The starting point

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.” Matthew 16:13-16

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When it comes to talking about spiritual things in the marketplace, we need to let the other person set the starting point of the conversation.

We are always wanting to be the ones to set the starting point. We want people to believe the basics about Christianity before we can have a conversation. We try to get them to agree much too soon, before we’ve even found out what they think. Or we just assume they know what we know and start from there. Neither of these are good starting points for a conversation.

When Jesus seeks to find out who His disciples think He is, He starts out with a broad, non-personal question: “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” Notice He speaks of Himself in the second person. He didn’t say, “Who do people say I am?” It’s a safe question, and the person should feel pretty safe answering it any way they want to. It’s how He set it up. This is a good example of what my wife calls “open-ended questions.” Open-ended questions are questions designed to probe a person’s thoughts to determine what they already believe. Open-ended questions can’t be answered with a simple yes or no; they take something more creative and more revealing of the person’s inner thoughts and beliefs. Jesus could have asked, “Do you believe I am the Messiah?” It would have immediately put them all on the spot. Instead He asked, “Who do people say I am?” Big difference.

They’re not loaded questions. They’re not manipulative questions. They’re not trick questions like the Pharisees often asked Jesus seeking to trap Him. They’re questions that probe. These are important starting points to a conversation because they allow the other person to set where they want to begin. Find out what the other person wants to talk about and start there. Especially if you’re going to talk about religion, spiritual things or belief, you want to find out what they think and believe already. Don’t assume anything.

Then Jesus finally asked, “Who do you say I am?” Still an open-ended question but one that demands a personal response from at least one of them, and Peter comes through.

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5 Responses to The starting point

  1. Mark says:

    Love Today’s Catch!

  2. Sandie says:

    Again, something I was trained in by the sate of NY – asking open-ended questions.
    You find out where the person(s) are coming from and it makes for a better discussion/conversation/bible study session/mediation – etc. And you keep asking those kind of questions.
    My teen group used to complain that they did more critical thinking with me than they did at school – sad; no wonder our youth can’t think for themselves.
    My CMA study group complained also, but for a different reason – I made them think outside of a comfortable Christian box – also sad – no wonder they can’t connect with the very people they say they want to reach.
    The bottom line for me was this: I wanted them all to reach their own conclusion(s), not just parrot mine. It also makes for more authentic and potentially life-changing interactions – for ALL involved. Sometimes I think I learned more from my teens than the other way around.
    John – don’t ever stop asking the open-ended question! Thank you for helping me color ‘outside the lines!’
    PS. My last session with teens was started with these questions: Does Tim Tebow win for the Denver Broncos because he’s a Christian? (Remember I live in Gator country – go #15!) What about the Christians on the other team? Did they lose because they weren’t as good Christians?
    Sometimes. there are questions that only God can answer! Blessings!

  3. John the Baptist sent two of his disciples to Jesus to ask Him, “Are you really the Messiah? Or shall we keep on looking for Him?”
    The disciples found Jesus while He was curing many sick people of their various diseases—healing the lame and the blind and casting out evil spirits. When they asked Him John’s question, this was His reply: “Go back to John and tell him all you have seen and heard here today: how those who were blind can see. The lame are walking without a limp. The lepers are completely healed. The deaf can hear again. The dead come back to life. And the poor are hearing the Good News. And tell him, ‘Blessed is the one who does not lose his faith in Me.’”
    ~ Luke 7

    Despite the many proofs of Jesus’ deity, instead of making a splashy entrance and garishly announcing, “Here I Am! Ta-daaa!”, Jesus took the more dignified approach and provided the opportunity for those inquiring about Him to reason it out for themselves and come to their own conclusions.
    He met them where they were but eventually they had to part ways and those who saw and heard Him would have some pretty serious things to mull over!
    Jesus set no timetables and I’m sure many in the crowds who chased after Him over the course of His three-year ministry had to think, and rethink, and rethink, and rethink some more before they finally reasoned it out for themselves and believed.
    Many others, I’m sure, reasoned otherwise despite what they saw and heard and chose not to believe. Perhaps, though, with the memories lingering and the seeds still planted, they changed their minds once again later on in life.

    I always get warm and teary-eyed each time I read about the two men who finally – as others were taunting Jesus while He was dying on the cross – reasoned it out for themselves that Jesus was (and is) the Messiah, the Hope of all mankind.
    Surely these men must have known or heard about Him during the previous three years but now was the pivotal moment they acknowledged him as Lord and God:

    Then one of the criminals who were hanged [said], “..we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.”
    Then he said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.”
    ~ Luke 23:39-43

    When the Roman officer standing beside His cross saw how He dismissed His Spirit, he exclaimed, “Truly, this was the Son of God!”
    ~ Mark 15:39

    ~

    “Come now, and let us reason together…”

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