Tricky Questions

Dr. Jon Morrissette - 3/22/2020

We’re not technically living in “unprecedented” times. People have suffered mightily since the beginning of time. We would be hard-pressed to encounter some hardship that Christians, in other eras, haven’t also experienced. Adversity makes us question everything—it can make us question God’s purpose, his power, his goodness, his love, his sovereignty.

I believe God always welcomes sincere questions. Quite a few Psalms begin with questions. Ps 6:3-4, “Be gracious to me, Lord, for I am weak; heal me, Lord, for my bones are shaking; my whole being is shaken with terror. And you, Lord—how long?” Ps 10:1, “Lord, why do you stand so far away? Why do you hide in times of trouble?” Ps 13:1, “How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long will I store up anxious concerns within me, agony in my mind every day? How long will my enemy dominate me?” Ps 22:1-2, “My God, my God why have you abandoned me? Why are you so far from my deliverance and from my words of groaning? My God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, by night, yet I have no rest.” 

You might recall how Job and his friends questioned God, as Job suffered and grieved miserably. Really the whole Bible, the Prophetic writings, the stories are filled with people questioning God. I would encourage you this week to scan the Psalms. Put a pencil mark next to every question you find. If you will humbly seek God, you will find tremendous encouragement, you will feel/know/encounter the presence of God in profound ways. 

But I want to say this. Not all questions are equal. Behind every question is a heart—a heart that is quite sincere, or perhaps a heart that is calloused/hardened. Behind every question is a thought, a belief, an assumption—our thoughts are not always God’s thoughts. Behind every question is a motive—some questions are intended to justify, some questions are intended to mock/ridicule God. But know this, out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks. More often than not, our questions reveal far more about us than they reveal about God! 

As we turn to Mark 11-12, Mark gives us a sampling of questions various people and groups were asking Jesus. Let me take a moment and just survey the questions people were asking Jesus. 

First, they were asking about authority. Jesus had just cleansed the temple and cursed the fig tree. He had confronted the hypocrisy of the religious establishment. So, in Mark 11:28 the chief priests, scribes, and elders ask Jesus, “By what authority are you doing these things? Who gave you this authority to do these things?” Oh boy! Do we ever value our freedom. We’re a law, an authority unto ourselves. It’s my life. It’s my party. I can cry if I want to. It’s my body. It’s none of your business. How we’ve always thumbed our noses at God, and balking at this authority, his commands, his wisdom. 

Second, they were asking about politics. In Mark 12:14, the Pharisees and Herodians ask Jesus, “Teacher, we know you are truthful and don’t care what anyone thinks, nor do you show partiality but teach the way of God truthfully. [what a setup! They are oozing with fakeness] Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Should we pay or shouldn’t we?” Political questions are dangerous because however we answer, they coerce us to declare our allegiance to sinful man, and worldly powers/ authorities/ parties. Political questions are landmines. You step on one wrong, and your toast. John the Baptist was just beheaded by Herod. If they could paint Jesus as a political revolutionary Herod could do their bidding. Oh how they wanted to kill Jesus! 

Third, they were asking about theology. In Mark 12:19-23 the Sadducees concoct this crazy hypothetical question about what would happen if a man, who has seven brothers, and whose married, and has a child. . . if that man should die, and his brother married her. . . and then that brother died… and the next brother married her…. And on and on. Mark 12:23, “In the resurrection, when they rise, whose wife will she be, since the seven had married her?” It’s clearly an insincere question. Their mocking the plausibility of resurrection—a core teaching of Christ—that he must rise. You wonder if Jesus should even dignify their questions! 

Fourth, they were asking about morality and ethics. In Mark 12:28, one of the Scribes ask Jesus, “Which command is the most important of all?” Notice in your Scriptures that each question is coming from a completely person/ group. The first is the chief priests, scribes, and elders; The second is Pharisees and Herodians; The third is Sadduccess; The fourth is a lone scribe. Only one out of the four questions is a sincere inquiry. All the others are hostile. 

I want to point out that Jesus always responds to the “heart” behind the question, and not just to the question itself. I could preach an individual sermon on each of these questions. How each question was loaded. How each question was intended to mock, or entrap Jesus, or pit him against this group or that group. 

But this is what I want you to focus on this morning. As important as we think OUR QUESTIONS ABOUT GOD might be, have you also considered how much more important GOD’S QUESTIONS ABOUT US might be? These people are asking Jesus stuff and he is asking right back. They are asking with finite viewpoint; Jesus is asking for an infinite perspective. They are asking with hardened, darkened, corrupt hearts; They are asking with corrupt, depraved minds. They are asking out of the flesh, our of greed, out of power and ego and fear. But notice how Jesus’ questions confront, rebuke, reframe, redirect, sift, slice, cut even to the diving bone/marrow, soul/spirit. Such is the power of God’s word right? Such is the power of God’s questions. Our questions confuse, distort, convolute. God’s questions clarify, call, and command us to deeper discipleship. 

Question 1. By what authority? Mark 11:29-33. I’ll answer you if you’ll answer me. Was John’s baptism from heaven or of human origin? Answer me? 

Question 2. Should we pay taxes? Mark 12:15-17. “why are you testing me? Bring me a denarious… whose image and inscription is this… ‘Caesars’… Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s…” 

Question 3. Which Brother is She married to in Resurrection? Mark 12:24, “Isn’t this the reason why you’re mistaken: you don’t know the Scriptures or the power of God?” 

Question 4. Which commandment is the greatest? In the first three questions, Jesus doesn’t just reply with questions. He replies forcefully with parables, with rebuke. Jesus never ignores the heart behind the question. God doesn’t play games, he sees a question for what it is. You cannot deceive, nor entrap God. In the first question Jesus tells a question to call out their murderous motives. In the second he calls out their political motives/agenda. In the third, he rebukes their gross misinterpretation and distortion of Scripture. 

In the fourth question though, Jesus answers gently! Mark 12:29-31, “The most important is Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is, Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other command greater than these.” 

I want you to see that if you seeking God sincerely with a pure heart, I don’t think any question is really off limits. God is big enough to handle any question. He is gracious enough to lead us out of darkness into light. If you are asking from a posture of faith, ask away! This is the spirit of the Psalmists, the Prophets, Job, fathers/mothers of our great faith. But if your intent is to mock God, be prepared to brace yourself. Because God will ask question of your soul you’re simply not prepared to answer! 

Mark 12:32-34. I love this stuff! “Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, teacher. You have correctly said that he is one, and there is no one else except him. And to love him with all your heart, with all your understanding, and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself, is far more important than all the burnt offerings and sacrifices. *When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And no one dared to question him any longer.” 

Here is the bottom line. Too often, our questions delay, defer discipleship. But God’s questions always drive us to the core issues of discipleship. What is the most core issue of discipleship? It is faith. It is trust. Are we asking with hardened or receptive hearts? Are we trying to exacerbate our doubts, or increase our faith? 

After all the dust settles, Jesus profoundly confronts all of his questioners. Mark 12:38-40, “Beware of the scribes, who want to go around in long robes and who want greetings in the marketplaces, the best seats in the synagogues, and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and say long prayers just for show. These will receive harsher judgment.” These well-caloried idolators. Their motive was ego, greed, self-honor, self-aggrandizement. They thought nothing of manipulating widows for self-enrichment. Their hope was in taking. Their hope was in wealth, cold hard cash. Their fleshliness was evident to all. Religion was just a mask, a cover. They preached one thing, but lived by the philosophy, eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die. Jesus was their single greatest existential threat to their power, wealth, prestige. Because they couldn’t delegitimize Jesus with their questions, they had no other recourse but to kill him, and soon they would. 

But notice Mark 12:41-44. “Sitting across from the temple treasury, he watched how the crowd dropped money into the treasury. Many rich people were putting in large sums. Then a poor widow came and dropped in two tiny coins worth very little. Summoning his disciples, he said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. For they all gave out of their surplus, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had —all she had to live on.” 

Because of this widows hardships, she probably had more excuse than everyone in Mark 11-12 to question God. But she asks not a single question. She simply entrusts her very life to God. She gives to God all she has to live on, and boy does Jesus commend her. He summons his disciples. Check this lady out! God welcomes our questions, but what he is really seeking from us, is faith, is trust. 

We have very hard times ahead of us. Two tiny coins are going to matter as much to you as perhaps this widow. If you think you’ve had to trust God before, it will be nothing compared to what is unfolding now. God is calling us trust in his goodness, despite our questions, and doubts. Faith is putting everything we have to live on, yes our wealth, but also our very lives… putting it all into God’s hands! 

Listen I know a lot of you are freaked out. The cure for anxiety is to look to God, and trust his goodness. There are two kinds of people. There are those who say, “Good God” and there are those who say, “Good God.” The only difference is the attitude of faith. If you are feeling freaked out… take some time this week to read Psalm 91. Read Job 38-42. In Job 1 Job’s entire life is decimated by a whirlwind. He questions God. But then in Job 38-42, out of a whirlwind, God questions Job. And when God is finished Job didn’t have any more questions. He had no other reply but to repent. 

Job 42:3-5, “Surely I spoke about things I did not understand, things too wondrous for me to know. You said, “Listen now, and I will speak. When I question you, you will answer me.” I’ve heard reports about you, but now I have seen you.” God said to disciples, “This is my son, listen to him!”

Scripture Verses

Mark 11:27-12:44

Worship Playlist

The Lion and the Lamb by Bethel Music

Raise a Hallelujah by Bethel Music

Tremble by Mosaic MSC

Resurrecting by Elevation Worship

Study Questions

  1. Leaders often become a blank screen unto which people project their personal hopes and aspirations. What types of hope do people project on political leaders? Have you ever put too much trust or hope in a leader? If so, explain.
  2. Read Mark 11:1-11. What kind of hopes and aspirations might the crowds have projected on to Jesus? What do Christians today fairly or unfairly project on to Jesus?  
  3. Jesus would forcefully recalibrate the expectations of his disciples and followers. What might it have been like to see Jesus curse the fig tree Mark 11:12-14?  
  4. Read Mark 11:15-19. What was God's purpose and desire for the temple? How did God's purpose become perverted over time? What is God's purpose and desire for our Church? How can we sometimes forget our mission of connecting people to God? What can we do to be realigned to God's purpose?   
  5. Read Mark 11:20-26. What is the fruit Jesus was looking for among his disciples? What kind of fruit is Jesus looking for in our lives? Are we bearing good fruit?  
  6. Read Galatians 5:16-26. What are the two different types of fruit people can exhibit in their life? Where do you see the most fruit from your life?   
  7. Read 1 John 1:5-10. How does God invite us into a place of honesty in these verses? What positive action can we take when we realize a gap between our heart, our profession, and our behavior? 

Apply It!

Resources

At the Lakeside Bookshelf:

Jesus the King: Understanding the Life and Death of The Son of God by Timothy Keller