A Fickle Following
Read Matthew 4:23-25 (ESV)
And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those opposed by demons, those having seizures, and paralytics, and he healed them. And great crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.
How might the motives and the level of dedication of those in the crowds that followed Jesus be different from that of the twelve disciples?
Imagine hearing of a man who could heal the sick, make the blind see, the deaf hear, the paralyzed get up and walk, and make those with leprosy made clean. Imagine you heard of a man who cast out demons and preached that you should repent because the “kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). Imagine that you listened to Him teach in the synagogue and you were amazed at what He said because He was teaching with an authority that you have never experienced when listening to the scribes (Mark 1:22, Luke 4:32). What would you do? Would you follow Him?
In today’s verses we read that many people did follow Him. It says that great crowds followed him from miles around. This is confirmed in Mark 3:8-10 “When a great crowd heard all that he was doing, they came to him. And he told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, lest they crush him, for he had healed many, so that all who had diseases pressed around him to touch him.”
But how many of these people followed Him because they truly believed that He was the Son of God and the promised Messiah? How many people followed Him simply because they wanted to be healed or were hungry and He could meet their needs? How many were just curious and wanted to experience the spectacle?
In John 6, we read that once the teaching started to require something of the people instead of just benefiting them, many deserted. In fact, Jesus exposed their motives in John 6:26 when He said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” They were following Him only to have their physical needs met. Once Jesus declared Himself the “bread of life” and started discussing how He would fulfill their spiritual needs if they ate His flesh they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” (John 6:60) and after that, many of the following “turned back and no longer walked with him” (John 6:66).
And yet when Jesus turned to the twelve and asked them if they wanted to turn away as well, Peter demonstrated that he understood that following Jesus was more than just following a spectacle and it was more than just having material needs temporarily met. He said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:66-69). The disciples didn’t fully understand Jesus’ mission here on earth but they did believe that following Him would lead to eternal life. They believed that He was the Messiah.
Out of the great crowds that followed Jesus, many people proved to be fickle followers. They found Him fascinating but they were only interested in what He could do for them short-term. They didn’t understand that He could do so much more than simply satisfy their temporary, earthly needs. Jesus could satisfy their needs for all eternity. And yet only a few understood that.
Friend, what is your motive for following Jesus? Do you follow Him because You want Him to meet all of your earthly needs? Or do you follow Him because You understand that He offers so much more?
Jesus, I understand that You are so much more than just the fulfiller of my earthly needs. You are the Holy One of God and You are the Messiah. It is worth the cost to follow You because You have the words of eternal life. Amen.