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The problem with a mob

The problem with a mob

One of the most insightful theological comments I’ve ever heard came from the movie “Men in Black”. 

In one part of the movie, Tommy Lee Jones (who plays the main hero) is talking to Will Smith (the second hero) about the need to keep the fact that aliens live on Earth a secret.  Will Smith says that sooner or later people will find out and accept it because “people are smart.”  Tommy Lee Jones corrects him and says, “A person can be smart; people are dumb, panicky, and dangerous, and you know that.” 

As unflattering as that statement is, I have to agree with it in many ways. So many times, a seemingly smart person can become a very dumb individual and make poor choices when they form a mob with other people, as happens a lot these days. 

Let me give you just a couple examples from Scripture that stand out to me.

The Fickle at Lystra

Paul and Barnabas had been working their way through a number of towns preaching about Christ, when they came to the town of Lystra.  Acts 14:8 tells us that there was a man who had been lame from birth that was listening to Paul preach.  Paul sees that the man has faith and calls out for him to stand up – and he does!  For the first time in his life, the man can walk – a genuine miracle takes place. 

Well, this is something that absolutely affects the folks at Lystra in a major way.  In fact, they’re so in awe of Paul and Barnabas that they say, “The gods have become like men and have come down to us.”  But it gets better.  The people start the process of offering sacrifices to Paul and Barnabas – something the missionary pair promptly put a stop to, with the Bible saying, “And even saying these things, they with difficulty restrained the crowds from offering sacrifice to them (Acts 14:18).  Obviously, Paul and Barnabas had won the people of Lystra over in a forever type of way, right?

But wait – the very next verse in Acts says this: “But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having won over the multitudes, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead.”  Incredible, isn’t it?  The same city that couldn’t wait to offer sacrifices to Paul and Barnabas are won over by a crew of wicked men and stand in agreement as their hero is stoned and dragged away. 

Amazing. 

But wait – I can trump this example with one that’s even better. 

The Unbelievers at Bethany 

The resurrection of Lazarus from the grave is a familiar episode chronicled in John, and one witnessed by many people.  It doesn’t get more miraculous that a guy who’s been in the grave for four days being raised from the dead.  And it does have an effect – John 11:45 says the event caused a number of those there to believe in Jesus. 

But not everyone experiences a change in heart.  The religious leaders get word of what happened and have an amazing reaction.  Never is a word recorded about them not believing in what occurred – that a genuine miracle from God had indeed taken place.  But what is recorded is the following: “So from that day on they planned together to kill Him (John 11:53). 

But it gets better. A celebratory dinner is held in Bethany, and many attend the event.  The celebrity attendee besides Jesus is, of course, Lazarus. Everyone wants to see and talk to him (wouldn’t you?)  But the reaction of the religious leaders is beyond amazing and is recorded in John 12:10-11: “But the chief priests took counsel that they might put Lazarus to death also; because on account of him many of the Jews were going away, and were believing in Jesus.” 

So let’s get this straight – the religious crowd not only wants to do away with Jesus, but they’re planning to kill another innocent man because his being alive is causing people to believe in Christ? 

Stop for a moment and let this sink in. 

Rather than acknowledging the accrediting miracle of Jesus and putting their faith in Him, they’re all in agreement to kill Him instead and, while they’re at it, kill Lazarus too. 

Oy.

But wait – I can trump this example with one that’s even better. 

The Forgetful at Jerusalem  

Down the mountain rode the Son of Man toward Jerusalem, fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9 about the King coming to His people mounted on a gentle donkey.  For the first time ever in His ministry, Jesus allowed Himself to be publicly proclaimed the Messiah as He entered Jerusalem. 

And honor Him they did!  Matthew 21 records that the people cheered, laid palm branches in the road, and shouted deliverance scriptures (“Hosanna” literally means “save, we pray” and is taken from Psalm 118) to herald His arrival into the city. How many of these people Jesus personally touched with His ministry, how many He had healed and ministered to, we aren’t told, but they certainly know who He is, what He has done, and are honoring Him in a spectacular way.

But how quickly people forget. 

Flash forward just a few days and the same citizens of the city now have a different perspective on Jesus during His trial.  Pilate, trying every possible way to release Jesus, drives the crowd to make a seemingly easy choice between releasing the Man they had worshiped only days earlier and a murdering insurrectionist.  But Pilate’s grand-canyon distinction fails to hit the mark. 

Why?  Matthew 27:20 gives us the reason: “But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the multitudes to ask for Barabbas, and to put Jesus to death.”  Pilate tries to reason with them, but it’s no use.  “They all said, ‘Let Him be crucified!”, Matthew 27:22. 

But wait – I can trump this example with one that’s even better. 

The Liars of the Empty Tomb

They had passed out from fear at the sight of the angels who came to roll the stone away from the tomb where Jesus had been laid. When they came to, the guards knew full well that what they had seen was a miraculous event, and they scrambled back to the chief priests who had employed them to relay the whole story.

Two incredible testimonies to the fallen human nature occur then. 

First, the Pharisees maintain the same hardness of heart that kept them from believing in Christ when He raised Lazarus from the dead. Think of it – they knew He said He’d come back from the dead in three days and it happens!  If anything would cause someone to believe this has to be it.  But instead, they deny what their plain senses are telling them, pay off the guards, and concoct a story that’s logically ridiculous about how the disciples came and stole the body out from under the guard’s noses.

But perhaps even more incredibly, the guards go along with it. 

Can you believe it?  They saw what happened.  Never mind the illogical fabrication of maintaining the disciples stole the body while they were asleep (how could they know that if they were asleep?); they knew the story was false.  In the days that followed, they had to have heard the rumblings about Jesus being seen alive. 

But Matthew 28:15 says, “And they took the money and did as they had been instructed; and this story was widely spread among the Jews, as is to this day.”  As a group, they stuck to the crazy story even though each one of them individually knew the truth – a truth that could save their souls if they stopped and thought about it. 

Conclusion

Do you know why these events took place?  Why a crowd can worship men one minute and let them be stoned the next?  Why a gathering of men can fail to acknowledge a verified miracle, and instead plot to kill the Man (along with the object of His miracle) who performed it?  Why a city can exalt a Man as their coming King with one breath, and with the same vocal cords cry for His death in a matter of just days?  And why a group of men can lie through their teeth and deny that they had personally witnessed the single greatest event in human history?

Because a person can be smart, but people – when they form a mob – are dumb, panicky, and dangerous.  And you know that.    

Robin Schumacher is a software executive and Christian apologist who has written many apologetic articles, appeared on nationally syndicated radio programs, and presented at various apologetic events. He holds a Master's in Christian apologetics and a Ph.D. in New Testament.

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