Once again, I present how God recently spoke to me through His Word during Quiet Time today. The chapter of the Bible on which I focused was John 5.
Look: “I have come in my Father's name, and you do not receive me. If another comes in his own name, you will receive him. How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?” (John 5:43-44)
Jesus is the speaker. Earlier in the chapter, He reminds people that John the Baptist had testified as to His identity as Messiah. Later, He would assert that Moses had pointed to Him. Also, in the chapter, He speaks of Himself as the Son of God the Father, making Himself equal to God. But Jesus knows that these witnesses won't convince the crowd about Who He is. They’ve already made up their minds about Him. ("Don't confuse us with the facts!")
Here, Jesus cuts to the reason for the crowds’ rejection of Him as God and Messiah: He comes to them in the name of the Father.
If, Jesus says, someone comes to them in their own name--in other words, in their own interests, brazenly seeking glory and adulation for themselves, the crowd is all ears, eyes, and open pocketbooks. People love (at least for a season) self-promoters, be they rock stars, athletes, politicians, or would-be saviors.
I suspect that there are several reasons we human beings are prone to, paraphrasing Paul Simon, throw another hero up the pop chart.
One is that we all want to be like God. That was the seminal temptation that sucked Adam and Eve into sin. It's our seminal temptation. When we see a shiny new “star” of one kind or another, thumbing their noses at niceties and being boorishly self-absorbed, we’re prone to applause. In them, we see someone “getting away with” what we secretly wish we could get away with. (Of course, the shininess wears out and soon we tire of the spoiled and entitled "hero" and we go searching for the next shiny new self-glorifying star.)
The other reason is that a self-glorifying would-be god is more tangible and more susceptible to our control than self-emptying God. God’s greatest feat was dying on a cross, then being raised from the dead, not for Himself, but for undeserving people. We can become heirs to His saving action when we acknowledge how undeserving we are, turn from sin (all of it rooted in our stubborn desire to be like God), and trust not in themselves--or their “goodness,” or their accomplishments, or their star power--but in the God revealed in Christ alone.
The person who comes to us in their own name can be controlled by us. The success of their self-glorifying schtick is entirely dependent on our going along with it. The abusive husband, whether the abuse is physical, emotional, sexual, or otherwise, inflating himself at the expense of a wife, will be deflated if the wife leaves. The arrogant politician can get away with their arrogance only so long as his/her constituents put up with it. People can’t set themselves up as godlets without our permission.
Jesus came into the world to honor God and to save us. Despite the power that He manifested, because He didn’t act selfishly, the world saw Him as weak, contemptible, worthy of scorn, worthy of death. His selflessness actually threatened those who had power or wanted power. (That would include the entire human race.)
The crowd--me, Jesus says, is willing to live off of the glory that others give to us (to me). Jesus lived (and died and rose) to glorify His Father. Big difference in orientation there.
Jesus, of course, achieved more than anyone else in human history. He opened the way of salvation to all who believe in Him. Through Him, eternal life invades this dead world through all who trust in Him. (God's life enters my dead frame through Jesus!) None of the world’s self-glorifying godlets can offer that. Their achievements and the adulation of adoring worshipers are finite. What Jesus achieved is eternal.
Listen: God, I wonder what my life would look like if I quit concerning myself with what I want and stopped bothering with others’ opinions of me? Like others, I pretend that neither of these things concern me. But you that that’s a lie.
You could have as easily had me in mind when you said of ancient Israel in Isaiah 29:13: “...this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips (this Mark says all the right things to me and about Me), while their hearts are far from me (his heart is far from me), and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men…” And while you’re talking about religious commandments imposed on people that have little or nothing to do with You, I don’t think it’s eisegesis to say that “commandments taught by men” include our codes for getting ahead by getting along, being the uber-confident self-worshiper who commands allegiance, even when it's all dressed up as being religious and decent.
Subconsciously, I suspect that I make a little bargain with the world (I may even tell myself that I make it with you): I will be what people want me to be so that they’ll like me, accept me, not find me objectionable, even, in a way, worship me. (Like Adam and Eve, I'd sort of like to "be like God," not in the self-serving sense. But you know, in the Creator of the universe, everyone bow down to me sense. It's embarrassing to see in writing. Yet, I know that at some level it's true. I wonder if I'm rare among the together, loving, devoted Christians I know?)
It must be true that if you’re all about you and want everybody else to be all about you, becoming a pliant piece of Silly Putty is the way to go. "I'll be whatever other people want me to be if they'll love me." This is not what Jesus meant by losing ourselves to find ourselves. He meant to no longer be concerned about oneself, only about the glory of God and the good of our neighbor. It's when we commit ourselves to that "shalom lifestyle" that we find our true selves, loosed from self-consciousness or self-worship. (One of the first things to happen to humans after falling into sin was the paralysis of self-consciousness. They hid themselves from God because they were naked. "Who told you that you were naked," God asks.
As Silly Putty godlets, receiving worship because we're looking our for ourselves, we become like the apocryphal French general Robert Kennedy mentioned in the foreword to the memorial edition of his brother’s book, Profiles in Courage. “There go my people,” the general said. “I must follow them so that I may lead them.”
You can't lead when you seek others' adulation. You can't serve either. That's why true leadership and true servanthood are the same thing.
Make me more than Silly Putty, Lord. Instead of looking out for me or for the most comfortable and least troubling pathway through life, help me to seek to glorify You. Fill me with Your Holy Spirit so that I can lift You--not me--before the world.[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]
Respond: Lord, today, show me how I can glorify You only. Help me to refrain from those behaviors in which I look out for me. In Jesus’ name.