WE ARE USED TO CROWDS in our busy lives. Crowds in shops, at sporting events, at concerts, and in holiday resorts. During the Covid crisis crowds suddenly became hazardous, and we were urged to avoid them in order to avoid spreading the disease. They can also be hazardous in other ways: people have been crushed while panicking and ﬂeeing from danger, as well as while rushing together towards something they want.
There is another hazard associated with crowds. Being in a crowd affects how we feel, and in a crowd we can do things that we would not do when alone. It is easy to get drawn along instinctively by the mood and emotion generated by large numbers of people. This can give us a sense of courage, and engender strong feelings about things which have previously been of little interest to us. We can be drawn into doing things of which we would normally disapprove.
Ironically, the majority is not always right. The writer Mark Twain said: “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reﬂect.”
Years ago, a crowd contributed to the worst crime in history. They repeatedly cried out for the crucifxion of the totally innocent Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ. They had been incited by the religious authorities, and we wonder how many people in that crowd would have intended to do this on their own.
Pilate answered them, saying, “Do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?” For he knew that the chief priests had handed Him over because of envy. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd, so that he should rather release Barabbas to them. Pilate answered and said to them again, “What then do you want me to do with Him whom you call the King of the Jews?” So they cried out again, “Crucify Him!” (Mark 15:9-13).
In fact, such behaviour was forbidden in their law: “You shall not follow a crowd to do evil; nor shall you testify in a dispute so as to turn aside after many to pervert justice” (Exodus 23:2).
Not long before this, the crowds had gathered to see Jesus. He had miraculously fed more than 5,000 people with only five loaves and two small fishes, and straight afterwards they had wanted to use force to make him king (John 6:10–15). But Jesus knew that most of them were more impressed by the plentiful food than by the meaning of the miracle (John 6:26).
But although he had done so many signs before them, they did not believe in him (John 12:37).
There is nothing new in this. Thousands of years earlier, the Israelites in the wilderness
faced disaster for following the majority. They were near the end of their journey from Egypt to Israel. God had rescued them from cruel slavery in Egypt, led them across the Red Sea, and for months in the wilderness kept them safe and provided their food and water. But they still doubted the power of God. Moses sent out 12 spies to reconnoitre the land of Israel (then called Canaan). They came back with the report that it was a good land. Ten told them it was populated by giants and would be impossible to conquer. Two reminded them that God had promised to give it to them. The people believed the majority, not trusting in God (Number chapters 13 and 14). As a consequence they had to stay in the wilderness for a further 40 years until those who had disbelieved died.
… all these men who have seen My glory and the signs which I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and have put Me to the test now these ten times, and have not heeded My voice, they certainly shall not see the land of which I swore to their fathers, nor shall any of those who rejected Me see it (Numbers 14:22–23).
Decisions have consequences. Important decisions can have life-changing consequences. We need to think carefully about what we are doing in life and why. We need to evaluate what we believe and why. We cannot just instinctively ‘go along’ with everyone else, however attractive that way may seem. No wonder that Jesus gave a stark warning about the life-threatening consequences of following the majority:
Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it (Matthew 7:13).
Jesus warns that most people just follow the crowd and reject him, his teaching and his amazing offer of salvation. But following him can lead to life—eternal life.
Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it (Matthew 7:14). It might not be easy to go against the crowd. We might face ridicule or worse. But the benefits far, far outweigh any risks in this life. So we do well to be brave and sometimes not to follow the crowds.