ďWhat Do You Want?Ē†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† September 28, 2014

John 1:35-51

 

INTRO:Iím sure most of you have heard about or even seen the video

†† that came out a few weeks ago of Baltimore Ravens player Ray Rice

†† knocking his wife unconscious in a hotel elevator.

As a result, he was fired from the team and suspended indefinitely by the NFL.

†† Itís a vivid example what can happen when a person lacks self-control, vents rage.

 

But the story that emerged after the video went public was even more sobering.

†† It turns out officials in the NFL knew about the video for some time.

They might have had it, maybe even watched it, but didnít do anything about it.

†† Why?Because they didnít want to see it.

†† They didnít want to face the implications of it.

It shows how our selfish desires can cloud our judgment.

†† What we want to be true, for whatever reason, determines what we see.

And often we donít even realize we are lying to ourselves or hiding from reality

†† and seeing only half truths.

We only see what is convenient, what fits in and supports what we want to see.

†† So what we want can have a huge impact on what we come to believe.

 

Thatís what makes the question Jesus asks in this passage so important:

†† What do you want?

The very first words that John records as coming from the lips of Jesus

†† is this question.Itís a very searching question.

Itís a very hard question to answer

†† unless you have a deep, honest understanding of yourself.

Jesus cares deeply about you and he wants to know the depth of your heart.

†† He wants to know the things you want.

 

A number of you have been praying for our child, and we appreciate that.

Any time your children are hurting the thing you want most of all and pray

†† for all the time is that they will get better.

I donít understand how prayer works or how it fits exactly in Godís sovereign plan.

†† I donít know why God heals some and not others.

But I do know thisóhe wants to know our heartfelt desires.

†† So he asks:What do you want?And he wants you to answer him.

John the Baptist pointed two of his followers to Jesus.

 

Look, he said, the Lamb of God.

†† That man passing by is the one I told you about.

†† Heís the Christ. The Anointed One, the Messiah.

†† Heís the Son of God.

†† Heís the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.

And what follows are three encounters with Jesus that teach us how to come

†† to true faith in him and how it changes us.

 

The first encounter involves two of John the Baptistís disciplesó

†† Andrew and a disciple who is not named.

†† All Bible scholars understand this unnamed disciple to be John himself.

By the way, thatís one of the signature ways that John identifies himself as

†† the author of the Gospel.He never mentions his name.

He just says a disciple, or on special occasions, he will sayó

†† the disciple Jesus loved.

 

So Andrew and John meet Jesus for the first time.

Then Andrew tells his brother, Simon Peter, who comes to meet Jesus.

Then Philip, who has been called by Jesus, brings Nathaniel.

†† Five men:John, Andrew, Peter, Philip, and Nathaniel.

†† They all have conversations with Jesus.

And these conversations help us understand the import of Jesusí opening question.

 

So letís look at this passage in more detail.

†† But this morning I donít have three points, or two points.

†† I have no points.That may cause a crisis for you faithful note-takers.

But I just want the Lordís question to be ringing in your ear:

†† What do you want?

I hope you can leave this morning with an answer to his question.

†† And if not, at least leave wanting an answer and looking for it.

 

Credit where credit is due:

A sermon by Dr. John Yeats, pastor of the Falls Church on this passageó

†† his connection to the life of Augustine I will share with you.


 

John the Baptist was the greatest of all prophets.

When he saw Jesus passing by, he said to two of his disciplesó

†† Look, the Lamb of God.

They immediately left John and started following Jesus.

†† They didnít know what to say or do, they were just tagging along.

†† So Jesus turned and asked them what they wanted.

All they could do was stammer out an inane question:

†† Rabbi, where are you staying?

†† But Jesus knew they wanted to ask more, so he said:Come and you will see.

It was about the tenth hour, 4:00 in the afternoon.

 

Now there are two levels of meaning in Jesusí question.

On the surface level, What do you want just meant why are you following me?

†† Can I help you?Sort of thing you might say to anyone you realize following you.

But itís really a much deeper question.

†† Itís a question that sooner or later every single one of us is going to have to

†† answer if weíre ever going to become the men and women God created us to be.

What do I want?What do I really want in my life above all else?

 

Many people do not know themselves well enough to answer the question.

The Scottish pastor Alexander Maclaren said:

ďMost men have never answered that question.They live from hand to mouth, driven by

†† circumstances, guided by accidents, impelled by unreflecting passions and desires, knowing

†† what they want for the moment, but never having tried to shape the course of their lives into a

†† consistent whole.Ē

Do you know self well enough to know the wants that make you do what you do?

Do you know your deep, driving influences, motives, fears, loves, desires

†† that push you to make the decisions you make?

Every believer has to wrestle with that question.

 

No one wrestled with it more thoughtfully and eloquently than St. Augustine.

Augustine was a brilliant, wealthy young man who lived in North Africa

†† in the 4th century after Christ.

He became the most influential theologian the church produced in the first

†† thousand years of the Christian faith.

†† But he didnít start out that way, as a Bible scholar and theologian.

When he was a young man, he pursued pleasure.

†† He rejected any interest in Christianity no matter how much his mother

†† Monica pleaded with him and prayed for him.

But later in his life he wrote a book which he called his Confessions.

Itís known today as the Confessions of St. Augustine.

†† Itís a spiritual autobiography, in which he tells his life story, carefully tracing

†† out all the major steps and influences that finally led him to Christ.

Itís a remarkable book.Nothing had ever been written like it in all history.

†† Itís the first autobiography in Western literature.

 

He tells the story of his life as a mature Christian looking back and trying to

†† understand why he was the way he was.

How could he have been so rebellious?

†† How could he have been so wasteful?

†† How could he have been so insensitive to other people and so selfish?

 

And in trying to answer those questions about himself,

†† Augustine understood that if you donít know what you want,

†† then you canít understand yourself.

In fact, Augustine would say that you canít really know person by asking him

†† or asking her:What do you believe?

The really revealing question is:What do you long for?

†† What do you love?What do you want?

†† That gets to the heart of who we are.

 

Let me read you a portion of it.Sherwood Wirt translation, Love Song.

†† Here Augustine tries to analyze what he wanted and why he was the way he was.

I will now look back over what is past and done with, my messed-up life and all the sensual corruption that went on in my heartónot because I relish the prospect, but so that I might love you, my God.Analyzing such good-for-nothing behavior is a bitter undertaking, but it is done for love of your love . . . As I grew into adolescence I took my fill of hell.I ran wild in a rank forest of shady amorous adventures, and my beauty consumed away like a moth.As I tried to create an attractive image in my own eyes and in the eyes of men, I turned into something rotten in your eyes.What did I really want?Nothing except to love and be loved.But I failed to set up the heart-to-heart relationship . . . Instead, out of the slimy potholes of the flesh and the geysers of puberty there arose vapors that exhaled upon and covered over and obscured my heart, so that I could not tell the blue skies of real love from the polluted overcast of my appetites . . . Without my knowing it, your anger had risen and was towering over me . . . So I went farther away from you, and you just let me go.

 

Did you hear the question he asked himself?

†† What did I really want?What did I really want that made me the way I was?

Later on he writes about another incident as a teenager.

Itís a quite famous story about a time he and some friends stole from a neighbor.

†† Once again, he looks at that incident and asks why was I the way I was?

A pear tree grew near our orchard, loaded with fruit.One night some of us young mischief-makers, who were used to staying out on the streets and playing until very late, decided to knock down the pears on that tree and carry them off.We carted away a huge load, not to eat but to throw at the hogs.For our part we barely tasted them; our chief pleasure was derived from the knowledge that what we had done was forbidden.Such was my heart, God, such was my heart on which you had mercy.Let that heart now confess to you what it was after:It would engage in wrongdoing for no reason or provocation, and sin just for the fun of sinning.It was vile and I loved it . . . What was it about the pear theft that appealed to unhappy fifteen-year-old me?

 

And he goes on to explore that question.Why did I want to do that?

Augustine knew that what we want in our hearts makes us what we are.

†† So if we can understand what we want most, then can understand ourselves,

†† for good and for bad.

We think we know ourselves, but sometimes our behavior baffles us,

†† because we havenít gotten down to the deep issue of what we really want.

†† Sometimes people live their entire lives fooling selves.

I could tell you about certain incidents in my life that have enabled me to see

†† into my own heart, see what I was really wanting.

One time I intentionally said some things to cast a person in a bad light.

†† It perplexed me about myself.How could I do a thing like that?

†† But as though it through, realized because I wanted the approval of certain people.

That painful realization about what I really wanted deep down led to repentanceó

†† not just for what I had said about this other person, but my idolatry.

 

Sometimes we tell ourselves itís just the honorable and good things we want.

†† We hide from ourselves the ugly things we really want.

Once picked up a hitch-hiker.Asked if I could pray for him.He responded:

†† Hell no!I want to do what I want to do.So not going to ask Him for nothing!

†† His blatant unbelief rattled me but he was more honest than some Christians.

 

Someone has said:

†† What the heart desires, the mind justifies, and the will chooses.

†† What I really want deep down inside I justify to myself, and then I take it.

Thatís why Jesus asked:What do you want?

†† Itís a big question.Itís a piercing question.

†† If you can identify your deepest wants, it will show you who you really are

†† and who God knows you to be.

Then you can chooseóDo I really want to follow Christ or not?

†† Thatís why Jesus followed up by asking them to follow him.

Jesus Christ extends that invitation to you.

†† Come with me and see where I live.Be with me the rest of your life.

†† Let me lead you and teach you.

 

Do you remember the story of the rich young ruler?

A wealthy young man came to Jesus and asked:

What must I do to inherit eternal life?

Jesus gave him a strange answer.Itís not the answer any of us would give

†† God, sell all you have and give it to the poor.

†† That seems theologically incorrect.Doesnít mention faith.Works?

So why did Jesus tell him that?

†† Because he discerned that what that young man wanted most was not eternal life,

†† but a comfortable life here and now.

So Jesus gave him that answer to show him his heart and say ok:

†† Now you can choose, do you really want to follow me or not?

†† Remember how that story ended.

That wealthy young man refused to confront his love of things and went away sad.

 

Iíve been focusing on the negative, how our wants expose our sin and need for God.

But there is another side to this.

Sometimes when you examine the things you really want, it gives you a sense

†† of Godís purpose for your life.It helps you discern his callings.

 

I have a friend one semester away from graduating from Cumberland Law School

†† and he asked himself:What do I really want?

He was on the missions committee of his church at the time and loved it,

†† and realized he wanted to go into the ministry, enrolled in seminary.

A few years ago my brother-in-law got what he thought was his dream job with

†† a hedge fund company.†† But it made him examine his wants more carefully

†† and he realized that he wanted was to have more time with his children,

†† even if it meant taking a job with less prestige and less pay.

 

Back to our passage in John 1.Andrew and John were too flustered to be able

†† to articulate what they wanted, but Jesus saw into their hearts and saw they

†† wanted to be close to him and learn from him.

So he said:Come with me.Coming to Jesus is the first step.

†† And then itís a lifelong process of growing in him.

That may be the lesson of the second conversation, between Simon and Jesus.

†† Andrew told his brother, we have found the Messiah, and brought him to Jesus.

When Jesus saw him he said:You are Simon son of John.

†† You shall be called Cephas (which, when translated, is Peter).

Obviously this was a much longer conversation, but what John does is simply

†† record the most striking and memorable thing Jesus said.

And what he chooses is this statement where Jesus gives Simon another nameó

†† Cephasóthatís the Aramaic.Peter, in Greek.It means rock.

Jesus saw into the heart of this man, who we know was an impetuous man,

†† a man who would say and do things he deeply regretted later.

But Jesus saw that he did want God, so he said.

†† Follow me and you are going to be transformed into a stable, solid, rock-like man.

†† Which eventually he did.

 

Thatís wonderful.

Because many of you know your weaknesses all to well.

†† You wish you could be a better person.

†† You hate it when you fail God and fail the people you love.

†† You hate it when you fall into bad patterns of thinking and behavior.

But in giving Simon this new name Peter, Jesus was saying that if you follow him,

†† and obey him, he will help you become the good person want to be.

It takes time.It takes falling down and getting up.Again.

†† Peter is a great model of someone who wanted God so was transformed.

 

There is one more conversationóthe one with Nathaniel.

†† He was brought to Jesus by Philip and he became a believer.

There is a lot of mystery in this brief account of their meeting.

†† Jesus had somehow observed him earlier.We donít know when or how.

But Jesus perceived something about him.

†† He discerned that Nathaniel was a thoroughly honest and true man.

†† There was not deceit in him, nothing false.

†† He didnít lie, not even to himself.He didnít have mixed motives.

 

Jesus saw him under the fig tree.What does that mean?Why that detail?

The fig tree is often depicted as the symbol of the private life.

†† A phrase in the Old Testament many times about every man sitting under

†† his own vine and fig tree.The image is private life and contemplation.

Jesus must have seen where Nathanielís thoughts went in that time of private.

Those moments of solitude and daydreaming reveal our true wants.

When the busyness of life is hushed, when you are all alone, where do thoughts go?

†† Jesus saw that Nathaniel wanted the kingdom of God, he wanted the Messiah.

†† That must have been communicated and Nathaniel was amazed.

Jesus said:Follow me and you will see more amazing things than that.

 

Thereís an interesting connection here with Augustineís life.

When he was older, when he had become more broken over his wild life, and had

†† truly started to long for God, it was under a fig tree that he came to know Christ.

This is another one of those famous passages in his Confessions.

 

He had finally faced the fact that the things he had wanted in life were

†† all wrong and that those illicit wants were keeping him from God.

So he wanted God, but he still wanted those old sinful habitsóhe was torn.

I vacillated about my decision to serve the Lord my God, it was I who willed and I who willed not . . . Old loves plucked softly at my robe of flesh and murmured, ĎAre you going to send us away?From this moment, forever and ever?It means you will never be allowed to do this or that again.Ē

 

So Augustine was in this violent internal conflict.What do I really want?

†† Do I want my sins and living my old life, or do I want God and following him.

†† It seemed like he had come to a crucial point and it was going to be one or other.

I went to a corner of the garden . . . In some way, Iím not sure how, I threw myself down under a fig tree and let the tears gush freely . . . I was going on like this, weeping in bitter dejection of spirit, when I heard a voice coming from the house next door.Whether it was a boyís or a girlís I donít know, but it was singing over and over in a kind of chant, ĎTake up and read, take up and read.ĒImmediately my demeanor changed.I thought back over the childrenís games I knew, trying to recall whether I had ever heard such an expression used.I knew of no such game.Staunching the flow of tears, I stood up, for I could only interpret the words as a kind of divine command to open the Scripture and read the first passage I came across.

 

So he snatched up a copy of the letters of the Apostle Paul,

†† opened it at random and read the first verse his eye landed on.Romans 13.

ĎNot in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.íI had no need or wish to read further, for when I came to the end of the sentence, instantly, it seemed, the light of certainty turned on in my heart and all the fog of doubt disappeared.

 

And that settled the issue for Augustine.

†† What he wanted most of all, from that point on, was to follow Jesus.

†† And serve him and obey him.

Now, how does this all apply to you today, in your life here in Cullman?

†† I want to speak specifically to those of you who are facing big decisions.

Maybe itís a big decision about your work or job.

†† Maybe it is a significant financial expenditure.

Maybe it has something to do with your future plansó

†† you take this path and it will lead you one place years down road,

†† you take another path and it will lead you somewhere else.

Maybe itís relational.Big decisions about your children or marriage.

 

You have to honestly ask:Lord Jesus, what do I really want?

†† Help me to know myself as you know me.

Help me to see past all my self-deceptions and self-justifications

†† and enable me to face honestly what Iím really wanting.

Because unless itís God you want, his honor, being like his Son Jesusó

†† then itís going to be hard to discern his will about anything.

†† Youíre just going to do what you want to do and claim itís Godís will.

 

So find a fig tree and say God:

†† Show me the good and show me the bad.

Maybe youíll see yourself more clearly and God will show you what he sees.

†† Heíll show you the ways youíve been lying to yourself.

†† The way you are justifying things that donít please him.

Maybe that will lead to repentance.Maybe it will lead to growing up.

 

And, probably, if you are honest under the fig treeó

God will show you his good purposes for you.

†† Maybe some of your wants are connected to plans he has for your future.

†† Maybe you will get an inkling of how he might use you in a new step in life.

Commit your ways to the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.

†† What are those desires?What makes you joyful?What makes you angry?

†† What do you dream about when longing for something more?

†† Do you love a certain place?Do you love certain people?How want to serve?

God often uses our desires to guide us into different callings of life.

†† So you have to lay those desires before him under the fig tree for examination.

 

Perhaps there will be things that need to be confronted and changes,

†† or maybe it will be through those things that God leads you.

Jesus asks:What do you want?Itís a question you must answer.