Rejection

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : Isaiah 53:2-3
John 1:10-11

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 hurts other people can inflict upon us, among the bitterest is the stabbing pain of rejection. You may have tasted that and the effects may still linger.

For example, 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?”

Or think of a shy, unpopular teen who is ignored by his peers. “You don’t fit. You don’t belong. You’re not cool enough for our group,” is the message he receives.

Consider a woman abandoned by the husband to whom she has given her youth and beauty. “You just don’t do anything for me anymore,” he tells her one day. “I’ve found someone else that I love.” How can anyone handle that kind of rejection?

Or there’s the man who is turned out by his employer after years of faithful service. The dismissal is brief and impersonal: “Sorry, but you don’t fit into our plans any more. We’ve decided to go in another direction.

It hurts. 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,” says an old Negro Spiritual. That’s exactly how it feels to be rejected.

HE WAS DESPISED AND REJECTED

And it’s exactly what Jesus experienced when he became a man. “He was despised and rejected by men,” wrote 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 Isaiah 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. Jesus Christ would live the perfect life. He would be the supreme example of what it means to be human. 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 embraced. You would have thought that his coming should be a time for universal rejoicing. But instead, “he was despised and rejected” by his own people, the very ones who should most have welcomed and honored him.

Despised and rejected – those two things go together. To despise someone means to hold him in contempt. We despise those whom we think are beneath us, whom we consider to be less than ourselves in some way – physically, socially, racially, economically, intellectually. When we despise people, then we also reject them because we don’t think they are important enough for us to bother with, or good enough for us to associate with. And this is just what happened to Jesus. The apostle John describes his life this way:

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 very 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 instead they shut him out of their lives.

They felt contempt for him. They heaped scorn and abuse upon him. They spat upon him and struck him with their fists. Finally they nailed him to a tree and killed him. In all the sordid history of the human race, that’s the most appalling act ever committed by anyone. It is an indication of our moral insensitivity if we don’t feel the shock of it.

WHY PEOPLE REJECT CHRIST: TOO FAMILIAR

But let’s think for just a moment about why this happened, why the rejection. Why did people despise and reject Jesus Christ? Why do they do it still? I can suggest several reasons. One 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 trying to teach us?” they said. “Why, this is only Jesus, the carpenter, Mary’s son.” He couldn’t fool them with his words and his so-called 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 just an ordinary kid in town. “Him the Messiah? Go on, you’re pulling my leg. Don’t make us laugh. He’s nobody special. That’s just Jesus, Joe’s son. He might be able to fool them down in Judea with this religious business, but not here, not back home in Nazareth. We know this guy.”

Some people still think like that. Is Jesus just too familiar for you to really and truly believe he is Lord and Savior? Maybe you grew up in a 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 the verses. It’s all old hat. Now you’ve grown up and moved beyond that. “Here comes that Jesus’ stuff again,” you think, “groan, groan, more Bible verses. Please spare me the gospel line, will you? I know it backwards and forwards.” So you’ve learned to smile at the gullible folks – “fundamentalists” you call them – who simply swallow all that religious stuff that you’ve so long since outgrown.

But what if that stuff is 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, that you despise him, look down on him. How terrible to reject God’s own Son because you think you’ve heard it all before. Don’t be so sophisticated that you end up rejecting the Lord of life.

WHY PEOPLE REJECT CHRIST: TOO EXCLUSIVE

Another reason why people reject Christ is because he is too exclusive. Most people like to keep religion vague and general. After all, isn’t every religion basically the same – all about believing in God, and love and that sort of thing? “The soul of religion is one,” said Gandhi, “but it is encased in a multitude of forms.” That’s a popular view. The current assumption is that all religions are more or less equally true, that they’re just different paths leading to the same place. Most people think that they should have some kind of faith in God, at least if they want to, but the particulars of that faith don’t matter much. It’s entirely a matter of personal choice.

But the particulars are what Jesus was most insistent about. He wasn’t vague, or sentimental, or 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 exclusive. If only he could be more nonjudgmental, more accepting, more inclusive of other views.

But that is exactly what he is not. Jesus tells everyone 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 could only be saved by believing in his name (John 3:18). Some people just can’t take that. They can’t accept that Jesus is the only way to God, and so they reject him because of this. But those who don’t reject him find salvation in and through his name.

WHY PEOPLE REJECT CHRIST: TOO DEMANDING

There’s another reason why people reject Jesus Christ. It’s 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 this: “Go sell everything you have and come along with him.” That 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 was expecting that Jesus would commend him, and say something complimentary like, “Why, my boy, you’ve already found the way! You’re a fine, decent, upstanding person. Just keep up the good work.” But Jesus confronted this man with the ultimate demand – unconditional surrender. He insisted on having him; all of him, his whole life and person.

“When Jesus calls a man, he bids him come and die,” wrote Dietrich Bonhoeffer. For many, this ultimate demand is just 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 really willing to give up all those other things in order to have him. Jesus plus our life – perhaps; Jesus instead of our life – no, that’s too high a price to pay. As one Christian writer expressed it.

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.

(William Barclay)

But now let me bring this all down to a personal level. We started, do you remember, by talking about the pain of being rejected, a pain that was experienced by Jesus Christ himself to the uttermost. What can you do about it? Maybe you have suffered greatly from this same experience. How can you overcome rejection? The truth is, I’m afraid, there’s not much you can do if you are rejected by other people. You can’t make other people accept you. In fact, the harder you try, the more likely you are to just be laughed at, or even worse, be led to do things you know are wrong just for the sake of gaining the respect of the “in crowd.” But it rarely succeeds. Usually the quest to gain acceptance ends only in disappointment.

Of course, there is someone who will always accept you, no matter who you are or what you are like. He takes us as we are. He loves us for ourselves. This is his promise: “Whoever comes to me, I will never turn away.” But you must come. You must accept unconditionally. You must surrender your whole life to him. Wouldn’t it be the ultimate tragedy if you rejected him?