It’s midday in Palestine, and the sun is hot. Your forehead is drenched in sweat. You are standing at the edge of the Jordan River when suddenly your teacher, John the Baptist, seeing something in the distance, exclaims, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” You turn—with your hand shielding your eyes from the sun—to look in the same direction, and you see a nondescript Jewish man. You don’t understand. “That’s not a lamb. That’s a man,” you think to yourself. But feeling compelled to follow this “Lamb of God,” you walk after Him down a footpath that leads away from the Jordan.
As you walk, the stranger hears your footsteps behind Him. He indicates that He has heard you by slightly turning His head. A moment later, He asks gently, but bluntly, “What are you seeking?” No hello. No how are you. “What are you seeking?”
These are the first words that Jesus utters in the gospel of John (1:38). Our parents often remember our first words—whether they were da-da or ma-ma or something else. And our parents often reminisce about these first words when we are older. First words are significant because they are first. The same is true in the gospels. First words matter.
John the Apostle records this first story of how he met the Lamb of God, and John intentionally places here these first words, which form a question. Jesus’ question is not an innocuous inquiry. Jesus doesn’t ask for the time of day. He doesn’t ask, “What’s up?” Instead, He asks specifically, “What are you seeking?”
We know that John wrote his gospel later than the other Apostles, and he wrote it, perhaps, late in his life. He had had time to dwell upon the significance of the Lamb of God and the significance of this question. He had heard Jesus’ teaching. He had seen Jesus’ miracles. John wrote his gospel “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (20:31).
“What are you seeking?” John doesn’t answer Jesus’ question in the narrative. Instead, he and his companion, Andrew, avoid the question. They respond to Jesus, “Where are you staying?” (1:38). At the time, perhaps they weren’t sure themselves what they were seeking.
Jesus asks you, the reader of John’s gospel, the same question. “What are you seeking?”
At the end of John, in chapter 20, Jesus asks a similar question, except this time it’s not a question for John. It’s a question for Mary Magdalene. She comes seeking—to an empty tomb. “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” (20:15). The “What are you seeking?” has changed to “Whom are you seeking?”
We seek a person, that by believing, we might have life in His name. “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (10:10). We seek the living Jesus Christ. He says, “Follow me” (1:43).