John 7:45-49 (ESV)
45 The officers then came to the chief priests and Pharisees, who said to them, “Why did you not bring him?” 46 The officers answered, “No one ever spoke like this man!” 47 The Pharisees answered them, “Have you also been deceived? 48 Have any of the authorities or the Pharisees believed in him? 49 But this crowd that does not know the law is accursed.”
Why are we so often surprised when those who do not know Christ are completely dismissive of his value and claims? Such has been the case for all of history. When people have not, by the grace of God, been made to see the true identity of Christ, they think those who follow him are nuts. And, as they dismiss Christ as irrelevant, they will often posture and present themselves as the intelligent while those who have believed in Jesus are, to them, uneducated and foolish.
In the scene above, the Jewish religious leaders had sent temple guards to arrest Jesus while he was teaching during a religious feast. The guards went, heard Jesus, and returned empty-handed. The religious leaders wanted to know why the guards had disobeyed their commands. All the soldiers could say was that nobody had ever spoken like Jesus was just then speaking.
Take note, the guards could not explain with any sort of apologetic argument why it is that they were unwilling to lay hands on Jesus. They did not have the ability to reason from all of the Old Testament how Jesus fulfilled the prophesies of Messiah. All they knew was that, on a personal, spiritual, and emotional level, they knew that Jesus was different than any person who had ever walked the face of the earth.
The leaders, the educated, on the other hand, were furious. How dare these uneducated, unenlightened, ordinary men question their orders. Notice their argument in response to the guards. No educated people are following Jesus. Why would you idiots think that you should follow him? Just listen to us. Let us do your thinking for you. We know best. Just hold your swords and clubs and do what you are told.
Let’s bring this scene into the present. It is not at all unlike what Christians face today. There is a group of those who believe that, if anybody believes in Christ, they are fools. There is an element in the media and in the university world that would adopt the same tone toward believers as the religious leaders took toward the guards. These educated and influential people would happily show anybody that belief in Jesus is old-fashioned, closed-minded, outdated, and simply not in keeping with modern morals and education. In a very real sense, the world thinks that those who believe in Jesus are stupid or crazy.
But the question comes, are we? Are believers dumb? Well, some of us probably are, but not because of our faith in Christ. At the end of the day, following from John 7 to 8 particularly and through the rest of the gospel overall, who was right? The religious leaders missed who Jesus is. The guards, the simple and believing guards understood. They could not defeat the religious leaders in a debate, at least not at that point. But the guards were right. They saw who Jesus is. They would not, at that point, reach out to lay hands on him. The simple guards had truth while the religious leaders only had their philosophy and their arrogance.
Recently, I have read through C. S. Lewis’ space trilogy. In this fiction, Lewis presents an imaginative account of a man who experiences the conflict between good and evil and sees what worlds might be like had the fall never occurred. In the final book, That Hideous Strength, Lewis brings the conflict back to earth. There we find a faithful group of believers pitted against a powerful group of scientists in a struggle for control of the world.
What hit me so much in all of the books in this trilogy is the very conflict that we see in the passage above. It appears that whether we are thinking of Jesus’ day, Lewis’ day, or our day, the world has always considered the faithful to be naïve, uneducated, and foolish. And, no matter how hard we work to demonstrate the fact that we are actually thoughtful, well-reasoned, considerate people, the world will reject this for the simple fact that our conclusions are not the ones that they like. The world will always look at Bible-believing Christians and assume our conclusions to be childish and odious. Truly, our only hope is that our faith is founded on truth. It was true in Jesus’ day, and Jesus proved it, not by reasoning, but by rising from the grave.
What then do we take from this? I am not arguing that there is no point in apologetics. However, I would warn us as believers that we will not win the good will of the world by showing them that, “No, really, we are smart too.” The world will not believe us, not because of our faculties of reason, but because only the supernatural power of God can break through the dead sinfulness of the human heart and bring a person to faith. We need the powerful working of God to change the heart of an Ivy League professor or a blue-collar worker. So, we may reason all we wish, and I do not oppose it, but we must grasp that the work, in the end, will only be completed by the very thing that made the guards simply say, “No one ever spoke like this man.”
So, Christians, think well and work hard. Present solid proofs for the word of God for the glory of God. Learn to spot the fallacies in the arguments that some of us wrongly use and that are present in the arguments of those who oppose us. Think really well to honor the Lord. But know that, as you do so, it is still only the Spirit of God who changes hearts.