Let your yes be yes and do not grumble. How do these things relate, and what is James trying to show us? Rev. Powell joins me for a deep dive into it.
Juan Diaz was a Spanish Reformer. This is the story of his confession, but also of his murder by his own twin brother. A reminder of Luke 12:51-53 for us all.
One interesting thing that I think we can learn from our response to this pandemic is the power of groupthink. There are several examples of this in the Bible. Remember the triumphal entry. There the people gathered and shouted: “Hosanna to the Son of David!” among other things (see Matthew 21:1-11). The Bible author notes that there were others who joined the crowds asking, “Who is this?” (Matthew 21:10). People, apparently, flocked to the noise of the crowd with no real knowledge. What drew them was not Jesus, but the masses. People like to be a part of the crowd. From what happens next in Jesus’s life, we can know that the throng was not being entirely honest about the confession it was making with its mouth and actions. After all, Jesus cries over them at that very moment (Luke 19:41-44).
And that leads to consideration of another crowd: the people asking Pilate for Jesus’s death. Pilate gave the people a choice: release Jesus, the man who healed the sick and cured the lame, or release Barabbas, the man who stole and rioted. The chief priests and elders persuaded the masses to ask for Barabbas instead of Jesus (Matthew 27:20). And the crowd chanted, “Let him be crucified,” regarding Jesus (Matthew 27:23). They even went so far as to say the responsibility for his death could be put on their own and their children’s heads despite Pilate declaring, “I find no fault in him” (Matthew 27:25, John 18:38). The multitude then asserted, “We have no king but Caesar” (John 19:15). Such a statement is remarkable when one considers that these were Jews who, in general, rejected gentile rule. They shunned tax collectors because they were considered traitors for working with the Roman government. Professing Caesar as their king was completely out-of-character and reveals the danger of groupthink.
Acts 19 gives us another example of a crowd, and this one turns into a bloodthirsty mob. We know how it began: some silversmiths started to riot because a rise in Christianity had resulted in less demand for the silver idols they forged of Artemis. We read, “the city was filled with confusion, and they rushed together” (Acts 19:29). There was turmoil, and what did the people do? They rushed together and simply followed along. It was the easy response. How could so many be wrong? There was confidence in numbers. No one abandoned course when the rabble turned violent, dragging two Christian men before them, probably with evil intent. The people allowed it because a crowd can’t reason; it simply acts. We are told, “most of them did not know why they had come together” (Acts 19:32). The mob rejected Alexander’s urging to disperse because he was a Jew and then spent two hours chanting about Artemis (Acts 19:34). So, this was no here-a-minute and gone-the-next group of people. Despite the confusion and unawareness, the tumult continued for two hours, chanting and making professions of faith/nationalistic pride. In the end, the crowd did not disperse until the town official threatened to charge them with rioting (Acts 19:35-41). It was not reason that dispersed the crowd; it was self-preservation.
You might be thinking, “What about those times that the crowds followed Jesus? Wasn’t that a good thing?” The vast majority of the time, it wasn’t. For example, in John 6, the masses followed him briefly, but they eventually turned away when Jesus’s teaching was too difficult (John 6:1-66). Sometimes a crowd is mentioned in scripture to contrast with how few people actually believe, such as Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46-47) or the woman who touched Christ’s garment (Mark 5:24-34). Many followed, but few showed signs of faith. Such is almost always indicative of those who separated themselves from the crowd. The word “church” even means “called out.”
So, what ought to be the response of the Christian to the crowd? It is pity. We pity, and therefore we show mercy, especially by proclaiming the gospel. Jesus demonstrated this when he fed the multitude (Matthew 15:32) and when he healed the sick (Matthew 14:14). He taught the crowds (Matthew 5-7) when they would listen, and he prayed for their salvation (Luke 23:34).
I think we often overlook the use of crowds for groupthink in the Bible, but there is an important lesson in them. As Christians, we must always ask, “Am I following Jesus or am I following the crowd?”
We continue on in James, and tackle the next two verses. And this episode does see the triumphant return of Rev. Mosley!
No one expects the inquisition, but we take a look at how some Italian Reformers responded to the Inquisition. And we try to take a few lessons from this persecution that fell upon the Reformers of Italy.
We return to our trip through the book of James as we dive into the 5th chapter. Rev. Powell and I discuss James 5:1-6 and what exactly it means for the rich, riches, and us. Enjoy or perhaps Beware.
The COVID 19 virus has shaken up the world, and its effects can be seen and felt in many ways. And frankly will be for sometime.
One of those effects is on the worship. Many people were not allowed to gather for worship thanks to government orders, and many more thought it unsafe because of the danger of the virus. And so the church “virtually” worshiped. With the aid of the internet families watched and sang along as the sermons and services were broadcast. Tim Challies documented this through photos from his many friends and contacts around the world. His images show largely the same thing around the world, families watching a television or computer, participating as best they can, but doing so in isolation.
Tim doesn’t make much comment upon this other than it was extraordinary, but the post has a ring of interest or hope to it. It fails to mention that this will be ordinary for the next several weeks at least. He seems to post the pictures with interest or delight, but when I see them, I want to cry.
What these pictures show us is a church fragmented, perhaps even severed, or at least separated. The church is not worshiping together. Can we even really call it worship if we don’t gather together physically? I’ll leave that for another post on another day. Yet, it is clear that one of the main pictures of the church is destroyed. The church is called the body of Christ. Paul has a whole discussion on how the body is many members, many parts, but one whole in 1 Corinthians 12:12-26. It is pointed out how bad it is if the eye is disconnected from the ear, and the ear from the nose. By themselves the parts are lacking. In fact, Paul makes sure we understand we have ‘need’ of one another (v.21). But each in our own homes how can we be one body? How can we bestow honor on other members (v.23)? Yes, we are still the body of Christ when we are not all together, but right now the hand is in front his computer and the nose is in front of her TV, and the feet are alone in their rooms on their phones, and it is not good, not good at all. What can we really say about all of this? What does this show us?
What we can say is that with some sitting or standing at home and others appearing on a screen that the church has been exiled from one another, and that should give us pause. Exile is a very serious picture in the Scriptures.
I am not arguing that people should violate a shelter in place order in this post. I am arguing that we must stop and think about the fact that a virus, clearly under the control of God, came and stopped the public worship of Jesus Christ around the globe. Read Psalm 42. The Psalmist is separated from the gathering of the saints to worship, which is so important it is compared to drinking water (v.1), by the oppression of enemies (verse 9). Worship that is equated with “appearing before God” (v.2). The Psalmist is not denying God is with us all the time, but is affirming that worship is something special he went and did, like appearing before a King. We are separated from worship because of an act of God too. When the Lord does this we ought to cry out “Have mercy on us O God!” and “How long, O Lord?” and even “Why?” The entire church ought to stop and search its soul. Time on our knees, on our face, in prayer and repentance is a must. For God does not stop His worship for no reason.
This is a day for mourning and sadness. It is not a day of interest or excitement. It is not doing something different. It is a day for our tears to be our food night and day just like it was for the Psalmist. The pictures do not show us a fascinating retrospective on a really interesting time. They do not show us how the church just adapted to its new circumstance. It shows a church in exile around the world. Exiled and its body parts severed and dispersed to their own living rooms.
Tim Challies has a follow up post about not being worried that the church will turn into a Face-time Church, and he strongly supports and sees the importance of physical gathering together of the saints. But the enormity of the church stopping public worship world wide because of the providence of God still does not seem to have permeated his writing. When the Lord did this in the Exile, the people of Israel did not take photos or think it was interesting to be in Babylon, but rather they mourned. Days of mourning were set up to remember the day they were taken and the day the temple was destroyed. The importance of what God had done was not lost on them. Then he used the Babylonians to accomplish the Exile, today he uses a virus. But it is still God at work.
Like Habakkuk, we must live by faith during this time. But perhaps we ought to see this a little more like God Exiling Israel during Habakkuk’s time and a little less like a unique event that makes a good photo essay.
We haven’t checked in on the Waldenses in some time, so we see what they are up to in 1540. And unsurprisingly it is trying not to be killed by the French Catholics. Find out about the Arret de Merindol to see the depth of the hatred toward Christ and his followers.
Good Friday is always a time to stop and remind ourselves about Christ’s death and crucifixion. And sometime it is beneficial to study one person in particular during the crucifixion. Today, I would like to examine Pilate.
Luke 23 gives the story in straightforward detail. Pilate found no guilt in him, but the chief priests and scribes “were urgent” (Luke 23:4) in rejecting the ruling of innocent. Pilate gives Jesus over to Herod, who gives him back. Pilate then tries three more times to release Jesus because he is innocent until he gives in and grants the request for crucifixion (Luke 23:6-24). Pilate had ample opportunity to let Jesus go, but did not.
Mark gives us the insight that Pilate understood what was going on. He knows Jesus is innocent. And Pilate knows that Jesus was being handed over because of “envy” (Mark 15:10). Yet, Pilate wishes to “satisfy the crowd” (15:15), so he delivers Jesus to crucified.
Matthew’s gospel confirms Pilate knew it was out of envy Jesus had been delivered, and adds that his own wife had sent him a letter speaking of Jesus’s righteousness and a warning in a dream (Matthew 27:19). Matthew lets us know that Pilate literally “washed his hands” of Jesus’s death and the crowd accepted the blame. Off Jesus was sent to die.
So why did Pilate crucify Jesus? John gives us the answer. Fear.
John 18 introduces us to Pilate as he takes Jesus from the High Priest to examine him on the request that he be put to death. Pilate in verses 33 through 38 simply has a conversation about Jesus. Pilate is not a believer and is dismissive, but does his job and finds no guilt in him (v.38). But the Jews do not want Jesus, they would rather Pilate release a man who was a robber. So, Pilate has Jesus flogged. You might wonder why didn’t Pilate just declare him innocent and let him go. Why try to placate the crowd. The answer is that Pilate was afraid. It is made plain that he has fear in 19:8 when we are told he became even more afraid. This lets us know Pilate was already operating from a place of fear. Pilate then again states Jesus has no guilt (19:4). Jesus is paraded in front of them in humiliation, but it is not enough for the Jews. They want him crucified. Pilate doesn’t want any part of it because of Jesus’s innocence, but they demand it because Jesus declared himself the Son of God. Pilate’s reaction is more fear (19:8).
Pilate redoubles his questions of Jesus, but still finds no fault. When he again seeks to release Jesus (19:12), he can’t because of his fear of the crowd. They crowd wants Jesus dead, and Pilate is afraid of them. He has the power to release Jesus. He has the power to do the right thing. But he doesn’t and sends Jesus to his death because of fear.
Fear is a powerful force. It can makes us do strange things. Fear distorts all senses. What is really important? What power do I have? What power do others have? What ought be done? All of this and more are twisted beyond recognition when fear takes hold of us. And Pontus Pilate is a perfect example. He had the power to do the right thing, he just didn’t have the courage. Fear overwhelmed his sense of right and wrong. It overwhelmed his duty to uphold the law. Fear made him think the crowd was more powerful than he was, more powerful than the law. Fear made him think that he couldn’t stop it anyway. Fear made him think it wasn’t a big deal anyway. We see at one point he is afraid when he hears that Jesus is the Son of God, but ultimately fear of the crowd won over fear of God, and Jesus is murdered.
I know that some church traditions tell us that Pilate later became a Christian. Let us hope so. But, the picture given to us in the Bible is a picture of a man overcome with fear. A man who let fear dictate what he did. Fear distorted his sense of right and wrong, and led him to be a horrible judge and an accomplice in murder. Fear warped his mind to point of doing unthinkable things, all in the name of fear.
This is one reason I like the King James translation of 1 Timothy 1:7 “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and a sound mind.” A sound mind. Some translations say discipline or self-control. The message is that in Christ we can be safe from fear, safe from the mind distorting power of fear. So that we might control our actions and act rightly. Not in fear, but in love.
This Good Friday remember, don’t be afraid. Christ has died, and given you a spirit of power, love, and a sound mind.
A short quick thought exhortation about death and Jesus’s transforming of it. Using Paul’s view and confidence of death, which should really be driven home to us right now. May God give us such confidence and faith.