Malicious Questions and Christian Answers
Why Biblical Surveys are Important
This morning I’m going to spend a good bit of time surveying some high points from the past several lessons, after which we will draw one principle from Matthew 22:41-46, which, consequently, leads into our study for the next two weeks.
The reason a survey of things already studied is in order is because the Scriptures are like the human body. In med school, students are educated in the most minute details of human anatomy, learning to delineate vital organs from non-vital ones, studying the differences between muscle tissue and fascia, memorizing the 650 individual muscles which constitute the human body, and so on.
With so many particulars, one could forget that each part makes up the unified body, which collectively has a totally different function than the Latissimus dorsi, or the Rectus abdominis. What if somebody got so lost in research about rear deltoids that they forgot about the overall wellness and function of the body? That would be highly unlikely; however, what if we got so lost in the particulars of Scripture that we missed the themes which are only possible to see if we zoom out?
My favorite tool in preaching is a microscope. That’s why I’ve been able to preach 113 totally distinct messages from these 22 chapters in Matthew’s gospel. I like to zoom in and dissect each sentence, separating independent clauses from dependent clauses or supporting clauses. My microscope analyzes the original language, studying words and making connections between words. The microscope is my favorite tool. And there’s good support for studying the Bible this way. Paul said, “Oh, the depths of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Romans 11:33). The implication is, if Bible study never plunges into the depths of God’s wisdom, we’re missing something grand. If we can’t praise God for his inscrutable depths, we aren’t studying like Paul did.
Two Sundays ago, Jesus told the Sadducees, “You don’t know the Bible!” when they posited a question to dismiss the reality of a resurrection. In what way didn’t they know the Bible? Well, they knew the Scripture, and they’d memorized the verse. However, they didn’t conclude from Exodus 3:6 that God’s use of present tense verbs implied that he was still the God of long-dead Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, implying they were still alive; thus implying the reality of a resurrection. This means, there’s not only divine precedent for studying the Bible so intricately, but there’s divine expectation.
That being said, I don’t want us to get so near-sighted in our pursuit of God’s depths that we miss the shape of the Scriptural forest. Today’s message is a case in point.
A Caution Against Insincere Inquiries
For several weeks we’ve witnessed Israel’s leaders address Jesus with five tough questions, all of which were poised like blowdarts. Here’s a quick survey: (1) After the children cried out to Jesus, “Hosanna (salvation) to the Son of David!” the chief priests and scribes asked him, angrily, “Do you hear what these are saying?” (2) The next day upon his arrival into the temple, the chief priests and elders interrupted his teaching and asked, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” (3) The colluding Pharisees and Herodians sought to drive a wedge between Jesus and the crowds by asking, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” (4) The Sadducees, who believe there is no resurrection, sought to trap him in a presumably fake story about seven brothers marrying the same woman, though dying before giving her children. They asked, “In the resurrection, therefore, of the seven, whose wife will she be?” (5) When the Pharisees heard how Jesus silenced the Sadducees, they sent a lawyer to test him, asking, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”
These guys have been hard at work to find something—anything—to destroy Jesus. They questioned his status; they questioned his authority; they questioned his political loyalties; they questioned his ability to reason in the Scriptures; they questioned his spiritual priorities.
Take a step back and learn from these questions. A general survey showcases very potentially what one of Satan’s darts may look like: First, the conspiring forces of Satan may call into question the legitimacy of your general Christian faith. Little children in the temple were shouting in Jesus’ presence, “Hosanna (salvation) to the Son of David!” This made the leaders very angry. “Do you hear what those kids are saying!?” they asked.
Now, what is the real attack here? They wanted Jesus to feel guilty about little children who believed in him. “Believe in your own delusion, but don’t get the kids involved.” The implication is, “You’re misleading the most vulnerable people in society with your illegitimate worldview.”
I read an interview conducted by atheistparents.org, where they asked an agnostic teacher of world religions, “What is the danger in not teaching kids to think critically about religion?” The teacher said,
“The danger is that we run the risk of seeing a rise in religious extremism and the number of kids who are out of touch with what we know to be true. There is harm in being out of touch with reality. There is harm in the practice of ignoring evidence and facts. Can we really afford to have a growing number of Americans view evolutionary science as being from Satan? Just think what might happen in America if biblical literalists took over the country?”
What a crafty attack. If you care about children—if you care about future prosperity—you’ll stop promoting your literal view of Scripture. It’s a kind of shaming. And the fallacy is that one must either think critically OR be a Biblical literalist. The question is posed in such a way that there’s no right answer for the Christian. Don’t fall for that kind of set up.
Second, Satanic forces will set a trap with an apparently straight-forward question intended to draw out some cultural offense. The leaders approached Jesus and asked him, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” (Matthew 21:23). Their reasoning for the question is not yet revealed, but later in Matthew, Jesus’ answer is what got him crucified (see 26:63-66).
The real truth doesn’t matter as much as the truth valued by the authorities. If you hold an ideal which conflicts with the conception of authorities, don’t be surprised if it gets lured out of you to make trouble.
Third, they’ll work to make any secular stance—perhaps a political one—shut out half of your potential audience. Two political and religious opposites, the Pharisees and the Herodians, came to Jesus asking if it was lawful to pay taxes to Caesar (22:17). Now remember, neither the Pharisees nor the Herodians would have agreed on the answer to the question. That didn’t so much matter. Their tactic was to split the field of influence Jesus would naturally have by remaining quiet on a contested question. If Jesus simply said, “It’s lawful to pay taxes to Caesar,” half his audience would have checked out.
Just think of the host of contestable issues in the world—political affiliations, child-rearing preferences (think “vaccines”), homeschooling versus public schooling, gun control opinions. If on any of these matters of opinion, the devil can get you to draw a hard and fast answer—BOOM! There goes half of your reachable audience.
Fourth, they’ll posit questions meant to strip the power of God from the Bible. In Deuteronomy, Moses told the people of Israel a simple command: “If brothers dwell together, and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the dead man shall not be married outside the family to a stranger. Her husband’s brother shall go in to her and take her as his wife and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her. 6 And the first son whom she bears shall succeed to the name of his dead brother, that his name may not be blotted out of Israel” (25:5-6).
So the Sadducees, who didn’t believe there was life after death, brought this outlandish story to Jesus about seven brothers who all died, none of whom prospered in providing a child for the first brother. Because of Moses’ command, they assumed there was no life after death—because such would mean that the woman had seven husbands waiting on the other side.
The basic idea is to use the Bible to disprove itself. It’s not surprising then, that we’ve now got nearly three centuries of liberal scholarship behind us, bent on stripping the Bible of God’s power. Just like the Sadducees, there are highly educated, highly intellectual, highly prestigious men who have questions at the ready to collapse what they see as an elementary faith.
Lastly, if all those things fail, they’ll target your personal priorities. The Pharisees sent a lawyer to Jesus, who asked, “Teacher, what is the great command in the law?” This is now a subjective assessment of Jesus’ priorities and character. I’m not sure what kind of answer they were expecting, nor am I sure they knew; but the fact is, they hoped to use Jesus’ answer against him in some way.
Several years ago, there was a highly intellectual defender of Biblical creation, who had all of the right answers to anything asked of him concerning the Bible. As it turned out, however, he had been living for many years in the closet as a practicing homosexual. Instantly, every word he ever spoke lost its weight. If your theology is locked up tight, don’t be surprised if Satan will try and shift the weight in your priorities, thereby making a back door for sin.
Today’s message is simple. If nothing else is retained from these several weeks of study, remember that your enemy is hard at work, crafting delicate and convincing questions aimed to bring down your faith.
Learning Prudence from Christ
Of all the varied questions asked to Jesus, his responses were nearly as varied. Once he deflected the question. Three times he reasoned with Scripture. Once he used shrewd logic.
There are many lessons in the array of Christ’s responses, but let me give three. One, don’t feel tempted to answer every question people ask. The leaders asked Jesus by what authority he conducted himself, and he simply said, “I’ll ask you a question, and if you tell me the answer, I’ll tell you by what authority I do these things.”
Why did Jesus withhold his answer? Prudence. As you navigate through this Christian walk, you’ll be presented with countless questions, debates, hostile inquiries, and so on. With each potential debate or conversation, it might be prudent to assess the sincerity of the questioner. From my experience, it is often obvious when a questioner is hostile versus sincere. Use prudence, and don’t feel tempted to respond to every person on earth. Spend your time cultivating meaningful conversations.
Two, know Scripture better than your opponent. On three separate occasions, Jesus overwhelmingly silenced his critics by the use of Scripture.
“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:12-13).
“Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day…In all circumstances…take the sword of the spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:12, 16-17).
Three, be well reasoned and educated. “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not” they asked Jesus. “Show me the coin! Whose face is on it? Whose name is on it?” Dumbfounded, they said, “Caesar’s…” So Jesus said, “Give Caesar what is Caesar’s, and give God what is God’s.”
Jesus’ response was so logical and so well reasoned that, “When they heard it, they were amazed” (22:22).
Read; research; acquaint yourself what what people are saying; learn the facts; explore the technical arguments; meditate. It is often posited that Biblical literalists are ignorant, backwoods, prehistoric promoters of wrong ideas. Perhaps some, who don’t know why they believe what they believe, have presented the Bible that way. But I’ve witnessed innumerable debates between so-called “Biblical literalists” and evolutionists, and the evolutionists are not easily able to dismiss the creationist argument. There are scientists, philosophers, and theologians who know the facts, and they still come out on the side of Biblical inspiration and literal truth.
Jesus the Master Teacher
Let me close the message and chapter 22 of Matthew with the last six verses of the chapter: “
“41 Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, 42 saying, ‘What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?’ They said to him, ‘The son of David.’ 43 He said to them, ‘How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying, 44 “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet’ “? 45 If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?’ 46 And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.”
I read that discourse, and I thought, “What was Jesus’ aim in his question? What was he really after?” And then it dawned on me—The elite educators and leaders of Israel came after Jesus with the best questions they could conjure. “How can we take this guy down!” they thought. And 1-2-3-4-5 times, Jesus makes their questions look foolish with his responses. They can’t outsmart him.
So after they’ve asked their questions, Jesus comes to them with a question—“And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.” Wow. What is Matthew trying to show us? Jesus is the master teacher. This truth has a direct bearing on next week’s message. Be blessed.
© Finding Canaan. All rights reserved. "Therefore, behold, I am against the prophets, declares the Lord, who steal my words from one another" -- Jeremiah 23:30