But though he had done so many miracles before them, yet they believed not on him: that the saying of Esaias the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spake, Lord, who hath believed our report? and to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed? Therefore they could not believe, because that Esaias 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. These things said Esaias, when he saw his glory, and spake of him. Nevertheless among the chief rulers also many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue: For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.
The first part of this passage suggests truth that is exceedingly solemn, something we are very apt to forget. It reminds us that God’s Word has a softening or hardening effect upon the souls of those who hear it. It has been well said that just as the same sun softens the wax and hardens the clay, so the same gospel message may soften the heart of one and bring him to repentance and to definite faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, or it may harden the heart of another and put him into that condition of soul where he will never yield or break down before God and receive Christ, but will die in his sins and be banished from the presence of God for all eternity. It is not a question of the purpose of God nor even of the method in which the truth is presented. It is not that God has designed that some men should accept it while others reject it, that some should receive it while others refuse, that some be softened and others hardened, but it is a question of the individual’s own attitude toward that truth.
When God spoke to Israel of old the words quoted here, “[Lord], who hath believed our report? and to whom hath the arm of the LORD been revealed?” (Isa_53:1; Joh_12:38). He drew their attention to the fact that He had given them clear instruction concerning the wickedness of idolatry. He had pleaded with them to give Him the first place in their hearts as the one true and living God. They turned away. He sent His prophets to call them back, but the testimony was spurned, and the time came when the message had no effect upon their consciences at all. So God gave them up to hardness of heart because they themselves preferred it. They chose to disobey God. You have something like that in 2 Thessalonians 2 where we have that awful picture of the man of sin yet to arise in this world in the dark days of the Tribulation just ahead of us, which may be much nearer than any of us realize and which, however, cannot break upon the world until the church of God has been taken up. We read of people then who will be left behind in this scene. Some who have heard the gospel over and over again but only to refuse it. And we are told that, “For this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie [that is, the lie of the Antichrist]: that they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2Th_2:11-12).
God s heart goes out to all men everywhere. He does not desire the death of the sinner but that all should turn to Him and live. He cries, “Turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?” (Eze_33:11). But if men refuse to heed His word they will be given up to hardness of heart. The conscience, stirred by the Word, may respond at first and one may feel in his very soul that he should yield to Christ, but it is possible to stifle the voice of conscience, to refuse to heed, until at last conscience no longer speaks but becomes seared as with a hot iron and men are hardened in their sins and die without hope.
Our Lord Jesus Christ had been ministering in grace for about three-and-a-half wonderful years, and had given evidence through signs and wonders that He wrought and the marvelous message He brought to man that He was the Messiah and Redeemer of Israel. But we read though He had done so many miracles, yet they believed not on Him. Miracles alone will never convince if people refuse the Word. No signs, no wonders, no miracles, will ever reach their consciences if they are determined to go on in their sins and refuse to repent.
Abraham reminded “a certain rich man who died and was buried” of this, when he said of his still-living brothers: “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead” (Luk_16:31).
What a solemn responsibility that puts upon every one of us who hear the Word of God as recorded here in His blessed Book. If men reject this testimony, signs and wonders and miracles will not convince them. They become hardened in their sins. These people refused to hear the word Jesus brought, and so the saying of Isaiah was fulfilled when he cried out, “Who hath believed our report? and to whom hath the arm of the LORD been revealed?” (Isa_53:1). He was implying that the great majority would reject the testimony of Jesus when He came, and they did. Only a little group received Him. And today that question still comes to us, “Who hath believed, and to whom is the arm of the LORD revealed?” Have you believed, dear friend? Have you opened your heart to the Word of God? Has His mighty saving power been revealed to you? Do you know Him as the One who has delivered you from going down to the pit and has given you a place in Christ, free from all condemnation? If you spurn the Word, God has no other message for you.
Thus we read that they could not believe because “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” (Joh_12:40). Was it that God was not willing that they should be converted? Not at all. He yearned for their conversion. He entreated them to return to Himself, but they refused the message and hardened their own hearts against Him. God said, “Very well, you can remain hardened in your sins,” and the day came when the Word made no more impression on them.
Years ago, I was talking to a little group of boys and girls in a Sunday school in San Francisco. I was trying to illustrate like this, “How sad to know, dear girls and boys, each time you say ‘No’ to the Lord Jesus, your heart gets a little harder. If you keep on saying ‘No,’ the heart gets harder and harder and harder until by-and-by God calls it a heart of stone. You no longer care about the things of God, but persist in spurning His grace. You will, therefore, die in your sins.” So I was pleading with those boys and girls to give their hearts to Jesus in their early days.
There was one dear little tot there, only five years old (and we sometimes think these little folk take nothing in), whose eyes were fastened on me as I spoke. Her mother brought her to Sunday school and then took her home, and on the way home she had not a word to say. She was thinking of her own dear father who never went to church or Sunday school, who never went to hear the Word of God. When she got to the house, there sat the father smoking his cigar with the Sunday paper spread around him. The little girl darted in ahead of her mother and up into her father’s arms she leapt, and said, “Daddy, Daddy, feel your heart! Is it getting like stone?” He said, “What are you talking about?” She said, “Well, the man at Sunday school said if you say ‘No’ to Jesus, you are going to get a stone in your stomach! Have you got a stone there? Oh, Daddy, I hope you haven’t, for if you have, you can’t be saved.” The father turned to her mother and said angrily, “What have they been telling this child, anyway?” Then the mother explained a little more fully. When he saw the tears in the wife’s eyes and felt the arms of his little girl about his neck, and heard her saying, “Oh, Daddy, don’t go on saying ‘No’ to Jesus,” he looked up and said, “Well, I think I had better settle this thing.” He got down on his knees and yielded his life to Christ. What a mercy he came in time! What a solemn thing it is to say “No” to the voice of the Lord Jesus Christ.
That explains the strong delusion of the last days, and why men and women are given up to hardness of heart. They turn away from God, and at last the time comes when God says, “[Very well], Ephraim is joined to his idols: let him alone” (Hos_4:17). God grant that this may not be true of any to whom these pages come. If you are still in your sins and you hear the voice of Jesus calling today, will you not bow before Him in repentance and faith and tell Him that at last you yield your heart to Him and come to Him in all your sin and need, that you will trust Him as your Redeemer?
Isaiah gave this special word of warning, we are told, when he “saw His glory.” “These things said Esaias, when he saw his glory, and spake of him” (Joh_12:41). When was that? Well, you remember the incident recorded in the sixth chapter of Isaiah, when he said, “In the year that King Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory” (Isa_6:1-3). Do you realize who it was whom the seraphim adored? The Holy Spirit says, “[Isaiah] saw his glory and spake of him.” Our Lord Jesus Christ was with the Father there in brightest glory. He who was yet to come in to this earth to save sinners was the object of angelic adoration, and Isaiah looked on through the ages and saw Him coming down to die on Calvary’s cross. He cried, “He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed” (Isa_53:5).
Isaiah saw Him in faith, and that blessed One stood in the midst of Israel and His own people did not recognize Him. “He came unto his own, and his own received him not” (Joh_1:11). What about you? Have you received Him? Has the message gone in one ear and out of the other? Or has it bowed your heart in repentance before Him? The trouble is, you know, many do believe, but they do not have the courage to come right out and confess their faith.
We read in Joh_12:42-43, “Nevertheless among the chief rulers also many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue: for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.” What a foolish thing! Men’s praises will pass away. What difference does it make whether men praise or not if one does not have the approval of God? Men cannot do anything for you along spiritual lines. How foolish for people to be concerned as to what others think about it, and yet how many people have refrained from taking a definite step for Christ because the thought comes of some friend or companion, some pal whose good will they esteem. They say, “Oh, I am not prepared to commit myself definitely. What will this one or that one think?”
I remember when I was a little boy how my mother would draw me to her knee and speak to me so solemnly of the importance of trusting the Lord Jesus Christ as my Savior. I would say, “Well, mamma, I would like to do it, but the boys will all laugh at me.” Mother used to say, “Harry, remember, they may laugh you into hell, but they can never laugh you out of it.” And oh, how that used to go home to me, and it stayed with me all through the years! Yes, men may sneer and ridicule and not understand us as we come out for Christ, but after all, His is the only approval worth having.
Long years ago I read of a conflict that took place between two Indian Rajahs. The one defeated the other and took captive the son of his rival, and the day he was to return to his own palace he prepared to march into the city in triumph. There was a great procession of elephants, cavalry, infantry, and a long line of captives. Among them was the young prince. He was told that he was to walk barefooted and bareheaded. He was indignant and said, “What! Go in like that! What will the people think? What kind of faces will they make?” The rajah said, “You haven’t heard all yet. You shall carry a bowl of milk in your hand, and if you spill so much as a drop, you will lose your head at the close of the procession.” In a few minutes they had brought that bowl of milk, and two guards walked with him, one on either side, and the procession started to move. On and on they went, for perhaps a mile or more, into the presence of the rajah. And that young prince walked along, holding the bowl of milk. It seemed as though he would never finish without spilling some of it, but he completed the ordeal safely. Finally, he stood before the rajah, “Well, Sir Prince, what kind of faces did the people make?” He looked up and said, “Your majesty, I did not see the faces of the people. I saw only my life, which I held in my hands, and I knew one false step would make me lose my life.”
These people of old loved the praise of men more than the praise of God, and because of that they did not have courage enough to confess the Lord Jesus Christ before their fellows. They knew He was the Sent One of the Father. They knew He was the Shepherd of Israel, Redeemer of sinful men, but the good opinion of their companions meant more to them than the favor of God. How is it with you today? You remember the Word says, “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved” (Rom_10:9). And again, our Lord Jesus has said, “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” (Mat_10:32-33).
If you do believe in your heart that God gave Jesus for you, if you have trusted Him, oh, then, do not hesitate to confess Him openly before men. I believe a great many secret believers are without the peace they might have because they do not confess Christ openly. You say, “Do you think there really are secret believers?” Yes, the Word tells us that Joseph of Arimathea was one, but oh, how much he lost! He came at the last and offered his new tomb that they might bury the body of the Son of God there. Nicodemus was a secret believer. He once he tried to speak out but did not say definitely, “He is my Lord and Savior.” But he sent a hundred pounds of spices for the burial of the body of the Lord Jesus, and thus identified himself with the Christ who had died. But how much more blessing would he have enjoyed if he had come right out with it while Jesus lived! I believe that many people today, deep in their hearts, believe in Christ and in their homes tell Him they love and trust Him, but they are not honoring Him by making confession before men. They do not have the joy and victory in their lives that they might have if they came out openly and let others know.