Luke 18 “9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous,and treated others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a (THE) sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
The Pharisee and tax collector were BOTH looking for acceptance! The Pharisee thought he had acceptance, because he was respected and accepted by men. The tax collector thought he was rejected, and was so eaten up by those feelings of rejection, that he couldn’t even look up to heaven. The Pharisee thanked God for a blessing he didn’t have, and the tax collector assumed he was rejected, because he was rejected by people. HOWEVER – the tax collector was justified by God and therefore, he was ACCEPTED!! (As we will see shortly…justification is the ultimate acceptance and the great nullifier of rejection!)
The Marks of the Pharisee – he relies on what he has done, and how people view him. He fasts…he gives. He’s not like the pagan. He doesn’t do “bad things” and, although that gives him some level of temporary comfort, note that he is ultimately rejected by God. He is unjustified and unaccepted. EVEN THOUGH HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS WAS INDEED GREAT. Jesus gives no indication that his self assessment was wrong, that this particular pharisee was a hypocrite. On the surface, it appears that he was a good man in regards to his “good” works… He just wasn’t good enough. Note that he is praying by himself – away from the congregation. Withdrawn. Superior.
There are at least three major parables of Jesus where the one the Jews would have expected to be accepted by God would be rejected, and the one whom the Jews would have assumed to be far from God would be accepted. The Tax collector and Pharisee. The Elder brother and the prodigal brother. The Rich man and Lazarus. All of those parables feature characters that the Jews would have thought would have been embraced by God: A rich successful man…a dutiful elder brother and heir, and a righteous preacher/pharisee. The Jews would have looked up to those men, but in fact, it was the younger brother (who had sinned so zealously) that was accepted by God. It was the poor, boil infected, Lazarus that spends eternity in Heaven and it was the traitor to his people tax collector that is justified by God. What a plot twist!!
Scripture abounds with other examples as well: The tax collector and traitor Zacchaeus. The demon possessed and unclean Mary Magdalene. The rejected sinner Mary of Bethany – possibly a prostitute? The pagan Syro-Phoenician woman with the daughter in deadly peril. The children pushed away by the disciples. Over and over again, the story of the New Testament is the story of rejected people being called to repent and embraced by Jesus and the Father.
We see here in Luke 18 that a hated and vilified tax collector is justified and accepted by God while a respected and seemingly righteous Pharisee is ultimately rejected and unjustified by God. How is the possible? How can you trade in your rejection for acceptance? The answer is, ultimately, the Good News of Jesus…or, The Gospel.
The Good News of Jesus (The Gospel!)
If you are accepted by the Father – it doesn’t matter who rejects you. If you are rejected by the Father (and don’t dare think that He doesn’t reject…if the Bible is true – and it is – He will reject all who are not in Christ!), then it doesn’t matter who accepts you – you are ultimately rejected. In Galatians 2:15, Paul the apostle uses an incredibly powerful word – justification – to talk about ULTIMATE acceptance. We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16 yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.
Justification is the ULTIMATE acceptance – it is the ultimate NULLIFICATION of rejection. Justification is better than acceptance. Acceptance merely means, “you can come into the party” Justification means, “you can be the KING of the party.” Justification means you’re not just allowed through God’s door – you’re the honored guest! You’re not just allowed to come inside, stand in the corner and see what the cool kids do – you ARE the cool kid. You’re the king of the prom, the queen of the prom – when you are justified by the sacrifice of Jesus.
BUT that justification doesn’t come through your activity or what you’ve done – it comes through grace by faith. Often those who struggle so much with rejection in general are those who are relying on themselves and are disappointed in themselves but are not looking to Jesus to be saved and approved. Rejection comes when you look to yourself to save yourself. (Do better, be cooler, look more attractive, lose weight, be funnier, etc) Acceptance and justification comes when you look to Jesus in faith!! It’s not your effort. It’s not like Jeff Kemp’s coach. He loved Kemp when he played well and rejected him when he didn’t. We understand that – we understand acceptance THAT WAY. But the deeper acceptance is the justification by Jesus based on faith.
C.S. Lewis is one of my favorite writers. He has such a gift for words and weaving stories together. I find that much of his fiction is as impactful and as full of truth as his notable non-fiction works. There is a scene in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, where Lewis does a beautiful job of describing the Good News of Jesus and the power of the death of Jesus to OVERCOME rejection. If you aren’t familiar with the books, know that Aslan is a lion (who correlates to Jesus) and He has just given His life for Edmund, a boy with little character and little to recommend himself to anybody. Susan and Lucy, as followers of Aslan, are dejected that the evil White Witch has managed to sacrifice Aslan on the stone table. Here’s what happens next:
Susan and Lucy had just witnessed the horrific death of Aslan, and were now said to be “walking aimlessly,” unsure of how to proceed. At that moment they heard from behind them a loud noise — a great cracking, deafening noise as if a giant had broken a giant’s plate…. The Stone Table was broken into two pieces by a great crack that ran down it from end to end; and there was no Aslan.
“Who’s done it?” cried Susan. “What does it mean? Is it more magic?”
“Yes!” said a great voice from behind their backs. “It is more magic.” They looked round. There, shining in the sunrise, larger than they had seen him before, shaking his mane (for it had apparently grown again) stood Aslan himself.
“Oh, Aslan!” cried both the children, staring up at him, almost as much frightened as they were glad….
“But what does it all mean?” asked Susan when they were somewhat calmer.
“It means,” said Aslan, “that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backward.”
Similarly, when Jesus died on the cross for the sins of the world, it caused death and rejection to begin working backwards, and provided for salvation for all “traitors” who had sinned against a holy God. Jesus’ death and resurrection paid for our sins and paved the way for what Paul calls justification in Galatians 2. Justification means that Jesus PAID THE PRICE for our sins and PAID THE PRICE so that we could be as accepted by the Father as Jesus is accepted by the Father. This means that those who repent and turn to Jesus in faith are just as accepted and just as justified as Jesus Himself is. Not by works (so that nobody can brag about it…) but by grace through faith.
Once again I write: If you are accepted (justified) by the sacrifice of Jesus – it doesn’t matter WHO rejects you – even if all of the world does…the acceptance and justification of Jesus NULLIFIES EVERY OTHER REJECTION!! Likewise – if you are NOT justified/accepted via the sacrifice of Jesus – then it doesn’t matter if you are the most popular person in your school…if you have the most followers on Twitter….the most friends in all of the world – if you aren’t accepted by God through Jesus…then you are ultimately rejected!
How do we respond to this? More specifically How do we cast off rejection and walk in peace and acceptance? I’ll close very briefly with two ways to ultimately REJECT rejection!
1. LOOK to Jesus in faith, repent and believe the good news! If you have faith in Jesus alone for your salvation, and are following Him…then you are justified. Not by works but by faith. The tax collector perhaps didn’t realize that he was justified, but he was. The Pharisee FELT like he was accepted by God, but he was far from it. Feelings aren’t as important here as faith. Sometimes you will FEEL rejected. The ultimate reality, however, is that you are ACCEPTED and justified if you are in Christ! Want to drive this truth deeper into your heart and life? Meditate on Galatians 2 and Romans 3:20-25. Hide God’s Word deep into your heart!
2. Radically change the posture of your life so that you ACCEPT others in an obvious and tangible and deep way. Resolve to NEVER be an agent of rejection, so far as it depends on you. INCLUDE both the lovely and unloveable, knowing that Christ your savior gave His life on the cross for those who were still in sin. You cannot be BEST FRIENDS with everybody. (and don’t expect everybody to be your best friend!) But you can LOVE, SERVE, and ACCEPT everybody!! Remember Paul’s words in Romans 15:7 “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God”
Rejection is BOTH a spiritual problem AND a practical problem. Find your ultimate HOPE and ACCEPTANCE in Jesus, and, by loving and accepting other people, HELP them find their ultimate hope and acceptance in the Gospel of Jesus also.