Why would anyone reject Jesus?
He seems so wonderful. He healed the sick, raised the dead and fed the hungry. He came as God on earth, to rescue us from our selfishness, and bring us back to God. To know him is to have God as your Father, and to have millions of fellow Christians as your brothers and sisters. He came to bring true and lasting rest to all of us who are weary and burdened.
Who would not want to know a Jesus like this?
And yet he is rejected. Many have no time for him. Even in his own day, many rejected him. In today’s Bible reading, we get the biggest shock of all, as he’s rejected by the very people who knew him best – his family, his friends, his neighbours, the people he went to school with.
It’s a particularly sharp blow following on from the rest of Matthew chapter 13. It’s ended on a positive note. We started the chapter by noting that many people refuse to follow Jesus. But then Jesus told a number of parables. They’ve shown us that different people make different responses to Jesus. Over time, there will be massive growth. We Christians are very much on the right side of history. By verse 52, we’re feeling a bit better about the fact that not everyone follows Jesus.
Maybe you know that feeling of coming crashing down. You’ve had a good holiday. Or you’ve watched a good film. Or you’ve been to some live sport. You’ve managed to forget the many pressures of life. You come out buzzing, feeling good, and then you go back home, back to work, and something happens that reminds you all is not good. The euphoria fades, and normal life returns with a bump.
That’s a little bit what it feels like as we hit the end of Matthew 13. We’ve got a handle on why not everyone follows Jesus. We’ve got a sense of where history is going. Then Jesus goes back home, and this is what happens.
In fact, it really does feel as if we’re right back to square 1. Chapter 12 ended with Jesus’ family on the margins. Not in Jesus’ inner circle. Now it’s not just his household, but his entire hometown. At the end of chapter 13, we’re in a worse place than we were at the end of chapter 12.
Well, I think Matthew is wanting to say two things to us at the end of the chapter.
Don’t be dismissive
First, don’t be dismissive. Don’t be dismissive.
Jesus is rejected, dismissed, and Matthew is warning us not to do the same.
Let’s look at how they dismiss him. That will help us to see how we might be tempted to do the same.
The summary is that they know him too well. Specifically, they know his family, and they know his trade.
Trade first. Verse 55: “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son?”
The word for “carpenter” is much wider than just making things out of wood. It means a craftsman, or a builder, and it would have included working with brick and stone as well as wood. In a similar passage in Mark chapter 6, the crowd ask “Isn’t this the carpenter?” It seems Joseph was a builder, and Jesus had taken on his father’s trade from when he became an adult until he started his own public ministry.
We’ve had several families of builders in Kemsing, passing down the trade from one generation to another. The people were looking at Jesus and thinking: “Isn’t this the man who’d turn up in his van at half seven to start work? He’s the one who restored my windows, built my staircase, did our loft conversion, added that extra bedroom over the garage. He’s a great builder, but that’s all he is.”
Added to which, this probably means he had little formal education. In modern-day speak, he’d dropped out of school as soon as he was allowed to. He was no white-collar, middle management professional. He was a thoroughly working class man, more comfortable in a set of overalls than a suit, a nuts and bolts man, good with his hands.
That’s his trade. Then there’s the issue of his family. Verse 55 goes on: “Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? Aren’t all his sisters with us?” Back at the end of chapter 12, we met his mother and his brothers. Here, they’re given names.
“I was in his sister’s class at school. She had some interesting tails to tell. The bottom line is: He’s nothing too special if you know him well enough. Loved fish, apparently. Weird. Some of the girls quite liked him, but he’s no superhero, certainly not the Messiah.”
You can see why he was dismissed, rejected. Brought up in a small village, the local boy who’s gone away and made a name for himself, and now he’s come home. Familiarity breeds contempt, so they say, and it certainly has here. Where he’s known, he doesn’t get the welcome he had elsewhere.
The story of Cinderella is well known. At the end, the prince comes back to Cinderella’s house on his quest to find the girl he wishes to marry, the one who fits the slipper. The ugly sisters are incredulous. They know their sister Cinderella. If the prince has taken an interest in some girl, it simply cannot be her.
So Matthew says to us, the readers of his gospel: Don’t be dismissive. Don’t make the same mistake.
I can think of two ways in which we might make the same mistake.
We might get caught up on the humanity of Jesus. Plenty of people do.
You’ve heard of fake news. Well, in the earliest centuries of the Christian church, they found themselves battling fake theology. A church leader named Arius was teaching that Jesus was just a human being. As the church studied the documents that make up our New Testament, they were absolutely clear: Jesus is a human being, but he’s also fully God.
But it’s so easy to look at Jesus, and just see Jesus the man. Five foot nine, olive skin, dark hair. He lived in a particular time and place, and was the product of his time, trapped in his own culture. He might have some interesting views, but that’s it.
The reality is quite different. That man Jesus is also the eternal Son of God. When he taught, they weren’t just the views of a Jewish middle-aged man. They were the very words of God.
But many dismiss him, because they give Jesus and his teaching no more significance than those of any other prominent human being.
There’s another way that people today make the same mistake, and that’s to get caught up on the humanity of Christians.
What do I mean? Well, Jesus may be divine, but your Christian friends very much aren’t.
A few people hear about Jesus simply by reading their Bible. They’re drawn to follow him. That’s pretty rare. Even more rare are people who first meet Jesus in a dream or a vision, and then go and check him out in a Bible to make sure they weren’t mistaken.
Far more common is to meet Jesus as your friends introduce him to you. I suspect if we did a survey here, we’d find that most of us were told about Jesus by a friend, by a member of your family, especially perhaps a parent. But they’re so ordinary. They’ve got clay feet. We know them too well. At one level, they know us well, so we listen to their advice. But at another level, it’s just Bob, or Jason, or Rachel, or Susan. Why are they so special that I should take a leaf out of their book on how to live my life?
Jesus was dismissed by people who knew him too well. They knew his family. He was just the village builder, no particularly good education or background. Matthew shows us this to say to us: Don’t be dismissive. Don’t write Jesus off as just one human amongst billions, a captive to his time. Don’t write Jesus off because the friends who talk of him are only human.
In fact, God knew what he was doing. A fellow human being is someone we can relate to. It’s wonderful that God the Son became the man Jesus, because we can relate to a fellow human being. God is not aloof. And it’s far more wonderful to have friends we know and trust point us to him, far better in fact than an angel would ever be.
Don’t be dismissive.
Don’t be discouraged
Second, don’t be discouraged. Don’t be discouraged.
As we looked at the parables in this chapter, we came back again and again to the idea that they’re there to encourage us. To encourage us to keep speaking about Jesus. When we share our faith with a friend, and they’re not interested, it would be so easy to give up.
So these stories are there to encourage us to keep going, to keep speaking, to keep sharing.
And the parables have helped with that.
Now we understand the different ways people respond to Jesus. Then there are the tremendous parables of growth: the mustard seed, the yeast, the field full of wheat. One day, Jesus’ kingdom will be the biggest thing going. The biggest show in town. And then we have the parables that speak of a great harvest, a great haul of fish. If we’re with Jesus, we’re on the winning side.
Suddenly, we don’t feel so bad. Suddenly, we’ve found our voice again, we can share the good news of Jesus with our friends.
So out we go, buoyed up by these encouraging parables. And the first person we tell … doesn’t want to know. The bubble pops. The air has gone out of the balloon. We feel all deflated. The buoyancy that the parables gave us didn’t last long. It lasted precisely one attempt to talk about Jesus some more.
Which is why Matthew 13 has to close this way.
We have to come full circle. Chapter 12 ended with Jesus being rejected, his nearest and dearest standing at a distance. The parables explain that. They give us the long view. But we live today, not far in the future. And today is a day when Jesus will still be rejected, when we still need the parables to help us see everything in perspective, to keep us going when we’re tempted to go silent, to assume Jesus is a lost cause, to stop talking about him.
Don’t be discouraged.
James Dyson is something of a hero of mine. I’m sure he’s not without his flaws, but he’s a model for sheer keeping going. In 1978, he had an idea that would solve the poor performance of vacuum cleaners. He built a prototype. 5 years later, he’d built 5,127 prototypes, and finally was ready to go into production. But not one manufacturer wanted to buy his design. So he remortgaged his house, and set up his own manufacturing company. The rest is history. He’s estimated to be worth about £5 billion, with the Dyson Company turning over nearly £2 billion each year.
If you had a way to go back in time to meet James Dyson in the 1980s, you could tell him how successful it would all be today. But it would be like Back to the Future: You can take back a message from the future, but your news doesn’t bring instant success. Your encouragements would be followed by another prototype falling apart, or another refusal letter from a manufacturer. The latest failure would ground your encouragement, bring things back down to earth, but it wouldn’t mean that your window into the future was a waste of time. Rather the opposite. The future is future. It just proves all the more that he needs to press on today, because what he’s working on really is going to go somewhere.
Don’t be discouraged.
Let’s be a little more precise. Jesus was rejected in part because he had a rough trade and little education. I know a number of people here feel very inadequate to speak of Jesus at all. You feel you don’t know you’re Bible terribly well. You don’t feel particularly bright. Or you’ve not been a Christian very long. Why should anyone listen to little old me?
Again – don’t be discouraged. Jesus himself was rejected. You couldn’t have wished for a better preacher, a better evangelist, a better person to answer someone’s questions, a better explainer than Jesus. But people didn’t want to know. They used the excuse that he was a bit rough at the edges, a bit rustic, and dismissed him. The problem is not you. People may or may not listen to you – but if they don’t it’s got nothing to do with your eloquence. This is the effect Jesus has on people. But take the long view, he’ll win out. Don’t be discouraged.
In fact, there’s a final flourish of encouragement in these verses. Notice the triple negative in verse 57: “A prophet is not without honour except in his own town and in his own home.” Jesus was rejected at home. In his own town. Amongst his own countrymen, the Jews. But look carefully at what he says. That’s the only place he is without honour. The implication is that he will be greatly honoured elsewhere.
It’s the same pattern we get in Matthew’s gospel as a whole. Matthew 27, Jesus is crucified, in Jerusalem of all places, his own capital city. But Matthew’s gospel doesn’t end there. It ends with chapter 28, and with these words: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
His little corner of the world rejected him, in the early 30s AD. But all around the world, people will follow him in vast numbers. Whole nations will become his disciples. And as we go out to make disciples, Jesus is alive, and with his people, right to the very end of the age, when that vast harvest will be gathered in.
So, don’t dismiss him. And don’t be discouraged.