I’ve noticed that Jesus is often vamoosing amidst a society of people frantically promoting fame. Our appetite for “likes”, and validation, and flattery is crazed and exorbitant. But Jesus did all kinds of impressive stuff, and never once felt the need to publish His performance on Instagram, TikTok, or any other self-adulation platform. For instance, there was this one time when Jesus thaumaturgically healed a dude who had been an invalid for 38 years, and when people asked the dude who healed him, he couldn’t say, because Jesus had withdrawn before claiming any credit (see John 5:13). Jesus wants us to seek the glory that comes from God, which is to say, Jesus wants us to follow Him (because Jesus IS the glory that comes from God); and specifically, Jesus wants us to follow Him in withdrawing from man’s empty praise. We can either seek attention and approval, or we can seek Jesus. Jesus says, “How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?” (John 5:44).
This theme of wise withdraw shows up all over John’s gospel. Another example is found in chapter 6, where a large crowd of people attempt to take Jesus by force and make Him king; and Jesus reacts by withdrawing (again) to a mountain by Himself.
Jesus hates it when we attempt to have Him on our terms. Jesus will not tolerate our agenda to reduce Him to anything less than our Maker and Master. Jesus withdraws because we want to neuter and domesticate Him. We want to commodify Jesus, or weaponize Jesus, or informationalize Jesus. Jesus condemns and circumvents our evil aspirations to tame Him and make Him our trophy, or our textbook, or our ordnance. Simply put, Jesus is not offering us information, He is offering us transformation. Jesus says, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about Me, yet you refuse to come to Me that you may have life.” There is a big difference between accumulating Bible knowledge, and actually following Jesus.
In John chapter 7 Jesus’ brothers are contemptuously cajoling Him to show Himself to the world via a public appearance at a big Jewish festival. Jesus responds by saying, “I am not going to the festival.” But after His brothers had gone to the festival, then Jesus went as well, but not publicly but in private. Jesus eventually ends up teaching at the festival, and people can’t help but marvel at His insight and authority, but then Jesus squanders any popularity He might have gained by pointing out that we are all obsessed with ourselves, and we judge by appearances, and we want Jesus dead because He won’t endorse our lifestyle.
Later in chapter 7 Jesus says, “You will seek Me and you will not find Me. Where I am you cannot come.” Apparently, Jesus is going to wisely withdraw to such a radical degree, it will be absolutely impossible for us to find Him according to the flesh (because the flesh is no help at all when it comes to actually finding and following Jesus [see John 6:63]). The apostle John experienced what Jesus is talking about here in a very personal way. John and his brother James approached Jesus one day, asking Him to endorse their obsession with self-adulation. Jesus responded by asking them if they really wanted to follow Him where He was going; Jesus said, “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” John and his brother were confused (at best) by what Jesus was asking them, and they answered Jesus in the strength of their flesh (i.e. they heaped up empty words, and proudly peacocked and crowed a profession of hollow devotion). But in the face of our piety pride, and information-oriented elitism, and vain boastings; Jesus is actually committed to authoring true faith and followership in us! So Jesus says to John and his brother, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized.” In other words, “You will be brought along by the Spirit into the wise-withdraw!” You will decrease, and Jesus will increase. You will be crucified with Christ, and your egotistical flesh will no longer dictate your life, but the life you live in the flesh you will live by faith in the Son of God, who loved you and gave Himself for you! You will not simply possess information about Jesus, you will be transformed by Jesus! You will know Jesus and the power of His resurrection, and you will share in His sufferings, and become like Him in His death. Your paradigm of greatness, and your aspirations, will no longer be “likes” and titles, and flattery; but you will actually embrace and enjoy the fact that the greatest amongst us are those who wisely withdraw and serve in secrecy, and in the shadows, and in slavery to all!
For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.