Grace to you in Jesus’ name. Amen.
I’m sure you’ve heard the expression ’mob-mentality.’ One moment a crowd is cheering on the team and the next moment the stands are filled with boos for the fumbled play. One moment you have a milling crowd and the next a frenzied mob. People in a crowd will often act in ways they would not if they were alone. They get sucked in or they become one with the crowd, one of the mob following the impulse of the moment rather than thoughtfully evaluating the situation.
That sort of mob mentality is what seized the crowd that had gathered for Jesus’ trial. So tonight let’s look more closely at how it might have been for one of the Mob during at Jesus’ passion week.
When the Temple authority planned Jesus’ trial they did not want a large crowd of people there. Jesus’ followers came mostly from the regular everyday common people. If that group became aware of Jesus troubles they might rise up and defend Him. Then the whole plan to bring Jesus down might fail under popular pressure. The Temple authority could not depend on the people to side with them. So they determined it would be better to get rid of Jesus as quietly and secretly as possible.
The problem came when Pilot failed to act as quickly as they had planned. Pilot delayed the proceedings. A crowd began to gather and their plans were in danger. The crowd was gathering for a number of reasons. Some probably had already heard about Jesus’ arrest and came to see what Pilot would do. Others would have come to hear Pilot’s yearly address to the people and to the annual release of someone from prison. Others no doubt gathered just to see what had caused the large crowd to gather. Most of them ended up shouting in a wild frenzy for Jesus’ blood, the very opposite of what we might have expected from them.
The Temple authority had to act quickly and try to control the situation. They knew most of the people supported Jesus. They knew this could end badly for them. So they moved to control the crowd. They filtered throughout the massing people spreading gossip, propaganda, whispered innuendos and outright lies about Jesus. They had to inspire the crowd to cry out against Jesus. They needed the people to bring Jesus down now.
The real test of crowd control came when Barabbas was paired up with Jesus on the platform. Pilot had chosen Barabbas because he knew the people wanted him off the streets. He was a murderer. Pilot was sure this would set Jesus, whom he knew was innocent of the charges, free. However the Temple authority had done their job well. When Pilate asked the question, “Whom do you want Jesus or Barabbas?” the crowd shouted, “Away with Jesus. Release Barabbas!”
In desperation Pilot asked, “What should be done with Jesus?”
“Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” came back as the response.
When Pilot protested, and proclaimed Jesus’ innocence the crowd shouted all the more intensely, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” If there were any dissenting voices they were not heard over the raging wild-eyed crowd.
How did that happen? How is it possible that some of the same people who cried “Hosanna1” to Jesus only a week earlier now cry out at the top of their lungs, “Crucify Him!” Why did the voices that once thanked and praise Jesus for His miracles and teachings now chant in unison against Him? Why had the mood of the crowd become so heated against Jesus? The answer is mob-mentality. It had seized and taken control of the crowd, due to some skillful tactics on the part of the Temple authority.
Now we can’t assume we understand what was going on in the minds of every person there, but we can imagine how it might have been for at least one of them. As that one, maybe someone just like you, walked through that charged atmosphere of events how would they have become swept away by the pull of the crowd.
Picture yourself there. Maybe you have been a faithful and devoted follower of Jesus for some time. Maybe you are starting to think this guy might really be the Messiah. Maybe you thought He would become the Bread King, as some wanted.2 Maybe you though He would free you from Roman rule and restore Israel to the once great kingdom it had been under kings David and Solomon. You had placed your hope and your dreams in this Jesus.
Now you’ve arrived at Pilot’s courtyard on the fateful Friday. You see Jesus up there beaten, bruised, silent and meek. He is not speaking out against the corrupt Temple authority, nor against Roman tyranny. You might turn to the stranger next to you and ask, “What does this all mean? What is going on here?”
He tells you, “I’ve heard that Jesus has blasphemed, claimed to be God, and the priests have warned that He is a danger to the nations.”
“But we thought He would lead us to a better life. We thought He was sent by God.”
“And what has He really done for our nation?” the man might challenge back. “The priests say that if Jesus is not stopped He’ll lead us into trouble with Rome. Then they will raise our taxes, disband the Temple authority, and force us to worship the emperor like everyone else in the Roman Empire is required to do.”
These words perhaps confuse you. You think of Jesus’ miracles and how He always helped people. How He was always speaking out for the lost, poor and weak. How He has even raised the dead back to life. You were sure He was the Messiah of God. Now the people around you are saying that Jesus is a troublemaker. They even claim that Barabbas is better free in the streets than Jesus.
Then you see Barabbas up there on the platform with Pilot and Jesus, and Pilot speaks, “Who should I release Barabbas or Jesus?”
The people around you start to shout, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him! Give us Barabbas! Away with Jesus! Crucify Him!”
You see Pilot gesturing in defense of Jesus but if Jesus were the real Messiah He wouldn’t be made helpless under Pilot’s thumb, would He? Pilot seems to be the only one defending Jesus and Pilot is most certainly your enemy. Your doubts are confirmed. You can see right before your eyes that Rome wants Jesus free. Jesus must be a conspirator for Rome. Now you see the truth and the shout goes on with your voice added to the fray, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him! He is not our king! He is not our Messiah! Crucify Him!” You have become one with the crowd.
What would happen to you afterward? Any number of things are possible. Maybe you hear Jesus say, “Father forgive them…” and that forces you to reexamine what you have said and done. Maybe the darkness and the earthquake at His death rattle you into rethinking what you have done. Maybe you were there at Peter’s great sermon on Pentecost and you repent and are baptized. Maybe you go to your grave believing that justice was done and the people were better off without Jesus stirring up the mess.
It is sad to read these words in the Bible and see how easily the crowd was turned, how people’s thoughts and ideas were manipulated, how blindly people followed the crazed mob. It is sad to see how easily people switched their allegiances. It is sad to see how the evil of the crowd compounded itself that day. The devil worked his worst.
People haven’t changed much over the last two thousands years. We can still be easily caught up in the moment with the crowd. We can still easily rationalize ourselves into the chaos of the crowd. We are tempted to listen to human rationalization rather than the reliable Word of God. “Everybody else is doing it.” That is one of our favorite excuses for sinning. Group pressure still affects us. When you are in a crowd that is bent on doing something contrary to the way of Jesus, it is no easy thing to stand on the side of what appears to be the insignificant minority.
When standing on the side of appropriate relationship before marriage, on evolution, abortion, or any of the other hot topic of the day, we are still often pulled toward listening to human rationalization rather than the reliable Word of God.
So where does that leave us? How can we hold fast to the truths and promises of God when the rest of the world is hell-bent on heading to Hell? The answer is we need each other. Not as a mob or crowd blindly following the group but rather as individual believers who read and study God’s Word and then grow together in faithful love and unity by the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
We need to stand together to remember Jesus, and to praise His name for all that He has sacrificed for us. We need to come together for worship, both the weak and strong, in faith so that no one feels alone and outnumbered among the crowds outside. We need to listen to Jesus and avoid the call of the crowd that tries to contradict Him. We need also to hold on to our Savior in His mercy and forgiveness, for the times we have failed Him.
We should remember the crucifixion and the resurrection. We should rally around the cross of Christ. We should tell the world that even those, who in weakness and ignorance shout, “Crucify him!” will find forgiveness and salvation in His crucifixion and resurrection. Let us all live in repentance and faith, rejoicing to be counted as children in the family of God.
May we all be faithful to the end.
1Hosanna is a Hebrew word that means: “Save I pray.” or “Save us now.”