Jesus had a very interesting relationship with the crowds of people who followed Him. Time after time, we see where Jesus healed the crowds, preached to the crowds, taught the crowds, and had compassion on the crowds. But there are also unique occasions where Jesus seemed to intentionally agitate the crowd that gathered, flee from them, or to almost intentionally drive them away. This is a fascinating study in contrasts.
Here are a few instances that show what I'm talking about:
Here are two instances where Jesus seemingly flees from the crowds:
"Now when Jesus saw a crowd around him, he gave orders to go over to the other side." (Matthew 8:18)
"Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed." (Luke 5:15-16)
Here is an occasion where Jesus seems to almost say the exact opposite of what the crowd came to hear:
"As the crowds increased, Jesus said, “This is a wicked generation. It asks for a miraculous sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah." (Luke 11:29)
And the kicker is in Luke 6 where Jesus seemingly gives a teaching He knew would be so hard for the crowd to hear that it would drive away many of them. Recall that this is the passage where Jesus tells the crowd that unless they "ate the flesh of the Son of Man" and "drank His blood" they'd have no life in them (John 6:53). Even the disciples grumbled that this was a hard teaching (John 6:60). The result? "From this time on many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him" (John 6:60).
What are we to make of Jesus' peculiar interactions with certain large crowds? After all, if numbers equaled success, why wouldn't Jesus want to draw the biggest crowds possible?
I think Jesus knew what every Christ-follower has realized from that moment until today: Following Christ is hard. Jesus wanted (and wants) real disciples. And Jesus knew that the some of the crowds weren't interested in following Him. They were motivated by any number of personal agendas and needs, but real discipleship wasn't one of them.
I think there is a great lesson for us to be learned here, and it is this:
Beware the large crowds!
If you're drawing a huge crowd in your youth ministry, you should be asking yourself one question, and asking it often: Are the crowds coming because the Gospel is being preached? Or are they coming for any other number of reasons?
Crowds can be an awesome sign that the power of the Spirit is moving in your ministry. But it might mean something else . . .
- It might mean you're preaching a watered down version of the Gospel.
- It might mean that you're feeding the senses, but not the heart.
- It might mean that you are delivering entertaining experiences but not calling students to follow Christ above all else.
Do you have an audience? If your answer is "yes," today would be a GREAT time to think about your message and why you're drawing an audience.
Either the crowds are there because your message is easy on the ears, or because your message is food for the soul. It's one of the other. Which one is it?