I have experienced more rejection on this earth in ministry than doing anything else. Rejection, it seems, simply comes with being a pastor and trying to not only preach God’s word well, but to live and to operate by it. We fear rejection. We want people to like us. This is what causes so many people who call themselves Christians to live like the world lives. It is what turns pastors into strict people-pleasers, forsaking the instructions in God’s word. It is what causes most Christians to merely go to church without actually taking the message of Christ to people. There is even a fairly new trend among people who refer to themselves as Christians. If they don’t like a certain aspect of church, they stay home or find another church where they don’t feel so uncomfortable. We now equate being uncomfortable with being rejected. In light of the Gospel, should we fear rejection?
Therefore, when many of His disciples heard this, they said, “This teaching is hard! Who can accept it?”
Jesus, knowing in Himself that His disciples were complaining about this, asked them, “Does this offend you? Then what if you were to observe the Son of Man ascending to where He was before? The Spirit is the One who gives life. The flesh doesn’t help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. But there are some among you who don’t believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning those who would not believe and the one who would betray Him.) He said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to Me unless it is granted to him by the Father.”
From that moment many of His disciples turned back and no longer accompanied Him. Therefore Jesus said to the Twelve, “You don’t want to go away too, do you?”
Simon Peter answered, “Lord, who will we go to? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that You are the Holy One of God!”
Jesus replied to them, “Didn’t I choose you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is the Devil!” He was referring to Judas, Simon Iscariot’s son, one of the Twelve, because he was going to betray Him.
The difficult teaching
Jesus, in chapter 6, was teaching the most basic truth regarding eternal life. It could not be earned. It must be given. Because it must be given, Christ Himself was the only sustaining power for true eternal life. Religiosity wouldn’t get people there. The keeping of the Law was impossible. Jesus is the bread of life.
What made this teaching so difficult? I imagine it is the same thing that makes the statement difficult in our own day. We want to offer something or somehow earn our way. We want our religiosity to mean something. We want our organization to mean something. So, even when we say “by grace through faith,” because we are accustomed to saying it, we still try and live by works through sight (here to mean our own understanding of things). We hold others to our own standards rather than standards that are actually biblical because this teaching, though the most basic, is the most difficult teaching to accept and live by. It is impossible for us to get over ourselves. It is why Christ says,
“Stop complaining among yourselves. No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him, and I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the Prophets: And they will all be taught by God. Everyone who has listened to and learned from the Father comes to Me” (John 6:43-45, Isaiah 54:13, Jeremiah 31:34).
This teaching is difficult for the heathen, but even more difficult for the openly religious person because the religious person has believed that his or her religion has some sort of earning power, or at least potential.
The reality of rejection
Because of the difficulty, many of those who called themselves Jesus’ disciples withdrew and no longer walked with Jesus (v. 66). In fact, out of the more than five-thousand men, and possibly their families, following Jesus at this point, only the twelve remained and one of them would betray Jesus.
I have not in my lifetime experienced rejection quite like this. Jesus was the best preacher with the most knowledge, and He operated in the most God-honoring way, yet He experienced rejection like this. Furthermore, Jesus made statements like,
“If the world hates you, understand that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own. However, because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of it, the world hates you. Remember the word I spoke to you: ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will also keep yours” (John 15:18-20).
This statement is as sure as the Gospel itself. If we follow Christ; if we teach the true Gospel, which is by grace through faith; and if we actually try to live by and operate according to God’s instruction, we will be rejected by most people- that includes most openly religious people. We don’t have to be okay with rejection. We can fear rejection. We can hate rejection. Those who follow Christ genuinely will be rejected by most people for the same reason Christ was rejected by most religious people during His earthly ministry: the actual message of Grace is opposed completely to the ways of the world and to the ways of most human religion.
Christ goes as far as to say that if we were of the world, the world would love us. The temptation is real. If I am not rejected by most people, chances are I am not teaching a right Gospel or living and truly operating by that Gospel. That is why living as a Christian is so difficult. Christ’s yoke is easy, but the world devours.
The reality of the harvest
There is much rejection, there is also great fruit. Those whom the Father draws will come to Christ. Those who are truly in Christ will respond positively to a genuine Gospel and to those who live and operate according to God’s instruction rather than people’s.
As a pastor, I have to bank on this truth. If my church loves Christ, they will love me for preaching the true Gospel and trying to live and operate according to Christ’s instruction. If they have rejected Christ, they will also reject me. The best thing that I can do is live by this truth no matter the cost, and indeed it has and will continue to cost me a great deal in this life. If we want to be a healthy church, we live according to this truth. Though we fear rejection, we accept it for the sake of the Gospel. Jesus did, and does. There is a reward beyond measure for those who, by grace through faith, walk in His ways.
“‘I assure you,’ Jesus said, ‘there is no one who has left house, brothers or sisters, mother or father, children, or fields because of Me and the gospel, who will not receive 100 times more, now at this time — houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions — and eternal life in the age to come. But many who are first will be last, and the last first’” (Mark 10:29-31).
Will you join me? Will you join me as I strive to actually follow Jesus? Or, will you continue to be a shallow ‘Christian’ unwilling to follow in the ways of Christ and, instead, follow in the ways of people? I have chosen my side. Here I stand.