A Secret Faith is No Faith At All

My sermon yesterday focus on today’s reading from John 19 and the role of Joseph and Nicodemus in the burial of Jesus. Both men were “secret disciples” of Jesus. John tells us that Joseph of Arimathea followed Jesus “secretly because he feared the Jews.” (John 19:38). He identifies Nicodemus as “the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night” (John 19:39). Of course, there are plenty of reasons that Nicodemus may have come at night—maybe he worked during the day or just wanted to avoid the crowds. But it seems possible if not likely that he came to Jesus during at night because he didn’t want to be seen talking with Jesus. In John 7, when Nicodemus did speak up to defend Jesus, he was shouted down with charges of being a disciple, “Are you from Galilee, too?” (John 7:52)

It was these secret disciples who came forward to claim the body of Jesus. They may have stayed incognito during Jesus ministry, but they were willing to risk identifying themselves as the disciples of Jesus by coming forward to ask for the body of Christ and taking charge of his burial. That was a risk in two ways. Romans tended to see the associates of insurrections as enemies of the state; going to Pilate to request the body of Jesus would have painted a target on Joseph and Nicodemus. And they also would have painted a target on themselves in the minds of their Sanhedrin associates who went to so much trouble to have Jesus killed. But they were willing to take the risk in order to serve Jesus in this last (so they thought) way. It would have been a lot easier and safer to keep their faith secret, but then a secret faith is really no faith at all.

I wonder if we too often try to keep our faith secret. We live in a world that is becoming increasingly antagonistic to faith. It is just a lot easier on the job and out in the community to keep quiet about faith. We might not realize that we have become secret disciples, but that is in effect what some of us are. Consider the following questions—

  • Do the people you spend time with know about you favorite sport, music or movie, but don’t know anything about your faith? We do tend to talk about things about which we are passionate and interested, right? People know about our kids or grandkids, our favorite music or movies or that we are fans of this team or that. Do the people around you know all these things but not that you are a believer in Jesus? If so, maybe you have a secret faith… which is really no faith at all.

  • Do you get into conversations about political issues and current events, but then you find yourself shying away from issues of faith? Do the people around you know all about what you think on healthcare reform, immigration law, the bank bailouts and the BP oil spill, but they have never heard you talk about faith? I’m not expecting anyone to preach at people from soap box; that kind of thing does more harm than good. But if you tend to avoid faith discussions, then maybe yours is secret faith— which is no faith at all.

  • Are those that you work with or go to school free to sin around you? I have to be careful here, because I’m not suggesting that we should be self-righteous critics who constantly criticize those around us. But if the people we’re around feel free to take God’s name in vain, tell dirty jokes, brag of their latest sexual conquest or how they got wasted over the weekend, then maybe its because they have no inkling that you would disapprove of such. Maybe you’ve never let them see by your example that you believe there is a better way. If any of this gets close, then maybe your faith is a secret faith… which is no faith at all.

The cross served to jolt Joseph and Nicodemus into acting on their secret faith. The cross should give us that very same jolt!