By Jeff Waldron —
In the first chapter of John, there is what strikes me as an odd interaction between two of John’s disciples and Jesus. Here is the text:
John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi, where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and you will see” (John 1:35-39a).
The Lamb of God asks John’s disciples what they are seeking and their answer is that they want to know where he is staying? Seriously? Seems like the setup for a Holiday Inn Express commercial. Yet as I contemplated their answer, my confused amusement became appreciation. I came to love their answer and to echo it regularly.
Prior to being face to face with Jesus, I’m sure these men would have had an answer to the question of what they were seeking—it would have sounded good too; probably a theologically excellent answer with a commendable religious quality. They had longed to witness the coming of the Lamb of God—they were following John around in the desert, afterall, probably eating locusts and such. To have this dedication, they would surely have been able to articulate why they were doing it.
So, when they finally see the Lamb of God, they begin to follow him, or maybe it is more accurate to say that they begin to stalk him. They prefer to proceed cautiously, to observe from a distance; wanting to see, but not be seen. Isn’t that a lot like us at times, wanting to see but not be seen? To observe safely from a distance?
Then Jesus suddenly turns and locks eyes with them. Frozen in their tracks, their breath held for what seemed like ages as a mix of fear and exhilaration flooded over them. As Jesus gazed into their eyes, I think they realized that he knew them more fully and authentically and intimately than they ever thought possible, and they were terrified, yet alive, perhaps like everything previous was as a dream. Everything else, the people around them, the noises, the smells, the thoughts in their heads, it all just faded into nothing as the truest voice they ever heard asked: “What are you seeking?”
Their answer: “Where are you staying?”
This was either a confession of having no idea what they were seeking, or a profound realization that all they sought and all they longed for was to be in Jesus’ presence. I think maybe both. In that moment, the moment they were fully known, they realized their previous purposes were artificial, or, more likely, the previous artificial motivations were consumed by truth once they beheld the Lamb. At the same time, they longed to be in his presence, to know him and to be known by him. In a way, they were putting the question back to Jesus, “We don’t know any more. What should we be seeking?”
Jesus answered both their questions with the same answer: “Come and you will see.” Come and you will see where I am staying. Come and you will see what you are seeking.
The presence of Jesus, to know and be known, this is what we must long for, what we must seek. It is a well-known trap for the unwary Christian that some of the means by which we grow to know him (e.g., books, theology, study) can become ends in and of themselves. To some extent, we have each followed our various John the Baptists into the “desert” of slaying sin and making paths straight. Know that if we end at slaying sin and making paths straight, it is a desert indeed! Studying theology, reading Gospel-centered books, memorizing scripture, praying, singing, taking communion, practicing confession, fellowshiping—in all these things, what do you seek?
We must allow Jesus to pose this question to us throughout each day, throughout our lives. And may we be given the grace to answer: “Jesus, where are you staying?” That is what I seek: I seek your presence, I seek to know and be known. I seek to be with you.