What is in Man

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.

I sometimes forget this passage and what it signifies for those who believe in the Name of Jesus.  It’s easy to get sidetracked by people’s opinions and begin to trust them too much; to get so blinded by the praise or criticism of those who have no heart or love for God—and even those who do.

The good or bad opinion of someone given over to belief in us because of something we’ve done for them or in front of them is not all that trustworthy really.  Three years after Jesus began His ministry, thousands rejected Him outright.  If He judged Himself according to their fickle opinion of Him, He would be one very confused man/God.

But He didn’t.

I went to Vine’s Expository Dictionary and found the word which in the NIV is rendered “entrust” and in the KJV, “commit” to find the word meant “to be entrusted with” or “to commit to one’s trust.”  Young’s Concordance gives another word “confide” to expand our grasp of what is being said here.  In other words, Jesus wouldn’t trust the flaky, transient nature of human good will for He knew how volatile and inconsistent it could be.  He had the Father’s testimony so human perspective meant nothing as far as what He knew or thought of Himself.

At the same time, everyone has to trust someone else sometime as far as perspective is concerned, otherwise no one would ever take advice or become wise.  The difference between what John is saying here and the human experience is this:  Jesus didn’t believe His own press.  In fact, I doubt He really listened to it much, if at all—unless, like in Nicodemus’ case, He couldn’t escape the comments.  But if we read that story in the very next few verses of John 3, we see Jesus deflecting Nicodemus’ praise or “testimony” about Him by redirecting him immediately into truth.  It’s almost as if He says non-verbally,  “Yeah, yeah, thanks.  You’re impressed but not convinced or committed, what good is that?”

Nicodemus happened to be a very influential man who’s support could garner Jesus much goodwill in powerful circles, yet Jesus wasn’t impressed by this man’s connections or good opinion of Him; which is very disturbing when you’re the one handing out the compliments or praise.  I doubt Nic was used to anyone not stopping to listen when he chose to criticize or praise because the rich and powerful get used to being deferred to automatically by the rest of the world.  Even people who disagree with a powerful person react to them out of a knowledge of the place they hold in society.  A vehement over-reaction to a leader’s words or deeds usually tells the tale of the powerless screwing up their courage to confront or counter whatever that person in power represents at the time.

Jesus didn’t do anything but redirect Nic’s attention to truth.  He wasn’t interested in the man’s opinion of Him nor impressed by his status in the world for what He wanted from Nicodemus was beyond him at the time.  Jesus works on the heart before anything else.  A person’s actions might change to adjust to society’s demands for a public peace all the while harboring deep seated brokenness behind the smooth words or facades of social decorum.  True change, however, always begins in the heart of a person’s being.  Anyway, the only change worth anything at all is one where the thoughts precede the action taken.

We’ve been warned by the Master in several places to beware of the praise from fellow humans.  When one thing is true, the other side of the coin is too:  Beware of the criticism of others as well.  The good or bad opinion is meaningless without a healthy relationship to go along with it.  Anyone who praises us declares their authority to do so, which means they are giving us their opinion based on what they think it’s worth to us to hear their praise.  If we look at praise in this way, we can see John’s slant a bit clearer.  A man who accepts another man as good does so with a sort of socially accepted authority to do it, which in turn testifies to society’s right to give or take a person’s worth.

Jesus didn’t need man’s testimony about man because He already knew us to be broken, fallen and blinded by sin’s effects.  To gain the good opinion of the masses is like having the river smooth out for a time because eventually we know there will be rapids and they will test our ability to survive.  A crowd of people can turn ugly on quickly if what they want is thwarted and Jesus knew the good will of those who “believed in Him” didn’t spring up from deep roots.  Public opinion goes with the miraculous and celebrates the facades.  However, when we get too powerful, those who watch those of us who reach the pinnacle of human wealth and power will celebrate our downfall just as much.  The good will of the people in Jesus’ POV was too fickle to depend on for His identity or work.  He refused to even ride the river of human opinion about Him—good or bad.

And here is where we meet the lesson we need to take away from this text.

We cannot depend on the praise or criticism of anyone but must check and balance these against God’s Word.  It is not enough for a brother or sister in Christ to confront someone else about their sin, for they must be willing to continue the journey to wholeness if they take this step.  If anyone one of us feel the call to confront another about their life or brokenness, it means we are being called to journey with them as they heal, grow and step away from what is dragging them down.  The call to “make disciples” is one which signifies teaching the disciplines of Christ, not merely bringing someone to God’s Word and letting them run amok or flounder.  The discipline of Christ is to be wise toward God, and this takes time and input from someone with knowledgeable experience to guide.

Yet here’s where we make our mistake the most often:  If the praise of other humans makes us feel good about ourselves, we will be devastated by their criticism.  In other words, the moment we accept their praise as valid and authoritative, we open up our hearts to receive the criticism the same way.  The moment we put value on someone’s good opinion of us is the same moment they hold sway over our self-worth.

I don’t think Jesus was conceited or self-absorbed, which is another danger to navigate in these tricky waters of self-perception.  This is precisely why I believe both the gospels and the apostles commanded us to find our worth through the eyes of God via the cross.  Our worth to God is infinite and should be calculated by the price He was willing to pay for us—His Son.  Jesus’ Father declared at His baptism,  “This is my Son, I love and I’m pleased with Him!” Deciding His worth based on the tide of human feelings would have put God’s opinion on par with man’s.  With God as His witness, Jesus already had all the praise He needed to be confident in His worth.

And so do we.

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