Sermon: Not Just One Of The Crowd
Scripture: Luke 19:37-40. 22:1-6, 47-48. 23:13-21,44-49
Date: March 20, 2016
Now this may come as a shock to some of you, but I was a pretty good kid when I was growing up. Which was a good thing because my older brother got in enough trouble for all of us. But occasionally I would get in trouble – doing something I shouldn’t or being somewhere I was not supposed to be or saying something I shouldn’t have said. And when my parents would confront me on it, I would often times trot out the old excuse that it wasn’t fair to punish me because “everybody was doing it, or everybody was there, or that’s how everybody is talking these days.” And my mother’s response was always the same. “Just because everyone is doing it, that doesn’t make it right. You need to think for yourself.” And I would be grounded or in the case of it being something I said, she would “wash my mouth out with soap.” Which certainly made me think the next time that I was tempted to follow the crowd. It didn’t always keep me from doing it, but I certainly spent some time evaluating whether the contemplated action would be worth the consequences if I got caught. But there were those times when I just got caught up in the crowd mentality, and to get along with my friends I just felt I needed to go along. But in time, I came to understand what my Mom was trying to teach me and I came to the realization that it was much better to lead the crowd rather than just follow along and that following the crowd is not always bad. But it all depends on who is leading the crowd.
Now I say all of this because as we have been on this Journey From Membership To Discipleship with Jesus we have talked on several occasions about the crowd of people who followed Jesus where ever He went as He journeyed and ministered, especially in Galilee – before He set His face towards Jerusalem. But, in the last couple of weeks, we’ve also talked about the fact that once He started towards Jerusalem, the crowd began to fall away. And I think that Jesus knew that would happen. He knew that most in the crowd had gotten caught up in the excitement, the crowd mentality. Many of them were following the crowd, more than they were Jesus. “Why do you follow the Nazarene?” someone might have asked. “Because everybody else I know is following Him” was the response. And at every turn there were the Pharisees and the Priests asking, “Just because everyone is following Him, does that make it right?” And so out of the crowd, Jesus had called twelve to be His disciples and He began to train them to think for themselves. And lesson number one is that there is a difference between being a Disciple and being just one of the crowd. The Disciples were twelve out of a crowd that swelled to great numbers. Consider for instance what happened near Bethsaida. Thousands were gathered to hear Jesus preach and teach and they got hungry. “Send them away Jesus. We can’t deal with such a crowd.” “No,” Jesus said, “don’t you get it yet. You feed them.” Only twelve among thousands, but yet Jesus expected them to lead the crowd, to fill them, to meet their needs. Some scholars suggest that the reason that the Disciples were able to feed all of that great crowd is because they led them into a crowd mentality of sharing whatever they had with one another and everyone was filled.
And so this morning we come to the next stop on our journey, or should I say “last stop?” (Show Full Map). Jesus had been pointed towards Jerusalem for some time now, though it is not clear just how long it had been since Luke says He had “set His face” for Jerusalem. Some suggest a few days, others suggest several months. But what has been clear in the telling in really all of the Gospels, was that on the road, more and more of the crowd fell away until in the end, many of the stories are just about Jesus and the twelve. And so as they are making their way up the Jericho road towards Jerusalem, on the last leg of the journey, Luke seems to imply that it is pretty much only Jesus and the twelve who are left. But as they draw closer to Jerusalem, Luke tells us that the “whole crowd of Disciples are there to greet Him and lead Him into the city.” Now don’t mistake this crowd for those that followed Him in Galilee. This is a new group of people. Judeans not Galileans. And it is not clear from Luke just how large the crowd is. He specifically mentions disciples but He is probably not referring to just the 12. Remember when He had called the 12 from the midst of the Crowd on the mountain outside of Capernaum, Luke tells us that they became known as Apostles. And so by using the term disciples here, Luke is telling us that there were more than just the 12 in the crowd. In fact, he specifically tells us that there were Pharisees in the crowd. John, in writing his Gospel remembers that Jesus stopped in Bethany to raise Lazarus on His way to Jerusalem. And that and the other miracles that Luke talks about along the road, seems to have generated a new crowd of followers who now gathered at the gate of Jerusalem. And they greeted Him as the conquering King that they expected the Messiah to be. Only He was the poor man’s King. Riding on a donkey, rather than a fine horse. Wearing a tattered shaw, rather than royal robes. And He did not come to rescue the nation, but came to rescue individuals like you and me. One writer says when He studies scripture, he tries to place Himself in one of the characters that are present at that moment, but that in the case of the passion story there are really only two main characters – the Savior and the crowd. Everyone else is just a bit player. And that since he is clearly not the Savior, then he must place himself in the crowd. Well I’m not sure I agree with such a narrow understanding of the important characters of Holy Week, but I do think it is important to stop and ask ourselves from time to time, where am I in the crowd. When Jesus is riding into Jerusalem, where am I? Am I shouting His praises? Hailing Him as my King? And when He is causing a ruckus at the Temple, am I still with Him? Or am I beginning to wonder, what is this all about? What am I doing here? And when I am with Judas in the garden, am I ready to kiss Him or defend Him?And in Pilates courtyard, is that me in my fear, yelling “crucify Him”? Oh I’d never do that. But then I suspect that most of those who waved Palms on Sunday, could never imagine that the crowd would turn on Him by Friday. Joshua Villines contends that it is not surprising that Jesus draws a crowd. He writes: Crowds flocked to hear Jesus. A whole crowd of people was healed simply by touching Jesus. Sometimes the crowd was so thick, that Jesus’ own family couldn’t reach Him. Jesus’s teachings and miraculous power were always sure to draw some sort of audience. What is surprising is how quickly and dramatically the crowds shift.
As Jesus made His way towards Jerusalem, He knew how quickly the sentiment of the crowd could shift from support to animosity and so the closer He got the more He separated from the crowds and spent His time with those whom He had personally called to be His Disciples. But as Holy Week begins on Palm Sunday, based on the news of the healings and the resurrection of Lazarus, the crowds are back. ((Show map o Jerusalem). And as He approaches the gates of Jerusalem they are shouting and singing His praises. Outside of the walls of the city, they are all in. Jesus is their Savior and King. He is beloved by the outcasts and the marginalized. The ones who have no place inside the city. In the Temple. But as He moves throughout the city during Holy Week the mood of the crowd shifts and the crowd that hails Him on Sunday as though they will follow Him anywhere, will line the route to Calvary on Friday, not nearly as supportive in the presence of the Roman soldiers. Oh they weep for Him as they would for any man condemned to death. But they don’t throw the palms at his feet. They don’t hail Him as King. And none will follow Him up the hill to the Cross. Rather than strain to touch Him, in fear now, they watch from a distance. On Sunday, they are emboldened by Jesus presence in their midst and they are ready to defy the Priests and the Pharisees and even the Romans. And as we journey through Holy Week with Jesus, there are several times when Luke tells us that the Priests feared the crowd. But once the Priests figure out how to separate Him from the Crowd, they were able to turn the crowd against Him. And the Palm Sunday shouts of Hosanna turned into the Good Friday chants of Crucify Him. And once again the crowd fell away. One writer puts it this way:
In the end, they kill the Messiah. Jesus dies an excruciatingly slow death by suffocation, carelessly thrown among the refuse of society. At the moment of His death the Sun is snuffed out. And then, as the veil in the Temple that kept the human priest from encountering the full presence of God is shredded by God’s own death; we encounter the crowd again. Stunned and horrified by what they had done, the crowd leaves the site of Christ’s murder beating their breasts in grief. . . . In their fear and shallowness they have put God, the very same God who loved and healed and touched them, to death. They decided that He wasn’t worth dying for, so they let Him die for them . . . For us.
That’s what happens when we follow the crowd rather than follow Jesus. And that’s why Jesus calls us to emerge from the crowd and be His followers, His disciples. Because members of the crowd will only follow Him so far, as long as there is safety in being a part of the crowd, but when the going gets tough they will fall away and follow others. But Disciples follow Him on the road, through the city wall, and the streets of the city and then back out the city gate and up a hill called Calvary. And, spoiler alert, next week the journey will take us out of the tomb into eternity. And here’s the thing we need to take with us today. And that is that the crowd, the church, the priests, the world, can not lead us into eternal life. Only Jesus can. And so He calls on us to leave the comfort and safety of the crowd and follow Him. Come and be my disciple.