How To Draw a Crowd, Jesus Style

Popularity is a difficult phenomenon to figure out. What causes it; what dims it; with whom does it begin; what mixture of public desire and personal charisma accounts for a particular person being thrust into the limelight? How much depends upon the seeking of the popularity in the first place? Jesus certainly had the floor when he spoke to the crowds in John 12:27-36:

27 “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” 30 Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not mine. 31 Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die. 34 So the crowd answered him, “We have heard from the Law that the Christ remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” 35 So Jesus said to them, “The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. 36 While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.”
When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them.

I suppose one could have an interesting though fruitless discussion over the question of whether Jesus was actually seeking the attention of the crowds that invariably gathered wherever he went. It seems reasonable to conclude that simply the doing and saying of the deeds and words he offered would be enough to bring ample attention. No further PR needed. But what if the deeds and words, probably heavily weighted toward the former, detracted from the overall purpose? Should one remain in the spotlight for as long as the market will bear one’s presence and style? What would it have hurt for Jesus to hang around a little longer, thereby drawing greater attention to his mission? Would not five years, or ten or twenty, rather than three yield greater visibility and wider acceptance?

Apparently not. We are best served by accepting the New Testament’s later witness to the idea that it was “in the fullness of time” that Christ came, and that “at the right time” he died for sinful humanity. On the other hand, the rightness of the time had to do with how his visibility would be expanded, not diminished. He did not come primarily to draw crowds, but to redeem them. And he knew that in order for that to happen his death in a very public and very demeaning fashion had to occur.

There are many reasons for which I have heard people being encouraged to “come to Christ.” Some of them make me cringe. The cringing comes because there was no necessity, no reason for a crucifixion if those reasons having to do with self-fulfillment, purpose, blessing, better relationships, etc., were the purposes for which he came. In that case, the cross is not a triumph but a tragedy to be explained. He should have stayed and gathered more crowds. But in his unsearchable wisdom, he knew our own hearts and minds very well; and in that wisdom he knew that drawing people toward redemption was far greater a purpose than wowing them with words or deeds, of which we would eventually have wearied were it not for his being lifted up. On a cross. Which continues to speak. May we never offer a Christ without it.

3 thoughts on “How To Draw a Crowd, Jesus Style

  1. This is the end of the public acclimation/acceptance of Jesus as King of Jerusalem/Salem, fittingly, life/embrace/peace turns to violence/rejection/betrayal/death. From Nikolaevich Bulgakov’s ovation for Palm Sunday (the feast of the triumphal entry):

    “In the course of Christ’s earthly ministry, every manifestation of His royal power over the world in the miracles astonished those who witnessed them, although it did not always awaken virtuous sentiments in them. Usually, the Lord even prohibited people from spreading the word about His miracles. There was the case when after the miraculous feeding of the people, “Jesus … perceived that they would come and take him by force, to make him a king” (John 6:15), but instead He departed. And usually, although He never denied His royal dignity as the “Son of David,” He nevertheless concealed His royalty beneath the humble form of a servant. However, just before His Passion the Lord acts differently: having worked in the presence of the people the astonishing miracle of the raising of a man who had been dead for four days, not only does the Lord not remove Himself from the people’s celebration, but He even goes to meet it, as it were. He Himself sends the apostles to procure an ass and the foal of an ass, sits on them, and triumphantly enters the Holy City, where He is met and greeted as the King: “Blessed be the King that cometh in the name of the Lord” (Luke 19:38). This was the revelation of the King of the Jews to the people, and on this day the Lord truly was the King in Jerusalem. This crucially important event was predicted in the prophecies, which were revealed to the eyes of the divinely inspired Evangelists: “Shout, 0 daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation” (Zech. 9:9). During this feast, besides the prophecies of Zechariah and Sophonius, the Church also reads Jacob’s blessing of Judah as the royal branch (Gen. 49:10). The Lord desired to manifest Himself as King prior to His voluntary Passion; and it was in fulfillment of this desire that He accomplished His royal entry, not as a violent conqueror but as the victor over death, the meek King, offering salvation and conquering hearts, beloved and reigning by the power of love. The immediate reason for this manifestation was to encourage and reassure His disciples in the face of the terrible trial of their faith during His voluntary Passion; in His condescension, the Lord took into account their human infirmity. However, this manifestation also has an independent significance, for without it the fullness of the Divine Incarnation would not have been revealed in the world.

  2. SO Jesus knew about “the fame monster” …?

    The ascension has always made less sense to me than the resurrection. Though some of the Mennonite theology has spoken to that, and helped.

    Don’t forget to weigh in on the topic of evil, Ken. I’m counting on you.

  3. My first thought – and continuing thought: I was the joy that was before Him as He endured the cross….for me.

    Knowing that if I were the only redeemable thing in all of creation – He would have still went through all that He did for my sake….

    Now – I know that His death on the Cross would have been enough. (Dayenu). But – He went so much further. Not only did He remove sin from me once and for all eternity, but He broke every curse, every bit of shame, and every ounce of anything that would come between His Father and I. (Dayenu) And, even though that were enough…HE went even further and broke the very power of death and the grave through His resurrection….so that NOTHING can separate me from the Love of the Father.

    While Jesus was alive on earth – He met the immediate needs of the people…while at the same time nourishing their soul with the truth and reality of The Kingdom.

    While the cross would have been enough – He did so much more. (Dayenu)

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