Luke 14:25 begins with these words: “Large crowds were traveling with Jesus…”
Early in His ministry people were very interested in Jesus. He always had a crowd around. In that crowd you could find four types of people.
First, there were the committed: His followers and disciples.
Second there were the curious. This group wasn’t quite sure what was going on, but every once in a while they would get a free lunch out of it or maybe they would receive some type of blessing, see someone healed, or hear something that would cause them to say, “Wow, that was really good, think I’ll write that one down.” They weren’t really followers of Jesus, they were more fans of His.
Then there were the critical. This was the group who were there in hopes that they would catch Him in some misstep. It was those guys who kept bringing Him questions to trap Him, the religious leaders who were so bent on keeping their traditions alive that they had little room for the truth Jesus was bringing. They saw Jesus’ teaching as a threat to them.
Then there were the criminals; they wanted to kill Jesus. The critical wanted to discount him. The criminals wanted to do away with Him.
You can be certain that all four of those groups were in every crowd that gathered around Jesus and you can be sure they are around every one of His followers today as well.
One of the things we forget today is the fact that Jesus drew people — large crowds of people. Today in the church, if something is big, we tend to think something is automatically wrong about it. If that’s the case, we should have a real problem with Jesus, because He always had a crowd of people around Him.
Let’s not forget also that the first church was not the small house church that we tend to think it was. By the accounts of Luke, there were a minimum of 5,000 in attendance at that church. There were, in fact, so many that Luke only counts the adult men who comprised that earliest of churches.
Scholars tell us that the attendance was somewhere between 20,000 and 25,000. This early gathering of believers was no small group meeting in secret. In today’s terms, they were a mega-church. No wonder it got the attention of the Jewish leaders.
This large group would meet in one of the temple courts and then break into small group fellowships in homes where they would eat together and discuss the message. We see this in Acts 2:46: “Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts…” (NIV84).
Those who wish to reduce this early church into small house church gatherings misuse this verse from Acts ignoring the larger context of meeting in the temple courts (the only place in Jerusalem big enough to accommodate a crowd of 25,000) and isolate the phrase “they broke bread in their homes,” making it fit their concept of small church.
Here is what we know: Jesus drew people. There was something so compelling about Jesus that people who were nothing like Him wanted to be around Him — all the time. He didn’t compromise, He didn’t cajole them or coax them to follow, but they hung around.
I kind of suspect that if we, the church, were actually doing as Jesus did, we’d experience the same thing; people would want to be around us. Some would become true followers, and others would hang around as fans. Still, others would be with us hoping to find fault and, sadly, there would be those hanging around who were looking to close us down.
Dr. John Pearrell is pastor of Gateway Community Church in Covington. For more information, visit the Gateway website at www.gatewaycommunity.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.