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?

 

 

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The Woman at the Well

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Of all of the wonderful stories in the Bible, my very favorite is the one of the woman at the well.  Her story resonates with me on so many levels that I hope to one day get to talk with her when I join her in heaven.  Until that day, however, I love to read and re-read her story, which is told in John 4:1-42.

The story opens with Jesus and His disciples travelling through Samaria to get from Judea to Galilee.  Going through Samaria would have been almost unthinkable in and of itself as Jews considered Samaritans to be half-breeds.  Contact with Samaritans was to be avoided at all costs.  What makes the story even more scandalous is that Jesus, whom the disciples leave alone near Jacob’s well in the village of Sychar, has a one-on-one interaction there with a Samaritan woman.

In the desert environment in which  they lived, the Samaritan women would have gone to the well to draw water early in the day before the heat was overwhelming.  They would have gone in groups and it would have been a very social time for them.  This woman, however, comes to the well alone in the heat of the day.  It is clear that she is an outcast from the other Samaritan villagers, living as an exile among her people.

Jesus greets her by asking for a drink of water from the well.  In verse 9b, she responds by stating the obvious differences between herself and Jesus.  Undeterred, Jesus proceeds to offer her living water.  By verse 12, she is asking Him who He is.  In verse 14, He offers her the gift of eternal life.  The woman is ready to receive His gift – but she is looking at it through earthly eyes, thinking only of avoiding the toil of  going to the well in the middle of the day every day.

He has much more for her than that, though, so he tells her, “Go and get your husband.”  In giving this command, He is actually inviting her to get real with Him and to be known in her place of brokenness.  The woman responds in verse 17 with a half-truth as she tells Him, “I don’t have a husband.”  Jesus lays out the truth of the woman’s condition in verse 16:  She has had five husbands and she isn’t married to the man with whom she currently lives.  It’s important to understand that Jesus doesn’t say this to humiliate her, to judge her or to make her feel ashamed; He says it so that she can come to the place where she can be authentic with Him and with herself about her need for Him.

She’s not quite ready to be that authentic, however, and she attempts to deflect the truth by turning religious on Him in verses 19 and 20.  Jesus is unwilling to let her settle for mere religion, and brings her to a place of relationship in verse 23.  In verse 25, she states her belief in the coming Messiah.  Finally!  She has reached the point of admitting that she doesn’t have all the answers but she knows where to look for them.  Now Jesus can reveal Himself fully to her, telling her plainly in verse 26, “I AM the Messiah!”

What happens next is remarkable.  In verses 28-30, the woman leaves her jar at the well and runs back to the town, telling everyone about the Man she just met.  She has turned from an outcast to an evangelist; from someone who lives in isolation to someone who is known, accepted and loved. The people come to meet Jesus for themselves.  In verses 39-42, we learn that many of the Samaritans come to also know and believe in Jesus and recognize Him for who He is.  Her life, once hidden, has now been made to shine brightly for Him; her story, once shameful, is used to bring Him glory.

Jesus met me in my own brokenness on October 14, 2001 and brought me to the place where I was ready to acknowledge that I did not have all the answers and needed Him.  He came into my heart that day, and my life has been forever changed.  Your brokenness doesn’t have to look like that of the woman at the well for Jesus to meet you in the middle of it, and no matter how broken you might feel that you are, you’re not beyond His love’s ability to make you whole again.  If you have already accepted Him as your Lord and Savior, won’t you take a moment to reflect on that glorious day and to thank Him for all that He has done in and through you?  Won’t you accept Him as your Lord and Savior today if you haven’t already?  If you don’t know how, it would be my privilege to lead you through a simple prayer to surrender your life to Him right now, wherever you are.  Just message me.

 

 

The Eyes Have It

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In John 3, we learn about two different people and their different reactions to the appearance of Jesus.  One man is highly educated and has studied the Scriptures his whole life in preparation for recognizing the Messiah when he appears.  The other man is an uneducated wild man who spends his life preparing the way for the appearance of the Lord.  Shouldn’t both of them respond similarly to the Messiah when He comes on the scene?  Yet these men react very differently.  Let’s look today at Nicodemus and John the Baptist.

Nicodemus is the educated man, one of the Jewish leaders.  When Jesus comes on the scene, it seems to turn everything that Nicodemus knows on its head.  He comes to see Jesus under cover of darkness as he seeks answers to his deepest questions and Jesus is eager to address them.  Jesus tells him that he must be born again in order to get to heaven.  Nicodemus does not respond with an overwhelmingly faith-filled reaction or even a stimulating debate.  Instead, he asks, “What do you mean?”  It’s as though he has never heard this concept before.  He asks this same question of Jesus not once but twice during their discussion of spiritual rebirth.  He is being given the key to eternal life and yet he struggles to understand it.

In contrast, John the Baptist fully understands his position with regard to Jesus.  He understands that his life’s purpose was to prepare people for the arrival of Jesus on the scene, and when Jesus appears, John the Baptist has no problem fading from the public view.  In verse 30, John the Baptist tells his followers, “He [Jesus] must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less.”  This is a concept with which many believers have a hard time grappling, and yet John the Baptist is crystal clear on this point in his own heart and life.  He also clearly understands what it takes to have eternal life, as he explains to his followers in verses 34-36.

So how do two such different men with such a similar purpose come to have such different reactions?  Nicodemus looks at Jesus’s teaching through earthly eyes.  This is evidenced when he says in verse 4, “How can an old man go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?”  Although he has studied things of the spiritual world his whole life, he has a hard time seeing things in the spiritual realms.  On the other hand, John the Baptist has no problem seeing with spiritual eyes, even though he has had no formal training.  As we see in verse 31, he fully understands where Jesus comes from and what his nature is, and he also understands his own place in the equation.

Seeing into the spiritual realms can be a difficult thing for us humans.  We understand things from our earthly perspectives, but it can be hard to understand spiritual things around us.  Whenever I struggle to understand the spiritual realms, I take comfort in Jesus’ response to Nicodemus.  He doesn’t mock Nicodemus or chastise him for not understanding; instead, he provides more information and gives Nicodemus handles to try to grasp what He is saying.  Doesn’t He do the same for us?  As James tells us, God will give us wisdom and He won’t resent our asking.  Let’s ask Him today for eyes to see into the spiritual realms.