Sunday, 5 March 2017

Jesus and the Crowd.

I wonder, what is it about Jesus and the crowd? He knew his ministry would be controversial. He has been accused of breaking the Sabbath, being possessed by demons, and using the power of demons to perform deliverance. But still, the crowd came to him in large numbers because signs and wonders followed him wherever he went.

Yet, Mark 3:7-9 and Mark 4:35-36 tell us that Jesus dealt with the crowd by pulling away. He practically left the crowd. Maybe he doesn't want to arouse more attention than is necessary since the Romans authorities were jealously territorial and sedition-sensitive. More importantly, the time has not yet come for him to face the Cross. So, keeping low key is the prudent thing to do. Maybe.

But, wherever he went, Jesus was no doubt a crowd puller. He drew attention whether he had intended it or not - that can't be helped. He preached to and taught thousands, and many saw the wonders he did with water, fishes and loaves - not to mention diseases, demons and death.

His healing touch and heart-transforming messages to the fringe groups in society were undeniable, unbelievable and unmissable. They say if you build it, they will come. In Jesus' case, if you live it out fully, they will come. And they have been coming ever since.

My point is this: Jesus did not come to run governments, form a peace committee or pioneer a church. His kingdom is not of this world. I called that the Pilate's rebuke. The only movement he founded was – for lack of a better word – mobile mentorship. It was discipleship on the go. It was more relevantly an intimate demonstration of a life lived by example, and not an impersonal mass preaching. 

His mission was not an institutional takeover. It was however an internal change-over. He came for the jugular - our heart. He came to spread the good news that our heart can be touched by love for good, for life and for hope.

He in fact told his disciples to be fishers of men, and not so much owners of buildings, investors of money or regulators of rules and policies. Neither did he tell them to be fishers of an ideology, a theology or a worship methodology. Somehow, Jesus didn't do organized religion. The only thing organized about his life was his Calvary-focused mind. That is why his three-year ministry operated on divine clockwork.

Mind you, he had only three years to spread the good news with twelve unlikely disciples. And so, he did not leave behind a legacy on how to run an organization. No rules, five-steps manual and procedures to follow. Instead, his enduring legacy was to tell us how to open our hearts to be ministered and empowered by His love, His teaching, and His example. His whole life, his parables and his ultimate sacrifice were how he imparted and diffused that legacy.

Matthew 28:19-20 gave a glimpse of this powerful legacy: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."

Nothing was said about setting up a permanent place fully embellished for effect for the gathering of believers. Nothing was said about entrusting the leadership of the great commission to just one man. Neither was anything said about the accumulation of immense wealth under one roof and under the control of one or two at the top. The elegance of the calling is that it was democratically inclusive as it was demonstratively life-changing.

But with time, the church - being His body - came to pass. Christ was to be the head of the church, and we are to be the various parts of the body. You can say that organized religion was a social, logistical and economic inevitability. If not so, how do you then manage the numbers, the ministries, the relationship and the members' fund with a fortified sense of orderliness, effectiveness and continuity, right? Somewhere, Drucker’s Management by Objectives had to come in right?

However, the church has since then become more than just the body of Christ. It went beyond it. It expanded with a vengeance. It became rich. It acquired incredible wealth. It grew in influence. It became powerful. It became inscrutable, self-referential. It became ex cathedra. The body became bloated and she lost her head in the frenzy of worldly spin. You can say that it became a crowd puller.

Now, in our postmodern era, the church has reinvented herself with new-fangled themes. In order to continue to be a crowd puller, the church has become a cultural chameleon. She is many things to many people.

She is prosperity. She is blessings. She is suffering-free. She is repentance-free. She is sin-free. She is declared righteous without godly sorrow. She is loved greatly, heaven-bound. She is God's sheltered child. She is radicalized grace. She is God's best friend. She is cradled in the bosom of a perpetually happy God. She is whatever the people want her to be. And for that, she is always popular, a definite crowd puller. 

Here, the late John Stott puts it best: "To be sure, the church of every generation must seek to translate the faith into the contemporary idiom, to relate the unchanging Word to a changing world. But a translation is a rendering of the same message into another language; it is not a fresh composition. Yet this is what some modern radical are doing, setting forth concepts of God and of Christ which Jesus and his apostles would not have recognized as their own...The apostles themselves constantly warned their readers of new-fangled ideas and called them back to the original apostolic message...Here Paul enjoins Timothy to abide in what he has learned."

So, while Jesus deliberately withdrew from the crowd, keeping his distance from the soulless, clamoring noise, the leadership of the modern church however draws them in. She pursues the numbers, bathes in the limelight, soaks in the attention, and fills her coffers as a result. It is a dead-sea of worship where all attention, money and fame flow in one direction and converge at the top.

As such, organized religion, with emphasis on the religion part, has morphed into an organization that organizes religiously, with emphasis on the organizing part so as to remain culturally relevant and accessible.

Well, the only issue here is this, Jesus in the Sermon of the Mount has called us to go in the opposite flow of the worldly culture. He warned us about prosperity as an end itself. He warned us about seeking worldly treasures. He warned us about making this world our home. He warned us about serving two masters. He warned us about whitewashed tomb. He warned us about faith without works. He warned us about self-gain, instead of self-denial. He warned us about adding to his Word. And most of us, he warned us that in this world we will have trouble, but take heart, he has overcome - so can we. 

In other words, under His leadership, we have been commissioned to have a mindset that is predominantly countercultural. And that may be why he withdrew from the crowd. Cheerz.

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