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THE ANSWERING CROWDS
All Scripture citations are to the New International Version-UK
The crowds answered, ‘This is Jesus.’
Matthew 21: 11
CROWDS COME IN all shapes and sizes. There’s the football crowd, the concert crowd, and the crowd that waits in the rain for a sale or the star for an autograph. The Formula 1 crowd, or the crowd by the road at the accident. Then the crowd you used to hang around with, when you were in with the ‘in-crowd’, but have now outgrown.
There’s the crowd of daffodils which the poet William Wordsworth happened upon as he and his sister ‘wandered lonely as a cloud’, in the Lake District, in the early 1800s. Perhaps it’s not the word you would choose to describe that particular sight, but it’s certainly memorable.[fn1] This was a dainty assembly, ‘fluttering and dancing in the breeze’ – not a bit like that mob that so often besieges the town jail in the Westerns, determined to hang some unfortunate villain inside.
‘Crowd’ is a plain, no-nonsense word with an unfortunate pedigree. It’s related to an ancient Dutch word which means to ‘push in a wheelbarrow’. Adopted into Middle English, it took on the meaning of ‘moving by pushing’, which is pretty much how most people behave in crowds.
It’s revealing that the first meaning of the word in the Oxford English Dictionary is ‘a large number of people gathered together in a disorganized or unruly way’. Anyone who has been locked in a surging, panicked mass of people will know how terrifying and dangerous it can be. The crowd crush which killed 173 adults and children at the Bethnal Green Tube station during the Second World War, March 3, 1943, was memorialised this month, its seventieth anniversary.fn2]
A crowd is usually made up of ordinary people. We seldom, if ever, encounter a crowd of aristocrats or a crowd of billionaires. No, crowds are of the sort alluded to by Kipling in his classic poem, IF, framed copies of which hung on the bedroom walls of schoolboys up and down our fair land:
you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings – nor lose the common touch;
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son![fn3
Great crowds came to him, bringing the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute and many others, and laid them at his feet; and he healed them.
Jesus could talk with crowds. They loved Him. Common folk delighted in what He had to say, for He touched their hearts and addressed the everyday problems of their lives. They traipsed after Him, to see the miracles He performed, to hear Him speak, to eat the food He produced out of thin air. There was probably some pushing and shoving then, too, as those in the back sought to get a better look.
When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked,
‘Who is this?’
Jesus had been preaching for almost three-and-a-half years. He was coming to the end of His ministry. They didn’t know it, but He did. The animal which carried Him on His triumphal entry into Jerusalem He had that very morning reserved especially for this occasion. He had sent two of His disciples into the nearby village of Bethphage, telling them to expect to find an ass and her colt tied up, ready to go. And now, as He advanced along the road, the crowds gave Him the royal treatment, strewing branches of palm before Him, roaring with approval and joy and shouting Hosanna! – Praise to the Lord!
To the peevish rebuke from the Pharisees, Jesus levied against them the force of prophecy. If the crowd would not shout out, He told them, then the stones must do so (Luke 19: 39, 40). But it was not only the passage into the city to which the prophecies pointed. It was the ominous event which the entry presaged – His death. This was far from the thoughts of the delirious crowd.
Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived. With him was a large crowd armed with swords and clubs.
Crowds are fickle. Always on the move. One minute mellow, the next minute mad. Amorphous. It doesn’t take much for a crowd to transform itself with one provocative outburst into an unreasonable, vicious mob.
And so it was that they came at Him that Gethsemane night with swords and clubs, their black mission illumined by flaming torches, and He was taken away, stripped and beaten and mocked.
The Crowd is Swayed – Matthew 27: 20
But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed . . . . they shouted all the louder, ‘Crucify him!’
And then He was paraded before them – perhaps some were those who had cheered him a few days earlier. But now it was Barabbas, a criminal, whom they applauded.
What inducements were advanced by the priests and the elders we are not told, but it was sufficient to have the crowd baying for blood. And there can be little doubt that Satan was somewhere in that savage company, stirring up their hatred, egging them on. If he could just get Jesus out of the way, make Him fail, scuttle the whole Plan of God . . .
We might well wonder, where was the crowd who had earlier ‘listened to him with delight’? Or the five thousand whose bellies He had filled? Or the throng who had bubbled with joy and anticipation and who had celebrated Him with Hosanna?
Crowds are like that.
Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like peals of thunder, shouting: ‘Hallelujah!’
‘Multitude’ sounds more refined than ‘crowd’, but both are translated from the same Greek word. Here the Hallelujah! is shouted by a heavenly crowd. And there are more crowds to come. Jesus informs us in John 5: 28, 29 that there will be a resurrection on earth of all who died in Adam, and who now sleep in their graves – thousands of millions of them. From other Scriptures we know that this astounding event will occur in the Millennium, that great dispensation of the Kingdom of God on earth, when all things will be renewed and the race reconciled with God as a result of the atoning work of Christ.
God highly exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Such will be the winsome method of teaching in the earthly Kingdom that the knowledge of God and His Plan of salvation will be widespread – accepted as indisputable fact. The experience of sin and dying and death behind them, the vast crowds of humanity will come to understand what is now, in this age of faith, hidden from them. The knowledge of the saving love of God will fill the earth and the Saviour will be received with unquestioning affection, honoured and celebrated.
And then, when the question is again asked, ‘Who is this?’ the crowds will answer,
‘This is Jesus. Our Redeemer.’
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[fn1] Commonly known as ‘Daffodills’, this lyric poem by William Wordsworth (1770-1850) was composed at Town End, Grasmere, and is dated 1804. ‘The Daffodills grew and still grow’, he writes in his introduction to the poem, ‘on the margin of Ullswater, and probably may be seen to this day as beautiful in the month of March, nodding their golden heads beside the dancing and foaming waves’. Crowds of tourists still visit the area, to snap pictures of the daffodils and – cheekily – to pick them.
[fn3] ‘If’, by Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)
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