Asking the Right Question
Anyone who speaks or teaches in front of people is used to people asking them questions. Teachers are constantly being bombarded with questions. I had a young man stop after a sermon I preached near Chicago. He asked, “What does God sound like?” I was confused and asked, “What do you mean?” He said, “Well in your sermon you said ‘God told you’ and I wanted to know what God’s voice sounds like.” Hmmm. I don’t say things like that any more!
There are times in AWANA when we get to council time that I stand up to speak and before I even being the kids put their hands up! Not everyone asks questions to gain information. You learn pretty quickly that there are some people who just like to talk and others are asking questions simply to put you on the spot; to argue with you.
Today and next week we are going to look at a man who asked a good question but it was the wrong question. Not only did he ask the wrong question; he didn’t really want an answer.
Our text is Luke 11, one of the most familiar stories in the Bible, the parable of the Good Samaritan (we actually won’t get to the parable until next week). A man who is identified as an “expert in the law” stood up we are told, to “test Jesus”. The Greek word for “test” indicates a desire to cause someone to stumble or to prove them false. It is the same word Jesus used when he said to Satan during the temptation, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test” (Luke 4:12). In other words, it appears the man was not simply asking a question because he wanted to know. He was, if you will, “baiting” Jesus.
The man asked Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Let’s stop here and point out that the question is a good one. It is the most essential question of life. Many of you who are here today would like to have the answer to that very question. What Jesus is going to show the man is that this is the wrong question.
Jesus does not answer the question. Instead, he asked another question.
Jesus refused to get into an argument. Instead He asked the man, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” Today we would ask, “What does the Bible say?”
What great wisdom! This is the best first response to any question: “What does the Bible say?” If we started all our discussions here many of our questions and problems would be solved quickly and we would get in much less difficulty. Rather than seek the foundational and unchanging wisdom of God we tend to be like former President Lyndon Johnson. People used to say that he would answer questions by looking in his pocket to check the latest opinion polls!
We consult current trends, the advice of peers, legal statutes, company policies, and then we examine what “feels right” and make a decision. No wonder our world is in the trouble it is in. These are all unreliable guides! The only reliable guide is the Word of God! We must always start by saying, “What has God said?”
A Good Answer
The fact that this man was trying to trip up Jesus does not mean that the man did not know the Law. He was an expert in the Law and knew what the Law said.
27 He answered: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
The expert in the Law quoted the Jewish Shema which is found in Deuteronomy 6. Every Jew knew these words. They daily repeated this verse.
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. (Deut 6:4-5)
To the Shema he added the words of Leviticus 19:18: “Love your neighbor as yourself”. This simple statement effectively summarized all of the Ten Commandments. The Shema summarized the first four commandments (No other Gods, no graven images, don’t take His name in vain, remember the Sabbath) and the teaching on the neighbor summarized the last six commandments (honor your parents, don’t kill, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, lie, or covet.)
Think about the Shema. God wants
- All of our heart (He wants us to be passionate about our relationship with Him…like when we are in love and can’t stop thinking about the person whom we love)
- All our strength (He wants us to put forth a maximum effort to knowing Him . . .like most people give to their jobs, their hobbies, their home, their yard, their family)
- All our soul . . .(The word for soul literally means “breath”. He wants us to long for Him from the core of our being, he wants us to enthusiastically and energetically love Him)
- All our mind…(He wants our full attention….the difference between a book in which you only turn the pages and one that you can’t put down)
An Unexpected Response
After his answer Jesus said to the man, “do this and you will live.” (v, 28) The man knew what God required and Jesus said, “Do what you know you should do”.
This response is unexpected on two fronts. First, it is an unexpected answer to the man. He was expecting some novel, creative, new standard by Jesus. This would allow the teacher to show that Jesus was creating a new and unbiblical religion. It would show that Jesus was a heretic rather than a prophet from God. Instead, Jesus had dumped the issue right back in the man’s lap. Jesus had put him on the spot.
Second it is unexpected to us. This is not the answer we would give in the same situation. We would be quick to point out that no one can keep the standards of the law so therefore what we need to do to receive eternal life is to put our trust in Christ. Hopefully (but often not) we would point out that God still wants us to live as He has commanded but we cannot do so apart from the transforming work of the grace of Christ.
Why doesn’t Jesus point this out? It’s because the man is not ready yet. Let’s go back to an important phrase. We are told the expert in the law wanted to “justify himself”. Why? It is because the man was convicted by Jesus’ statement “Do this and you will live.” When we measure our lives by the clear standard of God’s law we do not measure up. This man knew that he did not love God in the all-embracing way that God commands. Rather than acknowledging his need the man looked for a loophole.
We read, “But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’” (29) The common Jewish understanding of Leviticus 19:18 “love your neighbor as yourself” was that God was telling them to love their “fellow Jews” (they get this from the context of the passage). Jesus, as He so often did, sought to expand their understanding. To do so he told the parable we’ll look at next week..
We do the same thing when our sin is exposed. We say things like, “My God would never condemn me for such things” (your imaginary God may not condemn you but the Holy God of creation will!) Or we may say, “I’m sure God understands my situation.” Of course He understands your situation! He knows you are steeped in sin and will not admit that fact! Rather than measure ourselves by the unchanging standard of God’s law we try to redefine God’s Law to agree with our standard of living! Our job is not to judge the Law of God. We are to let the Law of God judge us!
Before this man (before we) could understand what was necessary to have eternal life he needed to see the desperate nature of his situation. The man had asked the wrong question to start with. He asked: “What must I DO to inherit eternal life?” He wanted to know how he could control his own destiny. He wanted to know what buttons needed to be pushed, what laws needed to be followed, what dues needed to be paid, what actions needed to be taken, and what words needed to be spoken to earn one’s salvation.
It is the wrong question! We can’t DO anything to earn salvation. Our sin-debt is much greater than we are willing to admit. We are supposed to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. Our heart, soul, mind, and strength are being pulled in a million different directions. Whenever we do not love God wholly and fully we sin. Whenever we ignore His counsel in any area of our life we sin. Many people seem to think that we have a small debt of sin that we can pay off quickly with a little concerted effort. In truth we have such a great sin-debt that we have no hope of being able to dig out from under us. We must see this before we will be open to God’s rescue plan.
This man needed to understand that he was powerless to save himself. He needed to understand that the right question is: “How is it possible for anyone to be saved in light of our sin and rebellion?” The answer, of course is that we can only be saved by the gracious work of Christ on our behalf. The sacrifice of Christ is God’s plan of transformation. When we turn to Him He pays our debt and then put His Spirit within us so that we can begin to live more responsibly.
Let’s draw some applications. First, we should be convicted of our need for a Savior. It is my hope that some of you after listening to this encounter with the Lord Jesus have come to see that you have fallen far short of God’s standard for our lives. I hope – and I pray – that you have come to see if this is the kind of love for God and for others that God requires, then you are in trouble. I pray that you come to that point where you realize that there is absolutely no way that you can earn your salvation.
Does that sound harsh? We must accept responsibility for our actions before we will cry out to Jesus to save us. This will not be some formal or perfunctory declaration as if you were reciting the password of a club. This will be a cry of desperation. It will be a cry like one who is in danger of drowning and will die unless you are rescued by the Savior.
Think of it like a person with a terrible disease. As long as the person believes they are healthy they will not talk to a doctor, they will not pursue treatment options; they will not take any medicine. They don’t believe there is a problem.
However, when a Doctor says to a person “You have such-and-such disease and if you don’t do something you will quickly die”, the person takes a different perspective. They put themselves in the hands of the Doctor. They take the required treatments and endeavor to make the required lifestyle changes.
The man who came to Jesus believed he was fine. Jesus needed this man to see His sickness so that he could get the help he needed.
If you look at your life and know that millions of times in your life you have failed to truly love God with all of your heart, all of your strength, all of your soul, and all of your mind; If you realize that you have treated Him shamefully either by openly scorning Him . . . or perhaps even worse (as if He were not worth opposing) simply ignored Him. If you see this in your life you should know that you need God to do something for you before you can ever know Him or have a hope of Heaven.
If God has opened your heart to this reality today I invite you to receive Him. Say yes to Him. Ask Him to bring light to your darkened soul and life to your dead end life. Ask Him to, by His grace, transform you from a rebel into a saint; from a lost cause into a child of God. If you will do this then you will receive as an undeserved gift, eternal life.
Second we should be convicted to live for Him more completely. The New Testament never lessens or cancels the requirements of the Moral Law of God. We cannot keep the Ten Commandments in our strength but that doesn’t mean God still doesn’t desire this kind of obedience from His children. It is a sobering thought to think that those who do not know His grace are often working harder to honor God than those who claim to have received that favor through the work of Christ. The later act as if God’s Holy standards are no longer a concern!
True followers of Christ know they cannot earn God’s favor by their obedience – they obey in the strength of God’s Spirit out of gratitude for God’s grace. They trust that God knows what is best for us. They trust His wisdom, character and love.
Third, we learn from Jesus how best to help others. We need to learn from the methods of Jesus. We must always remember that the goal of witnessing is not merely the dispensing of information . . . it is to bring someone to a relationship with Jesus. We can’t bring someone to Christ until they are ready. We can do great damage by indiscriminately “blasting away” at everyone who comes our way. To truly share our faith with someone else we must meet a person where they are at and then journey with them to Jesus. This means we must
- Care more about winning the heart more than we care about winning an argument (sometimes we need to simply ignore wrong statements or attacks until a person really wants to understand)
- Understand that an understanding of sin is a prerequisite to embracing grace. Sin, if you will, is the germ that is killing us. We can do all kinds of things to “try to be a better person” but if we never address the “germ” we’re not going to get better. I’m not suggesting that you go around and point out everyone else’s sins for them . . . no one likes to be around those kind of people. I am suggesting that we not soften the truth of God’s Word. We need to point out to people that they cannot know God’s blessing if they continue to ignore His standards. It’s pretty simple.
- Be patient and persistent. Jesus had to approach this man from several different angles. He didn’t rush things. We must give the Holy Spirit a chance to work. If our first attempts to share the message of the gospel don’t seem to go well . . . don’t become discouraged. Continue to show love . . . continue to draw attention to the perfect standard of God’s Law and keep pointing at Jesus.
People will always ask questions. This is how people learn. A good teacher knows how to answer the questions in such a way that it leads the questioner to actually hear and embrace the truth. In our case, our goal is not so much to answer every question people might ask. Our goal is to help them ask the right questions and then point them to the One who alone stands as the Answer.