Questioning the Questioners: Matthew 21:23-27

Focus Passage: Matthew 21:23-27 (CEV)

23 Jesus had gone into the temple and was teaching when the chief priests and the leaders of the people came up to him. They asked, “What right do you have to do these things? Who gave you this authority?”

24 Jesus answered, “I have just one question to ask you. If you answer it, I will tell you where I got the right to do these things. 25 Who gave John the right to baptize? Was it God in heaven or merely some human being?”

They thought it over and said to each other, “We can’t say that God gave John this right. Jesus will ask us why we didn’t believe John. 26 On the other hand, these people think that John was a prophet, and we are afraid of what they might do to us. That’s why we can’t say that it was merely some human who gave John the right to baptize.” 27 So they told Jesus, “We don’t know.”

Jesus said, “Then I won’t tell you who gave me the right to do what I do.”

Read Matthew 21:23-27 in context and/or in other translations on!

On one of Jesus’ trips to the temple, He is challenged with a question about where He got His authority. This question is significant, because at this later stage of His ministry, Jesus cannot afford to slip up in a way that would make Him lose credibility.

But while the Pharisees question was a trap, Jesus responds with an equally trapping counter question. Mathew tells us that Jesus responded by saying, “I have just one question to ask you. If you answer it, I will tell you where I got the right to do these things. Who gave John the right to baptize? Was it God in heaven or merely some human being?” (v. 24-25a)

In my mind, Jesus responds without even missing a breath. He promises to answer them if they answer a question for Him. It is as though Jesus had been waiting for them to ask this question, and Jesus may have been surprised that it had taken this long.

The question Jesus gives is almost identical, but it is about someone else – John the Baptist – and it is focused in on the same issue: authority.

The Pharisees discuss their possible responses and realize that they are trapped by their unbelief and by the crowd’s opinion. By asking a counter question, Jesus successfully avoided answering a question that would have either damaged His reputation, or prematurely ended His ministry.

We can learn from Jesus that sometimes countering a challenging question with a different question is the best response we can give. While Jesus could have answered with a direct statement, or even with an indirect one, neither option would have been the best response in this case. Sometimes, the right question shared at the right time is the best response we can give.

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Flashback Episode — Unanswered Prayers: John 5:1-15

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As we continue in the gospels looking at Jesus’ miracles, we now jump over into John’s gospel, and a miracle that only John chose to include. In this miracle, we discover something amazing about Jesus, about God, and we discover one possible reason why we may not see God’s help in our lives in a more visible way. In this unassuming but powerful passage, we can discover a clue to why we might not see many answered prayers in our lives.

Let’s read this miracle and focus in on what we can learn from what John tells us happened. Our passage is found in the gospel of John, chapter 5, and we will be reading from the Holman Christian Standard Bible. Starting in verse 1, John tells us that:

After this, a Jewish festival took place, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. By the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem there is a pool, called Bethesda in Hebrew, which has five colonnades. Within these lay a large number of the sick—blind, lame, and paralyzed. [It is here that some translations add the last phrase of verse 3 and verse 4, which tells us that they were: —waiting for the moving of the water, because an angel would go down into the pool from time to time and stir up the water. Then the first one who got in after the water was stirred up recovered from whatever ailment he had].

After setting the stage in these first four verses, verse 5 begins sharing the details of our miracle:

One man was there who had been sick for 38 years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew he had already been there a long time, He said to him, “Do you want to get well?”

“Sir,” the sick man answered, “I don’t have a man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, but while I’m coming, someone goes down ahead of me.”

“Get up,” Jesus told him, “pick up your mat and walk!” 9a Instantly the man got well, picked up his mat, and started to walk.

Let’s stop reading here to focus on what we can learn from what has just happened. While we don’t know how many people were sick around the pool that day, from a simple reading of this event, we see Jesus enter this place where there was a high concentration of sick people, He heals one man, and then He leaves. We might even conclude that Jesus left every other sick person present without healing them since John doesn’t tell us Jesus healed anyone else.

When reading this event, and concluding that Jesus likely left everyone else in their sick, diseased, or disabled state, we don’t see a very “Christ-like” character. We expect Jesus and God to be loving, and isn’t the most loving thing Jesus could do in this situation was heal everyone present? Healing everyone is loving, but healing everyone does not show us an accurate picture of God.

While we don’t like to think about it, there are some times when God chooses not to heal someone instead of healing them. We cannot know all the answers to why this is, but we can trust that when we are able to see the big picture from God’s perspective, we will understand. Some people choose to discount God’s love or His existence because of this dilemma, but this dilemma only is unsolvable when we see this life as all there is to live.

As soon as we frame our world today as infected with sin, and God’s ultimate goal as saving as many people as possible from this sin while also clearly exposing sin for what it truly is so it will never reappear throughout eternity, we can begin to see why sin might be allowed to persist a little longer. God’s ultimate goal and long-term plan is to end this world that includes pain, disease, death, and sin in order to recreate it as perfect and sinless where it will be this way throughout eternity – and God wants to fill this newly recreated world with His redeemed people. If God ends history too soon, then sin may reappear later, which would be bad. Also, if God ends history too soon, then He may lose one or more people who could have been in heaven with Him. God wants as many people as possible in the new heaven and new earth, and He wants sin gone forever, never to reappear.

However, while this answers why God may not always answer our prayers, this event hints at another reason we never actually see answers to our prayers. This hint comes in the additional details setting the stage for this event, and from the formerly disabled man’s reply. In this event, we learned that periodically, and perhaps even somewhat randomly, an angel would stir the waters of this pool and the first sick person into this pool would be healed.

With how John describes this event, we can conclude that everyone at this pool was focused on getting in the water when it had been stirred. The focus of their hope was not on Jesus but on being healed by the pool. Only the man who had given up hope of ever reaching the pool experienced a visit from Jesus who came to heal him. This detail helps explain why Jesus didn’t heal everyone at this pool, and this detail also tells us why we might not see as many answers to our prayers as we would like.

If we choose to pray as a last resort, or if we choose to pray and then look for resolution for our prayers from sources other than God, we shouldn’t be surprised when we don’t see God answer our prayers. If we constantly look for help from places other than God, it’s only logical that we won’t see God helping much in our lives. However, if we pray and we know that God oftentimes works behind the scenes through the lives of other people and through what we might call coincidences, then we are able to see His hand moving in many more places than we first are able to realize. This is why it is easier to look back on our lives and see how God has lead us in the past than it is to recognize how He is leading us in the present.

God wants to answer our prayers, but He also wants us to give Him gratitude, thanks, and love for being our Provider. When we are grateful to God for everything He has done for us, and when we open our eyes to how He often works, we will begin to see answered prayers, blessings, and evidence for His existence everywhere.

While there’s more we could talk about in this event, let’s wait until our next episode to focus in on it. Until then, as we come to the end of this podcast episode, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

Always seek God first and decide today to live a life that is grateful towards God for everything that He is doing. If you struggle with how God could let evil persist in the world today, take this question to Him and let Him lead you to an answer. While I’ve shared some of what I’ve learned in this episode, I’m sure there is more to this answer than what we would have time to cover.

Also, always pray and study the Bible for yourself to personally grow closer to God each and every day. The closer you grow towards God, the more His character will rub off on your life and the better you will be at reflecting His love to the world around you. When we are reflecting God’s love in our world, we are living the best lives we can live in spite of the pain, sin, hurt, and hate that rages around us.

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of, back away from, chicken out of, or abandon where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Flashback Episode: Year of Miracles – Episode 24: When Jesus heals one man in a place full of sick people, discover what this event teaches us about God, and why we might experience unanswered prayers.

Join the discussion on the original episode's page: Click Here.

A Circumstantial Miracle: John 4:46-54

Focus Passage: John 4:46-54 (NCV)

46 Jesus went again to visit Cana in Galilee where he had changed the water into wine. One of the king’s important officers lived in the city of Capernaum, and his son was sick. 47 When he heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went to Jesus and begged him to come to Capernaum and heal his son, because his son was almost dead. 48 Jesus said to him, “You people must see signs and miracles before you will believe in me.”

49 The officer said, “Sir, come before my child dies.”

50 Jesus answered, “Go. Your son will live.”

The man believed what Jesus told him and went home. 51 On the way the man’s servants came and met him and told him, “Your son is alive.”

52 The man asked, “What time did my son begin to get well?”

They answered, “Yesterday at one o’clock the fever left him.”

53 The father knew that one o’clock was the exact time that Jesus had said, “Your son will live.” So the man and all the people who lived in his house believed in Jesus.

54 That was the second miracle Jesus did after coming from Judea to Galilee.

Read John 4:46-54 in context and/or in other translations on!

In our passage for today, we have a great example of what it is like for someone experiencing an event when compared with someone looking at the evidence from the outside. To a skeptical eye, this miracle Jesus does could be rationalized away using the term “circumstantial evidence” – which is another way of saying, “there could be a connection, but there is no way to definitively prove it.”

Jesus prophesied that the official’s son will live by responding, “Go. Your son will live,” While this appears to be a literal statement, Jesus could be symbolically talking of a future life in heaven, or even simply that a doctor present will successfully break the fever.

However, this is looking from a skeptical third party set of eyes. Those within the heart of the situation saw things differently, starting with the official himself: “The father knew that one o’clock was the exact time that Jesus had said, ‘Your son will live.’ So the man and all the people who lived in his house believed in Jesus.” (v. 53)

It is almost certain that this official had hired the best doctors in the area to come and help heal his son, and none of them would have been successful. This is strongly implied in the father’s words when he begs Jesus to “come before my child dies.” (v. 49)

Jesus was this official’s last hope, and experiencing a miracle for him was significantly different than hearing about the miracle as a person in the crowd. This official and everyone living in his home believed in Jesus.

Whether one chooses to rationalize a circumstantial miracle away or not, we can see from those closest to the event that they clearly saw the miracle present in this event – and they tag Jesus as the Source behind this healing.

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Scared of the Big Question: Mark 9:2-13

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As we near the halfway point in our year focusing in on Mark’s gospel, we come to an event that leaves a significant impression on Jesus’ inner circle of disciples. I suspect that Peter, James, and John would remember this trip up the mountain with Jesus for the rest of their lives. It was on this short trip away from the rest of the disciples that Jesus showed them something really special.

Let’s read this passage and discover what happened. Our passage is found in Mark’s gospel, chapter 9, and we will read from the God’s Word translation. Starting in verse 2, Mark tells us that:

After six days Jesus took only Peter, James, and John and led them up a high mountain where they could be alone.

Jesus’ appearance changed in front of them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone on earth could bleach them. Then Elijah and Moses appeared to them and were talking with Jesus.

Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it’s good that we’re here. Let’s put up three tents—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” (Peter didn’t know how to respond. He and the others were terrified.)

Then a cloud overshadowed them. A voice came out of the cloud and said, “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”

Suddenly, as they looked around, they saw no one with them but Jesus.

Pausing reading our passage for a moment, I feel a little sorry for Peter. Mark tells us that Peter spoke because it felt like the right thing to do but also that he really didn’t know how to respond. Reading this detail prompts me to think that Peter talked when he was nervous or scared, while James and John simply stayed quiet.

Reading this event and the reactions of these three disciples also prompts me to wonder what I would have done. Would I have said something, even though I had no idea what to say, or would I have remained speechless?

Knowing a little about myself, I probably would have remained speechless. I might have also paid close attention to what was being said. It is interesting in my mind that the two men who came to visit Jesus were two people who likely had become great friends with Jesus in heaven. Both Moses and Elijah would have spent hundreds of years in heaven with Jesus prior to Jesus’ coming to earth, and I wonder if they had been allowed to come visit one time to help encourage Jesus that He was on the right path.

This trip would have also been special for Moses, since this might have easily been the first time he set foot in the Promised Land. When we look at the Old Testament, Moses passed the leadership over to Joshua prior to his death and Moses did not get to enter the Promised Land. Instead, he only got to look at it from a distance. On this trip to visit Jesus, Moses would have been able to finally set foot in the land that God had promised Israel over a thousand years earlier.

It is also interesting that Elijah came to visit, and I wonder if Elijah’s presence is what prompted the disciples’ question we see on the trip down the mountain. Continuing in verse 9, Mark tells us:

On their way down the mountain, Jesus ordered them not to tell anyone what they had seen. They were to wait until the Son of Man had come back to life. 10 They kept in mind what he said but argued among themselves what he meant by “come back to life.” 11 So they asked him, “Don’t the experts in Moses’ Teachings say that Elijah must come first?”

12 Jesus said to them, “Elijah is coming first and will put everything in order again. But in what sense was it written that the Son of Man must suffer a lot and be treated shamefully? 13 Indeed, I can guarantee that Elijah has come. Yet, people treated him as they pleased, as Scripture says about him.”

On this trip down the mountain, two things stood out to me in how Mark described this event. The first of these things is how Jesus tells these disciples to keep what they had seen a secret until after He had come back to life. It would seem that the three closest disciples didn’t fully grasp this simple message because Mark describes them arguing among themselves about what He meant by the phrase “come back to life”.

Remember that Mark describes this event happening after Peter had declared to Jesus and all the disciples his belief that Jesus was God’s Messiah, and also after Peter had openly challenged Jesus about the Messiah’s upcoming death. From this passage and some of the earlier passages we have focused in on, it seems like Peter was more set in his understanding the Messiah from the traditional, cultural view, and that he had a harder time breaking free from the preconceived ideas he had already formed in his mind about the role the Messiah would take. I wonder if some of this arguing was between Peter wondering if Jesus was being symbolic about His death, while James and/or John were seeing Jesus speaking more literally.

The other thing in this trip down the mountain that stood out in my mind is Jesus’ response to the disciples’ question about Elijah. First, Jesus restates the prophecy about Elijah’s coming, but before moving to tell them that Elijah already came, which other gospel writers who include this event allude to referring to John the Baptist, Mark includes a statement about Jesus suffering and being treated shamefully.

From the details in this passage, I suspect Jesus really wanted these closest disciples to ask for more details about His upcoming crucifixion. It would appear that since we don’t have a record of it here, and because the disciples, Peter especially, are shocked and scared when Jesus is arrested and ultimately crucified, that these three disciples missed the perfect opportunity to ask Jesus about what would happen the weekend of His death.

Jesus gives these disciples more openings than they could count to ask Him about what they saw and specifically about Jesus’ repeated warnings about His death and future resurrection. This is likely the same with us. Too often we are scared, timid, or overly cautious when sharing Jesus. While sometimes our fear is warranted, other times our fear is simply false evidence that our minds trick us into believing is very significant and very real.

Nowhere does Jesus promise His people an easy life free of problems here on this earth. Instead, Jesus tells us that we might add to our problems when we choose Him, but that choosing Him is the only way to survive past the problems of this life and past the sin in this world!

Jesus subtly reminds these disciples that He would suffer a lot and be treated shamefully, which are both subtle hints foreshadowing Jesus’ path to the cross, and as followers of Jesus, we shouldn’t be surprised if we are treated like Jesus was treated. However, when we side with Jesus, we get to experience Jesus’ resurrection, and accept the promise and gift of a new life with Him!

As we come to the end of this podcast episode, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

As I always challenge you to do, intentionally seek God first in your life and choose to side with Jesus regardless of what the world and culture thinks. Choose to push past your fear and ask the questions that need to be asked, listen when it is time to listen, and stand up for God when the world challenges your faith!

Also, build your faith on the truth about Jesus. Pray and study the Bible for yourself to learn and grow personally closer to God each and every day, and never let your faith or spirituality be dependent on someone else.

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of, back away from, chicken out of, or walk away from where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Year in Mark – Episode 23: During a special trip up a mountain with Peter, James, and John, Jesus shows them something significant about Himself that He then tells them to keep a secret about. Discover what this amazing event was and what we can learn from Jesus’ trip back down the mountain with these disciples.

Join the discussion. Share your thoughts on this passage.