“And all of the crowds that had come together for this spectacle, observing that which happened, turned back beating their breasts.”
And so the spectacle that the people came to see has come to an end, and the crowds disperse, with each man or woman returning home or to the place in which they were staying. How indeed, as we have noted before, the gruesome murder of a man, particularly of a noted and prominent figure, attracts the attention of gawkers who want a show. It is a sign of the depravity of the human heart.
Yet, Luke records that these onlookers went home beating their breasts, which is typically understood to be an expression of lamentation. How are we to understand this statement? Are we to think of them as lamenting the execution of Christ? Perhaps, but a more likely scenario is that they went home not seeing as much of a spectacle as they had hoped. Yes, there was an earthquake and darkness, but if you will recall, they were hoping to see if Elijah would come down from heaven and deliver Jesus off of the cross. Now, that would have been something to see, indeed!
How often I have had conversations with people who have said, “If God would just do” — well, insert your ‘x’ here… If he would just speak from heaven today, if he would just work one more miracle today, if he would just come down once again, if he would just have a couple of beers with me… I promise you that I have heard every single one of these excuses for not believing the Gospel. And, at one point in history, Jesus did all of these things, so how often must it happen to prove it to you? And why do we think that we are the final arbiters of what took place in history and what did not take place? Isn’t that a bit arrogant on our part?
The bottom line is that no one can believe unless the Holy Spirit does a supernatural work on that person (John 3:3) and then be drawn to the Son by the Father (John 6:44). So, if these people are grieving, it is likely because they are sad that they didn’t see more of a show. True, God may be working on the lives of some of these people, generating in them a godly sorrow that will lead to repentance, but most likely, the spirit of the crowd as a whole is likely one of disappointment. After Christ’s work was complete, God denied them any further manifestations that might slake their morbid curiosity. No, God let them return home as empty and wanting as they came out — a sign of his judgment upon them.
When we pursue the spectacle, we will always find ourselves dissatisfied in the end. Sadly, many churches, in their pursuit of people to fill the pews have flaunted spectacle after spectacle and Sunday morning becomes about the performance not about the worship of the Living God. In cases like these, we must resist the temptation to imitate them — there will always be the bigger, fancier, and more practiced performance that will draw discontent people from place to place. But that happens as we seek contentment in things rather than in a Holy God. As we gather to worship, it doesn’t matter whether you are meeting in a humble storefront with three families, a grand facility with generations who have attended all their lives, or in the many variations that fall in between — if the Word of God is faithfully expounded and taught and the people come with a sincere desire to bless God’s name and learn from His word and to live it out, then sweet satisfaction will be found and you will not be left wanting. The spectacle cannot do this as was discovered by the crowds on that terrible day.