by Austin Maxheimer
When you follow Jesus through the Gospels, you see quickly that the Crowds are a central character in the life and ministry of Jesus. In fact, the word ‘crowds’ is mentioned 175 times in the New Testament, 171 of which can be found in the Gospels–Acts. I want to zoom in and take a quick look at just three of those instances in order to learn from Jesus, observe how he interacted with the Crowds, and learn from our Master Teacher three ways to see the Crowds that can help in the discipling culture of our church.
1. See Faces (Luke 19:1-10).
Zacchaeus was just another face in the crowd until Jesus called him out by name and invited himself into his life. I’ve always been amazed at the audacity of Jesus in inviting himself to Zacchaeus’ house, but that is the Gospel alive and in action. The message Jesus had was more important than any perception others might have had of him. And that message was this: Today salvation has come to this house!
However, Jesus didn’t lead with that statement—the story closes with that declaration. The first thing Jesus did was move Zacchaeus from a faceless part of the Crowd to a person with a name and a story. It started by first building a relationship.
Key Takeaway: For some extroverts, going up and talking to strangers is not only easy, it is energizing. For the rest of us however, it can be intimidating. This is where we must grab on to the Gospel and let it inform our lives because the message we have to share is more important that what we think about ourselves and our own comfort. We can serve the simple role in discipleship of moving someone from an unknown stranger to someone who is known by at least one person.
2. See Potential (Mark 3:31-35).
If Jesus’ interaction with Zacchaeus is audacious, then this one is scandalous. The Crowds surround Jesus, and his family tries to approach him. Someone lets him know, but Jesus looks around at the Crowd and says, “Who are my mother and brothers? Here are my mother and my brothers!” Jesus looked around and didn’t see strangers—he saw potential. He didn’t see a faceless crowd—he saw future disciples. I don’t believe this was devaluing his own family; I think Jesus was placing infinite value on the Crowds by seeing them how his heavenly father saw them: as adopted brothers and sisters…as family.
Key Takeaway: The thing about family is that you love them so much, you would give your life for them (which happens to be exactly what Jesus did). Can you imagine seeing every person in the Crowd as someone you love so much that you’d give of your own life to see them become part of the Church? See every single person as part of the family, with infinite value, and potential partners in the mission of God.
3. See Connections (John 4:31-42).
Jesus taught his disciples a crucial lesson here with the Woman at the Well. He sent them into town to reap the harvest, and they came back with food. By first connecting with a woman from the town whom everyone knew, Jesus was able to connect with the Crowds and bring in the harvest. The result: “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.” Jesus saw the connection point through the Woman at the Well that connected him to the rest of the people he came to reach.
Key Takeaways: We need to see connections everywhere. Who needs to know whom? Who would naturally connect with this person? How can I introduce that person to such and such? Is that a bit vague? Unfortunately, it has to be. You have to do the hard work of meeting and connecting with people in the Crowd in order to see the connections and know how to connect people. Yet there is nothing more important than connecting others to the right people, because by doing so they can one day declare that it is no longer through knowing this or that person but through their experience of Jesus that they have met the savior of the world.
Whether your interactions with Crowds happens on a Sunday morning in the lobby, as your group or team is out in the community on a mission, or as you intentionally live out your life as a follower of Jesus, help others make the first move of discipleship. This means moving from a faceless part of the Crowd to someone who is known, someone with a name and a story, someone who can see reflected in your interaction with them that they are an infinitely valued part of God’s family.