February 18, 2018
I’d like you to think for a moment of the largest crowd you’ve ever been in…
-Perhaps you were in Times Square on New Year’s Eve…
-or the Cubs World Series Rally in downtown Chicago…
-or maybe the Tigers Rally…or the Lions…(oh…wait…)
-or maybe it was a concert…the Rolling Stones, U2…
-or that Amy Grant concert you went to with your mom in 6th grade…(Just me?)
Go ahead and think of it for a moment…you can even whisper it to the person next to you if they look friendly.
Crowds have a way of taking on a life of their own…how else do you explain the wave?
They can be earnest, lighthearted…they can be passionate…and they can be angry.
Crowds can bring out the best and the worst in us.
At the basketball game on Friday night, I watched a husband get reprimanded by his wife for yelling at the ref.
I’ve seen high school productions get standing ovations from a crowd swelling with pride.
There is such a thing as crowd mentality…better known as mob mentality. It is easy to go as the crowd goes…and do as the crowd does…
Researchers at Leeds University performed experiments where volunteers were told to randomly walk around a large room without talking to each other. A select few were then given more detailed instructions on where to walk. They discovered that people end up blindly following one or two instructed people who appear to know where they’re going…and they do this without even realizing it.
It is easy to follow the crowd…to go where the group is going…
Of all the characters in the Bible…Moses, Miriam, Jesus, Paul….there is a prominent character that is rarely talked about.
And that character is the crowd.
The crowd is especially prominent in the gospels…in almost every passage… trying to figure out who Jesus really is…
Today is the first Sunday in the season of Lent…a six week journey to Easter. And our theme this year…from the crowds to the cross…
We will journey to the cross with Christ…and place ourselves in the midst of crowd that was with him almost every step of the way…imagining what it must have been like to be there…
Along the journey, the crowd will show all its colors…wonder, confusion, sorrow, and anger…the crowd will grow smaller and smaller…from the mob that shouts ‘Crucify Him!’ to the scattered and scared disciples huddled behind closed doors…
We begin today with a crowd…a crowd of mourners that have made their way from Jerusalem to Bethany to console Mary and Martha on the death of their brother Lazarus…
So listen now as I read from John chapter 11, and imagine that you are standing in the midst of the crowd. Listen especially for what they are SEEING AND HEARING…
32 When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34 He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus began to weep. 36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”
38 Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth.
Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
This might not have been the biggest crowd that this group had ever been in… but I would imagine it was certainly the most memorable.
They had been in mourning crowds before…there was a way things were done. Someone died…a crowd gathered to mourn…the dead was buried…they went home…end of story.
But when this Jesus person comes around…well we know that endings are never that normal.
The first thing the crowd does it takes in what it sees….
-Two sisters mourning…
-A tomb that holds their brother Lazarus, dead now for four days…
-And the arrival of Jesus…
-And Jesus…is weeping.
Jesus has joined the crowd in their mutual mourning for Lazarus…deeply moved by what he sees.
This verse is often relegated to a Trivial Pursuit answer…but this smallest of verses shows a greatness of compassion and love. Jesus weeps for both the grief and loss of Mary and Martha but also for the whole crowd.
Jesus is connected to the crowd..to Mary and Martha…and to his friend who is died. He is personal, compassionate, loving, kind. He doesn’t look away from pain and hurt…he takes it on himself.
I love that Jesus is not afraid to weep in the midst of a crowd. He doesn’t put on a tough face…doesn’t put on an act…he weeps with the crowd. He mourns as they mourn.
Standing in that crowd…we see a man who joins in our sorrow.
But in addition to what the crowd sees…they hear something as well…
They hear Jesus tell Lazarus to come out of the tomb…
At first our ears don’t really register what we’re hearing…did he just tell Lazarus to come out of the tomb?
This would be a simple instruction were it not for the fact that Jesus shouts it to a dead man.
It had, after all, been four days…and as verse 39 says in the King James Version, “He stinketh.”
Not only that, Jews believed that the spirit left the body after three days, and here it is the fourth…
What is he doing?
Lazarus is dead. But Jesus calls him to come…and the force of these words breathes new life into his friend.
In the midst of the mourning, in the midst of the crowd, Jesus calls life out of death.
And there he is…Lazarus…coming towards the crowd. And Jesus says, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
The crowds collective mouths hung collectively open.
A dead man has been raised before their very eyes…and ears. They saw. They heard.
And many believed…Many…but not all… If you read just a few more verses…
45 Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him. 46 But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what he had done.
The raising of Lazarus would lead many to believe, but for some, it was just too good to believe.
Hold for a moment that it is the raising of one life that leads to the death of another.
Consider that by calling Lazarus out of a tomb it means that Jesus must enter one.
Only in this act can he be the Resurrection and the Life.
But we know that his death will lead to life…first his own, and then ours.
Yes, there were those who simply couldn’t understand what they had seen and heard.
But there were also those in the crowds who saw, who heard…and who believed…
They believed that Jesus was the resurrection and the life. They believed that though they would die…they ultimately would live.
This is the Good News.
And I was looking for good news this week.
The things that we saw and heard in Florida were a bit too awful to comprehend.
We saw the all-too-familiar arial view of students leaving a high school in total fear.
We heard reports of a young man so disturbed that he had a fascination with guns and death.
We heard stories of teachers, coaches, and students who saved lives by risking and in some cases losing their own.
It is a grim reminder of the side of the tomb we live on…
There is evil and pain in the world…and Jesus weeps. He does not look away.
He does not retreat.
He stands in the midst of the pain…and weeps. There is evil and pain in the world…and Jesus calls.
Calls us out of our fear. Out of our comfort.
Out of the crowd.
Like that crowd at Bethany that day…Jesus joins us here today at the table. Perhaps he’s asking you to consider what makes your heart weep?
And perhaps he’s calling you to do something about it…
Its easy to follow the crowd……to blend in. To stay hidden. To go blissfully unnoticed…and then go home…
But friends, this is a time when our convictions must be stronger than the crowd.
Besides, following the cross is so much better than following the crowd…
Because in the end, it is the cross that leads to the Resurrection and the Life