Rev. John J. Lolla, Jr.
February 4, 2018
Text: Mark 1: 36-37, O.T.: Isaiah 40:21-31, N.T.: Mark 1:29-39
In over 31 years of ministry I don’t remember anyone asking me, “Where do you find Jesus?”
Has anyone asked you this question?
If someone did ask it, what did you say to them? Did you tell them to go to Church? Or did you recommend they read the Bible? Or, perhaps, you suggested they pray to discover Him.
There are lots of places to look. But to adapt the answer of the Cheshire Cat to Alice in Wonderland, “If you don’t know where to look, any place is just as good as the next.”
Maybe since Americans are exposed to Jesus as children, they don’t feel the need to find him. Or, perhaps, Jesus is the last place to look for answers to life’s problems – at least for those who don’t ask.
But the Gospel of Mark emphatically makes the point: when Jesus began His ministry, what He did and said made so much of an impact on Jews in Palestine that they frantically searched for Him.
The Greek word for search that Mark uses is katadioxen. It sounds like some miracle medicine doesn’t it. Katadioxen is a vivid word in Greek. It doesn’t mean casually looking. It means Jesus was being “hunted down,” like a desperate person searches for water in the desert.
Jesus’ work was so amazing, so compelling, so inspiring, that people were literally stalking Him like hunters in the Pennsylvania woods search for game. He healed people of diseases and was preaching with an authority that surpassed religious leaders. People needed to see Him. They wanted to see Him. They would travel miles to find Him.
You might say, people were obsessed with finding Jesus. There was a buzz around Galilee that Jesus was the man to see. Jesus was extraordinary.
How is it that someone so extraordinary, so remarkable, so incredible does not receive such interest today? Where are people beating down the doors to find Jesus? When you see a street evangelist, how many people walk a different direction to avoid hearing what the evangelist is saying?
Maybe part of the answer lies in a video that was once on the Internet by Jefferson Bethke. Bethke is a young Christian. His video was seen more than 10 million times, according to the Wall Street Journal. There certainly was a buzz.
The video is entitled, “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus.” To summarize this young Christian, “Jesus and religion are on opposite spectrums.”
There’s a lot of sentiment among some Christians to separate “religion” from “Jesus.” In their opinion, religious people aren’t the same as Jesus people. Religious people keep their allegiance to their church. Christians are about people searching for Jesus.
Jesus Christ’s power isn’t about preserving the existence of an historic institution. The power of Jesus Christ conveys God’s blessings on people. People become followers of Jesus Christ. They didn’t follow institutions.
When Christ’s followers are excited about receiving Jesus’ blessings, they’re attracted into a community of other people excited about receiving Jesus’ blessings. As the community grows, it acquires power and authority from the spiritual energy that comes from Jesus’ blessings.
Christ is the source of the buzz from people searching for hope. Jesus is the source of the community’s growth – not programs an institution offers.
There are a lot of congregations where church members have lost their passion to search for Jesus. Spiritual growth and disciple-making take a back seat to other parts of church life people think are more important. Reaching people for Jesus drops out of the center of the congregation’s life.
Where people singularly focus on Jesus – from the top to the bottom of the congregation – from old to young – from singles to marrieds – from men to women – from elders to deacons to trustees – a congregation buzzes with spiritual energy that comes from Jesus Christ.
Every congregation has the potential to explode with spiritual energy and vitality. That potential doesn’t lie in the organizational ability of the church’s officers and staff. That potential doesn’t lie in the financial resources of church members or their endowment. That potential lies in the search for Jesus Christ.
Don’t look for programs to grow a church. Look for Jesus Christ. Don’t look for new staff to grow a church. Look for Jesus Christ. Don’t look for music or slick technology to grow a church. Look for Jesus Christ. Don’t look for a fresh new building to grow a church. Look for Jesus Christ.
Everything about the church’s growth begins and ends with searching for Jesus Christ.
I’ve heard pastors speak from congregations that were near death, in urban centers. When each congregation finally was so desperate for Jesus’ blessings, church members finally gave up their claim to what historically was done in that church to begin seeking Jesus Christ.
Churches with 75 members in Seattle, 25 members in Toledo, 60 members in New York city- in old buildings they couldn’t maintain with utility bills that were strangling the congregation and memories of a golden past that were discouraging church members.
When they finally began to get back to the basics – searching for Jesus Christ – they recovered spiritual power from receiving Jesus’ blessings. Jesus blesses those who are searching for Him. Their enthusiasm for Jesus Christ, not just as individuals but as a group, became contagious. Other people were attracted by the excitement generated by their search for Jesus.
The difference between being a religious institution and a people gathered by the power of God is simply people seeking Jesus.
The transformation of a congregation from remembering its past to searching for Jesus doesn’t occur overnight. We’re talking about yielding to God. Submitting to God totally. Praying with a fervent heart to see Jesus in our midst. Yearning night and day to see Jesus among us. When each person submits to Christ’s search, things begin to happen incrementally that build spiritual vitality.
- Finding Jesus Christ involves seeking God’s blessing in prayer. Pray with humiliation that God removes from you anything that would divert your attention away from Jesus. Pray with expectation that God desires to bless us with the gift of Christ’s spirit. Pray with anticipation that God infuses each of us with renewed passion to seek Christ.
- Finding Jesus involves getting your heart in alignment with Jesus’ heart. Having our heart in alignment with Jesus is loving other people unconditionally – without criticism. Sometimes we’re not aware of how much in our efforts to keep a church alive we lose track that we’ve shifted our focus from loving other people unconditionally to working hard to keep our church going. We’ve shifted from being like Jesus to working hard for Jesus. It may seem like a subtle difference. But it is the difference between searching for Jesus and depending on ourselves for our salvation.
- Finding Jesus orients us with passion to reach the unchurched with Jesus’ hope. Our compassion for others leads us to invitations and conversations to people beyond our congregation. We try to understand how they think and live so that we can encourage them to find Jesus meeting their needs for new life.
- When the congregation’s DNA is searching for Jesus, a whole new spirit and motivation emerges that appeals to a world that doesn’t trust the church, but wants Jesus.
Searching for Jesus isn’t as hard as finding a needle in a haystack. Neither is finding Jesus for those who search. God makes both possible when Jesus is our focus.
Let us join in prayer and ask God to help us search for Jesus. Amen.