The gospel of John presents some extraordinary claims about Jesus. From the opening line, “In the beginning,” he offers it as nothing less than as a second creation story, with Jesus at the center. In this epic tale, he identifies Jesus as the Word, the Light, the Life of Man, the Son of God, the Lamb of God and even God Himself. John contends that Jesus is everything the human heart longs for. Such declarations lead to a lot of questions from the people who encounter Jesus. But while John will address those questions throughout his gospel, he starts the story with Jesus asking a question of his own. It is one question for followers, skeptics, and seekers to each ponder as they consider the person of Jesus: what are you seeking?
In this question, the original word for seeking infers that something has been lost and needs to be found. Paired with the background provided by John, the question carries a sense of an inner search for meaning. Jesus is not simply asking about temporal things; he’s interested in something much deeper. It brings to mind the old U2 song that speaks of a continual hunger within each of us, for something outside and beyond us. In other words, Jesus is asking them, “What are you missing? What have you lost that you’re deeply longing for? What are you expecting to find in me?” Consider for a moment how this question would have impacted the diverse set of characters presented in John’s opening chapter.
Follower of Jesus: What Are You Seeking?
Jesus originally addressed this question to two potential followers, who were optimistic about him and eager to grow his movement. So why would Jesus slow them down with this potentially off-putting question? Why risk scaring off those who are so willing to embrace him? When you are a charismatic leader like Jesus, generating an enthusiastic following is not hard. But its not because he’s an introvert that Jesus begins screening his Facebook friends. Instead it reveals an interest of Jesus that goes beyond merely attracting new interests and growing his market share. Jesus wants to measure the motives of the heart.
In asking this question, Jesus is seeking to ground his followers’ hope on truth, instead of wishful thinking. There were many “messiahs” in the time of Jesus, and far too often the masses followed longingly after this one or that, only to have their misplaced hope disappointed. Based on their expectations for who Jesus was and what he would do, most followers would be disappointed in Jesus as well. So from the beginning, Jesus is planting the seed in their hearts that is necessary for growing into spiritual maturity. He encourages them to come, stay, wait and discover who he really is. He is sowing into their faith the art of discernment, rather than building on mere emotional fanaticism.
So if you find yourself readily identifying as a follower of Jesus, perhaps even dismissing those who find it more difficult to do so, take a moment and consider what motivates you to follow Jesus. Are you growing in a hope born out of waiting on God for spiritual discernment? Or is your faith merely an exercise in wishful thinking?
Skeptic of Faith: What Are You Seeking?
The skeptics, known here as the “Priests” and the “Levites,” often get a bad rap in John’s gospel. But considering the tendency of some believers to avoid tough questions, these skeptics can provide a blessing to people of faith. As Samir Selmanovic notes in describing what he calls the “Blessing of Atheism,” sometimes, “Because of our love for God, we question and reject our own understanding of God. Doubt is a virtue of faith. It is a way we hold our sense of God with reverence.” ((Selmanovic, Samir (2009-08-25). It’s Really All About God: How Islam, Atheism, and Judaism Made Me a Better Christian (p. 184). Wiley. Kindle Edition.)) In this way, skeptics provide valuable insight to a pursuit of truth. They ask the tough questions that more anxious seekers can sometimes miss, and when they come to faith, this can create more depth.
Though He doesn’t address it to them, Jesus’ question is just as important for the skeptics. Asking this question can check the desire to seek validation as a consolation prize in the search for truth. Much like with the followers, it has a way of checking motives, of encouraging introspection that leads to humility and an openness to unexpected truths. Life is far too broad for any of us to fully understand it, and we need humility to find the truth that leads to freedom.
If the role of a skeptic seems natural to you, and you tend to dismiss those with a “simple” or “emotional” faith, spending time with this question can serve to test your heart as well. Are you seeking to know the truth even if it comes in unexpected ways? Or are you simply seeking validation that you are right?
Seeker of Truth: What Are You Seeking?
The seeker finds themselves caught between playing the role of a cynic and believer. They are person of faith and a person of science, someone who may not be easily excited by a rousing worship set, but who has a keen sense of deeper realities than what meets the eye. It may seem that the seeker is the perfect mix between the other two approaches, exercising discernment with humility. Indeed, Nathaniel who plays this role here, receives high praise from Jesus, who calls him one “in whom there is no deceit.”
The problem comes in their ability to see it both ways and therefore, to never truly commit. Later in John, Pilot is a great example of this problem when he asks the haunting, seemingly unanswerable question: “What is truth?” Far too many today ask the same question, never really intending to commit or take the the necessary risks that faith demands. While this courage is not lacking in Nathaniel, the seeker can sometimes be comfortable living in a perpetual state of optimistic uncertainty.
If you find yourself frequently enjoying the exploration of new ideas, prying the depths of faith but struggling to live to really implement acts of faith, perhaps you are a wayward seeker. Spending time with this question from Jesus will challenge your courage and boldness. Are you balanced and wise in your pursuit of knowledge and faith? Or are you missing out on something more, refusing to trust what you cannot understand or control?
For Prayer & Reflection
Take some time to respond to God about the passage and primer you just read. Read through John 1 again, and let these questions help guide your prayer time.
- Where do I see myself? Am I a follower? A skeptic? A seeker? Spend some time re-reading the individuals corresponding experience from John 1 and express to God how this impacts you.
- What am I missing in my life, that Jesus might be the answer for?
- Where in my life do I need more discernment? More truth? More courage?