READ TEXT: Mark 15:42-47
The title of the message this morning is "Undercover Christians". Now I grew up during the period of history we refer to as the 'Cold War'. The idea of a secret agent or a spy was exciting. Some of the heroes on television were Simon Templar (the Saint), James Bond (007), John Steed and Emma Peel (The Avengers), Secret Agent Man, James West, and of course the Man from U.N.C.L.E. The whole concept was glamorized and sensationalized as only the entertainment industry can do. However, when it comes to reality…as usually is the case…things were a lot different. Joseph of Arimathaea was an 'undercover Christian'. He was a secret agent in the army of God. But, his behavior is certainly not something for Christians today to seek to emulate. He is mentioned in all four of the gospel accounts. He was involved in the preparation and the burial of Jesus. Let's take a look at what the Bible has to say about him, the idea of being a secret disciple or undercover Christian.
I. His Description
A. He was from Arimathaea. (v43)
1. This was a small city about twenty miles from Jerusalem.
2. He was a wealthy man who now lived at Jerusalem and had purchased a burial tomb there.
B. He was an honorable counselor (v43)
1. This means that Joseph was a member of the Sanhedrin or 'council'.
2. He, along with Nicodemus, had apparently come to believe that Jesus was indeed the promised Messiah. "…Waited for the kingdom of God..."
3. However that belief was stifled by their fear of the Jews.
4. Although he was not consenting to the actions of the rest of the council, he didn't find the courage to stand up against the rest. (Lk. 23:51)
C. He was good and just. (Lk. 23:50)
1. This is a reference to his character.
2. He was a righteous and fair person in his dealings.
3. Again, he was not consenting to what the rest of the council had done toward Jesus, but he remained quiet through all of their deliberations because he feared them.
4. Because of his fear of the others he was a secret disciple.
(John 19:38) "And after this Joseph of Arimathaea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, besought Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus: and Pilate gave him leave. He came therefore, and took the body of Jesus."
5. What a tragedy!
6. A man of obvious influence, but afraid to let anyone know of his faith in Christ.
7. Joseph is the man who gave Jesus a tomb when He was dead but was silent when He was alive!
II. The Fact of Secret Discipleship
A. There are many who do not want others to know they are saved.
1. Joseph was not alone in this.
2. Nicodemus was another secret disciple.
(John 3:2) "The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him."
3. Peter was afraid to identify publicly with Christ and denied Him three times.
4. The rest of the disciples hid "the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews". (Jn 20:19)
5. Everybody at one time or another was a secret disciple.
(John 7:13) Howbeit no man spake openly of him for fear of the Jews.
B. Some reasons for secret discipleship:
1. We have already talked about fear, but what are some other possible reasons?
a. After Jesus had appeared to the disciples in His resurrected body.
b. Peter told the rest of the disciples that he was going back to fishing. (Jn 21:3)
c. Not that he was going to go fishing to relax, but he was done with being a disciple.
d. He was ready to go back to his old job and his old way of life…the life of a fisherman.
e. Many times Christians sin, become discouraged, and quit living for the Lord.
f. In effect, they are undercover Christians.
g. They used to serve God but not any longer.
3. Another possible reason for secret discipleship is misunderstanding of the Word.
a. These are the one's who think that their relationship with God is supposed to be private.
b. I realize that sometimes that attitude is just a cover-up to keep them from facing up to the truth, but it is possible for someone simply to misunderstand the truth that God wants us to declare our faith for Him and not keep it secret!
c. God has told us not to hide our light under a bushel, but put it on a candlestick that it might shine forth for all to see and give Him glory.
d. By the way, the candlestick in Scripture is representative of the local church.
e. As believers, we need to be involved as members of a good local church that preaches and teaches the Bible.
f. It is where the work of God is done!
III. The Sorrow of Secret Discipleship
A. Wasted time.
1. Joseph waited until Jesus was dead before he did anything for the kingdom of God.
2. What could he have done if he had come forward sooner?
(Ben Franklin) - "Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that is the stuff life is made of."
B. Abnormal Christianity.
1. Secret disciples are like:
2. Football players who stay away from the stadium
3. Boxers who never put on the gloves
(Rom 10:9) That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.
(Psa 107:2) Let the redeemed of the LORD say so, whom he hath redeemed from the hand of the enemy;
C. Displeasing to God.
1. The Bible is filled with the commendations of God for those who faithfully serve Him.
2. But there is not one commendation to be found for those who remain undercover Christians.
3. To be a Christian and keep it secret does not please God…in fact, it is disobedient to the will of God…that we tell others of Christ.
D. It doesn't have to be that way.
1. Joseph and Nicodemus came openly, during the day, and boldly begged for the body of Jesus.
2. Peter came back from his fishing trip, and openly proclaimed Christ…multitudes were saved on the day of Pentecost.
3. All the disciples became bold witnesses for Christ and turned the world upside down.
4. What about us today?
First of all, are you a Christian? Have you placed your faith and trust in the Word of God? Do you believe that Jesus died, was buried, and rose again on the third day for your salvation? Are you trusting in the shed blood of Christ on Calvary? Forgiveness is available if you will come to Him in repentance and faith.
Are you an undercover Christian? Do you keep it a secret at work? Are you afraid of what others might say or what they might do? Have you become discouraged and just quit serving God? Why not determine today to come out of hiding, and do something for Jesus Christ today? To accomplish something for God, a secret disciple must come out into the open.