as judge, for I have not spoken on my own, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment about what to say and what to speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I speak, therefore, I speak just as the Father has told me.”
The first part of this passage is quite troubling. John takes two quotes from Isaiah; it is the second that is troublesome: Isaiah 6:9-10. Isaiah heard to voice of the Lord saying to him, ‘… make the mind of this people dull, stop their ears and shut their eyes …’ This apparent demand from God for Isaiah to prevent the people from hearing the word of God was a recognition of what was going on, not an act of retaliation; some people would just not listen and understand. Isaiah seemed to be using shock tactics to get them to ‘wake up.’In the rest of the passage Jesus is reflecting the same issue many years later – it was ever thus! Interestingly, Jesus introduces a third category to the believers and unbelievers – those who are closet believers; they understood the implications of openly accepting Christ: rejection from the synagogue and Jewish society which would severely restrict their access to friends, family and wealth creation. Jesus neither condemns the unbelievers nor the closet believers but warns them that they will not escape judgement forever.
We are not all gifted with the courage of the apostles (and don’t forget even Peter the ‘rock’ stumbled). I have often wondered what I would do under those circumstances. My first father-in-law (who died before I met his daughter) was a conscientious objector, a steadfast Congregationalist and a staunch CND supporter. I remember some of the stories of the hate, prejudice and ostracism he and his wife ‘enjoyed’ in their west country village during WW2: this was not an easy option, but one which resonates with the treatment the OT Jews would have received had they admitted their faith in Jesus.
Forgiving Father, we give thanks to you for all your faithful and courageous disciples; those who fear God more than they fear humankind. Lord, we pray that you will continue to support, guide and inspire those who love you so much that they put themselves into positions of danger by not denying you. Almighty and omnipotent saviour we ask that you will gives us all the courage and stamina needed when we are put to the test in your name. Amen.
Alan Yates is the Moderator of General Assembly 2016 to 2018.