Despite our preferred impression that we are strong, resolute individuals who think things out for ourselves, act logically, don't follow the crowd... the reality is that we are but human, and there is a strong tendency within human nature to be fickle and follow the crowd. Is. 53:6 describes our sinfulness like this: "We each like sheep have gone astray [sheep go astray because of their visible tendency to follow the flock they are in]; we have turned everyone to his own way". We each sin in our own unique and personal ways; but we do so because we follow the flock. And the context of Isaiah 53 is that the
crucifixion of the Lord was necessary exactly because of this. He was the ultimate strong man psychologically, who ultimately went the Father's way when no other human ever did.
Biblical history is full of examples of people following the crowd and thereby ending up doing sinful things which their better judgment would tell them not to do:
At least two of Joseph's brothers were against throwing him into the pit, and their comments to each other when they later meet him in Egypt suggest that hardly any of them really wanted to do what they did. But the power of groupthink was greater than that of their individual conscience; a whole group ended up doing something unthinkable, when the majority knew it was wrong.
A study of "the princes" of Judah at the time of the final Babylonian invasion shows that they were not against Jeremiah nor of responding to God's word (Jer. 26:16; 36:14,19); indeed at one stage they pulled back from their path of refusing to respond (Jer. 34:10). But "the princes" were the ones whom Zedekiah feared (Jer. 38:25), and that fear led him to reject God's word. And "the princes" were finally condemned for their weakness (Jer. 32:32); it was they who imprisoned and sought to kill Jeremiah because ultimately they could not abide his word (Jer. 37:15; 38:14).
One person can easily lead a whole group, even of believers, into sin. It was specifically Judas who criticized the extravagant anointing of the Lord (Jn. 12:4,5); but all the disciples actually said it (Mt. 26:8; Mk. 14:4).
And so it is that whole groups of people- even God's people- can be very fickle. The history of David's final years shows this. "The people" were totally loyal to David; then to Absalom; then back to David; then to Adonijah and other pretenders to the throne; then back to David. "The crowd" were initially loyal to John the Baptist and then to Jesus- "the world has gone after him", was the Jewish leadership's frustrated comment. But the same crowd who cried "Hosanna!" were screaming "Crucify Him!" just days later. And the same "crowd" were just two months later deeply moved by Peter's preaching, so that the Jewish authorities were again frustrated by the widespread support for the Jesus movement.
Searching our own lives and reflecting upon the lives of those known to us reveals the same tendency- heights of devotion one day compared to miserable failure the next. Those who once sacrificed all for the sake of the Truth- now indifferent, or even atheist or agnostic. People who would die for each other in love and care, cooling off over months and years into apathy. Brethren who once seemed so strong in faith suddenly come out on internet forums admitting they no longer really believe in God nor even desire to be in His Kingdom. Human beings are fickle and psychologically weak and frail. The frailty or weakness of humanity is a major Bible theme; and the weakness in view is not so much physical as moral and mental. We tend to assume better of ourselves and of others. A hard word or email, a rejection... may do deep damage to another person, although that damage may not be immediately apparent. Recognizing the frailty of others will bring us to a sensitivity towards them which requires constant self-control and self- analysis of our words and unspoken messages. And to live sensitively in this increasingly desensitized world is not only very hard, it is part of picking up the cross of our Lord and following Him to the same painful death.
Focus Upon The Cross
The Bible abounds with images of stability. God is presented as a rock, and we are to build our house upon the rock of obedience to His word. We are to have the unwavering faith which is not "like a wave of the sea, driven with the wind and tossed" (James 1:6). The image of being blown around is also used in Eph. 4:14: "Henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, carried about with every wind of doctrine [teaching]". There are those who read something on the internet, hear an idea compellingly presented by a teacher somewhere, and they are shaken by it, "carried about of winds" (Jude 12; Heb. 13:9). In those passages, the same Greek word for "carried about" is used; and the only other time Paul uses it is in speaking of how he "always carried about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus" (2 Cor. 4:10). And here we begin to see one antidote for such instability: A conscious, daily commitment to share in something of the crucifixion sufferings of Jesus, in hope and even present experience of His resurrection life breaking forth into our personal experience. We are asked to pick up His cross, to make His death our own. A firm commitment to this will enable us to stand firm against the various `winds' which buffet us- especially in this internet generation, where information which we're unable (if we're honest) to really process assails us from all sides. How does that suggested teaching, that possible way of living and being, square with my solid, once-for-all commitment to follow my Lord to His cross and beyond?
Back To The Bible
The man who built his house on the rock was able to ultimately withstand the winds. But his building was slow, because it was a `hearing of [Christ's] words and doing them' (Lk. 6:47,48). Spiritual progress will be slow- if it is real progress. This is not only a comfort to us, as our self-examination reveals pathetically slow progress. It also inspires us to patience with the slow spiritual progress of our brethren, whose failures and slowness to develop are so much more obvious to us than are our own similar frailties. The Lord's parable opens to us another way of being firm rather than easily swayed- to hear the Lord's words and do them. Daily Bible reading may seem a call from conservative yesteryear; but it is a necessary call. It is a daily familiarity with the basic text of Scripture and a daily, conscious commitment in prayer to follow God's word which will give us stability. When "It was told the house of David, saying, Syria is allied with Ephraim! His heart trembled, and the heart of his people, as the trees of the forest tremble with the wind. Then said the Lord..." (Is. 7:2,3). The antidote to hearts shaking back and forth was to pay serious attention to God's word.
This is the difference which the Bible makes in human life. An acceptance that finally, in that volume, we have the expressed will of God for us, giving us a basis upon which to firmly decide our principles and positions- "For the Bible tells me so". This is a feature of the seed sown on good ground- that is has a "root" (Mt. 13:6). But the interpretation of the sower parable adds the significant detail- that he who withers away "has not root in himself" (Mt. 13:21). Our root is in God's word, and in the things of the crucified Christ, the smitten rock. And yet it is `in ourselves' in the sense that God's word and the things of Christ are deep within us. This, then, is the intention of regular, daily, habitual reading and meditation upon God's word, both as it is in the Bible and as it is in the character and personality of the Lord Jesus, who should likewise be our daily meditation. It is "the root of the trees" which will be judged (Lk. 3:9; Mk. 11:20); it is who we are and what we have deep within us which is so crucial, and which withstands every wind. There is a colossal emptiness within the hearts of so many, an emptiness willingly filled with the meaningless words of popular music, entertainment and a life focused upon the cosmetic rather than the essential. We have so much more to fill our minds with- let us do so. Carry a pocket Bible with you. Dip into it in the course of the day. "Gird up the loins of your mind", Peter says- gather together our thoughts instead of letting them flow and drift everywhere, thus hampering our movement. Focus them upon the Lord Jesus. Have Him as Lord and Master of your heart. Be spiritually minded. And as we inevitably reflect that all this is so much easier read than done- pray that the rock of Israel, and the smitten rock of His Son, shall fill our minds with their spirit, so that really it shall be possible for us.
Establishing The Heart With Grace
The New Testament has a major theme of the believer being `established' by God (1 Cor. 1:8; 2 Cor. 1:21; Col. 2:7). The Greek word implies that we will be made stable, having a foundation that will not be swayed; and God will do this to us if we allow Him to. Heb. 13:9 teaches that we will not be carried or blow about if our heart, our core being, is "established with grace". If we really accept that gift, believing and feeling that in spite of our works we will be saved should Jesus return right now- then nothing will blow us off course. The wonder of that will be our stability, both now and eternally.