In the children’s fantasy Alice in Wonderland, Alice came to a junction in the road that led in different directions and asked the Cheshire Cat for advice.
“Cheshire-Puss — would you tell me please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where,” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
The Cat is right . .. it doesn’t matter which way we go if we don’t care where we end up . . .but most of us DO care where we end up. The decisions we make DO matter. We all come to forks in the road of our lives and make decisions that will impact the future . . .
- Whether to go on to school or not
- Whether or not to live by God’s values (how many marriages have begun too early due to an unplanned pregnancy?)
- What college to attend
- What profession to pursue
- What person to marry
- What to invest our money in
But there is no decision that has greater consequences than the one Jesus lays before us today.
This is the last of the recorded public discourses of Jesus in the Gospel of John. From here to the end of the book we see Jesus talking to His disciples. These final words to the people are designed to call them, and us, to attention.
Imagine a fork in a road. You cannot go straight, you must make a choice. This morning Jesus describes the two roads before us, He will tell us what we will find on these roads. And if you understand what Jesus is trying to get across to us you will know that “It does matter which way you choose.”
The Road of Rebellion
We read, ” Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him.”(12:37)
The First Thing That We See along the Road of Rebellion Are People Who Are Unmoved by the Supernatural.
Jesus tells a parable in Luke 16:19ff. about a rich man and a beggar named Lazarus (different from the Lazarus of our previous studies). These two men die. The rich man is thrown into Hell and Lazarus is placed at the bosom of Abraham. [He is reclining with the renowned Patriarch . . .which shows his new status. . . no longer an outcast]. The rich man pleads for Lazarus to be sent to cool his tongue. The rich man is told that this is impossible. Then the rich man asks that Lazarus be sent back to his five brothers to warn them of the peril awaiting them if they continue their course. Listen to Abraham’s answer,
“They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.” “No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ He said to him, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” [Luke 16:29-31]
People on the road to rebellion always have an explanation for anything that is remotely supernatural. They see it as “slight of hand,” “faulty education,” “chance,” “the results of heroic human effort.” One thing they know for sure . . . God had nothing to do with it.
We sometimes say, “If God would just appear with a booming voice today . . . people would listen.” No they wouldn’t. If they do not pay attention to God’s recorded testimony in the Bible . . .they will not be convinced by something supernatural. You can talk about your great experiences endlessly but it will not impress these people.
The Second Thing You Will See on the Road of Rebellion is People Who are Hardened in their Hearts
” This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet: “Lord, who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” For this reason they could not believe, because, as Isaiah says elsewhere: “He has blinded their eyes and deadened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, nor turn–and I would heal them.” Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus’ glory and spoke about him. [12:38-41]
These verses contain two quotes from the Prophet Isaiah. In Isaiah 53 the prophet wonders if His message is being heard by anyone. He is preaching faithfully but nothing seems to be happening. (Have you ever felt that way?)
John combines this quote with an account from earlier in Isaiah’s life . . . in fact, it was the account of His “call” in Isaiah 6. Isaiah sees a vision of the Lord. He volunteers to serve the Lord and then is told to, “Go and tell this people: ‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’ Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.” [Isaiah 6:9,10]
Now isn’t that an interesting ordination message? [I know many a Pastor or Christian teacher who seem intent to make peoples ears dull and close their eyes. In fact, some of you are trying to oblige me!]
I suspect you recoil when you hear these words. Surely God doesn’t mean this. I think He does.
In the record of Pharoah in the book of Exodus Moses is told before he ever goes to see Pharoah for the first time “I will harden his [Pharoah’s] heart so that he will not let the people go.” (Exodus 4:21). We read this and our immediate response is, “Hey, that’s not fair!” But the apostle Paul addresses that very question when he says,
“God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden. One of you will say to me: ‘then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?’ But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? ‘Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’ Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?” [Romans 9:18-21]
Paul continues his teaching then with a discussion about how God has the right to delay judgment on those who deserve it in order that He might use them for His purpose.
Here’s the point: Pharoah deserved judgment the moment he stood against God. Pharoah did not stand against God the first time he refused Moses. He stood against God the moment he placed himself as God before the people. He stood against God when he enslaved God’s people. God had heard the prayers of the Jews. Pharoah would get what was coming to him . . . .but not until God had used Pharoah to demonstrate His own power and glory in the Exodus. To do this, God made Pharoah’s heart calloused so that he would not be moved by the plagues sent to him.
I know what you are thinking, “This is getting way too theological!” I know, let me show you why this is important.
When I, a white collar worker do some manual labor (go ahead . . . use your imagination) do you know what happens to me? I get blisters on my hands. They are not used to that strain. But if I (perish the thought) were to do this kind of work day in and day out, what would happen? I would get callouses. My hands would toughen up so that they could bear the strain of the labor.
A similar thing happens to the human heart when we persist in sin. At first our consciences cry out to us to stop. As we continue to rebel our hearts become harder and the conscience seems to quiet to a whisper until we can no longer hear it at all. This is the way I picture the deadening of the heart. Callouses are good for the hands . . . .deadly for the heart.
The Bible tells us that God sometimes reaches a point where he lets people go in their sinfulness. Is He unjust to do so? Not at all. Is it unfair to do so? Nope. God is giving the people what they want . . . .their freedom. And in their foolish rebellion they no longer are able to respond.
People start off REFUSING to respond to the Lord. If they persist they will reach a point of being UNABLE to respond to the Lord.
Does this happen to everyone who persists in unbelief? I don’t know. God was very patient with Paul. Is there a certain point at which God determines to harden someone? I don’t know that either. I suspect God doesn’t tell us where the line is because if we knew where it was we would walk as close to that line as we could.
Jesus describes these people as those walking in darkness. They do not see. They cannot see the things of God . . . .the lights are turned off in their soul.
Have you met some of these folks? Let me tell you: the road to destruction is lined with people just like this. They are on the road to Hell and don’t care at all.
But, There Is Also a Third Thing You Will See on the Road of Rebellion . . . You Will See Those Who View “Faith” in Purely Academic Terms.
Note these words, “Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not confess their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue for they loved praise from men more than praise from God.”
The question I ask is this: were these leaders considered to be TRUE believers at this time? There are two schools of thought:
- There are those who believe we are “redeemed” when we come to assent to a certain body of truth. In other words when we are persuaded that Jesus was God in human form and came to give His life for us. These people would say these leaders were genuine followers but were not following Christ as Lord.
- The other school (which I belong to) believes redemption comes to us when we not only assent to the truth of the Gospel message of grace . . . . but when we entrust ourselves to the one who saves. I don’t think these men were true believers . . . .some may have become true believers . . .but they weren’t there yet.
These men talked a good game but they had no commitment to Christ. They liked Him but they were not willing to be publically counted among his followers. Don’t you know many like that today.
Just this week I took an informal survey at our high school. It was not scientific, there was certainly room for some misinterpretation of the questions but here are some of the things I’ve learned so far.
Of the 80 surveys returned only 9 of them (11%) had negative feelings about the church. They thought the church was filled with hypocrites, was unloving, boring and irrelevant. I was not surprised that 5 of those said they made moral decisions based on whatever gets them what they want. 2 others said they make their decisions based on what the law says and the other 2 say they base their decisions on the values of their parents. Six of these nine (2/3) believe sex outside of marriage is fine. Two of them admit to drug use. These were not surprising statistics to me.
Of the 71 people that felt positive about the church . . .that it was a source of strength and instruction, it has “been there” when needed, the preaching is usually helpful and instructive . . . 19 of those (27%) said they make their moral choices based on the basis of whatever gets them what they want or on what they perceive to be the easiest course. These men and woman claim to be “attracted” by the Church but one fourth of them do not let their faith influence their lives.
Of these 71 who felt positive about the church . . . 43% (32) said they think sex outside of marriage is acceptable (in spite of the Bible’s command to the contrary). 13% (9) admitted to current drug use. 28% said they consider the homosexual lifestyle to be acceptable in spite of Biblical teaching to the contrary! These statistics did surprise me. These are the “religious” kids.
Like the leaders in Jesus’ time these people may “believe” but their belief is merely academic. There are lots of people in the world today who claim to be religious . . .but remember, the road to hell is lined with people who have religious knowledge. The road to Hell will be lined with people who have their church membership some place.
Fourthly, These People are all Headed to the Same Destination
As for the person who hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge him. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save it. There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day.
These people on the road of rebellion are all marching toward the same end . . . they are headed to eternal judgment. The words they ignore will be the very words “played back” and will condemn them. The just judge will show that their condemnation is warranted on the basis of the things they did and said. They are all walking to join the Rich Man in the place or torment.
The Road of Faith
The road of faith is lined with people who have gone from the darkness to the light.
When we meet someone who is a little slow in their response we might say they are, “a few bricks short of a full load” or “their elevator doesn’t go all the way to the top” or “the lights are on but no one is home”. You get the idea. My favorite is: “The lights are turned on but a number of the bulbs are burned out.”
The person on the road of faith is one who has all the lights on and the bulbs are all in perfect working order. One of the works that God’s Spirit does in our life is ILLUMINE us. He turns on the lights of our soul. The person who follows Christ
- sees their sinfulness and the subsequent need for grace.
- sees that Jesus is God and He speaks the words of the Father
- understands the joy of being friends with God.
- sees the beauty of life in the midst of the gloom of sin.
These people are finding themselves constantly being made more “soft” and “sensitive” to the whispers of God’s Spirit. They are learning to listen to His voice. And when they hear. . . they are willing to obey. Where once there were callouses, now is softness.
This is why the true believer finds more and more sin to weed out of his life. They begin to change and peel layer after layer of rebellion away. As they become more sensitive to God’s Spirit they become more aware of the things that need to change in their lives.
The Person on the Road of Faith Is Willing to Follow the Path of Christ Even Though the World Is Walking in the Opposite Direction.
The true follower is one who IS willing to take a stand for Christ. The people on this road do not do all things perfectly . . . but they ARE seeking to honor Christ with their lives. They hear the praise of men but are more intent on hearing the “Well Done” of the Father. These people are not trusting in their own power . . . . they trust God’s Holy Spirit at work in them.
Theologian, Soren Kierkegaard says, “the true believer is the one who is willing to bet their lives on the God in Jesus.” I agree.
On this road you will find people who are willing to give of themselves to serve others. They are people who are willing to care for those the world has cast away. There are those willing to love the ones the world has given up on. You will find folks who are willing to endure great hardship in the hope of bringing honor to their Lord. You will find people who are willing to risk their jobs and even their lives for the cause of being faithful to the one who loved them with His enduring love.
The People on the Road of Faith Are Heading to Eternal Life
Jesus said, ” I know that his command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say.” [v.50] The people who are willing to take Jesus Christ at His Word. Those that are willing to rely on Him alone for their eternal life and for guidance in their present life are those headed to an eternal home.
These are the folks who will rest in the bosom of Abraham. These are the ones who will see God smile. These are the folks who will begin life, not death, when they leave this world. These are the folks who will receive commendation rather than condemnation.
I have spent a dis-proportionate time today talking about the road of rebellion. I did so for a reason. Many of us are used to walking on the road to faith. At times it is tempting for us to feel like we are missing something . . . like maybe we made a wrong turn. I took time to describe the other road because I want you to see clearly where it leads so you can appreciate the road you walk on.
I also want to encourage you. God called Isaiah to proclaim the message and at times Isaiah wondered if he was doing any good because no one seemed to be responding. Jesus ministered to many but few in comparison responded. It is easy to get discouraged as we share His message with others. We will meet many who are hardened along the way . . . .it does not mean that you are a failure.
God said many (most?) would not respond . . . but Isaiah was to keep preaching. God has no desire that you lift your hands in despair and say, “What’s the use?” It is not for you to evaluate whether or not a person’s heart is hardened. It is your job to proclaim the truth so that those who can respond will.
Keep preaching! Keep telling others the truth . . . even when it seems like no one is listening. You never know when a Paul, a Nicodemus, or someone else you talk to will hear and believe. Isaiah’s words may have felt like they were a waste of time. Think how God has used those words in your life. You may feel like you are wasting your time with the people at work, or school, or in your family. But if you are faithful, you will be stunned by what God can do through you. Hang in there!
This text is also a warning. There are some of you who have resisted the Lord for a long time. You are playing at religion. Beware, my friend, you don’t know when God will give that command, “Enough!”. It may be that you WILL not follow Him today. But be careful . . . you may be very close to that time when you CANNOT follow Him. Is your soul covered with a callous? Is it getting easier and easier to sin without feeling guilty? Beware, you are on a slippery path!
We Christians make a mistake when we talk about God’s infinite mercy. God’s mercy IS NOT infinite. It will extend forever to His children but it will not be extended forever to those who will not follow Him. How much time do you have left? How many more opportunities will you have to turn and follow Him?
If you see today that you are walking down the wrong road . . . .turn around immediately! Cry out for the Lord’s help. Tell Him your desire to walk with Him. And even though you are in the midst of darkness . . . take His hand , follow Him . . . .He will lead you to the light.
Where are you going? Which road will you choose? Believe me, please, the road you choose DOES make a difference.