Risen Savior Lutheran Church background

It’s Good to Ask Questions in Church

John 3:1–17

There’s no such thing as a bad question. Hopefully, someone along the way in life has said that. We learn through questions. Now questions can also put people on edge. The two-year-old who just keeps coming at mom and dad. Why is that dog barking? Why do birds fly? Why is the sky blue? The student popping up their hand in school because another question is on their mind and they just have to ask even if it’s off topic. The employee who questions absolutely every task to make sure they’re doing it right.

It can happen at church, too. The curious child who figures God was mad at Jesus on the cross and asks why. The teenager trying to ponder deep social issues and why what they see and hear at school is different from what they see and hear from God. The adult who grapples with teachings that after all these years still don’t quite make sense. But we want people asking their questions in church, because the world provides plenty of wrong answers.

Nicodemus came to Jesus in the gospel because he was questioning. Not himself, but questioning Jesus. Nicodemus wasn’t a believer. As a prominent Jewish religious leader he thought he was just fine. Everything he learned, read, and studied his whole life told him he was doing better than most. He followed the law strictly. He could interpret the Old Testament for himself and his people. Plus he had achieved success. But what Jesus said, taught, and lived seemed contrary to all that. He may have been thinking, “What gives? I’m working hard, and Jesus comes along and teaches something else totally.” So he came to Jesus.

Religion is many things to many people. Help when they get into trouble. Social group for meeting people. Expectation of family members. Place to be generous and serve. It may have been all those to Nicodemus when he came to Jesus. But he came because he saw and heard a different answer in Jesus to the ultimate question of every religion, how do I get right with God and get to heaven? Jesus took him right to the heart. “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” Nicodemus was more confused.

What everyone seems to be set on is the idea that God is looking at people’s actions and determining whether they’re good or bad. Good people go to heaven. Bad people somewhere else. It’s only fair. That would be most people’s answer. We might even lean that way, probably lived that way at times, or given people that impression. We don’t mind showing off our good deeds, making sure plenty of people know about it and see it. We just know God smiles when we do good. And when we do something bad, sinful, immediately we’re trying to figure out the way to make up for it by doing a bunch of good things. It seems reasonable that in a world where we’re paid based on our output and efforts that God would use the same formula. Nothing else makes sense.

The more Nicodemus sat with Jesus the further confused he showed himself to be. Jesus spoke of a person being born again, Nicodemus responded, “How can a man be born when he is old?” Jesus talked about born again being born of water and the Spirit. Nicodemus only could say, “How can this be?” Finally, Jesus didn’t even wait. Nicodemus was never going to understand. Not where his heart was at that moment.

I know many of you have other spiritual questions. How to get to heaven may not even be your first. What about the Trinity? Three Gods and yet one God? That doesn’t really make sense. What about God’s plan to send just one man to be the Savior for all? And that man was also God? Doesn’t make sense. What about all those people who have never heard the Bible or Jesus? What about sins that seem to be everyday things in our society? Homosexuality, abortion, living together outside of marriage, cursing, pornography? These are accepted practices it seems like. Society has changed, should the Bible get updated too? Your personal list of questions probably goes further. And since we’re wired to make sense of things that don’t make sense your answers in the past have probably gone like this. “I think God means …” “It makes sense if we understand it this way.” “I’ll go to the experts of today and get answers.” We answer according to reason. Something that satisfies our curiosity, but maybe doesn’t match God. Kind of like with the wind Jesus talks about. “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” By comparing our knowledge of the wind, which we accept is real because we feel its effects, Jesus is bringing to a head this confusion Nicodemus had and we have too.

Questions are good. But how Jesus dealt with Nicodemus is how he deals with your questions. He doesn’t answer every one. “I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven — the Son of Man.” Plain and simple, there were things Nicodemus wasn’t going to understand. I’m sorry to say, there are things you won’t understand. At least that won’t make sense to your reason. But understanding where the wind starts and goes isn’t the most important thing. Knowing answers to every spiritual question isn’t most important. Jesus is talking about heaven. Not a philosophical discussion on its existence, not a reasonable discussion on different ways religions talk about it. Rather how to get there. No one has ever gone there. No one gets there alone. Except Christ. That’s most important. The one who was in heaven, descended to earth and ascended back into heaven. And because you haven’t been there, Jesus came into the world. Not predominantly to answer your questions, but to give you his gospel promises.

Don’t worry that you don’t understand everything. Don’t worry about all the questions you still have. God knows those questions and all their answers. He also knows you’re accepting a lot by faith right now. Trusting because God is the one who says it. He knows what’s really putting yourself out there, believing in something you can’t see or touch. But he also knows you’re not doing any of that on your own. In one powerful verse, God gives you a gospel promise to believe in. Words familiar to many and meant for all. God shares his plan and his love for you. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

God loved you in the past and loves you still today. Your name isn’t there specifically, but you’re there. Loved by God because God loves the world. Look around you. If you’re in the world, you are the world that God loves. Loves you with an incredible love that chose to love you though you were a sinner. Loved you before the world was created, before you were born. Directed his own Son Jesus to come to this world.

And Jesus did because Jesus loves you too. He must since he was willing to give his life for you. That’s incredible since Jesus knew what he would have to go through to make you his own. The suffering Jesus faced was nothing with you in mind. His perfect life was exactly what he knew you wouldn’t be able to accomplish. He interacted with people who hated him, he watched as his own people nailed him to a cross, and in every moment you were on his mind. It was all for you, so you would not perish.

And all those things you right now only believe in faith, that’s proof God the Holy Spirit works in you. Leads you to a belief that everything God says is true, not because you’ve reasoned it out, but because his message is powerful enough to win your heart. Through his work in you eternal life is yours. Not just in the future, but now. Incredible because in you the Holy Spirit was overcoming intense unbelief. Reason that wanted to hold on to your own way of thinking and getting to heaven. Wanted to resist God’s ways because you thought your ways were better. But God’s love overcame that in you. His love brought you to faith.

Asking questions in church is a good thing. Start finding answers with John 3:16. You won’t understand one other thing God says until you’ve soaked in the middle of all that love God pours out. God loved you. God in each one of his three persons. God the Father so concerned about your eternal welfare and salvation he made the huge sacrifice of sending his own Son. God the Son loved you from before the world began that coming to live and die here on earth was acceptable. Jesus could pour out his love and experience a resurrection to prove you will rise one day too. Your salvation was always first on his mind. God the Holy Spirit got to work working in the hearts of the world. The invitation is for all. The love is for all. Salvation is all he cares about, yours and the salvation of the world. The Holy Spirit works in you to bring you to faith and trust in the gospel promises of salvation.

The search for knowledge and understanding is something we try and instill into kids. That’s good. It’s good in church too. Asking questions, searching for understanding, deepening our knowledge is good. But don’t be surprised when confusion only increases. Don’t be surprised when it seems God isn’t answering the burning questions. He probably isn’t. He’s answering the ones we don’t even realize are most important. And in that God is always giving you the answers. There’s only one way to heaven. The only way you’re born again is believing in Christ Jesus the Savior. Ask questions, seek answers, but never lose sight of what’s most important. God cares about you with a love that sent his Son. Jesus loves you and died for you. The Holy Spirit loves you and keeps strengthening your faith.