What if you were transported backwards in time, and found yourself in ancient Galilee where you met Jesus face-to-face? What questions would you ask Him if given the opportunity?
During His public ministry, Jesus was asked countless questions, many of which were of the wrong kind, revealing the questioner’s ignorance or insincere motive.
Some asked questions that showed their mistaken ideas about God’s ways and their own condition. The rich young man is an example of this (Matthew 19:16-22). His opening question was, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” He thought that eternal life is earned by doing good deeds. Jesus corrected him by saying that only God is good. It is hopeless for anyone to think that he or she could gain entry into heaven with a list of their good deeds. We can gain eternal life only through the perfect righteousness of Christ – by trusting in Him. Any other strategy would fail miserably.
We, who may be well-informed about the Reformation emphasis on justification by faith, may laugh at the young man’s theological ignorance. But how often many of us fall unconsciously into embracing a practical theology of works, thinking that we can impress God by what we are doing for Him rather than being impressed by what He has done for us?
Jesus pointed to the necessity of obeying God’s commandments – not in order to save ourselves, for our righteous acts often end up as filthy rags, but because doing good is the result of being saved by Christ. We are saved not by good works but for good works.
Perhaps the Lord was showing that the young man did not quite measure up, being too full of himself and having an inflated view of his righteousness. He claimed to have kept all the commandments, but failed to realise that the commandments had deep implications. Jesus mentioned the command to love our neighbours; how do we do this? The young man was too quick in giving himself full marks.
However, he sensed that there was still something wrong. So he asked, “What do I still lack?” He sensed his need correctly but his question revealed his flawed premise. He perceived his problem as being one of lack. What would a rich man like him lack? He had great wealth and all that he wanted. In his universe, his problem was filling his lack with something more. He thought that all that he needed was to add something to what he already had.
But Jesus revealed his true condition; it was not addition that he needed but subtraction. The young man could not find eternal life by simply adding a magical missing piece to all that he had. Something far more radical was needed. He had to give away all his wealth, and with a heart emptied of the idol of wealth and hands emptied of false power and control, he needed to truly follow Jesus to find eternal life.
Alas, he was not willing to give up his wealth for something more precious, and turned away sadly. He had asked the wrong questions, thinking that Jesus would give him a few palatable answers. But Jesus exposed his wrong ideas. Perhaps the right questions would be “Lord, how can I gain eternal life by trusting your righteousness?” and “What must I give up to follow you?” But the young man asked the wrong questions, like we often do.
The Samaritan woman asked theological questions about the proper venue for worship, but Jesus compassionately pointed out her real problem: She needed forgiveness from her sins and to become a real worshipper of God (John 4:21-24). If her heart was not a temple for God, no other temple could make her a worshipper.
Elsewhere, the disciples asked when the end would come but Jesus did not answer their question. Instead He emphasised the necessity of keeping watch always (Matthew 24:3, 42). Jesus has a way of leading us to the truth even when our questions are badly framed and distracting.
Our questions reveal our quest – what we are really looking for. What sorts of questions are you asking Jesus, and what are the answers He is giving you?
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Bishop Emeritus Dr Robert Solomon –
was Bishop of The Methodist Church in Singapore from 2000 to 2012. Currently retired, he now keeps busy with an active itinerant ministry speaking and teaching in Singapore and overseas.