“But they did not understand the saying, and they were afraid to ask Him.”

Mark 9:32

When I was in college my post office box was right next to a pretty little blonde’s. She was a tanned Florida Freshman, if you know what I mean. And her name was Sally.

Now John, a fellow on my hall, was secretly in love with Sally. And he kept trying to get me to switch post office boxes with him. That way he could be close to Sally.

You see, John was painfully shy. Though he longed to know Sally, he couldn’t muster the nerve to ask her out. So, he secretly loved her at a distance.

Once he rode a bus four blocks past the place where he wanted to get off just so he could be near her a little longer. (She was in the front of the bus. He was at the rear). He went to the administrative building and got a copy of her class schedule so he could just happen to be where she was. Another time he signed up for zoology because she would be in the class.

And yes, I traded post office boxes with John. But it cost him! For three dollars, a coil of rope, a Spanish 101 book, and a nice ball point pen, John got my box next to Sally’s.

Well, come the school year’s end John finally summoned up the courage to ask Sally out for a date. She agreed. And over supper John confided in Sally telling her of his year long love. And you know what? Sally, said she’d loved John the whole year too!

Think of all the joy they missed! Think of the romance and comfort and tenderness that will never be because their love was shy. And aren’t we bashful like John was with Sally when it comes to our own love affair with God? We are reluctant to draw near, timid to ask for help. We’re shy to ask questions, to find out more about Him. Yes, we’re bashful lovers of God.

Our text for today tells us that the disciples, too, were shy with Christ. The Lord told them of His impending conflict with the Jewish authorities. He said He’d be killed and later rise from the dead. Such talk confused the disciples. Their minds buzzed with wonderment, but according to our text, “They did not understand the saying, and they were afraid to ask Him what he meant.”

Why are we afraid to ask? Why do we so bashfully sit back and allow ignorance to cloud our minds?

“Pride”

Pride, I think, is one reason. We are afraid of showing our ignorance. You know how this is. A school teacher says, “Now I’ll explain it and if you have any questions or if you don’t understand it, just raise your hand.” And after she explains it the class room is full of blank stares, but no one asks any questions for fear of being the only dummy in the class. It’s sort of like Abe Lincoln once said, “It’s better to keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool, than to open it and remove all doubt.”

And people play on our pride, don’t they? They profit from our unwillingness to show our ignorance, don’t they? How many tactful salesmen come into your home and say, “I’m sure you’re an intelligent person; you understand how this vacuum cleaner with its new pulsating suction is more effective than the competitor’s brand, so I won’t take up your valuable time explaining to you the obvious….” This is true of the art world, as well. How many poets and playwrights nowadays get away with murder because we read their works and pretend to understand them so folks won’t think we’re tasteless bores.

Do you remember the fable, The Emperor’s New Clothes? The king was being outfitted for a new wardrobe and an unscrupulous tailor got a hold of him. The tailor was taking the money for expensive clothing but only delivering skimpy garments. Well, at first the king was suspicious, but he tailor flattered him and allayed his royal fears. And of course, none of the king’s subjects were about to criticize his apparel. They simply concluded silently that the king was losing his mind. The tailor finished his job and made off with the money leaving the king walking around in his rather skimpy attire while the people didn’t dare ask. And then one day it happened. A wee child seeing the king said aloud, “Why, what’s the king doing walking around in his underwear?” And can’t vanity make a royal fool out of us all!

Do ask! Fire away with your questions. Here in the church feel free to go ahead and say, “I don’t understand. Explain it once more.” No one will laugh at you for your questing and questioning mind.

“Afraid of the Answer”

So, why is it we’re afraid to ask? Pride! We’re simply afraid of showing our ignorance. And now, passing on, here’s a second reason we don’t ask. We are afraid of what the answer might be.

Go ahead and ask a doctor about this fear. He’ll tell you that few of his patients ever look him in the eye and say, “Give it to me straight, doctor. Do I have cancer? Is it terminal? How long do I have?” Instead, patients edge around the facts, deal in generalities and engage in subtle delusions. And isn’t this how it was in our text. Why didn’t the disciples ask Jesus what he meant when He predicted His death? They were afraid. They were afraid of what the answer might be. What would His death mean to them? Was the nature of the Messiah different from what they expected? And someone settled the issue by deftly concluding, “Don’t ask.”

A pastor once told me he’d been in the ministry forty-seven years and not once had a church member ever asked, “Pastor, do you think I’m a Christian?” Not once had an elder or deacon queried, “Am I doing my job? Am I setting a good example?” Nor had a convert ever questioned, “Am I doing okay? Do you think I’m growing?” Why? Why are we afraid to ask such important questions? Perhaps we’re afraid of the answer.

A family sent their son off to college. And in a roundabout way they discovered that their son had far more money than they could account for. He dressed well, traveled frequently, and lived high. Well, the question was obvious. “Where are you getting all that money, son?” Was he a thief? Was he gambling? Was he selling drugs? And the parents decided to keep quiet. “Don’t ask,” they concluded for fear of what the answer might be. And do you see the hell of it all? Do you see the shallowness of the relationship, the worry, the lack of love that their don’t-ask attitude got them into? And isn’t it the same for us here and now? Are you afraid to ask because you’re afraid of what the answer might be? Ask! Ask! Some things are too important not to be questioned.

Are you really a Christian? Are you filled with the Spirit? Why is there a cross at the center of our faith? Are you taking your church membership seriously? Why don’t you attend group prayer? Am I as an elder doing a Biblical job of it?

Brothers and sisters, do ask! Some things are just that important!

“I Don’t Care!”

What have we seen so far? We are afraid to ask because we’re proud or afraid of what the answer might be. And there’s another reason we refuse to inquire. We just don’t care. We’re not interested in the questions so we’re not interested in the answers.

A Dagwood and Blondie cartoon summed it all up when it showed Dagwood awakened from his nap by the doorbell. A salesman standing there again asked, “Aren’t you just dying to know what I’m selling this time?” And without a word Dagwood slammed the door. Questions outside our values seldom interest us. They simply pass by us unnoticed.

Don’t you know how this is? I once spent the evening out with a young couple that is not Christian. Like most Americans their faith was in things, in materialism and pleasure. And I kept account of the kinds of questions they asked.

“How can I avoid that extra tax?”

“How much does a new Datson 280-Z cost?”

“Have you ever eaten there? Was it good?”

“Did you see that new James Bond movie?”

“Where are you going on your vacation?”

“Want to know where we’re planning to build our new house?” Questions, sure! Scads of them! But questions of the belly, the bank. And not questions of the soul. Gently as I could, I turned the conversation toward Jesus. I asked his thinking on man’s nature, on the existence of God and the church. And he shrugged them off. It wasn’t that he was afraid of showing his ignorance. Nor was he afraid of the answers. He just didn’t care. All his circuits were jammed with other questions so that he didn’t have room for others to get through.

Such sad creatures we can be! To go through life asking questions of food and pleasure and disco and suntans and movies and sports cars is so typical of today. We think questions of hair styles are more important than questions of justice. It’s more important to us to find the answer to a television mystery than to find an answer to a troublesome Bible verse. Such glandular people we’ve become; mindlessly we march though life absorbing food and goods and services and never questioning whence we’ve come or whither we go.

Is this you we’re talking about? Are you only interested in questions of money and sex and recreation? Is your appetite for inquiry into Christianity jaded? Could you care less about questions of salvation, of justice and mercy and ministry and life and death?

“Conclusion”

Did you hear about the farmer who bought him a long, red Lincoln Continental? It was his only extravagance and he kicked the cows out to garage it in the barn! The farmer used it for trips into town, for Sunday afternoon drives with his wife, and for family vacations. But he never really knew what all he owned! Let me explain what I mean!

After owning the red Lincoln several years, his oldest boy turned sixteen and commenced to driving himself. The boy behind the wheel now, the farmer was a passenger. And every time they went somewhere the boy would show the father something new his car could do.

Once he put in an 8-track tape and his dad said, “What’s that?”

The lad taught his father about the car’s cruise control, automatic light dimmer and the seat recliner button. The farmer learned of that hidden map light, the air-conditioner and even stereo radio. And though he’d owned the car for several years, it was only after he started asking questions that he began to learn the things it would do. And isn’t it just that way with our faith? Christ has bought us more Christianity than we know! He offers so much. And, for our lack of searching and questioning, we know and accept so little. We’ve become lazy and self-satisfied.

How about you? Isn’t it time you started asking questions and looking for Biblical answers? To Jeremiah the prophet God promised, “Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things which you have not known” (Jeremiah 33:3). And His promise is to you as well. “Ask and it shall be given. Seek and ye shall find. Knock and the door shall be opened unto you” (Matthew 7:7). Don’t be bashful! Think of all you might be missing! Yes, and by the way; John and Sally got married and now live in Lima, Ohio. Do you see what questions can start?

"The university is the clear-cut fulcrum with which to move the world. More potently than by any other means, change the university and you change the world." Charles Malik, past president of the UN General Assembly

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