CROWDS AND MOBS
Only a few days earlier, a huge crowd had gathered to welcome Jesus to Jerusalem.
Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. 9 Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted,
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
We cannot know, but it is probably safe to surmise, that some of those who shouted “Hosanna!” were also part of the crowd that gathered at the Pilate's palace. They listened as the chief priests and elders made their charges; and as Pilate interrogated the non-responsive Jesus.
Then, when the governor asked who he should release, Jesus or Barabbas, things got really ugly.
In 1964, I was in Air Force security police training. It was a time when Viet Nam was just ramping up, anti-nuclear war sentiment was strong, and cities like Los Angeles and Chicago were erupting in racial violence. It wasn't surprising, then, that our training included crowd and riot control. One of the first things we learned about mobs was:
A mob is dangerous thing one can get caught in. A mob has no leader, has no logic or reason, and no sense of right or wrong or morals. People who as individuals would not do bad things will certainly do them if they are in a mob where responsibility is diluted and spur of the moment actions happen.
The Website Brainz says:
Human beings tend to exhibit very unique behaviors or habits once they’re in a group. Some sociologists call it “herd behavior” but it is more often described as “mob mentality.”
It is not all that difficult to turn a crowd into a mob. How often have we seen a crowd at a sporting event become a mob? Sometimes because their team lost; sometimes because their team won. The cause doesn't matter. Tamara Avant, Psychology program director at South University — Savannah, explains:
When people are part of a group, they often experience deindividuation, or a loss of self-awareness. When people deindividuate, they are less likely to follow normal restraints and inhibitions and more likely to lose their sense of individual identity. Groups can generate a sense of emotional excitement, which can lead to the provocation of behaviors that a person would not typically engage in if alone.
Deindividuation obviously does not occur every time people get together in a group, and there are some group characteristics that increase the likelihood of violence, such as group size and physical anonymity. First, many people believe they cannot be held responsible for violent behavior when part of a mob because they perceive the violent action as the group’s (e.g., “everyone was doing it”) rather than their own behavior. When in a large group, people tend to experience a diffusion of responsibility. Typically, the bigger a mob, the more its members lose self-awareness and become willing to engage in dangerous behavior. Second, physical anonymity also leads to a person experiencing fewer social inhibitions. When people feel that their behavior cannot be traced back to them, they are more likely to break social norms and engage in violence.
Spurred on by the chief priests and elders, the crowd quickly became a mob demanding the release of Barabbas. Three times Pilate asked, and three times, with increasing hostility, the mob demanded Barabbas.
22 “What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” Pilate asked.
They all answered, “Crucify him!”
23 “Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate.
But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!”
I honestly believe that Pilate tried his best to save Jesus' life. Luke tells us; Pilate announced to the chief priests and the crowd, “I find no basis for a charge against this man.” He even offered to comply with the Passover tradition of freeing a prisoner by releasing Jesus. But the crowd would not be placated. They wanted blood. Knowing how easily a riot could begin, and fearing the loss of life and property a riot, and putting it down would entail, he found himself caught in a choice between two evils: the taking of an innocent life against the safety of the city. He made the choice to allow, not demand, Jesus' crucifixion. Mortified by his decision he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!” And Jesus was led off to the slow, agonizing death of crucifixion.
33 They came to a place called Golgotha (which means “the place of the skull”). 34 There they offered Jesus wine to drink, mixed with gall; but after tasting it, he refused to drink it. 35 When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots. 36 And sitting down, they kept watch over him there. 37 Above his head they placed the written charge against him: this is Jesus, the king of the Jews.
38 Two rebels were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left
At noon, as Jesus hung between two criminals, the land was engulfed in darkness. Then, after crying out “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Which the Jews would have recognized as the opening of Psalm 22 which starts out in despair and ends in joy.) Jesus died. He was not in a coma, he was not comatose, he was not in some sort of suspended animation, he was dead. Because they couldn't handle dead bodies on the Sabbath, he was placed in the tomb without preparation. And as if he wasn't already dead, the tomb was sealed, no air could come in. Even if he was alive, he would die from lack of oxygen.
For two thousand years the Jews were persecuted by Christians as “Christ Killers.” They, along with Pilate, were cursed and condemned for their actions on that long-ago day. But the truth is, if anybody deserves the blame, if anyone deserves the credit, it is not the temple leadership. It is not the Roman overlords. It is God, the creator and salvation of the world. It is God, who on that day gave his own Son, to be the final and atoning sacrifice for all humanity.
To understand Good Friday and Easter, we must try to understand the sacrificial system under which Israel lived. Humans were sinners. Atonement required a sacrifice. And so an ongoing circle of sin, sacrifice, atonement, sin sacrifice, atonement emerged. But in the death of Christ, the ultimate and final sacrifice was given. Like the lamb presented for sacrifice, Jesus was without blemish or sin. This was a sacrifice no human could offer, for the sacrifice of a child would be punished by public stoning. Only God could, and only God did, offer that sacrifice, in payment for the sins of all.
In ancient Israel six cities were founded as cities of refuge. Thither for refuge could flee men who, without malice or premeditation, had taken the life of a fellow man. Once within the gates of the city of refuge, they could not be touched by any hand of vengeance or judgment. The rabbis have an interesting tradition that once every year the roads leading to these cities of refuge were carefully repaired and cleared of obstacles and stones, so that the man fleeing for his life would have no hindrance in his way. The Cross is God's great and eternal city of refuge from the penalty upon sin. The cross is God's gift to each and every one of us. It matters not how horrific our sins may be, they are covered, they are paid for, and we are free. The Lamb has been sacrificed. Jesus is dead. Dead but not gone. Hallelujah! AMEN.