Reflecting on the cross
It takes courage to make a stand for Christ, particularly in the age in which we live. Other people expect our faith to be kept private and not affect the way we interact with those around us.
The privatisation of faith will be a challenge to the people of God in the UK in the coming years. But if we desire to be useful Christians in the service of our Lord, then keeping faith private is not an option.
In John 19:38-42, we have the story of Joseph of Arimathea, a man who kept his faith private for some time. How many of us have struggled like Joseph, holding back, never really letting on to our friends and relatives what is in our hearts? Or maybe we are like the Laodiceans in Revelation 3:15-16, neither hot nor cold for the gospel?
Maybe we feel inadequate over our abilities and keep our heads down. Do we lack real zeal for God? Are we very much ‘secret disciples’ outside church? Joseph would appear to have been like that until, one day, his faith came out in the open and he became bold for the Saviour.
We are all different. Some are extrovert, some introvert; some outgoing and garrulous, others inward looking and retiring; some shy, others confident and enthusiastic. Our different traits make the world a fascinating place to live in. Radical differences in character are also seen in the variety of people God uses.
Think of the Scripture writers, for example Mark and John; or the differences between Isaiah and Jeremiah. Differences in personality affect the way we interact with the world.
And think of the way the Lord works in different lives to bring people to salvation in Christ, from Paul’s Damascus road experience to Timothy converted as a child, from those converted out of Christian homes to those converted out of the world like the Philippian jailer. Even a casual reading of conversions down the ages reminds us of the rich diversity of experiences.
Our conversion experience can affect the testimony we give to others. Sometimes those converted from the world cannot shout loud enough about what God has done for them in Christ, while others find themselves shy.
The reason for Joseph of Arimathea’s timidity may have been partly due to his personality and the nature of his conversion, but we are in fact told there was a compelling reason for his secrecy — the fear of how others would react to him.
We are told he feared the Jews. He was a man of wealth, position and respect in society, and all that (or so he thought) would be put at risk if he declared his allegiance to Christ.
We can understand his fear and may also sometimes find ourselves fearful of others. What will my friends or relatives think? Will making a stand for Christ ruin my opportunity for advancement in my job? Will my refusal to work on a Sunday or objection to supporting certain relationships jeopardise my employment?
These are real issues with real consequences, but, if we are truly of Christ, can we remain secret disciples? Joseph, timid, fearful and hesitant, came to the point where he had to act boldly and take a stand. It was a time to be useful to his Lord and Saviour.
God’s Holy Spirit gave him the boldness he needed to overcome his natural disposition and fear of the Jews. He must now declare his faith no matter what the cost.
What brought about this change? What helped him nail his colours to the mast? He responded to the need of the moment — a tomb for Jesus.
For Joseph, it was a time to forget the cost of possible ridicule and loss of power and position. Now was the time to show the world that this Jesus Christ, whose lifeless body hung on the cross, was none other than his precious Lord and Saviour.
What changed Joseph was the cross of Christ; it was understanding the meaning of Christ’s work on the cross.
Realising that Jesus Christ went there on his behalf, to bring him salvation and forgiveness, made him useful for God, even though at this point he had only part of the story — it would be a few more days before Christ rose from the dead.
Do we want to be useful to our Lord, to declare our faith and witness to God’s goodness? Do we want to share the gospel with our family, friends and neighbours, but are we hampered by shyness and the fear of others?
The answer to these hesitations must be to meditate on the death and resurrection of Christ, to think afresh of the reality of our salvation and, like Paul did on many occasions, pray that God would make us bold and useful for the kingdom of Christ.
The author is a director of Evangelical Press’ French and Russian work and has recently retired as pastor of
Aycliffe Evangelical Church