Good Question

By Rev. Heidi L. Barham |  October 29, 2023

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Read Matthew 22:34 – 46
Our New Testament lesson today comes from the Gospel of Matthew, but before we look at the verses that call for our attention this morning… let’s lay a foundation and take a quick peek at some of the preceding verses.
Looking back to verses 15 – 22… we find the story of the Pharisees and Herodians trying to lay a trap for Jesus by asking what they thought seemed like a GOOD QUESTION which was, “Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar?”
It was a trick question that was designed to get Jesus to play into their hands… or so they thought.
But because Jesus knew what they were up to, He was able to foil their plans by answering their question with a question… something that Ron says I have a habit of doing.  At any rate, Jesus asked the religious leaders to show Him a coin and then asked whose portrait and inscription were on it.
When they responded, “Ceasar’s,” Jesus told them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
Jesus literally stopped them in their tracks on their quest to entrap Him… and the Scriptures tell us, “When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away.”
Following that story, in verses 23 – 33, we come to the account of the Sadducees… a different religious group… trying to get the best of Jesus by asking what they believed to be a GOOD QUESTION… (in other words a trick question) that had to do with marriage and the resurrection. 
But in spite of their best efforts, those religious leaders were no match for Jesus either… He was able to leave them just as speechless as the Pharisees. 
It must have been pretty interesting to be on the sidelines and watch as all of that unfolded…  And in the verse that comes right before our text for the morning we read, “When the crowds heard this, they were astonished at his teaching.”
Which brings us to our New Testament lesson for today.  And it is there that we find that the Pharisees that Jesus had gotten the best of on that question about paying taxes… they had been watching as Jesus silenced the Sadducees.
The Pharisees and the Sadducees were two of the major religious groups in Israel at the time.  And while the Pharisees were more religiously minded… the Sadducees tended to be more politically focused. 
Although the two groups generally disliked and distrusted each other… they were united in at least one thing… and that was their mutual hatred of Jesus.  It calls to mind that saying that the enemy of my enemy is my friend…
Now, under any other circumstances, the Pharisees would have been happy to watch the Sadducees get their comeuppance… but they were not content to simply sit back and watch Jesus get the upper hand.
And that is why we read that one of the Pharisees tried to test Jesus, yet again, by asking Him a GOOD QUESTION, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law?”
Keep in mind that there were more than 600 Jewish laws or commandments in those days… so clearly, this lawyer… this so-called “expert in the law” …must have felt pretty confident that he had the perfect opportunity to outsmart Jesus with his GOOD QUESTION. 
But Jesus’ response was once again simple and straight forward.   Referring back to Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18, Jesus replied:

‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.
Simply put, when we fulfill those two commandments, to love God with all of who we are and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves… we are in essence keeping all of the other commandments. 
When we look at the Ten Commandments, the first four have to do with loving God… not having any other gods before Him, not making any graven images, not taking the Lord’s name in vain, and remembering the Sabbath and keeping it holy.
While the remaining six commandments have to do with loving our neighbors, essentially loving others… honoring our parents, not murdering anyone, not committing adultery, not stealing, not lying about our neighbors, and not coveting what our neighbors have.
We can do all of that (and then some) by loving God and loving the people of God.  So, why do we make it seem so hard?  GOOD QUESTION…
Now, as we look at the second part of our text for the morning, we find Jesus turning the tables on the Pharisees… again… asking them a GOOD QUESTION that they should have known the answer for… given the fact that they were teachers of the law.
Jesus asked them what they thought about the Messiah… and who did they think He was… “Whose son [was] he?”
And being good Hebrew scholars, the Pharisees responded, “The son of David.”
But Jesus did not simply stop there and let them off the hook.  He pointed them to the Hebrew Scriptures… of which they were experts (remember?) …and quoting from Psalms 110:1, He asked them, “How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him ‘Lord’? For he says, “‘The Lord said to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.”’

David was actually referring to God speaking to the Messiah when he wrote those words, “The Lord [meaning Yahweh] said to my Lord [meaning the Messiah] …”
Now because the Pharisees had just acknowledged that the Messiah was the Son of David, they found themselves in a bit of quandary on how they should respond to Jesus’ question. 
Have you ever noticed when someone is asked a thought-provoking question… one that they do not have an immediate answer for… rather than admit they do not know the answer they might just say, “GOOD QUESTION…” and leave it there?
Well, according to the text, the Pharisees did not bother to respond to Jesus’ question at all … looking at the last verse of our text as it is found in the Message Paraphrase, we read, “Unwilling to risk losing face again in one of these public verbal exchanges, they quit asking questions for good.”
Now, if I could use my imagination for just a moment, I can almost see Jesus doing a mike drop and walking away… leaving the Pharisees to wonder what they could possibly say or do after that…
And that brings us to the GOOD QUESTION that we are left with today… which is the same question that Jesus posed to those religious leaders… what do we think about the Messiah?  And whose Son is He?
Well, my hope is that there is no doubt that Jesus IS the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. 
Because unlike the Pharisees in our text today, we have the benefit of two thousand years of recorded history and testimony that bears witness to the fact that Jesus is indeed the Messiah…
For example, if we were to look back to Matthew 16 (13-17a), we would read:
When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say the Son of Man is?’  They replied, ‘Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ ‘But what about you?’ he asked. ‘Who do you say I am?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ Jesus replied, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven…’
And if we look at 1 Peter 3 (13 – 16), we find Peter asking a GOOD QUESTION or two of his own:
Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. ‘Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.  But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.
Yet in spite of Peter’s words of encouragement, we are living in a day and time when some people would rather not talk about what they consider to be “religious matters.”  And there was a time, believe it or not, when work places even had policies against talking about religion and politics because these two subjects, just as in Jesus’ day, have the potential to become very divisive issues.
And sadly, there are some people who are quick to shy away if someone asks them about their faith and why they believe what they believe.  Perhaps it is because they worry that they cannot give an adequate or accurate answer… or that they won’t be able to deal with any follow up questions that may come up.
But let me suggest, when you believe in Jesus and your hope is found in Him… there will be no need for debate or argument… As Paul encouraged his young protégé Timothy:
Remind them of this, and charge them before the Lord to avoid disputing about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers.  Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:14 – 15).
In other words, the way we live and the things we do will present our best case for why we believe what we believe. 
When we accept Jesus as our Savior… when we study God’s Word and keep it in our hearts… and when we look to the Holy Spirit for guidance (and then actually follow the guidance) …our lives will speak volumes to those who are watching us (with little need for words).
That is because when we place our faith and our hope in Jesus… there ought to be something different about the way we talk and the way we walk.  And I don’t mean our physical walk… I am talking about our spiritual walk.  As Paul writes over in 2 Corinthians 5:7, “For we walk by faith, not by sight.”
And so, when we place our trust in Jesus, even when the storms of life threaten to overtake us… we have the hope and the assurance that we will not drown. 
When the pressures of the world come against us… we have the promise that Jesus will be with us every step of the way to protect us.
Paul said it like this in 2 Corinthians 4 (7-9):
But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.
It’s a pretty safe bet to say that we have all been through some things in the past and are likely going through some things right now in the present. 
And it is not a far stretch to say that had it not been for our faith in God, we would not have made it through. 
The blessing is that when we stop to think back on those times in our past… with the perspective of time and distance… we can see clearly (although perhaps through eyes clouded with tears of joy) …we can see now what may not have been so clear back then… that it was God’s hand at work then which is the reason why we are here today.
So, the next time someone asks us why we believe what we believe, we can start out by saying, “GOOD QUESTION” …and then tell them our story and tell them about Jesus.
We can tell them that the reason we can have hope in the face of hardship and tribulation is because our faith and hope is in Jesus.  And just like He brought us through before, He will bring us through again. 
That is why even as we are watching in real time as wars are being waged around the world and violence is erupting right here in the streets at home and chaos and corruption are running wild… we can still hold onto hope… because we can still hold onto Jesus.
The One who promised to be with us ALWAYS… even to the end of the age… and to NEVER leave us nor forsake us.
The One who willingly gave His life in exchange for ours, taking on the punishment that our sins deserved…
The One who conquered death and the grave so that we would have the promise of eternal life with Him through the gift of God’s grace and mercy.
And because of that and so much more… we can place our hope and trust in Jesus… the ultimate answer to every GOOD QUESTION…

Hymn of Discipleship: My Hope Is Built #537.