Recently, during a Bible-study session, two of my dearest friends and I were talking about the Life of Jesus study that we are participating in through our church, New Life Church. Fifty-eight days ago, our church began an online video series that includes a daily video devotional and blog post (they call it a devo, but I’m not cool or in a hurry, so I’ll just type out the whole word). My two friends and I have been getting together every couple of weeks to discuss the things we’re learning in this educational and thorough study of the life and teachings of Jesus. Using Him as a guide for how we should handle every single aspect of our lives, one thing stuck out to us in a great way: how Jesus handles popularity. It’s no secret that in this day and age (that’s my favorite middle-age person phrase!), with our worship of social media “celebrities” and the lengths that we go to for likes and shares, it wouldn’t hurt any of us to pay attention to what Jesus did when He started being praised and adored. (Worth noting, when I typed the word “likes” above, I accidentally left off the -k and it said “lies”…so do with that what you will.)
At the height of Jesus’s popularity, in Luke 11, we see Him utterly surrounded on every side by people. We are talking rock-star status here. In fact, one woman is so enamored by Jesus, that she cries out, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you” (vs. 27). But in His response to this woman, despite her well-meaning intentions, Jesus redirects her focus so that it isn’t on Him (or His mother either, for that matter). Instead, He challenges her, and everyone around her, to consider blessed only those who not only hear the Word of God, but who step forward and do the Word: “Jesus replied, ‘But even more blessed are all who hear the Word of God and put it into practice.'” (vs. 28) Jesus doesn’t stop here, though, in making sure His own popularity isn’t the priority.
We see similar situations occur in Luke 5:15-16 and Mark 1:45. Jesus’s miracles are gaining popularity and traction. He’s making noise; interest and demand are increasing. Despite warnings, people witnessing His incredible acts refuse to stay quiet. Words of awe and praise are shared over and over again, sometimes in whispers, sometimes in shouts. Translated into a scenario we can understand today, Jesus was becoming the focus of social media post after social media post, racking up hundreds of thousands of likes and shares. Friends, Jesus had gone viral.
But the way He handles all of this popularity is so crucial for us as believers, because it models for us exactly how we, as representatives of Christ, should handle popularity as well. Does the Bible continue on and show Jesus’s ego inflating from this newfound attention? Does His pride increase? To further the modern-day metaphor, do you think Jesus’s reaction to all this praise was to post more and more selfies on His page in an effort to outperform even Himself? I bet you don’t have to open your Bible to know the answer to this one.
The first phrase of Luke 5:16 tells us pretty much everything we need to know about how Jesus handled popularity: “But Jesus withdrew…” We see similar phrasing in Mark 4:35. Again, Jesus is so popular here, so desired and revered that He’s surrounded by people who want just a glimpse of His greatness, who want to tell Him how magnificent they think He is. But He recognizes the danger in this, the chaos that can come from allowing oneself to believe his or her own hype. So He takes His disciples, and “…leaving the crowd behind…” they retreat.
We would be remiss, friends, if we only note Jesus’s actions and not the purpose behind them. Throughout the life of Jesus, He retreats from the crowd and the noise, from the chaos and danger in His life, multiple times. But we don’t see Him setting apart “me time” so He can binge Netflix or get His nails done. No, instead He intentionally removes Himself from all the voices singing His praises (or distracting Him from His God-given goal) for a few reasons:
*To gain wisdom from God
*To refocus Himself on His REAL purpose
*To quiet the noise so He can hear the quiet voice of His Father, the One to be glorified
*To deny Himself and remain humble
*To get out from under the weight of it all and hand it over to His Dad, the only One who can help Him shoulder His burdens
Friends, let me ask you something: how do you and I handle it when something we say or do or post makes waves and garners attention? Do we get lost in the noise, or do we retreat so that we are certain we’re glorifying God and not self? Do we pray earnestly to maintain our humility, or do we snap another two or ten selfies so we can replicate this empty like-button praise? At our most popular, friends, who are we worshiping?
For Jesus, popularity made Him retreat. To me, it seems it made Him uncomfortable because it angled the spotlight off God and onto Him. So at the height of His popularity, Jesus said, Not Me…God. In His actions, He went on to say about all of those less fortunate around Him, Not Me…them. And right to your very own face, Jesus says, Not Me…you.
We don’t see this replicated in the current-day actions of His followers, though. You and I, we claim to be Christians all day long, but when it comes to getting attention for ourselves, we find very opposite attitudes existing. We don’t point the finger at God or post for His glory. Sadly, we say through our actions, Not Him…me. To those around us who are less fortunate, we declare, Not them…me. And to our neighbor who might not see eye-to-eye with us, Not you….me.
The example Jesus sets for us during His 33 years on earth, and especially those critical years of ministry, can be simplified. His example can be summed up in one verse from Matthew 6: “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness” (vs 33). Righteousness in this context simply means reign. And that’s essentially our goal, friends. With every aspect of our lives, even when everyone loves us and wants to praise us, we are to direct them immediately back to God. In our hearts, we are to give no wings to the attention of man, but instead, we must target our hearts and intentions on furthering the reign of God.
Today, I want to leave you with this quote from Charles Stanley. I pray that we all begin to worry way less about our online presence and begin anew to grow more in line with Jesus.
“It’s self that limits the eternal influence you have with others.”
Who are you most often glorifying, God or self?
Dear Lord, I am so sorry for the times I’ve put my popularity and/or the attention from others over You and my goal to share You. Father, I ask for Your forgiveness and Your help. I want to care less about what others can applaud about me and more about how much of You my life reflects. Thank You for Your Word, for the incredible example I have through Jesus. Although I so often get off track, Lord, I truly want to get myself out of the way so that I make more room for You. Help me to seek You first, to be more interested in Your Kingdom than my own earthly position. Be with me, Lord. Guide me and encourage me with Your Word. Thank You for hearing my prayer. It’s in Jesus’s name that it’s prayed. Amen.