The beginning months of 2015 have brought us an ongoing look at the questions that Jesus asked in the Gospel of John. Here is the first of the sermons in that series. From time to time, I will post others from the series, as well.
“What Do You Want” - I.” When Jesus Asks”
A Sermon by Dr. John A. Dalles
Sunday, January 4, 2015
OT Ps. 147:12-20; NT John 1:35-40
This morning we are beginning an ongoing series from John’s Gospel that looks at Jesus based upon questions that he asked. Jesus often used questions as a way to engage people, to prompt them to think about themselves and about their faith. Jesus is the Master of the well-posed question.
The first question from John’s Gospel is very early in his ministry. As John relates it, it goes like this:
Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, "What do you want?" John 1:38
This is John’s account of the call of his first disciples. It is fascinating to note that before they were Jesus’ disciples, they had been disciples f John the Baptist. We might want to reflect on who John was and what John did, in order to understand why people might have become h is discloses. Then, perhaps, we can find some qualities in the first relationship of leader and disciple that carried them into their association with our Lord.
We know that Andrew was one of the two disciples who heard John the Baptist that day. Andrew and peter were both fishermen, and came from the town of [Capernaum] on the sea of Galilee. As the passage tells us, Andrew h ad at some point prior to our lesson, decided to follow John the Baptist.
Now john was a colorful and charismatic man, who had a message about confession of sins and of repentance. People who came to him only once, came to let go of the sins that had weighted them down. They went out to John in the wilderness, heard his message, were baptized as a sign of dying to sin and beginning fresh and clean, and then … they went back to their homes and lives. They were changed, but their place and manner of living was not noticeably interrupted. They began again, but they did not leave the familiarity of friendships behind…
And then there were those others who when they went out to the wilderness, stayed. Or stayed connected to John the Baptist. We think they may have formed a kind of retreat setting community, there in the wilderness. It would have demanded rigorous living, and setting aside of much of their past.
John was an eloquent speaker, he gave people a focus for living that was spiritual, and sought purity and readiness. John’s message “Prepare ye the way of the Lord!” called people to live as if the Messiah was about to appear on the scene. It could happen any moment. The people around John were sure that it would happen very, very soon.
The ancient Israelites had waited a long time for the Messiah to come, and some had grown complacent . Sloppy expectations led to less than exemplary living. The Messiah has con come for centuries, no matter what the prophets have been saying, (went their line of thinking) so the chance that the Messiah might appear today or tomorrow is about as likely as winning the lottery or finding a needle in a haystack...
But John the Baptist’s dimples beloved otherwise. They were sincerely convinced that the Messiah was coming momentarily. The Messiah, the Lamb of God, the one who takes away the sins of the world, would appear and save His people,. Just like the Passover Lamb protected their ancestors from the shadow of death way back in Egypt—
Loudly and long, John proclaimed it would happen. They believed him. So they stayed as close to John as they could. Two of them were right there with him the day he pointed out his cousin Jesus and said: “Behold, the Lamb of God!”
“Behold, the Lamb of God!”
What they must have felt. It is like waiting for a baby to be born, month upon month, and then the day arrives. It is like studying long hours and going to many classes and passing many tests and finally, the day of graduation arrives. It is like a long engagement, where far off you know that you will hear the church bells chime and you will exchange your vows, one to another. At the outset, it seems like the day will never come. But on that day, when John said:
“Behold, the Lamb of God!”
They knew that the day had indeed arrived.
It is a measure of a growing faith that they heard what John said and then they followed Jesus. They had been preparing the way in t heir own hearts and minds for quite some time. We believe that it was snot their own doing so much as it was the Holy Spirit aching in them, to draw them nearer, nearer to that moment when they would decide to follow Jesus. The Spirit had kindled a fire for God’s promise deep within them, and that fire had not gone out, it had not smoldered or sputtered. No they had kept it aflame by the fiery words of John the Baptist, and they were prepared to see and follow the Lamb of God when he arrived.
Picture that day, with others in the scene. A crowd. There were people going about their daily business—and important business it was. Making a living, creating useful and beautiful objects for sale, or simply enjoying the fresh air and sunshine. We cannot say how many were there, or who else heard what John the Baptist said, but we do know this, that 2 of his disciples followed Jesus. They made the choice to risk, to go, to learn, to grow, in short, to live.
Henry Drummond once said it: “Death is more universal than life; everyone dies, but not everyone lives.” All round them were people who were sure to die. But these two disciples—they who decided to follow Jesus—they were sure to live. In this world, and in the next.
Do you wonder how it must have felt for John, to see these two disciples leave his side and watch their backs as they went after Jesus sin the crowd? Was he joyful, that they had understood his message and were in that moment, getting close to the Lord? Was there a part of him that sighed, with a measure of sadness, that they would no longer be at his side, as students and followers—
A true leader, a true parent, a true servant to God has to be ready to send their followers and children and the ones they mentor out into the world. To fulfill their calling. O the temptation is strong to tie them ever to one’s side, to keep them close at hand, to stop the development of their intellect and their faith at some point that seems the ideal.
A wise leader, a wise parent, a wise servant of God knows that sending people out to be with and serve the Lord is about the best thing one can do. After the teaching and nurturing and guiding and discipleship have done its good work, there is that other higher calling that awaits.
With every step through the crowd, from John to Jesus, they were following that higher calling. They had a plan.
“Many people seem to think that the spiritual life necessarily requires a definite and exacting plan of study. It does not. But it does require a defiant plan of life. And course in stick to the plan, not mealy for days or weeks, but for years… This is something which cannot be hurried. But unless we take it seriously, can be infinitely delayed. Many people suggest by their behavior that God is of far less importance than their bath, morning paper, or early cup of coffee…” (Evelyn Underhill, alt.)
So… There was Jesus, walking away… and there they were, walking toward Jesus and the, all of the sudden, Jesus looked over his shoulder, and saw them following Him and asked them the question that would change their lives.
"What do you want?"
I would like to believe that this is the question Jesus asked them because he wanted them to have what they wanted. What they wanted deep in their heart of hearts. We might call it their hearts desire.
If you could have anything in the world, what would you want… might be another way of saying it. Yes I know that sounds like the question the jinni asks before granting three whishes. You’ve probably played that mental game of what you would ask for (a recent commercial tells us that wishing for a million bucks is not a good idea unless we are fond of deer). But you see that is still at the superficial level. Good health long life happiness. Those kinds of wants are getting warmer. To live as best I can the life I was created to live… that also is a good want.
What do you want?
The person who asked that question that day is the one person who can give you what you want.
In all of history, in the entire world, Jesus is the one.
We know that Jesus – God’s word – created all that is. And is lord of all that is and so, has the authority to share and covey and give whatever portion of all that is, to whomever He deems needs it most, or will do the most with it, or will be the most grateful.
Andrew and that other dispel of John the Baptist stood on the brink of being able to ask for whatever they wanted.
How did they answer? To be successful. To be happy. To be popular. To be considered wise. …. No.
They answered: “Where are you staying?”
It sounds a bit odd. But then, think about it, they had been staying where John the Baptist had been staying. They had been keeping close to the one who would point the way to God’s messiah. And now he was here. So of course they would want to know where HE was staying… so that they could learn from him.
And then came the invitation… ““Come and you will see.”
That is the invitation to dispel ship, isn’t it? “Come and you will see.”
I cannot tell you all that you will learn. “Come and you will see.”
I cannot show you all that you will see. “Come and you will see.”
I cannot relate to you the adventures of faith that await you. “Come and you will see.”
I cannot let you peer down into the future. “Come and you will see.”
So they walked off together through the crowd. We know some of the adventures that awaited them. But we cannot know all of them. We know how Jesus changed their hearts and minds, how His compassion for people was proved again and again as they saw him heal their diseases of spirit, and mind and body.
Watch them, those first two disciples, and Jesus… and think as you see them go…
One of them is Andrew. The other one…That’s me. For I too long to be with Jesus to learn from him and grow in faith. See yourself moving into the future with Jesus at your side, your teacher, yes, your guide, yes, your friend, oh yes.
Walk forward with Jesus. If you don’t you will never get where you are going.
Jesus’ invitation is for you: “Come and you will see.”