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When people are asked what keeps them for sharing their faith with others, or being involved in making outreach calls, they most often cite fear. They are afraid that they won’t know what to say, or that they might say something wrong, or that their efforts will meet with opposition, rejection, maybe a door slammed in their face. Those fears are real. Those things can happen. As our theme for today highlights, “Rejection is not the exception.” And there are good Scriptural and theological reason for that as we will see. But we also want to see things that will help us get past our fears and proclaim God’s word as the Apostles did.
The biggest clue that rejection is not the exception is Jesus. We heard what happened when he preached in the synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth. Not only did his fellow town’s people reject what he claimed, that he was the Messiah, the fulfillment of the prophecies of Isaiah, they literally tried to kill him by throwing him off cliff upon which the city was built.
Were there times when Jesus was not rejected as he proclaimed the kingdom of God? Yes. We might think of the Sermon on the Mount, or the feeding of the 5000, or the fact that twelve men accepted his call to follow him and be fishers of men. But we also know how his ministry ended- with betrayal, arrest, beatings, conviction, and crucifixion. Even for Jesus, the perfect Son of God, who never said or did anything wrong, rejection was the rule, not the exception.
Why is that? Why is it that Jesus was not surprised when he was rejected? Why shouldn’t we be surprised if we face rejection when we try to tell others about Jesus?
I think you know. You know because you were born rejecting Jesus. Everyone is. Everyone is born with a sinful nature inherited from Adam that is completely opposed to anything that comes from God. The sinful mind is hostile to God. So, if you are trying to tell someone what God has done for them in Jesus, their first reaction is going to be rejection.
So why bother. Isn’t it just a waste of time to try to tell people about what God has done for them in Jesus when they will probably reject it anyway?
Again, I think you know the answer. You too were born rejecting Jesus. But here you are today joining others in confessing that Jesus is your savior. How did that happen? It happened when someone shared what God has done for you in Jesus even though your first reaction was to reject Jesus. They brought you to be baptized. They made sure that, over and over again, you heard the good news that Jesus lived and died and rose again. And through the gospel in word and sacrament, the Holy Spirit worked his miracle. He opened your spiritual eyes and let you see the truth, the truth that God loved you even while you hated and rejected him. He proved how great his love is for you by giving up heaven and coming to earth to rescue you from a fate worse than death. He smashed your stubborn rejecting heart to pieces with the hammer of the law, and put in it’s place a heart of flesh, a heart that no longer rejects God and his word but rejoices at every opportunity to hear and lean it.
If we are going to be able to handle rejection, it’s important for us to remember these Bible facts- everyone is born dead in trespasses and sins, rejection of God and his word is what comes naturally to everyone. But everyone is someone for whom Jesus died and the only thing that can overcome their rejection and bring them to know what Jesus did for them is the Power of the Holy Spirit working through the word of God that we and others share.
Since rejection is not the exception but the rule, how do we get past our fear and do what God asks us to do, proclaim the good news about Jesus whether people listen or not?
This incident from the book of Acts gives us some very practical advice based on the actions of Peter and John.
Peter and John faced rejection. They had healed a man who was lame from birth who people knew was always begging at one of the gates of the temple courts. As a crowd gathered, they proclaimed the good news about Jesus. They told them that they were responsible for killing the Messiah, but that God had raised him from the dead as proof that God had forgiven them. It was the mention of the resurrection that drew the attention of the Jewish leaders. They arrested Peter and John, put them in prison, interrogated them, and gave them a strict warning, that they better not keep speaking about Jesus or his resurrection “or else”, and then released them.
I don’t think that anyone here imagines that kind of rejection when they think about telling someone about Jesus. We imagine a slammed door, or being yelled at, or laughed at. But being arrested, having someone imply that if we don’t shut up about Jesus they might kill us? Our fears are about much lesser things than that. So, how did Peter and John overcome their fear of rejection and persecution and keep proclaiming what everyone needs to hear, that Jesus lived and died for them and rose again?
They went to church. They went to their own friends and reported everything the high priests and the elders had said. We might say that they shared their burdens and their fears with other brothers and sisters in Christ. They realized that they were not alone. They had friends, fellow believers who would comfort and encourage them. You see, if you think you are alone, that it’s just you against the world, your fears are likely to take over and you will remain silent. But if you join with others who are in the same situation you are, you can encourage each other and spur each other on through the words and promises of God.
When the church, their fellow believers heard how the Jewish leaders had threatened them and they felt the temptation to give in to fear and be quiet about Jesus, what did they do? with one mind they raised their voices to God. They took their fears and troubles to the Lord in prayer.
And what a prayer it was!
First they acknowledged who God is. He is the one who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and everything in them. He is the one and only true God, the almighty God with whom nothing is impossible. He would be able to do anything they would ask of him.
Next, they acknowledged that God is the one who spoke the words of Psalm 2 through David. They realized that there was a Scripture that talked about the situation they were facing. God foretold that kings and the rulers of the people would reject the Messiah, the anointed one. They had seen what God foretold happen right before their eyes. Herod, Pontius Pilate, Caiaphas, Ananias, all rejected Jesus, the promised Messiah. They banded together against him and were successful in arresting him, putting him on trial, and executing him on the cross. But God had turned what seemed to be a defeat into the greatest victory. Unwittingly they had fulfilled God’s plan. Because of them Jesus was offered as a sacrifice of atonement. His holy blood shed on the cross paid for their sins and the sins of the whole world. They had crucified him, but God raised him from the dead as prince and savior.
The fact that what God had foretold happened just as he said it would, and that God had taken what seemed to be the greatest evil and turned it into the greatest good gave them confidence that God could do what they were about to ask.
Now Lord, look at their threats and give to your servants the ability to keep on speaking your word with all boldness as you stretch out your hand to heal and as signs and wonders take place through the name of your holy servant Jesus.
The almighty God who keeps his promises and who raised Jesus from the dead, who had healed a man born lame through them, he could give them what they needed and wanted. He could give them the ability to overcome their fear and to keep on proclaiming the death and resurrection of Jesus boldly, despite threats of imprisonment and even death.
What was God’s answer? After they prayed, the place where they were gathered was shaken. Also, everyone was filled with the Holy Spirit, and they continued to speak the word of God with boldness. God said yes. He gave them the strength they prayed for, and they continued to proclaim the good news about Jesus boldly.
When you are tempted to give in to fear and that fear keeps you from talking to someone about Jesus, remember this account from Acts. Talk with your fellow Christians about your fear. You are not alone. As you share your fear you can encourage one another with the words and promises of God. You can work together to try to come up with what might be the best way to talk to a certain person about Jesus. Maybe you can do it together so that you aren’t alone. You can go to the Lord in prayer, a prayer based on Scripture that acknowledges that there isn’t anything God can’t do, that he is the one who has told you to share the good news about Jesus with everyone. You can confess that often you are paralyzed with fear, and ask that the Holy Spirit would give you the ability and boldness to speak even if what you say might be rejected.
God will answer that prayer. He might not shake the building, but he will help you shake your fears. As you continue to grow in your faith through the word, and as that word reminds you of how much everyone needs to hear the good news about Jesus, you will be moved to continue to speak the world of God boldly, even if what you say is more often rejected than it is accepted. You will be reminded that God might have used your witness to plant a seed that you might never see sprout, but might mean that you will see that person in heaven.
When you share God’s word with others, remember that even for Jesus, rejection was not the exception, but often the rule. Overcome your fear of rejection by receiving and giving encouragement to each other, and praying that God, who can do all things, would give you strength to proclaim his word no matter what.