Jesus was brilliant.
Even from the young age of 12, he debated with his elders in the religious establishment and astonished them with his answers, and with his questions. A mark of true wisdom and intelligence is the ability to ask good questions. When his parents tracked him down and scolded him, he replied, “Why were you searching for me? Didn’t you know that it was necessary for me to be in my Father’s house?” (Lk. 2:46-49). Questions!
I’ve been a parent, and I remember how seemingly endless questions from my kids at certain ages wore me out. Yet I was very glad that they were driven to understand things, so I dared not shut the questions down. I’ve also been a college professor and can testify to how refreshing and invigorating it is when students ask questions that contribute to the learning of all.
For Jesus, the teaching aspect of his mere three years of active ministry was marked by some of the most provocative questions ever posed, questions that ultimately contributed to the death sentence imposed upon him. He refused to conform to religious tradition at any point where it betrayed the word of God. On many occasions, when he discerned an ulterior motive behind a question, he would answer with another question. This either redirected the conversation, elicited a perfect parable, or called out hypocrisy and error in the questioner.
When asked, Should we pay taxes to Caesar?, he asked, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?” When asked, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” Jesus asked, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? When asked, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus asked, after telling the story of the Good Samaritan, “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
When presented with the woman found committing adultery, the elders challenged him with, “Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” When they walk away convicted of their own sin, Jesus asked, “Woman, where are your accusers? Has no man condemned you? When asked, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus asked, “Why are you asking Me about what is good?
When asked, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?” Jesus asked, “Are you so dull?” “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them?” And these are only a few among many examples.
When someone asked a question with a sincere heart of faith, Jesus was willing to answer directly and compassionately. When Nicodemus asked, “How can someone be born when they are old?” Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.” He expounded fully on this theme, knowing that Nicodemus genuinely wanted to know.
Another is the woman at the well, who asked a series of very good questions. (She’s someone I would have loved to have in my class.) She asked, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” To which Jesus replied, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” Her follow-up questions: “Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?” Jesus’ replied, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
I think I’ve made my point. Jesus knows what is in people’s hearts and answers accordingly. But what is the application? How does this set of Scriptures come to life for us?
In this life of faith as Christians, it is not wrong to have questions, even very big ones. In fact, we could argue that it is essential to an authentic and mature faith. Evangelism is the presentation of the gospel to the lost, bringing them to a point of repentance and a decision to follow Christ. Once they begin following, the apologist and disciple-maker takes over, answering the very legitimate questions that arise as new converts attempt to properly interpret and apply the word of truth.
Nicodemus and the woman revealed from their questions that they were ready to become disciples. They just needed a bit more understanding about the kingdom of God, and Jesus was happy to engage with them. He will do the same with us.
The Pharisees of Jesus’ day completely missed this, and therefore missed the opportunity to take into their hearts the Messiah’s wisdom. Their hearts were warped, and so they asked wrongheaded, hardhearted questions. Jesus didn’t fall into their traps.
Lord, help us to have pure, sincere hearts who ask the right questions of you. And help us to present your truthful answers when we are asked good questions by others.