John 1:29-42 New International Version (NIV)
29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.”
32 Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. 33 And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.
35 The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. 36 When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!”
37 When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. 38 Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?”
They said, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?”
39 “Come,” he replied, “and you will see.”
So they went and saw where he was staying, and they spent that day with him. It was about four in the afternoon.
40 Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. 41 The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). 42 And he brought him to Jesus.
Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter).
We have at least three “Johns” in this passage. Just to warn you, this may get complicated.
We turn today to John’s gospel. We usually refer to Matthew, Mark, and Luke as the Synoptic Gospels because they are very similar and seem to be drawing from the same primary source or eye witness(es). But John is a different kind of animal. We find different emphases, we find different language, and we find unique stories in John. Perhaps it is best to say that John is telling the same overall story as the other evangelists, but he is telling it from a slightly different perspective or angle.
For instance, John never mentions Jesus’ baptism, but he does speak of the Spirit descending upon Jesus like a dove, which the synoptics tell us occurred at Jesus’ baptism. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all tell of Jesus going to the wilderness after his baptism where he is tempted for 40 days and John launches right into the calling of the disciples. The different gospels have different audiences and different purposes. Matthew writes for a Gentile audience and Luke is writing for historical preservation.
John’s gospel has what we call a “High Christology,” which means John writes with the intention of showing Jesus’ divine nature, whereas the Synoptic Gospels show more of Jesus’ earthly nature. For instance John starts off with this prologue about the “Word made flesh;” Matthew and Luke talk about Jesus’ birth. John writes about the signs performed by Jesus while the synoptics focus on his teachings, the parables and sermons of Jesus. Sure, there is a lot of overlap, but the focus is different, and that is why we have persevered all four Gospels in our canon today. Each one reveals a part of the life, death, resurrection, humanity, and divinity of Christ.
To (over)simplify: the Synoptic Gospels focus on physicality. John focuses on spirituality. So when we read and study the Gospel of John, we need to remember that John is attempting to help his readers connect to the divine through Jesus who is God in the flesh.
In our text for today we find John the Baptist, not to be confused with John the Evangelist, who may or may not be John the disciple, proclaiming, “Look, the Lamb of God!” And just in case his disciples didn’t hear him the first time, John repeats it again the next day.
It is kind of difficult to say exactly what is going on here, but our text tells us that Jesus was coming toward John when he first made the proclamation that Jesus is the Lamb of God. We see no interaction between Jesus and John here, so we can only assume that Jesus was embarrassed and just kept walking. Then the next day when John yelled out, “Look, the Lamb of God!” again, Jesus just kept going. “Gosh, there’s that bug-eating, camel-hair wearing cousin of mine again.” No, we can’t assume that, but there is no recorded interaction here between Jesus and John.
So Jesus has walked by and John has declared Jesus to be the Lamb of God and we come to verse 37. “When the two disciples heard [John] say this, they followed Jesus. Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, ‘What do you want?’”
That phrase can mean something different depending on voice inflection and context. If Jesus had said, “What do yooooou want?” the phrase would be intended to be degrading. Like they don’t deserve Jesus’ time. I think we can rule that one out. Had it been said quickly with an implied “now” at the end of the phrase it would suggest that Jesus was in a hurry and hated to be bothered by yet another group of autograph seekers or sycophants. This also does not seem consistent with what we know about Jesus, so I’m going to go ahead and rule this one out as well.
I think that when Jesus asks “What do you want?” he is making an honest inquiry. This is the grammatical equivalent of saying “How may I help you?”
These men were following John the Baptist, they were his disciples. It is clear that they were looking for something. They had some sense that the world was not as it should be. As Jewish men they would have been well versed in the promises of God: promises of land, promises of well-being, promises of a faithful leader who would bring the Jewish people back to God. All that they needed to do was open their eyes to see that their world was not what God had promised their ancestors. The world was not as it should be.
So yes, the disciples of John were looking for something, someone to make things right again. And it would seem that some things never change, because we are all looking for something today, almost 2,000 years later. Just like those disciples we know that there is more to life than what we see. We feel there is something missing in our lives. We feel there is something missing in our neighborhoods. And when we watch the news or read through websites it is clear that there are places in the world that are not as God wants them to be.
The question, “What do you want?” is just as relevant today. We may not always be able to answer that question, but we know that what we want, what we need, is not what we already see.
What do you want? Health. Financial stability. To be loved. For others to love one another. Healing. Hope. A second chance.
I have to wonder if the disciples had failed to consider what they might say to Jesus if he actually spoke to them, because when he asks what they want, they reply, “Rabbi where are you staying?”
It is like the guy that had an angel appear to him one night as he was praying, and the angel said, “I will answer any question that you have, but only one question. No exceptions.” The man was caught off guard and said, “Why only one?”
Actually the disciples’ question was better than I’m giving them credit for. They had been listening to John talk about this “Lamb of God” for a while. They have heard the story about the Spirit of God descending upon him like a dove. So if this guy is half as important as John has been making him out to be, they want to be able to have access to him. They don’t just want to ask him one question and go on their merry way. They want to know where they can find him so that they can see him again and come back to him with their questions, concerns, and problems. If this is truly the one that God has sent to make the world more like the world God had intended, then they want to know how to find him again. So in this context, it makes perfect sense to ask “Where are you staying?”
I think the disciples can get a little more credit if we looked at the word “staying” and consider other translations for the Greek word John the evangelist uses here. The same word is also translated “abide” in other places, which of course makes me think of The Big Lebowski, The Dude Abides!
But it also makes me think of another place that John uses the same word, in chapter 15, which begins with Jesus saying, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower” (NRSV). Let’s jump ahead to verse 4, “Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.”
This Greek verb that we translate as “staying” in verse 38 has a much deeper meaning. Abide in me as I abide in you. Jesus uses the example of the branch of a vine living as a part of the larger plant. The branch isn’t just staying there, it is a part of the larger plant. Without this connection to the main vine, the branch will never bear fruit. It must draw its nutrients from the vine which is deeply rooted in the soil. Water, nutrients, and food are stored in the vine so without this connection, without abiding in the vine, the branches will not only fail to bear fruit, they will wither and die.
The purpose of a branch of a grapevine is to make grapes. But when disconnected from the rest of the vine, it will fail to make grapes and therefore fail to live out its purpose.
Now the fun part. The Greek word translated “staying” in John chapter 1, and “abide” in chapter 15 is “meno.” That’s right, meno, from which we get the denominational name, “Mennonite.” If someone asks you what a Mennonite is, tell them that we are the ones who abide. (With all apologies to Menno Simons.)
So this question posed by the disciples of John is not simply a question concerning Jesus’ geographical location. It is a question of how to gain life from this one that John has proclaimed to be the Lamb of God. How do we abide in you, Jesus? How can we bear fruit for your kingdom? Jesus’ response is, “Come and see.”
Jesus didn’t just give them a list of things that they should do and things that they should not do. He didn’t repeat a portion of Scripture that they had known since their youth, like the Ten Commandments or the Shema. Jesus said Come and see. This is an invitation to discipleship. The disciples of John have become the disciples of Jesus.
These individuals who knew the world was not as God had intended for it to be came to Jesus, looking to connect with him, to abide in him. And Jesus invited them to follow him, to come and see.
I had the chance to sit down with some brothers in the faith this week to discuss ministry. Neither of these men are professional clergy, but we all have a ministry, and I was glad to hear about the work that this one gentleman was doing. He told me about his work in prison ministry. I’ve visited a few prisons in my day, but never one like he goes to. He goes twice a month to a maximum security prison where the most violent prisoners who have committed the most heinous of crimes are kept. We are talking about murderers and rapists, not tax-evaders and embezzlers.
To many of us, this maximum security prison is the closest thing to hell-on-earth we will ever see.
I recall feeling a little unsettled as this older gentleman told me about going into this maximum security prison where he meets with dozens of inmates twice a week in the presence of one guard. What if they wanted to hurt you? What if they didn’t like what you had to say?
I said something like, “It is great that you can bring Jesus to these incarcerated men,” and he replied, “Oh, I don’t bring Jesus to these men. Jesus is already there. I just make sure that they are aware of it.”
This man didn’t bring Jesus into this hell on earth. Jesus was already there. Jesus was already abiding among them. It just takes a trained eye to find him. Sometimes it takes discipleship to notice Jesus.
Growing up on the farm it seemed that we were always fixing tires. Wagon tires, truck tires, tractor tires, you name it. When you drive over all those acres you are bound to have a flat tire every now and then.
It was often my job to fix the thing that needed tire work, let’s use a wagon as an example. First, I would have to get the wagon somewhere where we could work on it. Then I would break loose all of the lug nuts. Then I would jack up the wagon, take the lug nuts the rest of the way off, remove the wheel, and fix the flat, then do everything again in reverse.
It wasn’t until after I had graduated from high school and moved out that I became aware of a special time-saving device. When I was the one changing tires, I had to use a tire iron and twist the lug nuts on and off manually. But after I moved away my father purchased an impact wrench. All you do is hook it up to an air compressor and changing a tire becomes a relatively simple thing to do, if not even an enjoyable thing to do.
This technology has been around for decades. I just wasn’t aware of it. I needed someone to introduce me to it.
When I first started dating my wife we did all of the things that sentimental 20-somethings do when they meet the person they plan to spend the rest of their lives with. I remember standing in the foyer embracing my future wife, swaying our bodies to the music on the radio. Some people might call it “dancing,” but I’m a Mennonite, so we weren’t dancing.
I remember swaying our bodies, listening to a sappy song on the radio, which I am too embarrassed to mention by name, and thinking out loud, “Enrique Iglesias just sang the feelings that I have not been able to put into words.”
Those feelings had been around. I just didn’t have the language to put them into words. Enrique just had to give words to what I had been feeling.
Maybe that is what discipleship is all about. We don’t believe in Jesus just to believe in him, nor do we follow him just to follow him. We are disciples seeking to find Jesus in this world where he abides and reveal that thing that has been among us all along that we have not had the language to name.