The Edifier

West Allen Church of Christ

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In the Footsteps of the Multitudes

David McClister

When Jesus was upon this earth He was often thronged by large crowds. His fame as a healer and worker of mighty deeds spread throughout Palestine, but especially, it seems, in Galilee. Quite early in the story Matthew tells us "And there followed him great multitudes from Galilee and Decapolis and Jerusalem and Judea and from beyond the Jordan" (4:25).

Now the multitudes came to Jesus for one basic reason: for the miracles of healing he could perform for them. So the gospel authors tell us, for example, "when evening came, they brought to Him many who were demon-possessed; and He cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were ill" (Matt 8:16) and "wherever He entered villages, or cities, or countryside, they were laying the sick in the market places, and imploring Him that they might just touch the fringe of His cloak; and as many as touched it were being cured" (Mark 6:56). Also, on at least two occasions Jesus fed people with a miraculous abundance of food (5000 in Matt 14, 4000 in Matt 15) - all for free.

Now Jesus certainly wanted as many people as possible to know Him through the miracles He worked. They were supposed to be public displays of His divine power. And I cannot honestly say that I blame the multitudes for wanting to be around someone who could eliminate their diseases and feed them with an endless supply of free food. Most of the people with whom Jesus came into contact were poor people, and his presence was a welcome relief from the hardships of poverty. Those who had been beset by chronic illness no doubt felt that, when they were healed, Jesus had given them a new life.

It eventually came to the point, however, that Jesus had to put the loyalty of the multitudes to the test. In John 6, at the height of His popularity, Jesus delivered a sermon that caused droves of people to stop following Him. He rebuked the multitudes saying "Verily, verily, I say unto you, you seek me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled" (v 26). When Jesus no longer satisfied their self-concocted definition of a Savior, they quit.

There is a lesson here that I want us to consider. It has to do with why we follow Jesus, why we want to be members of His body, the church.

I have known many Christians who became unfaithful to the Lord saying that they just felt that they were not getting anything out of the worship services, or that they were upset that some decision had not been made according to their preference, or that they just did not feel loved or supported enough by others in the church. Now before I say anything else let me say that at least two of these are serious things. There is no sound reason why there should be a lack of enthusiasm in our worship, nor why there should be a shortage of expressions of brotherly love. And we certainly ought to try to find ways to work together so that harmony is preserved. But people who quit serving the Lord for these reasons themselves also have a very serious spiritual problem, and that is selfishness.

Listen to the reasons I mentioned above. Me, me, me. That's what those complaints have in common. "Church does not excite me," "their decision does not suit me," "there's not enough love being shown to me." And this is exactly why so many people followed Jesus in his day - because of the personal benefit their thought they would get out of it.

Jesus challenged the multitudes of His day to follow Him not for the selfish satisfaction it brought them, but because they believed Him to be the Son of God. And that same challenge stands today for us. We should be faithful not just because we feel a thrill at the sound of our own singing, nor because we feel that we are getting treated the way we like, nor because we approve of how matters are handled by church leaders. We should be faithful to the Lord because He is the Son of God who died in our place to rescue us from the terrible punishment of our sins. We owe our lives to Jesus, every one of us. Such realization should spark within us an overwhelming sense of gratitude and a humility that manifests itself in glad and eager submission to Jesus' will. His great love for us is designed to provoke trust in Him and love for Him on our part. That, my friends, is the reason we all should be faithful: because we all love the Lord.

We should follow Jesus first for who He is. Such was Peter's great insight on that occasion. When asked if he and the other disciples were about to quit following Jesus also, Peter replied "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life" (John 6:68). Sure, we get some tremendous benefits from following Him, and those benefits are legitimate incentives from God. Jesus Himself told the multitudes "Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you, for on Him the Father, God, has set His seal" (John 6:27). God has "food" to give us, for our good. But I am talking here about our basic orientation to God. If our relationship with God through Christ is such that we will be a faithful servants only as long as we know God will give us things, then there is an unhealthy shallowness about our faith to be sure. It is much better to serve God through Christ because we understand what they have done and because of a sense of the great debt we owe to them both.

Let me say it plainly. We should assemble faithfully for worship and work together in the church not primarily because it makes us feel good, but firstly because we feel obligated to tell our savior just how great we think He is, how thankful we are, and because that sense of appreciation compels and constrains us to serve Him. Now let me also say that there is a joy associated with this kind of worship that can be found in nothing else. There is a sublime joy in having an opportunity to say "thank you" to God; the Christian who understands what God has done for Him enjoys working for the Lord. But my point is that if selfish concerns of self-satisfaction and personal pleasure are what drives us to work and worship together, then we have yet to attain to real work and worship. We should worship and work for the Lord not for what we get out of it, but for what we can give to the One who gave everything for us.

People whose membership in the Lord's church is based on receiving some kind of immediate personal satisfaction will very likely become unfaithful some day. It is just a matter of time until the hardship or problem comes that makes them feel dissatisfied and they will turn their backs on the Lord. Many people in Jesus' own day followed Him in exactly this way, and none of them were to be found when Jesus was arrested and executed. As far as I know the only disciple of Jesus who stood near the cross was John, the disciple whose writings more than any other's exhibits a profound understanding of the love of God for us and our love for Him. Love - a sense of devotion - for the Lord is what should make us faithful.