When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?”John 1:38
If you happen to own a red letter edition of the Bible – the kind with the words of Jesus printed in red – the very first red letters that would appear in John’s Gospel are found in today’s gospel reading. And they are in the form of a question. It’s a very simple question, but a profound one. A question that Jesus asks to two of John the Baptist’s disciples, who have begun following Jesus. But it’s also a question that I think Jesus asks anyone who wants to follow him, including us. His question is simply this: What are you looking for?
Now, stop and think about that for a moment.If Jesus were to ask you that today, how would you answer him? I suppose we might answer by saying that we are looking for eternal life. But is that all? Because if that is all we were looking for, couldn’t we just go about our lives without a thought about God, until it came time to die, and only then reach out to Jesus? Of course, we never know when that moment might be. That’s true.
There was a retired presbyterian pastor, Jack Arnold, who a few years ago was preaching one Sunday on his favorite Bible verse, from Philippians: “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Pastor Arnold said in his sermon that day: “When my work is done, I go to be with Jesus. And that will be gain! And when I go to heaven …” And then Pastor Arnold paused briefly, looked up, swayed a little, and grabbed onto the pulpit before falling to the floor. He completed his earthly journey that day, and discovered – at that moment – the wonder of eternal life. We never know when we are going to complete our earthly journey. That is true. But is that really all that we are looking for today? Or is it something else?
What Is the World Looking For?
What are you looking for? What is anyone looking for? I googled that question this week, and found an online poll asking that very question. And I found the answers very interesting. For example:
Fame (said one person), but not in the traditional sense. I just don’t want to be forgotten after I die, and everyone I knew died.
I suppose (said another) that I just want to make myself useful, not bother anyone, not get in any trouble, and get by for whatever time I’ve got left.
In all seriousness (said another), who knows? One moment you’re looking for a job, next you’re looking for love, fulfillment, a really nice chair to complete the awesome living room you’ve got going on…
And finally, another person said, sometimes I think I know, then I decide it’s something else. I really don’t know what I’m looking for.
So, what is anyone looking for?
A God-Shaped Vacuum
We are here today, I believe, because we have found what we are looking for. And we have found it in Jesus. And as Christians, we believe that all the world is looking for Jesus. Whether they know it or not, and whether they believe it or not, we are all looking for the God who created us, and who has been revealed to us most completely and fully through God’s only Son, Jesus.
It was St. Augustine who once said so simply but profoundly: “You made us for yourself, Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” We were created with a restlessness, a desire to search for something, to look for something, and to keep looking until we find it in God.
Or, as another Christian, Blaise Pascal, put it, in a famous paraphrased quote: “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every person, and it can never be filled by any created thing. It can only be filled by God, made known through Jesus Christ.” There is a God-shaped vacuum in us all. And it can’t be filled with anything else. Only be God, made known through Jesus Christ.
But, back to Jesus’ question to those first disciples. When he asked them what they were looking for. We might wonder why Jesus asked that question in the first place. John the Baptist has pointed to Jesus and said, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” And when two of his disciples heard this, they followed Jesus. And that is when Jesus turned and asked them this question. But why? Isn’t it obvious what they are looking for? They are looking for the Messiah, and believe they have found him in Jesus. But what did they hope to find in Jesus? That is what Jesus wants to know.
Did they hope to find in Jesus a military commander who would lead them out of the oppression they were experiencing from Rome? Or perhaps a teacher of the Scriptures, who would help them understand exactly what they had to do to earn righteousness in God’s eyes? Or maybe a miracle-worker who would heal them or their loved ones of sickness? Or a prophet who would speak the Word of God to them? Or were they simply looking for the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world? “What are you looking for?” Jesus wants to know. Then, and now.
When Jesus asked those first disciples what they were looking for, they responded with a question of their own: “Rabbi, where are you staying?” Maybe they were just trying to avoid answering Jesus’ question. Or maybe they were just stalling for time. But I think that something different was going on. I think that they really did want to follow Jesus, and learn what it meant to be his follower. So, they asked him where he was staying, because they wanted to follow him, to stay near him, and to learn from him. They wanted
Come and See
And if that is what we are looking for, too, then the very next words that Jesus speaks in John’s Gospel are also very important: Come and see.
These two red letter phrases that open up John’s Gospel summarize this gospel in a wonderful way. “What are you looking for?” “Come and see.”
Jesus invited them to come and see. In other words, Jesus invited them to faith. He invited them to come and join him on a journey. Finding Jesus isn’t the end, but the beginning, of a very special journey. It would take Andrew and John several years, perhaps a lifetime, to truly see who Jesus was and what kind of messiah he was. And they would not fully understand who Jesus was, or what they were looking for, until his death on the cross and his resurrection from the dead. And even then, their journey was just beginning. Because after Jesus’ resurrection, he appeared to his disciples and said to them: “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
And they went, still discovering who Jesus was, and what their mission was. When they left everything to follow Jesus, they were invited to simply come and see. They didn’t know where he would take them. And neither, truth be told, do we. But those first disciples knew enough, from that very first moment, to leave everything and follow Jesus. They knew that he alone could satisfy their restless hearts. He alone could fill that God-shaped vacuum in their souls. He himself was all that they wanted to live for.
And we know that, too. We know that Jesus alone can offer us what we are truly looking for, what we are truly living for. That’s why we’re here again today. To be reminded that what we are really looking for in this life, is Jesus, and Jesus alone. The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. And sometimes, we just need to reminded of that.
We Have Found the Messiah
But the story doesn’t end there, for Andrew and John, or for us. Andrew and John followed Jesus that day, and found the answer to their question – they found where Jesus was staying. And then Andrew went to find his brother, Simon: He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah.” … He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).
Peter found what he was looking for. But only because he had a brother willing to share his faith. So, who is your Peter? Who in your life is searching for something more? Who needs to be reminded that what they are searching for, in one way or another, is Jesus?
Andrew went and found his brother, and we are called to go and find our brothers and our sisters, and our neighbors and our co-workers and tell them: we have found what we are looking for. We have found the Messiah. We have found the one who alone can satisfy our restless hearts. We have found the one who alone can fill the God-shaped vacuums in our souls. We have found him, and his name is Jesus.
It is so very important for us to do this, because so many in our world don’t know what they are looking for, or have forgotten. They don’t know, or have forgotten, that what they are really looking for is Jesus. Nothing else will satisfy them.
We were made for him, and our hearts our restless until they rest in Jesus. And nothing else matters. To live is Christ, as St. Paul said, and to die is gain. And how blessed we are to believe it. So let’s live our lives believing that we have truly found what we are looking for. And his name is Jesus. Thanks be to God. Amen