“At once the news about him spread throughout the entire vicinity of Galilee.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Some people are attention hounds. They’ll do whatever they can to get people to pay attention to them. Sometimes the antics are positive and funny, sometimes they’re more unsavory, but attention is the goal. Social media has allowed for the creation of more of these folks than have ever existed in the past. There are people whose entire lives are spent finding new ways to get people to notice them. Jesus wasn’t like that at all, but He got it all the same.
One of the themes that pulses in the background of all four Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life is the crowds that dogged Him everywhere He went. Sometimes they liked Him, sometimes they hated Him, but He didn’t go many places where they didn’t follow.
And, can you blame them? Jesus put on a good show. One thing you could count on if you were around Jesus was that He was going to say or do something that would leave everybody talking. Sometimes that was His goal, but often it wasn’t. In fact, in the wake of several different miracles, Jesus was explicit in telling the people He healed to not tell anybody about what had happened to them. Right. Not a single person actually listened to that command which, of course, just made Him all the more popular and the crowds that followed Him even larger.
As far as Jesus’ relationship with the crowds goes, things tended to be complicated. He loved the people who followed Him. That was never in doubt. But He didn’t trust them. He was constantly wary of their attempts to try and force Him to do what they wanted instead of sticking with His plans. The crowds were good to have around because they helped shield Him from the nefarious plans of the religious leaders who wanted Him dead. They also helped spread the word of His teachings from place to place. But, He also knew that most of them were there for the show and not the substance. They were fickle. The moment things got hard or weird, they were gone. He understood that if you live by the crowds, you’ll die by the crowds too.
As I was thinking about all of this last night, my mind went to the church’s relationship with crowds today. Our relationship with the crowds around us is a little like Jesus’ relationship with them was–tumultuous. There are some folks who think the church should try and gather the largest crowds it possibly can (at least, this was the goal before COVID) because then more people are hearing about the Gospel. Also, crowds tend to generate bigger crowds. Eventually a crowd starts to create its own gravitational pull. More people mean more conversions, more ministry, more resources. This is good.
Then there are churches that go in the complete opposite direction. Huge crowds are not for them. In fact, they take their small size as a badge of honor. God moves in small places more effectively than He does in big ones anyway.
So, which is right? How about we just go with, “Yes.”
People can get lost in large crowds pretty easily. But, if you don’t have a steady stream of non-Christians engaging with your church, then you probably aren’t making many disciples and then what are you doing?
But then, think about this: Why did the crowds follow Jesus in the first place? Because of the things He said and the things He did. The things Jesus said and did were what drew the crowds in because no one had ever done or said anything like that before. They were new and different from what the world had ever seen. They were better than anything the world had created. The world couldn’t produce things like that.
Are you with me? When the church says and does the kinds of things Jesus said and did, it’s going to attract people the way Jesus attracted people. The size of crowds are going to vary depending on a number of different factors, but people are going to take notice. Now, we must absolutely not live and die by the crowds, and if the crowds are celebrating everything we’re doing, there’s a good chance we’re starting to drift away from the Gospels because the crowds didn’t celebrate everything Jesus did, but when people are taking notice of what we’re doing because we are doing what Jesus did, that’s not a bad thing. In fact, it’s a good thing.
So, don’t go looking for crowds by any stretch. Instead, commit to doing and saying the kinds of things Jesus did and don’t be ashamed of doing and saying them. When you do, the world will take notice and come near. Then, you can begin proclaiming the Gospel to a listening audience. The crowds aren’t the measure of your faithfulness, but they can be a pointer to the fact that you’re doing something right. Keep doing it.