They must come one by one
I was recently invited to write an article for a magazine, and it was to fit into the broad category of ‘The Life and Times of Jesus.’ In my background reading I was drawn to the phenomenon of crowds. Crowds are often mentioned in the Gospels, especially in the Gospel of Matthew.
To us living in Eastern Montana large crowds are almost unknown. But when we watch the news we see crowds. Some crowds are protesting, some are mourning, some are rioting. We suspect that the people in the crowds sometimes have been bussed in to make a statement, but some crowds really are spontaneous. Crowds can seemingly gather quickly in some parts of the world that are more densely populated.
Most of the crowds involving Jesus were of the spontaneous kind. He did not normally seek crowds. Sometimes the text tells us explicitly that He withdrew from the crowds, and yet they searched Him out and found Him in His solitariness. Crowds would have gathered probably easier in that time and place than here because people lived close together, likely few of them had jobs that were managed by the clock, and their common mode of transportation was walking.
In your opinion, why do crowds gather? I have an answer that someone may care to challenge, but let’s try it. I think they gather, at least when spontaneous, to see a spectacle. I think that’s been true throughout history. It can be almost any spectacle. When they are not spontaneous, the crowd itself may be the spectacle!
I read somewhere that over 100,000 would attend the Super Bowl held in 2015, and hundreds of millions more would watch on television. I was able to see some of the game, including the unexpected ending, but all in all it seemed quite like a football game. It was somewhat of a spectacle, but it seemed also that the commercials and half-time show were just as much of a spectacle, especially if you consider the amount of commentary they received. I didn’t pay much attention to the commercials and didn’t see the half-time show, so the game was really somewhat anticlimactic for me.
For a time, Jesus was the spectacle. They came to hear Him speak, but some, after hearing Him, quit coming--listening to Him could be convicting. Many came to see Him perform miracles, and that was a real spectacle!
There were many people in close proximity before Jesus’ trial and crucifixion, because it was one of the great festival times in Jerusalem. For that reason a crowd could easily gather. The crowd that did gather to cry “Crucify Him!” had leadership. We couldn’t exactly classify that crowd as spontaneous. And an effective leader can sway a crowd. In a crowd you might be willing for what you would not otherwise have the boldness to do.
After considering all that about crowds, I have to admit that I am more impressed with the times Jesus spent with just one or two people. Jesus consistently took time to answer questions individuals asked or to address the needs they brought. He honored them with personal attention.
It must have been very special for Mary of Bethany in Luke 10 to sit at Jesus’ feet and be His entire audience as Martha prepared the meal. Jesus commended her for choosing what could never be taken away from her.
How I would have loved to hear Jesus explaining to the two men on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24 all that the Hebrew Scriptures said about Himself. As far as we know, they were the only two to receive that message, and they weren’t even part of the twelve apostles. Yet they were privileged to return and announce that they had seen the risen Lord!
Crowds do not believe in Jesus and go to heaven as crowds. They must come one by one. Even when Jesus spoke to crowds, the invitation was for each to come as an individual. John 3:16 says literally that “the one believing in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” And Romans 10:13 adds in the singular that “whoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
Ultimately you cannot get lost in the crowd. God knows you as an individual, and you must know Him in the same way.
Arlie Rauch as been serving as pastor at Community Bible Church since 1990 and has lately been repairing his windmill.