There was a certain day, recorded in the Scriptures, in which, as Jesus was teaching the people in the temple, and preaching the gospel, that the chief priests and the scribes, backed up by the elders of Israel, confronted Jesus with the question: “By what authority are you doing these things? Who is he who has given you this authority?” (Luke 20:1-2)
People should not ask questions that they don’t actually want the answer to. When these men questioned Jesus, they were really just looking to score points, perhaps embarrass Jesus, or find a reason to find fault with Him. They did not actually seem to care about whether Jesus had the authority to do what He was doing, or where He got that authority from. They assumed they were the authorities and they knew they had not given Him permission.
Which helps us understand why Jesus responded to them the way He did. Rather than answering their question directly, He supplied a question of His own: “The baptism of John, was it from heaven or from men?” (Luke 20:4)
That seems like a simple enough question; and an honest soul would reply with either one or the other of the supplied choices based on what they believed about John. If one believed John was a prophet, then one could safely say heaven. If one was not a believer, or at least not a believer in John, then it was reasonable to assume John had no authority greater than himself, a man, for what He taught.
But these Jewish leaders were not honest souls. They were politicians and mindful of their social standing. They were more worried about matters of the world than matters of the soul. They reasoned that if they denied John, it would upset the people. If they praised John as a prophet, they would reveal themselves to be hypocrites. So they took the easy way out and claimed not to know. (Luke 20:5-7)
And so Jesus refused, likewise, to answer their question.
Why should this matter to us?
For one thing, it is a reminder to each of us concerning how we approach God, and Christ, with questions.
There is nothing wrong with asking sincere questions of the Lord. The Bible is filled with examples of individuals who asked questions and received forthright replies. When a man approaches God with a sincere heart, and wants a question of life answered, God is willing to supply an answer and, very likely, has already done so in the Bible. There are many answers supplied by God concerning how to be saved, how to live a good life, the causes of suffering, the propriety of this choice or that choice. As it is written, the Scriptures are profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, so that the man of God may complete, thoroughly furnished for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
But when we ask a question of God, and we find He has supplied us with an answer, there is a responsibility to accept that answer and act upon it.
If Jesus had told the Jewish leaders that God had sent Him, they would have ignored the answer and done what they were planning on doing anyway. They had no real interest in the truth; they wanted to do what they wanted to do, and they were going to do it regardless. Their attitude toward the preaching of John showed this. John told them that God wanted the Jews to be baptized. They refused to listen to John and refused to accept the baptism of John. So Jesus refused to deal with their questions, asked in bad faith.
If we aren’t going to act upon what God has told us, then why bother asking God in the first place. It is a waste of our time and a waste of God’s time (so to speak). If you are going to simply do what you were going to do in the first place, then don’t try to use the Bible to validate your prior choices. You aren’t living the way you are because it is pleasing to God; you are living the way you want because it is what you want to do.
Only if you are actually willing to submit yourself to the answers God provides does it make sense to go to God with questions, seeking guidance. But if we do have such a humble heart, willing to follow where God leads, learn what God wants to teach, and let God act through us according to His will instead of ours – then know that the Bible is a book God wrote just for you, and your questions. Because God gives grace to the humble, but He resists the proud. (cf. James 4:6-10) As a loving father, God wants to answer the questions of those who come to Him as penitent children.
But before you ask a question of God, make sure you really want to know the answer.
For those seeking answers in life, the church of Christ would be happy to study God’s word with you. Won’t you please join us in worship at 234 Chapel Drive, Gallipolis.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ.