by Ryan Beaty
Opiates and alcohol. Crack cocaine and heroine. Substances that have at times ensnared the masses and destroyed lives. Drugs of choice and medications for broken lives. Over the years these and other substances have been parlayed by humanity in attempts to feel whole, valued, or even distracted. While these and other pharmaceuticals are still readily available and in use today, the opiate of the masses and drug of choice for western culture in the 21st century is a different kind of chemical. It’s a chemical of our own brains, derived from our own egos, and as destructive, if not more, than any to have come before. What is the name for this scandalous force?
Today, more than anything else, all people want to be is famous. We have entire television networks dedicated to people who are only famous for being famous. You can be Twitter famous, Instagram famous, and YouTube famous. Talent is no longer a prerequisite for fame. Fame it seems, feeds fame. People are lauded over and paid millions of dollars for not bettering society. The voyeuristic nature of fame has made pariah out of the obsessed and the famous in turn are becoming increasingly resentful of the methods and people who made them famous.
As a result of this alarming reality, many Christian influencers have started using the term, “Make Jesus Famous” as way to combat the culture. And who can blame them? Getting people to turn their eyes from the ways of the world on to Jesus is the principle task of every believer. It is also a concept that stems from scripture.
John the Baptist is recording in scripture saying:
“He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30 ESV)
The problem is that the last thing Jesus ever wanted to be was famous.
We have seen over the centuries what has happened when people tried to make Jesus famous. From the abuses of the Catholic church to the modern days opulence of the televangelist, fame seems only to harm and damage Christ’s reputation, not enhance it.
In Matthew 4:1-11 we read about the temptation of Jesus by Satan at the end of His 40 day period of fasting and wandering the wilderness. The second temptation of Christ is recorded like this:
“Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written,
“‘He will command his angels concerning you,’
“‘On their hands they will bear you up,
lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”
Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” (Matthew 4:5-7 ESV)
Was this a temptation to test God? No. That is no temptation to anyone. That is the reason not to follow through on the temptation. The temptation was one to fame. Satan takes Jesus to the top of the temple and tries to persuade him to throw himself off the temple. Not only would Jesus not be hurt, he would be saved in a miraculous way with angels coming to His aide. Surely when the people below see this miraculous sign take place Christ’s fame will spread and everyone far and wide will come to and believe in Him and His message. It was a temptation towards being famous that Christ had to rebuff.
Want further proof? John 6 retells the story of Christ feeding the 5,000. It is a story told in every children’s church in the world. What is often overlooked is the final verse of that passage, verse 15.
“Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.” (John 6:15 ESV)
Jesus chooses isolation over fame. On three occasions he specifically tells those He healed not to reveal who had healed them. On a half dozen other occasions He withdraws from crowds who would try to make Him a spectacle. As a matter of fact it is only when He must act to fulfill scripture that Jesus ever allowed praise and adulation to come His way.
Fame is not the way of Jesus. It is not the way of the gospel. Fame is not the road of the Kingdom of God. The way of Christ’s Kingdom is truly found in the opposite, in the shadows of service, submission, and serenity.
Ryan Beaty is the founding pastor of VillageHouston, an Assemblies of God church located in urban Houston, TX. He is an avid reader, pop-culture nerd, and theology honk. He and his wife, Korista, live in urban Houston where Ryan also serves as the chaplain of an Episcopalian day school.