Evangelizing to Blind Eyes, Deaf Ears, and Hardened Hearts
Why do people reject the Gospel of Jesus? Or to make the question more personal: Why do my family members, who live under the guilt of their sin, refuse full forgiveness and complete pardon? Why do my friends and neighbors, who search endlessly for satisfaction in this life, reject fullness of life in Jesus?
These are such perplexing questions because to us who believe the Gospel, rejecting Jesus makes no sense. Christ’s Gospel is not just good news, it’s the greatest news—the creator God, holy and transcendent, sent His Son in grace and love; and this Son, Jesus, willingly and lovingly lived the sinless life we could never live (Hebrews 4:15), paid the penalty for sin we could never pay (Isaiah 53:10), defeated the enemy we could never defeat (1 Corinthians 15:55, 57), in order to secure us eternity with God we could never earn (Romans 6:23).
Why would anyone reject that message? It’s glorious; filled with grace and mercy and hope. It is grounded on supernatural love, promising what no other gospel can promise.
Yet, we’ve all heard those words, Your gospel is not for me. It’s not what I’m looking for.
We leave those conversations wondering, Did I say something wrong? We ask ourselves, Was I not convincing enough? Or passionate enough? Or logical enough? Was it because I couldn’t answer all the questions posed?
Why do people reject the Gospel? is the question. Next is What are we to do about it?
An Irrefutable Miracle
As John 11:45 opens, Jesus has just performed the most spectacular miracle of His ministry, the climatic sign of John’s presentation of Jesus as God’s Son. With only three words, Sheol was shattered; and a brother, still wrapped in his death garments, stood alive and upright, outside the tomb he had been confined to for the last four days.
No one—not even Mary and Martha—expected Lazarus to walk out of that cave (John 11:39). This was why the crowd of mourners were stunned into silence, paralyzed by what they had just witnessed. Shocked because the King of Life now stood in their midst. Dumbstruck, trying to make sense of what just happened. A living, breathing Lazarus was “Exhibit A” that Jesus was no mere man. He was who He claimed to be: the Son of God, sent from heaven, to save the world from sin and death (John 3:16; 5:25, 28-29).
This is what miracles were meant to do: confirm the words and claims of the miracle-worker (cf. Exodus 4:4-5; 1 Kings 17:23-24). As one theologian put it, “The biblical ‘miracles of power’ do not occur haphazardly in salvation history. To the contrary, the Bible suggests that they serve the revelatory process of authenticating the credentials of the human organs of special revelation who brought to men the redemptive truth of God.”2 Miracles were God’s affirmation that His messenger could be trusted. It was no different with Jesus.
John 10:25, 37-38 – “The works that I do in My Father’s name, these testify of Me…If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; but if I do them, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me, and I in the Father.’”
Blind Eyes Cannot See, Deaf Ears Cannot Hear
We expect this miraculous story to conclude in saving faith. How else would the story end? How else could the crowd respond to a dead man walking?
So verse 45 comes as no surprise, “Many of the Jews who came to Mary, and saw what He had done, believed in Him” (John 11:45). Some Jews, once opposed to Jesus, now accept Him, believe Him, and love Him.
But belief is not where John ends this story. The shocking ending is that only “many” believed—not all. There was a second group that remained unmoved by what they had just seen, unimpressed with this man who claimed to be God’s Son. A group that grew hostile toward Jesus, angry that He had just given a brother back to a grieving family. A group that immediately “went to the Pharisees and told them the things which Jesus had done” (John 11:46). This is no evangelistic testimony. This is a hostile report, passed to the most aggressive haters of Jesus—the Pharisees—the very ones who had “sent officers to seize Him” the last time Jesus was in Jerusalem (John 7:32).
The plan was simple: throw fuel on the Pharisees’ fiery hatred for Jesus. A plan that worked to perfection. “Therefore the chief priests and the Pharisees convened a council, and were saying, ‘What are we doing? For this man is performing many signs’…So from that day on they planned together to kill him” (John 11:47, 53). The one who conquered death has now been sentenced to die.
The same miracle. The same witnesses. The same Jesus. The same Lazarus. The same tomb. And yet two entirely different responses.
The unbelief of the crowd may even be more stunning than the miracle itself.
If there is anything John 11 teaches us, it is this, “When people do not want to believe they will always find a way of discounting even the strongest evidence…The reaction of unbelief is always to ignore the power of God, even if it is at work before one’s very eyes”3—in this case, even a dead man walking could not convince the sinner of their need of a Savior (cf. Luke 16:31)!
Why do people reject the Gospel?
Because their hearts are hard to its message, spiritually blind to its Savior, and unwilling to be moved by its appeal.
The Power of the Spirit Through Us
So where does that leave us then, and our evangelistic efforts? If raising someone from the dead did not change a sinner’s heart, what hope do we have in our Gospel witness?
Answer: our hope is found in the saving God, who promises to use the proclamation of His Gospel, to transform an unbelieving heart in His own timing and according to His own choosing.
We do not have the power to call dead bodies from a grave; that’s okay, because faith comes by hearing, not seeing (Romans 10:17). Remember, our Lord does not hold us responsible to change an unbelieving heart. He has not called us to answer every question a skeptic might pose. He has not commissioned us to debate someone into the kingdom. Our calling is much simpler than that: speak our Savior’s Gospel faithfully and wait upon the Spirit to perform a resurrection even greater than Lazarus’—a resurrection of the spiritually dead to newness of life.
We have something greater than Sheol-shattering power. We have Christ’s Gospel and Christ’s Spirit—which together do what not even the most stunning miracle could do: expose sinners’ spiritual need (John 6:35), open deaf ears to hear the Savior’s call (John 6:44), and replace a dead heart of sin with a living heart filled with repentance and faith (John 6:63).
Oh Christian, think highly of the Gospel. It is not weak or meager. It is “the power of God for salvation” (Romans 1:16), the means the Spirit uses to save a sinner’s soul.
Patrick Slyman is a graduate of The Master’s Seminary (M.Div 2005, D.Min 2012). He currently serves as Teaching Pastor at Emmanuel Baptist Church in Mount Vernon, WA.