In Spirit Blog

I’ve always struggled with crowds.  Some of my loneliest times have been in the midst of a great mass of people, all engaged in something apparently very social or group oriented but somehow empty to me.  Not entirely sure why but believe that it may be something to do with the fickle nature of people when groupthink sets in.  Someone can be a hero one moment and a villain the next.

crowd

At this point in the 21st century, we seem to be obsessed with crowds and especially in gathering and counting them.  How many Facebook “friends” do you have?  Twitter followers?  Blog subscribers?  Website visits? Regular “attenders” at your meetings?  YouTube views?  Likes on your Facebook posts?  I trust you get the picture.  These are all modern measurements of our ability to gather a crowd or even crowd control.  Of course we are successful when we do since that means we are influencing many….or are we?

Jesus, the Nazarene, arguably the most influential person to ever set foot on this earth (even those who are not his followers would concede this) had a very different approach to  crowd control and management of large groups of people.  For example…

John 6 is a fascinating account of the rapid growth of followers of this increasingly famous prophet from Nazareth.  As we enter John 6, Jesus impact had been growing steadily through several healings which were increasing the attention on what he was doing. However things are about to go to another level when he feeds 5,000 people (John 6:1-14) by multiplying a small boy’s lunch of 2 fish and 5 barley loaves. The setting was on a hillside likely near the southern end of the Sea of Galilee opposite Capernaum in the Galilee region of Israel.  Jesus had just finished a particularly long day of teaching and the people were hungry.  Note that by the typical counting methods of the day there were likely 5,000 men present not including women and children.  The total number was probably much higher.  After this miracle, he now had the crowd’s attention and their reaction is noteworthy “Surely this is a Prophet who is to come into the world.” (v 14)  It’s interesting to note that no one had to tell the crowd this.  The supernatural event did the telling.  When a truly supernatural event happens, advertising is unnecessary.

At this point, the story takes an interesting turn.  In this day and age, we would be asking if anyone captured any video of the event so we could post on Facebook or YouTube as quickly as possible.  Get the message out.  Our ministry is on fire and it’s time to promote.  Not Jesus.  He does the opposite.  He retreats to a mountain to be alone.  He is so on a different page than us.

Then “When evening came, the disciples went down to the lake and got into a boat and set off across the lake for Capernaum.  By now it was dark and Jesus has not yet joined them.” (John 6:16-17)  Matthew and Mark also record this story so it was clearly very important.  During the trip across the lake a severe storm comes up threatening the lives of the disciples.  Jesus watches for awhile and then walks towards them on the water.  They were terrified but were wiling to take him into the boat. Good call guys!  Note to self: this is always a good idea during life threatening situations.

In a very short period of time the supernatural thermometer has risen dramatically and there is a definite buzz in the atmosphere.  So much so that the crowd recognizes that something significant is afoot and finds their way to Jesus and his disciples on the opposite shore.  It is fair to assume that this newly assembling crowd is likely much bigger and in a different frame of mind than the crowd that was fed earlier.  Word would have been spreading fast about the miracle working “Prophet”.  The group that now assembled near Capernaum was probably a mix of the 5,000+ that was fed and people who had heard the story.  Also, imagine the whispers in the crowd about the storm incident (do you really think the disciples said nothing?).  What about the detectives in the crowd who saw the disciples leave in a boat without Jesus and then heard that the boat arrived with Jesus in it?  Safe to say that the atmosphere was now electric.

At this point, Jesus not only does not use this opportunity to promote his ministry and capitalize on his new found fame but proceeds to do the opposite of what we would expect with this amped up and excited crowd:

In verse 26 he responds to the first question about how he got to Capernaum by saying    “I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and fishes and had your fill.” Jesus doesn’t simply accuse them of being “sign-seekers” but makes an even more negative statement by accusing them of only wanting to fill their stomachs.  When he had the opportunity to leverage his momentum further he commits marketing (or ministry) suicide by critizing his followers…but he is not done yet.

He then goes on to describe himself as the “bread from heaven” and “bread of life” and “having come down from heaven”.  This twists the crowd into knots and as they are still trying to figure out how Joseph and Mary’s kid “came down from heaven” he goes even further by saying that they are to “eat this bread” and then concludes with a provocative statement that unless they “eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you”.  (John 6: 53 – 54) It would appear that he is now advocating cannibalism.  Modern day political careers have been destroyed by less.

Wait, you say.  Jesus was just referencing a future time when we would all partake in communion in church and remember his body and blood as we take the sacraments wasn’t he?  Yes, that is true on one level however the people present at the time would have had no idea about that concept.  In fact, they would have seen this statement as completely contrary to Jewish law which forbade cannibalism and the drinking of blood.  Perhaps that is why they responded “This is a hard teaching.  Who can accept it?” (John 6:60)

At this point he has lost his momentum, lost the crowd and most leave the scene.  In modern terms, he has blown his opportunity… or has he?

Upon reflection, it seems that overall God is very unimpressed by a crowd and large gatherings of people.  In fact, as demonstrated by Jesus, he seems to delight in whittling them down to a handful.  Remember Gideon’s reduction of his fighting force from 32,000 to 300?  How about David and his 30 or so mighty men? Daniel and his 3 friends?  Jesus leaving the future of his kingdom in the hands of the 11 remaining disciples?

Have a look at Jesus life and notice all of the times where he avoids crowds, challenges large assemblies with teachings that he undoubtedly knows will drive most listeners away and is generally unimpressed with popularity.  In this day and age of mass-marketed spirituality, maybe we need to rethink some things.  Jesus’ form of crowd control seemed to be to drive them away.  We usually want to gather and attract more friends, followers and likes and certainly speaking to large gatherings of people is the way to influence the world… isn’t it?

Perhaps my aversion to crowds isn’t such a bad thing after all…

John Matthews

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Showing 10 comments
  • Mary Tucci
    Reply

    Well said John and how true. I love Jesus and how he always went to be alone with his father to be quiet and still that is where the strength was in his father.
    Jesus never wanted the lime light and was always pointing us to his father.

    I have been to many large gatherings and have watched people flock to the speaker as if they had something more than we could obtain or have from our heavenly father.

    I use to sit in these gatherings and watch as people make idols out of these people
    and I use to think what about Jesus where is he in all this I am pretty certain we are to look to Jesus not man.
    The longer I was a christian or I prefer to say JESUS lover I use to watch people in the gatherings I went to and I would watch these speakers promote their books and their cds and their next meetings and sometimes I would feel such a emptiness inside and wonder where was Jesus in all this crowd of people.
    Then I would go home and go to my special little place I had made in my home to be quiet and still and say awe here you are Jesus and be refreshed again.
    I am not saying that large gatherings are not good or bad I love when the saints gather together for worship in one accord its a powerful thing but their is something about being alone in the presence of our heavenly father.
    I keep praying that the Peacocks in our society would step aside and usher Jesus in instead of themselves.
    All eyes on JESUS let us not forget its about him not us.
    Thanks John once again for a thought provoking message.

    • James Thomas Canali
      Reply

      “I keep praying that the Peacocks in our society would step aside and usher Jesus in instead of themselves.” Yes Mary!

  • Jacob
    Reply

    Stellar points John. Unlike you, I was always drawn to the crowd. This resulted in “star-struckedness” and ultimately pining for a spot in the inner circle. It is in the last couple of years, especially the last one I have lost the desire for the crowd. It’s been so freeing.

    Thanks again for giving language to so many thoughts.

  • k.noel
    Reply

    dido

  • Jessica Sanders
    Reply

    Great insights, I really enjoyed reading this, and was reminded of some important truths.
    -I’ve always felt similarly empty in crowds, and more satisfied in deep connection with a handful of people.
    -Also loved remembering the rebel side (my interpretation) of Jesus…it seems like He really didn’t care what “everyone” thought, unless it was relevant to either relationship, or the Kingdom. -He always spoke the truth, whether it was good, bad, ugly, or humorous, regardless of public opinion…tells it like it is..
    (To me, this also shows how trustworthy He is.)
    -Something that really speaks to my heart process in this season, is how He was always authentic, unapologetic, and true in the moment.

  • Back 2 Eden
    Reply

    Excellent discussion and comments everyone. Glad that this blog struck a chord with you. Here’s to solitude and the increasing revelation that we are amongst a great cloud (a.k.a. crowd) of witnesses!

  • Edualdo Cicero
    Reply

    It’s always good to realize that Jesus didn’t want people to follow him for any other reason than wanting to know His Father and bringing people to that revelation through the signs He performed. YES!! So right on … Jesus looks for sold out people that have a desire to honor the Father for who He is and not just for what He does that makes me feel good, brings that blessing, that healing, that provision, etc.

    From the feeding of the 5,000 men (+ a few more thousands with women and children) to the appearing of Jesus to the 500 after His resurrection and then down to the 120 at the Upper Room we do get the point that numbers were not a big concern for Jesus at that point because He knew He would eventually draw all men to Himself (John 12:32).

    Basically, God loves crowds and will not despise the one isolated soul that needs His touch. But He will not be controlled by any motivation that would want to put Him into a box of expectations which would limit His sovereignty, His desire to manifest His true nature and His ways and plans that could be light years from our own!!!!

    SHALOM to ALL
    Edualdo
    VISION OF THE HARVEST – TAHITI

    • Back 2 Eden
      Reply

      Good points Edualdo, especially the one about Jesus not just into doing what makes people feel good. Isn’t that often the motivation of crowds?

      I assume what you mean by the comment that “God loves crowds” is that He loves the individuals in the crowds since He knows them each by name? Perhaps Jesus odd habit of saying something controversial that dispersed crowds was to cause people to respond as individuals and not as part of a large gathering of people operating in groupthink? The incident of the woman caught in adultery is brilliant in this regard. Jesus response to the angry mob was to isolate each individual in the group with his wisdom such that they had to be accountable for their own decisions and actions toward the woman.

      Great blessing to you all in Tahiti

      • Edualdo Cicero
        Reply

        Yes John! Basically I meant that Jesus loved the people in the crowds (and still does) and was not against the idea of having tons of people listening to what He had to say because He had a compassion on them all. These large gatherings gave Him the opportunity to make the message known to many at once. He is a personal God no matter how many people are around you and He can be so close to your heart in any situation. I’m personally not shying away from crowds coz some folks’ only chance to hear the Truth will be in such settings. But I’m also fully aware that the best way to disciple a person unto the Lord is via a personal and loving connection with a small group of very driven folks that have a passion for their Lord!

        I remember the testimony of T.L. Osborn (the father of stadium Gospel outreaches in Africa) who shared his personal experience with Jesus and whom I have come to know in Tulsa (USA) long time ago. Jesus came to his room one night (during an evangelistic campaign to thousands of people in Africa). T.L. mentioned to me that as Jesus sat at the foot of his bed (while his wife was fast asleep), He thanked T.L. for giving Him the opportunity to make the message of the Gospel available to the many that needed to hear and experience the power of God to heal, save and set the captives free. It was a very emotional moment for T.L. to share this experience that obviously marked him personally. I’ll never forget how deep it must have felt for this evangelist to realize that Jesus himself was so thankful for this endeavor in reaching out to the masses that needed to hear …

        I’ve also personally experienced a sense of awe in very large settings of many thousands of people that have come with the same passion to praise, honor and worship the One they revere above all!! But overall, you’re right, a large crowd is not meant to be the warrant of true spiritual success or higher spirituality. The presence of God is a definite must and must be cultivated in any setting!

  • James Thomas Canali
    Reply

    It’s funny how little the very people that could claim to be God’s chosen people knew their God. What distracted them!?

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