Things are not always as they appear. That was certainly the case with Jesus. The crowd saw a miracle-worker, a remarkable man of God who could heal their diseases. They had come from all over the region, and the crowd was so thick that Jesus had a boat ready in case the crowd pressed him into the Sea of Galilee.
Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the lake, and a large crowd from Galilee followed. When they heard about all he was doing, many people came to him from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, and the regions across the Jordan and around Tyre and Sidon. Because of the crowd he told his disciples to have a small boat ready for him, to keep the people from crowding him. For he had healed many, so that those with diseases were pushing forward to touch him. Whenever the impure spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, “You are the Son of God.” But he gave them strict orders not to tell others about him.
Crowds are funny. Crowds don’t have brains like people do. Crowds can’t reason — they can only react, somewhat like an animal reacts. There may be voices of reason in a crowd, of course, but those voices are ordinarily as effective as shouting during a thunderclap.
|When they heard all Jesus was doing, many people came to him from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea and the regions across the Jordan and around Tyre and Sidon.|
Ecstatic crowds have been known to stampede and trample people at soccer matches. Such crowds have even, at times, crushed their own players in a mindless rush of bodies. Angry crowds have destroyed property and murdered people. People in crowds often suspend good judgment and do things they would never do if they were alone and thinking.
Crowds can be thrilled one moment and furious the next. Crowds are unpredictable, and for that reason, potentially dangerous. Evil people can stir up crowds to do evil things. Likewise, good people can calm crowds and set the people in the crowd back to straight thinking. A town clerk once did that in Ephesus, which saved Paul’s life (see Acts 19:24-41).
Jesus knew about crowds. He took precautions, but he also knew that his time had not yet come. He knew he would be killed, but that evening at the shore of Galilee was not the time or the place. The time would be the season of Passover, and the place would be Jerusalem.
‘Son of God’
The crowd saw Jesus as a healer of diseases. The demons saw something else. “You are the Son of God,” they called out. Jesus ordered them to be silent.
It might appear that the term “Son of God” would have meant the same thing to that first-century crowd as it means to us today. It didn’t. “Son of God” had several meanings in the ancient world. In gentile nations, it was not uncommon for kings to bear the title “son of god.” Kings of Egypt were “sons of Ra,” an Egyptian god. Many Roman emperors held the title, “son of god.”
In the Old Testament, however, the term “son of God” referred to someone especially near to God. For example, angels were referred to as “sons of God” (Job 1:6). Israel itself was called the “son of God” (Exodus 4:22; Hosea 11:1). God referred to the king of Israel as “my son” (2 Samuel 7:14). The king is referred to as the “son of God” in the second Psalm — “You are my son; today I have begotten you.”
The demons knew that Jesus was especially dear to God. Maybe they even knew he was Emmanuel — God with us, or as John put it, “the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14), or as in Hebrews, the Son by whom God made all things (Hebrews 1:2), the express image of God’s person (verse 3). In any case, Jesus told them to be silent.
|“Father, forgive them….” Jesus said. And the Father did.|
Why didn’t Jesus want people to know who he was Jesus was indeed the Messiah, the anointed one, the king, the Son of David, the Son of God. But God’s idea of Messiahship was radically different from the crowd’s idea of Messiahship. Grace and truth, sacrifice and love were the marks of authentic Messiahship. But a conquering king with mighty armies overthrowing the Romans and leading Israel to national greatness was the Messiah the crowd wanted.
A crowd praised Jesus on Palm Sunday. A week later, a crowd, stirred up by evil men, demanded his execution. Jesus wasn’t what the Messiah watchers were looking for. He had the popularity. He had the people’s imagination and loyalty. He had the charisma. He had the devotion and support of God, as witnessed by his miracles.
But to the most zealous of the Messiah watchers, to men like Judas, it became more and more evident that Jesus was a fraud, a stubborn fool who for whatever reason would not declare himself and take the reins of leadership. To them, Jesus was a supreme disappointment — a man who could have restored the fortunes of Israel but wouldn’t — a man who only appeared to be the chosen of God, a charlatan who was merely giving the people a cruel, false hope.
Jesus was not the Messiah they had been waiting for. Instead, he was far more than they could have ever dared dream or hope. He was more than they were yet capable of comprehending. He was YHWH himself, Immanuel, God With Us, come to his people as one of them, come to humanity as one of us all, come to deliver us all from the greatest oppression of all, come to restore us all to the household of God.
Mel Gibson’s movie about the crucifixion of Jesus has sparked debate over whether the Jews killed Jesus [see related article]. The debate itself belies ignorance of who Jesus was and why he came.
Jesus was a Jew, sent to his own people to be rejected by his own people (John 1:11). Yet others of his own received him (verse 12). Jesus was sent for the sake not only of Israel, but for the sake of the whole world (1 John 2:2). Does it make sense to blame Israel for being God’s chosen people? To do so is to blame God for choosing Israel—for choosing Israel as his precious instrument for their vital part in the ultimate salvation of the world. Jesus was the representative of all Israel, the true and faithful Israelite for the sake of all Israel, and it is as the perfect Israelite that Jesus represents before God all people in the world.
Every human is to “blame” for the crucifixion of Jesus, because every human has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). But Jesus gave himself freely, not because anyone “made” him, or because he “had” to. He did it because he loves humanity. It was God’s free grace toward undeserving sinners that led to Jesus’ crucifixion—undeserving sinners like you and me. The crowd that shouted, “Crucify him!” were no bigger sinners than those of us who sing “That Old Rugged Cross” on Easter morning. “Father, forgive them…” Jesus said. And the Father did.
Would Christians who “blame” Jews for the crucifixion of Jesus prefer that Jesus not have been crucified? Would they prefer that he not have shed his blood for the sins of humanity and been raised from the dead? Jesus said of his life: “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father” (John 10:18).
Jesus’ crucifixion was God’s will, Jesus’ will. God loved the world — Jews and gentiles alike — so much, that he sent his “only begotten” (King James Version), or “one and only” (NIV) Son to save the world by dying and rising from the dead (John 3:16).
There is no sense, no logic, no Christian love, in the historical epithet “Christ-killers” that some “Christians” have leveled at Jews. Every human bears responsibility, Jew and gentile alike, for the death of Jesus, and thank God for it; it is through this self-sacrificial means, this supreme expression of divine love and intimacy with humanity, that God has saved us all and restored us to fellowship with him and with each other.
He is risen! The Jesus who in his rejection by us all cried out, “Father, forgive them; they don’t know what they are doing,” is the same Jesus who rose in glory and is our Advocate with the Father. He is the same Jesus whose Spirit moves us to love one another as he commanded.
Blame the Jews for killing Jesus? Blame anyone for killing Jesus? Nothing could be farther from the heart of Jesus than setting blame, for all humanity is to blame, and in Jesus, all humanity is forever forgiven for all sin. For this purpose he came, and for this purpose he lives that we all might live in him, blameless before God.
It was an otherwise ordinary day by the sea. Except for the crowd, the healings and the shouting demons. When it was over, the people went home. They went back to work. They weren’t part of a crowd any more. They were people again; they could think and reason again.
They wondered about that day at the sea. They wondered who that amazing man was who healed the sick. They talked about him in their towns. He had inspired a sense of hope in them, whoever he was. Some said he was John the Baptist, come back to life. Others said the great prophet Elijah had returned. But things are not always as they appear. The day would come when they would hear of this man again. And what they would hear would change everything.
Maybe you need to see beyond appearances too. It might appear to you that your sins have the better of you. It might appear to you that God is fed up with you, sick and tired of your falling short, ready to spew you out of his mouth and wash his hands of you.
Things are not what they appear. God loves you and always will. Christ died for us, Paul says, while we were still sinners (Romans 5:10). Jesus didn’t wait until you were behaving better before he loved you and saved you. Sin doesn’t stand between God and you—God already took that barrier away. That means you can stop worrying and trust him. He loves you, he saved you and he’ll never let you go.
Don’t believe the lies your sins tell you — despite what your sins say, God does still love you, and he won’t ever turn his back on you. So why not take your struggles with sin to him — in faith that he’s already forgiven you — and trust him to help you become more like him? He’s right beside you.
Author: J. Michael Feazell, 2004, 2012