Most elite or professional athletes begin their sporting careers as relative unknowns. Some appear to come out of nowhere and are plunged into the spotlight when they deliver clutch performances – a move from obscurity to popularity. That same popularity, however, can be fleeting and often turns to opposition.
I recall a boxer named Leon Spinks. After only 8 professional fights he found himself in the biggest match of his life, arguably fighting against the greatest boxer the world had ever seen – Muhammed Ali. Despite being a huge underdog, on February 15, 1978 Spinks won the match becoming the heavyweight champion of the world. Spinks was at the peak of his sport and the world loved him. He was beloved and had a huge entourage and fan base who followed his every move. This fame, however, was short-lived. After losing a rematch to Ali 7 months later, he was never able to regain his form. According to an article in TheSportser, “He tried to retire in 1988 and worked as a restaurant greeter in Chicago, but down on hard times, he tried to make another run for a boxing title, returning to the ring in 1991. However, fans saw him as a shell of the boxer who had beaten the greatest of all time.” A man who was the toast of the town, was now of no interest to the fickle fans.
If you read the book of John, you will see that Jesus’ life followed the same pattern of Obscurity, Popularity and Opposition. Each of those phases lasted only about one year. Prior to the miracle where he turned water to wine (John 2:1-11), Jesus was just an unknown son of a carpenter, but after seeing Jesus perform many miracles, the people believed in the words that Jesus spoke (John 2:23) and they revered him and were drawn to him. But not long after (John 19), we see Jesus in a court with the crowds cheering “Take Him Away! Take Him Away! Crucify Him!” (vs. 15).
What I find interesting is that Jesus had a very healthy understanding of popularity. I think we, as believers, would have been very tempted to enjoy the moment as those around us came to a place of belief, but consider what the Bible says, “23 Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, many people saw the signs he was performing and believed in his name. 24 But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people. 25 He did not need any testimony about mankind, for he knew what was in each person.” (John 2: 23-25).
There is great wisdom in Jesus’ approach. We too should learn from his example of not growing too excited when things are going well, and also not getting too low in the difficult times. And most importantly don’t allow other people to be your indicator of your “successful” service for Christ and certainly not your value, for you also need to know “what [is] in each person” (vs. 25). We are by very nature a fickle people who are challenged by our sin nature, so using other people as your measure of value or worth is very dangerous. Your affirmation needs to solely come from your good Father in heaven for his love for you is not fickle and is not dependent on your performance. Remember that you are called to play music to only one conductor. Make it your goal to one day hear: “well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matthew 25:21a).