“Are You Not in Error…?”

Mark 12:24

October 14, 2007 | Brian Bill

A father and son went fishing one day and while they were out in their boat, the boy suddenly became curious about the world around him and started asking questions.  He asked his father, “Dad, what makes this boat float?”  The father replied, “Don’t rightly know, son.”  A little later, the boy looked at his father and asked, “Dad, how do fish breathe underwater?” Once again the father replied, “Don’t rightly know, son.”  A few minutes later the boy boldly asked his  father, “Dad, why is the sky blue?” Again, the father replied, “Don’t rightly know, son.”

Finally, the boy asked, “Dad, do you mind me asking you all of these questions?”  The father replied, “Of course not, son.  If you don’t ask questions, you never learn nothin.’”

Have you noticed how many people have questions for God?  I’d like to hear some of the questions you’ve heard or asked yourself.  Just shout them out.

Here are some that I’ve heard…

  • How could God allow someone so close to me to die?
  • Why didn’t God stop the abuse I went through as a child?
  • Why are there so many hypocrites in the church?
  • If God is good why do bad things happen?
  • How did the Packers lose to the Bears last week?

Do you know that God has some questions for us?  His first question appears in Genesis 3:9 and was asked specifically of Adam after he and Eve sinned and tried to hide from Him: “Where are you?”   That question resonates across the centuries as God still wonders where everyone is in relation to Him.  Humanity has been hiding from the Holy One ever since.  Here’s a question.  Are you hiding from Him or have you been found?  

For the next seven weeks we’re going to look not at the questions we might have but at the questions that Christ has.  There are some things that Jesus wants to know…and some things He wants us to know about ourselves.  

As the master-teacher, Jesus asked a lot of questions.  Depending on how you count them, there are over 180 recorded in the Gospels.  Incidentally, He asked more questions than He answered. You don’t have to go very far to find Him asking questions.  When he was just 12 years old he was left behind in the Temple and Luke 2:46 says that he “was asking questions” of the teachers.  In Luke 2:49 we hear his first questions: “Why were you searching for me?  Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”

While it is not possible to categorize all of the questions, I see four different forms.

Kinds of Questions

1. Confirming questions. 

The answers to some of the questions Jesus asked were simply self-evident and easily answered.  Jesus asked these kinds of questions to get people to verbally confirm the obvious.  Examples of this include: “What is your name?  What were you arguing about on the road?  When I fed the 5,000, how much was left over?  How many loaves do you have?” While the answers were obvious, the implications were often very unsettling.

2. Complex questions. 

Some of the questions Jesus asked were so profound that they forced people to rethink their positions and priorities, especially when the questions had no good answer like this one in Matthew 7:3: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” Here’s another one from Matthew 5:13: “You are the salt of the earth.  But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?”

3.  Comforting questions. 

Jesus also asked questions to communicate comfort to people.  I’m reminded of what He asked the woman caught in adultery in John 8:10-11: “‘Woman, where are they?  Has no one condemned you?’ ‘No one, sir,’ she said. ‘Then neither do I condemn you,’ Jesus declared. ‘Go now and leave your life of sin.’”  

4. Convicting questions. 

Many questions that Jesus asked had a convicting force behind them, especially when he would answer a question with a question like He did in Mark 11:27-33.  The Pharisees loved a good argument but Jesus rarely gave them one.  Instead, He asked provocative and very personal questions.  Turn to Matthew 15:2-3 for an example.  A few Pharisees and some teachers of the law questioned why the disciples of Jesus broke the tradition of the elders by not washing their hands before they ate (I broke this one a lot growing up).  Jesus’ answer was stunning and very strong: “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition?”  Here’s another one from Luke 6:46: “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?”  Questions have a way of penetrating a person’s heart.

These convicting questions were not only directed at the enemies of Jesus, He also sent His disciples into a state of disequilibrium with questions like these from Mark 8:17-18: “Do you still not see or understand?  Are your hearts hardened?  Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear?” Or this one, which had to hurt from Luke 8:25: “Where is your faith?”  As one who has followed Christ for some time now, I’m personally convicted by this question in John 14:9: “Don’t you know me…even after I have been among you such a long time?”  The questions Jesus asked were used with pinpoint precision to get to the heart of a person’s problem.  W.P. Merrill adds, “He came not to answer questions, but to ask them, not to settle men’s souls, but to provoke them.”

It’s fascinating to analyze some of the answers, or non-answers, that people gave in response to the questions of Jesus.  Here are some of my favorites:

  • Matthew 22:46: “No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions.”
  • Mark 3:4: “But they remained silent.” 
  • Luke 14:6: “And they had nothing to say.” 

As we go through this series you may be comforted or you may be convicted or you just may be quiet.  Whatever the case, it’s my prayer that none of us will stay the same.

Here are some of the questions we’re going to ponder:

“How many loaves do you have?”

“Has it not been written: My house shall be called a house of prayer?”

“Do you want to get well?”

“When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?”

“Show me the coin…whose portrait is this?  And whose inscription?”

“What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?”

And today our text is found in Mark 12:24: “Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God?”

Please turn in your Bibles to Mark 12.  Let’s set the context.  Palm Sunday has just taken place and it is now the last week of Jesus’ life.  Jesus is involved with a series of confrontations with the religious and political parties who are trying to take Him out.  In the beginning of this chapter Jesus tells a parable that makes the religious leaders upset.  He essentially tells them that they and their forefathers got rid of all the prophets they didn’t like and now they were going to kill the Father’s son as well.  They wanted to arrest Him right there but because of the crowds, they left Him and went away to regroup.

Their plan was to send their best to Jesus to trap Him in his words and so some Pharisees and some Herodians come together.  Interestingly, these two groups can’t stand each other but they don’t mind working in tandem to get rid of a common enemy.  After posing what they thought was an unanswerable query, they’re faced with some convicting questions from Christ Himself.  Verse 17 tells us “that they were amazed at Him.”

After these two groups are put in their place another group takes their best shot.  The Sadducees are the spiritual snobs of the country and without a doubt they thought they could silence Jesus and put an end to His popularity among the people, and in the process, bump up a few percentage points in the political polls (sounds like they could have fit in well with our culture).  They were highly educated, extremely influential, and very wealthy and were known as experts in the interpretation of Scripture.  There are a couple things to keep in mind about them.

  • They only believed in the first five books of the Bible.
  • They did not believe in the resurrection, the afterlife, or angels.

Josephus, the Jewish historian, has commented on their rudeness (he describes them as being “as rude as aliens”), and on their harsh spirit as they passed judgment on others.  That’s why they were “sad, you see?” (That was my attempt at a little humor).  They considered themselves enlightened, but as we will see, Jesus is about to enlighten them.

Follow along in Mark 12:18-27 as I narrate what happens.  

Their set-up begins as they respectfully refer to Jesus as “Teacher.” They then quote from Deuteronomy 25:5 — the part of the Bible that they accept as authoritative: “If brothers are living together and one of them dies without a son, his widow must not marry outside the family.  Her husband’s brother shall take her and marry her and fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to her.”  They then describe a very hypothetical and even ludicrous situation, thinking they had a question Jesus could not answer and that He would look foolish even trying.  

They imagine that there were seven brothers.  The first one married and died and then the next one married the widow.  It was the same with the third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh brothers as they marry her in succession after the brother before each one dies.  After all the brothers die, then the woman dies too.  Here’s their question: “At the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?”  I picture the Sadducees strutting around, high-fiving each other because their question was so amazing.  They had probably rehearsed it many times before and watched others falter and fold.  No one had ever been able to answer this question.  They were painting a problem, a theological conundrum that in their minds was both absurd and unanswerable.

Instead, Jesus answers their question with His own question.  I imagine their faces falling and their eyes looking around to see who was watching them.  Check out this convicting question: “Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God?”  The word “error” means to wander astray and the way in which the question is asked expects an affirmative answer.  Because they didn’t accept all the passages of Scripture and denied the power of God, they were in a bad place.  

Jesus then does some teaching by pointing out that resurrection life is far different and better than this life in verse 25: “When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.”  With this one statement he punctures their proposition and shows that they don’t get it.  Did you catch the word “when”?  He doesn’t say if the dead rise but when they rise.

I like what Warren Wiersbe says about this passage: “Resurrection is not the restoration of life as we know it; it is the entrance into a new life that is different.”  Heaven will be a completely different dimension than the life we now know.  Weddings will not be performed because as we learned last week we will be invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.  We will certainly remember our spouse but every relationship we have here will pale in comparison to the relationship we will have with Jesus.  The resurrected life will transcend earthly relationships.  We don’t become angels, but like angels, we will obey completely and we will worship wholeheartedly.  Like angels, we will enjoy an existence that transcends earthly limitations and we will never die.

He is the God of the living because He is the living God

And then He clobbers them by crafting another question in verse 26 with a quote from the very section of Scripture they subscribe to in Exodus 3:3-6: “Now about the dead rising—have you not read in the book of Moses, [this expects an affirmative answer because without doubt they were familiar with this story] in the account of the bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob?’”  Since the patriarchs are still alive, though their bodies are in the ground, there must be such a thing as the resurrection.  Notice this passage does not say “I was the God of…” but “I am the God of…”  He is the God of the living because He is the living God.  As I often say in funerals, this is the land of the dying and when we die we go to the land of the living.  

By teaching truth from a passage that they personally liked, Jesus proves his superiority over the Sadducees.  Let me make the obvious point that expository preaching follows the example of Jesus by pulling truth even from the different tenses of verbs.  All Scripture, according to 2 Timothy 3:16-17 is “… God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” Jesus said the same thing in Matthew 5:18: “I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.” 

Jesus doesn’t leave it there.  Not only does he make the Sadducees squirm, He declares unequivocally, and loudly I might add: “You are badly mistaken.”  That means they were in extreme error and totally off track.  Some prosperity preachers today avoid ending a sermon on a sour note but the sermons of Jesus often ended on a note of correction or outright rebuke.

I have two closing questions that come right from this passage.  We must answer them correctly or risk being in error ourselves.

Closing Questions

1. Do you know it? 

Jesus still asks this question: “Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures?”  How well do you know the Word of God?  The Sadducees focused on social status more than the Scriptures, picking and choosing what they wanted from God’s Word.  They probably had the Torah memorized but it hadn’t tenderized them.  They claimed to accept the authority of Moses but missed that he taught that life continues after death.  Do you know it?  Are you reading it everyday?  Make sure you’re doing whatever you can to become a student of the Word of God.  Plug into a Sunday morning IMPACT class.  Join a small group.  Attend one of our women’s Bible studies.  Men, make the monthly men’s breakfasts a priority – Pastor Dick is teaching this Saturday on this very topic: “Becoming a Man of the Word.”

A 2013 LifeWay Research study asked regular protestant church attenders how often they read the Bible outside of church. While 19 percent answered “every day,” 18 percent said rarely/never. A quarter indicate they read the Bible a few times a week, and the rest answered “occasionally.” Interestingly, 90 percent of this same group said, “I desire to please and honor Jesus in all that I do.”

Researchers George Gallup and Jim Castelli put the problem squarely: “Americans revere the Bible–but, by and large, they don’t read it. And because they don’t read it, they have become a nation of biblical illiterates.” How bad is it? Researchers tell us that it’s worse than most could imagine.

Fewer than half of all adults can name the four gospels. Many Christians cannot identify more than two or three of the disciples. According to data from the Barna Research Group, 60 percent of Americans can’t name even five of the Ten Commandments. “No wonder people break the Ten Commandments all the time. They don’t know what they are,” said George Barna, president of the firm. The bottom line? “Increasingly, America is biblically illiterate.”

2. Do you show it? 

Jesus wants to know: “Are you not in error because you do not know…the power of God?”   Has the information led to transformation?  Do you know the passages and the power?  Do you show it?  The Sadducees denied the reality of the afterlife and thus the power of the resurrection because it defied logic.  At some point we must move from just learning the Bible to living the Bible.  2 Timothy 3:5 describes a group of people who know it but don’t show it: “Having a form of godliness but denying its power.  Have nothing to do with them.”  

The Bible has a lot to say about God’s power.  Philippians 3:10: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection…”  The power of the resurrection comes only to those who personally know Christ through the rebirth.  The word “know” in the Bible has more to do with experience than with intellect.  What we’ve been talking about this morning ties right into our mission statement: To connect people to Jesus and equip them to be growing and faithful followers.  After knowing we should be growing and then showing the power of God to others.

Putting it into Practice

1. Read the Bible contemplatively. 

We have some Bible reading plans available at the Resource Center today.  Let me share an ancient practice called Lectio Divina.  Before I do, let me give you a caution to not approach the Bible mystically or magically.  This is a Latin expression that can be translated as a contemplative reading of the Bible.  I’m using some insights from Pastor Bob Bauer and have added some elements of my own.

  • Reading.  Read a passage slowly with reverence and in an attitude of expectancy.  Savor each word, whether it’s comforting or convicting.
  • Reflecting.  Enter into the text by meditating on its meaning.
  • Responding.  Pray the passage back to God, using the text as the framework.
  • Resting.  Take some time to think and ponder the implications of this passage for your own life.

Let me demonstrate.  On Friday I read Mark 10.  After Jesus interacted with the rich young ruler, verse 21 says that “Jesus looked at him and loved him.”  I had glossed over that before.  Jesus loves lost people.  I often get upset with them or judge them but Jesus looks at and loves those who are lost.  

2. Ask God to demonstrate His power in a specific area of your life. 

We don’t have to request more power because He’s already given it to us

It’s so easy for us to lose heart when we don’t see things happening.  2 Timothy 1:7 says that God has “given us a spirit of power.”  We don’t have to request more power because He’s already given it to us.  In what area do you need to trust God to demonstrate His power?

3. Start using questions when you talk to people. 

Begin to ask questions of those who don’t know Jesus.  Here’s one: “Tell me, where are you on your spiritual journey?”  Or, here’s one I often use when someone expresses how things have been going without God in their life: “How’s that been working for you?”  The Evangelism Explosion question is outstanding as well: “If you were to die today and God asked you why He should let you into heaven, what would you say?”

4. Use tools to teach people about Jesus. 

Taylor Benge says he was in fight-or-flight mode as Stephen Paddock rained bullets down on a country music festival in Las Vegas early Monday morning.

“If it were over here, and I took cover, there were still bodies on that side of people just laying in pools of blood,” Benge tells CNN. “I still didn’t know if that was safe or not.”

But during the worst mass shooting in U.S. history in which the death toll currently stands at 50 with more than 400 injured, Benge says he had a change of heart.

“It’s a fight or flight situation. You can’t really, you just gotta take it to God at that point and hope that you can make it,” Benge says.

“I know I can’t speak for everyone, but for me, I’m just, you know, I was agnostic going into that concert, I’m a firm believer in God now because there’s no way that, you know, all that happened and I made it and I was blessed enough to still be alive here talking to you today.”

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?