Jesus always drew a crowd. Throughout scripture we see example after example of people clamoring to be near him when he spoke, when he healed, and even when he was arrested and ultimately crucified. He was (and is) an attractive and compelling figure. He was (and is) also arguably the most controversial figure in history. And, without question, the most unconventional leader the world has ever known.
But, during his first stint on earth, Jesus wasn’t about a crowd. Sure, he was concerned about numbers. After all, he was concerned with reaching each and every person with love and truth. But, he never compromised his message or his actions to appease anyone. He never stopped short of delivering – with conviction – the words his Father laid on his heart to share with people.
When I read the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew, where Jesus laid out what his followers should look like, or about Jesus referring to himself as the bread of life in John 6, I am awestruck. He isn’t telling people what they want to hear. He’s telling them what they need to hear. And, each time he did that, the crowd thinned. In fact, after Jesus told the masses of people who were identified as his disciples that they should “eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood,” they freaked out – then abandoned ship.
They said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” Jesus admonished them, and reassured them that his words were “spirit and life.” But, scripture says, “From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.”
You know what it’s really saying? It’s saying they were dead weight.
Whenever the gauntlet is thrown down, few are left standing. The crowd vanishes, and the committed remain.
It’s that way in any organization, business, or church today. When the bar is raised, you find out who the players are, and who the pretenders are.
As believers in and followers of Christ, we have two challenges. First, we cannot allow the allure of popularity dilute our message and derail our convictions. We cannot compromise our integrity for the sake of being accepted. Very tough to do, I know. But, when your convictions match your words and actions, you’ll have the right people standing alongside you – albeit fewer of them.
Second, we have to make a decision. If we are not in position of leadership (if we’re an employee, volunteer, attendee, intern, etc.) there will be times when we are tempted to walk away from something because the ante has been raised. The stakes become higher, and the challenge has been issued – and our “fight or flight” response mechanism kicks in. The natural tendency is to jump ship. But, when you have conviction, you will possess the ability to stay the course, despite the steeper climb ahead of you.
None of us like to be “called out.” When we’re being lazy, we hate being challenged to work harder. When we’re not giving, the last thing we want to hear is a sermon on investing in God’s Kingdom. When we’re unfaithful to friends and family, we run from God (and church) because we don’t want to deal with the pain we’ve caused to ourselves and others. When we’re living selfishly, we don’t want to be reminded that Jesus said that the greatest commandments are to love God and love others.
Instead, we cower in fear, we gravitate towards the mainstream, and live lukewarm lives without passion and conviction.
So, my challenge to you is this: the next time you are tempted to flee, stay. Here’s my phrase of the day: “Don’t be a leaver; be a cleaver!” Cleaving simply means to cling tightly to or adhere to something or someone. Instead of abandoning ship, hold tightly to God and have confidence that He will honor your commitment to Him!