The thought of studying the questions Jesus asked may seem a bit odd when you first hear it. Of all of the things Jesus said, it may feel like the questions he asked should be of least importance when compared to the answers he gave. But if we read the Bible closely, we find that his questions often spoke truth and breathed life into difficult issues and that these questions can still spark something in us today. This blog post introduces the why behind our new sermon series and how we might embrace the questions Jesus has for us.
I was surprised some years ago by the book The Questions of Jesus by John Dear. I took it off the bookstore shelf, looked it over, and thought, Did Jesus really ask enough questions to warrant an entire book on the subject? I was astonished by the book’s introduction, which stated that Jesus asked over 300 questions of people in the gospels. It seemed that in every situation Jesus had a specific and probing question to ask. Dear writes,
The gospels are filled with stories, actions, parables, miracles, commandments, declarations, imperatives, and incidents from the dramatic life of Jesus. But they are also filled with questions. Jesus has a question for everyone he meets, for every occasion, for every experience, for every potential disciple. From his first encounter with his future disciples to his last words before his ascension, Jesus looks at his friends and invites them deeper into the mystery of God by means of a probing question.
For a time, I worked with university students on a public campus in Canada. Looking for a way to connect with busy students, I created a place where students could gather twice a week to drink tea and discuss current issues, world news, and ideas from their classes. Over the course of a few months, I noticed something troubling. Every time an issue would come up, majority of the students would quickly state with certainty what they thought the correct answer was, especially when the topic was religion. It seemed to me that many of these students had been nurtured in a culture that encouraged answer giving rather than question asking.
In an attempt to challenge this behavior and encourage humility, honesty, and open-mindedness, I began to work with a core group of students. Taking John Dear’s book off my bookshelf, I began paging through it again and thought that maybe the questions of Jesus would be a good place to start. I wrote down 20 Jesus questions that I thought would speak to university students. Then I cut the individual questions into strips and put them into a hat. Our core team prayed, asking God to give each of us a question of Jesus that would speak into our lives. With holy anticipation mixed with a dash of trepidation, each person reached into the hat and pulled out a question.
Ancient and probing questions began to be ring around that small room: Who do you say that I am? (Mark 8:29). What is it you want? (Matthew 20:21). Why are you so afraid? (Mark 4:40). If I am telling the truth, why do you not believe me? (John 8:46). Why do you call me Lord, Lord—and not do what I tell you? (Luke 6:46). Will you really lay down your life for me? (John 13:38). Do you love me? (John 21:16).
I then challenged the students to read the question in its original context and to reflect on it with the help of this guiding question: Why this question for me this week?
I was surprised by how seriously the students engaged this exercise. Spontaneous conversations erupted in doorways and hallways that week as students wrestled with the difficult questions of Jesus. I assured them that the important thing was that they begin wrestling toward an authentic response to Jesus rather than having a watertight and “correct” answer.
It seems to me that we all need someone to give us permission to be seekers on a journey of discovery. To become “answer-seekers” rather than “answer-givers.” I’m excited for our Fall Sermon Series – The Questions of Jesus. May God give us all the courage and grace to discover our authentic answers to the probing, difficult, and encouraging questions of Jesus. God bless, and enjoy the journey!