Christ and the apostles travelled widely preaching good news, yet their message was rejected and most of them ended their lives in martyrdom. They were despised and rejected wherever they went. This was not because they lived immoral lives, failed to do good or were covetous or proud men. They were persecuted because the gospel of God’s grace, which they preached, was (and still is) offensive to human pride (Acts 5:41-42). It is interesting to note that the rejection came from every segment of society.
1. The Jews rejected the good news of the gospel because it did not fit in with their preconceived ideas concerning the awaited Messiah and their interpretation of the Old Testament. They were looking for a Messiah-liberator who would deliver them from their bondage to Rome and make them a great nation again. Jesus certainly did not meet the criteria. In the first place, he came from despised Nazareth. In their eyes he was the son of a carpenter and he made no claims to be a political leader.
The problem was that they did not understand the Scriptures which the scribes copied so diligently and the Pharisees applied so rigorously. Christ had told them clearly, ‘You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me’ (John 5:39), but they still did not understand.
2. The Romans rejected the good news which Christ and the apostles preached because they did not think it concerned them and they considered these men to be seditious and upstarts. Christ, in their eyes, was at the origin of much unrest amongst the Jews and it was better to be rid of him.
3. The Gentiles, for the most part, rejected the good news preached by the apostles because it contradicted their religious beliefs. This was the origin of the trouble which Paul and his friends encountered in Ephesus. The inhabitants of the city believed what their rulers proclaimed: ‘The city of the Ephesians is temple guardian of the great goddess Diana, and of the image which fell down from Zeus.’ Yet the message which Paul preached was in direct contradiction of this. Demetrius was quick to understand this and he used it as an argument to raise up revolt on the part of the people in order to preserve his trade: ‘This Paul has persuaded and turned away many people, saying that they are not gods which are made with hands’ (Acts 19:24, 26).
The same old problem
People today still reject the good news of the gospel for exactly the same reasons. They have their own preconceived ideas of how God should work. For them, God is a God of love who could never send anyone to hell, so in the end everyone will be saved. This, they maintain, will be through their own efforts at pleasing God or by means of religious ceremonies.
Others, like the Romans, reject it because they do not think it concerns them, or because it creates problems for them. It makes too many claims on their lives and infringes their ‘free will’. Christ told the Romans that his kingdom was not of this world. It was, and is, a superior kingdom and his authority extends to all men, including secular leaders (John 8:23; 18:36).
Still others, like the Gentiles of Paul’s day, reject the good news of the gospel because it contradicts their ingrained religious beliefs. They prefer the religion into which they have been born, or the instruction they have received from men, rather than going to the Scriptures to see for themselves what they say. They have no desire to be like the inhabitants of Berea who, after hearing the preaching of Paul, ‘Searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so’ (Acts 17:11).
The true gospel
The true gospel, which was preached by Christ and the apostles, was clear in its declaration that salvation is by the sovereign grace of God in Christ alone. This is what people today do not want to hear. Tell them that it is not an exclusive gospel and that it is large enough to accommodate those who want to have a part in their own salvation or those who prefer to trust in rites and ceremonies and few will be offended. Tell them that the gospel is also large enough to embrace certain aspects of most religions and they will have no objection.
It is the exclusiveness of the gospel of salvation through the eternal electing grace of God, the redeeming work of Christ and the inward work of the Holy Spirit alone which is the offence. Proclaim this message to-day and people are offended and reply with the Jews of old, ‘We will not have this man to reign over us’ (Luke 19:14). Yet this is exactly what Peter preached before the religious leaders of his day: ‘Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved’ (Acts 4:12). There is only one way for sinners to be saved and that is through the grace of God in Christ. This is the message which we must take to the world today. Without it sinners will perish in their sins. They may reject it, but they need to hear it.