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"What Did You Go Out To See?"

Matthew 11:7-24; Luke 7:24-35; John 12:20-22

Jim Davis

What I am looking for often blinds me to what I need to see. What I see too often is what I want to see. One person sees opportunity in a specific situation and another views the same situation only seeing the possibility of failure. How often has my understanding of a situation been governed by how I have decided to understand it? Too often my understanding is governed by my fear of what I might see and have to change. How often do we seek to gather the facts to prove our premature conclusions? This is our greatest difficulty in seeking knowledge.

Jesus faced this same difficulty as he sought to teach the religious multitudes.

Matthew 11:7-10
"As John's disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: "What did you go out into the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings' palaces. Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written" (NIV).

Jesus asked, "Did you go out into the desert to see a reed swayed by the wind?" Were they looking for a fickle person tossed about in his judgment by the winds of public opinion? "Did you go out into the desert to see a man dressed in fine clothes?" John certainly wasn’t dressed in fine clothes; neither did his diet consist of delicacies. "Did you go out into the desert to see a prophet?" I am certain that many going out to see John were so uncertain about what they were supposed to see that they failed to see what they needed to see.

Luke 7:31-35
"’To what, then, can I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other:

"'We played the flute for you,
and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge,
and you did not cry.'

"’For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, 'He has a demon.' The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, 'Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and "sinners." ' But wisdom is proved right by all her children.’" (NIV).

Ironically when they saw what they wanted to see it didn’t move them one way or another.

I have discovered that this is a dangerous way to seek an understanding of God’s purpose for our lives. I have often missed God’s purpose for my life in a specific situation because of this approach. This is how the Pharisees missed God’s purpose for themselves.

Luke 7:29-35
"All the people, even the tax collectors, when they heard Jesus' words, acknowledged that God's way was right, because they had been baptized by John. But the Pharisees and experts in the law rejected God's purpose for themselves, because they had not been baptized by John."

We miss God’s purpose for our lives when go to God with a preconception of what we want to see. This is especially true in Bible Study. Often I have failed to see what I needed to see because I was looking for the wrong thing. Have you ever been searching for something on a grocery shelf and overlooked it because you were looking for the wrong thing. You have an incorrect image in your mind of what it is, so you overlook it when the item is right under your nose.

The older I get the more I realize that what I get out of Bible study is largely dependent upon what I am looking for. If I am looking to prove a certain doctrine true there is a great possibility that I will convince myself that it is true. I have caught myself using verses to disprove a prevalent doctrine, while not understanding the primary teaching of those verses.

What Am I Looking for?

This approach is not only prevalent in Bible study but it is also prevalent as we look at churches. Let us ask ourselves a very personal question, "What am I looking for in a church?" This question strikes at the heart of my motives. What is my motive for being here? Am I looking for reeds blown in the wind, shall we say a church blown around with public opinion in its teaching? Or, am I looking for finely dressed people in attendance? Am I looking for church members to live up to my expectations? Am I looking for others to look like I want them to look?

Sometimes what is seen in churches can be very confusing. It can be confusing to those looking at Christianity for the first time. It can be equally confusing to those with spiritual discernment. John heralded Christ as the Lamb of God, but now from a prison cell he is asking, "Are you the one or should we look for another?" The religious scene is often confusing to those sincerely seeking Christ. If John the Baptist could become confused, I should know that I could also be confused.

Human reasoning is very fickle. The people thought John had a demon because he didn’t come eating and drinking. Jesus came in the manner in which they thought John should have come, i.e., eating and drinking, and they said he was a glutton and a drunkard. When they got what they wanted they didn’t want it anymore. It was so confusing that even John began to question what he believed about Jesus.

Are you looking for a place that makes you feel comfortable? Here in Florida I see the difficulty some have when they move into a new region of the country. I see people shop for a church like the one they left back home. They may be looking for a certain type of music or song service. They may expect a church to sing the songs they have always sung. They may be looking at how people dress? They may be looking for things to be said the way they have always heard them said.

When the Jews preached the gospel to those outside Jewish influence they became very uncomfortable. They weren’t comfortable eating with Gentiles so they sought to first make them Jews. They sought to circumcise the Gentiles. They wanted the Gentiles to become a Jew first and then a Christian. They tried changing their dietary customs. The Jewish Christians weren’t accustomed to eating the meat of an animal that had been strangled, but the Gentile had no problem with it. When the Jews killed an animal they drained all the blood out. The law in Leviticus prevented the Jews from eating an animal strangled (Leviticus 17:14).

These religious practices blinded the Jews to the real task of preaching Jesus Christ and him crucified. It also had a tendency to blind the non-Jewish world to the purpose of the cross.

"We Would Like to See Jesus?"

The Gentiles were looking for Jesus. John tells us that some Greeks, i.e., Gentiles, came to Philip saying, "We would like to see Jesus."

John 12:20-22
"Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the Feast. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. "Sir," they said, "we would like to see Jesus." Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus" (NIV).

While others doubted these Greeks came asking the most potent question they could ask, "We would like to see Jesus?" Are we looking for Jesus today? Or, am I looking for a church that lives up to my ideas of what it ought to be? In essence many are looking for a church to make them comfortable with the way they are already living.

I may even be looking for God to fit the image of him that I already have in my mind.

When Philip and Andrew told Jesus that there were some Greeks who wanted to see him, Jesus answered, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me" (John 12:23-26 NIV).

What does wheat falling to the ground have to do with their desire to see Jesus? At first glance this sounds like a riddle, but it is far from a riddle. Jesus is simply giving an example of what it will take for us to see Jesus.

Planting a wheat crop is dependent upon the farmer’s willingness to make an investment. He must invest the seed in his storage bend. He can’t ever hope to reap a harvest without giving up his wheat. Wheat left in a storage bend will never multiply. You must have the courage to plant the seed in the ground. You must have the courage to risk losing it.

Jesus says, "But if it dies, it produces many seeds." I grew up on a farm; I have seen times when the crops barely produced enough to pay for the investment. However, we can be assured that God will bless whatever we sacrifice in the spiritual realm.

Laying what we know or think we know on the line is our only hope. If you lay what you know on the line and discover that it is correct it will deepen your confidence in your faith. If you lay it on the line and discover it is wrong, your honest questioning will benefit you beyond your imagination. The only way to gain a true knowledge of God is a willingness to go beyond what you already know. This requires, if necessary to give up the knowledge that we already possess. It requires at least a willingness to die to what we know.

The key to learning about Jesus Christ is giving up what we think we already know. "A little learning is a dangerous thing." It takes courage to challenge what you think you already know about God, religion, the church and Jesus Christ.

You have to give up your comfort zones. You will have to lose it all to find him. I have discovered that I will never find him until I begin to follow him. Jesus’ answer is far from a riddle; rather it gets to the very heart of what we must do to find Jesus.

There is much error in the religious world today because many are using the Bible to prove what they have already made up their minds to believe. It is crucial to ask myself "What am I seeking to get out of this Bible study?" I like to try and to dismiss everything I know or think I know about a passage I am meditating on and studying. I then seek to understand the primary message of the author as I ask, "What was the primary purpose of this passage to those who received it?" Then I ask, "What is it the Holy Spirit trying to tell me in this passage?" Remember the Holy Spirit inspired those words!!

Jesus says, "Whoever loves his life will lose it?" If we reach a level in our knowledge where we want to hold on to what we know to tightly it will make it impossible for us to learn what we need to know. When we reach this point our knowledge becomes a hindrance. The signal that what you know is a hindrance is an unwillingness to challenge what you do know, or think you know.

John the Baptist heralded Christ coming, but he wasn’t afraid to ask, "Are you the one, or should we look for another."

Matthew 11:2-6
"When John heard in prison what Christ was doing, he sent his disciples to ask him, ‘Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?’

"Jesus replied, ‘Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me’" (NIV).

Granted that he was in prison discouraged about the outcome of his ministry, but he remained open to the possibility that he could be wrong. He was willing to lay all he knew or thought he knew on the line—this is evident by the question.

Jesus did not berate John for questioning what he knew. In fact, God will never rebuke anyone for asking the tough questions. Jesus asks John to examine what he knew in light of what the Messiah was supposed to do. The blind see, the lame walk, leprosy is healed, the deaf hear, the dead were raised and the poor were hearing the message of salvation. These were things the Old Testament prophesied that the Messiah would do. John spent his life preaching those scriptures. His honest questioning confirmed what he already knew.

This is the greatest thing about remaining open and honest—it will lead to you to the truth. The moment you make up your mind about how something ought to be is the very moment that you become blinded by what you already know.

Acts 28:26-27
"'Go to this people and say,

"’You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.’
For this people's heart has become calloused;
they hardly hear with their ears,
and they have closed their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts
and turn, and I would heal them.'" (NIV)

The Purpose of Knowledge

The Greeks came saying, "We would like to see Jesus?" Jesus says, "Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be." No it isn’t a riddle. The only way you will ever truly see Jesus is by following him. We will never truly see Jesus until we follow him. Of what benefit is knowledge if it isn’t used.

True knowledge forces us to get out of our comfort zones and follow Christ. True knowledge in any field requires us to entrust ourselves to it. It is not always easy to get out of our comfort zones, but true knowledge is of little benefit without practical application. True knowledge seeks to break down our comfort zones as it leads us into new areas of service.

John wasn’t very comfortable in prison, but it was there that he truly discovered who Jesus was. He experienced the coming of the Messiah in his own life.

Following Jesus is the only way you can truly know him. When we entrust ourselves to what we know is true, however little that knowledge may be, it always leads us to discover a greater knowledge—a deeper knowledge.

What happens if we refuse to use the knowledge we have? When we reach this point our knowledge becomes very destructive.

Matthew 11:20-24
Then Jesus began to denounce the cities in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent. 21 "Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths. If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you." (NIV)


Idealism is the greatest enemy to accepting reality. We have these ideas of how things ought to be, but these ideas blind us to the way things are.

What are you looking for?

Give the plan of salvation.


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