We often in our witnessing talk about planting a seed of truth in a person’s heart, expressing our trust and hope that that person will respond and be saved. In the parable of the sower Jesus shows how planting seeds is no guarantee of a positive response but that the sower nevertheless continues to sow and pray for a good crop.
It is our responsibility to sow but there is also a responsibility placed on the person in whose heart we sow to listen and respond. As we have often said, it is possible to want it for them more than they want it for themselves. Many times I get asked questions that are not questions but statements made to sound like questions? You know what I mean I am sure.
One of the hardest lessons in witnessing is understanding when people are simply not listening, not serious, and then responding wisely. Jesus was approached by a rich young man in Matthew 19:16-24
‘Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?’ And he said to him, ‘Why do you ask me about what is good? If you would enter life, keep the commandments.’ He said to him, ‘Which ones?’ And Jesus said,’ ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not bear false witness, Honour your father and your mother, and, you shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ The young man said to him, ‘All these I have kept. What do I still lack?’ Jesus said to him, ‘If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.’ When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.’
So many of us would have said, ‘well, that didn’t work. What did I do wrong?’ Jesus simply turned to his disciples and said, ‘Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.’
What obstacles to entry into the kingdom might those to whom we witness put up? We are not to be too ready to walk away, nor are we to simply give up at the first objection, but we must be wise in what we do with what is holy, where we throw our pearls Mt.7:34. We are witnesses not a sales force, with a Saviour not a lifestyle product. Jesus knows what it is to have people walk away. Jesus knows what it is to have people walk away…read John 6. Sometimes we simply must shake the dust from our feet and move on, leaving them to think about what has been shared.
Jesus had spoken plainly enough in his ministry and had amply demonstrated his authority; seeds had been sown. However, there comes a time when a failure to respond to Jesus would result in a failure to understand, or even hear properly the message of the kingdom. Those who did respond however would hear, understand and grow. Jesus said:
“The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables so that,
‘though seeing, they may not see;
Though hearing, they may not understand’ (Lk.8:10 c.f. Is.6:9)
A person’s response to God is a sort of tipping point in either coming to a deeper knowledge of the things of God or increasingly failing to understand at all and this is illustrated in Luke 8. Of course there is no excuse for not continuing in our witnessing and God’s grace is held out to people all day.
However continued hesitation in responding is the same as rejection and ‘not yet’ is the same as ‘no’. Refusal to respond does not put a person in some sort of holding pattern around the church as they think about things. Refusal risks the real danger of having the truth snatched away by the devil, by the trials of life, and by the cares of this world.
These things should concern every Christian who cares for those around them. We should be clear about the person of Jesus, the message we bring, and the seed we plant. Like Jesus we are to be a light to the world and light brings clarity and vision not vagaries and speculation. What are we offering people in our message?
Jesus said, “My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice” (Lk.8:21)
We are not offering a religious system to replace the one they might already have, nor a better list of regulations than the one they have so far failed to follow. We are offering a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ that brings forgiveness and wholeness. Those who respond do not simply become academics, theologians, moralists or pious but family.
When Jesus calmed the storm (Lk.8:22-25) and delivered a man from possession (Lk.2:26-39) he demonstrated his power over nature and over demons, and his willingness to deliver and save. The gospel is not simply an invitation to agree with a set of propositions and ideas but a call to realise who Jesus is and to trust him.
When Jesus raised Jairus’ daughter he demonstrated his power over death itself. When people respond to Jesus they are not simply coming to a mystic who will show them a better way to live but to a person who is the Lord of Life.
These are the things people are rejecting when they prevaricate over Jesus. Not fine points of philosophy or doctrine, not inconvenient changes in lifestyle, nor a better plan than the one they have, but a relationship with the living God, the Lord of life. Listeners should, then, consider how they listen because they cannot afford to be careless about the things of God…neither can we.