After this, Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple, but secretly, . . . . And Nicodemus, who at first came to Jesus by night. . . . – John 19:38 and 39
It seems just about everybody is coming out of the closet nowadays; everyone except for Christians. People confused about their gender identity, people brash about their adultery, people bold about indulging their immorality and all things unholy, these people are pouring out of their closets and into the public square. And the public is all too eager to welcome them out in the open. There is not shame for the sinful. What God calls sinful practice the world not only condones but welcomes and promotes. And you better not voice an opinion contrary to the trends of the day. The PC (i.e. Politically correct) police and thought Gestapo are on the watch and ready to squash any thought word or deed that might be contrary to legalized debauchery of these dark days.
What is seen as shameful by the world are those who dare to stand on scripture and for Jesus. Stand for Jesus and His word and you can count on being called a “hater,” “ignorant hater,” “bigot,” “intolerant,” or some other derogatory smear word or phrase. This militant opposition has caused Christians to retreat into their closets. Run for cover! Remove yourself from the public square and stay home. Start your own little safe groups of only like minded people. Lock the doors, close the windows, and draw the shades, baton the hatches and stay inside where it’s safe until Jesus returns. There’s only one thing wrong with such a reaction. That’s not what Jesus commands His people to do. Jesus came to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10). God loves the world so much He sent His only Son Jesus to save it and His only Son Jesus came! (John 3:16).
The Christian retreat is playing right into the devil’s hands. He is manipulating the lost to shut down the very message of hope and salvation they need. They are totally under the influence of the enemy (2 Cor. 4:4; Eph. 2:1-3). “How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things!’” (Romans 10:14-15).
Jesus didn’t command us to retreat and isolate, He commanded us to rally and infiltrate. He didn’t tell us, “Turn out the lights the parties’ over, they say that all good things must end.” That’s Willie Nelson. Jesus said, “You are the light of the world.” Jesus didn’t tell us to be bland and tasteless but to be fruitful and flavor-full; to be salt (cf. Matthew 5:13-16). Closet Christianity is contrary to Christ.
Every Christian is called to go and be the arms of Christ; an extension of His heart to win the lost and make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20). We are all called to be His representatives as though God was pleading with lost souls to be reconciled to Him in Christ (2 Cor. 5:20). That is not just for missionaries who go to foreign lands. We are all called to be missionaries, to have missionary spirits; some in distant lands, some at home in our families, with our neighbors, co-workers; wherever we are led by the Spirit.
Maybe you’re thinking something like this: But it’s not a level playing field in the world. . . . We aren’t treated fairly. . . . People don’t talk nice to you if they know you’re a Christian. . . . I won’t get that promotion or raise if they know I’m a Christian. . . . But if people know I’m a Christian I’ll really have to watch the way I act. . . .If my friends know I’m a Christian they won’t be my friends anymore. . . .” I wonder what our Christian brothers and sisters in the Middle East would think of such thinking when they are made to kneel on a beach and confess whether or not they are a “Christian” at the consequence of decapitation. I wonder what the persecuted brethren all over the world, past, present, and future think. I wonder what the “so great a cloud of witnesses” think who laid aside all “the sin which so easily ensnares us”? What do those think who stood for their faith and were laid low for it too (Hebrews 11-12).
Maybe you really are a serious Christian but you just don’t have the courage to come out of the closet. Maybe you are convicted of your cowardice. Maybe you do want to be more fruitful and useful to the Master. Are you genuinely and sincerely looking for strength and power to break open that closet door and live dynamically for Jesus? If so I think you will find the solution to your dilemma in the study that follows.
There were such closet followers of Jesus in His day. We learn about a couple such closet Christians just after Jesus died on the cross. The apostle John, who himself would be boiled in oil and then banished to the Isle of Patmos, in his gospel is inspired to record: “After this, Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took the body of Jesus. And Nicodemus, who at first came to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds. Then they took the body of Jesus, and bound it in strips of linen with the spices, as the custom of the Jews is to bury” (John 19:38-40). So you see, you’re not alone. Joseph of Arimathea followed Jesus “secretly.” Nicodemus followed Jesus “by night” when none of his religious Pharisee buddies would see him doing so. But here we see them come out of the closet. What brought them out?
What will help closet Christians to come out? Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus were both closet believers in Jesus; they followed Jesus secretly; not in the open. They hid their faith in Jesus “for fear of the Jews.” We might be tempted to say following Jesus secretly was a good strategy that allowed them to serve the Lord more effectively in the midst of the enemies of Jesus. But this secrecy was not strategically calculated, it was fearfully instituted. The faith of Joseph and Nicodemus were closed up, unseen, made ineffective by and undermined by fear. That done with a motivation of fear is never productive and fruitful. Fear is the foe of faith. Fear strangles faith. Faith is how you overcome fear.
The word “fear” (Greek phobos) refers to alarm or fright, exceeding fear, dread, or terror. This is not healthy fear as in reverence or the fear of the Lord. Joseph and Nicodemus were paralyzed in their faith due to a fear of what might happen to them if the Jews discovered they believed in Jesus. Are you fearful of others knowing you are a follower of Jesus? Do others know you are Christian; a born again, Spirit indwelled Christian? Are you afraid to let others know you are a follower of Jesus? If so, your fear is strangling your faith. If you are a closet Christian you are not following Jesus the way you should be. And that is a problem.
Jesus said, “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:38). Isn’t shame (“ashamed” - Greek epaischynomai ) a kind of fear? Fear of embarrassment, fear of losing respect, fear of losing credibility or fear of loss of something because of an association? Fear and shame go hand in hand. And that isn’t right. Jesus wasn’t ashamed of us and was willing to die on the cross for us. How then can we be ashamed of Jesus? What is the solution for fear and shame?
What motivated Joseph and Nicodemus to finally come out of the closet to publically be counted with Jesus? What motivated them to step up and go to claim the body of Jesus from the Roman authority Pilate who had just brutally crucified Jesus? What will motivate us to come out of the closet; to step up and be counted for Jesus?
What will bring us out of the closet as Christians? The passion of Christ on the cross will bring us out. How are we and others inspired to step up and be counted for Jesus? Not be cajoling or harassing or guilting or coercing people in the closet. No, people will step up and be counted for Jesus when they see Jesus on the cross for them. That’s what changed Joseph. That’s what changed Nicodemus. That’s what will change us.
Here is a great truth of relating to Jesus and living a life powerfully affected by Him. The motivation for our obedience and service is not guilt or obligation but loving appreciation for what Jesus has done for us. People who only see Jesus from a guilt producing obligatory perspective will experience a limited usefulness. Guilt and obligation produce a very shaky, up and down often absentee walk with the Lord. It is the Law that uses guilt. Jesus by the Spirit motivates through love. We need to throw off the law of guilt and shame and take up the banner of the love of Jesus.
Jesus’ disciples are known by HIS LOVE not just another kind of fear. We aren’t going to come out of the closet because someone is threatening a good old fashioned whipping. Jesus was scourged so we wouldn’t have to be. We don’t need needling to try and make us feel more uncomfortable while in the closet than out of it. Jesus wore a crown of thorns so we wouldn’t have to. We don’t need to see a crucifix with Jesus still on the cross in order to manipulate our emotions so that we will stay loyal to Jesus. Jesus already carried the cross and said, “It is finished!” (John 19:30). No, what we need to get us out of the closet is the love of Christ to compel us out. We need a REAL LIVING EXPERIENCE of the POWERFUL LIFE CHANGING LOVE OF JESUS.
The apostle Paul stated this clearly when he was inspired to write the following: “For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; 15 and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again. 16 Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. 18 Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, 19 that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. 20 Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. 21 For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:14-21). Can you see how these inspired words of Paul depict the love of Christ that puts everything in proper perspective? When the love of Christ fills our heart, the closets we are in won’t be able to contain us. The love of Jesus in us will literally burst open the closet doors.
Love is to be our compelling motivation. Seeing and understanding what Jesus did for us on the cross should impassion us to plead passionately with others to consider too what Jesus did for them. The love of God in the cross of Christ is a compelling life changing reality. The love of Christ poured into our hearts empties us of self (Romans 5:5). When the Holy Spirit comes in, he pushes out self along with fears. When you see the depth and the width and the height and the breath of the love of Christ it has a compelling impact on us. That’s why Paul prayed for believers to see Christ’s love that way (cf. Ephesians 3:14-21). The more you see and experience the love of Christ, the further and more completely you will come out of your safe room.
When “secret” saints, (those who are trying to live anonymously as Christians, because of fear) see Jesus and the cross and His love poured out for them, they will come out of their self imposed closet. Our day is a day when those hiding their sin and confused immorality are coming out of their “closet” of secrecy to proclaim what God calls sinful. They are trying to shout down the reality of their sin by pronouncing it acceptable socially.
For instance, what those who push for gender change or gender transience fail to understand is that no outward change, no matter how drastic or physically complete, no such change can change the root issue of a heart that is darkened and deceived by sin. There is only victory over sin and hope for fulfilling real change for the better through faith in Jesus as Savior. This is a message that needs to be proclaimed. For God’s sake and the sake of the lost Christians need to step into their ordained calling to plead with the lost to be reconciled to God.
If the lost sinful rebellious people of the world can defy and disregard God and His sovereign ordained plan for humanity and do so openly why I ask you are Christians running into their closets and shutting the door to wait until Jesus’ returns? We are not called or commended to hide until Jesus returns but to stand as beacons of the light of His truth until He returns. Jesus is coming back. But as Jesus Himself commented, “Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8b). The time for Christians to come out and be counted is now!
What will bring Christians out of the closet? What will shake them from their lethargy? What will roust them from their anonymity? What will get them off the couch and empower them to take a stand and get into the fray? What motivation does God provide to energize His army? The answer to that is the cross of Christ. Paul said, “For I determine not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). Paul knew it was the cross of Christ and its depiction of God’s powerful love in Christ that would move Christians to count the cost of standing for Him. The cross is where we see standing for Jesus is a bargain given the hope of eternity with Him. Look to Jesus, look to the cross, see His love, receive His love, be filled and overflowed by His love, and then stand in Him!