The Fulfillment of Prophecies
Open Your Bible
John 12:37-50, Isaiah 53:1-6, Luke 11:29-32
They loved human praise more than praise from God.
Verse 43 of today’s reading felt like a punch in the gut to me, a turn of phrase that exposed all my idols with its economical nine words. This is a reading about the Pharisees, those oft-demonized leaders of the Jewish people in Jesus’s time. I’ve heard illustrations that compare me to the Pharisees dozens of times: I struggle with legalism (which is true), I focus on outward actions rather than inward transformation (also true), I struggle to believe (definitely true). But this particular description of the Pharisees really knocked me flat.
In this passage, John recounts Isaiah’s prophecy and experience to contextualize the Pharisees’ disbelief in Jesus as the Messiah. In Isaiah 53:1, Isaiah asks, “Who has believed what we have heard? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?” When John makes this reference, he is showing us how Jesus fulfilled yet another prophecy in the Old Testament. This is a hallmark of John’s Gospel, revealing these glimpses backward to show us the true nature and identity of Jesus. Jesus had done so much to fulfill the words of the prophets; He had “performed so many signs in their presence,” and yet, “they did not believe in him” (John 12:37).
But what struck me today wasn’t what this passage reveals about Jesus (though that is, as always, incredibly important). It was what it reveals about the Pharisees, and what it reveals about me. Yes, the Pharisees are often painted as evil. But who were they? They were men who guarded the truth. Men who dedicated their lives to God’s law, to following it and teaching it. They were misguided by their unwillingness to change, to see the mystery and providence of God in the divinity of Jesus. Tolstoy called it the “stationary righteousness of the Pharisee,” this rigid belief in the words on the page, rather than the incarnate Christ standing before them.
Pharisees measured their life by their actions, but it was all they had known. Their north star was the Word of God, but they did not see the Word made flesh who dwelled among them. I am duly convicted: by my own unwillingness to turn to Christ, but also my willingness to only dwell on the grace of Jesus at the expense of following His law. I can learn from both the Pharisees’ mistakes and their commitment to the Word of God.
But the prioritization John gives us in verse 47 is the piece to remember, the pin that holds together this tension of belief and action. We should love God’s Word as much as the Pharisees loved the law, and we should love Jesus and cling to Him. Our actions should be for Jesus, not for humankind. We should love the praise of God more than the praise of humans. May we crave the praise of God more than anything else, and may our lives reflect the limitless love of Christ.