“His Hurt for Our Healing – Hurt by Rejection”

(Matthew 27:15-26 – Midweek Lent 3 – March 20, 2019)

Matthew 27:15-26 – Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to releasing to the multitude one prisoner whom they wished. And at that time they had a notorious prisoner called Barabbas. Therefore, when they had gathered together, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release to you? Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” For he knew that they had handed Him over because of envy. While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent to him, saying, “Have nothing to do with that just Man, for I have suffered many things today in a dream because of Him.” But the chief priests and elders persuaded the multitudes that they should ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus. The governor answered and said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” They said, “Barabbas!” Pilate said to them, “What then shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They all said to him, “Let Him be crucified!” Then the governor said, “Why, what evil has He done?” But they cried out all the more, saying, “Let Him be crucified!” When Pilate saw that he could not prevail at all, but rather that a tumult was rising, he took water and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, “I am innocent of the blood of this just Person. You see to it.” And all the people answered and said, “His blood be on us and on our children.” Then he released Barabbas to them; and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered Him to be crucified.

Dear Redeemed in the name of Jesus Christ, who was hurt for our healing:

Rejection. It is one of the hardest things to take. A lonely kid tries to join others on the playground. He makes his best effort at being friendly. Rejected! Go away, we don’t want you! A young man works hard to become good at his favorite sport. He gives his all trying out for the team. Rejected! You aren’t good enough! A woman prepares her best for a dream job. She tries her hardest to make a good impression in the interview. Rejected! You don’t have what it takes!

The need for love and acceptance is at the core of our human need. So rejection is one of the hardest things to take. This is especially true when one is rejected by those who are close to him. And if there’s anyone who understands how much rejection hurts, it is Jesus. Remember what John said in his Gospel: “He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him” (John 1:11). Jesus was rejected by the Jews, the people whose blood the eternal Son of God chose to share when He came into the world as the Son of Man. But it gets even closer than that. Not long after Jesus had begun His public ministry, He went to His hometown of Nazareth and began preaching. Mark 3:21 says: “But when His own people heard about this, they went out to lay hold of Him, for they said, ‘He is out of His mind.'” There, “His own people” refers to Jesus’ family. In another place, we learn that at this time, Jesus’ brothers did not believe in Him (John 7:5). With His claims as the Messiah, they thought Jesus was crazy, and they needed to try to save Him from Himself. And according to the Gospels, not only did Jesus’ hometown folks think He was crazy; they were enraged at His teachings and thought He was evil. That’s why they took Him outside of Nazareth and tried to throw Him over a cliff to kill Him (Luke 4:28-29).

As we continue to consider how “He Was Hurt for Our Healing,” today we see how He was “Hurt by Rejection.”

In our text, Jesus stands on trial in the court of the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate. The Jewish religious leaders have already falsely accused Jesus of blasphemy and condemned Him to death in their own court. But to get Him killed legally, they must convince the Roman governor. As Jesus looks out across the angry crowd gathered before Pontius Pilate, He sees the very people who should have rejoiced to accept and receive Him as their Messiah and King. But instead, they only reject Him and cry out: “Let Him be crucified!”

To add insult to injury, they rejected Jesus in favor of “a notorious prisoner called Barabbas.” The other Gospel accounts fill in the details about how this hardened criminal had earned his ill fame. John tells us that Barabbas was a robber. Moreover, Mark and Luke report that he had been thrown into prison for a rebellion made in the city of Jerusalem, and for murder. This hardened thug was not the kind of guy you would want to meet in a dark alley at night. There was a reason Barabbas was on death row, awaiting the worst punishment of crucifixion. Not only was he a threat to the private citizen; more importantly to the Roman government, Barabbas had proven himself to be a threat to the state. Barabbas should have been rejected.

But he was not; Jesus was! It happened that, during the Jewish Feast of the Passover, the Roman governor, as it says: “was accustomed to releasing to the multitude one prisoner whom they wished.” As Pilate looked out across the crowd of Jews, he thought surely they would make the obvious choice. Just five days earlier, crowds had welcomed Jesus to town with rejoicing. As He had ridden into Jerusalem on a donkey, they shouted: “Hosanna! ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’ The King of Israel!” (John 12:13). Given a choice, Pilate hopes the crowd will choose to release Jesus. Time and again, Pilate had told the crowd that he could find no basis for any charge against Jesus. He wants to set Him free. It even says: “While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent to him, saying, ‘Have nothing to do with that just Man, for I have suffered many things today in a dream because of Him.'”

Trusting the basic goodness of human nature and common sense, Pilate puts the decision for justice and truth to public vote. Given the choice between one man who had proven himself the worst of criminals and a definite threat to society, and another man who had proven Himself a law-abiding citizen, and an extraordinary lover of mankind, Pilate asks the people: “Whom do you want me to release to you? Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?”

“Barabbas!” they shout. Set him free! For it says: “The chief priests and elders persuaded the multitudes that they should ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus.” Pilate tries to object again: “What then shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” Should he crucify their Messiah-King? But the mob mindset had rejected all goodness and reason, justice and truth. They could only chant that hateful cry of rejection that pierced Jesus’ heart: “Let Him be crucified!”

Finally, to save his image and perhaps his job, Pilate made his own choice to please the crowd and reject the innocent. In a meaningless act to soothe his conscience, he took water and washed his hands saying: “I am innocent of the blood of this just Person. You see to it.” And all the people answered: “His blood be on us and on our children.” That’s when Pilate released Barabbas as a free man. But he had Jesus scourged, and delivered Him to be crucified.

Stop and consider this greatest rejection of all human history. Here is a huge understatement: In heaven, Jesus enjoys greatest acceptance. In that perfect place where there is no sin, He is worshiped and loved, with the Father and the Spirit, as God over all, King of kings, and Giver of every good. But in this world, He is despised and rejected as worse than the worst criminal. This world of fallen sinners by nature reject their Creator and Redeemer as deserving to be crucified, because acceptance of Him would mean crucifying one’s own flesh. One or the other must die. Like that crowd crying out at Jerusalem nearly 2000 years ago, the world still makes the same decision. The world still casts its vote by impenitence and unbelief.

So when we are hurt by rejection, if anyone understands Jesus does. In what ways have you been hurt by rejection? I can remember as a kid not fitting in with the “in crowd.” I wasn’t cool enough to talk the talk and walk the walk with the popular guys. Sometimes it was underscored by name-calling, shunning, and mistreatment. Can you identify? How many times have you felt it was just easier, and maybe safer, to become invisible on the sidelines? Rejected! Or maybe at first, you felt acceptance. It felt like you had found friendship, popularity, and maybe even love. But when they really got to know you, they were ashamed of you. “You think and believe that way? You like those kind of things? We don’t want to hang out with you anymore!” Rejected! Or maybe they got to know something about your past sins, or your present struggles. You are seeking forgiveness, love, and acceptance, and help to overcome and move forward. But they react with judgment and fear for their own sake, and want nothing to do with you. Rejected!

But as fallen sinners, we must ask: how many times have we joined that unloving voice of rejection? How about that lonely kid at school, or that strange person at work or in our neighborhood, whom no one wants to associate with? Have we avoided that one to save our own image? Rejection! How about that person who has taken a shameful path, perhaps trying to fill his or her heart with love in all the wrong places? When Jesus, in His love for the lost, asks us to go on a rescue mission to that black sheep in the family, in the church, or wherever; would we rather avoid than confront and speak Jesus’ truth in love to save that soul? Rejection!

And of all things, how many times have we joined the popular cry of the world, and even rejected Jesus? When the world puts Jesus on trial, have we stood there with Peter, fearing for our own skin? When the world asks us, “Weren’t you with Jesus?” have we denied Jesus with our words or actions, by which we sought acceptance with the crowd? Rejection! (Matthew 26:69-75)

What a far cry is this fallen world from heaven, where there is perfect love and acceptance. What a far cry are we sinners from heaven’s sinless King. In the Last Judgment, we deserve to be rejected and shut out of heaven with those awful words: “Depart from Me!” (Matthew 25:41)

So why did He ever choose to come into this world, which He knew would despise and reject Him? Why did He ever choose to come to you and me, whom He knew so often fall into sins of loveless rejection? Why would He choose to become hurt for the sake of us sinners? In a word, it was for our healing. He who had come to bring healing to a world so deeply hurt by sin, had to feel deepest hurt Himself. “Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (Isaiah 53:4). And one of those griefs and sorrows was the hurt caused by rejection.

Even now, as the Jews of His own flesh cried out, “His blood be on us and on our children”; even now, as the Gentile governor washed his hands and declared in vain, “I am innocent of the blood of this just Person”; even now, Jesus looked on them all with perfect forgiveness and love. Long before they handed Him over to be crucified, God had planned to send His own Son in the flesh, that His blood might be shed for the sins of the world – both for Jews and for Gentiles. Long before they rejected Jesus, God had planned to reject His own Son so we could go free.

There we stood with Barabbas, as sinners who have proven ourselves guilty, again and again – not only of sins against our fellow man, but of high crimes against God’s holy Law. There we were on death row, awaiting the just sentence of eternal rejection in hell. But here came Jesus to stand beside us, as the holy Son of God who had proven Himself innocent again and again – as the only one who perfectly loved his fellow man and kept God’s holy Law. When heaven’s Judge made His decision, whom did He choose and whom did He reject? The just choice was unthinkable for us.

But at this great Passover, God chose to set the guilty free and sacrifice the innocent Lamb. God passed over us, who deserved death; but His firstborn Son was led as a Lamb to the slaughter (Isaiah 53:7). Jesus’ blood ran on the cross – the holy and precious blood of God that has now paid in full for all the hurt in this world caused by sin; the holy and precious blood of God that has now paid for all our sins of loveless rejection.

Now by God’s gift of repentance and faith, that blood is on us and our children – not for guilt, but for pardon and healing. “The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). His blood is applied to us in Baptism, powerfully washing away our sins. His blood is applied to us in His Word of Absolution, declaring our sins forgiven. His blood is applied to us in Holy Communion, for the remission of all our sin.

Here is where all true healing begins – healing with God and with those who have hurt us. Let us lay every sin on the innocent Lamb, and let us lay every hurt to rest in His forgiveness. Since Jesus was rejected in our place, we now have God’s perfect love and acceptance. We walk free of all condemnation as His children in Christ. Therefore, we have an unexpected choice to share, that gracious choice this sin-filled world is hurting so much to hear – God’s gracious choice in Christ to replace guilt with forgiveness, hatred with love, rejection with acceptance.

As God’s children, we truly walk free in Christ. “Having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:1-2). We look forward to that heavenly glory of God, and that full healing that is to come. Then at last, we will be made perfect in body and soul, even as He is perfect. Then at last, we will share His perfect love and acceptance with each other, where we will always fit in and belong as family. We look forward to that heavenly glory to come, when with perfect joy we will join saints and angels in worshiping God the Son, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit, as our good and gracious King and the Giver of every good. Glory be to Him who heals us, now and forever. Amen.