I think we can be honest with each other… There is no feeling quite like being on the receiving end of an audience’s praise. It can be intoxicating. All of us want the approval of others. The only real question is whose approval we are ultimately seeking.

The temptation to get another person clapping, one more standing ovation, a few more chuckles… a couple of clicks and likes and shares and follows… It can drive even strong men to do silly, debasing things. Just consider the stunts local TV and radio personalities will perform during ratings week!

None of this new. It is why, after spending 40 days alone in the wilderness, Jesus was offered the chance to receive the admiration and acclaim of thousands through a flashy performance. The temptation to be “loved” by the world is a sin common to all men.

In the Gospel of Matthew, we find that the tempter took Jesus to the top of the pinnacle and urged him to jump off. Satan then cited a couple of passages from Psalm 91: “For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.”

That alone is a pretty cool thought, but we have to understand the deeper cut. In the popular culture of the time, there was a belief that the conquering warrior-messiah would make himself known by floating to the ground at the temple with angels. Jesus would have been aware of that messianic caricature.

He, therefore, had to have known how the crowds in Jerusalem would have reacted if they saw him floating to the ground, aided by angels. In succumbing to the temptation, Jesus would have used His divine power for His exaltation. He knew that exultation was coming, but not now and not like this.

Jesus would have none of it. He quoted a line from Deuteronomy: “You shall not put the LORD your God to the test.”

Yet, consider just how often we allow our soul to be tested as we seek the applause of men.

In the world of political engagement, there is no shortage of opportunities to receive ego-stroking praise. Most politicians go bad not because they are bribed or bullied, as many want to believe, but because they get addicted to the adoration.

I have seen time and again, the cheerleading squad of lobbyists and advisors turn an otherwise right-thinking legislator inside out. First, they tell them how smart they are. Then, they suggest that only a smart man would be able to see the principled wisdom of doing that which they know to be wrong. This is followed by loud cheers when the politician does it. Selling out starts not with money, but praise. The cash comes after the fact to reaffirm the deal.

The Apostle Paul understood this temptation. In his letter to the Galatians, he wrote, “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.”

We should look to Jesus. He sought the approval of the Father, not the masses who might cheer a raucous display of divinity.

As the citizen-leaders of our self-governing republic, we need to set aside the temptation to be applauded in the here-and-now. Our desire should not be for the faint praise of men but the loving embrace of God.


Hippos (Sussita National Park, Israel)

Laughing at Legion

God seems to delight in a subversive humor that puts tyrants in their place.