Gospel of John (2) — What Are You Looking For?

First words. Every parent longs to hear the first words their child speaks. And I would imagine that Sueanne and I were like most parents in that there was a bit of a competition to see which word our children would speak first – mama or daddy. And I think we were both guilty of doing a little bit of coaching – “Come on, you can do it. Say it – daddy, daddy!”

It is with a similar degree of anticipation that we hear the first words that Jesus spoke. Now, obviously, we don’t know the first words he spoke as a baby (although I’m sure it was “daddy”), but at some point in his life, each of the gospel writers records his words for the very first time.

For Luke, it was those words spoken as a 12-year-old boy in the temple. When his parents were frantic because they couldn’t find him, Jesus said, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 1:49)

Matthew doesn’t record any of Jesus’ words until his baptism. He said to John the Baptist when John was hesitant to baptize him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” (Matthew 3:15)

Mark doesn’t waste much time with words at all. He is much more concerned with actions. So, his first recorded words of Jesus don’t come until after Jesus’ baptism and the temptations in the wilderness. Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15)

But, in this series of lessons, we’re studying from the gospel of John. What are the first words that Jesus spoke in John’s gospel? I’ll let you watch this clip, listen to the text and find out for yourself.

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Did you catch that? “What are you looking for?” (John 1:38). Those are the very first words that Jesus spoke in John’s gospel. Jesus asked this question to two of his disciples, one of whom was Andrew, when he saw them tagging along behind him.

And I believe that Jesus is still asking this question today — What are you looking for?

Writer John Kelly once said, “In the 21st century, knowing all the answers won’t distinguish someone’s intelligence – rather, the ability to ask all the right questions will be the mark of true genius.”

And if that is indeed the case, then Jesus was way ahead of his time, because he knew how to ask all the right questions. And very rarely did he ask a question that had an easy answer. There are some questions that are asked with only one possible answer. For example, if your spouse asks you, “Do I look good in this outfit?” there is really only one answer to that question. But those aren’t the kinds of questions that Jesus asked.

Instead, Jesus asked questions that force you to think, encourage you to contemplate, questions that don’t lend themselves to easy answers. After all, the word “question” has the word “quest” in it. Jesus’ questions invited his listeners on a journey toward discovery.

And so, he asked these two men, “What are you looking for?”

As for me, some days, I’m just looking for a parking spot. A lot of days I’m looking for my keys or my phone or the remote. Other times I’m looking for bargains on Amazon. Or the perfect sermon illustration. Or something to eat in the refrigerator.

But, Jesus wasn’t talking about anything that mundane when he asked the question, “What are you looking for?” When you think about it, it’s a rather strange way to start a conversation. And even the wording of the question is odd. It would seem more logical for Jesus to ask those two men, “What do you want?” But, this is a question that cuts deeper than wants. It implies a longing, a searching, a yearning for something.

When Jesus asked Andrew and the other disciple, “What are you looking for?” it meant more than just, “Can I help you find something?” Jesus was really asking — “What are you searching for in life? What is your soul’s deepest desire? What are you seeking with all of your being? What are you looking for?”

And Jesus asks us the same question. What are you looking for? What is it that will satisfy your soul’s deep longing? He still wants to know, because we are really good at looking for all the wrong things, in all the wrong places.

What are you looking for? Maybe you’re about to graduate and you’re trying to make up your mind about where to go to college and what to major in. Maybe you’re trying to figure out what you want to devote your life to. You’re looking for a career, or considering a career change. Maybe you’re looking for a husband or a wife—someone to share your life with.

• Some of you are looking for healing of old, deep wounds.
• Some of you are looking for friendship and community.
• Some of you are just looking for a way to make ends meet.
• Some of you are looking for a little peace and quiet.
• Others may be looking for an adventure because your life has gotten a bit stale.

And in our search, we turn to all sorts of self-help programs, diets, and workout routines, in an effort to improve our physical and emotional lives. And unfortunately, we also sometimes turn to destructive habits that take up our time and money, and tear down our bodies and our minds.

We can waste our lives looking for the next big thrill, expecting to be entertained at ever-increasing levels of stimulation. And we’re really good at buying stuff, as if buying material goods will somehow make us feel better, and give us what we’re looking for.

So, what are you looking for? What is it that will satisfy your soul’s deepest need? What is it that will bring you true joy?

Or maybe what you’re looking for isn’t about you at all. Maybe you’re looking for a way to make a difference out there. In the world. In our neighborhoods. In our schools. You’re looking for peace and justice in the world. You’re looking for an end to hunger or homelessness or bullying. You’re looking for racial divisions to be healed. You’re looking for safe homes for stray animals.

Or maybe you’re sitting here asking yourself the question, “What am I looking for?” There are times when we’re searching, but we’re not really sure what we’re looking for. Because you feel like there’s something lacking in your life, but you can’t quite put your finger on what it is. It may not be as easy to define as a job or a spouse or where you’ll go to college. Maybe you’ve already found all those things, but there’s still something missing.

Or maybe you’re not searching at all. That’s one of my fears as a preacher. My fear is that when we come through those doors every Sunday morning, we aren’t really looking for anything. Because there are some people who come to church with no sense of purpose, no expectation. They come because…well, that’s what you’re supposed to do. But if we don’t come looking for something, then we’re not likely to find anything.

I wonder how our experience of worship would be different if we came looking for something. If we came with the expectation that we were going to meet Jesus here – in the lyrics of a hymn, in the handshake of a brother or sister, in the breaking of the bread. I wonder how it would be different if we came here to worship, not just to sit in a chair, if we came with a longing, a searching, a yearning in our hearts.

My prayer is that all of us here are seekers. Even if we can’t quite put a finger on what exactly it is that we want to find, seeking makes us open to whatever experiences God may set before us.

Like Andrew and his buddy, I hope that we’re here to follow Jesus. Because that’s what it means to be a disciple. That’s what it means to be a Christian. Somebody who’s tagging along with Jesus, so that they can learn from him and become more like him.

And Jesus cared enough about the people who followed him to ask them the question, “What are you looking for?” And I believe that Jesus cares about each of us, and that he wants to hear what we’ve come to him looking for. And Jesus wants us to care enough about each other and the people we meet every day to find out what they’re looking for. Their desires and longings. What hurts them. What scares them. What keeps them awake at night. And what gives them hope and brings them joy.

So, let’s go back and pick back up in our text. John 1, beginning in verse 35,

“The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God!’

“The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, ‘What are you seeking?’” (John 1:35-38)

Jesus asked his first two disciples, “What are you looking for?” And you would expect that they would tell Jesus what it is they’re looking for, right? Like:

• We’re looking for the Messiah
• Or, we’re looking for an adventure, for new experiences, to see the world beyond the sleepy little village where we’ve spent all our lives.
• Or, maybe, we’re looking to make a difference, to be a part of a movement to resist the Roman occupation and the corrupt leadership of Judea

Any of those would have been an appropriate answer to Jesus’ question. But they never really answer his question. Instead, they answered Jesus’ question with a question of their own. “And they said to him, ‘Rabbi’ (which means Teacher), ‘where are you staying?’” (John 1:38)

Jesus wants to know, “What are you looking for?” And their answer is, “Where are you staying?” Which seems like a really strange way to answer that question.
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Maybe the reason they don’t give an answer to Jesus’ question is because they weren’t quite sure what they were searching for.

But I think it’s more likely that those two disciples did know what they were looking for, more or less. And, more or less, they knew they had found him. They knew that the thing they had been searching for all their lives was this man standing in front of them. And so, they respond by asking, “Rabbi, where are you staying?”

By using that word “rabbi”, they declare that Jesus is their teacher, and they take their place as his students. They indicate a desire to remain with Jesus, to learn what he has to teach them.

So that’s why they asked him, “Where are you staying?” Because wherever Jesus was, that’s where they wanted to be. They wanted to stay with Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God. The One who could make their lives and all things right again. Jesus was everything they were looking for.

So, when they asked Jesus, “Where are you staying?”, they weren’t just asking for his current address. The word they used is an important word in John’s gospel. It’s a word that will appear over 40 times in John, and usually it’s translated as “remain” or “abide”.

For example, in John 15. Jesus says: “Abide in me, as I abide in you.” (John 15:4). He’s not talking about a physical house. He’s saying, “You stay close to me, and I’ll stay close to you.”

That word stay or remain or abide — it’s not so much about a physical location as it is about a relationship. It’s about having a close friendship with Jesus. And that changes what you’re looking for, because it changes you. Friendship always changes us. We are different people because of our friends. Good friends challenge us, hold us accountable, and shape our character. And if you’re truly a friend of Jesus — his presence in your life, and your presence in his life changes you.

So when those disciples asked, “Where are you staying?”, they meant they wanted to enter into a relationship with Jesus. They had found what they were looking for in him. So, wherever Jesus was, and wherever he went, they wanted to be right there with him. They wanted to stay with Jesus.

They’re basically asking the question, “Teacher, is there room in your life for us? Can we stay with you? Will you teach us? Because, what we are looking for is something to devote our lives to. We’re looking for someone who will teach us the things of God. If you are who John says you are, we want to spend every possible moment in your presence. Where are you abiding, so we can come abide with you?”

And Jesus invited them to do just that. To abide with him, to remain with him, to experience him for themselves. He said, “Come and see.” (John 1:39)

And I think that statement says something about what kind of teacher Jesus was. Think about the best teachers you had in school. Chances are, they were ones who invited you to learn and experience, to “come and see” for yourself. They didn’t just tell you that when baking soda and vinegar are combined, it produces an acid-base reaction that releases carbon dioxide. That’s not very exciting to most of us if we only hear the words. But, instead, they poured them together, maybe in the middle of a paper-mâché creation so that you got to make a volcano explode.

Jesus said, “Come and see.” He didn’t launch into a lecture. He didn’t give them a long reading list. He didn’t even give them a business card with an address they could find later. He invited them immediately into his life, to come and see. He did this with the understanding that they may choose not to follow. Once they saw his accommodations and had a taste of his teaching, they may not want to follow him. But the invitation was there — Come, and see.

And they did. Verse 39, “So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour.” (John 1:39). And not just that day. Every day for the next three years or so. And for the rest of their lives. They followed Jesus. They remained with Jesus. They abided in him.

When Jesus asks the question, “What are you looking for?”, he’s asking if we’re ready to be disciples. If we’re looking for comfort or security, we might not be ready to follow Jesus, to abide with him and to become his devoted students. If we’re looking for acceptance into the “Cool Kids Club”, we might not be ready to ask where Jesus lives.

But if we want to be with Jesus day in and day out from this moment and for all eternity, if we recognize that following Jesus is the only way to know the fullness of God’s love, then it just makes sense that we would want to spend every moment in Christ’s presence.

Asking the question, “Where are you abiding? Can I stay with you?” puts a different twist on our usual way of thinking about becoming a Christian. We often talk about making Jesus part of our lives, and inviting him into our hearts to live with us. But what if we turned that around, and realize that Jesus is inviting us into his life? He offers us the opportunity to become part of what he is doing. Jesus invites us to join him.

He extends the invitation for us to “come and see”, but it’s up to us to decide if we really want to follow. We have to decide if we’re willing to make that kind of commitment, if we can devote ourselves to that kind of close relationship. It means letting go of our own desires and expectations, and surrendering our whole being to God’s desire and plan for us.

And once you’ve found Christ, Andrew shows us what happens next.

“One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (which means Christ). He brought him to Jesus.” (John 1:40-42)

And then, in verse 43, Jesus calls Philip, and Philip goes and gets his friend Nathaniel. And when these two men — Peter and Nathaniel — came and saw Jesus, they also found what they were looking for. So they also stayed with Jesus for the next three years, and for the rest of their lives.

So, let’s go back to that first question that Jesus asked: “What are you looking for?”

Jeremy Marshall has suggested that all of us are basically looking for three things: a way in, a way out, and a way home. Whatever it is that you’re looking for falls under one of those three categories.

Some of us are looking for a way in. A foot in the door. Meaning and purpose for our lives. Or as someone has put it, the opportunity to have an opportunity. We’re looking for a fighting chance.

Others of us are looking for a way out. A way out of trouble or sorrow or shame or loneliness.

And we’re also looking for a way home. A place where we belong, a place where we fit. A place where everybody knows your name. A safe place to be who we are. Where we can be nurtured, loved and cherished, even when we mess up. We’re looking for a place where we matter and people miss us when we’re not there.

And I think Jeremy was right. Whatever it is that you’re looking for is going to fall under at least one of those three categories. And John’s gospel tells us that no matter which of those things you’re looking for, you’ll find it in Jesus when you come to him, when you abide with Jesus.

When you come to Jesus, you’ll find a way in. You’ll find purpose to your life. As you see God’s love for you, you’ll learn to see this world and your neighbors through his eyes. You’ll see new possibilities that will give your life meaning.

When you come to Jesus, you’ll find a way out. A way out of sin, shame, sorrow, and fear.

And when you come to Jesus, you’ll find a way home. As you abide with Jesus and stay with him, he will stay with you. A place where you belong, a way where you are loved and you matter to people.

“What are you looking for?” I hope that you consider that question every time you come to church. Are you looking for community? It’s here. Are you looking for love and encouragement? It’s here. Are you looking for forgiveness or a new start? It’s here, too.

And all that is here because Christ is here, inviting us to come and see, making himself known to us in the breaking of the bread. And I encourage you to come here looking for something, because if you come looking for nothing, that may be exactly what you find.

Jesus invited his two disciples to come and see. Come and see who he was. Come and see who they could be. And Jesus extends the same invitation to us. Come and see that you are loved just as you are, but you are called to be more than you are. Come and see that Jesus is the answer to everything you’ve been searching for. Come and see.

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