ARE YOU THE ONE?
People are always looking for something. It is the way we are made. Sometimes we claim to have found something, but even so, people are always looking for something. Having found something does not deter us from looking for more. If it did, all progress and striving would cease. When we stop looking, no matter how much we have found, we begin to shrivel up and die. “For to him who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” (Matthew 13:12)
I think what gets confusing, and sometimes even guilt-producing, is that in the vast array of what we are looking for, sometimes the meaning behind it gets lost. When we lose the connections between our searching, our own identity, and God, then it starts to not feel right – to not feel very good at all. We start feeling driven, insatiable, and somehow ugly. It makes us feel greedy. It reminds us of the endless extent of our need. Then we start telling ourselves not to want so much. Or we try to narrow the categories of what we are searching for. Or we allow the cynicism of years of experience to shut down area after area of what we used to be looking for, on the theory that it doesn’t exist, or is not worth the effort, or will be taken away from us even if we find it. I suspect we could each tell our own stories about each one of these scenarios. At least I could.
In any case, humans look for – often search with great passion for – appreciation, beauty, approval, truth, love, sex, money, power, fame, food, excitement, safety, jobs, mates, houses, clothes, books, health, movies, God, entertainment, cars, the best latte in town, belonging, meaning, a purpose for their lives. And having found any of these things, or part of any of these things, do they stop searching for more? Right! Just like an entrepreneur, having made sufficient money for his own needs, never wants to make any more. Like an art collector, having found one great painting, never thinks about getting another.
Actually, we are close to one of Satan’s famous lines, aren’t we? “If you could just have one [of whatever], you would be satisfied and happy for the rest of your life.” Are you too old to remember such whispers? “If I could just have [this job, this kiss, this car, this trip,] I would be happy and grateful for the rest of my life. I promise.” How do we know that is Satan? Because Satan is always such a stingy old bastard. He taunts us with wanting just one precious thing in a vast field of scarcity. (A one-night stand instead of forty years of marriage; one lucky break on the stock market, instead of a lifetime of vocatio.) God is the God of LIFE. God always wants more for all of his children. God never says, “I already did enough for you – that’s all you get.” God always says, “There is so much more where that came from. Please, keep coming, keep asking, keep trusting me – there is so much more.”
Some say that all our lesser desires are actually a mask for our one true desire. It takes a while, but most of us come to agree with that. It does not automatically cut all the lesser desires, but it is still nice to know. All our desires are a hunger to find God; a great longing for unity with God; a huge, winsome hope that God might be pleased with us – that we might serve God, do something right for him, do something genuinely good. The creature seeks the Creator. Life is endless variations on a single theme.
We still want the house, still think we need the sex, still search for truth, or whatever. Sometimes it is nice to know we are not crazy – that all the searching and striving and discontent are our hunger for God. It may be hard at first to track the desire for a chocolate ice cream cone to the hunger for God, but that’s only because we spend so little time being self-aware. It doesn’t take long, once we start tracking, to discover that every desire leads back to the same source. Remember Jesus’ cryptic comment: “But he answered, ‘It is written, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”’” (Matthew 4:4) Not by bread alone, or by fame alone, power alone, money alone, sex alone, truth alone, or beauty alone. No, the real hunger is for God. God is the hunger behind all the other hungers. If I could only find true love ... If I could only feel safe ... If I could only find some true purpose and meaning in my life ... Oh yes, God is the hunger behind all the other hungers.
In the amazing wilderness encounter, Satan tries to tempt Jesus with lots of wondrous possibilities. Why does Jesus, alone out of all the children of earth, refuse to take the bait? Because Jesus knows the desire behind all the other desires. Jesus knows the true hunger beneath the surface. And He keeps throwing it back in Satan’s face. “Man does not live by bread alone.... You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.... You shall not put the Lord your God to the test [not compare him with other lesser things].” Jesus sees through the Tempter’s art. He realizes Satan wants Him to want something more than God, something other than God. Jesus wants no part of anything better than God; He wants no part of anything that stands apart from God.
Everywhere, except in “the church,” we know that first you get a college degree, then you get a good job, then you raise a family, then you acquire wealth and maybe some status – and then you do some good works, and then you go looking for God. God wouldn’t be interested in talking to you before you had accomplished all those other things anyway, right? Jesus never suckers-in. The rest of us seldom fail to.
Sometimes it’s nice to have a chocolate ice cream cone. Sometimes it’s also nice to be able to let it go and move straight toward what we really want. How long will the chocolate ice cream cone make you truly happy? Some of us would reply: “A lot longer than some of the other things we thought we wanted.” Nevertheless, not for very long.
This morning’s Scripture passage shows a lot of people searching. Some of them are looking for Jesus to fill more and more of their needs. Heal us, teach us, feed us, lead us. Reassure us that YOU are the Messiah who will come and take all our troubles away and make us perfect, defeat our enemies, establish us in peace and joy forever. Only, Jesus seems to realize that none of this can work, none of it can happen, unless each one is truly reconciled – reunited – with God. There is only one desire; all the rest are aberration, or steps along the way. The healing, the teaching, the preaching, the disciple bands, even the commissioning – the calling to others to help in the mission – are only different ways to invite people back to unity with God.
Jesus asks the people around Him why they had gone out to the wilderness to see John the Baptist. What were they looking for? Why had they been willing to be baptized? Did they know – did they realize? It was God they were seeking. They merely hoped John would somehow help them with that search. And now John, from prison, has sent two messengers to inquire of Jesus: “Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?”
What does the Baptist really want to know? Are you the One who can bring us to God, or shall we look somewhere else? John would never have put it quite that way. He wants a Messianic Age. He wants the world set right. But what is the difference between a world set right and finding God? The real question behind the outer question is still there: Can you get us to God, or shall we seek another? It is always our truest inner question. Whenever anybody wants anything from you, do you try to remember what it is they truly want? I repeat: Whenever anybody wants anything from you, do you try to remember what it is they truly want? Remembering it helps us to keep things in perspective – to keep ourselves in perspective. Can you give somebody what they want – be for them what they truly need? Sure, if you are God. If you are not God, go easy on the promises. Whenever anybody wants anything from you – no matter how crass or ugly they may be putting it; no matter how suave or filled with compliments it may come; no matter how mundane, businesslike, foolish, spiritual, high-minded, or noble – if you track it deeply enough, it is the same request: Can you get me to God, or at least closer? The creature seeks the Creator. All the rest are endless variations on a single theme.
It would be nice if we could all remember that this is the real question behind all our lesser questions – the true desire behind all our other desires. It would certainly put a whole new light on evangelism. It would help us to know the significance of our own needs and our own searching. Perhaps we would be gentler on ourselves if we remembered and understood the true nature of our longings. Perhaps we could bypass some of the endless sidetracks, dead-end alleys, guilt trips, anger binges, and black pits of despair. Do any of you still read Pilgrim’s Progress? John Bunyan had a lot of wonderful names for such things, like “The Slough of Despond.” And that was just for openers. You didn’t know that Christians fought bad moods way back in 1680? Or 1518 (Luther)? Or 410 (Augustine)? Or 32 (guess who)? Well, they did. Where do you think we are?!
It would be nice to shortcut some of the dead ends and blind alleys, don’t you think? To go straight to our prayers – to get there a lot easier and faster. Of course, it still depends on what we really think we want. Prayer is no help if we still seek the wrong things. Then we only pray to win the lottery. Sometimes it is hard to endure our own stupidity – that is, to be in the presence of God and pray for something less than or other than the presence of God. How can we abide such ... what is it? Blindness?
Some of you hate this illustration and I promise never to use it again – right after you promise that you get the point and will never again forget it. The illustration is a cartoon that appeared years ago in The New Yorker magazine. It shows a wealthy sheik sitting on silken cushions in his large and exquisitely appointed harem. All around him are dozens of incredibly beautiful, scantily clad women. He sits oblivious to them all – totally absorbed in his magazine, Playboy, looking at pictures of beautiful women. Well, pictures certainly are a lot safer; they are less demanding and they never cry or carry on. So Americans have supported Playboy magazine for decades now. And that is how a lot of them pray, too. Sitting right in the midst of the real thing – the presence of the Living God – they prefer to dream of counterfeits and substitutes.
A group of Americans on a tour were visiting a mission station to see firsthand what was being done there. They came across a nun feeding an emaciated man. The man was obviously extremely ill and his body was covered with ulcers. With tender patience, cradling the man’s head, the nun was spooning a thin soup into his mouth and carefully catching the drops as they ran down his chin. One of the men in the tour group said to his friend in a voice just slightly louder than he intended: “I wouldn’t spend my life doing that for a million dollars.”
Overhearing the remark, the nun looked up, smiled slightly at him, and said simply, “Neither would I.” Something more compelling held her there; it expressed itself through her being there. Does something more compelling light and guide your life? Maybe not a million dollars. Maybe only a Cross.
John’s disciples come asking: “Are you the one? Or shall we look for another?” I dare say that every one of us asks that same question, one way or another. We ask it of our mates; we ask it of our jobs; we ask it of our friends; we ask it of our vacation plans, our Christmas gifts, every project we take on, every assignment we accept: Are you the one, or shall I keep looking for another? How else could we keep so busy?
The funny thing is, whenever we ask a question big enough to matter, it always asks a question back at us. I don’t know how God managed to design things in such a way, but it is true. Each time we ask “Are you the one?” – a question echoes back at us, slightly changed. Jesus goes through Galilee, asking back (one way or another): “Are you the one who will follow me, or shall I seek another?”
Across the land – across the world – people come to churches seeking something: seeking a clearer meaning for their lives; seeking God; seeking the Christ, if perchance He can get them closer to God. And that is good. But every last one of them is also asked a question in return by the church unseen – by the Holy Spirit, waiting: “Are you the one who will follow Christ, or shall we wait for another?”
The first question, for some reason, gets all the attention in our time. Is Jesus the One? Is Jesus true? Is Jesus authentic? Is Jesus trustworthy? Is Jesus really the Messiah? But that kind of question alone and by itself gets us nowhere. Only when the two questions meet – and affirmation is given to both – does the eternal spark burst into flame.
Is He the One – the Messiah? Yes!
Are you the one – the disciple/apostle – a true follower? Yes!
Copyright 2014 by Bruce Van Blair. All rights reserved.