Asking the Right Questions

Title: Asking the Right Questions

Text: Acts 1:3-5

Date: September 23, 2007

One of the keys to getting the right answers in life is asking the right questions. If we don’t ever ask the right questions we can’t ever get the right answers. That’s why in the historical Christian church there has existed something called catechism classes, using different kinds of catechisms. What is catechism? It’s simply a teaching method that uses the question and answer format. It isn’t something Catholic or Eastern Orthodox, it’s also something Protestant too. All the great Reformation churches used the teaching method of catechism to instruct new converts and church members. Martin Luther wrote many different catechisms as did John Calvin and other reformers. The catechism method for teaching uses a series of questions in order to instruct the student in how to ask the right questions. Then, the catechism provides the correct answers to the questions. The students memorize both the questions and the answers, and in the process learn about the Christian faith. Why has Christianity used the catechism method to teach its students the faith? Because early on in the church it became clear that people needed help not only in learning the Christian answers to important questions in life, but they also needed help in asking the right questions of the Christian faith. For example, there are clearly wrong questions to ask Christianity. If a person comes into the Christian church and seems interested in becoming a Christian and then asks, “Now when do I get the gold? When do I get rich?” That is clearly the wrong question to ask the Christian faith. Why? Because Jesus did not come to make everyone rich and wealthy in the material sense, but he came to make us all rich spiritually with God. Or in other words, Jesus came to satisfy our deepest heart’s desire for meaning and purpose in life, not to set us up with the best things of the world in life. This is just one example how in many instances that people not only need to get the right answers but they need to know how to ask the right questions. Christianity has tried to supply both, by teaching us how to ask the right questions and then how to find the right answers from the Bible. Now catechism can be a boring learning process if our hearts are not into it, but it can be a rewarding process if we approach it with an open mind and heart. Well, there are times when it looks like Jesus needed to give his disciples a catechism lesson in order to teach them how to ask the right questions, because it is painfully obvious that they didn’t have a clue as to what questions to ask. In Acts 1:4-11 (read), Jesus tries to explain to his disciples what the coming of the Holy Spirit means but they had trouble hearing his answer because they were asking the wrong question. We are like that at times – we bring to the Bible and to prayer the wrong questions, the wrong issues, and then, we are disappointed with the answers we get from God. We, like the disciples, have to learn how to ask the right questions of God in order to get the right answers.

First, God supplies us with an answer from heaven – the Holy Spirit. Acts 1:4-5, “On one occasion, while he was easting with them, he gave them this command: ‘Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” The disciples didn’t even know that they would need the Holy Spirit, but Jesus tells them they were to wait for the Spirit in a few days. Jesus was supplying them with the answer, the solution to the problem of how they would carry on in the Christian way without Christ himself showing them the way. We’ve got to remember that these disciples had basically stopped their normal way of life and followed after Jesus for around three years. He had taught them all about the Kingdom of God, about the way of salvation and eternal life, and about the way of living in that kingdom while on earth. But they were in no way ready to carry on without him showing them the way. How could they fulfill the mission without Christ, if they had so much trouble fulfilling it even when Christ was with them? Now that Jesus was going, how could they keep going without him? But strangely enough, they don’t seem to be too worried about this issue, rather, they were still preoccupied, like all the rest of the Jews, with the problem of the Roman occupation and the restoration of Jewish kingdom – even after all the teachings of Jesus to the contrary! But Jesus here is supplying them with a solution to a problem they really hadn’t come to grips with – power to live the spiritual kingdom on earth. Isn’t that typical in respect to God? He often gives us answers that we don’t understand at first, or don’t even feel we need. For example, much of the Bible supplies us with solutions to problems we haven’t even realized we needed. I like to sometimes go through the Bible and ask this question as I read: “What solution is God giving us from heaven in this passage?” Try doing that sometime on your own. As you read through the Bible, try it just in the New Testament for example; ask yourself after you read a passage, “What answer is being given by Jesus, and what then is the question he is addressing?” Try it here in the Book of Acts with this passage. Jesus tells his disciples to not start their mission yet but wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit. Ok, that’s the solution, now what is the problem. That’s the answer, but what is the hidden question? Isn’t the question, “How are we supposed to fulfill our spiritual mission you’ve given us without your personal presence and power with us?” Answer: wait and receive the power of the Holy Spirit. But the disciples, like is often the case with ourselves, are slow to understand this. They were still asking the wrong questions, and of course, when you ask the wrong questions you get the wrong answers. Are you asking the Lord the wrong questions? Maybe that’s why you aren’t getting the right answers a lot of time.

Second, we persistently ask the wrong questions of God. Acts 1:6-7, “So when they met together, they asked him, ‘Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’ he said to them: ‘It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.’” It’s incredible but after three years with Jesus, the disciples still missed the main point of his message. Jesus wasn’t a social revolutionary or activist trying to restore Jewish independence from Rome, yet that is the question they ask of Jesus. Jesus gives them a wonderful solution – the Holy Spirit is coming, wait for the Spirit, but the disciples immediately think in terms of Jewish earthly national independence from Rome. They ask about Jewish statehood instead of about spiritual kingdom building. They ask the wrong question. But before we judge them too harshly, we do the same kind of thing don’t we today in our prayers and expectations with God. I mentioned before about the false expectation of someone seeking to convert to Christ in order to get rich, but that isn’t too far fetched when you think about it. There are millions of people who are essentially trying to use Christianity, the Bible, prayer, church, etc. as a means to obtaining the earthly good life today. They come to God and ask, “Are you going to totally heal me, are you going to help me get rich, are you going to make me successful, are you going to make everything alright in my life, are you going to give me a good marriage, are you going to make my kids turn out right, are you going to get me a new car, a new house, a nice vacation, etc.” That’s the way many people come to God – it’s all the kinds of requests and prayers pertaining to this earthly life, but very little about what Jesus was actually trying to teach. These questions are the wrong kinds of questions, they are missing the point of Christianity. I remember a couple of years ago talking to a man here in Jamestown. I’m trying to explain salvation to him and he interrupts me and says, “Why should I be interested in heaven far away, when I can’t even find a job here and now?” But the problem is that if you only come to Jesus expecting him to solve all your daily, typical, life problems you are missing the point. Jesus came for a far greater purpose than finding you a job, or taking away an ache or a pain from your body, or giving you money, or making you successful, etc. He came, died, and rose again to give you access to God, to allow for you to relate to God Almighty starting now and carrying on into eternity. He came to solve your sin barrier problem with God, to open up a way for you to relate to God on friendly terms. He came to free you from judgment and damnation to come. He came to save your soul. The disciples were so thick headed that they kept thinking about political and economic freedom; and often times, we are so thick headed that we keep thinking about the American dream as our highest aim. But we need to start asking the right questions of God instead of superficial ones.

Third, Jesus supplies us with real answers from heaven. Acts 1:8-11, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witness in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly tow men dressed in white stood beside them. ‘Men of Galilee,’ they said, ‘why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.’” We see some other answers given in this passage to questions that haven’t been asked yet, but ones we should start asking because obviously God wants us to ask them or he wouldn’t have given us the answers to them. The first answer is that the disciples as well as all of us are given power. That leads us to ask the question, “What is the power for?” to which the answer is: for a powerful spiritual witness to the reality of God to the people on earth. Then, as Jesus leaves the earth through the clouds, angels appear to the disciples and say that Jesus is coming back again someday just as he left. That also is an answer, but what is the question? Isn’t it: Is Jesus coming back? So we get the answer that Jesus is coming back but we shouldn’t just wait for him to return by doing nothing, but to the contrary, we should be about doing the will of God, all that God has called us to do. For the disciples, the first item on their agenda list is to wait in Jerusalem for the Spirit’s power in order to equip them to start in on their mission. That should be one of our top items on our spiritual list as well – receiving the Spirit’s power to enable us to be a witness to the spiritual reality of God in our lives today to others. So you realize that your assignment from God is too much for you to do in your own ability and resources? Jesus calls us to love, but how can we even do that in our own strength? We need power. The Greek word is “dunamis,” it’s the same word we get the word “dynamite” from. We need power to live as a witness to the reality of God on earth today. Does your life reflect God’s reality to others? We need God’s power to resist temptation. It’s easy to sin, that’s what everybody does, and they are good at it, but it takes power from God not to sin. Do you have that power? Do you trust in God’s promises with strong faith? It’s easy to doubt, to question, to get discouraged; that’s easy, that’s why most people don’t have strong faith in God. But it takes power to have the courage of your convictions, to witness and share the gospel to people. Are you focused? Do you pray and read from the Bible every day? It takes supernatural discipline and concentration to hear from God and relate with God on a daily basis, that’s why most people don’t. But it takes power from the Holy Spirit to live a disciplined spiritual life. That’s why we need the power of the Spirit every day. Do you have it? What proof is there that you have such power? Maybe we need to stop asking God how to get what we want out of life and start asking him the right question concerning what he wants of us; and trust him that what he wants of us is also best for us.

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