There is such a thing as crowd think. The herd mentality. People will do things, or not do things, in a crowd that is contrary to their behavior if left to their own heart. Today I am proud of my father’s example. At the time I so often wished he would just go along with the crowd.
There is such a thing as crowd think. Even in Christian circles. Moses took too long to come down the mountain with the ten commandments. The people grew anxious. Aaron, the brother of Moses and the acting leader in Moses’ place, gathered gold from the people. He created a golden calf so the people could worship a new god. When Moses returned he was furious: how could you do such a thing? What did Aaron say? Um, well, I just threw the gold into the fire and out came this calf. People will do things, act in ways in a crowd they would never do on their own!
25 years ago I was on a VBS board in which we made a decision to not have small children raise their hand in a crowd to accept Jesus as Savior, too easy to get the whole group to say yes, and instead decided one on one, smaller classes, more appropriate, so teachers could listen and respond to individuals. We wanted to get away from crowd think. We did not have the resources to follow up when we asked the crowd to make a commitment.
This is the disciple response to the crowd think question: READ Luke 9:19. Each of these responses is part of the culture and expectation of the day… even today when the Jews celebrate the traditional Passover meal an empty chair is left for Elijah to return, an expectation of one of God’s great prophets to return. The point is that in all these answers it amounts to Jesus being a great man, an influential man… Today the answers to the crowd think question may not be prophets of old returned, but the common answers are that Jesus was a great teacher, he loved like nobody else, the champion of the underdog, the wisest man that ever lived. But the truth is that those are all watered down explanations of Jesus as revealed in the Bible. He’s more than Elijah, more than a prophet of old, more than a wise man, more than a gifted teacher. What do you truly believe in your heart about Jesus? The question is meant for you: READ Luke 9:20a.
What is the conviction of your heart? Jesus is either who the Bible says he is, or he is not! Don’t water down the answer and consider Jesus to be a good idea that never takes root. Back in the days when Sally and I did not have a lot of money we were blessed with our own home that had formerly been a cow field. No trees. Nothing. We splurged on a golden chain tree from the nursery and planted in a strategic place meant to showcase the long golden chains of flowers that formed in the Spring. The first year it was gorgeous and we were so proud. The following year it was o.k.. After five years we noticed the thing never got any bigger, it just wasn’t doing much of anything. Each year it formed a few paltry yellow strands of flowers. After 15 years we finally dug it up. A-ha! The roots never spread beyond the root ball. As Christians we were never intended to remain dormant, producing a few good fruit, biding our time, barely staying alive, slowly dying from lack of nourishment. The Lord wants us to thrive, to grow strong, to spread our roots, to fulfill our God given potential, to become a glorious tree with golden chains of flowers.
The world needs people of conviction! You need to live as a person of conviction! In 1987 when I went to Israel with other folks from this church and the Baptist Church in Everson, there were many memorable moments. One person that made an impact was Ruthie, our guide. All guides in Israel, naturally, are Jewish. Most tourists are Christians. Ruthie did a wonderful job of re-telling the Bible stories. I wondered what she really thought about many of the stories she’d recreate, since as a Jew she does not accept Jesus is the Christ. She did her best to tell us about the stones that Jesus walked on… Nazareth, Bethlehem, the Mount of Olives, the place they think the Sermon on the Mount took place on the shores of Galilee. All of it was good. Something changed when we went to a place called Masada. Masada was a stronghold built for King Herod, a refuge with palaces and storerooms and a water reservoir and so many other building that cover the top of a rocky pinnacle overlooking the dead sea. Masada was discovered in the 1940s and restored in the 1960s. It is a place that ha become symbolic of national pride for Israel because back in 70 A.D. the temple was destroyed by the Romans, the Jews fought back, and a thousand Jews took refuge at Masada. After three years of holdiong out, the Romans finally broke through the walls at the top of the mountain made of cliffs, and the remaining Jews, rather than being taken captive by the Romans, all chose to be killed by each other, because they would rather die in freedom.
Ruthie was a good story teller. In Jerusalem she showed us some of the pavements where Jesus almost certainly walked, the place where he was whipped, deeply amazing for me. But then we came to Masada. Suddenly Ruthie told the story with passion, a heart felt deep conviction. And I can still hear her proclaim the rallying cry of the Jews today: “Masada shall not fall again.” Conviction! Who do YOU say I am?
Sometimes I wish the Bible were recorded for us so we could hear the tone. When Jesus says, “Who do you say I am?” it is not a passive invitation for a philosophical debate. It is an impassioned life orienting question? WHO DO YOU SAY I AM? What is your conviction of Jesus? Peter’s answer: “The Christ of God.” He goes against the crowd, not content with the popular answers, not content with speculation, not happy with a watered down version of Jesus, but an answer of conviction: “The Christ, the one sent by God, the savior of the world.”
Following the crowd is not fulfilling except for the moment. It’s not long before guilt sets in, a sense of wishing I was a stronger person. A life with no deep commitment is shallow, like the roots that never go beyond the root ball. A life of watered down truth is meaningless. The tree whose roots don’t grow will not thrive. The world is falling apart and the temptation of the crowd to just go along is growing stronger. I talk to people everyday whose world is disintegrating. Forget the crowd, forget what is the popular answer, and answer from the depths of your heart the pointed question of Jesus: Who do you say I am? Your life depends on your answer. The quality of your life is determined by your answer. The direction of your life is shaped by your response.
If you go with the crowd, you will be searching for meaning for a long time, wondering why you feel so empty.
If you go with the answer of Peter, you will be asked to work harder than you can imagine, people will think you are crazy for no longer caring about the values and things of this world, you’ll be questioned even by yourself, and you may find yourself being the only person singing the National Anthem in a crowded gymnasium. BUT you will also find meaning, purpose, and a settled heart even when things do not go as you choose. To be convinced in your heart that Jesus is the Christ means you give your life to Him. And that’s where we will pick up next week!