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BEING A SECRET DISCIPLE

Who He Really Is

John 19:38-42
7th November 2004

Jason Stevens is one of the biggest and fittest men playing National Rugby League. He plays for the Cronulla Sharks and was in the last NSW Origin team. He is also extremely good looking, and for years was always the centre of attention from girls who flung themselves at him. Like most Rugby League stars, he enjoyed the off-field life as much as the on field play. Alcohol, sex and the wild life became central to him. But then Jason became a Christian. Now every eye was on him to see how he would behave. Jason Stevens made a clean break with his past behaviour and publicly followed the way of Jesus. Gone was the wild life, the sex and the booze. After a time of ridicule, the other players respected Jason and looked to him for leadership. Jason decided that until he found the woman he wanted to be his wife, he would not have sex with anyone until after his marriage. He has just published a book encouraging others to follow his example. He says to young people, “True Love Waits.” Jason has made his stand for Christ and for Christian standards very open. He knows all eyes are on him. You cannot be a Christian secretly.

Jesus made it clear that if you follow Him, you do it publicly. Christianity is no secret society, no mysterious membership. There has to be an open declaration. Two of the people at the Cross of Jesus would not acknowledge him openly and publicly. They were devoted but secret disciples of Jesus. Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jews. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away.

He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.”

The first is Joseph, from Arimathea, a man of wealth, and a member of the Sanhedrim Matthew 27:57, Luke 23:50 an “honourable councilor, who waited for the kingdom of God.” As soon as he heard of Christ’s death, “Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus.” Pilate having ascertained from the centurion that death had really taken place, granted Joseph’s request, who immediately purchased fine linen Mark 15:46, and proceeded to Golgotha to take the body down from the cross. There, assisted by Nicodemus, he took down the body and wrapped it in the fine linen, sprinkling it with the myrrh and aloes which Nicodemus had brought. John 19:39 They carried the body to the new tomb hewn out of rock in his garden nearby. There they laid it, in the presence of Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and other women, and rolled a great stone to the entrance, and departed. Luke 23:53, 55 This was done in haste, “for the Sabbath was drawing on.” Jewish law held that burial was a duty to be performed and the Law said Deut 21:23 a body was not to hang on a cross after sundown before a Sabbath.

What was the motivation for Joseph’s act of helping in the burial of Jesus? Mark emphasizes Joseph as a “respected, rich” member of the Sanhedrin, a leader of the Jews. Matthew said he was a disciple of Jesus. Luke says he was a “good and just man” and a Sanhedrin member. John said he was a disciple fearful of the Jews. Joseph, as a leader of the Jews, showed respect for the Jewish law, especially as he “had not consented to their decision and action,” to crucify Jesus. Luke 23:51, Possibly as a favour to Jesus’ followers and knowing Pilate, he requested from Pilate the right to bury Jesus. Joseph felt that Jesus’ message of the coming of the kingdom warranted this one final act of devotion. Matthew saw this as a further sign of Joseph’s being a follower.

The second was Nicodemus. John identifies Nicodemus as a Pharisee, “a ruler of the Jews” John 3:1 a member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council, and “the teacher of Israel”. John 3:10 Nicodemus’ coming at night to talk with Jesus suggests his timidity. John 3:2 Nicodemus greeted Jesus with a title of respect, “Rabbi”, and claimed Jesus as a God-sent teacher whose signs bore witness to the presence of God. Jesus replied that Nicodemus could never see the kingdom of God without being “born again”. John 3:3 Nicodemus could only marvel at the possibility of such a thing.John 3:4,9 Later, “Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus earlier and who was one of their own number, asked, “Does our law condemn anyone without first hearing him to find out what he is doing?” They replied, “Are you from Galilee, too? Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee.” John 7:51

That response is a rebuke which may be paraphrased “Are you a Galilean peasant, ignorant of the Scriptures?” John 7:52 After Jesus had died on the Cross John 19:39-41 Nicodemus contributed enough expensive aloes and spices to prepare a king for burial. Did Nicodemus recognize that in His suffering and death, Christ fulfilled His role as King of the Jews? We hear nothing more of him in the New Testament but early tradition says he became a true disciple. His actions are those of a secret but committed disciple of Jesus. Nicodemus remained on the fence, never making a positive decision for Jesus.

Jesus once promised: “Whoever acknowledges me before men I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven.” Matthew 10:32 The early church accepted this way of dynamic discipleship and called on the people to follow publicly the way of Jesus. The church still does this today with extraordinary results. In Africa the church is growing at a fantastic rate. Last year there were 6.4 million new Christians. 16,600 per day declared Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. In South East Asia last year there were 34.5 million new disciples. About 94,700 per day publicly declared their faith.

Jesus used the strong, imperative tense when He said, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them…, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:19,20 Two hundred and seventy times in the New Testament we are taught to make disciples, those who follow the way of Jesus.

A disciple is more than a believer, more than a learner, more than one who has been influenced by Jesus Christ. A disciple is one who gives his life, his motives, his calling, his commitment, and his attitudes to the way of Jesus. Jesus accepts anyone and everyone. That is why He accepted me and why He accepts you. Jesus calls but we must acknowledge Him before others. Jesus calls us, He does not command. He does not make us, He invites us to come and follow Him. When He calls you, all you need to do is to acknowledge Him. But that response is to be public. That is part of the following. There is no secret discipleship. Nicodemus tried to be a secret disciple, but failed. Jesus told us that we cannot serve two masters. You cannot secretly serve Him and openly serve the world. Just as Zacchaeus was called to make public his own interest in Jesus, so every time someone is called to follow Jesus, he or she is expected to do so in an act of public discipleship. You can believe privately but you cannot obey unless you do it publicly. There must be that inner, private response, and there must be that outer public response.

Paul said, “If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.” Romans 10:9-10

Jesus continued: “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven.” The essence of Christianity is in acknowledging Him and being acknowledged by Him.

Jesus called His disciples to be with Him. That is at the heart of being a Christian. Jesus Christ calls us to come and follow him, publicly. To give up that we cannot possibly keep, to gain what we can never lose: forgiveness of sins and life eternal. New people are welcome in God’s kingdom. People are spiritually born, not as a result of human effort, but as a result of God’s intervention into our otherwise spiritual sterile state. So many people are spiritually sterile. They cannot do anything about their situation by their own effort. Their education does not help for it is irrelevant to their spiritual lives. Well educated people can be spiritual illiterates. Frantic effort does not help because our works are inconsequential. Social standing makes no difference for status is immaterial. Spiritually sterile people are spiritually fruitless, spiritually ignorant, and spiritually frustrated. They don’t even know what they don’t know!

Jesus said: “You must all be born again” Spiritual regeneration — a transformation of a person’s life, attitudes, will, directions, relationships is the result of being “born again”! “No one can see the Kingdom of God unless he is born again.” Here is the utterly radical nature of Christianity. You are not born a Christian. You cannot grow up a Christian. You cannot be educated a Christian. You cannot reform to be a Christian. There is no evolution from the physical to the spiritual. You cannot become a Christian by joining a church or by being baptised or by making a vow or by paying a fee. We are never baptised into a denomination. We are baptised into Christ. To be a Christian is to be in Him and with Him.

“No one can see the Kingdom of God unless he is born again”. Only spiritual re- birth enables a person to see Jesus as God’s Son. Jesus called Nicodemus to believe He is God’s Son. There is no difference today. All the other answers given by those who see Jesus only as a Jewish rabbi, a moral teacher, an ideal figure, a religious genius, a revolutionary, or a deluded fanatic, are wrong. The essence of Christian faith is that the Lord Jesus Christ is the Son of God. That must be your public declaration. No secret discipleship. Instead God blesses those who in the storm know calm, who at mid-night are sure of the dawn, who can stand at the Cross and say, “I know my redeemer lives!” God blesses those who are not ashamed of Jesus, but who face family and friends and openly acknowledge Jesus is Lord. God blesses those who don’t sit on the fence, or try to have a foot in both camps, or seek to be all things to all men, or go whichever way the wind blows. God blesses those who offer their prestige to Jesus no matter how great or small, who say, “I’m not ashamed to own my Lord”.

Christianity alone is based on historical, objective facts. It is based upon Jesus being the Son of God and God proving it by raising Jesus from the dead. That belief is essential to being a Christian. That belief is not something that can be kept hidden and secret. It is to be proclaimed! That is what the word “Gospel” means proclaiming that Jesus Christ is God’s Son and urging all people to believe! That is not an optional extra for a Christian. It is the heart of being one. No secret discipleship; just public commitment!

REFERENCES

  • Personalities of the Passion. L.D.Weatherhead, Hodder and Stoughton 1942, 1955.
  • Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, ed. G. A. Buttrick. 4 vols. Nashville, 1962

 

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