The church (as an institution and as a body of believers and as individual believers) has a lot to learn from the crowds, and sadly, it's a source of encouragement and discipleship that we often miss.
A lot of churches have established themselves as wanting to be like the "first church" - the church in Acts. We call ourselves New Testament churches, and we seek to do things the way they were done when the first churches were established not long after the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. We figure there must be something about the way they did it, something important, especially since God included some information about them and their processes in His Holy Word. So we spend a lot of time in the New Testament after the Gospels, trying to uncover what we can about how to do church.
This gives us one set of ideas. It gives us ideas about preaching and worship, about elders and deacons, about meeting together and breaking bread. And these are important things. But they aren't everything.
So then, we usually go and try to uncover what we can about discipleship and faithfulness from, well, the actual disciples. We go back to the Gospels and look at guys like Andrew and Peter, James and John. We read what they wrote, we read what was written about them, we take in their experiences as best as we can and try to build on the things they got right. Who doesn't want to be more like Peter?
This gives us another set of ideas, which we add to the first. It gives us ideas about discipleship, about following Jesus, about learning from Him, about mistakes and faithfulness. It even starts to give us an idea about coming as we are - each of these disciples was a different individual, and so are we. And these, too, are important things. But they aren't everything.
So we go back again and this time, we look at Jesus Himself. (I'm not sure why it always takes us this long to get to looking at Jesus as an example, but it seems to be the case more often than not.) We look at the way He walked and talked. We look at how He interacted with others. We look at His devotional life, His miracles, His teachings. The way He invited Himself to the sinner's house or humbled Himself in the Upper Room.
This gives us a third set of ideas, which we add to the first two. It gives us ideas about living a holy and faithful life in the world, about how to hold onto the very good things of God even in a dirty place like this. We want to be like Jesus. Ask any Christian, and they will tell you - we want to be more like Jesus. And this is a very good and important thing. It could be everything. (Actually, if it were, it would solve a lot of our problems.)
But there is one more place to look, a place we often don't look - and that place is the crowds.
The crowds are the closest thing we're going to read about that mimic the kind of life we're actually living. In the crowds, we find the church. And the disciples. And Jesus. And...the world. It's all there. There's a hodgepodge of sinners, believers, seekers, saints, the religious elite, the poorest of the poor, the educated, the uneducated, the clean, the dirty. Everybody's there. The crowds are our life, busy with stuff, pressed in from every side, surrounded by things we know and don't know, like and don't like. It's in the crowds where we see something of the faith that the New Testament church and the disciples don't quite show us.
And it's stuff like we've been talking about this week - stuff like how to be so single-mindedly focused on Jesus that we don't have time to gossip about the bleeding woman in our midst. That we don't think to push her out or push her away. That we might even bend over and whisper right to her, "Look! There He is!"
Yes, there's something about the crowds that would make us a better church. Are we willing to learn from them?