Wounds from a friend can hurt much more than those from an enemy. It’s the kind of pain that cuts deep. It’s a wound that aches and throbs and is slow to heal. The rejection’s unexpected, and therefore worse — more painful.
We’ve all experienced rejection at some point in our lives. Whether it’s being picked last for a game at recess or being turned down for a job or being ridiculed for our faith, rejection from anyone hurts. But rejection at the hand of a friend hurts even more. And the deeper the friendship, the more excruciating the pain.
There is one thing that brings us hope in the midst of any rejection: Our Savior was rejected, too — even by his closest friends.
A Rejected Savior
Peter was one of Jesus’s most trusted friends. He was with Jesus from the start of his ministry. He had walked away from his livelihood to follow Christ. Peter was the first to claim Jesus as Lord and one of the few that saw Jesus in all his glory at the Transfiguration. Because of that history, the story of Peter’s denials is all the more poignant.
After Judas betrayed Jesus and the soldiers arrested him, Peter followed them to the high priest’s house. As he stood outside by the fire, waiting to hear what would happen, those in the courtyard recognized him as one of Jesus’s followers.
“Certainly this man also was with him, for he too is a Galilean.” But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about.” And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed. And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly. (Luke 22:59–62)
Our Savior knows the pain of broken friendships. He knows what it’s like when friends fail us, reject us, and abandon us. “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3).
He was also rejected by those he had grown up with in his hometown of Nazareth (Mark 6:4). Perhaps some who waved palm branches and laid down their cloaks as Jesus entered Jerusalem just one week later were shouting, “Crucify him!” At his arrest, all his disciples fled and abandoned him when he needed them most (Matthew 26:31). And on the cross, he bore the full weight of rejection when the Father poured out his wrath upon him for our sins, “And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34).
My Forever Faithful Friend
I’ve been rejected by friends a number of times in my life. The confusion and shock of rejection is paralyzing. My mind can’t help but rehearse the memories with suspicion. I walk back through the years I spent with those who hurt me and wonder if I was wrong about everything I had thought about our friendship. I can’t help but want to withdraw to protect myself from further harm. I resist trusting others with my heart. Even worse, I’m prone to harbor anger, resentment, and bitterness toward those who hurt me.
But then I look at the Rejected. I look at the pain and abandonment he faced for me — because of me — and it helps me face my rejections. The gospel — the good news of what Jesus did through his life, death, and resurrection — gives me hope in the midst of my pain. The sorrow I feel over broken relationships reminds me of Jesus’s brokenness for me.
Even more, the gospel reminds me that I am just like Peter and the disciples. Apart from God’s transforming grace in my heart, I would always reject God’s love. I would deny and abandon him. Seeing Jesus’s rejection, I’m reminded that I’ve been forgiven for far worse, and it helps me let go of anger and bitterness, and instead extend forgiveness.
The rejection Jesus endured shows me that he is my perfect forever faithful friend. His love for me is not fickle. It’s not dependent upon what I do for him, and it does not change. “Neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38–39). When my friends hurt me, I always have a friend in Jesus. He understands my pain and sorrow. He has compassion for my tears. He is always with me, and I can always trust him.
As long as we live in this sin-stained world, we will all experience rejection — even, maybe especially, from dear friends whom we have loved and trusted for years. Jesus never promised to protect us from pain or sorrow but to be with us in it and eventually to deliver us through it to himself.