Rejection is part of the business of this world. It comes in an endless variety of forms—not getting the job, a parent whose approval always seems to be just out of reach, a parent who decided not to be your parent after all, a spouse who comes home one day to say he no longer loves you or that he loves someone else, a friend that suddenly blindsides you with betrayal, a child who turns her back on your love.
There is no doubt that rejection causes an acute kind of suffering. It cuts lingering wounds that can splinter in many directions. It lodges itself deep into the memory, altering the way we see ourselves, others, situations, even God.
Just recently, I brought good news to a friend about a job opportunity that would be perfect for her. But instead of responding with excitement, she was timid and fearful because of two ugly work-related experiences of rejection in her past.
As I thought about my friend, how rejection has colored her life and mine, I wondered, “How does Jesus speak into this?” Where is the gospel in our experience of rejection?
Scripture says that Jesus is not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness (Hebrews 4:15), but does it really say anything about this kind of weakness, the pain of rejection? Sympathizing is one thing, but does Jesus know this kind of hurt?
The answer is yes. The gospel does cover rejection. Jesus did experience it…quite a bit of it, actually. That’s the beauty of the dual nature of our Savior. Being fully God, he chose to be brought low into the humanness of suffering. So every facet of Christ’s life on earth was touched by rejection.
Let’s look at a few of these facets and how they point us to the gospel.
Jesus faced rejection from family members.
Scripture tells us that “not even his brothers believed in him” (John 7:5). Jesus’ own family rejected him as the Messiah. In his life among us, Jesus was a son, a brother, maybe even an uncle. He had human relationships that tore him up when love wasn’t returned, wasn’t wanted, wasn’t accepted.
Jesus faced rejection from his community.
When Jesus returned to his hometown of Nazareth, neighbors that he grew up with and family friends “took offense at him” (Matthew 13:57). He said he was “without honor” in his hometown. Scripture even says that Jesus “did not do many mighty works there because of their unbelief” (v. 58). He knows what it’s like to lose the love and support of a community, to feel unwelcome in a place that was once home.
Jesus faced rejection from people who once claimed to love him.
Christ, in his God-ness, predicted both Judas’ betrayal and Peter’s denial. He saw it coming. But his humanness still experienced the hurt. Jesus was “troubled in his spirit” as he foretold of Judas (John 13:21). Think about it. He had just washed the guy’s feet a few verses earlier, symbolizing the laying down of his very life for him. Peter, who professed his love and commitment to Jesus more ardently than any other, would reject even an association with him in a matter of hours. Sudden, total, heartbreaking rejection…yes, Jesus felt that.
Jesus faced rejection from his Father.
The night of his arrest, Jesus was “very sorrowful, even to death” (Matthew 26:38). He was in such anguish that he started to sweat blood (Luke 22:44). I think it was more than thoughts of the approaching physical pain that put Jesus in this state. I think it was the knowledge that he would soon be separated from and abandoned by his Father. As he hung on the cross dying, Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). It’s interesting that he didn’t ask, “Why I am I in such pain?” or “Why do I have to endure this?” He asked, “Why have you forsaken me?”
Sometimes, in our thoughts of Christ’s death and what it did for us, we overlook what it did to him. His Father, with whom he was in a constant communion of love from before time began, was suddenly forced to withdraw that love and turn his back because of our sin that covered Jesus as he died. Do you think Jesus had ever needed or desired his Father’s love more than in that moment?
Redeemed from Rejection
Rejection is a significant source of pain for many of us. It truly is a sweet comfort knowing that Jesus understands our pain in the most real way, that he shares the burden. But when we look at his life on earth and all he endured for our sake, we see that it’s actually us who can identify with him, not the other way around. He first experienced everything that we now experience in order to redeem it all, to cover it all in grace.
What surpasses comfort is the knowledge that the gospel stands as the unfaltering, unchangeable answer to rejection. In fact, rejection created the need for the gospel in the first place. Sin entered the world because two people rejected God and his command. Then, in turn, they faced God’s eternal rejection. We also were placed under a curse of separation from his favor and bound to his wrath.
But Jesus redeemed us from that curse by taking it upon himself. To redeem is to buy back, to accept, to choose. That is the opposite of rejection. By the power of the gospel, we have received the “Spirit of adoption” (Romans 8:15). That’s permanent, binding acceptance. We know that, now, nothing can separate us from the Father’s love (Romans 8:38-39). Man’s rejection is made so small in light of the truth that, through the gospel, we have God’s eternal love and acceptance, unconditionally.
What can man’s rejection do to us if Almighty God is ultimately for us?