Popularity is a difficult phenomenon to figure out. What causes it; what dims it; with whom does it begin; what mixture of public desire and personal charisma accounts for a particular person being thrust into the limelight? How much depends upon the seeking of the popularity in the first place? Jesus certainly had the floor when he spoke to the crowds in John 12:27-36:
27 “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” 30 Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not mine. 31 Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die. 34 So the crowd answered him, “We have heard from the Law that the Christ remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” 35 So Jesus said to them, “The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. 36 While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.”
When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them.
I suppose one could have an interesting though fruitless discussion over the question of whether Jesus was actually seeking the attention of the crowds that invariably gathered wherever he went. It seems reasonable to conclude that simply the doing and saying of the deeds and words he offered would be enough to bring ample attention. No further PR needed. But what if the deeds and words, probably heavily weighted toward the former, detracted from the overall purpose? Should one remain in the spotlight for as long as the market will bear one’s presence and style? What would it have hurt for Jesus to hang around a little longer, thereby drawing greater attention to his mission? Would not five years, or ten or twenty, rather than three yield greater visibility and wider acceptance?
Apparently not. We are best served by accepting the New Testament’s later witness to the idea that it was “in the fullness of time” that Christ came, and that “at the right time” he died for sinful humanity. On the other hand, the rightness of the time had to do with how his visibility would be expanded, not diminished. He did not come primarily to draw crowds, but to redeem them. And he knew that in order for that to happen his death in a very public and very demeaning fashion had to occur.
There are many reasons for which I have heard people being encouraged to “come to Christ.” Some of them make me cringe. The cringing comes because there was no necessity, no reason for a crucifixion if those reasons having to do with self-fulfillment, purpose, blessing, better relationships, etc., were the purposes for which he came. In that case, the cross is not a triumph but a tragedy to be explained. He should have stayed and gathered more crowds. But in his unsearchable wisdom, he knew our own hearts and minds very well; and in that wisdom he knew that drawing people toward redemption was far greater a purpose than wowing them with words or deeds, of which we would eventually have wearied were it not for his being lifted up. On a cross. Which continues to speak. May we never offer a Christ without it.