D.H. Lawrence once wrote a short story called The Rocking Horse Winner. It tells the story of a family who are outwardly, successful but behind the scenes there is great anxiety about money. The anxiety is heightened by a lifestyle that is beyond their means. The money worries become so intense that their children can feel as though they hear the house whispering “There must be more money”.
One Christmas their little boy is given a rocking horse as a present. Somehow he find that if he rides his rocking horse long enough he can predict the names of winners in horse races. Over time, with the help of his uncle and the gardener, he earns a small fortune that he anonymously gives to his mother. As Derby day approaches, he gets on his rocking horse. He rides the horse for hours, until he eventually has the name of the winner revealed. The horse wins the family £80000, but the young lad, is so exhausted that he dies the next day.
Pure fiction, maybe. A morality tale, perhaps. A criticism of materialism, definitely. However, it illustrates what can happen when we listen to the wrong voice.
As the time of His crucifixion approached, Jesus had differing voices contending for his attention.
On Palm Sunday, the voice of approval spoke loudly. He was hailed as a Messianic king. Though He came in peace, the palm branches strewn before Him symbolised a desire for revolution and the hope that Jesus would be that revolutionary leader. The voice of expectation almost always accompanies the voice of approval. Jesus refused to allow His mind to be controlled or His mission to be compromised by either. He did not need the crowd’s approval, although He accepted it. And though He received their worship, He was no slave to adulation.
How we handle popularity and approval might reveal as much about us as how we handle opposition and setback. A desire for approval can become an addiction as spiritually lethal as any physically destructive narcotic. A need for constant approval more than likely indicates poor spiritual and emotional health.
The temptation, especially for leaders, is to live off the approval of others, and to enslave ourselves to their expectations.
Five days later the voice that was clamouring for Jesus’ attention was a completely different one. The voice of approval and the voice of expectation had yielded to the voice of rejection.Voices that had shouted His praise the previous Sunday were now among those calling for His death.
What might be hard for us to take in is that Jesus was as much, if not more, in the will of His Father, when a hostile crowd and hostile religious leaders were calling for Him to be crucified! The reason that I believe that this is hard for us to take in, is that most people do not question whether or not they are in the will of God when life is going well, but they do question their spirituality and calling when life is difficult. Yet Jesus was every bit as much in the will of God in Pilate’s judgment hall, as He was when the crowds welcomed Him as king.
Handling rejection and opposition is a skill that any Christian in general, and any Christian leader in particular, must learn. Jesus taught His disciples this skill. Peter devoted most of his first epistle to instruction on how to cope with suffering. And how to do it without allowing rejection to shape your identity.
How did Jesus resist the voices of approval and rejection?
I would suggest that He was able to resist both because there was another voice that He heard more loudly and heeded more intently. That voice was the voice of His Father’s affirmation.
On two occasions the Father had spoken from heaven affirming Jesus as His beloved son (at Jesus’ baptism, Matthew 3.14; and at the transfiguration, Matthew 17.5). In that week leading up to the crucifixion, the Father spoke again, intensifying the affirmation that He had previously spoken over His Son: “Then a voice came from heaven, ‘I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.’” (John 12.28). Amazingly, Jesus was already so secure in His Father’s love that He said the voice was for the benefit of the people!
Knowing the Father’s love is the key to faithful and effective ministry. It is also the key to emotional and spiritual stability. It is a knowledge of His love that can guide us through the confusing voices that call for our attention at Easter or any other time of the year. May the voice of His affirmation echo throughout your heart and mind, however loud the voices of approval or rejection.