It’s one of the saddest verses in all of the Bible, and yet (ironically) one of the most encouraging. Especially for one very special junior high student.
The verse to which I refer is John 1:11, which reads in the New Living Translation,
Jesus came to his own people, and EVEN THEY rejected him (emphasis added).
In other words, Jesus wasn’t only rejected by His own people. Jesus was rejected by nearly everyone.
A sad verse indeed. Yet a verse that means the world to at least one junior higher who shared with me that if he was given the chance to ask God any question, he would ask Him this:
How did you feel when you were all alone, when your friends left you? What should I do when this happens to me?
Imagine those heart-wrenching words coming from a twelve year old. Far too young to feel the torment of rejection. But feel it, he did. He does. And truth be told, throughout his life, he will feel it again and again and again.
Just like us.
And I can tell you from personal experience spanning now some six decades, and having felt the rejection of more people than I can count, reeling from rejection never gets any easier. Especially when the person who rejects us is someone whose approval and acceptance we desperately seek, want, or need.
How would Jesus have answered this student’s question?
Before I attempt to answer on His behalf (something I am always hesitant to do), let me first frame the answer by pointing out the following:
The rejection of Jesus became for Him a fact of His troubled life, His entire life. From birth to death.
His own mother was ostracized by her community because the word was whispered around that she got pregnant outside of marriage. Knowing that Joseph was not Jesus’ father, some concluded that Mary had been raped by a Roman soldier. Others merely concluded that Mary had violated her engagement by cheating on her husband-to-be.
Jesus carried that stigma throughout his adult life. His enemies even used it to cheap-shot Jesus when they mocked Him by asking Him (John 8:19, Amplified Bible),
Where is this father of Yours?
They took another shot at Him in John 8:41,
We are not illegitimate children and born out of fornication.
Implication: We’re not illegitimate children, like you!
What a hateful and hurtful thing to say.
Next, imagine this: When Herod heard that Jesus had been born in Bethlehem, he immediately ordered every Jewish baby boy two years of age and under to be barbarically butchered in a vain attempt to kill the baby Jesus in His crib. You talk about rejection. Just imagine what it would be like a) to be hunted by the government as an enemy of the state, and b) to have on your conscience the deaths of dozens of baby boys, all because the authorities were trying to kill you!
We know that Jesus’ own brothers rejected Him (John 7:5).
The Romans, of course, eventually killed Him.
But what about the crowds? The masses of people who dogged His every step? Study the story carefully and you will discover that every single time a crowd formed to follow Him, they eventually walked away. As soon as Jesus failed to give them what they wanted, they turned tail and left Him all alone.
Perhaps the most poignant scene is in John 6, just after Jesus miraculously multiplied the loaves and the fishes. The thousands came back the next day in order to receive their next free meal. When Jesus basically told them that His purpose was not to be seen as some sanctified Meals on Wheels provider of free lunches, they walked. In the wake of the rejection of these thousands of freeloaders, Jesus sullenly turned to His twelve disciples and asked what must have been a gut-twisting question,
Will you also go away? And do you too desire to leave Me? (John 6:67, Amplified Bible)
I’ll give you just one more. Did you know that Jesus was even rejected by His Heavenly Father?
It’s true. When Jesus voluntarily took upon Himself our sins while hanging on the cross, in that terrible moment Jesus paid in our place the penalty that you and I deserve. God the Father, being so absolutely holy that He cannot even look upon sin, turned His back on His Son and abandoned Him to the white-hot fury of His wrath, as Jesus essentially went to Hell so that we wouldn’t have to.
In that moment of absolute agony, Jesus cried out from the cross these words that ought to send chills down our spines:
My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? (Matthew 27:46, New Living Translation)
Put that all together, and let me ask you: How would Jesus answer a junior high student when asked this all-consuming question,
How did you feel when you were all alone, when your friends left you?
He would probably say something like this:
It hurt. It hurt me deeply. In fact, the pain I felt every time someone rejected me was by far the worst pain that I ever felt.
And that pain hasn’t stopped. Every day, all around the world, there are people who hear about me only to reject me.
Every day, all around the world, there are people who once claimed to love me, to worship me, to pray to me, who for whatever reason abandon me and walk away.
There is no greater pain in all the world than to love someone, only to have that love rejected. There is no greater pain in all the world than to have created someone, and blessed them with this miracle that we call life, only to have them reject their Creator.
So believe me when I say that I hear your question, and I “get it.” I know up close and all-too-personal the pain behind your question.
I never wanted the people I created to reject me. And I certainly never wanted them to reject each other. And I definitely never wanted them to reject you.
I can only promise you that I will never reject you. It’s a promise that I made to you, and a promise that I will keep forever. My promise goes like this: “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake (or abandon) you” (Hebrews 13:5).
Let me ask you: How would Jesus answer a junior high student when asked this all-consuming question,
What should I do when this happens to me?
I believe that Jesus would answer that question something like this:
You are my friend. You will always be my friend. And as your friend, I am going to answer your question as honestly as I can.
I know that you are hurting. Pain is never pleasant. But your negative pain can be turned into a positive purpose if you’ll consider these few ideas:
First, allow the pain of your rejection to remind you of the pain you can cause others when you reject them.
The neat thing about pain is that pain keeps us sensitive to the feelings of others around us. Our pain can help us to be a little more patient, a little more understanding, a little more compassionate, and quite a bit more gentle in our responses to others.
So the next time you treat someone else in an insensitive, unkind, hurtful sort of way, you may be causing them to feel the same hurt that you are feeling now.
Second, allow the pain of your rejection to remind you of the pain that I feel each and every day. Your pain is a window into my soul. You will now be able to relate to me on a much deeper personal level than you ever could if you never felt the pain of rejection. You and I now share something in common. I know all about your pain, and now you know about mine. In a sense, you and I now share an intimately personal experience. The bond that we can now build between your heart and my heart is worth the pain of rejection.
And third, please, please, please allow the pain of your rejection to become a power motivation in your life never, never, never to reject me.
There will be times when you will be tempted to think that I have failed you, or let you down. Maybe there will be a prayer that I don’t answer, a relationship that I don’t fix, a problem that I don’t solve. You may be tempted to get mad at me, or fear that I am mad at you. You might even be tempted to think that I have rejected you. But know this: I haven’t!!! It’s just that my plans for you and my thoughts about you are so great that there will be times when it’s hard for you to understand them, or you will feel the need to question them. I get that. It’s OK. You have my permission to question all of those things, and to tell me exactly how you feel. But I promise you that I will never, ever reject you.
Please don’t make the fatal mistake of rejecting me. When times get tough, let’s hold onto each other like never before. And I promise you that together, we’ll get through it just fine.
Wow. Quite the question from a junior higher to God. Thank you for being brave enough to ask it. I only hope and pray that my answer gives you some measure of the comfort of God’s grace and peace in your life.