Recently, I posted an article on, “What does the text say?” questions. There are two reasons we might be tempted to skip these questions.
- They are not as interesting as later questions
- We think everyone knows all this already
Dr. Curtis Vaughan told us the story of a preacher he heard one time who began his message this way, “The music went a little long today, we don’t have time to actually read the text. Let me share with you some thoughts I had as I studied this text this week.”
Well, let me share with you an opinion I have about that. If we have a choice between the Word of God and this preacher’s thoughts about the Word of God, I would rather have the Word of God itself. Now, in an ideal world, I would like to have both. I would like to have the text and his thoughts on it, but if I had to choose one or the other, I would take the Bible itself.
We assume people know. Often they don’t. Oh, they have vague ideas about the general theme of the Bible, but if you ask questions with any specificity, you will soon find we are all a little more ignorant than we would like to admit.
I have often asked this question at conferences to illustrate this point. (By the way, this is not some trick question, just a straightforward question of Biblical truth.) How many times did the people of Israel march around Jericho before Jericho fell? Correct answer: thirteen. Once a day for six days and seven times on the seventh day. I have asked this question to thousands of people in groups over the years and can tell you that there is not one person in a hundred that will get it right. And, the people I am asking are Sunday School teachers, who, presumably, are more biblically literate than are the people they teach. Not one in a hundred of them will get it right. We are all a little more ignorant than we would like to imagine.
You might be thinking, “Well, that is trivia. What difference does it make how many times they marched around Jericho.” True. But, often the power of the word of God is found in details of the text. Here is an example based on a different verse:
But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’ “ Mark 16:7 [NIV]
Question: Who did the young man tell the ladies to tell about the resurrection?
A picky detail in a way, but one pregnant with meaning. “Tell the disciples and Peter.” Peter, the one who had denied our Lord. Peter, the one who was likely embarrassed and depressed and defeated. Tell Peter. Don’t forget to tell Peter.
Some follow up questions will go like this:
- Why Peter?
- What do we learn about God from the inclusion of Peter’s name in this instruction?
- Do you think of God as a God who cares about you as an individual, as He did Peter as an individual?
All those questions can follow, but we need to get the facts of “and Peter” on the table.
Often the power of the word of God is found in picky details of the text. This is a great insight, by the way, when you are dealing with a passage, like the resurrection story and Christmas story that we look at every year. The passage is so familiar we sometime struggle to find something new to say. When that happens, I always tell myself, “Slow down. Read the text one word at a time.”
We are all a little more ignorant than we would like to admit
Numerous research studies reveal the level of ignorance of people inside and outside the church. Here is one example:
- Fewer than half of all adults can name the four gospels
- Many professing Christians cannot identify more than two or three of the disciples
- 60 percent of Americans can’t name even five of the Ten Commandments
- 82 percent of Americans believe “God helps those who help themselves” is a Bible verse
- 12 percent of adults believe that Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife
- A survey of graduating high school seniors revealed that over 50 percent thought that Sodom and Gomorrah were husband and wife
- A considerable number of respondents to one poll indicated that the Sermon on the Mount was preached by Billy Graham
“Increasingly, America is biblically illiterate.” – George Barna
I heard this story years ago and it is a great example of the idea that we are all a little more ignorant of the Bible that we would like to admit:
An older preacher told the story of a young minister interviewing for his first pastorate. The Pulpit Committee had invited him to come over to their church for the interview. The committee chairman asked, “Son, do you know the Bible pretty good?”
The young minister said, “Yes, pretty good.” The chairman asked, “Which part do you know best?” He responded saying, “I know the New Testament best.” “Which part of the New Testament do you know best,” asked the chairman. The young minister said, “Several parts.” The chairman said, “Well, why don’t you tell us the story of the Prodigal Son.” The young man said, “Fine.”
“There was a man of the Pharisees name Nicodemus, who went down to Jericho by night and he fell upon stony ground and the thorns choked him half to death. “The next morning Solomon and his wife, Gomorrah, came by, and carried him down to the ark for Moses to take care of. But, as he was going through the Eastern Gate into the Ark, he caught his hair in a limb and he hung there forty days and forty nights and he afterwards did hunger. And, the ravens came and fed him.
“The next day, the three wise men came and carried him down to the boat dock and he caught a ship to Nineveh. And when he got there he found Delilah sitting on the wall. He said, “Chunk her down, boys, chunk her down.” And, they said, “How many times shall we chunk her down, till seven time seven?” And he said, “Nay, but seventy times seven.” And they chucked her down four hundred and ninety times.
“And, she burst asunder in their midst. And they picked up twelve baskets of the leftovers. And, in the resurrection whose wife shall she be?”
The Committee chairman suddenly interrupted the young minister and said to the remainder of the committee, “Fellows, I think we ought to ask the church to call him as our minister.
He is awfully young, but he sure does know his Bible.”
We are all a little more ignorant than we would like to imagine. Ask, “What does the text say?” questions. People have to know what the Bible says before they can understand what it means.
By the way, now is a great time to be a group leader. I heard this story years ago in a sermon and wanted to include it in a talk I do called Ten Marks of Incredible Teachers. I could not, however remember enough of the actual story to do it justice. I could not remember where I had heard or read the story. I asked my wife about it. She had heard it as well, but could not get me a foot note. She could, however, remember the phrase, “chunk her down boys.” I did a search in Google for “chunk her down, boys” remembering to put it in quotations so it searched for this actual string. (If you don’t remember the quotations marks, it may come up with it anyway. Or, you can also use the advanced search tab.) Anyway, I plugged in “chunk her down, boys” and walla! The first entry was this story. Most stories that you have heard in sermons are on the Internet somewhere. Some preacher has included them in his sermon and posted that sermon online. In this way, every story you have ever heard is available, indexed and searchable for your retrieval. What a time to be alive! What a time to be a teacher!
You can find thousands of Good Questions as part of the Good Question membership series. You can get this and thousands of other lessons for as low as $12 per teacher per year (church plan), or $40 per year for an individual plan. Other plans also available. For more information, see http://mybiblestudylessons.com/
You can buy the book from which this excerpt comes from Amazon.