Jesus is the Question (April 28, 2019)
John 18: 3-5; John 1: 35-39
Jesus is the Question
For years there was a formula to trivia games and game shows: you would ask a question, the contestant would provide an answer. This was how things went. This was the formula. But a show called Jeopardy came along and kind of changed the formula. It said “I’m going to give you an answer, you provide me with a question.” Jesus has a tendency to do that in our lives, to transform the formula, to change everything at its core. There’s a seminary professor who once said that “Jesus is the question to all your answers.” In this upcoming month or so, we’re going to take a look at the basic idea that Jesus is really more of a question than he is an answer; a question that’s meant to get us thinking, a question it’s meant to set us on a quest toward finding ourselves and finding God.
In the gospels Jesus asks 307 questions, he was only asked 183; and of those 183 he provides a direct answer to only eight. The rest he answers either indirectly or he just simply asks another question in response. Jesus seems to love asking questions and not as much answering them.
His first words that are recorded in the gospels in terms of age come when he is 12 years old, and they are recorded as two questions: “Why were you looking for me? Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” At the end of his ministry he asked questions: “What is truth?” “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” After the resurrection he asked questions: “What is it you were talking about?” “Did you catch any fish?” “Peter, do you love me more than these?” “Thomas, did you need to see to believe?”
Jesus asked many kinds of questions. He asks probing questions such as the question we’ll look at today of “who are you looking for?” or “what are you looking for?” He asks rhetorical questions such as “who among you can add a single moment to your life by worrying?” He asks challenging questions like “where is your faith?”
The thing about Jesus’s questions is that they tend to be open ended. They tend to be a question for which there are multiple correct answers, and no one answer immediately presents itself. We don’t actually ask open ended questions very often. Usually when we hear questions there’s either one clear correct answer, or maybe even no answer needed, or it is leading in a certain direction to where it eliminates some answers at the very least.
But Jesus has a tendency to ask questions for which there are multiple answers that could be right, and the question doesn’t lead us in the direction toward the one that Jesus wants. We are meant to think, to wrestle with these questions; and we’re meant to do that throughout our lives. Because the answer to open ended questions can change over time. And that can be a good thing as we change, as we mature, we can change our answers to these questions, and be right in both cases. Or it could be a bad thing then we can start changing it and needlessly complicating our answer. But we’re meant to wrestle with these questions Jesus asked, both in the Scriptures and in our souls. In fact the people of God wrestle with life and wrestle with their faith throughout the whole Scriptures, all the way back to Abraham wrestling with his faith, to Jacob quite literally wrestling with God, which changed his name to Israel. Israel itself means to have wrestled with God. That’s who the people of God are: the people who struggle and wrestle with things, wrestle with life. We also are meant to do so too.
Today we look at the first question Jesus asks, in fact the first words Jesus speaks, in the Gospel according to John: what are you looking for, or who are you looking for? Jesus asks the question to multiple people throughout the gospel of John. It’s one of his favorite ways to initiate conversation with people: “who are you looking for?” We are going to look at two specific times that he asks this question: the first being as two disciples of John the Baptist approach him alongside the Jordan River. and then the other one is when he is being approached by the mob of people seeking to arrest him. He asks both of those groups “who are you looking for?”
Now he asked multiple other people this question throughout the Gospels, including Mary Magdalene at the tomb on Easter. I will focus on these two specific cases because I think they create such a good juxtaposition. These two situations seem so vastly different. In one situation Jesus is asking two future disciples; and not just any two future disciples, but the brother of Peter, and one without a name, so presumably it was John himself, the one who wrote the Gospel and the book of Revelation. In the other one Jesus is asking it to the very people who would seek to kill him. It seems to be to vastly different situations. And it might even seem that they are receiving a different question, even if Jesus is using the same words. That maybe Jesus’s tone is a little different between the two. And yet, is he really asking something different?
The question being asked here is “what mind are you in as you approach Jesus?” And in that sense, he’s really asking both set of people the same question; they just provide different answers. And their answer changes the outcome, not only for that moment, but changes everything for the futures of those two groups of people. The answer we bring to this question is extremely powerful.
One answer comes from the disciples. They answer that they are looking for a teacher; and not just any teacher, but looking for the teacher, the Messiah. This is what they are looking for: they’re looking for the Messiah, and they find it. The other group is seeking a man, indeed a criminal, someone their teachers told them was someone to be feared. And they find that too.
I find that often what we do in life, whatever we do in life, we will get what we came to get from it. I am a massive fan of a lot of fantasy and sci-fi things, and I find that immensely in the fandoms I am a part of. Particularly right now in Harry Potter and Star Wars since they are releasing new movies. And typically speaking, the people who go into those movies looking to find good things to enjoy about the movies will find them, and those who go into the movies looking for things to be critical of usually find that too. We find what we go in seeking.
But that is not limited to movies. Wherever you are in life, if you go in looking for a negative you’re usually will find a negative, if you go in looking for a positive you usually will find a positive. Usually we find will be looking for. That’s not always the case, our brains can sometimes do some crazy things to us, and there are imbalances that can happen that will make us find negatives even if we really try to search for the positives, but generally speaking this is the way it works. And for these people, what they were looking for when they encounter Jesus did in fact dictate what they found when they encountered him. And I would dare say it is for all of us most of the time.
I spoke a little on Easter about how I often find that what we want to find when looking for Jesus is what we find. If we want to find evidence for Jesus existing we have a tendency to find and attribute things as evidence of Jesus existing. And if we want to find evidence that Jesus doesn’t exist we usually find the moments where he either doesn’t do what we wanted him to do, or perceived not to have shown up. Sometimes it’s even the same event that one person can attribute to Jesus showing up in the other person doesn’t find Jesus anywhere in the midst of it and it’s because they entered looking for different thing; and they find it.
So today I ask as you enter: what are you looking for? Jesus doesn’t just ask this question of the disciples at the beginning and the people arresting him at the end, he asks it of everyone in between, and going on after. He even asked her to Mary at the tomb. And I daresay he asks it to each and every one of us as we enter the door today: who are you looking for? What are you looking for? You need to be asking yourself that question. Because the odds are good that whatever it is you’re looking for, you will find here today.
This is why in my mind Jesus ask so many questions. You see the reality is we believe that Jesus knew the answer to the question he was asking before he asked it. He knew what they wanted before they walked up to him. He knew what they were coming for. He wants to ensure that they knew. He asked the question for the benefit of the one being asked. He’s not asking to acquire information, he knows what they are coming for, he wants them to think about what they’re coming for; he wants them to think about why exactly they’re here. And he knows why you are coming today. He knows what you are looking for today. He wants you today, I want you today, to ask yourself “what am I looking for?”
In both of the situations I looked at today the answer to the question of “why are you here?” is simple: both of them have been sent by a higher authority. The disciples been sent by their previous teacher John the Baptist, who told them to follow him. The crowd have been sent by the temple leaders to go and arrest the one Judas kisses. They have both been sent by higher authorities, and that’s why they’re there. So Jesus asks, “OK that’s why you’re here, but why are you here?” That’s what your present, but what are you seeking? Or are you just simply blindly following orders?
A lot of people come to church because they’re being sent by higher authority. Some of us are are here because we were told by our parents we had to be here or else. Some of the people who fall into that category are still under 18. Some people are here because God says you must be in church, or Scripture says you must be in church, or your husband or wife says you must be in church. Some come to church because some higher authority says to.
I don’t think there’s anything necessarily wrong with that. I don’t think that makes you less of a Christian in terms of salvation. But I will say there is a level of faith that you don’t arrive at until you arrive at the moment where you are no longer coming because someone told you to come but you come because you want to come. That’s the moment I always call the moment where you no longer have your parent’s faith, and now you have your own. This is the moment where you’re supposed to then get confirmed, although often times confirmation happens before that moment. You can reaffirm your faith, I’d be happy to do that with you; but this is that moment where we reaffirm ourselves, where we claim it as our own. It is the moment we become mature in faith, and maybe can lead others.
And so at some point you have been asked to answer the question what are you looking for as you approach Jesus. Or you will be when you get confirmed or become a member. But I’m going to suggest today that this is not a question we need to answer once; this is the question we really need to answer each and every time we come. What are you looking for today? This morning, as you come to church, whom are you looking for? What are you hoping to get? What are you hoping to do in this worship, or just simply in this prayer as you come to God this Tuesday at lunch for Grace? Who are you looking for?
Jesus asked us questions to make us think because thinking about our faith, wrestling with our faith as I mentioned the start, is how we live out our faith. But I recognize that most times we don’t like wrestling with things. We like things to be nice and easy. We don’t like questions that make us think. We especially don’t like questions that make us think about something we were sure about and didn’t have to think about when we woke up. So we have a tendency to run from the question. For the next month what I’m really asking you to do is to open up a little bit and be willing to wrestle. You’re going to think. You’re going to receive from Jesus a teaching that might be uncomfortable, and that will have a profound impact upon your soul.
I think in conclusion, I’ve asked you this question “what are you seeking?” And it would be unfair for me to ask that question so much without providing at least my own answer. And this is my answer. It doesn’t have to be yours. But this is what I seek every time I come to God, whether I am coming full of joy and exuberance such as on Easter morning, or whether I am coming exhausted from a hard week, or whether I’m coming maybe angry at God. When I walk into the worship service, when I get down on my knees, when I encounter Jesus, I seek for someone who will teach me, I seek for someone who will inspire me, I seek for someone who will move me and strengthen me to be able to serve God better tomorrow. And I usually find that God, through Jesus and the Holy Spirit, is able to do that. I find what I seek. May you seek after God, and may you find what you seek as well. Amen.