READ : Isaiah 53:3
Of all the hurts life can inflict upon us, none is more bitter than the pain of rejection. It might surprise you to know that God’s own Son experienced that pain too.
Of all the pains life can hold, of all the hurts others can inflict, among the bitterest is the pain and hurt of rejection. Some of us have tasted that and the effects still linger.
Here’s a child who grew up without her parents’ love and encouragement. The refrain she constantly heard at home went like this: “What’s the matter with you? You’re stupid. You’re a failure! Why can’t you be more like your sister?”
Here’s a teen rejected by his peers. “You’re not good enough,” is the not-so-subtle message sent by their treatment; “You don’t fit. You don’t belong.”
Here’s a woman abandoned by the husband to whom she has given her youth and beauty. “I can’t help it; you just don’t do anything for me any more,” he tells her one day. “I’ve found someone else that I love.”
Here’s a man turned out by his employer after years of faithful service. The announcement is brief and impersonal: “Sorry, but you don’t fit into our plans any more. Nothing against you; we’ve just decided to go in a different direction.”
It hurts, doesn’t it? Rejection makes you feel worthless. To be told that you’re not wanted, that you’re not good enough, that you don’t measure up, those are terrible things to hear. “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child,” runs an old song. That’s exactly how it feels to be rejected.
HE WAS DESPISED AND REJECTED
And that’s exactly what God experienced when he became a man. “He was despised and rejected by men,” writes the prophet Isaiah. He was speaking about the servant of the Lord, the Messiah, the Christ, the anointed one whose coming into the world would be the culmination of God’s plan of salvation. The prophet, inspired by the Spirit of God, foresaw who the Christ would be and what his life would be like. So certain was he about the future that he wrote in the past tense as if it had already happened:
For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or comeliness that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men.
(Isa. 53:2,3, rsv)
This is surprising, to say the least. God’s unique servant was coming into the world to save God’s people. He would be the greatest, the best, the strongest of men. He would be even more than that. In him, God himself would take human form and come to rescue people from their lostness and misery. You would have expected him to be welcomed and embraced. You would have thought that his coming should be a time for universal rejoicing, but instead, “he was despised and rejected” by the people of the world.
Those two things go together. To despise someone means to look down upon him or her. We despise those whom we think are beneath us, whom we consider to be lower than we are in some way – physically, socially, racially, morally, economically, intellectually. Those whom we despise we also reject because we don’t think they are important enough for us to bother with. And this is just what happened to Jesus.
He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.
(John 1:10,11, nrsv)
Isn’t it astonishing that God, when he became a man, so humbled himself, so lowered himself, that most of those who saw him thought he was beneath them! They despised him! And because they despised him, they also rejected him. In Jesus Christ, the Creator of the universe came into his own world and his own creatures rejected him. In Jesus Christ, the Savior of the whole world came to those who should have welcomed him as their only hope, and they shut him out of their lives.
First, they felt contempt for him. Then they heaped scorn and abuse upon him. They spat upon him and struck him and finally they nailed him to a tree and killed him. In all the sordid history of the human race, this is the most appalling thing that has ever happened. I suppose it is an indication of our moral dullness that we do not feel the shock of it more keenly.
WHY PEOPLE REJECT CHRIST: TOO FAMILIAR
But I want to ask you to think for just a moment about why this happens. Why did people despise and reject Jesus Christ? Why do they still? I can suggest at least three reasons. The first is because Christ is too familiar.
Once early in his ministry Jesus returned home to Nazareth and spoke in the synagogue there (see Mark 6:1-6). Mark, the evangelist who tells the story, says that the people who heard Jesus “took offense at him.” “Who does he think he is to try to teach us?” they cried. “Why, this is only Jesus, the carpenter, Mary’s son.” He couldn’t fool them with his words and his miracles. They knew him. They could show you his house. They could introduce you to his brothers and sisters. They could tell you a dozen stories about him when he was a ragged little boy in the street. “Him the Messiah? Go on, pull the other one. Don’t make us laugh. He’s nobody special. That’s just Jesus. He might be able to fool them down in Judea with this religious business or even up in Capernaum, but not here, not back home in Nazareth. We know him.”
Some people still think like that. Is Jesus too familiar for you to accept – to really and truly accept – as Lord and Savior? Maybe you grew up in a conservative religious atmosphere. You were dragged off to Sunday school and church when you were a kid, so you know all there is to know. You’ve heard all the stories, learned all the verses. It’s all old hat. Now you’ve grown up and moved past all that. “Here comes that Jesus stuff again,” you think. “Oh, groan, more Bible verses. Please spare me the gospel line, will you? I know it backwards and forwards.” You’ve learned to smile at the gullible folks – “fundamentalists,” you call them – who simply swallow all those evangelical clich?s that you have so long since outgrown.
But what if the clich?s are true? Maybe you don’t know all there is to know about him; maybe, in fact, you’ve never really known him. How tragic to be so familiar with Jesus Christ that you treat him with contempt. How terrible to reject God’s own Son because you think you’ve heard it all before. If you are someone who has left your childhood faith, I appeal to you now to come back! Don’t be so sophisticated that you end up despising the Lord of life, just because he seems too familiar.
WHY PEOPLE REJECT CHRIST: TOO PARTICULAR
A second reason why people reject Christ is because he is too particular. Most people like to keep religion vague and general. Isn’t every religion basically the same – about believing in God, and love and all that? “The soul of religion is one,” said Gandhi, “but it is encased in a multitude of forms.” That’s the majority view. The common assumption is that all religions are more or less equally true, that they’re just different paths leading to the same place, that all religious teachers are more or less equally worthy. Most people think that everyone should have some kind of faith in God, at least if they want to, but the particulars of that faith don’t matter much. That’s a matter of personal choice.
But the particulars are exactly what Jesus was most particular about. He wasn’t vague, sentimental, mushy. He was hard, definite and specific. “I am the way, the truth and the life,” he proclaimed. “No one can come to God except through me” (see John 14:6). This is not the stuff that modern religious sensibility is made of. Jesus is just too narrow for many folks. If only he weren’t so particular. If only he could be more nonjudgmental, more accepting, more pluralistic, to use the popular buzzwords.
But that is exactly what he is not. Jesus tells us up front the precise terms in which he is the Savior. Take it or leave it! Jesus is not one religious option among many; he is the only real option. Jesus never said you could be saved by trying to be nice, or by following your own religious tradition faithfully; he said you can be saved only by believing in his name (John 3:18). Some people reject Jesus because of this, but others embrace him – and find salvation.
WHY PEOPLE REJECT CHRIST: TOO DEMANDING
A third reason why people reject Jesus Christ is because he is too demanding. The Gospels tell the story of a young man who came to Jesus one day asking about the way to eternal life. Jesus looked at the man and told him simply to give up everything he had and come along with him. The man was terribly disappointed. His face fell and his heart sank. He wasn’t expecting an answer like that. He thought there would be an easier way to be saved. He probably expected Jesus to commend him, to say something complimentary like, “Why, you’ve already found the way, my boy! You’re a fine, decent, upstanding person. Just keep up the good work.” But Jesus confronted this man with the ultimate demand – unconditional self-surrender. He insisted on having him; all of him, his whole life.
“When Jesus calls a man, he bids him come and die,” wrote Dietrich Bonhoeffer before he was executed by the Nazis. For many, this ultimate demand is too demanding. We might consider accepting Jesus along with all the other things in our life that we value: our families, our possessions, our careers, our hobbies. But we’re not willing to give up any of these things to have him. Jesus plus our life – perhaps; Jesus instead of our life – no, that’s too high a price to pay.
Time and again it is not the intellectual difficulty of accepting Christ which keeps men from becoming Christians; it is the height of Christ’s moral demand. There is a mystery in religion but an honest thinker will accept that. To this day many a man’s refusal of Christ comes not because Christ puzzles and baffles his intellect but because Christ challenges and condemns his life.
I’m convinced that this is true. Accepting or rejecting Christ finally comes down to this. Jesus demands what we hesitate to surrender, which is everything. Jesus is not a God who offers us all our wishes come true, all our desires instantly gratified. He offers nothing but himself. He promises nothing except himself, and the life that is found only in him. But first comes the cross. First you must die to self and to sin, then you will be reborn.
Is that demand too much for you? But oh, if you only knew what it leads to!