Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta
“Jesus was Rejected for You” (Isaiah 53:3)
Good Friday: April 19, 2019
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Every year on Good Friday we read a passage from the great Old Testament prophet Isaiah, whose ministry among the Israelites took place about seven centuries before Christ, a prophetic passage about the passion and death of Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God. This passage is saturated with details about Jesus’ substitutionary suffering and death in your place, as Isaiah wrote:
Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:4-6).
On Good Friday Jesus suffered in your place and died in your place. Today I am preaching briefly on something else Jesus did on Good Friday: he was rejected in your place—as Isaiah also wrote: “He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity; and as one from whom others hide their faces he was despised, and we held him of no account” (Isaiah 53:3).
Jesus was rejected for you, which means you are accepted by God.
The fear of rejection is one of the most common fears human beings have. In an online article for Psychology Today Dr. John Amodeo put it this way:
The fear of rejection is one of our deepest human fears. Biologically wired with a longing to belong, we fear being seen in a critical way. We’re anxious about the prospect of being cut off, demeaned or isolated…we may be afraid that rejection confirms our worst fear—perhaps that we’re unlovable, or that we’re destined to be alone, or that we have little worth or value. When these fear-based thoughts keep spinning in our mind, we may become agitated, anxious, or depressed (April 4, 2014).
Some people are rejected as children, and such rejection can leave lifelong scars. John Steinbeck described this in his classic 1952 novel East of Eden:
The greatest terror a child can have is that he is not loved, and rejection is the hell he fears. I think everyone in the world to a large or small extent has felt rejection. And with rejection comes anger, and with anger some kind of crime in revenge for the rejection, and with the crime guilt—and there is the story of mankind (Penguin Classics edition 270).
The greatest king in the history of Israel, David, was rejected by his family. Scripture tells us when the prophet Samuel came to visit David’s family in Bethlehem in order to anoint one of the sons of his father Jesse as the next king of Israel, David was not even invited. Jesse presented all seven of David’s older brothers to Samuel only to have Samuel respond each time, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” Earlier the Lord had told Samuel, “The Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”
After seeing all seven of David’s older brothers the prophet Samuel asked Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” to which Jesse responded, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.” Jesse would not even refer to David, his rejected youngest son, by his name. And yet Samuel replied, “Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.” So Jesse and his seven older sons and Samuel all stood waiting for the arrival of the rejected son, the rejected shepherd, David. When David finally arrived, the Lord told Samuel, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one”—and scripture continues, “Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward” (1 Samuel 16:1-13).
And although David had been, and would continue to be, rejected by his family, he had been, and would continue to be, accepted by the Lord—accepted by the Lord who knew his broken heart, accepted by the Lord who had always been with him as he shepherded sheep in the wilderness during those long days and longer nights, accepted by the Lord who had called him and anointed him to be the next king of Israel, accepted by the Lord who would never ever reject him. And David knew this, which is why he later wrote in Psalm 27, “Though my father and my mother forsake me, the Lord will sustain me” (Psalm 27:14, BCP 618).
In the gospel-soaked 2017 film Wonder Jacob Tremblay plays Auggie Pullman, a boy who was born with Treacher Collins syndrome, which means his facial bones did not form properly, leaving his face extremely disfigured, even after multiple reconstructive surgeries. At the beginning of the film Auggie refuses to go out in public without wearing his astronaut helmet, not just because he dreamed of going to the stars, but because he was embarrassed by his disfigured face and the ridicule it inevitably drew.
But although Auggie was no longer allowed to wear his astronaut helmet, he persevered through an entire difficult school year. As his father Nate, played by Owen Wilson, helps him get ready for the end of the school year assembly, there is a beautiful moment of grace. Nate is tying Auggie’s tie and says, “You’ve come a long way, huh?” “Yeah,” Auggie replies. “I am proud of you for sticking it out,” Nate continues. Auggie grins, “You didn’t think I would, did you?” Nate lies, “Of course I did,” but after seeing Auggie’s dubious expression continues, “Okay, well, come on, when you started you were still wearing the astronaut helmet in public.” “I love that helmet,” Auggie says, “I wish I knew where it was.”
Nate pauses and looks Auggie in the eye, “It’s in my office.” Auggie is very upset, “What?!” “Auggie,” Nate pleas, “please don’t be mad. You gotta understand—you were wearing it all the time. I never got to see you anymore. I missed your face. I know you don’t always like it, but I love it. It’s my son’s face. I wanna see it. Do you forgive me?” Auggie says, “No…yes” and then asks, “Does mom know?” “No, God no,” Nate replies, “She’d kill me, but I can maybe find it if you need it back.” But Auggie shakes his head, “That’s okay” and Nate hugs Auggie and gazes proudly into his beloved son’s face. Although Auggie was often rejected by the world, he was never rejected by his family.
But some people have been rejected by their family in one way or another—rejected by parents, or siblings, or a spouse (or ex-spouse), or even their children—or rejected in other areas like school, or work, or yes, even church. Such experiences of rejection are often then placed on their relationship with God. In other words, because they have been rejected by others, they feel rejected by God—rejected by God because they have made big mistakes in their life, rejected by God because they have been rejected by the church, rejected and alone in the wilderness with the sheep, rejected and therefore uninvited.
In his passion and death Jesus was rejected—rejected by the world he had created, rejected by his fellow Israelites as scripture tells us, “He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him” (John 1:11), rejected by his disciples who at his betrayal and arrest all “deserted him and fled” (Matthew 26:56), rejected by religious leaders who falsely accused him of blasphemy, rejected by secular leaders who mocked him, beat him and nailed him to a cross. Jesus was “seen in a critical way.” Jesus was “cut off, demeaned, isolated.” Like David, Jesus was the rejected shepherd, the Good Shepherd who was rejected for you.
And on the cross, although rejected by nearly everyone, Jesus was not rejected by his Heavenly Father. In his cry of dereliction Jesus quoted the psalms—“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1; Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34). Jesus did not cry, “My Father, my Father, why have you forsaken me?” because his Heavenly Father was right there, gazing into his son’s disfigured face, a face Jesus did not cover with an astronaut helmet or anything else, as God the Father said, “I love it. It’s my son’s face. I wanna see it.” And this is why Luke records Jesus’ final words as “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46).
The gospel is good news for those have been rejected because on Good Friday Jesus was rejected for you. Moreover, scripture assures us that the Risen Jesus’ words to those who have been rejected by others are “I will never leave you or forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). In other words, even if you have been rejected and uninvited, the gospel means everyone will remain standing until you arrive and you will be anointed in the presence of those who have rejected you and filled mightily with the Spirit from that day forward because God has never rejected you.
On Good Friday Jesus was rejected for you, rejected in your place, because God would never and will never reject you. Since Jesus has been rejected for you, you have always been accepted by God, are now accepted by God, and will always be accepted by God—as we pray in the post-communion prayer every week, “Eternal God, Heavenly Father, you have graciously accepted us…” (BCP 365). And when you breathe your final earthly breath the same Heavenly Father into whose hands Jesus commended himself will be there to accept you and welcome you to your heavenly home, where you will be fully loved, fully accepted, world without end.