Every day we are faced with asking or answering questions. They are often simple questions. “How are you? Did you sleep well? What would you like to eat?” Questions are essential to acquiring information to make decisions.
At other times, we ask questions as a means of conveying our feelings to another person. In many of those cases, those questions are not questions at all. “You don’t expect me to pay for that? How could you? When will you ever learn?” We are not looking for an answer to any of these types questions. We are simply using a question to express an emotion.
Clearly then, questions are part of our life. Mothers know this well. One study showed mothers get asked up to 300 questions per day.
Questions are also an essential for our faith journey. We want to know, “What on earth am I here for? Is there more to life than life? God, are you there?” We need questions to sort through the circumstances of life and find meaning.
And when it comes to our faith journey, no one can ask questions like God. The first question we have from God is to Adam. “Where are you?” Adam was hiding because he had sinned against God. God’s question made Adam think about his decision to separate himself from God. “Who told you that you were naked?” God’s follow up question to Adam. It is a question proving Adam’s transformation from a sinless naked person to a sinner. “What are you doing here?” God asked his chosen prophet Elijah after Elijah ran and hid from the duties God had given him to do.
“God questions” should cause us to slowdown, to think, and to get our bearings. We find in the New Testament that Jesus asked a lot of questions. I did not do the count myself, but someone counted that Jesus asked 307 questions to those following him and those challenging him. Jesus asked questions to provoke thought, seek transformation, challenge traditions, and to activate faith. Jesus wanted his disciples to change their pattern of thinking so that they to see the world, their relationships, and God from a different vantage point.
Let me give you an example of a simple question that challenges our thinking and requires us to see things from another vantage point. Let me ask you this, “What is the purpose for having brakes on a car?” Tradition and conventional wisdom would cause us to say, “We have brakes on our car to stop our car from moving.” That seems like a reasonable reply and we are comfortable in moving on to the next question with that answer. Let me offer you a different response to the question, “Why do we have brakes on a car?” We have brakes in our car not to stop it but so that our car can go fast. Doubt me? I can prove it. Suppose you have a car in the parking lot and you discover it does not have any brakes. How fast are you going to drive that car? You are not going to drive very fast, if at all. But with our brake system in our vehicle operating correctly, we have little fear driving our cars 65 miles per hour or more. So are brakes to stop our car from moving or do the brakes allow our cars to go fast?
This was just a simple illustration of the concept that questions can challenge our view of the world. Jesus used simple questions to challenge the views held about love, faith, goodness, joy, and God. Today’s passage from the New Testament has eight questions from Jesus to his disciples. His questions provoke thought and seek transformation. Jesus’ questions challenge assumptions and the worldview of the disciples and then his questions activate the faith of the disciples. Jesus’ questions build upon each other leading to the most important question Jesus had for his disciples. It is the same question each one of us must answer for ourselves. Shall we take a look at the Jesus questions?
Our passage is found in the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 16, starting at verse 5. Matthew wrote, “5 When they [Jesus and his disciples] went across the lake [Sea of Galilee], the disciples forgot to take bread.” The disciples had neglected to bring the basic provision of life; food, namely, bread. One of the disciples had discovered this oversight and prompted a conversation about the discovery. You can hear the conversation. “We do not have any bread. Thomas, wasn’t it your turn to bring the bread?” Thomas replied, “No. I brought the bread the last time. Andrew, wasn’t it your job?” Andrew, hearing Thomas’ response, might have said, “What? Who? Me?” And the mindless conversation went on. We have all been involved or at least a witness a circular argument of questions without answers.
Jesus, meanwhile, was listening to the unproductive chatter of his disciples and used it as an opportunity to elevate the conversation. He said in verse 6, “Be careful. Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Yeast is that ingredient in small quantity added to large amount of flour and water becomes activated transforming the flour into bread dough. The warning abou the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees, the religious leaders of the day, then would be to exercise care in adopting the thinking and traditions of those leaders. Only a little of Pharisees and Sadducees thinking could change or corrupt the way the disciples were beginning to see the world, their relationships, and God.
One of the great features of the Bible is the honesty with which people are shown. Jesus had just sought to elevate the conversation and Matthew gave us their honest reaction in verse 7. “They [the disciples] discussed this [what Jesus said] among themselves and said, ‘It is [He is saying this] because we didn’t bring any bread.’” It seems like the disciples missed Jesus’ point.
Recognizing the disciples did not get the point of his statement, Jesus went back with questions requiring a higher level of thinking to try again to elevate the conversation and move it from bread for the disciples stomachs to bread for their spiritual life. Matthew wrote in verse 8, “Aware of their [his disciples’ continuing focus on bread] discussion, Jesus asked, ‘You of little faith, why are you talking among yourselves about having no bread?’” Jesus was provoking his disciples into kingdom thinking. When Jesus first began preaching the word of God, his message was simple, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come.” Here, now with his disciples, Jesus was again provoking them to kingdom thinking. In his question, Jesus was ask, “How is it that you can talk about bread to eat when you could talk about and with the bread of heaven?”
We might be tempted to ask ourselves, “How is it possible the disciples were consumed talking about bread for dinner and did not understand the significance of Jesus in their presence?” But I wonder if in asking ourselves that question that we think too highly of ourselves and too little of the disciples. How much time to we spending in kingdom thinking, thinking about the presence of God in our life, as compared to the time spent thinking and talking about bread, meat, potatoes, pasta, dieting, and calories? How much time do we spend in church meetings talking about floors, carpets, chairs, paper products, vacuum cleaners, size and shapes of bulletins, as compared to our collective work in the kingdom? I suspect Jesus could just as easily say to us, “Why are you talking among yourselves about trivial things of life and not the kingdom of God?”
Matthew offered no reply to Jesus’ question. Verse 9 continued in rapid succession with more Jesus’ questions. “Do you still not understand? Don’t you remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? 10 Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? 11 [After remembering what you saw] how is it you don’t understand that I was not talking to you about bread [for dinner]?” Jesus was provoking his disciples to remember the miraculous feedings of thousands of people with small loaves of bread. Jesus challenged his disciples to remember that all those people ate and were satisfied and still there were twelve baskets full of bread remaining. The miracle of the bread showed most simply the transforming power of God flowing through Jesus. Small cakes of bread multiplied through Jesus. Jesus was and is the sign from heaven of God. Jesus was and is the sign of the presence of the kingdom of God. The bread to eat was but an instrument or tool used of God to speak about his kingdom. Jesus had told his disciples, “I am the bread of life.” The bread that fed the multitudes was a symbol of the overwhelming nature God’s provision for eternal life through Jesus.
Verse 11 again, “‘How is it you don’t understand that I was not talking to you about bread?’ But be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.’ Then they [the disciples] understood that he [Jesus] was not telling them to guard against the yeast used in bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Jesus’ questions had broken through ending the discussion of physical bread by provoking kingdom thinking, by seeking transformation, and challenging traditions and traditional thinking.
Having done all that, Jesus felt the disciples were now prepared for the fundamental question of an active faith. It is a question that each of us must answer as well. Verse 13, “When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say the Son of Man is?’” The term “Son of Man” was introduced here by Jesus to speak about himself. In simpler terms, Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say I am?” Jesus wanted the disciples to report what people were saying to the disciples about Jesus. In reply, the disciples shouted out, “Some say [you are] John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” The disciples had heard a lot of different replies about Jesus’ identity. All in one form or another were prophets. A prophet is one who receives God’s words and shares them with the people seeking them to change their present behavior in order to have a future with God. Jesus certainly was doing the work of a prophet.
Even today, if you ask people who is Jesus, they would say things like, “He was a nice guy who had the power to heal people.” “Jesus was a greater preacher who could keep his audience’s attention.” “He was a good guy who taught people to be kind and compassionate to one another.” These statements are true enough, but do they clearly say who Jesus is?
Jesus is aware of what people today say about him just as he was aware of who people thought he was then. While interesting to hear the disciples report, Jesus was most interested in having his disciples speak their hearts and minds as to who he was. So, in verse 15, we have the ultimate Jesus questions, “But what about you? Who do you say I am?” Everything about the life of the disciples turned on the answer to this one question. Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus’ questions had provoked thinking, sought to transform his disciples, challenged their understanding of traditions, and now his question, “Who do you say I am?” activated Peter’s faith. “You are the Son of God.” How did Peter say those words? What emotion and emphasis did he use in saying those words? Did he shout them with fear, “YOU ARE THE SON OF GOD!” Or did he say them more quietly, humbly, and reverently, “You are the Son of God.” We do not know how Peter said the words, but we do know he said them, and Peter’s life turned and changed forever. In that moment. Peter placed his faith, his hope in the present and for the future, in Jesus hands. He said Jesus was not only a prophet able to speak God’s words, but also as a priest who could intercede for Peter with God. Peter also saw Jesus as lord of his life, king if you will. In saying Jesus was the Son of God, Peter saw Jesus was prophet, priest, king, and he would see Jesus as sacrifice.
Jesus asked, “Who do you say I am?” That is a question you and I must answer for ourselves. Is Jesus just a teacher, preacher, and healer or is something else. I believe Jesus is the Son of God. That means he is the king of kings, the Lord of lords. In my believing, Jesus has promised to live within me to guide my life. In living my life with Jesus, I am now made a child of God and though one day I my body will cease to function as it does today and people will say of me, “He died,” because of my faith in Jesus, I will still live in presence of God. And when my memory and spirit weakens, Jesus reminds of the miracle of the bread. He uses bread to remind me in the celebration of the Lord’s Table. It is at the table Jesus places bread, a symbol of his body. There he places the cup, the symbol of his blood. It is there I can take the common elements of life, a bit of bread and a sip of juice, and remember that these are but symbols of the beauty found in the kingdom of God. Jesus refreshes me at his table. He reminds me of what he has done. He provokes my thinking about kingdom, he seeks transformation of my life, he challenges my assumptions, and he activates my faith.
How about you? How have you answer Jesus’ question, “Who do you say I am?” If you have said, “Jesus you are the Son of God,” then come to the table. If you have not answered Jesus’ question, I encourage you to examine what is it that keeps you talking about bread and not receiving Jesus as savior and lord. Beware of the yeast of this world. Just a little bit of the world will corrupt you and leave God to ask, “Where are you?” If this is where you are at, talk to me or another Christian about what it means to receive Jesus. We don’t want you to miss the kingdom of God. Let us pray.