4th Sunday after Epiphany
Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, how does it feel to be rejected? Have you ever been rejected? I’m guessing that most, if not all of us, has at some point or another felt rejection. If you’ve ever been the victim of a relationship break up, you know how it feels to be dumped. If you’ve ever had a job where the human resources director comes to you and says that you’re “being let go,” you know the feeling of rejection. Or if you’ve ever been passed over for a promotion, or the last one picked for the team are recess, you know the feeling of rejection. What’s it like? What does it feel like to be rejected? It hurts! It’s painful! Why? Why is rejection so painful? It’s painful because you’re being told in one way or another by someone else, “I don’t want you.” “You don’t measure up to our standards.” “We’re looking for someone better than you.”
But what adds to the pain of rejection is the level of the relationship, right? If a general acquaintance turns on you, criticizes you, rejects you, it’s painful. If someone that you’re dating does the same thing, it hurts even more. But if your spouse rejects you, or if your parents reject you as a child, psychological and emotional effects are incredibly worse. In fact, as a side note, for parents, there are certain foundational messages that children absolutely need to know by word and example from their parents in order to have a stable life and one of those messages is: You can’t lose my love, I will always love you. Children need to hear that and to know that from their parents. Time and again children who do not have that foundational security from their parents will undoubtedly experience incredible insecurity in life. Why? Because they don’t want to be rejected. Nobody wants to be rejected, we all want to be accepted and especially accepted by those who are close to us.
Jesus has come to his hometown. Last week, we heard about how Jesus went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day and read a portion of the book of Isaiah which said, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Wow! Riches to the poor, people who have nothing but their sins to offer God, freedom for prisoners, people who are enslaved to slave master of sin, sight for the blind, people who are blinded by their own sin and darkness, wander around the world and can’t see life’s meaning and purpose, and release for the oppressed, people with lives, hearts, and bodies broken and damaged by the effects of sin. Then Jesus said, “I fulfill this, this is why I’ve come.” Jesus has come to bring release, freedom, riches, and sight for sinners.
Well, what happens next? Everybody heard what he had to say, we’re told that everyone was speaking well of him, they were amazed at his gracious words, they marveled at such words of grace that he spoke, this wasn’t the old drab of the religious teachers of the time who taught a lot of self-righteousness, obedience, this is good news! But then they said, and this is very telling, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” Wait a minute! Isn’t this the boy who grew up among us? Isn’t this that kid that we watched grow up? Who does he think he is? Does he really think that God’s Word is talking about him? Does he really think that he – of all people – is the Messiah?!? Come on! No way! They reject him. Why? Because he doesn’t fit their preconceived idea of God and who the Messiah was going to be.
You see, receiving Jesus means rejecting something else. Receiving Jesus means rejecting yourself. As a Christian, think about what you have to admit about yourself. You have to admit that you’re poor, you’re a slave, you’re blind, you’re oppressed, you’re hopeless on your own. On your own you’re doomed to eternal death, eternal suffering, eternal rejection. You have to admit that there’s not one thing you can do about it. You’re stuck, you’re trapped, you’re lost on your own. That’s what you have to admit about yourself to be a Christian. In other words, you have to reject any thought of your own worthiness, reject any achievement you’ve made, reject your dreams about your own self-worth, reject your own ideas of life and what a good life means for God’s definition what life means.
The Christian life is really a life of rejection. I reject sin. If I don’t reject sin, I’m really rejecting God. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t have God and have your sin at the same time. One needs to be rejected. The same goes for our salvation. It can’t be partly me and partly God, like I do my part and God does his part. Either I rely on myself and that will only end me up in hell or I rely totally on God. So, being a Christian means I reject who I am. It doesn’t matter who I am, it doesn’t matter what my background is, it doesn’t matter who my parents were, it doesn’t matter what color of skin I have, it doesn’t matter what net worth I have, it doesn’t matter what kind of job that I have, it doesn’t matter what great things I’ve done in life, it doesn’t matter where I live. None of that matters. None of that has any positive bearing at all on my relationship with God.
Now, what happened here? Here is a prime example of what happens when you don’t reject yourself. Why were the people of Nazareth at the synagogue that day? Why were they at the place to worship God? Well, we know of at least one reason why they were not there. They weren’t there because they loved Jesus. They weren’t there because they had an overflowing appreciation for the gospel. They weren’t there because they had hearts just brimming with joy and gratitude for God who promised to send a Savior from their sinfulness. They weren’t there because they recognized that they were nothing, worthless, helpless, and hopeless sinners, complete moral failures, no better than a mass murderer or an adulterer, but were totally dependent on the grace of God. We know that because of how they respond to Jesus and the good news that he brings, they reject him. They reject the freedom He came to bring. Why were they there that Sabbath day? Unfortunately, why do many people go to church regularly today? These people in the synagogue were Pharisees. No, they may not have been part of the religious party of the Pharisees, but that’s exactly whom they acted like. If someone’s not transformed by the gospel, transformed by the love of God in Christ, that person is self-righteous. Whether he admits it or not, he thinks he deserves something from God. You put your time in with God week after week after week, so God owes you. You think you deserve God’s blessing. Then what happens? You think you’re better than other people. The natural outgrowth of being a Pharisee is looking down on other people, people whom you think are worse than you.
The people of Nazareth thought two things. First, we’re Jews. That means that we’re a superior race. We deserve God more than others. We deserve preferential treatment more than others. We’re Jews. Secondly, we’re from Nazareth. If this Jesus, whom we watched grow up in our little town, is really someone great, he needs to prove it. Let’s see it. Let’s see the miracles, let’s see the signs that we’ve kind of heard about. Show us the proof. Physician heal yourself! In other words, if you’re so great, prove it. They rejected Jesus. They were pharisaical and hypocritical, they didn’t think they needed a Savior from sin, they thought being a Jew was good enough. They also rejected God’s Word which points to Jesus as the Savior, rather they wanted a sign, a miracle.
Their preconceived notions got in the way of believing in Jesus and they rejected him, “My Messiah would never do that!” Still happens today, doesn’t it? People say, “My God would never do this or that.” “I couldn’t believe in a God who would let this happen.” Many people reject God on that basis. But notice the fallacy in that thinking, “If Jesus doesn’t measure up to my expectations of the Messiah, then he must not be the Messiah.” Their expectations of the Messiah have absolutely no bearing on whether Jesus is the Messiah or not. What shows that Jesus is the Messiah is His fulfillment of what Scripture says the Messiah would be. But we can end up doing something similar. Have we painted a picture in our minds of what we’re looking for in life, instead of seeing what God is doing? Have we set up what we want, and failed to see or appreciate what He’s given us? It’s so easy for us to imagine a goal of how we think life should look like and then complain when we have to follow detours – instead of seeing God working through those detours of life.
The life of a Christian is rejection. I need to reject my own presumptions, opinions, ideas of God and allow Jesus and His Word to conform my understanding of God. The people of Nazareth were acting as Pharisees. The reason they didn’t want Jesus was because they didn’t think they desperately needed him. They are drawing their assurance of acceptance with God from who they are, their background, their piety, their dedication to coming to church every Sabbath day. They don’t need a Savior from sin, they don’t need someone to release them, they don’t think they need sight or release. They’ve built their sense of worth on their moral or spiritual performance or who they are.
Jesus blows this all apart. Jesus explodes the entire foundation on which they have built their sense of worth. The reality is that they’re lost. They need God’s grace. God’s love and salvation and acceptance come in only one way: grace. They think they deserve God’s love, but Jesus gives two examples from the OT of how God brought huge blessing to people who didn’t deserve it. Two unbelieving, foreign, Gentile, non-Jewish people were not only given incredible physical blessing from God, but were brought to faith and made children of God, by grace. When God’s grace is rejected in one place, God brings it to another place. Why? Because no one deserves it. I don’t deserve one single thing from God. I’m no better than others. I’m here only by the grace and mercy of God. I am who I am only because I have a Savior who has brought me riches, a Savior who has brought me freedom, a Savior who has given me sight, a Savior who has released me from oppression.
At this they had enough. They threw him out of the synagogue, drove him out, pushed him to a cliff to throw him off and kill him- in other words they totally rejected him, they wanted him to die. But what did Jesus do? You have to love it, he walks right through them all, he shows them his divine power as God and just walks right through. Adrian Peterson has nothing on Jesus J
Jesus came to his own hometown and was rejected. But they weren’t able to reject him to the point of death. Why not? Because Jesus came for a much deeper and greater rejection than the people from his own hometown. A rejection not on the hill of Nazareth, but the hill of Calvary. We all deserve the worst possible rejection – to be rejected by God once and for all, because we’re all sinners. But what does God do? God rejects his own Son on a cross. God turns his back on His Son in anger causing him to cry out in an agony infinitely beyond our comprehension, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me.” God rejected Jesus so that He would never ever have to reject you.
Maybe you’re still feeling the pain and the hurt of rejection. Maybe you’ve had to reject your plan and dream of life, maybe your life is on a detour you never would have picked. Maybe you’ve been rejected by someone close to you, a friend, a family member, a spouse. But hear this: Because your Redeemer was rejected on a cross for you, God accepts you. God loves you with a never ending love, God will never turn His back on you, in Jesus you’re fully and totally accepted by God…forever. And finally, isn’t that all that counts? Amen.