Intellectual Pride and Unbelief

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In John 7, we find Jesus in Galilee and avoiding going to Judea, because the Jewish leaders were plotting to kill Him.  However, the Festival of Shelters arrives and Jesus goes secretly into Judea.  The crowds of people are divided in their opinions about who Jesus is; many believe in Him but some believe He is just a phony (see John 7:12).  Midway through the Festival, Jesus begins teaching openly.  The division among the people is not resolved when Jesus speaks.  Confusion reigns in people’s minds and hearts as they say:

Isn’t this the man they are trying to kill? 26 But here he is, speaking in public, and they say nothing to him. Could our leaders possibly believe that he is the Messiah? 27 But how could he be? For we know where this man comes from. When the Messiah comes, he will simply appear; no one will know where he comes from.”

In spite of the misunderstanding of the Scriptures and the division of opinion among the people, many people placed their faith in Jesus.  “After all,” they said, “would you expect the Messiah to do more miraculous signs than this man has done?”  (John 7:31)

When the Pharisees find out what is being said among the people, they send the Temple guards to arrest Jesus (verse 32).  This begins a telling exchange in verses 45-49:

45 When the Temple guards returned without having arrested Jesus, the leading priests and Pharisees demanded, “Why didn’t you bring him in?”

46 “We have never heard anyone speak like this!” the guards responded.

47 “Have you been led astray, too?” the Pharisees mocked. 48 “Is there a single one of us rulers or Pharisees who believes in him? 49 This foolish crowd follows him, but they are ignorant of the law. God’s curse is on them!”

This is a classic example of intellectual pride at work.  The Pharisees believe that their intelligence and their years of schooling make them superior to the crowds of people in the Temple.  They cannot accept that the untrained Jesus could have all the answers, and His claims of being the Son of God infuriate the Pharisees.  They believe so much in their own training and education that they ignore what their hearts might say to them about Jesus’ teaching and about His miracles.  In actual fact, what’s happening is that their intellectual pride is choking the belief out of them.

Our intellect is a gift from God, and following God does not require that we check our brains at the door.  In John 5:31-47, we see a remarkable exchange where Jesus lays out for the Pharisees all the logical reasons that they should believe that He is the Messiah – He wants them to think it through and reach the right conclusion about Him.  (See my post on this chapter here.)  His hope was that they would believe their intellect if not their hearts about Him, but they refuse to do so.

Although God’s desire is that all people would be saved (2 Peter 3:9), He has given us the freedom to choose His way or to choose our own path.  Pride of all kinds can lie to us, blinding our eyes to the fact that we need Jesus and His work on the cross to cancel our sinfulness.  Pride keeps us from humbly bowing and receiving this amazing gift of grace from Him.  Even after we receive Christ as our Lord and Savior, pride can throttle our spiritual growth, keeping us immature and ineffective at reaching out into our world as Christians.  However, there is good news:  There is an antidote to pride, and it is gratitude.  Thanking Jesus sincerely for His work in our lives and for His sacrifice will render pride powerless.  What can you thank Him for today?