Many years ago, when I was a young believer, I heard a sermon in which the pastor defined being a Christian as being a follower of Jesus Christ. In John 14:15, Jesus tells us, “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” That is the essence of following Jesus: living in obedience to what He tells us to do.
In February, my church started a three-year plan of reading through the entire Bible. This has been good for me as it has been many years since I did that. I have already been reminded of so many nuggets tucked into the Bible. For example, Exodus 23:2 tells us, “Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong.” Nine chapters later, in Exodus 32:1-2, we read, “When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, ‘Come, make us gods who will go before us.'” The Israelites were very quick to forget the Lord’s miraculous deliverance from the Egyptians. Aaron, the high priest, who should have been the leader in upholding the Lord’s holiness while Moses was on Mount Sinai, instead acquiesced to the demand of the people by fashioning a golden calf and an altar to it.
Another example of following the crowd is the morning of Jesus’ crucifixion. Matthew 27:20 tells us, “But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed.” In verses 22 and 23, the crowd calls out to Pilate, the Roman governor, “Crucify Him!” Unlike Aaron, the priest who made the golden calf, Pilate at least tries to reason with the crowd, asking in verse 23, “Why? What crime has he committed?” In verse 25, we read these chilling words from the crowd: “Let his blood be on us and on our children!” Pilate then gives in.
In spite of American society being a relatively individualist one, we can also easily give in to the crowd. I recently came across a rather shocking statement from the Atlanta mayor, but before that, let me give a little background. Perhaps you’ve heard of the shooting of Rayshard Brooks by Garrett Rolfe, a police officer; this happened last summer. The case is still under investigation, but one striking thing about it is that Rolfe was fired the day after the shooting. Normally–and legally–an officer has 10 days to respond to a “notice of proposed adverse action,” e.g. possible disciplinary action. Here is the statement from Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms: “Given the volatile state of our city and nation last summer, the decision to terminate this officer, after he fatally shot Mr. Brooks in the back, was the right thing to do. Had immediate action not been taken, I firmly believe that the public safety crisis we experienced during that time would have been significantly worse.” Maybe at first glance, this doesn’t seem shocking to you, but if you read it carefully, I think you will see what I mean. The reason Officer Rolfe was fired so quickly is, to repeat, that “the public safety crisis we experienced during that time would have been significantly worse.” In other words, Rolfe was denied due process because the mayor was afraid of the crowd, or the mob. Would the rioting in Atlanta last summer have been even worse if the mayor had not immediately fired Rolfe? Maybe so, but that doesn’t make the mayor’s decision “the right thing to do,” regardless of what you or I might think about Rolfe’s actions. I should add that Rolfe was reinstated last month, which was the right thing to do, while the case is still being investigated.
In all three cases–Aaron the priest, Pilate the Roman governor, and the Atlanta mayor–we have leaders who gave in to the crowd. This emphasizes the heavy responsibility of leadership. However, I’m sure we can also all think of instances where we have followed the crowd, not as leaders, but one of the crowd. This may have been in a very direct way, such as when we were kids. It may also be in a more indirect way, such as not being intentional about raising our own kids to follow the Lord rather than the crowd. It may be in following the crowd/cultural norms ourselves rather than Scripture. May the Lord continue to give us the strength to stand up for Him, especially in regard to not following the crowd in doing wrong.