The History of Mob Rule


What does the teenager say when he is not allowed to do something? "Everyone is doing it." He should be able to go to this party, she should be able to go to that movie because "Everyone is doing it." I don't think we ever grow out of the "everyone is doing it" rational. This in essence is mob rule. The mob rules what we want and don't want.

The history of mob rule is long. Joseph's 10 brothers agree to sell him into captivity. What they wouldn't do individually they did do collectively. Moses had to contend with the mob from Egypt to Canaan. He hadn't even got across the Red Sea and already the sons of Israel accused him of bringing them out into the wilderness to die. Three chapters later the people are thirsty and said, "Why, now, have you brought us up from Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?" Aaron blames the rule of the mob for his making a golden calf while Moses is on Mt. Sinai receiving the Law. When the Lord sent 12 spies into Canaan. 10 brought back the report that Israel would be as small as insects in a war against the people of the land. Two men said, "The Lord will do as He has promised." The 10 swayed the rest of the people to not only accuse Moses but God Himself. Finally, Korah incited a mob to rebel against Moses and Aaron.

You can find the rule of the mob in the Book of Judges when the men of the City of Gibeah brutalize a woman. You can find it in the time of David when the nation of Israel is persuaded to rebel against him by Absalom. The mob is there on Mount Carmel when Elijah goes toe to toe with 950 false prophets and none of the people stand with him. The whole history of the Old Testament has one mob after another banding together to rebel against God, His Law, or His leaders.

Tonight's Passion reading is the climax of mob rule. Pilate offers the mob a choice between Jesus whom he had declared innocent numerous times or a guilty Barabbas. We read, "With ONE voice they cried out to the governor: 'Away with this Man! Release Barabbas to us!'" What should be done with Jesus, "Crucify Him! Crucify Him!" Still Pilate tried to win Jesus' release, but the mob would be satisfied with nothing less than Jesus' blood. Mobs are very volatile, very dangerous things. It is a serious crime to incite a riot because once a mob gets worked up there is no telling what it will do.

The history of mob rule is a long one, and it is our history. But most of you don't think so. Americans in general and Texans in particular like to think of themselves as independent. On the contrary, I think we're very prone to go along with the crowd. What does America wish to spread all over the world? Democracy. Democracy literally translated is "rule of the people." In America, our government has checks and balances that theoretically prevent it from being a pure democracy, that prevent the mob from ruling. However, in practice the majority rules. If most people believe something, it must be right. Poll after poll is done and promoted because we are influenced by what most people think. Could 70% of people be wrong? They answer of course is "YES," but not many will go against them.

Most of us have a built in detector that knows what the majority wants. We warn our children about the pressure of their peers, but in reality, we go around with one eye and ear tuned to what the majority thinks and feels. It is not hard to determine what a group or a mob of people think or feel. So while we may disagree here or there, we will make sure that our disagreeing doesn't put us too far outside of the pack. Everyone with common sense knows it's dangerous to be caught outside of the pack.

I think most of you disagree with what I've just said. You're saying, "That's not me. I stand up for what is right. I stand up for what I believe." Sure you do. Remind yourself of that the next time you're in a group hostile to your beliefs. I think you do what I do. I think you're quiet or at the most only show some disagreement. Furthermore, I think if you or I were in the crowd before Pilate's judgment throne we would have been yelling "Crucify Him! Crucify Him!" I don't think one of us would have been shouting, "Let Him go! Let Him go!" O, I would like to think I would resist the mob, but I don't know that I could.. When pushed to the limit, when confronted with a mob and it's venom, where would I find the strength to resist.

The Good News I have tonight is that Jesus went to the cross because of mob rule. I mean more than Jesus was sent to the cross because of a bloodthirsty mob. I mean that Jesus went to the cross to deliver us from the rule of the mob. We confess in the Second Article of the Creed, "I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord." In the Explanation we say, "I believe that Jesus my Lord." Saying it this way can give the impression that we are stating an obvious fact. But Luther's Large Catechism says what we are really saying is that Jesus "has become my Lord." Before Jesus became our Lord, says Luther, we had no lord or king (i.e we were part of the mob) and we were under the power of the devil. We were entangled in sin and blindness and sentenced to death.

Friends, I can say you and I are so susceptible to the mob because that is our natural fallen condition. On our own we recognize no one over us, no one as our king or lord, not even the Lord of lords and the King of kings. Therefore, we are susceptible to the tyranny of the crowd. Unless we see this, we will foolishly think we can on our own withstand peer pressure, stand up to the coercion of the mob. But mobs sweep most everyone away with them; that is why Jesus says there are many on the path of destruction.

Over against the many Christians are called to stand. Yet even in our Passion reading, you don't hear of Peter, John, or any other disciple there shouting, "Let Him go!" Men who had been in Jesus' seminary training for 3 years didn't have the wherewithal to stand against the mob, and we think we do, we can, we will?

I think you will. How can I say that? Read Foxes Book of Martyrs. There you will find almost 400 small print pages about men and women who stood against the tyranny of the mob. These are men and women who had everything to gain by going along with the mob, but didn't. They boldly confessed Jesus and His truth in the face of torture, imprisonment, and death. Jesus will do for you what He did for them. I can say such a bold statement because I know what Jesus has already done for you. Jesus first and foremost has become your Lord. He did this by redeeming you a lost and condemned person. He purchased and won you from all sins, from death and from the power of the devil.

You were sold into slavery under Satan. Your sins placed you under his control. God's Law kept you under Satan's domain. You were no different than the rest; you were just like the mob. Why shouldn't you go along with them? Why shouldn't you act like they did? But something happened. God sent His Son into your flesh bearing your sins and living a holy life under the Law. The horrible mistreating of Jesus we see in our Passion reading is what our sins deserve. The blows that landed unjustly on Him rightly should have landed on us. And in all this, Jesus sinned not. Our sins and the holy Law kept us in prison with the mob. Once our sins were paid for, once the Law was kept, however, Satan had to let us go. Even Satan had to admit sins were paid for and the Law was kept. With what then could he keep us in prison?

But wait! There's more. When we were in the kingdom of the mob, in the crowd of the damned, we were subject to it's laws, it's whims, it's tyranny. But not anymore. We are now in Christ's kingdom. That's what we say in the Explanation to the Creed. The purpose of the suffering, sighing bleeding and dying of Jesus that we see in the Passion history is "that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom."

Here's where the tricky part comes. Here is where so many of you run right back into the kingdom of the Evil One, right back under his tyranny, right back into the rule of the mob. We confess that the result of Jesus redeeming us lost and condemned persons is that we might "serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness, JUST AS He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity." Many of you run right back into Satan's kingdom by saying, "Now that I have been redeemed I must always serve Him righteously, innocently and blessedly. And you try. You do your best to stand up to the mob, to resist the crowds, to march to the beat of a risen Lord and not a damned Satan.

What happens? You fail a thousand times a day in a hundred different ways. So you feel the weight of your sins all the more. You feel that weight so heavily you say, "What's the use? I might as well go along with the mob since I certainly can't stand against it." The problem is you think the difference between you and the mob is suppose to be that you don't sin, but the real difference is that you stand in the Lord's kingdom of forgiveness.

What you are forgetting is the JUST AS clause that the Explanation ends with. "Just as" or "in the same way" that Jesus is risen never to die, so you are. Just as Jesus lives free from the sins He died for, so you do. Just as He reigns over the devil, so you do. The Creed doesn't instruct you how you are to live it tells you how you do live in the eyes of God because of what Jesus has done for you. Luther in the Large Catechism says in the same way the First Article of the Creed tells you how God gives you all earthly goods, so the Second Article tells you how He gives you Himself. The Second Article is all about what Jesus gives to you not what He expects from you. Jesus gives you a righteous, innocent, blessed life starting today and lasting to all eternity.

Therefore, we confess in the Explanation that the purpose of Jesus redeeming us is that we MAY serve in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness. This is how the Lord sees our sinful, feeble, frail service in Christ. He sees it as righteous. He sees it as innocent. He sees it as blessed. Think of how a loving parent sees the service of a toddler. He or she praises it, accepts it, cherishes it although when the child washes dishes she gets water all over the flood and when the boy helps change the oil he gets oil all over himself. The parent's love looks past all of this. That's how the Lord looks at your service in Christ. He cherishes it; He accepts it; He praises it as righteous, innocent and blessed.

Here dear friends is strength to overthrow the rule of the mob. Just as a parent's love helps a child withstand peer pressure, so God's love helps us withstand the world's pressure. What do you think made the thousands of Christians withstand the rule of the mob and confess Christ? It wasn't knowing the Law. It wasn't knowing what they must do or not do. It wasn't the threat of God's punishment. It was the love of God in Christ which only and always saw them as righteous, innocent, and blessed. When I left home, it was not a fear of my father's wrath that kept me out of the mob, it was knowing how deeply my mother loved me. That called me out of the mob because it melted my heart. God's love in Christ is more wonderful and powerful. More wonderful and more powerful than any mob. Amen.

Rev. Paul R. Harris

Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas

Midweek V (3-28-01), Crucified