Israel and You: A Good Example or a Horrible Warning

The Gospel Of John: The Visible Image, Volume 4

"A man who hardens his neck after much reproof will suddenly be broken beyond remedy." (Proverbs 29:1) Is your heart hardened toward the truth of the gospel, or do you receive it with gladness? Jesus said "He who rejects Me and does not receive My sayings, has one who judges him; the word I spoke is what will judge him at the last day." (John 12:48) Will you be a good example or a horrible warning?

Todd WagnerOct 28, 2012John 12:35-50; Isaiah 53:1-12; Isaiah 6:1-13; Romans 1:18-32; John 12:35-38; Acts 7:51-52; Isaiah 6:10

Let me pray for us. We are going to take a look this morning at one of the saddest texts in the Bible. It's very instructive. We're going to talk about the hardening of the Jewish heart, specifically as a national people; how there's a veil, there's a blindness. In all of the eyes of the unbelieving, the Scripture says, the god of this world has blinded the minds of them with the offer of life somewhere apart from God by telling them that God is not good, his Word is not to be trusted, his judgment is not that big of a deal, but to the Jews, specifically, Jesus is not the Messiah.

You're going to see that the ultimate lie from the Enemy is that Jesus is not the way, the truth, and the life. While every unbeliever is under that veil, there is something uniquely happening right now with the Jewish people that they cannot see, as a rule, as a partial hardening, Paul says in Romans.

There's still individual belief. There are still some of Jewish descent who are coming to be what some would call a completed Jew, a full Jew, in all the expectation of the Old Testament, who have accepted Christ as their Messiah, but as a rule, the large majority of the Jewish people have an inability to recognize, if you will, the rejected brother who has been exalted to a place where he can offer them life and forgiveness. They have a hard time recognizing that is the one they have betrayed and left.

Now, there is going to be application for all of us in that. There's an assignment for all of us in that. There is a humbling truth for all of us in that, and we're going to learn it today. This is a very sobering text. What is true of the people God had called to be a light to the world, because they chose not to be a good example, if you will, you're going to see them as a horrible warning to you and me that we should reckon who this Jesus is and embrace him and respond to him.

There's going to be a day, the Scripture teaches, that that veil is going to be removed, and there is going to be a great awakening within the Jewish race. I think at that time you'll see it's going to be really hard for Gentiles to believe, as a rule. There's a great harvest happening right now among the non-Jew. Some Jews, but largely non-Jew, but that's going to be flipped again. So this is the season, if you will. As it says in Psalm 32, this is the time for you to respond before the flood of great waters comes. So there is a great lesson for us in this very sobering text today. Let me pray.

Father, would you help us have hearts that are tender, have ears that can receive truth about this Jesus whom we have seen declared in the context of history and, recently, through the gospel of John? I pray that we would see him, that we might hear his word of salvation and that our hearts might be changed.

We pray for those…Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female, barbarian and Scythian…who do not yet know where peace comes from, that you would use us who have recognized him by grace to be a means through which the greatness of who he is would be declared to them, that they might be able to see, that they might have their hearts healed, that they might hear the truth of the gospel and the love of Christ provided by you in him for all who believe. Would you graciously lead us to you today? For those of us who have come, would you send us with greater conviction, compassion, and kindness than ever before? In Christ's name, amen.

Well, John 12. In the original autographs, the original writings of Scripture, and in many of the early manuscripts, probably for about the first 1,200 years, there's really no reference to chapter or verse in the Bible. Those are inserted by men so in settings like this I can tell you to turn to John 12. Some of those breaks are maybe a little bit more unfortunate than others.

Right there in John 12:36, there is a tag on the end of it. Some scholars would call it 12:36b. There's this statement that "Jesus went away and hid himself from them." That is probably a verse that ought to stand alone. So, if you would, just scratch that out and mark it on your own. Correct your whole Bible and make it consistent with my recommendation. No, we're not going to change any words, but all I'm telling you is that idea really sets up the rest of what happens right here.

John 12 covers a little less than a week. John 13-20 cover three days, 48 hours of which are Jesus in the tomb, and then the women running to the tomb that next morning, that Easter morning, that first day of the week, and seeing that the tomb is empty. John 13-20 is almost a day, with just a very quick glance ahead to that third day. John spent the first 11 chapters talking about three years.

What he's going to do at the very end of John 12 is he's going to summarize. If you don't ever have a chance to read to somebody John 1-12 up through verse 36, and you just have a second, then you can take them to John's executive summary in John 12. Really, John 12:36-43 is John's, and then in verses 44-50, John inserts another executive summary, this time Jesus'. So, we have two different summations of the first three years of the ministry of Christ.

What you're going to find out is at the end of this time, if you will, the light goes off. It's like Poof! Darkness has come on all those who have rejected the three years of revelation and evidences and teaching that Christ has given. What you have in John 13 is those who have believed that Jesus is the Light are invited now into a little room where they're going to be taught a little bit more, but their light is not going to fully come on until Acts 2.

Then you're going to hear the fulfillment of what Jesus basically says in Matthew 5:14, which is, "You are the light of the world, a city on a hill which will not be hidden," and you're going to watch that light get brighter and brighter and brighter and brighter through the church until such a day as he removes the church and reconstitutes his work with Israel. That is the rest of your Bible.

But the light is about to go out, so you'd better lock in, and you'd better say, "I want to go into the upper room. I want more enlightenment. I believe Jesus is who he says he is," because if you reject him, in effect, at this moment, if you're a Jew in that historical narrative, the consequences are immense. They go on to this day.

John is going to go back and grab one very famous text. It's in Isaiah 6. I'm going to take you there and show you where it talks about how God hardened the nation of Israel, specifically the 10 tribes to the north at the end of the life of King Uzziah. The nation was continuing to worship false gods and practice false ideas of where righteousness and life could come from, and God, who sent many prophets and many different men to call them back to repentance, finally said, "That's enough."

Let me just say this to you. It is true that there is often a second chance, but it is also true that there is always a last chance. I have no idea when your last chance is going to be, but you're going to get one. Our days are numbered. We don't know when it's going to be. You need to hear this.

There is a very real, horrifying possibility that you can refuse to be a good example that humbles yourself before God, recognizes his righteousness, sees him as the King of Glory that you could never meet, and if you don't throw yourself before him and ask for mercy and receive his provision, God is going to then raise you up as a horrible warning, and your life is going to be one of those lives that we would keep looking at and go, "What's it going to take for that guy to get it?"

The truth is you're not going to get it. God is going to, in a sense, strengthen your rebellion. He's going to allow you to never bend. Pharaoh is a picture of this. Pharaoh rejected God, ignored God, suppressed the truth about God, and then it says in the Scripture that God said, "Okay." It says God hardened his heart. A fair translation is God strengthened his heart.

In an overwhelming way, Pharaoh was going to be an instrument of a horrible warning of what can happen if you keep stiffening your neck. A verse I quote to my kids all the time, a verse the Holy Spirit quotes to me all the time. "Wagner, Proverbs 29:1: 'He who hardens his neck after much reproof will suddenly be broken without remedy.'"

Hear me on this. I don't know if any of you are a Pharaoh. I'll never believe I've met a Pharaoh, somebody whose fate is sealed, in effect. You might even say it's 1 John 5:16, if you want a New Testament reference; somebody who has a sin leading unto death, and I would just say, a permanent living death that will lead to what Hebrews 9:27 says, which is, "It's appointed for man to die once, and after this comes judgment."

You can see in Pharaoh in Exodus 9, in Israel in Isaiah 6, Israel in John 12, and, I think, people today in 1 John 5 that it is possible that you can become a person living with no chance to repent. Now, I'll never believe it's you. I'm going to sow truth into your heart, and with kindness and love and boldness, without fear or trepidation, I'm going to do all I can to have you come to your senses, but let me just say this to you.

To quote an English crime novelist… She's the one who said it. She wrote about one of her characters in one of her books, "If you can't be a good example, then you will serve as a horrible warning." Frankly, you're going to find at the end of time there's this event where God removes the church, where he takes away the restrainers who speak of good and talk of hope and truth and light. I think it's the Holy Spirit who indwells his people.

There's going to be a day when he removes that church, that God is going to reconstitute his work with Israel. The veil is going to be removed, but there are going to be judgments that fall on the earth. Billions of people are going to die. The sun is going to be darkened. There are going to be hailstones and earthquake, and not just rumors of wars but wars like we've never seen, and famine and drought.

It's going to be constant chaos, and it's going to go Bing! Bing! Bing! Bing! Bing! There are going to be people who have come to see the Scriptures are true who are going to tell you, "Do you want to know where all of those people went? That was God calling his people home. Do you want to know why all this is happening? It's God disciplining the world." Men will harden their hearts. You're going to go, "How could you not believe in that moment?"

The answer is going to be "You're a horrible example who did not pay attention to the horrible warning of Pharaoh, of Israel during the time of King Uzziah, of Israel during the time of Christ, and of believers who had a sin that led to death, who rejected, you might even say (Hebrews 6), the provision of Christ in his crucified, raised body, and there is no opportunity for repentance."

Let me tell you, I am more optimistic toward you here today, if you don't know Christ, that this might be your day. God has promised forgiveness to your repentance, but according to all the Scripture I just laid out before you, you need to know this: he has not promised tomorrow to your procrastination. Heed. Listen up. I don't know any other way to say it. That's as kind as I can.

This is a sober way to start. Welcome to Watermark. Repent or die. I want to tell you, that's about as loving as I can say it, because I don't know. Sometimes I'm sharing Christ with people, and if I run across an especially arrogant, hard-hearted person, I'll say it kindly, but I'll say this. I'll look at my watch. I'll go, "Hey, bro. October 28, 2012. Remember that day." They'll go, "Why do you say that?"

"Because October 28, 2012, you have clearly heard of the love of God for you. You've heard a clear message about man's sin and God's provision for that sin, the holiness and nature and character of God, that he is not to be mocked at or scoffed at, and when you stand before him, you will be without excuse. He's going to remind you. 'Remember that time you chatted it up with Wagner? It was October 28. You rebuffed me.'" Proverbs 9:12 says, "If you are wise, you are wise for yourself, but if you scoff, you alone must bear it [Pharaoh, Israel, Israel, Watermark]." So, listen up.

Father, would you allow us…? The Scripture says the god of this world has blinded the mind of the unbelieving. He blinds us with lies, so I pray that today your truth would come in the soil of our hardened hearts and you would tenderize them again, that we would see Jesus lifted up in all his kindness and glory and love; we would see your justice, that you are wrathful against sin and that you demand an eternally perfect sacrifice and that you are loving. You seek those who are in bondage to that veil of darkness.

You have been the Light that has come into the world. Would you open the eyes of our hearts that we might see you? I pray for those who have intellectual understanding but still are not trusting in you, that they would come. I pray for those who are skeptics, that they would see. I pray for those whose hearts have been hurt and who are angry and Satan is using that abuse of sin that's in this world to convince them that you're not there and you're not good.

I pray you'd reach them, Father, this morning and tell them that you understand, that you died for that sin that has so wounded them, that you love them; you're not angry at them, and you will execute vengeance against those who have abused them and hurt them, but you want them to come and not let bitterness, anger, or denial of what you have done in history… Teach us. Show us. Would your grace let us see, and for those of us who know, would your grace cause us to act in every way we should? Amen.

John says that Jesus, after he said these things, went and hid himself. That is truly verse 37, but your Bible, in verse 37, picks it up and says this. This is John's summary of everything he had done up to this moment. John says, "You need to know this about Jesus. Though he had performed so many signs [provided so much evidence that John had just given you through the 'I am' statements, the semeion (signs) of John, the teachings and discourses of John], yet they were not believing in him."

"This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet which he spoke: ' Lord , who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?'" That is a quote from Isaiah 53. Let me say this really quickly. It shouldn't surprise you and me that the reason Israel struggled with him was twofold.

The religious people struggled with Jesus because he came and said, "Listen. Your own effort, your own self-will, your own righteousness, your own performing of acts of devotion to me…that's not going to cut it. I am so much higher than you, so much more holy than you. It's right that you practice certain things, but don't ever think that those things appease me or satisfy me. Your righteousness…"

Jesus said in Matthew 5, "Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven." So God calls them to repent and trust in his Messiah. Christ calls them out of their traditional belief that they were more righteous than others and said, "You are not as righteous as me. Trust in me. Eat of me. Take my blood. Cover yourself in it. I am the fulfillment of your Passover practices. I am all that you hope for and long for," and they rejected him. They hated him because he told them the truth about their sin.

Jesus says, "Listen. The purpose of the law of Moses was to show you what righteousness looked like. The fact that you have dumbed it down with your human addendums and traditions doesn't impress me. Those things were there to teach you what holiness was like and to show you that you weren't holy. I am the Lamb that has come to take away your sin." That offended men who were righteous in their own eyes.

There was another group that rejected Jesus because he said he was their Messiah. He had done amazing things. The lame walked. The blind saw. Captives were set free. He had brought folks forth from the grave. They were all fired up. "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" Palm Sunday. They welcomed him. Then he says, "But I'm going to die," and they go, "You're going to what? Our king is going to be a mighty warrior king. He's going to oppress our enemies and vindicate us from the suffering we're in. We don't want a king who's going to die."

Now listen. Rightly did they look for a king whose throne would endure forever. That's what Daniel 7 says. Last week, I read you a score of passages, from Psalm 110 all the way through the Old Testament, that talk about the fact that the coming Messiah would reign forever. Jesus said, "Listen. I am that King, and I will reign forever, but I'm going to first lay my life down, and then I'm going to pick it back up. I will reign forever, but you'd better recognize why I'm laying my life down." It says they didn't want to hear that part.

I'm just going to show you… I read a lot of passages last week about a coming, conquering, warrior Messiah, because they're there, but there are other passages, often synced right up with the ones that talk about the great work he's going to do, the fact that he was going to offer himself as a tender lamb.

Here's the most famous: Isaiah 53. I'm going to read it to you. Are you ready? You're going to recognize the very first line. "Who has believed our message? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?" That is John 12:38. "Who has believed the report about what the Messiah is going to do?" Jesus is going to say, "This is what I came to do." Watch this. See if this sounds familiar to what Christ has been saying.

"For He [the Messiah] grew up before Him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of parched ground; He has no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him. He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.

Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions [not his] , He was crushed for our iniquities [not his] ; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him." Does that sound familiar?

"He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth…" You're about to see that in John 13-20. "…like a lamb that is led to slaughter…" John 1: "This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world." "…and like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, so He did not open His mouth." Pilate: "Hey, don't you know who I am? Speak up!" But he didn't.

Isaiah 53:8: "By oppression and judgment He was taken away; and as for His generation, who considered that He was cut off out of the land of the living for the transgression of my people, to whom the stroke was due?" No one. "His grave was assigned with wicked men, yet He was with a rich man in His death…" See also Joseph of Arimathea, part of the Sanhedrin. He said, "Give me the body; I'm going to bury him in my tomb," even though he was to be buried amongst criminals, initially.

"…because He had done no violence, nor was there any deceit in His mouth. But the Lord was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; if He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, and the good pleasure of the Lord will prosper in His hand." That's why Jesus said, "Bring it. I'm not going to ask for this to be removed from me. Let's get it done."

"As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; by His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, as He will bear their iniquities. Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great, and He will divide the booty with the strong; because He poured out Himself to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet He Himself bore the sin of many, and interceded for the transgressors."

What Jesus is saying here is, "Did you read Isaiah 53?" It's really what John is saying in his summary. "This is exactly what the prophets told you was coming. I know that stuff about his reign enduring forever. Jesus told you that he was going to take his life back up and reign forever, but he told you that the Messiah must die, just like Isaiah did, because God's standard is immense."

Jesus said, "When I'm lifted up from the earth, you're going to see my glory." Twofold. First, you're going to see the love of God when he dies for sinful men. You're going to see the full wrath of God when he pours out his anger on his Son, the only eternal, perfect sacrifice that could possibly exist to appease an eternally perfect God.

There's another time Jesus said, "I was lifted up from the earth. I didn't stay in the grave, and you're going to see me in all my glory. You're going to know that I can do what I said I was going to do." The question then is…Then why didn't he just go ahead and start his kingdom? Answer: because he wanted to see his death, his seed that was put in the ground, bear much fruit.

He has been growing this orchard of believers for 2,000 years. There's just not a lot of Jewish seed in it. This is what we call the age of the Gentiles (Romans 9-11). I want to tell you, Gentiles, the gospel has been proclaimed all throughout the earth, but especially to non-Jewish people. There are many Gentiles who are going, "Yeah, yeah, yeah. Great. I got your little Jesus. We're moving on." There's going to be a day when it's going to be a little too late.

John is saying the reason God hardened the hearts of the Jews is because their hearts had been hardened for a long time. He's going to hearken back to what happened during the time of King Uzziah when he kept warning them, kept warning them, kept warning them, and finally said, "That's it." In fact, it was 739 BC. It was 17 more years from Isaiah 6 (a passage you're about to see in John 12) before he used Assyria to come and wreak terror all over Israel.

There are great applications for the United States of America, but this is not an American corporate text here. Let me just tell you something. I see the same thing happening with America. Why? Because I see the same thing happening with individual Americans who invite individual judgment on themselves, so they will experience corporate judgment on themselves. That is what happened in 739 BC when Isaiah saw the glory of the Lord.

Watch this. I'm going to show you something amazing. Are you ready? John 12. We just saw him quote from Isaiah 53:1. It says, "For this reason they could not believe…" Why? Because God had said, "That's enough. That's all the revelation I have." The Father said, "This is my Son. Listen to him." The Spirit testified that this is God because of the things he did that normal men cannot do. The Son said, "If you don't believe me, believe my works." Here are Jesus' own words about himself. "You rejected all those. There are no more of the holy witness to call before you, so you're done if you've rejected all this revelation."

Now it's going to quote from another part of Isaiah I'm about to read. It's Isaiah 6. " He has blinded their eyes and He hardened their heart, so that they would not see with their eyes and perceive with their heart, and be converted and I heal them ." Because God said, "That's enough. This is a wicked people." They are not a good example, they are not the light of the world, they are not a kingdom of priests, so they're going to serve as a horrible warning to you and me.

That's a quote from Isaiah 6. Let me show you something. Turn to Isaiah 6 if you want. In verse 41 of John 12, what you're going to hear me tell you is that John, the writer of the gospel, says that the things Isaiah said and saw… It says, "…he saw His glory, and he spoke of Him." That's John 12:41. The context of John 12:41 is Jesus, whom they rejected, who was the Light they said they didn't want, is who Isaiah saw.

Who did Isaiah see? You may not know much Bible, but I guarantee you've heard of Isaiah 6. Isaiah 6 is the year King Uzziah died, 739 BC. It says he saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of his robe filling the temple. Seraphim, flaming ministers, stood above him, having six wings: two behind, two to cover their feet as a sign of submission, two to cover their face because his glory was so great.

He called out and said, "Holy, holy, holy!" Us Gentiles… That's one of our favorite hymns. "Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty…" Perfect in power. We talk about who he is. Isaiah saw him. Listen to this. John 12:41 says, "These things Isaiah said because he saw His glory, and he spoke of Him." Who? The Light that came into the world: Jesus. John tells you who he saw on the throne. It was the visible image of the invisible God. It was Jesus.

Isaiah goes, "I am nothing like him." What happens is he sends a messenger, a seraphim, to take something from the altar of God, and he purifies Isaiah with it. Isaiah knew he was a sinful, wretched man. That's what it says in Isaiah 6. Isaiah said in verse 5, "Woe is me [I am a sinner] , for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord [I know I'm nothing like him] ."

Jesus is saying, "You're nothing like me. You need provision from the throne of God. Guess what. You can't get there, so the throne of God is coming to you. What Isaiah saw…here he is." It's an amazing text. Jesus is claiming to be Isaiah 6. John is saying, "Jesus is the one your prophet Isaiah saw, and he came." Can I tell you something? This will get you killed, by the way. This is Stephen. He's getting stoned. He's preaching the gospel. This is Acts 7:51-52:

"You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did. Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become…"

That was his message. How do you think that was received? Just like this. They took this and fired it right at him, thousands of them. Remember that. It's going to be one of my application points. That was not a popular message. "I'll tell you who you are. You're just like your daddies who rejected the prophets. The prophets told you the Righteous One was coming, and you've killed him, and you're going to kill me because I'm reminding you that you killed him. You have uncircumcised hearts."

Do you want to see something beautiful? In Hebrew literature, there's this thing called a chiasmus. A chiasmus is when you take something and you kind of say, "A1, B1, C1, C1, B1, A1." It's a way to emphasize a point, and it mirrors a truth. I'm going to show you a chiasmus. Are you ready? It's right there in verse 10.

God tells Isaiah, "You go and tell these people, but, Isaiah, you need to know something. The people you're going to go to tell are not going to lock in. They're not going to like what you're saying, because I'm going to use them as a horrible warning to people who, after generations of prophets, a lot of good preaching by Wagner at Watermark, just go, 'Nope! Not interested.'"

Some of you are going to become a horrible warning, and God says, "I'm going to let you spiral into this viral stupidity." We're going to go, "How much do you have to keep doing what you're doing until you don't like what you have?" and they're never going to change. It's a Pharaoh moment. Now, I'm going to still always believe you can change.

I've seen some people I was sure were Pharaohs change. I've seen them take their hearts that after decades of rebellion have been tenderized, so I don't know. I never believe I know a Pharaoh. I'm just telling you, they're out there, and the best way for you to know you're not one is to make sure today you become a repentant Pharaoh. The longer you go without repenting, the more likely you are one, and that is a nasty problem.

Watch this. Here's the chiasmus. Verse 10. It's all right there. "Render the hearts of this people insensitive, their ears dull, and their eyes dim, otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts…" What's the problem? Their eyes couldn't see who Jesus was, so their ears didn't hear his message, so their hearts stayed hard.

That was what was going on during the people in 739 BC, although God had kept trying to tell them, "You keep jacking with idols, you keep leaving me, I'm going to discipline you. That protection I have around your nation? It's coming off. The Assyrians? They're coming in." The people went, "Yeah, yeah, yeah." For 17 years they went, "Yeah, yeah, yeah." Then all of a sudden, it came, and it came in horrible ways.

I'm not saying 17 years from September 11, 2001… I'm not at all. It just wouldn't surprise me. It's a warning shot. That is not of the Lord right there. I'm just telling you, our eyes don't see Jesus. We say, "In God we trust," just like Israel went and worshiped him, but they didn't know him, because their ears couldn't hear and their hearts were hard.

This is a serious text, and it's a horrible warning we should learn from. Jump back with me to John. John said what Isaiah saw was Jesus. Verse 42: "Nevertheless many even of the rulers believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they were not confessing Him, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God." Some texts might say, "…they loved the glory of men more than the glory of God."

This is the essential problem of unbelief that exists in all men. They want the glory of men. They want men's glory, men's acceptance. They want what men say about them or they think man's glory is enough, so they are not believers, and there is judgment on them as a result. Mark my word here. If the reason you don't go and share with others about the narrowness and truth of who Jesus is is that you know it's going to make you unpopular, then you are not in a good place.

You are to be like Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea. Nicodemus, specifically. He came to Jesus by night in John 3. In John 7, they were going to stone him, and Nicodemus spoke up and said, "Wait a minute! Do we ever prosecute somebody without first having a trial?" And they rebuked him. They said, "Are you from Nazareth? Are you an idiot like him?"

You're going to see that Nicodemus gets bolder and bolder, and he becomes a true believer, along with Joseph of Arimathea…two members of the Sanhedrin who, at the moment of Christ's death, identified with him. They said, "We want him. He's our Lord. He's our Savior. He's our Passover Lamb." They take his dead, unclean body.

They don't take a lamb and sprinkle the blood of the lamb over their doorposts; they take the bloodied body of Christ off the cross and drape it on themselves, and that's the blood that covers them. He's their Passover Lamb, and they say, "We want Jesus," because they saw him, they heard his words, and their hearts believed. They didn't care what men thought about him. If you're here and you agree with the whole Jesus idea but you're silent before men, then you are of the sect of John 12:42-43, and it's not a good sect.

Look at John 12:44-50 now. If you didn't like John's executive summary, now you're going to get Jesus'. We don't know when this was spoken. We don't know where it was spoken or who it was spoken to. There's nothing given. I think John sticks this in here and just goes, "All right, look. If I didn't get you the last 44 weeks, then just capture these six verses, because this is all I've said about the last three years." Now he's going to say, "These are all of the things Jesus said about himself spiraled down to a bullet statement." Watch this. This is what John says. He takes some teachings of Jesus and says this:

"And Jesus cried out and said, 'He who believes in Me, does not believe in Me but in Him who sent Me. He who sees Me sees the One who sent Me. I have come as Light into the world, so that everyone who believes in Me will not remain in darkness. If anyone hears My sayings and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world. He who rejects Me and does not receive My sayings, has one who judges him; the word I spoke is what will judge him at the last day.'"

This is all of John 1-12, all of the teachings of Christ narrowed down. "For I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me a commandment as to what to say and what to speak. I know that His commandment is eternal life; therefore the things I speak, I speak just as the Father has told Me." Jesus is saying, "If you don't take me as Savior, then you will not have God as a Father. Period."

Jesus says, "The reason you reject me is because your father is a liar." That was John 8:44-47. "Your father is the Devil, and he has blinded you. He wants you to think the way men think. I told my boy Peter who thinks like men think that that's the way Satan thinks: that you can have glory without atonement, that you can have the crown without the cross.

I'm telling you, boys. I'm going to the cross so I can invite you back into relationship with me, and if you come try to give me your résumé, it will fail. You need the righteousness of God that is in your presence. What I speak, I speak from my Father. You don't like what I say? It means you don't like the Father, because I and the Father are one." That's John 10:30.

So, what happens right here is the light goes out. I mean, it is like Poof! Then you have him taking a very small group of folks and saying, "You come here. Up here in the room with me." You have about 24 hours of teaching, and they're still not going to get it. Then all of a sudden, after he's brought out of that grave… They lift him up. They see his love. They see that grave empty. The Spirit comes and indwells them and fulfills everything he said he would.

Then you're going to find Peter, who didn't get it before, in Acts 2, all of a sudden start to quote from all kinds of Old Testament Scripture. You're going to hear Peter go to Joel, chapter 2. You're going to hear him go to Psalm 16, Psalm 110, Psalm 132, Psalm 89, 2 Samuel 7. That's his first message. All of a sudden, he sees it.

Can I just tell you this? One of the things I went to the first time I went to Israel… The lady who took me invited me to go with her. She said, "Todd, I want to get you to have a conversation with this man." She said, "I really can't wait to watch you two talk." She took me into the walled city, into the Jewish quarter, to a little bookstore there called Shorashim, which was run by a guy who was a social worker from Toronto, Canada, who had moved his family to Jerusalem; an expatriated Jew who had come back.

He opened up a bookstore there in the Old City. I walked in. This guy was one of the kindest, most loving, biblically informed, from Genesis through Revelation, men I have ever met. There are very few men in this church who know as much Scripture or can… You start a verse; he'll finish it. I sat and talked with him.

At first, I thought she was taking me to the most unusual of things: a completed Jew right in the heart of Jerusalem, ministering to other Jews. It wasn't long, after about literally 30 minutes of him just ripping through the Scriptures, I go, "Wait a minute. This guy is quoting all this stuff from the New Testament to show me why I shouldn't believe that Jesus is the Messiah." I couldn't believe it.

I asked him a few questions when I got a little bit of opportunity, and there wasn't much. I was so encouraged and impressed by his love and kindness and knowledge of the Scripture, but I asked him… His name was Moshe (drawn-out one), and he has not yet been drawn out. I looked at him and just said, "Moshe, why do you have such a hard time with the idea of Jesus?" He said this to others, and he said it to me. He said, "I just can't believe that God can't forgive without a crucifixion."

I want to tell you, this guy's devotion and love for God… I've never seen anything like it. It put me to shame, because I know how much God does love me, that he would come and die. It was offensive to him. He couldn't see it. You get to Isaiah 53, and he had a thousand ways to explain it. It was brilliant, but I'm telling you, there was a blindness there.

I talked to this man on the phone last week. As a matter of practice, I don't give my credit card number and security code to very many people, much less a Jew who likes things over in Jerusalem. He has it. I trust him explicitly. I'm not more brilliant than Moshe. Far from it, but there's something going on there.

Two other guys I know over there…Rafi, a brilliant Hebrew scholar trained at Hebrew University, and Ron Singer. This Ron Singer guy, I'm telling you… I'm going to be with Ron when I go back over there in March with some friends. I've never met a guy who's so well-versed on everything…flora, geological formations, history, Byzantine Empire, Crusades. I mean, you name it.

Literally, one day we left him in southern Israel and went over to Jordan to look at Petra. Ronny couldn't go with us because of all of the border issues between the Israeli and Arab states. I came back and went, "What did you do today?" Ron goes, "Oh, I went to the bookstore." Figures. I go, "What did you get?" He pulled out a book from his backpack that was that thick, about 400 pages, on geological rock formations in the mountain region of Israel that we were in.

I go, "You've got to be kidding me. Do you know everything else that it has come to having to read about that?" He pretty much goes, "Well, it is something I need to be sharpened in." I go, "Well, when are you going to get to it?" He goes, "Oh, I got to it. It's pretty interesting." I go, "What do you mean you got to it?" He goes, "Well, I've read it." I go, "Bro, you need a girlfriend. That's what you need. No, scratch that. You need a Messiah. That's what you need." We laughed and we talked.

There was a person in our group who had been to Antarctica. I'm telling you, he looked at the guy and goes, "Oh, you've been to Antarctica; I love penguins!" and he lists about seven different kinds of penguins using their Latin names. He goes, "Did you see them? Did you understand the difference between them?" I go, "What is wrong with you?" But in the midst of all that, there is a blindness. It's unbelievable. It has nothing to do with intellect. It's humbling. The light is off.

I told them both, "There's going to be a day when I'm out of here. You're going to hear there has been this event where Wagner and a few of his buddies are gone. The Bible says there are going to be 144,000 Jews that the light is going to go on for. Moshe, Rafi, Ron, I'm praying that the light comes on before then for you, but maybe God is preserving you for that moment. I hope it happens in my lifetime, and I hope you're one of the ones. Remember me. Remember my Messiah. He died for you."

I want to tell you, the most loving thing you can do… I pray for the peace of Jerusalem, but there will be no peace in Jerusalem until they recognize the Prince of Peace. There will be no peace in your life until you recognize the Prince of Peace. Let me give you some very quick applications. Are you ready? I could talk about this all day long. This is a sobering text. I'm going to give them to you quickly.

We always talk about how truth unites. Truth can unite us, but truth really divides. When Jesus was here, he hated sin. I had a guy up here with me after the first service literally in tears because of the brokenness of this world. This guy loved Jesus, and he didn't know what to do with all the pain that was around him. I go, "Let me just encourage you. Your Messiah hated sin, and he was ready to deal with it."

This is Luke 12:49-53. Watch this. "I have come to cast fire upon the earth; and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is accomplished!" Meaning, "I'm going to die. I'm going to be baptized into death, and I know that when I do that I will defeat death. I will strip the Enemy of his power. I will set people free."

He said, "Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on this earth? I came to declare war on this earth where evil and lies and deception reign. I am here to declare war and to defeat the Enemy. You have to decide whose side you are on. For from now on, five members in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three…husband/wife, mommy/daddy, brother/sister," and on and on he goes.

Truth divides. This is why you have a lot of folks who don't want to talk about Jesus. We can't play well in the little ecumenical sandbox, because we're going to say, "Look, guys. I can't add two plus two to make it something else. It's always four. I can't make truth and the way to God a multiple-choice question, because Jesus didn't, and I believe Jesus is God. So your argument is not with me; your argument is with Jesus, but yes, count me as a follower of Christ."

"But we hate Jesus. That's how you die when you're 33. Therefore, we hate you." There are a lot of guys who go, "I don't want you to hate me. I like the glory of men. I like the acceptance of men," so they compromise the gospel or they teach no gospel at all. I tell people all the time, "If the way I say things offends you, will you forgive me? But if it's what I say that offends you, for that I cannot ask your forgiveness. I'm trying to serve you."

Why can't we all get along? Do you want to know why we all can't get along? Because there is such a thing as truth, and some people don't get it. They go, "Wagner, that is arrogant." I go, "It would be if I was making truth up. It's not if I'm telling you that truth has come. It's not if I tell you that God has pivoted human history on this man and his grave is empty and there's no other man like him. Your argument is not with me; it's with Jesus, and I'm going to rise and fall with him." Truth divides.

By the way, this is what the Word of God does. It divides. Hebrews 4:12 says it's sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing as far as the division between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It's going to judge the thoughts and intentions of man's heart. That's why Jesus said, "I'm not going to judge you. The Word is going to judge you. The Word says this. I, the Living Word, who became flesh and dwelt among you, said this, and you reject it; therefore, you're judged." Do you get that? It's just as simple as that.

By the way, not new information here. This is Luke 2, at the moment of Jesus' arrival on the earth. Simeon, an old prophet who had been praying for the coming Messiah of Israel. In comes Jesus with Joseph and Mary. He takes him. He picks him up. Pick it up in verse 34. "Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, 'This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, but he will be a joy to many. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him.'"

This Jesus is not here to unify; he is here to draw a line. Are you of the Lamb or are you of the world? Are you a son of the Serpent or are you a son of the woman? Choose for yourself this day whom you will serve, but as for me and my house, I'm going all in with Jesus. Now brace yourself, because that's not going to be an easy thing. Truth always divides.

Secondly, Jesus is the truth. He is the Light. That's John 1 all the way through. He came into the darkness. The darkness couldn't comprehend it. Jesus is God. I am convinced of this. A guy asked me that this week. He said, "Wagner, what are you convinced of?" We were reading Romans 8:38-39. Paul says, "For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."

"What are you convinced of, Todd?" I said, "I'm convinced of this: that God is true and all men are liars."Anytime you listen to the philosophies and words of men, you're listening to liars. I am convinced that men are liars, and so am I. So if I'm not quoting you Scripture, don't believe me. That's Romans 3:4, by the way. I'll tell you what else I'm convinced of. I'm convinced what Paul said in 1 Timothy 1:15 is true. "It's a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of which I am the foremost."

Do you know this? Your pastor is not better than you. I am a wicked, selfish man who still is given to anger and lust, and I am so thankful for Jesus. By the grace of God, he's delivering me from this wretched man that I am and this body of death through Jesus Christ in my yielding to him, but this sin is in me, and I'll never trust myself until I'm dead for three days and don't come back. Then I'll know I'm home.

Until then, you pray for me, you encourage me, you rebuke me, you help me, and you worship with me the one who covers the multitude of my sins. By the grace of God they're not so immense that you wouldn't follow me or think I'm a trustworthy man fit to lead in the way of 1 Timothy 3 or Titus 1, but that is a precarious place. This is about Jesus, not your pastor. Jesus is the truth.

Thirdly, if you reject the truth, you're judged already. This is what Jesus said in John 12:47-48. "I'm not here to judge you." That's what he said in John 3:17-20. "For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already…" What does that mean? I'm going to teach you something really good. I'll show you what this means.

This is really important. Romans, chapter 1, verses 18 and following. It says, "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness…" There are many evidences. God is going to go through in verses 19-21, and the evidences are within. "…because that which is known about God is evident within them…"

God revealed himself through what was made. That's verses 20-21. His divine attributes, his eternal power, his divine nature have been clearly seen through that which has been made, but they didn't want that God, so they reject God. They come up with a system so they don't believe in the God of creation, and they suppress that truth.

Now watch what happens. When you reject God as God and you numb your conscience, that means you have to find truth and life and goodness and satisfaction in living somewhere else. Now where is the first place you would go if you wanted to find life on this earth? I would go to where my strongest urges are. I would want to eat good food and delicacies. I would become a hedonist. I would say, "Anything I can do to find pleasure now, things that I can see and feel good now."

So what's our strongest desire? Sex. That is our strongest desire. A relationship. If you're a female, you might have answered that. All of us would have said food, so we can be strong enough to have sex and have relationship. So where, according to Romans 1, is the very first place we go? Now watch this. This drives me crazy about the church, because the church acts like the worst sin is homosexuality or any kind of sexual perversion.

It isn't the worst sin; it's the first judgment. Now what do I mean by judgment? Let me say this again. You're not going to hell because you're a homosexual or because you're an adulterer or because you live immorally. That is a hell in and of itself. You're not going to hell because you're angry, because you're a pornographer, or because you're a materialist. That is a hell in and of itself.

"How? Why? What do you mean, Wagner?" What I mean is it never satisfies you, which is why we have to invent new sex toys and new sex positions and new sex partners and new sex things and new foods and new ways to be angry and exalt ourselves and find comfort, because they never satisfy. So we just get into this spiral of looking.

This is what Romans 1 is saying. It's the first place we go. It talks there about how when you reject God, you reject love; when you reject love, you don't know how to get along. Here's what happened. In paganism, women were oppressed and subjected. "Shut up! You can't think. You can't vote. We don't need to educate you. You just get bedded down when we want to bed you down." That's the way women were treated.

"In fact, we're going to invent entire systems of worship, where all we do is slay you and make you prostitutes and we worship our god by having sex with you out of our system of Baal worship, which believes that Baal and his goddess Anat, the god of sky and the god of earth… We want them to copulate, semen, rain coming down from heaven.

We want Anat to bring forth her young, crops, and we eat them. That's our system. Yes. So we'll go have sex. We'll take the children from temple prostitutes, and we'll sacrifice them, just like we want Anat to sacrifice her crops, so that we can eat hers and we'll give her ours to eat." It's an amazing system. That's what they did.

What happened, though, is… I don't care how oppressed women were. If mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy. So women started to say, "This ain't going to work." So do you know what men did? "We're still going to satisfy ourselves sexually, so if we can't have sex with you, we don't even need you. We'll just have sex with each other. We'll have sex with boys and children," which left women to burn in their desire for themselves. That's just the beginning of Romans 1.

The point here is God is not going to kill you because of that. You're already dead, because you've rejected him as good and true. I've left life and God, so I have to find life somewhere else. Where is it? Well, I'll just go where I think my body tells me there's the most life: in sexual pleasure, in sexual activity. That's just the beginning. Now watch. In Romans 1, pick it up in verse 28. You may not have recognized yourself yet, but you're about to recognize yourself.

"And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful…"

Does that sound familiar? That's America. That's the Wagner household. "…and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval [and elect those in office who will encourage them to do it] ." Amazing. Is it getting better? It isn't. We're just a hapless, spinning people who keep denying that there is a note to pay that is coming…morally, spiritually, economically. God is going, "You're living in the judgment. This is not the world I created. Come back to me."

E pluribus unum (out of the many one). But guess what. We are a nation divided. Have you looked lately? Fifty-fifty. Do you know why we're split 50-50? Because we used to be a nation that was "In God we trust." Now it's just this idea of God, but we don't really trust in him. It started in the church…the dead, feckless, un-discipling, un-preaching, scared, liberal, compromised church. Our church just sucked itself right out of obedience, and our country followed it right down the hole. All we can do is revitalize the church, and that'll take care of everything else.

If you keep rejecting the truth, you'll soon be more wretched than you believe. That's my next point from this. Paul said, "Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (Romans 7:24-25) Here's what I want you to know. Whenever I'm out there with folks in the city, and I'm talking to them and engaging them… I don't ever just give people money.

I'll say, "I'm not going to give you some fleeting little satisfaction here. I'll buy you a meal if you'll sit and talk with me about something greater." I try to connect them in places that ultimately will help them get more than just one meal but many meals, and more than just one bed for one night but a bed on an ongoing basis, and more than just a bed and a meal but true discipleship that's going to lead them to a place where their life can be recovered.

I always have my kids with me when I do this. I just say, "Listen. Before we get started, why don't you tell us your story? How did you get here?" They go, "Oh man. It's a long story." I go, "Well, tell us your story. How did you get here?" I'm telling you, they always say the same thing. Once they know I'm really there, I get to know their real name, they go, "Bad decision." I go, "One bad decision?"

"No. No, not one bad decision. I made a bad decision, and then instead of acknowledging it was a bad decision, I was too prideful. I tried to cover my bad decision with another bad decision. Then I tried to numb myself with a bad decision, and then more bad decisions, and then more bad decisions, and now I have no teeth, no home, no job, no family, and no life, and I'm talking to you. One bad decision at a time."

I say to them, "Do you know what can change that? One good decision. The bad decision you made is you didn't know that God loves you and God is good. Maybe nobody ever told you, but let me tell you about Jesus who has come to rescue men like me and men like you. You have to know this Jesus, and I'm going to introduce you to people who know him who are going to love you, care for you, provide for you, restore to you dignity and honor, give you forgiveness, overcome the guilt and shame, and set you back on a path of life. Do you want that?"

Do you know what I hear most of the time? "No. I just want my meal. I'm going to keep making bad decisions." Because they're not a good example. I said, "Kids, meet my friend. This is a horrible warning." Some of you guys, I can say the same thing. You're just homeless in your rich little houses. It's a horrible warning to be married and not really married but just un-divorced. That's a horrible warning.

I had a boy come up to me this week, a kid I've been ministering to since he was 11. His life had spun way out of control. I used to tell him after he kept making bad decisions, "Let me tell you something. You have a chance to be one of the greatest kids I ever know, because there are a lot of guys, me and others, who want to disciple you. I know you don't have a daddy, but we're going to be a daddy for you. You're going to grow up into one of the finest young men ever, because you don't have one dad; you have five." And there were five of us there.

"Or you're going to get a girl pregnant when you're 18. You're going to be responsible for numerous abortions. You're going to be addicted to porn. You're going to be a drunk. You're going to repeat the cycle of abandonment that your daddy did to you." I said, "It's all going to come down with what you do with Jesus."

Let me tell you something. This kid got on a path where at times he showed flashes of goodness, but he came to me recently and said, "Todd, I have to tell you. I don't know why I never lived the way I'm living now before. I don't know why I thought the way I did. It is like I had no clarity. I couldn't see. I couldn't believe what I believe now."

He had become more wretched than he thought in his little prosperity. We hooked him up with some jobs. He had a job. He used that job to create addictions in his own life, which were scaring the heck out of him, and the words of truth we had sown into him came back one night when he was lying in bed. He told me, "About three or four weeks ago, I had a dream." In his dream, he woke up about 80 pounds overweight. He had looked in the mirror. That wasn't much of a dream, frankly.

He looked over at that girl lying next to him. He knew her name, but he didn't know her, wasn't attracted to her. Her back was to him, and he didn't love her. In his dream he got up and walked into the kitchen. He opened up the fridge and took out some vodka, and he said he just started drinking straight vodka, and he felt the burning go down. This was his dream.

He said, "That burning woke me up. I woke up, and I was sweating." He said, "I swear to you, I heard the word of the Lord. It wasn't audible, but God said to me, 'This is your destiny, Luke.'" He said, "I was scared to my senses, and I knew that's where I was headed, and worse, just like you told me."

So do you know what he did? He made a good decision. He left his high-paying job. He came back here. He has gotten connected. This is his life today. Just that quickly, the Lord started to restore him. He's in community. He's making amends. He's reading. He's memorizing God's Word. He's fleeing from youthful lusts. He's serving. He's being committed to being known, and there is joy in him. Can I tell you something? Job, chapter 33. Let me read this to you.

"For God speaks again and again, though people do not recognize it. He speaks in dreams, in visions of the night, when deep sleep falls on people as they lie in their beds. He whispers in their ears and terrifies them with warnings. He makes them turn from doing wrong; he keeps them from pride. He protects them from the grave, from crossing over the river of death."

That's Job 33. It's this morning. I'm just going to tell you, if you reject Jesus, you're going to get worse than you can ever imagine. That little platonic marriage you're in, that little emptiness, that little fleeting dissatisfaction with your business and your millions? It's going to get worse. Those millions are going to go right to the edge of your deathbed, and you're going to wonder where there's life. I pray it's not too late. Make it this morning.

Lastly, you know the truth; share the truth. I'm just going to tell you something. When you share the truth, you're going to get one of two responses. See Acts 2. When Peter preached the truth, 3,000 people came to believe. Stephen shared the truth in Acts 7. Three thousand stones came flying at his head, and they were both God's men. I don't know which one you're going to get, but I know what you're supposed to do.

My prayer is that some hard-hearted stones this morning have eyes to see Jesus and ears to hear and their hearts are changed, and on that heart of stone they write down stories of life change, and you repent. My prayer is that you don't throw stuff at me, but I don't care if you do, because I believe for me to live is Christ and to die is gain. If the way I've said anything this morning has offended you, would you forgive me?

But I want you to respond to Christ and let his Spirit indwell you, that you might be a good example and that you might share this good news with others so that you would not be a horrible warning or lead to a horrible life that makes up a horrible family that creates a horrible nation that has a horrible destiny. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Share the truth. If you don't know the truth, will you come this morning and receive God's provision for your wretched soul?

Father, we thank you that you've not come into the world to judge the world but that the world might be saved through you. Would you glorify yourself, as we've lifted up Christ and all that he has said and all that he has done, that if there is a cold heart here today, that by grace their ears would have heard, their eyes would have seen Jesus in all his glory, that they would come and receive grace and mercy, as I have received it.

May they join me in walking with him. May they join Luke in walking with him in such a way that people would see our lives and long for it and we could point them to the source of it. It is in our King Jesus, who is the author and perfecter of our faith. For those of us who know it, may we go and sing it with all the gusto you give us. For the glory of Christ we pray, amen.

Worship him. Be a good example, not a horrible warning. God bless you.