35 The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 He said to them, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. 40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). (John 1:35-41)
Have you ever considered the significance of the fact that the first words of Jesus recorded in John’s account of his life are a question?
Two disciples decide to trail Jesus as he leaves the Jordan River: the first is Andrew (the brother of Peter), while the second is generally speculated to be John (the author of this narrative). On the surface, it seems relatively straightforward. Andrew and John hear John the Baptizer proclaim, “Behold the Lamb of God!”, and begin following Jesus as he makes his way back into town. Jesus, likely hearing footsteps trailing him, turns and asks what they want.
Pause for a moment and think about that. Before we hear Jesus giving a single directive or instruction, he asks a question that gets right to the heart. Their hearts. What are you seeking? For when God asks a question, he is not seeking information unknown to himself. He is helping us to see ourselves, in light of who he is.
When Adam and Eve were hiding from God in the shame of their first sin, and God asked, “Where are you?” it wasn’t because he was unaware of their geographic location. It was because they were unaware of the full impact of the new spiritual location that their rebellion had put them in.
When God asked Job, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?”, it wasn’t because he was unsure whether or not Job had existed eternally as a witness to the events of Genesis 1. The question wasn’t for God’s sake, but for Job’s.
“What are you seeking?”
Jesus did not ask for his own sake, but for Andrew and John’s. And for ours. Jesus desires our desires. He wants the meaning-seeking, beauty-desiring, satisfaction-questing centre of who we are: our hearts. And so he asks, “What are you seeking?” We humans are seeking-creatures, hunting for fulfilment. We can’t help it. For our desires, our identity, and our direction are all woven together. Or, as author James K.A Smith puts it, we are what we want. Smith writes, “Our wants and longings and desires are at the core of our identity, the wellspring from which our actions and behaviour flow.” As it turns out, Jesus’s question penetrates to the core of who we are. And it changes John’s life.
First words and last words have a way of staying with us. Years later, as John writes this account near the end of his life, he can still remember the first words Jesus ever spoke to him. It was only four words, spoken on a dusty wilderness road somewhere near the Jordan river. But the soul-piercing simplicity of those words stayed with John through the decades of his long life, because they redirected the trajectory of that life.
The scene closes with Andrew going to tell his brother Peter, “We have found the Messiah.” For these first disciples, the question that probed at a What was answered with a Who. Because that’s what real Christianity is; a constant reorienting of everything in our lives around the person and work of Jesus.
What do your present habits reveal about your desires?
What do your present prayers or worries reveal about your longings?
What do your present words, spoken to others and to yourself, reveal about your heart?
As you read the words of Jesus found throughout the New Testament, return to his question, which turns out to be an invitation: what are you seeking? Alexander Maclaren, a Scottish Baptist minister writing a little over a century ago, helps us see the answer:
“Let me tell you what you are seeking, whether you know it or not. You are seeking for rest for your heart, a home for your spirits; you are seeking for perfect truth for your understandings, perfect beauty for your affections, perfect goodness for your conscience. You are seeking for all these three, gathered into one white beam of light, and you are seeking for it all in a Person. Many of you do not know this, and so you go hunting in all manner of impossible places for that which you can only find in one. To the question, ‘What seek ye?’ the deepest of all answers, the only real answer, is, ‘My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God.’ If you know that, you know where to look for what you need!”
You know where to look for what you need! It is to the Promised One, whom the Old Testament anticipates and the New Testament reveals. It is to the Son of God of whom John the Baptizer preached and Andrew the disciple gave witness: “Behold the Lamb of God! … We have found the Messiah.”
“What is it that you seek?” … He puts the same question to you this morning—“What seek you?” Are you seeking pardon? You shall find it in Me. Are you seeking peace? I will give you rest. Are you seeking purity? I will take away your sin, a new heart will I give you, and a right spirit will I put within you. What are you seeking? Some solid resting place for your soul upon earth, and a glorious hope for yourself in heaven? whatever you seek, it is here … O my dear friend, if you would but come and see Christ, if by humble earnest prayer you would give your heart up to Him, and then trust in Him implicitly to be your guide, you would never lament the decision.”
(Charles Spurgeon, The First Five Disciples, Sermon #570)
This article is an excerpt from Truly, Truly, I Say to You: Meditations on the Words of Jesus from the Gospel of John, published by The Good Book Company.