Then Jesus, knowing all that was to happen to him, came forward and asked them, “Whom are you looking for?”John 18:4
There is a question that Jesus asks over and over again in the Gospel of John; a question that we also hear him ask in this account of the passion. It is a question that he first asks at the very beginning of John’s Gospel, back in Chapter One; and a question that he will also ask after his resurrection. It is question that can almost be thought of as a theme for John’s gospel. And it is a good question to ponder tonight. The question is simply this: What are you looking for? What are you seeking?
You and I are here, in this unique way tonight, because we believe that Jesus is our Savior. We are here to “behold the life-giving cross, on which was hung the Savior of the whole world.” But, as we behold him, our Savior, and as we behold his cross, it is good to ponder this important question: What are we looking for? Really?
The whole world, Christian or not, is looking for something. Nowadays, a cure for the coronavirus would be at or near the top of many of our lists. Or at least health for our families. Or financial security. On the lighter side, we might be satisfied just to see some sports on tv that aren’t replays. Or take a trip to the beach. Or just have some actual human-to-human contact with our friends. We are all looking for something, and if this pandemic is teaching us anything, it might just be that at the end of the day, we are not all that different from one another after all.
But, as Christians, we also believe that beneath all of our restlessness, all of our searching, and all of our longing, is our search for God. It is really the only search that matters. And it is a search that goes on until we finally look to the cross, and find what we are looking for in Jesus, the Savior of the whole world. Everything else, we believe, will disappoint. Nothing else will really satisfy us, in the end. All else will pass away. And at the end of the day, it is only Jesus who can truly satisfy the hunger that we share with every member of the human race. Only Jesus can fill the God-shaped vacuum in the souls of us all. We believe that. But even for us Christians, Jesus would still have us wrestle with this question, what are we really looking for?
I want to take you back to the very beginning of the Gospel of John, and then to tonight’s account of the passion, and finally to the end of John’s Gospel, to find this question being asked by Jesus under very different circumstances. Back at the very beginning of the Gospel of John, this question is actually the very first thing that Jesus says in in John’s Gospel. In Chapter 1, Jesus turns toward some potential disciples and asks them: “What are you looking for?”
Before they follow Jesus, he wants to make sure that he is what they are really looking for. As I said, everything else that we might look for in this life will eventually disappoint. But if we look to Jesus for the wrong reasons, then he will disappoint, too. So he wants to be sure that what they really want is Jesus.
In the gospel reading that we just heard, we hear this same question being asked. This time, it is being asked in the Garden of Gethsemane, right before his arrest, to those who plan to arrest Jesus. And Jesus, the passage reads, “knowing all that was to happen to him, came forward and asked them, ‘Whom are you looking for?’” This time, the question is clearly being asked for the wrong reasons.
But then, we hear this question being asked one more time in John’s Gospel, after Jesus’s resurrection, and I think it is important to look at that instance tonight, too. It is Mary Magdalene who is asked this question. She went to the tomb early that first Easter morning, not to celebrate, but to mourn. And even when she found the tomb empty, she did not celebrate, but assumed that someone had stolen the body. She turned around, and saw Jesus, but did not recognize him. And that is when our risen Lord said to Mary Magdalene, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” That same question. Whom are you looking for?
In life, in death, and throughout our journey, this question continues to come to us. And part of the purpose of this night, is to help us to remember what it is that we are really looking for: We are looking for the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. We want to behold the life-giving cross on which was hung the salvation of the whole world. We want to follow Jesus.
This night, as much as any other in the church’s calendar, is a night to ask this question of ourselves: What are we looking for? And this year, as much as any other year in our life, is a year to ask this question of ourselves: What are we looking for? To really consider what it is that we want, more than anything else; to peel away all the wants that we have. And to get to the bottom of what we really are looking for. And to see that it is Jesus. It has always been Jesus.
We are looking for the one who died on the cross for us. Because we know that there really is nothing else, no one else, that gives us the peace, the joy, the hope, the meaning, the love, and the life, that Jesus gives. It is Jesus. It has always been Jesus, for us and for all the world. And all the world will be restless until it finally finds what it is truly looking for. And we will be restless, too, when we forget what we are truly looking for. So, here we are. To have Jesus ask us one more time: Whom are you looking for? And to answer that question as only we can. You, Jesus. We are looking for you. Only you. Amen