Included in the story of Jesus’s birth is the detail that after he was born, Mary “wrapped him in cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7). Why does Luke include this detail about his birth? This detail foreshadows the death of Jesus. Just like on the day of his birth, Jesus would be rejected, wrapped in cloths, and laid in a tomb.
The theme of rejection crops up throughout the story of scripture. Adam and Eve rejected God’s instructions in the garden and subsequently rejected each other with, “She made me do it,” and “the serpent made me do it.” Joseph was rejected by his brothers. God frequently accuses the Israelites of rejecting his commands and statutes (Lev. 26:43; 1 Sam. 10:19; 15:23; 2 Kgs. 17:15). The Israelites rejected God in the desert by complaining and wanting to go back to Egypt (Num. 11:20). God rejected Saul from being king over Israel when Saul disobeyed him (1 Sam. 16:1).
One of the most memorable Old Testament stories of rejection is the Israelites rejection of God as their king when they asked for a human king. Samuel vents his frustration to God over the matter and God says to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them” (1 Sam. 8:7). Because Samuel was the leader that God appointed over Israel, rejecting him was synonymous with rejecting God himself.
Jesus is the preeminent example of rejection. John 1:9–11 says,
The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.John 1:9–11
In other words, those to whom he came rejected him.
They killed him.
Thankfully, Isaiah the prophet tells us that he was rejected on our behalf; that he was a substitute for us—the very ones who rejected him.
Acts 4:11 says, “He is the stone which was rejected by you, the builders, but which became the chief cornerstone.” In other words, the Jews rejected Jesus, and on that rejection God built a kingdom of priests who are reconciled to God (cf. Romans 11:15).
If rejection is such a common theme in scripture, when what can we learn from it? Here are a few things:
- As Christians, we will be rejected by the world. If they rejected our Lord—the one in whom we abide and follow—then they will certainly reject his church. Paul says Christians, “To those who are perishing, we are a dreadful smell of death and doom. But to those who are being saved, we are a life-giving perfume” (2 Cor. 2:16). Christians are called to live in the current of Jesus which is against the current of culture. This means adversity, conflict, and ultimately persecution. Prepared to be rejected in following Jesus.
- To reject the church is to reject Jesus. A lot of people think they can be a Jesus follower independent of the body of Christ. This is a dangerous lie. God chose that he would save the world through Jesus and his church. To reject the church is to reject Jesus himself. Furthermore, this is what we learn from the Samuel story mentioned above. God tells Samuel that because they rejected the leader that God appointed for them, it was the same as rejecting God himself. We must be careful of criticizing the church because the church is the body of Christ. Criticism of the church can often times come dangerously close to criticism of Jesus himself.
- To reject Jesus is to reject God. Jesus says in Luke 10:16, “Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me; but whoever rejects me rejects him who sent me.”
- To reject the commands of God is to reject God himself. Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 4:8, “So, he who rejects this [the call to sanctification] is not rejecting man but the God who gives His Holy Spirit to you.”
- The church is called “reject” or “deny” ourselves. Jesus says in Matthew 16:24, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” When someone becomes a Christian, they get baptized. One of the meanings of the symbol of baptism is death to self; it’s an outward sacrament that says, “I’m putting to death my selfish desires that is the source of all sinfulness in my life.” New birth only comes after a death. This means being set apart for holy living. There are certain things that as Christians to which we simply say, “No, that’s not for us.”
- The church is called to reject sin, but not people. Jesus died for his enemies. Jesus gave his own life for those that rejected him. As followers of his example, we must be careful in rejecting people. This is not to say that the church is to affirm or condone sinful behavior because sinful behavior destroys, and we don’t want to encourage behavior that destroys people whom we love; and, encouraging sinful behavior as clearly defined in scripture is to reject God. The sacred calling is to reject sin, but die for our enemies.
The most important lesson on rejection in the Bible is that because Jesus is rejected, we are accepted. Because of Jesus’s own rejection, God is able to say to use as he does to the Israelites in Leviticus 26:11, “Moreover, I will make my dwelling among. You, and my would will not reject you.” Did you catch that? Because Jesus was rejected by us on our behalf, God does not reject you!
Most pointedly, Isaiah 53:4–6 says,
Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him.Isaiah 53:4–6
The big challenge for today is to leave behind the pain of rejection. You are accepted. Jesus was rejected so that you don’t have to be. God has flung open the door to your heart for him to come in and make himself at home. He has not rejected you because of Jesus.