Flattery will endear you to those who lack discernment, but a student of humanity will seldom be duped. Time, experience, and relational woundings will sharpen the gaze of any individual who is lauded by peers and trusted companions alike. It amazes me how our discernment is so dreadfully askew when we are lathered with applause, whether we believe it to be deserved or not.
We see Jesus' approach to flattery in John 2:23-25:
"Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people, and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man." - John 2:23-25
Jesus would not be fooled. Their words mattered little. Their veneration fell impotent. Words are nothing to the One who discerns our thoughts and motives before those words are ever uttered. This is why true worship has nothing to do with catchy music, clever lyrics, or moving lights, at least not the worship that matters to God. Worship is the echo of our heart's posture toward Him. It cannot be hidden. It cannot be faked. Jesus drove this sentiment in Matthew 15:8 when He chastised the Pharisees, "These people honor Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me."
Their lips and their heart were not aligned and it was as obvious as a spaghetti stain on a white shirt.
I recently officiated a wedding and attended the reception the following morning. While waiting for the festivities to begin I had the opportunity to connect with a couple at my table. We hit it off and began sharing stories of our past. I told the husband how I came to be a Pastor and he shared how he used to be a semi-pro baseball player. While we were standing in line waiting patiently for some fresh Belgian waffles with bourbon pecan syrup, I asked him about his baseball playing days.
"Do you miss it?" I asked. "Do you miss playing baseball for a living?"
"No." he replied. "Not at all. Well, that's not true. I don't miss the routine. I don't miss the practice. In fact, the only thing I miss is people cheering for me from the stands, calling out my name."
I wonder if he dreams about those moments - the moments when people roused him to new heights through their adoration. I wonder if the silence of the mundane makes his past accomplishments feel meaningless or meaningful. It seems he exchanged one routine, glazed with tribute, for another where the only time his name is mentioned is when he has to take out the trash, put the kids to bed or do the dishes.
We place a great deal of value on the praise of people. Too much value. The people who praised Jesus on Palm Sunday are the same who turn their backs five days later as their liberator seemed unable to save Himself, let alone an entire nation. Jesus understood the fickle nature of humanity. He understood the nonsense of flattery, its unintended condescension. If people really believed He was who He said He was, would they not have paused to search their hearts before opening their mouths (Psalm 139)?
Jesus knew them and He did not entrust Himself to them.
He didn't need someone to pull Him aside and vouch for the Messianic cheerleaders. He knew them. He didn't need a hype man, a crew, a posse, to pump Him up for the next miracle. He knew who He was, and He knew them.
He knows me.
He knows when I'm going through the motions. He knows when I'm disconnected. He knows when I don't want to get up early to read His word. He knows when what I say and what I think are not aligned. He knows when I'm cranky. He knows when I drift. He knows when I doubt myself. He knows when I don't think I'm enough. He knows my sinful thoughts.
He knows me.
He knows when I'm being sincere. He knows when my praise is genuine. He knows when my motives are pure. He knows when I'm repentant. He knows when I'm drawing close to Him, listening for His voice.
Jesus didn't entrust Himself to them, but I so desperately want Him to entrust Himself to me. Jesus knows His own, and His own know Him (John 10:14). I don't want to be among the crowds who followed His miracles but denied His mantle.
So my prayer will be, "Search me, oh God. See through me. Reveal to my mind the condition of my heart and revive them both. Give me a renewed mind and a clean heart. Remind me of your omniscience. Remind me that everything is laid open before you. I want to be a man You entrust with Your gospel and Kingdom purpose."
After all, what good are the cheers from the stands if you lose the game?