We have all experienced rejection at some point in our life. It could have been asking someone out on a date, applying for a job or at the very least, asking something from our parents when we were children.
There is one particular story that stands out in my mind. It was when I was in junior high school. There was a school dance and I wanted to dance with a particular girl. There was a long internal battle while I tried to gather my courage. I finally convinced myself to start the long walk from the boys’ side of the gym to the girls’ side. I walked right up to her and asked, “Would you like to dance?” She respond by saying, “With who?” That was not the answer I was looking for. I clarified that it was with me and she politely declined. It ends up that she was hoping that I was coming over to ask for my friend, who she would have danced with. I would have rather that she just said “no” right away.
Have you ever experienced rejection when trying to share your faith? I don’t mean that they just didn’t decide to become a Christian, but rather they had a strong reaction to Jesus? About twenty-five years ago, I went on a short-term mission with Operation Mobilization. I was pretty new in my personal faith. To be honest, I thought I was pretty awesome. God was sure lucky to have me on his team. But before we left for Europe, we were told to hand out some tracts at the Toronto airport. Suddenly, we were much less confident in our ability. We looked for some little old ladies, thinking that they might be the easiest to talk to. We finally found our target and in a pack approached her and handed her a tract. She asked us if this was about Jesus and when we replied in the affirmative, she gave us the thumbs down and blew a raspberry. So much for my career as an evangelist. You would think I was asking her to dance.
That was not the first nor the last time someone said no to Jesus. We are going to take a look at a story from the Bible about a entire village saying no to Jesus.
Samaritans and Jesus
We need a bit of background information to understand this story. Jesus was raised and started his ministry in the north in a place called Galilee. He wanted to go to the south to Jerusalem, which was in Judea. In between Galilee and Judea was a place called Samaria. While many Jews would go around Samaria, the quickest way was t go right through it. Unfortunately, there was a tremendous amount of hostility between the Jews and the Samaritans. If you think of any conflicts today between cultures, ethnicities or religions, you will understand what was going on between the Jews and the Samaritans. There was mutual contempt.
As Jesus and his disciples were travelling south, Jesus sent some of the disciples to make some preparations for them. Unfortunately, the Samaritans were not interested at all. They would not receive Jesus into their town. This was a strong rejection.
How well did the disciples react? On the positive side, no one could question their loyalty to Jesus. On the negative side, James and John wanted to call down fire from heaven to consume the village. Think about that. How often do we find the disciples volunteering to perform a miracle? Most of the time they leave it to Jesus. When Jesus wants them to feed the 5000 people, they are not confident at all in their ability to accomplish the task. But James and John are more than willing to try a miracle to destroy the village. I’m sensing a very pastoral heart.
Jesus rebuked them for their offer. The disciples make mistakes from time to time, but it is usually something serious that deserves a rebuke. This deserved a rebuke. Killing people who would not believe was not the way Jesus operated. Jesus simply led them to another village.
I used to enjoy the radio program The Rest of the Story by Paul Harvey and so I would like to show you the rest of the story. To do this, we need to turn to Luke’s second volume, Acts. In Acts 8, we find a man named Philip preaching to some Samaritans. And guess what? They believe and become followers of Jesus. This was pretty radical at this time in the church. Many thought that only Jews could become followers of Jesus and the Samaritans, at best were considered half-Jewish. Because of the significance of this event, the Jerusalem church sent two apostles to witness this expansion of the church. One of the apostles was Peter and the other was John. The same John that earlier had been eager to call down fire on the Samaritans. Were these the same Samaritans? Luke does not tell us. But I do believe it is important that John is one of the apostolic witnesses to the inclusion of the Samaritans. Now you know the rest of the story.
Our Society and Jesus
There continues to be opposition to the sharing of Jesus. This manifests in different ways. Have you ever noticed television programs that include religious characters? There will be plenty of God talk but almost no mention of Jesus. I have heard stories of how people have had to fight to get the networks to allow the name of Jesus.
But this is more than just television. It can be difficult for us to share our faith personally. I wish I could say that I have always responded well to rejection. I used to do door-to-door evangelism. I knocked on one door and explained why I was there and the man replied, “I’m not interested in that stuff,” and quickly slammed the door. Before the door closed, I blurted out, “You better be interested, you are going to be dead a lot longer than you will be alive.” I’m not proud of that aggressive stance but it can be frustrating when people reject the Jesus that we know can make such a difference in people’s lives.
There are a couple of principles from the story of the Samaritan village that we can apply to our own experience in sharing our faith.
One is to reflect on the reason for the rejection. It is not always because they hate Jesus. If we read this story, we will see that their problem was not with Jesus specifically. The problem was that they did not like that he was heading to Jerusalem. They didn’t like anyone who was going to Jerusalem. It was part of their cultural prejudice.
Why do people today reject Jesus? In some cases they have had bad experiences with Christians. Sometimes they have suffered and blame God for their suffering. Sometimes they have misread the Bible. They my just have an inaccurate understanding of Jesus. We need to understand their reasons before we get all offended that they reject Jesus.
We also need to try and focus on the big picture. We can get so caught up in the moment that we forget that there is more to the story. Did John write off the Samaritans when they rejected Jesus? Could he imagine that he would eventually be sent as an apostolic witness of the Samaritans coming to faith? In my early twenties, I worked for some Christians and they witnessed to me constantly. I continually rejected their message. Little did they know that God was working on me on the inside. I had started reading the Bible was secretly considering Jesus. To this day, they do not know that I became a Christian and am now a pastor. When we share Jesus, we cannot judge what God is doing based on outward appearances.
It is important for us to share Jesus. Not because it is a religious rule or because we are intolerant of other beliefs. We should share Jesus because we have experienced what it means to be follower of Jesus and we want the best for our friends and family.
Some might eagerly embrace the message of Jesus. Others, like the Samaritan villagers, will reject Jesus. We cannot control their response but we can control ours. James and John did not respond well with their offer to call down fire upon the village. Such might not be our temptation, but there are plenty of other bad reactions.
We don’t know why people are rejecting Jesus. It might have nothing to do with Jesus. We don’t know what God is doing on the inside. Your words, by the power of the Spirit, might be having more impact that you can imagine.
Do you have friends and family that you wish would take Jesus seriously? Don’t give up. There is a big picture and we are only one small part of it. Never give up hope.