Each of the four gospels reveals the beginning of Jesus’ ministry with a different story. In Mark, Jesus gives an authoritative command to silence a demon. In Matthew his ministry begins with that great sermon to the crowds gathered on the mountain. In Luke, Jesus is in the synagogue reading a passage from Isaiah, about the one who is anointed to proclaim the year of God’s favor, which he indicates refers to him. In the Gospel of John, Jesus first words are a question, “What are you looking for?”
The way the story unfolds, it is almost as if it is a casual question. John sees Jesus passing by, and he identifies him as the “Lamb of God.” Although this is a very well-known phrase among Christians, the only place it appears in the New Testament is in this reading from the Gospel of John. Throughout the gospel narratives, John makes his status very clear. His ministry is not about him, it is about the one who is coming after him. He obviously has no worries about having high self-esteem; he refuses to claim any status for himself. In fact, he insists his status is lower than that of a slave when he declares that he is not even “worthy to untie the sandals” of the one who is to come. Now, in his self-effacing way, John is pointing his own disciples to the one for whom he has been preparing the way. He doesn’t need them to stay with him to feed his sgo; he willingly and enthusiastically tells them that Jesus is the one they should be interested in.
John lists Jesus’ credentials for them – ‘This is the one I was talking about. I actually saw the Spirit of God descending on him like a dove and remain with him,” which was a fulfillment of the sign John had been given so he could identify the messiah for whom he had been preparing the way. He tells them emphatically, “I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.” Those were powerful words, but John was a powerful presence and his follower listened to him with respect and believed what he said.
What happens next is pretty interesting. The next day John is standing around with two of his disciples and Jesus walks by. Once again John declares that Jesus is the Lamb of God. Jesus does not appear to have heard the conversation, but the two disciples take John’s hint and they begin to follow Jesus. Jesus senses their presence behind him – we all know how it feels when someone is following us – and asks them what might appear to be a casual question, “What are you looking for?” Or more accurately, “What are you seeking?” They immediately address him as Rabbi, or teacher, and ask him a question, “Where are you staying?” In English this sounds like they are enquiring whether he is staying at the local motel or in someone’s house, in, but in Greek it is the same verb John used when he described how the Spirit remained with Jesus. It is the verb meno, which has a more permanent connotation, like the word “abiding.”
Thanks to John, the disciples already know that the Spirit of God abides within this rabbi. Apparently the time they spent with him confirms this, as one of the disciples Andrew, finds his brother Simon and brings him to Jesus, who promptly gives him the name of Cephas, or Peter. Note that Jesus did not call these disciples. The action was initiated by John, and followed through by the disciples. They followed Jesus, they asked him where he was going, they went with him, and then brought one of their friends to him. This is not the same call story that we will hear next week from the Gospel of Matthew, when Jesus is walking by the Lake of Galilee, sees Andrew and Peter fishing, and John and James mending their nets, and calls them all to follow him. That story illustrates a different dynamic, which we will explore next week.
The call is different but John’s story also includes an invitation to follow him – “Come and see.” First Jesus asks “What are you seeking?” and then he invites, “Come and see.” How many people today are like those first disciples, desiring to know about the enduring, permanent, eternal, undying dwelling place of something greater than themselves. I think it is safe to say that just about everyone is seeking fulfillment in their lives, but we aren’t always looking in the right places. What are we seeking? Perhaps we are looking for the acquisition of things, or power and authority. History has taught us that acquiring a lot of stuff or even attaining positions of power and authority provides only fleeting satisfaction. Maybe we try to find fulfillment in playing a particular sport, or a musical instrument, or in our career. None of those things are bad, in fact it is a positive thing to acquire a set of skills, work hard at them, and find a sense of fulfillment through a good performance of them. But that provides partial, not complete fulfillment. Perhaps we seek fulfillment through relationships with loved ones and friends. Again, it is good to have people surrounding us who provide encouragement and caring. But it is not fair to rely on others to provide our complete fulfillment. Nothing that is of this world can provide the complete and enduring fulfillment that only a relationship with God can provide.
Some of us have found the answer to the question, “What are you looking for?” and that’s why we are here this morning. Or perhaps some of us are still unsure, still seeking the answer, and perhaps these words will help. We do know that there are a lot of people out there who are seeking. They may not be able to articulate what it is, but they know that, like the words sung by U2, “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.” That is our opportunity to invite them to “Come and see.” Just as Jesus invited those first disciples, and as he invites each and every one of us, so we are challenged to extend the invitation to others. We can say to those who are seeking the peace and comfort and fulfillment that eludes them, “Come and see.”
As John expressed throughout his gospel, if we want to know the word made flesh, God Incarnate, come and see Jesus. If we want to know what unconditional love is like, come and see Jesus. If we want to experience God’s glory, if we want our hunger to be satisfied with the bread that never runs out, if we want to quench our thirst with living water, come and see Jesus. If we want to be “born again,” to abide in love, to behold the light of the world, to experience the way, the truth and the life, to enter into life everlasting, come and see Jesus. If we want to know God, come and see Jesus. Amen.