You would think that good news is bound to be received well. I continue to be amazed at how often the good news of Jesus is rejected rather than received. I have a high expectation that tells me "surely they will understand how good this is and accept it wholeheartedly!" Is this just me?
However, Jesus had the same response and his life is a much better example of the goodness of God than mine. There are many examples of Jesus and his message being rejected despite the miracles and wisdom on display. One example is in John 7:12 which says:
"Among the crowds there was widespread whispering about him. Some said, “He is a good man.”
Others replied, “No, he deceives the people.”
What was the cause of this mixed response? John 7:13 records "no one would say anything publicly about him for fear of the leaders."
Fear is a great motivator and inhibitor. If there is a systemic and cultural fear of accepting an idea it is hard to get breakthrough. The leaders in this passage are the Jewish religious leaders (mainly Pharisees and Sadducees). At the time of Jesus there were different competing sects who were at odds with each other (e.g. the Sadducees did not believe in the physical resurrection, the Pharisees did). This created both a political and religious resistance to anything that smacked of another group to follow like the Jesus Movement who would have been seen as competition for the hearts of the people.
The same principle was at play around the ministry of John the Baptist. One of the best examples of this is in Luke 20:2-8. The religious leaders ask Jesus “by what authority you are doing these things,” they said. “Who gave you this authority?”
Jesus does not directly answer them.
He replied, “I will also ask you a question. Tell me: John’s baptism—was it from heaven, or of human origin?” They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Why didn’t you believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ all the people will stone us, because they are persuaded that John was a prophet.” So they answered, “We don’t know where it was from.”
Jesus said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”
This is not just about theology, it's about control. People use religious and political manipulation to stop new ideas spreading. Jesus did say "beware the leaven of the Pharisees/Sadducees and of Herod" (Matthew 16:6 & Mark 8:5). Religious and political ideas that are woven into a culture can hinder the spread of the gospel.
One way that people use control is to make accusations against the person sharing good news. In John 7:20 after giving Jesus a mixed response, the crowd try intimidation techniques:
"You are demon-possessed," the crowd answered "who is trying to kill you?"
If we can ridicule something or call into question the credibility of a person, we are undermining the message. This is referred to a suppression technique. This is a framework articulated in 1945 by the Norwegian psychologist and philosopher Ingjald Nissen. These techniques identified by Nissen are ways to indirectly suppress and humiliate opponents. A good example of this is when the disciples are mocked for their rural accent and called uneducated fisherman (Acts 4:13). In John 7:15 speaking of Jesus it says "The Jews there were amazed and asked, “How did this man get such learning without having been taught?”
Good news has to be heard to be received and there is a battle on for the souls of people. That battle is psychological and spiritual. Look the story develops in John 7, verse 30 "they tried to seize him, but no-one laid a hand on him, because his time had not yet come.....still many put their faith in him."
Look at this mixed response, some want to seize him, others place their trust in him. That is the way of it, get used to it. The good news is like marmite, some will hate it, others love it. The goal is to speak and draw in as many as possible.
As evangelists, how should we prepare for this?
First thing is, be prepared for a mixed response. Jesus taught his disciples parables explaining the soil and the seed, and the kind of situations that help or hinder the gospel.
Don't put false expectations on yourself. We cannot make people believe. We are responsible to share good news in the best way we can, people are responsible to receive it and believe it (or not).
Do evangelism in the context of team where you can encourage each other, don't be a Lone Ranger (even he had Tonto).
Do evangelism as a part of discipleship where relationships are built. The most receptive soil is prepared in advance. Community is the best context for healthy evangelism.
If you are on the frontline, get a soul friend, a coach or mentor, we all need encouragement and someone to walk with us through the challenges.
If you are like me, and live in an area that is highly unchurched or secularised you will wrestle with these challenges, so keep going, join a missional church, be part of a community. God is at work where you are.