All of us play to an audience.
This tendency to play to an audience – to do the things that we know will win us approval, applause and appreciation – starts very early in life. In fact, I am pretty sure it is innate. People manifest this tendency in different ways, but everyone does it.
Anyone who is a parent or grandparent knows what I am talking about. When my daughter Bethany was a preschooler, she concluded that she might be able to get out of potential punishments by fluttering her eyelashes. She overplayed her hand, though, at the age of four, by telling me her strategy. “You can’t punish me – I’m too cute”. When I finished laughing, I disciplined her nonetheless, even though it was hard to keep a straight face. And a generation later, the pattern continues. Bethany’s adorable nieces – my beautiful granddaughters Sophie and Alivia – are adept at the same game, and play their audience masterfully, although thankfully their parents have the wisdom to know when to play along, and when to burst the bubble.
Playing to an audience can be cute in a four-year-old. But this seemingly innocent game doesn’t stop when little Joey or Janie heads off to school. The audience keeps changing throughout life, and the strategies we use to impress people or win their approval may become more clever and subtle – but at bottom it’s really the same game, in many different forms. Make ’em think I’m smart, or cute, or sexy, or strong, or good, or otherwise impressive. Make ’em like me. Make ’em treat me well.
One of the remarkable things about Jesus is how free he was from this all-pervasive game, this compulsion to please people and win their favour. That’s because he was playing to a different audience. He did only what he saw his Father doing, and lived only for his Father’s pleasure.
Because of that, he could love even those who abused him and rejected him. When Jesus came riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, he knew exactly what he was doing, and he had no illusions about the outcome of his ride. He knew that he was fulfilling prophecy. He knew that he was God’s chosen one, destined to suffer for the sins of his people and the whole world. He knew that the leaders of Israel were even then plotting to destroy him, and that most of those who hailed him as King would turn away from him just a few days later. He knew that even Peter, his right-hand man, would crumble under the pressure of fear and deny knowing him. He knew that he was headed for a cross. He had warned his disciples about this months before. When he sweated drops of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane, waiting for one of his friends to betray him, wishing this cup of agony might pass from him, it was for their sake and ours that he stayed faithful. When he went into the heavenly sanctuary as Lamb and High Priest, he went for them – and for you and me. When he stands before the Father’s throne and intercedes for the souls of men and women, he’s doing it for those who denied him, rejected him and betrayed him. He’s doing it for us.
Jesus is the only one who can lay my heart bare with one deft stroke of the sword of his Word. He is able at one and the same time to wound me, comfort me and speak life and hope to me. He has exposed the twisted motives of my heart too many times to count, and untangled the tangled mess of my hopes, fears and desires so that I know which way I should walk. He does this because He loves me. Having given his life for me, he continues to plead for me, woo me, call me to himself, beautify me and prepare me until my transformation is complete, until I am clothed in glory together with all those who have responded to his call, and we enter in to the wedding feast as the glorious Bride that he had in mind from the beginning.
Jesus is able to finish what he started. He who began a good work in us will be faithful to complete it. We can count on him precisely because he doesn’t care about pleasing us. He loves me and you, but he’s not compelled to win our favour by doing what we want. He lives only to please his Father. He can’t be corrupted. He has stood the test and been found faithful. Jesus doesn’t stand before me to win my approval. He stands before his Father’s throne as the heavenly intercessor for me, and all those for whom he paid so high a price. And so, because we have a Passover Lamb and High Priest who cannot be swayed, one who is faithful through and through, one who is completely incorruptible – so unlike our fallen human leaders – because of this, we can be completely sure that he will always deal with us in truth, mercy and righteous, holy love.
There are many things about Jesus that move my heart and make me want to weep with gratitude. Today, I am thankful that – so unlike mine – Jesus’ heart is consistent; that, so unlike mine, his eyes are always locked in on his Father’s face; that, so unlike me, he is unswayed by the many voices that clamor at him to change. He hears every prayer and is sensitive to every cry; his heart is tender towards everyone who calls out to him; but he lives his life and walks his course for an audience of One. Not only that, but he has promised to make me like him. In fact, that’s the only basis on which he will receive me. Salvation is completely free – Jesus paid the ultimate price for my forgiveness – but there is a catch. I have to agree to one thing. I no longer belong to myself but him. That means he gets to do what he wants with my life. That means letting Jesus make me over again, from the inside out. I, too, have to learn to play to an audience of One.
Jesus, you said that if my eyes are good and my gaze is unswervingly locked in on you alone, then my whole being will be full of light. That really is what I want, Lord. I want my life to shine like a city set on a hill for all to see. Do for me what I can’t do for myself. Make me like you. Teach me to play to an audience of One.