Questioned For Christ – A Question of Conviction
As I mentioned last week, each Sunday afternoon, during this Lenten season, I’ll start the Homily out by asking the same question. If you were arrested today for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you? With an ever increasing emphasis toward Humanism and Humanistic philosophies, both in and out of churches, philosophies that place the secular moral values and views ahead of orthodox Christian beliefs, standing up for traditional Christian values and faith is getting harder and harder. It’s so much easier to say, my faith is a private matter. I’ll respect you and you respect me and we’ll all just get along. But it isn’t that simple.
Being a disciple of Christ isn’t like joining some social club where you pay your dues, attend a few meetings and socialize afterwards. Being a follower of Jesus comes with expectations. Being a disciple of Christ means letting go and giving up our desires and taking on God’s agenda: Being a follower of Jesus means accepting the burdens that come with living a life of servitude focused on God and others where God is glorified, not us.
As we read in our gospel lesson this morning, Jesus said, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:34b-38) It’s a tough passage that many don’t want to hear, but Jesus is clear; the call to discipleship isn’t for the faint of heart. Discipleship takes commitment, it takes dedication and it means sacrifice.
This afternoon it might be good for us to explore the motives and actions of Nicodemus, a Pharisee and member of the Jewish ruling council, the Sanhedrin. As we look at his life we must ask ourselves if we, too, are “closet Christians”? Do we boldly witness, or do we more often act with caution? Are we hesitant to witness to our faith? I’m sure you remember Nicodemus’ late-night visit. He went to see Jesus because he was very curious. He had an open mind and heart. He went because, as he said: “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him” (John 3:2).
Most of the Pharisees had closed their minds to the possibility that Jesus was the Messiah. Jesus Himself had said of them, “They are blind guides” (Matthew 15:14). Why did they choose to remain blind to such wondrous miracles and signs? The short answer is sin. Sin, our disobedience to God’s will and Word, blinds all of us to the work of God all around us. We fail to give God credit for all the little miracles performed each day. But beyond that, when we begin to minimize God’s might or involvement in the world, when we over-emphasize our participation and effort, we become blind and deaf to His Word and work.
How easy it is for us to believe in scientists, to trust the doctors, to rely on technology. We often think, “If we just put our minds to it, we can do anything.” The Pharisees too were self-focused believing that salvation was tied to their efforts. They felt that strict observance of the law was the only way to please God and to earn a place in heaven. To ensure complete faithfulness to the law, they added specific and measurable criteria. They calculated a Sabbath day’s journey as about a half-mile. Tithing included not only income, but even the spices grown in their garden. There was no aspect of daily living that didn’t require strict observance of rituals, washings and prohibitions. For the Jew of Jesus’ day, obtaining God’s mercy had nothing to do with faith, dependence on God or on a willingness to serve Him. So, by the time of Jesus, the Pharisees had added an estimated 613 laws to the Torah, or Law of Moses.
The Sanhedrin was an elite council of 70 Jewish leaders, including Pharisees. It was a position of honor and respect. The Sanhedrin had assumed responsibility for judging cases of law. And what better yardstick to use in judging the behavior of others than their own righteous observance of the Law! So in their eyes, Jesus didn’t measure up. He had no formal education, no urban culture, no pedigree, no credentials. So you can understand the sensitive and awkward position in which Nicodemus found himself.
How could a fair-minded member of that strict Jewish sect entertain the possibility of Jesus being the long-sought-after Messiah? Worse yet, what if Jesus was the Messiah, God’s Anointed One, who offered salvation through His personal sacrifice? How could Nicodemus square this fact with his long-held belief in the righteousness of his own works? Nicodemus, a great judge of Israel, heard Jesus say: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” Something would have to give. But who wants to abandon an honored lifestyle and position of authority for such a radical change, a change that would be condemned by one’s colleagues? Would you?
Going to church on Sunday is one thing, but what if you were known on your block as the one who was gung-ho for Jesus, who represented Christ, someone who gave evidence of your love for your Savior in your words and actions? Here’s what Jesus said to Nicodemus during that nighttime visit: “Whoever believes in [the Son of God] is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God” (John 3:18-21).
Paul was clear in his letter to the Romans, it’s through faith alone in Jesus, that we’re able to come to the Light. Jesus carried out the work for which His Father had sent Him. As he told Nicodemus, He was “lifted up” on the cross. There He suffered and died as the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and in doing so glorified His Father. Jesus, our Messiah and Lord, the Light of the world, is again clear in His command when He tells us: “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).
In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Questioned For Christ – A Question of Conviction