By Brooke Holt
“One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, ‘Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!’ But the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.’” (Luke 23:39–41)
Crowds can be exhilarating. When people come together for concerts, political rallies, or worship services, there can be overwhelming energy. People end up dancing who don’t normally dance, yelling who don’t normally yell—or even worse. Tragically, eight people died, and many more were injured at a recent Travis Scott concert as crowds crazily pushed toward the stage. What were these people thinking (or not thinking) at that time? Clearly, they weren’t thinking of the lives being crushed underneath their feet, and many families and friends grieve today for lives that were lost. Sadly, my son knew one of the young boys who died that day. It was a tragedy that touched his life and many lives around him.
Just like that crowd’s energy resulted in tragedy, the crowd’s behavior resulted in tragedy at the trial of Jesus. The crowd built up such fervor and tenacity against Jesus that everyone joined in and yelled, “Crucify, crucify him!” (Luke 23:21). Were these people considering what they were saying and who would be crushed as a result of their demands?
It wasn’t just the soldiers, the religious leaders, and the surrounding crowds that mocked Jesus but also the criminals who hung on either side of him. In this part of the narrative, one criminal speaks up for Jesus. However, Matthew and Mark tell an earlier part of the story: “And the robbers who were crucified with him also reviled him in the same way” (Matthew 27:44; see also Mark 15:32). It seems they, too, got caught up in the fervor of mocking Jesus.
Crowd pressure is intense—but when the pressure turns disastrous, we must seek a way out. In faith, we can break away from the crowd and choose a different way. While those three men hung on the cross, one of the criminals had an epiphany. He realized who hung beside him and challenged his fellow criminal. Separating himself from the other criminal and the crowds brought salvation to his soul that day.
The fervor of the crowd can certainly be exhilarating but also destructive. We see that from the concert in the Astrodome last year and even more so as Jesus was condemned to a criminal’s death. It is critically important that God’s people don’t just follow the crowd but question it. Are their actions godly and in alignment with Scripture? Does the opinion or the agenda of the crowd demonstrate truth? Are they behaving in a way that reflects the fruit of the Spirit? The apostle John warned about the danger of the crowds: “We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19).
The world is led and controlled by the evil one. Is that who you want to follow? The crowd may be a powerful force, but it may not be for the Lord—and this can even be true within a religious community. The disciples of Jesus Christ must be alert to the danger of the crowds. Today is the day to ask who you are following—the crowds or Jesus? What appears to be popular and well-received may not truly lead to life.
How does the criminal’s change of heart convict, challenge, and exhort you today? We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
Advent is like celebrating a national holiday in a foreign land — like observing the 4th of July as an expatriate. Locals do not understand the fuss. Advent is equal parts cherishing and missing home. AND it’s a mix of loving this world while getting ready to leave it behind. This makes Advent the most human and most complex celebration we have. Isaiah the prophet, David the psalmist, Paul the apostle, John the Baptist, Mary, Joseph, and Jesus all lived in one world and longed for the next. They loved this world and loved the world to come even more. In these 28 devotions in Face the Dawn, join them in wearing the paradox of Christianity- this world may be our home, but that world is HOME.
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