By Pastor Mark Jeske
St. Marcus Lutheran Church
One of the most miserable of all human experiences is getting rejected. Whether you’re a writer and your manuscript comes back in the same envelope with a rejection stamp on it, or whether you get dumped by the girlfriend you really love, rejection is a blow to the gut. I can still remember getting pushed around by bullies on the playground when I was a kid. Or this— could there be a bigger pain than feeling rejected by a parent? Rejection is like an open wound. You know that pain, don’t you? I don’t think it’s possible to live your life without ever getting rejected. And yet, no matter how frustrated or hurt you may feel, it is nothing compared to the hurt in the heart of our God when He feels rejected by the people He made to be His children.
The Father sent his dearest treasure to earth to rescue the people who had turned to sin. The amazing thing is what hurts God the most is not that we sin, for He has arranged forgiveness for all. What hurts is when people despise and reject His rescue plan. And that’s something we need to think about.
It is my joy to announce what God has done for us and then is going to do through us. We celebrate our Savior and all that He’s done, and we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit to transform our lives. But what if you don’t believe it? What if instead of saying, “Take the world but give me Jesus” you say, “Keep Jesus but give me the world”? It is imperative that you not live another moment of your life without realizing that there are heavy consequences for a decision like that.
You see, it’s part of God’s unbelievably risky gamble to allow people to push Him away. And yet, in spite of the danger and risk of that, it is the only way that there can be true love. Because if God forced everyone to obey and accept His invitation, then what we gave Him in return would not be love, would it? It would simply be the obedience of slaves who have no choice. And God absolutely will not do that. His love is freely given.
Let’s think about Jesus’ first sermon in His hometown, the place where you’d think He would be most loved and appreciated. Unfortunately, it turned out to be one of the most painful memories of His entire ministry on this earth. Jesus grew up in Nazareth. It was a small town where everybody knew everything about everybody. Jesus was well known. But instead of buying Him credibility, it actually brought about disdain.
The Bible says in Luke 4:16-30, “He went to Nazareth. . . . And on the Sabbath day he went to the synagogue . . . . And he stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him.” He unrolled it to Isaiah chapter 61: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me.” In Hebrew, you would say he has “messiahed” me; that’s what Messiah means, “the anointed one.” Or in the Greek language, you would say he has “christed” me; that’s what Christ means, “the anointed one.” Anoint means that God touches somebody to single him out for special service to advance His kingdom and that He puts the Holy Spirit within that person to equip him with the gifts needed for an unusually difficult and dangerous job.
And so, Jesus said, “I am anointed by the Lord.” And here are four amazing things that He was anointed to do: Jesus said He was anointed to preach “good news to the poor.” He went on to say that there is “freedom for the prisoners . . . sight for the blind . . . release for the oppressed.” Here is a difficult word to translate: tethrausmenos in St. Luke’s original Greek really means, “people who are broken.” Jesus said, “I’ve got release for broken people because I’m here to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor; I’m here to tell you that God likes you and He’s got a rescue plan. And I’m it.” And He rolled up the scroll and said, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
He dropped this little bomb on His hometown church. “That Scripture, seven hundred years in the making, is all about me.” Then He looked at them to see what would happen.
Now at first, they did the same thing they did when I gave my first sermon back at my childhood church— nobody listened to what I said. They thought, “Oh, isn’t he cute.” And all I heard after church was how people remembered when I was this big, how cute I was, and that now I looked so grown up.
I would think that’s how His fellow Nazarenes looked at Jesus: “I remember when He ran around in the streets of Nazareth. Isn’t it cute? He’s all grown up now, and He’s talking such big language. He’s like a real rabbi now.” It doesn’t seem that they were really listening.
Jesus said, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself! Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’ You’re going to want a miracle next, aren’t you, because you’ve heard that I have changed the laws of nature at my personal word. Now you want a show.
“I tell you the truth . . . no prophet is accepted in his hometown,” i.e., “You don’t respect me.” So He sees through the patronizing comments. They weren’t listening, and they weren’t believing either. In fact, He could see the rejection cooking in their hearts, and it wounded Him terribly because He loved every person in that building.
“I assure you there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon.” So when God’s sole spokesman on earth needed to ride out a famine, it was not to an Israelite home that God directed him. It was to a home out of the country, to a place we call Lebanon today. He sent Elijah to the home of a widow in Zarephath. He then graced that home with direct blessings from God.
“And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.” Jesus pointed to these two stories that everybody knew and said they were examples of God withholding His mercy. One of the Bible’s gravest messages is that if God’s mercy is despised long enough, He takes it away. Now “all the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built,” not for a church picnic though, not to build a campfire and sing “Kum Ba Yah” but “in order to throw him down the cliff.”
Jesus gave them a miracle, but not the one they wanted. “He walked right through the crowd and went on his way.” They grabbed at him, and He simply melted away. He most certainly was willing to suffer and die for His people, but not on that day. That was not the Father’s day. But the rejection that he felt from people He grew up with and wanted to have in heaven with Him forever, that rejection was like a dagger in Him.
What about people who reject Jesus? They have God’s mercy, for the love of God is universal and unconditional. The forgiveness that Christ won for people’s sins is universal, unconditional, and free. It is simply given to people. You aren’t obligated to buy it, trade for it, or earn it. It is God’s gift to people who are powerless to obtain it for themselves. Unfortunately, though, you can reject it.
The wonderful words that Jesus explained were meaningless and pointless to the very people who needed them most. You know why? Because they didn’t like the premise that the notion was built on. When Jesus said, “I come as a gift to give you what you need,” they wanted to hurl right back at Him, “We don’t need you! Preach good news to the poor? Huh! We’re not beggars. We pay our taxes. We’re decent, upstanding citizens. We’re fine; don’t call us beggars.
“Freedom is for prisoners? Huh! We’re free; we don’t need release. We’re not begging for help from you, Jesus. Don’t get uppity on us now, little boy of Nazareth. We watched you grow up.
“Sight for the blind? Seriously? Are you calling us blind? Huh! We can see fine.
“Release for the oppressed, for broken people? Huh! We’ve got our lives together. We’re church people. There’s other sinful riff-raff elsewhere in town. If You want to go help somebody, go help all those sinners. We’re fine.”
And you know what, some things never change. All the people today who are not interested in Jesus are not interested in Him because they don’t see their need.
Jesus and the message that He came to bring are for people who are blinded by their own sinful stupidity, people who’ve been beaten up by Satan, people who are frustrated, who feel hopeless, who know they have not measured up to God in their hearts— Jesus can put them back together. He can turn the lights on for them. People who are aware that they can’t change their lives by themselves or who are totally convinced they’re unlovable—they are the people who get it. But Jesus’ message does not resonate if you don’t think you have any needs.
Jesus was saying, “I’m here for you. I’m not here to pin a medal on you for being so spectacular. I’m here because you’re poor and starving. I’m here to feed you with my wonderful Word. You’re prisoners of death and sin and Satan, but I have come to set you free.
“You’re blind at birth; I’ll turn the lights on. I’m going to give you My Word so you understand that you were created and designed. There’s meaning to your life. And there’s a Designer behind your existence.
“Last of all, I’m here to release you from the brokenness of your life by helping you find purpose and hope, to give a future to people who have no future.”
Today is the day to stop dithering; now is the time to say to Jesus, “I need what you’ve got.”
Stop pretending you’re fine. Get on your knees and confess your sin. Confess that you have a track record of breaking God’s commandments. Let those commandments speak to you and tell you where you’ve been wrong, and in humility say, “Jesus, help me—I’m tired of pretending I’m fine. I need your forgiveness so God will no longer be angry with me. I’m terrified to live another day with God’s anger. I’m afraid to die. I’m afraid of everything.” Let Jesus wash that away. Let Jesus give you a home in eternity. In his Father’s house are many rooms. Jesus has already paid for your room. Welcome it and embrace it. But what if you don’t? And here’s the hard thing: God withdraws his mercy from people who despise his rescue.
The little stories of Naaman and the widow that Elijah stayed with were the first whiffs of passing judgment, the coming judgment that would engulf the entire Israelite nation. Their wonderful city of Jerusalem was broken and smashed to smithereens, not once but repeatedly because people trusted that because they were Israel, because they lived in Jerusalem, they would always be God’s people. But we are not saved by our race or by our geographical location. God’s mercy moves away from places where it is despised.
This is of extreme importance for us, that we not despise the mercy of God but welcome it, show our appreciation for it, and praise our God for sending his Son. Now is the time to tell people, because there are incredible benefits to believing far greater than you can imagine. I don’t have words to tell you how wonderful heaven is, and language fails me when I describe to you how wonderful it is in your earthly life—now already— to have the Holy Spirit living within. We have to have the courage to look people in the eye who are rejecting the Lord Jesus and tell them that there are consequences for that rejection. That won’t make you the most popular person in the world. But it’s like going to a doctor. You expect your physician to tell you the truth. We need Dr. Jesus to tell us the truth, and we need to tell people there are consequences for despising and rejecting Him. For God withdraws His mercy, and their lives on earth get colder and colder. God will stop knocking on the door if He’s rejected long enough; then His voice will go silent.
When Elijah left the people of Israel, there was no prophetic voice any longer within their land. And God will withdraw his mercy permanently in eternity if people die in that attitude of rejection.
This is a very high stakes business, and Jesus’ hometown sermon can be very good for us if we learn something from it.
I invite you to place the message of the Lord Jesus in the place it deserves in your heart, as your most precious treasure. For He did what He said He would do. He does let you see more clearly. He heals the hearts of people who’ve been hurt and rejected by others, He gives comfort to people whose hearts have been broken by hardship and death, and He gives friends to the friendless.
And if you feel trapped and locked into frustration, the Lord Jesus is here for you. He wants to be part of your life, to give you the freedom and release that you cannot do for yourself. These are gifts He came to give—cherish them, prize them, share them freely, and don’t let people get away with thinking there are no consequences. Tell the consequences, but keep telling how wonderful our Savior truly is.
This beautiful gospel message will build the very faith that people need.
St. Marcus Lutheran Church, 2215 North Palmer St. Milwaukee, WI 53212
Pastor Mark Jeske 414.562.3369