It is amazing how much the way we function in a day has changed by the phenomena of social networking. A mere ten years ago the Internet was used by a growing number of people to look up recipes, send emails, write blogs and surf from web site to website. Today, with the introduction of services such as FaceBook and Twitter, and with the new phones using apps, much of our day is focused around sharing our lives with family, friends and complete strangers online. We share our activities, insights, and opinions with anyone who is willing to listen. It is a real joy to have those insights and opinions shared and spread around. We feel highs and lows as we gain and lose followers, and some spend their days trying new techniques to increase their "audience".
Some have speculated what Jesus would have done with this technology if he had come in this age instead of 2000 years ago. I think John gives us a bit of insight into this:
Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many people saw the miraculous signs he was doing and believed in his name. But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men. He did not need man’s testimony about man, for he knew what was in a man. (John 2:23-25)
Jesus was big time into revealing his glory in the miracles that were done, through the message he brought and with the casting out of the enemy. But one thing Jesus was not into was the popularity game. It did not matter to Jesus how many "followers" he had. Even with an audience of one Jesus remained the same, and that one was keenly important to him. The crowds swelled and they fell away but Jesus remained consistent in who he was and what he had come to do. Something of which churches should take note.
John says that Jesus would not entrust himself to these crowds that came running after the miracles because he knew all men. Jesus knew what motivated people and he knew they would abandoned him as quickly as they took up his name in praise. It was not popularity that motivated him but instead his love for our Father and for us. There were times he would point this out to the crowds, getting after them for being more interested in the free lunch than they were in the message he brought. He had to avoid the crowds at times due to their desire to make him king simply because they saw what they could get out of him if he were king. Their motivation was all about what they could get and not what they could give back to God.
It is both comforting and disarming as we read, "He did not need man’s testimony about man, for he knew what was in a man." He knows us so well because he is the instrument of creation:
Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. (John 1:3)
Jesus was not looking for popularity from these people because he knew them, their motivation and their desires. They believed only because of what they saw and that belief was limited to seeing him as the possible Messiah. They envisioned the glory of Israel renewed, conquering army's, riches, a comfortable life, a brilliant future in the renewed kingdom. Yet Jesus offered so much more than this, something of far greater worth but they could not get past their own comfort and needs. This kind of popularity Jesus could do without.
Perhaps it would do us well to reflect on this for a moment and search our own hearts for our underlying motivation for following after Jesus. Is it a selfish motivation, what we can get out of the relationship, looking for Jesus to make our life here easier? It is amazing how this selfishness can creep in when we think our motives are so pure. We claim we just want to serve Jesus, to see him glorified but how quickly our song changes when we face any kind of personal discomfort. The greatest commandment as well as the second that is similar to the first are all about love provoking a selfless giving of self to God and to others. Is that how you would describe yourself, a selfless giver to God and to people?
Jesus hand picked his disciples because he knew them. He knew their hearts and he knew what they could become. This tells me that each of them had the potential to become a "Peter" or a "Judas". One of the most comforting things Jesus said was:
You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. (John 15:16)
I knew my calling even before I submitted myself to Jesus, perhaps it is the reason I wrestled over that relationship so much. When I encountered Jesus and surrendered my life to him, accepting the re-birth offered, the calling came alive in me. Jesus knew me and called me to him, knowing I had the potential to serve like Peter or abandon him like Judas, but I trust he saw a desire in me to overcome the darkness in me. Jesus is not interested in the popularity of the crowds but instead he desires the adoration and fulfilment of the individual. Crowds are a tricky bunch; one minute they want to make you king and are singing your praises and the next they are crying out for you to be crucified.
Churches and individuals need to learn from this. Too many churches have gone the popularity route, chasing after the crowds, willing to dance to their song instead of staying focused on the purpose and the message of Christ. They preach a popular gospel instead of the truth of the Word so they can swell their ranks. Individuals do it as well to swell their "followers" because it gives them a rush to have so many people repeat their opinions, insights, and thoughts. Jesus knows these people as well and warns us against them. You, however, know who you are, whose you are and the purpose for which he has called you. His word is on your lips and in your heart. You don't care if the crowds are following you or not, you are determined, in the strength of the Lord, to stay true to the message he has given to you to share. My friends, stand firm then and refuse to give ground to the notion of popularity. To God be the glory!