Matthew 14:22-23 (NIV): Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone…
After Jesus fed the 5,000, the whole crowd was excited, figuring that He really was the Messiah, and wanting to declare Him the king of Israel on the spot. But Jesus knew their hearts, and what they planned to do. The easiest thing in the world to do at that point would have been to let the crowd have their way, get swept into Jerusalem on a wave of public approval, and figure that since it was all positive, that this was God’s way of moving the ball forward toward the ultimate goal. But Jesus knew better.
This was yet one more temptation that Jesus had to withstand in order to actually move forward – very similar, in fact, to satan’s offer of all the world’s kingdoms in exchange for a little worship. It was very tempting, because these people were coming very near to worshiping Him, which actually was in the end-game plan all along. But Jesus knew that their commitment to Him was not based on Who He truly was, or on what He had actually come to do, but only on what He had just done for them – providing healing and food. Their shallow adulation could easily be turned to rejection as soon as the “goodies” stopped flowing.
Even though Jesus knew all of this, this was still a powerful temptation to Him, and so He handled the temptation properly – He retreated from it by separating Himself from the crowd and going up on the mountain, and He sought the counsel and direction of His Father. That night, His vision was clarified and renewed, so that He was able to powerfully confront the issue head-on with the people (cf. John 6:25-71), even though it meant that many of those who had wanted Him to be their king turned away and chose not to follow Him any longer.
This temptation is not peculiar to Jesus. Many of God’s people have allowed themselves to get turned away from their calling and God’s agenda by public acclaim. They have assumed that, because people were flocking to them, and praising them, that they were “obviously” within God’s will. In a sense, they are using human though processes, human wisdom, to discern what is God’s will, much as Joshua did with the Gibeonites (cf. Joshua 9:1-27, especially vv14-15).
When things seem to be going well, extra caution is necessary to keep from being lulled into self-sufficiency and, ultimately, sin. Seek God’s face ALWAYS, most especially when it seems like things are going well enough to not need to. If Jesus needed to see God’s will in the midst of seeming “success” in order to avoid being led astray, His people need to do it even more!
Father, I can see how this can easily be a very subtle trap, and how many of Your people have fallen into it over the years, and have been ultimately led right off the path! Help me, Lord, to never grow self-assured or self-confident, but always, whether in times of trouble and frustration, or in times of success, to seek Your face, so that I can always stay right in the center of Your plan. Amen.