[Nov 23]--A Grand and Glorious Mystery

John 12:37-43

Why does someone receive Christ as Lord, while another rejects him? We can easily find examples of parents with multiple children who provide a test case. They’re the same parents, with the same parenting style, the same home environment, and the same basic genetics. Their kids attend the same church as children. But one of the children grows up to be a fervent follower of Jesus, while the other turns his back on it and becomes a reprobate.

Theologians from different backgrounds have different answers to this question. Some of them point to certain verses which seem to indicate that God has chosen—from before the beginning of time—who’s going to respond to his offer of salvation, and those who aren’t. If you believe in Jesus, then it’s because he chose you. If you don’t, then it’s because he didn’t choose you. Others point to other verses that seem to indicate that the ultimate decision to receive or reject Christ rests with that person.

Quite frankly, I don’t think that either side has the whole story. The reason the debate hasn’t been settled for so long is because, as I stated before, both sides have verses which seem to back them up. Here’s what the Bible clearly teaches: God is sovereign, and each individual person is responsible for his/her own decision. And the Scriptures make no attempt to logically reconcile those seemingly contradictory statements.

So how I handle this? On what side do I come down?

I don’t. I simply say what the Bible says: God is sovereign, and humanity is responsible for its choices. How exactly his sovereignty and our decision-making process work together is a mystery which we’re not supposed to understand in this life, apparently.

Why do I bring this up, and what does it have to do with today’s passage and the title for today’s reading?

In today’s Scripture reading, we see the two halves of this mystery. As he often did, John provided a summary of how different people responded to Jesus. Their responses ranged from violent hatred and rejection to wholehearted acceptance and belief and submission. Most people were somewhere in between: They respected him and heard inspiring things about him, but they weren’t ready to make a full commitment.

And why did the people who rejected him reject him? Well, from God’s eternal purposes, John quoted from the prophet Isaiah, who said that the Lord had blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts. Otherwise, they would turn to the Lord and he would heal them.

But some—even among the religious leadership—believed in him. They knew he was the Messiah. But they weren’t ready to make a public acknowledgement of this. And why not? Because they made a conscious choice to value the praise of men over the praise of God. No mention of any Grand Divine Plan. They made a decision, and John’s condemnation of them makes it clear what the Lord thought of this. He would hold them to account. They wanted a pat on the back, the praise of men. And in doing so they forfeited something much more precious: God’s approval.

No matter what we might think about God’s eternal plan, what he’s doing behind the scenes, it doesn’t really matter. Quit worrying about it. Be concerned with what you know that God wants you to do. Make choices based on what’s eternal, not on what’s going to be dust and ashes someday. Once again, I’m going to repeat my favorite aphorism: No one in the history of mankind ever did things God’s way who regretted it in the end.

Father God, your ways are so far above my ways, and your thoughts are so far above my thoughts. How’s about I leave you to your job—running the universe, and I do my job—doing what you tell me to do? By your grace, I’ll do it.

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