So Mark 8 tells this crazy story. If you follow Jesus life you see people went wherever he was. The story starts with this crowd who had gathered for the past three days. There number is now at 4,000. And they were hungry. So Jesus calls his disciples to him, and he says something really important. He says “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away.”
So here is Jesus with his 12 disciples and this crowd of 4,000 HUNGRY people. His disciples respond with what can be summed up as “How?” They saw this as a major inconvenience. They had to somehow feed 4,000 people? No way. Impossible. But as we know – not for Jesus. When Jesus saw this crowd he was moved with compassion.
Crowds are messy – and inconvenient.
This crowd had been following Jesus for three days. If I were a disciple I would not only be overwhelmed with Jesus saying we had to feed them – but also a little bit annoyed at the fact it was one more thing to do. When we do our Friday nights for middle school students it is a crowd. And at times it gets super inconvenient. Since the height of the year is during football season, it means late nights. My team gets worn down. I know I do. My default is to respond like the disciples – “Jesus, you said I need to do what for the crowd? These middle schoolers are too loud. These middle schoolers are too annoying. These middle schoolers are too…fill in the blank.” My prayer is that my heart and the heart of all who have crowds is we respond with the same heart of Jesus. When we see the crowds we need to have compassion on them – no matter how messed up, disruptive, inconvenient, or annoying they are.
Crowds often contain those who just want the fun/food/free and don’t want to follow – not yet.
Jesus draws lots of people. Those who want free food. Those who want healed. Those who want to arrest him. And those who truly want to follow. Crowd events draw all those as well – and sometimes someone starts as a just wants free stuff and moves to a follower. We all start in some point of darkness and unbelief. Colossians 1 reminds us He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. We must trust that God is working in the midst of the crowd even if we cannot see it. And remind ourselves His timing not ours. It has taken me three years of crowds to see headway with some students. We may plant a lot of seeds, water a lot of seeds, but only God gives growth. (1 Corinthians 3:6 ESV)
Crowd moments have their place. If they become the sole focus for what we do, we miss it. Specifically in working with middle school students there is something powerful about the crowd. Students want to belong – and we use these crowd moments to proclaim the Gospel – the good news! And invite them to be a part of the family of God. Some students only want the free stuff, the goofy games – but for others it goes deeper. Being goofy is the one place they don’t have to fit into the mold of a broken home, a broken school, and a broken team. They can come as they are and feel the love of God. They can exist in the crowd knowing and reminded of the fact they are deeply loved beyond what their flaws, failures, and sin make them believe. That they no longer have to live in fear, guilt, and shame because of sin but have freedom in Christ. And as God works – slowly – they will move from crowd to follower, from large group to small group, from the field to withdrawing on the mountainside to spend time with Jesus and examine what it means to concretely follow Him.