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First Scripture = Exodus 20:1-21
Then God spoke all these words: 2I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; 3you shall have no other gods before me. 4You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, 6but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments. 7You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name. 8Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. 9Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 10But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. 11For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.
12Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. 13You shall not murder. 14You shall not commit adultery. 15You shall not steal. 16You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. 17You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
18When all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking, they were afraid and trembled and stood at a distance, 19and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we will die.” 20Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid; for God has come only to test you and to put the fear of him upon you so that you do not sin.” 21Then the people stood at a distance, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.
We’re down to our last three in our series looking at the questions that God and Jesus ask us in the Bible. Last week we heard Jesus ask his sleepy disciples, “Could you not keep awake one hour?” We were encouraged to be dependable disciples, but luckily Jesus extends us grace and encouragement for the many times we’re more sleepy than dependable.
This week we’re rewinding to the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. John the Baptist is proclaiming that Jesus is the Lamb of God, someone special. And some of John’s own followers are wondering who is this Jesus? Who could be even more special than John the Baptist?
It’s interesting to see Jesus’ reaction to these two new followers. I mean, what usually happens when someone visits a church for the first time? Some churches play it cool, but most churches get a bit overexcited to meet someone new. A pastor told me about a visitor who came to his small church one Sunday. The congregation was so excited to see a visitor that the person who usually rang the bell just had to invite this visitor to ring the bell with them. Even though the visitor said “No. No thank you. Please no.” All the congregant heard was, “Yes! Yes! Yes!” So, in their enthusiasm, they forced the visitor to ring the bell. Strangely, that person never visited again.
But Jesus is definitely not falling all over himself to get new followers. He fires off a very interesting, even challenging question as they approach.
Main Scripture = John 1:35-42
35The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!”
37The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. 40One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). 42He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).
Well we’re firmly in hiking season here in Colorado, and our state has graduated from “safer at home” to “safer at home AND in the vast, great outdoors.” You know a committee probably spent five days debating between “vast outdoors” and “great outdoors,” and they probably couldn’t agree, so they decided to call it “the vast, great outdoors.”
But anyway, I am going to speak the truth here. It’s a hard truth, but I bet it’s one that many of you will agree with. Here’s the hard truth: not all trails are marked well. It’s difficult to face the truth, but now I’ve said it. There’s no taking it back, now. Not all trails are marked well.
In my life of hiking, I have found myself in the wrong cave. I have found myself a mile away from the actual trail. I have found myself looping back to the same spot inexplicably. I like to try new trails, but not all trails are marked well. And I can just be talking or thinking, or – and this is even more dangerous – thinking and talking, and suddenly I’m not where I should be. Have you ever done that?
So now, I have a solution to the hard truth of poorly marked trails. I cheat. I have an app where I can download the trail map onto my phone (because there’s usually not Internet access on the trail), and it can pull in my GPS coordinates and show me where I am relative to where I should be. Can you say, “God send?” It’s fabulous! I think it annoys my wife sometimes, but whenever we’re going on a new trail or a trail we’ve only done once or twice, I whip out my phone to double-check our location whenever we come to a fork or a meeting of trails. I can’t trust my instincts. I’ve proven that time and time again. But I can trust the map and GPS coordinates!
But after we’ve done the same trail a few times, I don’t have to rely on the map anymore. With enough practice, I know how to follow the trail even when there aren’t good signs to follow.
It takes practice to follow the right path – especially when not all trails are marked well and there’s a fork up ahead!
In our text today, Andrew senses a fork in his trail. He has been following John the Baptist. Maybe, like John the Baptist, Andrew was wearing uncomfortable robes. Maybe, like John, Andrew was subsisting on locusts and wild honey. As we’ve said before, John the Baptist was kinda weird. Andrew was following John, so he was probably kinda weird, too. It stands to reason.
But Andrew heard John say something that stuck with him. John looked at Jesus and said, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” That phrase, “Lamb of God,” was one of many phrases associated with the Messiah. Intrigued, Andrew and his friend started following Jesus. Literally following Jesus. Like, twenty paces back, there’s Andrew and his friend. If it were dark outside in a big city, they would’ve looked really sketchy following someone like that.
But as I said before, Jesus didn’t fall all over himself with exuberance over these two new kinda sketchy followers. He didn’t make them ring the bell in his excitement to have them. No. He asked them a very pointed question: “What are you looking for?”
Not easily daunted, Andrew and his friend have a pointed reply to Jesus’ pointed question. “Rabbi (Teacher), where are you staying?” By implication, Andrew and his friend told Jesus that they were looking for a great teacher, and they wanted to spend so much time with that great teacher that they would sleep wherever he slept.
Now, when I was a freshman in college, our dorm flooded in the middle of the night. The University of Texas told us we couldn’t go back into our dorm, and we were welcome to find our own place to sleep for a while. So, out of desperation, I’ve slept in some less-than-ideal places. As a result of that experience, my first thought is, “Andrew, you might wanna check out Jesus’ sleeping arrangements before offering to spend the night there.”
But Andrew and his friend were willing to follow Jesus. They were willing to go to his house. They were willing to sleep where he slept. They were willing to learn what he taught. They were willing to do what he did. No qualifiers. No excuses. No “as long as it’s up to my standards.” Nope. Just, “Rabbi (Teacher), where are you staying?”
So when Jesus asked them, “What are you looking for?” They essentially replied, “We want you! We want to follow you wherever you go.” That’s a pretty good answer to Jesus’ question. John the Baptist told them they had arrived a fork in the trail. With this answer, they took the new trail and they knew that as long as they were with Jesus, they were headed in the right direction. They didn’t ask how well the trail was marked. They just needed to walk with Jesus. They didn’t know if it would be a pleasant stroll or a gravity-defying sheer cliff face. They just needed to be with Jesus.
If Jesus asked you, “What are you looking for?” what would your response be? When you go to a church on Sunday, “What are you looking for?” When you watch this online worship service, “What are you looking for?” When you read your Bible or pray or go for a hike and meditate… “What are you looking for?”
Andrew didn’t say that he was looking for fulfillment. He didn’t say that he was looking for an energy boost after a draining week. Andrew didn’t say he was looking for guidance for his fishing business. He said he wanted to be as close to Jesus as possible. Full stop.
A while back, I went to a concert by the Christian band Rend Collective. And one of the songs really got to me. I was almost overcome with emotion. It was very powerful. But our faith isn’t about the really powerful emotion when the right song hits at the right time. That’s good, but that’s not the goal of our faith. That’s not what we’re looking for.
Sometimes I am spent. I have nothing left. And in the midst of my nothingness, Jesus gives me a spiritual pick-me-up. That’s good. But the goal of our faith isn’t the spiritual pick-me-up. That’s not what we’re looking for.
Sometimes I discover something new in the Bible or in my life. I have a eureka moment! That’s good. But the goal of our faith isn’t a profound insight. That’s not what we’re looking for.
Sometimes I find the deepest connections and relationships at the church. I have had profound moments in my small groups and Bible studies over the years. Deep relationships are good. But the goal of our faith isn’t good spiritual friendships. That’s not what we’re looking for.
We’re looking for Jesus. Full stop. We’re looking to go where he goes. We’re looking to speak what he says. We’re looking to sleep where he sleeps. We’re looking for Jesus. Full stop.
Sometimes when we’re with Jesus, we experience a powerful emotion. Sometimes when we’re with Jesus, we experience a spiritual pick-me-up. Sometimes when we’re with Jesus, we experience a eureka moment. Sometimes when we’re with Jesus, we experience profound relationships. But those are the side effects, not the goal. Those are the background of the painting, not the subject of the painting.
In basketball, there are some players who are accused of being stat-chasers. Points are good. Assists are good. Rebounds are good. Steals are good. But some players chase those stats even if it’s hurting the team’s chances to win. If you’re missing 90% of your shots, maybe you should pass instead of chasing the points, right?
In the same way, chasing the experience or the pick-me-up or the eureka moment or the profound relationship as goals in and of themselves is like chasing stats instead of chasing wins. The goal of the game is to win, not improve your personal scoring average. The goal of faith is Jesus. Full stop. There are some nice side effects, there are some nice stats. But if we chase those side effects we can miss the goal.
Following Takes Practice
So how much practice do you have at following Jesus’ trail – no matter where it leads? If it takes practice to follow a poorly-marked trail in the mountains of Colorado, how much practice does it take to follow Jesus wherever he goes, whatever he says, whatever he does? Do you need my trail app and GPS coordinates to make sure you’re on Jesus’ trail? Or do you have enough practice with his trail that you know if you’re close to him or not right now?
You see, I believe many people drift away from Jesus precisely because they have more practice at seeking the side effects than they have practice following him. If you seek a pick-me-up, there are simpler ways to get it than following Jesus. They probably won’t last as long, but there’s always another way.
If you seek relationships, there are simpler ways to find those than following Jesus. Over the years, my basketball groups were far easier to maintain than my Bible study groups. The demands were far lower to play basketball, and it was almost always fun!
If you seek good music, there are simpler ways to listen than a church service. My younger son streams exceptional classical music from the Internet all the time. Yes, it’s from Star Wars soundtracks, but it’s the London Symphony Orchestra!
I think this is very important. We all have a lot of practice at finding music we like. We all have a lot of practice at finding ways to be entertained. Many of us have a lot of practice feeding our minds with interesting knowledge. Many of us have a lot of practice at relationships. Maybe not always good practice, but practice nonetheless.
If we are seeking the side effects instead of the goal, we can always find simpler, easier, quicker ways to get those side effects. Jesus is not the easiest or most direct path to any of those things. Your faith or your church might provide you with those nice side effects. That’s great! But what happens when you hit a dry spell? What happens when Jesus heads down a difficult trail instead of the pleasant one? What happens when Jesus is on a cross instead of crowned in glory? If we have defined our faith as the pursuit of those nice side effects, that’s when we’ll drift away toward the easy and quick solutions.
So what are you looking for? Are you looking for the nice side effects? Or are you looking for Jesus…full stop? Are you trying to find a specific trail? Or are you trying to walk whatever trail Jesus walks?
Christ In You
If this whole “following the trail” image isn’t working for you, especially since Jesus isn’t physically visible to us, then let me offer another way to approach this question. Colossians 1:27 sums up our goal pretty nicely. It says that the rich and glorious mystery of our faith is this:“Christ in you, the hope of glory.”
The goal is to have Christ in us. Full stop. That’s the goal. As Christ is in us, we then have hope for other things. Those are the side effects.
Some of you know that I like to write. I have published a Bible study, a book of sermons, and a children’s book. But my very first stories were science fiction. I still have my sci-fi short stories dating back to fourth grade. And I recently returned to that genre. I have been reading and studying the best sci-fi books of all time. How did the author approach world-building? What kind of character development arcs were present? How did the author hint at the plot and yet surprise in its implementation? And I put all of that knowledge into a sci-fi short story that I submitted to a global competition for new sci-fi authors. The results were recently announced! I got nowhere close with my short story. It was about as good as I could write it, but it was nowhere near what the judges thought was the best story. I did everything I could, and I still came up short. I am probably never going to write one of the greatest works of sci-fi.
Similarly, no matter how well you know iambic pentameter or Elizabethan English wordplay or rhyming couplets, you’re not going to be Shakespeare.
And no amount of Bible study or personal growth goals or accountability partners or prayer warriors will make you into Jesus.
But unlike the great science fiction authors, unlike Shakespeare, Jesus can actually be inside of us. Jesus can actually work in us and through us. “Christ in you, the hope of glory.”
The goal is not to just be “like” Jesus. That’s a goal you’ll never reach.
The goal is not to know and believe what Jesus taught. You’ll never know everything Jesus knew. That’s a goal you’ll never reach.
The goal is to have Jesus in us. That’s a goal we can achieve, because Jesus himself said it was possible. At the end of the Gospel of Matthew, he said, “Remember I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
So today I’m not going to tell you how you need to will yourself to being more like Jesus. I’m not going to tell you how you need to do more Bible reading or special prayers or daily devotions. Those things can be helpful, but they’re not the goal. I’ll start talking about those things again in a week or two, but they’re a means to an end, not the goal in and of themselves.
The goal is to have Christ in us. Jesus said he would do that. It’s attainable. And once Christ is in us, everything else changes.
So this week, I am encouraging you to pay attention to where Jesus is already at work within you. Where is Jesus staying? Come and see what he’s doing and saying inside of you. Practice noticing Jesus’ presence within you. Practice checking how far your heart is from Jesus within you. Ask yourself those questions. That’s good practice.
And even if you have followed Jesus for twice my lifetime, it’s still good practice.
I started flying airplanes when I was fourteen years old. I amassed twenty-five hours of flight time in my log. But the last entry was over twenty years ago. If we’re on a Boeing 777 and the pilot and co-pilot somehow pass out and they need someone to land the plane…you better hope someone else is on board! I’m way too out of practice! Not to mention I only practiced on a tiny Cessna 172 four-seater!
Noticing Jesus is like flying a plane. I can’t remember the pre-flight checklist after twenty years. Use it or lose it! Noticing Jesus is like a muscle that gets weaker when you don’t use it. If you don’t practice, it atrophies. Use it or lose it!
So how can you practice noticing the presence of Jesus within you? Christ is in you! That gives you the hope of glory. Amen.