At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.”
I am an evangelist, as you know, and one of the questions I am sometimes asked is how I feel when people don’t respond positively to the gospel message. I tell them I feel sad because I would obviously like everybody to come to Jesus and party with me in heaven. But then, since I know the questioner actually wants to know if I feel rejected, the answer is no. I have long since realized that not everybody is going to come to Jesus when I preach, and I take consolation from the fact that not everybody came to Jesus when Jesus preached!
We can see our Lord saying here: “I have told you that I am the Messiah but you do not believe. I have showed you signs that I am the Messiah but you do not believe. Why don’t you believe? Because — now it’s not him saying this, but me — because your hearts are so hard! Because your minds are so closed! Because you are so full of yourself and your own theories about life, about death, about God, about everything.” So, I don’t feel rejected when people don’t respond to the invitation to eternal life; I just feel sad that they’ll miss out on all the wonderful things that await those who believe.
But I don’t give up on them, because God never gives up on us. He never gave up on me, despite my denying his existence for twenty-five years. So, I don’t give up on those who don’t listen. Like a sower I keep throwing out the word, at least once each day through these reflections, hoping it will fall on fertile soil. But I do some gardening, and I know that even hard soil, and thorny soil, and shallow soil, can be made fertile with a little effort. In the spiritual context, this effort is largely prayer, so I pray for them. Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians encourages us to “always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people”. That’s Ephesians 6:18. Please make a note.
And I am now inspired to pray for these “people” by name. I have Mr. Rogers to thank for this inspiration. I watched a lovely movie based on his life yesterday. It’s called A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood and stars Tom Hanks, who is simply the most wonderful actor. He plays the role of Mr. Rogers. It is currently available on Amazon Prime. Mr. Rogers would get down on his knees each day and pray by name for the people who came his way, especially those who were hard of heart, and over time, those hearts became fertile.
So I invite you to pray for people by name, but let us pray for ourselves too. Let us specially pray that we believe. And not just believe that Jesus is the Son of God who came to save us, but believe in what he says. Because unless we believe in what he says, we will not do what he asks. And what is he asking? With relation to today’s message, he is simply asking us to follow him. This implies trust, love, surrender, and obedience. And when we do, he will raise us to be good shepherds who are like him.
And “pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests”. That’s Ephesians 6:17. You might want to read what follows and pray for me too as Paul asked his listeners to pray for him.