31The Jews took up stones again to stone him. 32Jesus replied, "I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these are you going to stone me?" 33The Jews answered, "It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you, but for blasphemy, because you, though only a human being, are making yourself God." 34Jesus answered, "Is it not written in your law, 'I said, you are gods'? 35If those to whom the word of God came were called 'gods' - and the scripture cannot be annulled - 36can you say that the one whom the Father has sanctified and sent into the world is blaspheming because I said, 'I am God's Son'? 37If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me. 38But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father." 39Then they tried to arrest him again, but he escaped from their hands.
40He went away again across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing earlier, and he remained there. 41Many came to him, and they were saying, "John performed no sign, but everything that John said about this man was true." 42And many believed in him there.
Let's take a measure of what's been happening: (1) Jesus has been preaching and teaching, with authority (“No one ever spoke the way this man does,” the temple guards tell the Pharisees and chief priests, John 7:46). And (2) Jesus has been healing and doing miracles (e.g., healing a man born blind, John 9:1-12). In response, the Jewish religious leaders are still adamant in their rejection of Jesus. They insist Jesus is an impostor, despite all available evidence. Jesus appeals to them: if you don't believe my words, look at my works. They look at the works, but they still do not believe.
At the heart of the Jewish leaders' rejection is a combination of unbelief (a stubborn will to disbelieve Jesus) and ignorance (they really do not know what would count as God's works). Their view of God is of a "religious" God, for example, a God who would never "work" (including, healing) on the sabbath. The actions of their "God" should surely fall within the limits of their religious expectations. With the exception of Nicodemus (John 3), you will not find another religious leader in the Gospel narratives who take Jesus' healings or miracles to heart and who is open to hearing from Jesus. Very strange. When they hear about such good things, they are not at all happy. They are not happy because they had concluded from the get-go that Jesus is a charlatan.
When we reflect on the religious leaders' behavior, it should not surprise us one bit. Sometimes we naively think and pray something like, "Lord, do a miracle and this person will believe you." How often has such a person come around? A miracle, let's say, occurs. But this is interpreted as "coincidence" or the result of good medicine or some type of fluke. Sometimes the miracle cannot be explained expect in terms of the supernatural. But rather than acknowledge that possibility, the person goes away disturbed, wishing to forget the event altogether. I know some of these stories. You must know some as well.
"The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?" says the Lord, through Jeremiah (17:9). We are complicated creatures, full of desires, fears, hopes, denials, paranoia, neuroses, pride, shame, and so forth. When one's role and position are threatened, like the religious leaders, then you might do whatever it takes to protect that role and position. When's one pride is at stake, you might not want to admit you were mistaken. And when shame engulfs you, you would rather hide and disappear from the view of others. That's why coming to faith in Jesus is not a simple matter of "Seeing a miracle, and then turning to Jesus in faith." More than our eyes need to be enlightened; our hearts need the gentle, divine touch that assures us that it's God and that this God comes in love.
Let's pray: Father God, we pray for all our family members, friends, neighbors, and coworkers who do not know you. Some of us have been praying for many years. We ask that you would move the hearts and minds of those who do not know you in the direction of faith. Whatever their level of familiarity with Christianity and Jesus, may they come closer to you. Do whatever it takes. A healing, a whisper of love, an awakening, a dream, an epiphany, or some thought that seems to come from nowhere, inch them closer to a living relationship with you through your Son and the Spirit. In Jesus' name, amen.