Back in 2001, we made the decision to leave the church tradition we both had grown up in. We felt God calling us into a new, more contemporary direction. I found myself one of two finalists for a senior associate position outside of Chicago. Over two years, I would transition into the senior pastor position.
It was a fantastic opportunity to be mentored by a successful pastor. The church operated a Christian school that our two daughters could attend. Having been born and raised in Peoria (downstate!), I still had family in central Illinois. And … it would put me within striking distance of Wrigley Field.
After returning from our interview, I’ll never forget the phone call from the chairman of elders. He politely informed me that they had opted for the other candidate because he came from the same background.
To put it bluntly, I was devastated and disappointed.
But I am where I am today because God opened another door that eventually led to South Denver. Even though I know that now, however, it still stings to think about it.
How about you? Is there a time, moment, or relationship that comes to mind when you think about rejection?
Rejections are the emotional cuts and scrapes of daily life. They come in various forms – social, professional, romantic. It might be because of the color of your skin or your gender. The rejection might be the result of being seen as too young or too old.
Some rejections are like paper-cuts – they are just an annoyance. Your friends don’t like your really cute, awesome, inspiring Facebook post.
Other rejections are deeper and more painful – like when you’re not invited to a party or a get together.
A few can be huge, such as when the person we love decides to leave us.
In his book Power and Presence, Don Kimball talks about what happens when we fear rejection:
“Fear can make us hide ourselves inside our relationships, and it can keep us from ever beginning good relationships. Ultimately, it can conceal our free will from us and keep us from making life-giving choices or ruining the few good relationships we have.”
The fear of rejection is real and it has real consequences.
When you find yourself feeling rejected, you’re in good company: Jesus himself was rejected.
But here’s the critical thing to remember: Jesus was rejected by people but chosen by God. The rejection of others is meaningless if God’s favor is upon you.
Our passage this weekend is from the book of Hebrews. It’s the only New Testament book that we’re not sure who wrote it. But we do know who it is written to — a group of Jewish Christians who were undergoing tremendous persecution and rejection.
How bad was it? Some of them were considering quitting Christianity and returning to their Jewish roots.
The basic argument of the writer is this: Jesus is better. His way is better. His power is greater. So don’t turn back. That’s where today’s passage fits in. It begins with a reminder about who Jesus was and is:
14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. — Hebrews 4:14
There’s imagery in these verses that we may not be very familiar with – the idea of a high priest. Today, we might hear the term priest and think of a Catholic priest. The idea of a high priest would be very familiar to the writer’s Jewish audience.
Under the Jewish way of relating to God, common people were not permitted to enter the holy areas of the tabernacle or temple. Regular priests were only allowed as far as the veil. The high priest alone went beyond the veil and even then it was only on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16). The old covenant provided limited access to God.
Jesus changed all of that. He became our ultimate High Priest because he was no ordinary person – he is the Son of God. As our High Priest, what does he do? He stands in as a mediator between you and God. Jesus stands before God and intercedes for you.
He is able to intercede for us because he understands us …
15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are — yet he did not sin. — Hebrews 4:15
Have you ever felt totally misunderstood? Ever had your motives questioned? In those moments, you might be the most like Jesus you’ll ever be. Was anybody more misunderstood than Jesus?
We do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses. The Old Testament propher Isaiah predicted Jesus would be “despised and rejected.”
Here are just a few examples …
- From moment he was conceived he was thought to be illegitimate
- His friends once accused him of being “out of his mind.”
- When he taught in hometown synagogue, friends were offended
- He was accused of being demon possessed
- One friend betrayed him
- Another friend denied even knowing him
- He was falsely accused at a sham trial
- He was stripped naked and put on public display
- He was hung on a cross between two thieves
- People insulted him while he was dying
- At the cross all but one of his closest friends deserted him
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way. Jesus knows the sting of being despised and rejected.
Oswald Chambers describes it this way:
“Jesus Christ reveals, not an embarrassed God, not a confused God, not a God who stands apart from the problems, but One who stands in the thick of the whole thing with man.”
Not only did Jesus experience rejection, he did something about it. At the cross, Jesus allowed himself to be rejected so that you could be accepted.
When we fear rejection, we often try to compensate by seeking approval, comfort, power, or control.
- If you compensate by seeking approval, you will spend your entire life trying to please people.
- If you compensate by seeking comfort, you won’t be able to say “no” to things that are harmful to you.
- If you compensate by seeking power, you’ll become domineering, harsh, perhaps even abusive.
- If you compensate by seeking control, you’ll worry all the time because life is filled with things you cannot control.
So, what is the key to overcoming our fear of rejection? It’s God’s presence …
16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. — Hebrews 4:16
Because of what Jesus has done for you, you are not approaching God’s throne of judgment but his throne of grace.
Because of what Jesus has done for you, you can approach God’s throne of grace with confidence. When you do … you will receive mercy and find grace. Rather than rejection you will find relationship. This relationship offers help in your time of need.
Don’t believe the lie that one person’s opinion or one incident defines who you are. Believe the truth instead: You are an object of God’s affection.
He created you, loves you, and wants to be in a relationship with you.