Why was I so afraid? My friends, my colleagues, they all hated him. They made it abundantly clear. He broke our rules, over and over again, but the more he did the more people seemed to want to be around him. They paid more attention to him than to us, the religious leaders. We had a reason to hate him!
But then… there were the wonders. He healed lepers! No one could do things like that unless God was on his side. Frustrating man! I knew I had to talk with this Jesus, but my dearest friends would never understand. So, because I was afraid of what they would think… what they might do to me, I went to Jesus secretly. Middle of the night. No one knew I went.
Well, no one then. Your Bible tells what happened plain and clear. Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.”
I came to him, looking for answers. And how does he respond? In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” Remember what I said about frustrating? The entire conversation that night left my head in a whirl. Born again? It’s not like that’s possible.
And then he goes off and says something that’s just as mysterious. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. That made no sense. The price of eternal life? “Whoever believes?” That’s ridiculous. And yet… something was different about this man. Remember, frustrating?
I listened, and something changed that night. Jesus was special. I wanted to know more, but I was still afraid. My friends were still breathing out threats at him. And anyone around him. They weren’t above turning on me… I was alone. And I was scared. I was a secret believer. I didn’t want anyone to know that I followed Jesus. I was scared of what would happen.
Does that happen to you? I understand that today it’s still an issue. No, you probably don’t hide that you go to church… but do you speak up for Jesus in your daily life, or are you like me? Do you let things go, because you’re afraid of what your friends might say? Afraid of what might happen in your family if you speak up? If you mention Jesus, if you point to the truth? Are you like me, more afraid of people than of speaking up for Jesus?
But then came another day… It was the Feast. Passover. Not the last one. Not the where he died. It was before then. Jesus was in the temple, and people were gathering. They were asking if he was Messiah, the promised one. But my friends…. Oh, they were angry. Jesus was on their doorstep, and more and more people were believing in him.
My friends gathered the Sanhedrin, the Jewish high court. I was there. After all, I belonged there. With my friends. With those who had always stood with me. Oh, but they started raging against Jesus. They wanted him dead. They judged him… but he wasn’t there.
I knew I should say something. Anything. I needed to speak up in Jesus’ defense. But… but then they would know. Then they would know that I believed Jesus. My heart raced as I tried to find a way to say something that would defend Jesus but not give myself away… And I finally found it.
Your Bible tells what happened: 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?” I thought I was brilliant. I found a technicality. I showed them that it was wrong, according to our law, to condemn anyone unless they were present. I didn’t have to stand up for Jesus, I just had to point out that they were doing something wrong.
It didn’t go over so well, though. They replied, “Are you from Galilee, too? Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee.” It didn’t matter. They’d already condemned him in their hearts, and because I had the audacity to even point out a technicality, they turned on me. Anything that might work in Jesus’ favor they were against. My friends… my friends.
I was so scared. I couldn’t actually say anything for Jesus, and even in my clever plan, I failed. I wasn’t standing up for Jesus… for the one who had stayed up all night with me, teaching me with his… frustrating words. He didn’t resist telling me where I was wrong… but when my friends were clearly in the wrong, I didn’t have the guts to stand up to them. I tried to save Jesus by distancing myself from him, by working on a technicality. I was too scared to stand up for Jesus by actually standing up for Jesus. I was too scared to call sin, sin.
What about you? When a coworker starts bashing the boss, do you tell them to stop because it’s wrong, or do you tell them to stop because the boss might find out? When a friend starts sleeping with a girlfriend, do you call it a sin, or do you try to convince them it’s “not smart” to do that? When a family member clings to an old grudge, do you call them on it, or do you simply avoid the topic?
I refused to call sin, sin. I refused to tell my friends that what they were doing was wrong. I tried to be clever, because I was scared of what would happen if I told them what they were really doing. And in doing that… I let them keep sinning, and I was guilty of joining in with them. Silence is not standing up for Jesus. Silence allows sin to continue. And that’s what I did. What about you? Are you like me?
I feared my friends so much that I didn’t stand up for Jesus. I let them sin. But then, I began to fear God more than man. And it happened because of what Jesus did… on that last Passover Festival.
They brought Jesus in again. They held a mock trial in the middle of the night. They beat him. They took him to the Romans so he could be crucified. I didn’t defend him. It would have done no good. But that doesn’t matter. I should have defended him. I let his enemies do what they wanted… because I was scared of them. Because I was afraid of what might happen to me if I spoke up. I was a coward.
And they killed him. I didn’t have the courage to stand and watch it happen. I hid. But I heard what happened. Sometimes I can imagine the sound of the hammer on the nails. Sometimes I can imagine him screaming out. And every time, every time I hear Jesus call out, “Father, forgive them!”
It was the day of the sacrifice. It was the day that the high priest would go in and offer blood in the Holy of Holies, at the center of the temple. It was the one day a year he did that. The only time anyone was allowed into that room of the temple, to offer a sacrifice to God. The day that the sins of the nation were carried away by a sacrifice. And that day I knew I needed that sacrifice for my silence. The entire city held its breath when that happened. If the high priest returned, then all would be well. But if he didn’t… if God did not accept his sacrifice, then our sins were still on our heads.
When the high priest went in to the Holy of Holies, a trumpet would blast from the temple and everyone in the city would stop and wait, barely breathing, aching to hear if the high priest had returned. I ached to hear that the priest had been successful in offering a sacrifice for our sins… for my sin. And that day, the high priest went in to offer the sacrifice. The trumpet blew. The entire city stopped.
And in that silence, that is when Jesus called out, “It is finished!”
I didn’t have to wait for the sign that the high priest had returned, safe and sound. I didn’t have to hear that God had accepted that sacrifice. He had accepted Jesus’ sacrifice. His own Son’s sacrifice, for my sins.
I didn’t have to defend Jesus. He was the one who was defending me. I was the one on trial before God. And God knew all my sins. He knew the many times I’d let sin pass in front of me without a word. Even though I didn’t speak up in Jesus’ defense, Jesus spoke up in my defense. Even though I was afraid to do the right thing, he did the right thing. In dying, Jesus stood up for me in his Father’s presence. He was the Son he’d been talking about with me that long time ago. “For God so loved the world he sent his only Son… he sent Jesus… that whoever believes in him will not perish, but have eternal life.”
And that’s when it didn’t matter any more. Jesus died on my behalf. What could my friends do to me now? I went to claim Jesus’ body. Even if I had not stood up for him while he was alive, even if I was scared while he was still with us, I would not be frightened while he was dead. Not any more. I would stand up for him now. Now that he had died… for me.
Your Bible tells the story. 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.
I brought spices and we wrapped him in the burial clothes… Messiah, killed by the people he had come to save. Christ, who was disowned even by me, but who claimed me anyway. Jesus, the teacher who was the son of God.
And you. Jesus has died for you as well. When he called out, “It is finished!” he announced the end of your sins as well. Whatever burden held you down and kept you from speaking out before… it is gone. Just as I was forgiven for my cowardice, you have been forgiven. Jesus last breath was for you, too. And that knowledge urged me to action… now I stood up for Jesus. And it has the same affect on you. You, too, now stand up for Jesus. He was not silent for me; now I will not be silent for him.
We laid him in the tomb as the sun set Friday night. I didn’t want it to be the end, but he was dead. What more could we do? The soldiers sealed the tomb, and we went away. Perhaps, though. Perhaps some hope lay in the future. What do you think? You know what came next. The one who was not so ashamed of me that he would not die on the cross for me… he would continue to stand on my behalf… forever. Alive.
I was afraid, so afraid, of my friends and what they would think, what they would do to me. But now, things have changed. Jesus stood up for me. Jesus saved me. How could I do otherwise than stand up for him? Now I fear God rather than men… now I honor God, I honor Jesus, not to get him to pay attention to me – but because he paid attention to me and loved me. Because God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, I will not perish, but have everlasting life.