Even Jesus can’t make closed eyes see

Pastor Jeff Struecker

There’s a brand new commercial on tv. I watched it once, and in the middle of this commercial, I had to stop and ask my daughter Lydia who was sitting next to me, am I hearing right what this commercial is saying? 

Because the whole commercial is about eye drops that will make you see better, and you don’t need glasses. 

It’s a marketing masterpiece because every person in the commercial takes their glasses off and says, ” Wait, I can put eye drops in, and it will make my eyesight better.” And in the middle of the commercial, I asked Lydia am I hearing this correctly? Are they saying that these magic drops will make my eyesight better? I don’t even remember the product’s name because I’ve only seen the commercial once. It blew my mind because I thought you had to wear glasses to fix your eyesight, or at least you had to get surgery. I’m not exactly sure how I feel about these eye drops because it feels like snake oil inside that little bottle. Like what did they put inside that thing that can correct farsightedness?

As I was working on this scripture passage for this week, that commercial kept coming to my mind over and over again. And I started wondering, am I seeing what I’m reading in the Bible on this television commercial? Because we’ve been studying and seeing Jesus doing incredible miracles through the book of John.

He healed a crippled man for almost 40 years, and now this guy is walking through the city streets. He restored vision to a man born blind, and now this guy is walking through the streets, and by the time you get to chapter 12, he raised Lazarus back from the dead, and Lazarus is walking through the streets. And what you have in the Bible is people that get to this point, but they can’t believe what their own eyes see. 

I’m just going, to be honest with you. I struggled this week with this sermon, not because of the words of the Bible; I understood what they were saying. But the implications of those words challenged me. So I need you to focus, lean in, and pay close attention because your theology may hurt you or hurt somebody else if you don’t get this right. 

The Bible will deal with a tension today that some of the greatest minds in Christianity have grappled with for thousands of years. I have grappled with this for decades, and there’s no easy solution to this tension. And I found that when people take a cheap, easy solution to this tension that the Bible will deal with today, they inevitably come up with some very dangerous, very wrong theology. 

I struggle when you put ‘Jesus’ and ‘can’t’ in the same sentence. But what you see from the Bible today is that a group of people have their eyes closed so tightly that even Jesus can’t make them see. And what we’re going to see by the end of this sermon is the Bible holding these two things up at the same time equally true and their intention with one another. And I’m not going to try to fix the tension for you because the Bible doesn’t try to fix the tension for you. We’re going to see that God is absolutely sovereign over all affairs in the world. But we’re also going to see that men and women are responsible for seeing and believing. 

Now, we have two things that are true at the same time, and they’re going to be a little bit of a struggle for me and you. I think John is dealing with this question, why is it that these people who have seen miracles repeatedly still don’t believe? 

Even Jesus can’t make closed eyes see

This comes from John Chapter 12. We’re going to pick up in verse 37, and we’re going to deal with people that are spiritually blind because their eyes are clenched, so close that they cannot see what’s right in front of their face, and here’s the first thing that you’re going to see from the Bible today. 

You’re blind when you chose to ignore

There’s a group of people that don’t want to see, and because they don’t want to see, there’s nothing and no one that can make them recognize Jesus when he’s standing right in front of their face. Here’s the truth, you know somebody like this. This could be your neighbor, a co-worker, a classmate, a cousin, or a friend who you can see God working in very powerful ways to get their attention. It is painfully obvious to you, but they can’t see it, and you’re trying to help them see it.

You don’t understand how they could overlook God’s attempt to get their attention, but they can’t see it because their eyes are closed, and they choose to disregard what’s there in front of their face. That’s the group of people in John 12 starting in 37 who did not believe in Jesus even though he had performed numerous miracles in their presence. John will explain why, which may be traced back to the prophet Isaiah in the Old Testament.

This was to fulfill the words of Isaiah, the prophet who said “Lord, who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”

And then I think John’s mind was blown when they saw a man walking in the streets that they knew was crippled—now, walking. They saw a man who was born blind and can now see. They saw a man who was publicly in a tomb and alive four days later. They saw these things, but they couldn’t believe it. 

So John goes back to the old testament, and this is what John says about Isaiah. They were unable to believe because Isaiah also said that God has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, so they would not see with their eyes and understand with their hearts and turn. 

That is the biblical word repent and turn.  “I, God in heaven, would heal their soul if they would see and believe.” 

These crowds of people, specifically the religious leaders, have seen instead of admitting what they see, they cover their eyes up and choose not to believe what’s right in front of their faces. Other people can see it, and it’s painfully obvious to others that Jesus must be the son of God because nobody can restore sight to someone who was born blind; nobody can make a crippled walk. Nobody can call somebody by name out of the grave, and that dead man comes back out of the tomb alive.  

John 12: 37-40

Even though he had performed so many signs in their presence, they did not believe in him. This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet, who said: Lord, who has believed our message? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? This is why they were unable to believe, because Isaiah also said: He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, so that they would not see with their eyes or understand with their hearts, and turn, and I would heal them.

This must be the son of God! But a lot of people in that crowd couldn’t see it. And John is telling us that one of the reasons they couldn’t see it is because their hearts have become hardened. That is literally the bible word for a callous.  

I have calluses all over my feet. I have worked for decades for the calluses on my toes and my feet so that they don’t bruise and blister and bleed when I run long distances. I have worked hard so that when friction rubs against my skin, that friction becomes a blister. But when it kept rubbing against the skin long enough, that blister became callous. And now it is tough enough to handle whatever abuse I throw at it. 

John is using this word to describe the human soul, and he said some things are rubbing up against their soul, and they don’t like how it feels, so they try to avoid it, and their soul has become callous. When something touches the callous part of your skin, you know that something is there, but you don’t know it because it’s so hard that it can no longer feel. It doesn’t have the sensitivity to feel what’s against the skin. And that’s what John is saying is what’s happened to their soul. 

I wish we could say from the Bible today that the only reason why they don’t believe is that they place their hands over their eyes, and they’ve chosen not to see. But John claims that there was a point when they had covered their eyes with their hands for so long that God responded, “OK, I’ll cover your eyes. Now, you’re not going to see because when your heart was soft and when your heart was responsive, you chose not to see. Your heart has become so hard, and your soul has become so callous that you cannot see. And you’re going to spend eternity suffering the consequences of a soul that is so hardened.  

The Bible affirms two things to be equally true at the same time. God is absolutely in control, and God is absolutely sovereign.  

Jesus has already said my sheep, hear my voice and they come to me. They follow me. Jesus has already said in the book of John, that anyone who the father calls will follow me. But at the same time, the Bible is saying, a man or woman is responsible to hear the words and to respond. 

You can look as hard as you want. You will not find one spot in the Bible, not one verse that blames God for a hard calloused heart. That’s always the responsibility of a human being. And what we’re affirming is man’s responsibility and God’s sovereignty at the same time because this is what John is trying to teach us today. They’re blind because they started to clinch their eyes closed, and kept their eyes closed for so long, pretty soon God closed their eyes, and now they can’t see anymore. 

I hope you’re thinking God, let me be so soft, let my heart be so tender that it doesn’t start to get hard because I don’t ever want to get to the point that these people got to, so don’t ever let me get a hard soul, don’t ever let me develop a callous on my heart where I can’t hear from you, and I can’t feel you speaking to me.

You’re blind when you look in the wrong direction

The Bible starts to describe when these people choose not to see. But if you keep reading, you’re going to notice that part of the reason they’re blind. It’s because they’re actually looking in the wrong direction. 

I am absolutely convinced with every fiber of my being that Jesus is real and has radically changed my life. Still, I’m also convinced that there is an enemy for my soul, his name is Satan, that he is real and that he would do whatever he can to disrupt my faith. And I think Satan’s most effective tool is just to convince you that Jesus doesn’t matter if he can get you to focus over here instead of on Jesus. Then pretty soon you don’t care about Jesus anymore. 

It’s not that you don’t believe, it’s just that you don’t care, and I know you know somebody like that who believes that Jesus is real, but he doesn’t make any difference in their life whatsoever. That’s a person that satan has right in the palm of their hand. 

In verse 41, John describes what Isaiah is trying to teach us, and he says it this way, Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory, the glory that he’s referring to right here is Jesus. Isaiah, who lived 700 years before John, saw how glorious Jesus would be, saw his glory, and spoke about him. 

John 12: 41-43

Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke about him. Nevertheless, many did believe in him even among the rulers, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, so that they would not be banned from the synagogue. For they loved human praise more than praise from God.

Nevertheless, many did believe in Jesus even among the rulers but because of the Pharisees and these really powerful religious leaders, these pastors and priests were threatened by Jesus. They did not confess to Jesus so that they would not be banned from the synagogue, and here’s why:

They loved human praise more than they loved the glory of God. John is saying you have a group of people in the Bible that have seen the miracles, and they started to put two and two together, and they started to realize, wait for a second, he really must be the son of God, and they have private faith but not public faith. Maybe I’m speaking to somebody right now; who knows, “If I were to get vocal about what I believe, it would cost me my friendships. It’s going to cost me my marriage because I’m married to an absolute atheist who hates the things of God. It may cost me my job, and it may cost me my livelihood.”

There was a contract out on Jesus’s head, and this contract also included anybody who would publicly stand up and defend Jesus. If you defend Jesus, we will kick you out of the temple. We will essentially make you an outsider, and it will cost you your business. It may cost you your family, it’s going to cost you severely, and John is saying there’s a big difference between private faith and public faith. 

Do you know how Jesus says this? This is also a warning for all of us. He says, anyone who does not confess me before men, I will not confess before my Father in heaven. 

Some of us are not discipling anyone else. You claim to be a disciple of Jesus, yet, you’re not living his mission; you’re not fulfilling the great commission because you’re afraid of the consequences. It’s not that you don’t know what to say, but you’re scared of the consequences. And Jesus is calling people like that out in this passage.  

In fact, what he says next leaves no room for debate about private versus public faith. And I wish we lived in a world where if you were vocal about Jesus, it didn’t cost you anything; that world doesn’t exist anymore. 

We are now in a world where if you’re going to be vocal, it probably will hurt. And Jesus is saying, and I will restore for you tenfold a hundredfold what you lost here on Earth. And it’s waiting for you when you get to be with me in my Father’s kingdom.

The Bible is saying, the generative case of this word is they wanted the glory that comes from men more than they desired the glory that comes from God. And they got exactly what they wanted, they got praise, and they got glory from other men, and they got that instead of the praise or the glory that comes from God. 

So you’ve got a group of people that choose not to see. And you have a group of people that can’t see because they’re obviously looking in the wrong direction And then you have the final group of people that can’t see because they can’t look past the surface. All they can see in front of them is this itinerant Rabbi, this Jewish carpenter, and they cannot see he is God’s messiah, the son of the living God, and they can’t see because it’s a stumbling block to them. 

You’re blind when you can’t look past the surface

I really believe we use this phrase so much in the United States. Don’t judge a book by its cover, because we all know there’s no way what’s right in front of you can describe or explain the depths of what’s inside that book or the person that’s right in front of you. So, we judge a person by how they look on the outside without ever getting to know what’s going on inside. 

We judge a book by its cover. Take it from a published author. The reason they didn’t buy the book is that they hated the cover. And this is what John is describing as he wraps up this passage about spiritual blindness. Starting in verse 44, Jesus cried out. The one who believes in me, believes not in me but him who sent me? 

If you were here with our easter broadcast, there was a group of Greeks, who showed up at Jesus’s ministry and they went to Philip and they said, hey Philip, we want to see the messiah, we want you to introduce us to Jesus. And last week the Bible didn’t tell us whether or not they ever got a chance to see Jesus. Well, Jesus not only shows himself, but he raises the stakes today.

The one who believes in me believes not in me, but he believes in Him who sent me. Jesus is saying I’ll show you not just me, I will show you the Father because that’s who you really want to see. I have come as a light into the world so that everyone who believes in me will not remain in darkness. If anyone hears my words and does not keep them. I don’t judge him for I didn’t come to judge the world, but to save the world. The one who rejects me and does not receive my sayings has this has his judge.

Now, if you’re scratching your head because you were with us on Easter, you’re saying, wait for a second, Jeff, last week, you said that Jesus ended his public ministry with his words last week. And now the Bible is saying and he just cried out, Who is he crying out to? I thought he’s not doing a public ministry anymore. Well, Bible scholars are confused about exactly where this passage goes. Some of them believe this happened. John didn’t know where to put it. So we just tacked it on at the end before we get to chapter 13, which is Jesus, the long march to the cross. 

I tend to believe this is Jesus looking at the crowds, and he’s standing there. Jesus is reminding them, just because you hear my words and believe them, it’s not good enough. It’s the one who puts what you believe into practice. 

I say this all the time around here, you don’t really believe what you say you believe. You actually believe what you behave, no matter what comes out of your mouth, what your hands do, that’s really what you believe.

What Jesus is telling us just because you heard it and just because, in your heart, you said you believed it, that doesn’t mean that it’s real for you, what you do, that’s what’s real for you. 

John 12: 44-50

Jesus cried out, “The one who believes in me believes not in me, but in him who sent me. And the one who sees me sees him who sent me. I have come as light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me would not remain in darkness. If anyone hears my words and doesn’t keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. The one who rejects me and doesn’t receive my sayings has this as his judge: The word I have spoken will judge him on the last day. For I have not spoken on my own, but the Father himself who sent me has given me a command to say everything I have said. I know that his command is eternal life. So the things that I speak, I speak just as the Father has told me.”

And Jesus is speaking to this crowd and he’s saying, I came to give you eternal life. This is the reason why I’m here. And some of you heard it and intellectually understood it in your head. But in your heart, you didn’t accept it. And on the last day, my words will judge you. My words will condemn you because you heard my words and then you turned around and you lived anyway that you wanted to live yesterday.  50 years ago, on April 21, 1972, was the moon landing of Apollo 16 yesterday, the world celebrated the landing of a couple of more astronauts on the moon’s surface. Charlie Duke, who is now in his mid 80’s, is one of 12 men in history ever to step foot on the moon’s surface. He’s one of only four men left alive who can stand in front of you and tell you exactly what he saw with his own eyes while standing on the moon’s surface. And then I read this news article that just blew me away because it said how miserable and how unhappy, unfulfilled Charlie Duke was later in life. If you don’t recognize him because you haven’t been around that long, Charlie Duke was the original redneck. He was the guy who got a chance to ride ATVs on the moon’s surface. And while he was in the air force he flew through the ranks, he was on a skyrocket path. In fact, he retired from the U. S. Air Force as a general officer when he was in NASA. He achieved the absolute pinnacle. He retires from NASA and he decides, I’ve got all the fame that you could possibly want, one of the most famous people on the planet because of this. I’ve got all of the rank and all of the success that I want. But I don’t have enough money. So I’m going to go into business for myself. And he opens up a Coors beer distribution center and becomes famously wealthy and he’s miserable. He’s got all the money and all the fame. He’s got every trapping of success that humanity could ask for. His marriage is on the rocks, his children don’t like being around him and he’s miserable. And this weekend, the Washington Post printed an article about what happened to Charlie Duke eight years after landing on the moon’s surface when he pulled his car over onto the side of a highway in Texas. And God radically changed this man’s life. He and his wife. Their marriage was so strained that they went in desperation to a marriage conference that their church invited them to and his wife became a Christian at that marriage conference and she radically changed right in front of Charlie’s eyes. But it didn’t fix Charlie. It couldn’t fill that longing inside of him. And in Charlie’s own words, here’s why, his entire life, he had been brought up in the scientific community to believe in Atheism and a universe that’s billions of years old. 

And while he’s standing on the Earth’s surface, collecting more rocks and bringing back more specimens than any human being in history, he’s convinced that this universe is billions of years old until he pulls his car over on the side of a road in a highway in Texas. And God deals with Charlie about his soul. And that’s the moment that he realized there really is a God. He really is big enough that he can control the heavens and he can speak to this lonely soul here in the heart of New Brunswick Texas and Charlie Duke became a believer that day and he speaks to audiences all over the world today and he tells them who Jesus is.

There was a moment when Jesus became so real and part of his story is I couldn’t see him because I was blinded. I was blinded by science and I was focused on the math of evolution. I was blinded by success and I was just chasing everything that this world had to offer. And let’s be honest, I got it and it still left me wanting more. And then I watched what Jesus did to my wife and then he started to change me.

Charlie and his wife have a rock-solid marriage. This Washington Post article said charlie’s relationship with his children is radically different. Charlie is a different man today because he could see for the first time on the side of a highway in Texas, the God who created him, who loves him, and who sent his son Jesus to have a relationship with him. God did a miracle in that car on the side of the road in Texas and Charlie became a new man because he was born again from the inside out.