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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

What are you looking for?

“What are you Looking For”

            It was a dark time…a time of civil war.  There was not one region that was not affected by the war.  Life was in constant upheaval and people were displaced.  Smuggling was at an all-time high and crime was everywhere.  Hope was a foreign word that nobody believed in any more.  Death and destruction were at every door.  But there were whispers that something was coming, someone was coming to change the tide of the war and to usher in a new era of peace.  Finally, the long awaited savior arrives on the scene…a dirt farmer from a backwaters planet called Tatooine!
   You might be a little disappointed to realize that all your hopes and dreams are pinned on a whiny teenager who knows nothing about the Force, international politics or seemingly anything else of importance.
            Of course we know that in Star Wars, everything turns out to be great.  Luke Skywalker arrives on the scene and takes care of the evil Galatic Empire and restores order, peace and harmony to the universe.  But if it was real life, you might be a little skeptical at first…and nobody would blame you. 
            In fact, that is probably exactly how the Israelites felt about Jesus when he was first revealed to them.
            Imagine the scene, John the Baptist is in the wilderness and people are flocking to him.  There was something about John’s message that connected with people and they wanted to hear what he had to say.  So they came in throngs out to where John was preaching to come and be baptized in the Jordan River. 
            We don’t know exactly how long John was out in the wilderness, other than he was at least out there for about a year.  Day after day, people came and asked him questions, “Are YOU the messiah? Are you the one who is going to end the EXILE? Are you the one who is going to kick the Romans out and restore the holiness of the temple?” And every day, day after day, John would answer the question negatively.  “No…I am NOT the one.  There is ONE  who is coming after me…HE is the one.”  And so the very essence of John’s ministry has been to point to the one who is coming, to draw the attention away from himself and to point to the real Messiah, the one who is to establish the Kingdom of God.
            You can almost sense the anticipation that is building up in the people. 
            Today we build anticipation in a number of ways.  We use ‘Kickstarter’ campaigns to help people find out what is going with different people’s efforts.  We launch movie trailer campaigns sometimes two years out (Batman vs. Superman, anyone?) and we try to build as much suspense as we can.  Presidential campaigns start two years before the actual election and the news is already reporting polling data on potential races, before anyone has announced they are running!
            But none of these ways existed back in John’s time.  The only thing he had was preaching and word of mouth.  And this generally worked as people waited and waited and anticipation grew and grew.
            Finally, one day, he announces, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”(John 1:29).  In fact, so excited is the Gospel of John to announce this that it skips over the account of the baptism…John draws all of his attention on Jesus. 

            But for somebody in the first century, we might expect a little disappointment.  “Where? Where is he?  Is it that Nicodemus guy? He seems pretty rich and politically poised to take control! No? Is it that strong looking young Sadducee? No? What about that guy…over there? No?  Then who the heck is it?”
            Slowly the attention gets directed to a young carpenter from Nazareth.  Nazareth? Can anything good come from Nazareth?  I mean this is like saying that the greatest world leader is coming from Jersey…and we know nothing good comes from Jersey. Jersey is the land of Snooki, just as Nazareth is the home of nobodies. It’s the bad news bears of the ancient world.
            We can almost hear some whispers, “Really?  He doesn’t look like much.  He’s a carpenter?  How is a carpenter supposed to get rid of Rome? Or cleanse the temple?”  
            In fact, it doesn’t seem like it ‘stuck’ the first time.  Jesus left and comes back the next day only to hear John declare for the second time, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” (1:35).  It’s almost as if John is declaring, “um…look, wasn’t kidding…HERE is the Lamb of God!”
            Now, let’s talk about this phrase, “Lamb of God”.  It was probably not the leading description that people were expecting as they talked about the Messiah.  The Messiah was not supposed to be meek and mild like a lamb, but fierce and strong like a lion. When John announces that this messiah is the “Lamb of God”, they may have been confused. 
            A few years ago, there was a great movie called Gran Turino, starring Clint Eastwood.  We all know Clint…he’s the gunfighter, the angry cop, the loose cannon who is just waiting to get even with the bad guys.  I went into this movie knowing nothing other than it was a Clint Eastwood movie, and I was pumped. As I watched the bad guys take over his neighborhood and as I watched Clint make the ‘Clint’ face, I just knew that they were all in for it.  I kept waiting and waiting for Clint to take out his old Colt .45 and light up the night.  Except he didn’t.  This was CLINT EASTWOOD! Where is the gun fights.  Except there are none.  In the end, Clint Eastwood solved the situation without killing anyone or firing a single shot.  He turns into a lamb instead of the lion I was expecting.
We have a hard time when our real life heroes don’t live up to the hype.  We expect Tim Tebow to be the best quarterback in the NFL because the media hyped it so much.  We expect all the problems in the country to go away after Barack Obama becomes president.  We feel let down and disappointed when people reveal themselves to be different then our expectations. We lose heart and we lose hope and we find ourselves walking away from the very thing we had been wishing for.
            After this incident, Jesus is walking through the land, and two disciples of John begin to follow him.  They understand that John has called them to follow Jesus, and not John anymore.  So they follow after him. 
            Jesus, looking at them for a little bit, asks them, “What are you looking for?
            What a loaded question. 
            Notice it’s not, “who are you looking for?” or “What do you want from me?” But rather the entire question is “What are you looking for?”
            I don’t know that if Jesus were to ask me that question that I would be able to give him an answer.  I might try.  I might list all the things that I find wrong with the world and suggest that He fix them.  I might say that I am looking for someone to take care of all things, or I might just say that I am looking for salvation.
            Or I might just go with what the disciples themselves answered.
            “Where do you live?
            Now this too, is a pregnant question.  Where do you live might mean, “where are you, I’d like to come and visit.” It might also mean, I want to live with you and share my life with you.  More than likely, the latter is meant here because it seems that the disciples are asking to become Jesus’ disciples.  At that time, having a teacher meant more than ‘going to school’.  Students often lived their lives with their teachers and shared day to day existence and chores with them.
            What are you looking for?  I think this is a question that Jesus asks each and everyone one of us.  It’s an important question, especially important when we think of the person of Jesus.
            What are you looking for?
            Are you looking for somebody just to talk to? Are you looking for somebody to give you ‘salvation’ or are you looking for somebody that will help give meaning to life? 
            All of these questions depend on the view that we have of Jesus.
            Currently one of the nation’s bestselling books is on Jesus.  It’s called Zealot by Aslan Reza, a Muslim scholar.  His answer to this question is that Jesus was just another political revolutionary, a zealot
who wanted to free his country from the tyranny of Rome.
            The Fundamentalists have a different view of Jesus, one who has come to destroy the corrupting power of sin and to justify ‘those who believe.’
            The Liberals have a view of Jesus as one who is here to spread the gospel of universal love.
            The Catholics view Jesus as the King of Heaven and Earth, ruling over the universe from his throne in heaven and through his representatives here on earth.
            And the list goes on and on.  For almost every person, there is a different view of Jesus.  Each of us starts the Christian life from a different vantage point and from a different place.  We all begin following Jesus with a different goal in mind.  Some of us just want to get through the day, while others want a companion along the way. 
            When Jesus answered the disciples, he did not give them a direct answer.  This should not surprise us because after all, it is Jesus we are talking about.  Rather he gives them the cryptic message, “Come and see.” (1:39).
            It’s an invitation, not only to see where Jesus lives, but to see who He is.  It is an invitation to life with him. 
            You never really get to know somebody until you live with them.  We all have hopes and dreams about getting married and we dream about how perfect life will be with our intended spouse.  There are many couples, however, who had false and unrealistic expectations.  “What do you mean you leave your socks on the floor?  THERE’s A PERFECTLY GOOD HAMPER OVER THERE!”  We may discover that our spouse’s view on fun is not exactly our own.  We may discover that there are things that irritate us about our spouse.  We find out that this person is different than the one we expected to live with.
            The same is true with Jesus.  His invitation to us to ‘come and see’ will change our lives and our expectations. 
            We will see Jesus in action.  We will see both his call to the righteous and the unrighteous.  We will see him show up in the most unlikely of situations.  We will discover that His reactions are not OUR reactions to things on a great deal many of things.  We frankly discover that the Jesus of our expectations is quickly overshadowed by the Jesus of reality.
            Some of us will have a hard time and we will reject the real Jesus and construct for ourselves a false Jesus.  Others will fully embrace this idea and some will remained shell shocked for quite some time.
            The disciples quickly realize that although this Jesus did not match their expectations, He is in fact the true Messiah.  They come quickly to Peter and they announce to him, “We have found the Messiah”(1:41).
            When they announce that they have found THE messiah, the disciples are announcing that this person, this Jesus, is the one who is to bring about the Kingdom of God.  They don’t know how and they don’t know when and they aren’t sure of all the particulars, but this is the ONE.  This is the one in whom all the hopes and fears were be consolated.  This is the one who will bring harmony back to creation and this is one who will restore the nation of Israel.  All they have to do is ‘come and see.’
            So what are you looking for?  Who are you seeking?
            Jesus invites us all to come and see.  Jesus invites us all to follow him.  In doing so, our preconceptions and our expectations of Jesus will be shattered. We will be surprised, amazed, filled with wonder, at times hurt, maybe angry, but ultimately the reality of Jesus will far outweigh our conceptions of him. 
            My hope and my prayer is that in following Jesus, we will come to the place where we can say with the disciples, we have found the Messiah.