Only five players in the NFL are more popular than Peyton Manning. This despite the fact that Manning has not played in the NFL since 2016.
According to sports columnist Dan Wetzel, the league’s TV ratings have dropped in part because no current players can match Manning’s cultural presence. In addition to a career destined for the Hall of Fame and two Super Bowl victories, Manning hosted Saturday Night Live and appeared on The Simpsons, American Idol, The Tonight Show, Live! with Kelly, and Fox News Sunday, among others.
Wetzel notes: “Just consider the breadth of those audiences.”
Manning is in the news again today for supporting a lung transplant patient and delivering new equipment to a middle school football team. His popularity continues unabated, in large part due to his generosity.
Likeability may be the most critical factor in success today. The research on this subject is compelling.
A Columbia University study discovered that popularity is the most important key to workplace advancement. Doctors have been found to give more time to patients they like than those they don’t. One study showed that children with likable parents received better health care.
“Great crowds followed him”
Early in his ministry, Jesus Christ was perhaps the most popular person in all of Israel: “Great crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan” (Matthew 4:25).
His popularity was tied to his ability to heal the sick (Matthew 5:23-24), teach with divine authority (Matthew 7:28-29), and feed massive crowds (Matthew 14:13-21).
Most significantly, he forgave every sinner who sought his pardon and grace (cf. Matthew 9:10-13). Charles Spurgeon noted: “That hand which multiplied the loaves, which saved sinking Peter, which upholds afflicted saints, which crowns believers, that same hand will touch every seeking sinner, and in a moment make him clean.”
The Savior does indeed save us in the moment we ask. He assured the believing thief on the cross, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). It was only three hours later that our Lord went to paradise (vv. 44-46), the thief soon after (John 19:31-33). Jesus’ promise came true that very day.
But while Jesus heals us spiritually without delay, his physical ministry is less predictable. And more problematic.
Frustrated with God
We know that Jesus forgives all our sins and has given eternal life to all who trust in him. This is the greatest miracle in the universe. But when we need other miracles and he does not do what we ask when we ask, we become frustrated and his “likeability” factor declines.
It’s not that he doesn’t answer our prayers–it’s that we sometimes don’t like the answers. We don’t like it when he delays his response or responds in ways we don’t understand. But the problem is that we don’t see what he sees or know what he knows.
For instance, Jesus healed a paralytic lowered to him at Peter’s house (Luke 5:17-19), but he undoubtedly passed a paralytic at his Father’s house many times (Acts 3:1-2). What the man did not know was that the disciple who watched Jesus heal the first paralytic would be used to heal this man’s condition (vv. 3-10).
Paul pled with God to remove his “thorn in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:7-8). What he did not know was that his prayers would be answered, not by the apostle’s physical healing, but by the spiritual growth that enabled him to boast of his weakness and Jesus’ strength (vv. 9-10).
It’s easy to become frustrated with God when we don’t know what he knows. But even such frustration belies an implicit belief in his power and goodness.
In The Question That Never Goes Away, Philip Yancey responds insightfully to those who criticize God for allowing an unfair world. At one point, he quotes Eastern Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart, who notes that such questions “would never have occurred to consciences that had not in some profound way been shaped by the moral universe of a Christian culture.”
If God is as impotent and uncaring as his critics claim, their attack on his character is illogical. No one blames me for the existence of cancer, since I have no ability to eradicate it. A skeptic’s insistence that God explain himself suggests the plausibility of a God who can.
What Jesus did not pray for
One way you and I can improve Jesus’ “likeability index” in our post-Christian culture is by demonstrating the relevance of his love through our service. The harder it is to love someone, the more urgent and necessary such compassion becomes.
Charles Spurgeon encouraged us to engage our culture wherever the needs are greatest: “Where should the physician be but where there are many sick? Where is honor to be won by the soldier but in the hottest fire of the battle? And when weary of the strife and sin that meets you on every hand, consider that all the saints have endured the same trial. They were not carried on beds of down to heaven, and you must not expect to travel more easily than they.”
Who will like Jesus more today because of you?