Every time the crowd following Jesus grew, He tried to run some of them off.
It happened in John 6. You know the story. Jesus feeds the 5,000. People go nuts. They’ve never seen anything like it. He disappears for part of the night, walks on water, and the crowd seeks Him out and finds Him the next day.
“Feed us again!” they exclaim. They are into Jesus, these people. He fills their bellies. They can’t get enough. Jesus unloads. “I did that yesterday,” Jesus said. “But you’re hungry again because you’re not eating the right stuff. I’m the bread of life. If you don’t eat my flesh and drink my blood, you can’t really be my disciple.”
Jesus wasn’t actually suggesting everyone come take a nibble out of his calf muscle or elbow. He is declaring that He was from God. He is declaring that it’s better to have an empty belly and a full heart than the other way around. People don’t like it one bit and start grumbling. Full bellies are the crowd’s preference. They went from exuberant exclamations of “Who is this man?!?” after the miracle the day before to frustrated shouts of “Who does this guy think he is?” twenty-four hours later. John records the aftermath of this bold statement:
“From this time many of His disciples turned back and no longer followed Him.”
This isn’t the only time Jesus tries to run a crowd off.
In Luke 14, massive crowds are following Jesus. He turns to them and draws a line in the sand.
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”
It’s not that Jesus is a grouch. It’s just that crowds don’t impress Him much. Crowds love a good show, but few sign up to give their lives. There is a difference between accepting a savior and bowing to a Lord. Anyone grabs on to the life saver when they’re drowning in the ocean. Few bow their knee to the rescuer once they’ve dried off and forgotten their brush with death.
It seems like every time there is a crowd, Jesus tests their allegiance. A week after riding into Jerusalem triumphant He is hanging lonely on a cross with just a small band of devoted disciples within ear shot to hear his final words. Where were the masses who had witnessed His miraculous works? Where were the crowds that had cried His praises?
Disciples are those still standing after the hard words are spoken. Discipleship is not an easy path. The road walked with Jesus is not marked with ease but inconvenience. Self sacrifice, not self worship, defines the follower.
In the modern church, there are far too many leaders who scratch their congregation’s itching ears. It is the 21st century equivalent of feeding the hungry mob day after day after day. They love your bread, it’s true. That doesn’t mean they love Jesus.
I am thankful to serve at a church where the uncompromising truth of Jesus is taught, not in a hateful way, but with a bluntness that I think is very Christlike. Every time the crowd following Jesus grew, He tried to run some of them off. It wasn’t because He didn’t want them to follow. It’s just that He refused to let them think they followed someone less than the God of the Universe who demanded their loyalty. It is how He separated the disciples from the entertained, and it usually worked.
Jesus said lots of things that were hope-filled, inspiring, and motivational. Yet He didn’t shy away from difficult teaching no one really wanted to hear. As communicators of the Gospel, if we want to preach like Jesus, we need to make sure we’re doing the same thing.