Look: [Jesus asked] “How can you believe since you accept glory from one another but do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?” (John 5:44)
Jesus is speaking to those scandalized by His Sabbath day restoration of the once-paralyzed limbs of a man unable to walk.
All of Jesus’ words in this chapter are interesting. But today, I’m especially taken with these in verse 44. A paraphrase might be: “Since being acceptable to the crowd is so important to you, how could you possibly care about the glorious acceptance that only the one true God can give to you through faith in Me?”
Jesus underscores His own indifference to the accolades (or glories) that human beings may give to Him in verse 41: “I do not accept glory from human beings...” By this, Jesus means that He refuses to allow the opinions of Him--good or bad--to turn His head. He will do what He must do and what He has been called to do, popular or not, easy or not. In Luke 12:50, referencing the suffering He will undergo, calling His crucifixion and death His “baptism,” Jesus says: “But I have a baptism to undergo, and what constraint I am under until it is completed!”
In the wilderness, of course, Satan had tempted Jesus to grab for the glories offered Him by Satan and the world. Luke’s account of the wilderness temptations of Jesus says:
“The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, ‘I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours.’” But Luke says that Jesus responded: “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’” (Luke 4:5-8)
Listen: If I’m to walk with God, if I’m to have life with God through Jesus, I can’t worry about having the accolades of the crowd. Nor can I concern myself with what’s easy, safe, or comfortable. Nor can I worry about the possibility of being deemed “weird” or “different” from everybody else.*
Some people, of course, wear their “distinctiveness” as Christians like badges of honor and pride. This is not what Jesus is commending when He says that we should focus on being considered “glorious” by God instead of the crowd. There is no place for being puffed up for the person who genuinely seeks to follow Jesus. Ephesians 2:8-9 reminds Christians: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” And 1 Corinthians 13:4 says: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.”
To be set apart or holy for God is to be so focused on following Jesus that I am willing to ignore what the crowd or what my own internal preference for comfort say I should do.
In this, Jesus isn’t just the One Who saves us for life set apart for God, He’s also, as we say in the liturgy, “a model of the godly life.” Luke 9:51, a turning point in Luke’s narrative of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, says: “As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.”
Jesus was so sold-out to glorifying God the Father that He “resolutely” went to Jerusalem, knowing what awaited Him there. He didn’t flinch.
*Weird or different are two words that could readily translate the Bible’s term, holy. The best translation is probably set apart for God.
He calls us to similar resolve. In Luke 14:27, Jesus says: “...whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”
Jesus isn’t here saying that Christians should look for trouble.
And “their cross” here doesn’t refer to the troubles, adversity, and pain to which every human being is subject because we live in this fallen, imperfect world.
Taking up our crosses involves acknowledging the sin in us--both our sinful natures and the sins we commit because of those natures--and following Jesus as the only One Who can set us free from their power over us.
“The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:56-57)
Those who follow Jesus daily submit to the crucifixion of our old sinful selves so that the new creation Jesus died and rose to make us become can rise.
We daily remember our baptisms as the time of our crucifixion and death so that can Christ can daily raise us up: “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (Romans 6:4).
The only way I can follow through on a life marked by humble acknowledgement of my need of Christ is, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to forget about the affirmations offered by the crowds or the comforts offered by the world so that I can follow Jesus Christ alone.
This isn’t easy. I like to be liked. I don’t like disappointing or offending people. I want to fit in.
On top of that, I’d like to be comfortable.
But while some Christians may be comfortable, materially or socially, none of that is promised by Jesus.
He promises us eternal life. He promises His constant presence with us. But, as I often remind others, so I now remind myself, Jesus also promises: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
So often, the discouragement I feel over the lack of discernible “progress” in my spiritual life can be attributed to one simple thing: I’ve taken my eye off of Jesus.
Real spiritual progress comes, I suspect, when I’m not even conscious of questions about my “spiritual progress” and I set my face toward Jesus. As C.S. Lewis puts it: “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it's thinking of yourself less.”
Respond: Father, today, by the Holy Spirit’s power, free me of concerns about the estimation of others or the standards of this world or my own sin-warped personal standards. Grant that the only accolade I care about is Your Words at the Judgment, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Help me to focus on Jesus alone. May I revere Your name today. May Your kingdom come to me today. May Your will be done in my life today. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen
[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio. You're invited to be with the congregation for worship on Sundays, either at 8:45 or 11:00 AM.]