TO CHEW ON: "But the multitude of the city was divided: part sided with the Jews, and part with the apostles … Now when the people saw what Paul had done, they raised their voices, saying in the Lycaonian language, 'The gods have come down to us...' … And having persuaded the multitudes, they stoned Paul." Acts 14:4,11,19
If you are a watcher of the news, you will doubtless have seen film footage of out-of-control crowds. Groups of people get riled up for lots of reasons: victory or defeat of a sports team; politics; perceived racial inequality; social issues like abortion, pot-smoking, or killing animals.
In our reading today the crowd and its reaction functions almost like another character. When the Iconium multitude was divided, half for, half against Paul and Barnabas, they continued to hold their meetings (Acts 14:1-4). But then something changed and the majority turned against them with murderous intent. When they became aware of the plans of the crowd they fled to Lystra (Acts 14:6).
There they healed a man who had never walked. The multitude's reaction was to recognize them as Zeus and Hermes (Greek gods) and the crowd tried to worship them (Acts 14:8-13). Paul quickly put a stop to this (Acts 14:14-18).
Shortly after Jews from Antioch and Iconium descended on Lystra and "…persuaded the multitudes, they stoned Paul," leaving him for dead (though he wasn't - Acts 14:19,20).
Crowds also played a big part in the life of Jesus. Throughout His ministry years Jesus was surrounded by multitudes (of sick, spiritually hungry, curious). The adoring, worshiping crowd that lined the streets of Jerusalem as He rode in on a donkey on Palm Sunday was soon replaced by a crowd that clamored for His death on the day He was crucified. Then where were those crowds who had heard His teaching, observed His miracles, welcomed Him into Jerusalem?
Crowd dynamics is a specialty area of study in psychology. Researchers who study crowd psychology have many theories about why crowds act like they do. They have identified at least two things that often contribute to mob behavior: an individual's feeling that he or she is anonymous (anonymity) and that everyone is doing it (universality).
I believe Satan is savvy about crowds, their power, and fickleness. He used them in the past and continues to use them now to incite opposition to the Gospel on one side while silencing and intimidating on the other. We need to be impervious to the ups and downs of crowds—both in the flesh and on social medial.
I love John's account of Jesus' reaction to a crowd:
"Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name when they saw the signs which He did. But Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men, and had no need that anyone should testify of man, for He knew what was in man" - John 2:23-25 (emphasis added).
PRAYER: Dear Jesus, help me to live constantly aware that You always see me and that not everyone is doing it. Please make me aware of when I am being influenced by a negative crowd. Amen.
MORE: The Feast of Saint Peter and Saint Paul
Today the church celebrates the apostles Peter and Paul. The liturgy of the day begins with this collect:
"Almighty God, whose blessed apostles Peter and Paul glorified you by their martyrdom: Grant that your Church, instructed by their teaching and example, and knit together in unity by your Spirit, may ever stand firm upon the one foundation, which is Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen."
Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.