From Belief to Friendship (John 19:38-42)
From Belief to Friendship
Good morning everyone. If we could open our Bibles to John 19:38, we’re going to try to take a look this morning at verses 38-42. The title of our message this morning is From Belief to Friendship. Of course, if everything goes on schedule next week we will be in chapter 20, which is the resurrection of Jesus. So in the past I’ve had to stop with whatever we’re working on and grab a resurrection message out of the drawer and this year I don’t have to do that. You say well, gee, Pastor, you sure planned it well and if you know how disorganized my life was you wouldn’t say that. It must be a God-thing, is what I like to say.
And next week is a very interesting time of the year, as you know we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. So there will be a lot of people here and also in churches all over America that I like to call Chreasters, they show up on Christmas and Easter, which is fine, because it’s an opportunity to present the gospel people who may just be going to church for cultural reasons. So if you can be in prayer for such individuals next week, I’m hoping to, as we always do here, present the gospel with clarity and to give people an opportunity to believe in Jesus so as to be saved.
I think the Ladies Retreat is going well, I’ve been trying to look at my texts to see if my wife is going to text me at all and I haven’t gotten anything. [laughter] Other than, I got this very cryptic text and is said: I just finished horseback riding and now I’m going to get my massage. So I would take that to mean they’re having a good time out there. They are “suffering for the Lord” out there, so I’m glad they’re having a good time.
Here we are kind of wrapping up our thoughts on the death of Jesus Christ and we’re looking this morning at verses 38-42, which deal with His burial. And we can sort of outline verses 38-42 as follows; I hope you like the letter “P.” The Participants in Christ’s burial, verses 38-39; the Preparation for Christ’s burial, verse 40; the Place of Christ’s burial, verse 41, and then finally the Placing of Christ’s body in the tomb, verse 42.
Notice first of all something that’s very interesting here and a lot of commentators miss this or skip over it for whatever reason. But as I’ll try to show you it’s very important what John brings up here. Notice first of all the participants in Christ’s burial, and there are two, a man named Joseph or Arimathea, he’s mentioned in verse 38. A and then a returning character from the past, a man named Nicodemus, you might remember Nick at night, Nicodemus came to Jesus at night with questions in John 3; he makes a return appearance there in verse 39.
But notice first of all this man, Joseph of Arimathea, and notice what it says there in verse 38, “After these things Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but a secret one for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate granted permission. So he came and took away His body.” You notice this expression, “after these things?” After what things? Well, after Jesus breathes His last breath and died. So these are events that immediately follow the death of Jesus Christ. We run into this man that we haven’t met before, named Joseph of Arimathea. Arimathea is a city that’s about 20 miles northwest of Jerusalem.
And so this man, Joseph of Arimathea, shows up and it specifically says here that he was “a disciple” of the Lord Jesus Christ. Now if we can just focus on his discipleship for a minute, because there’s great confusion today in the body of Christ as to what constitutes a disciple. One of the things that’s very interesting about Joseph of Arimathea is a statement that we find, not here but in Matthew’s parallel account. It says, “When there was evening there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who himself had also become a disciple of Jesus.” We notice that Joseph of Arimathea was wealthy and yet he was a disciple of the Lord. Many people have a view that if you really want to be a disciple of Jesus you have to be poor; the poorer you are the more spiritual you are; the more wealthy you are the less spiritual you are. And what we discover here is it’s totally possible to be a man, or a person of means, and wealth, and to be a disciple of Jesus.
One of the things about money that the Bible teaches is it never says money is the root of all evil. That’s probably one of the most misquoted verses in all of the Bible. In fact, 1 Timothy 6:10 specifically says, “For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil.” Jesus, in His ministry, never condemned money; neither did Paul. In essence what they condemned is loving or idolizing, or serving money. Jesus in Matthew 6:24 says, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and wealth.” You’ll notice that Jesus never condemns wealth, he condemns serving wealth. I know a lot of people who have a lot of money but they are not idols of that money, or idolaters of that money. Conversely I know people that have virtually no money and yet they are idolizing money.
So the issue is not whether you have money or don’t have money, the issue is a condition of heart—has money replaced God in our hearts. The Bible never condemns owning money or possessions; it condemns money or possessions owning us. The Bible never condemns possessing wealth but what the Bible condemns is wealth controlling or possessing us. And so you can be a tremendous disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ and be a man or woman of means and wealth.
I’m reminded of what Paul says in 1 Timothy 6:17-19 as he addresses the rich. He says, “Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy.  Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share,  storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed.” That’s in 1 Timothy 6:17-19. If you’re a person of wealth you can actually be an incredible disciple of our Lord Jesus Christ as long as you use that wealth to advance God’s purposes upon the earth.
I’m reminded of the Wesley brothers; the Wesley brothers founded what we call the Methodist denomination today. And someone asked one of the Wesley brothers how much money can I make or how much money should I make. And the answer was classic; the answer was: make as much as you can and give away as much as you can. And today, long after the death of the Wesley brothers the Methodist denomination, because of those financial principles, continues to be one of the most financially endowed and financially secured denominations that we have in modern day Christendom.
I believe that people that have money can be greatly used by God, but there’s also a great warning in the Scripture, that money has a tendency to cause us to forget God. And yet it’s entirely possible, as God shapes and controls a person’s character that they can be a man of wealth like Joseph of Arimathea and at the same time be a tremendous disciple of the Lord.
You say well wait a minute, Pastor, then what do you do with the rich young ruler? Didn’t Jesus give a command to the rich young ruler to sell everything? What do you do with that command to the rich young ruler? Well, I interpret it as a command to “the rich young ruler.” Jesus, through omniscience could see what was happening in that individual’s heart and how he had become to idolize wealth and money and Jesus basically says to him for you to see clearly you need to sell everything you own. But you see, that is not a generic command for all Christians to follow. It is circumstance based, coming from an omniscient God who could look into an individual’s heart.
And so we have to become sensitive to the difference between descriptive material in the Bible and prescriptive material. There are things in the Bible that are just describing what happened but they are not prescriptions, the way they are wrongly understood by many people, for all of us to follow. For example, it talks about how Joshua went into the land of Canaan, he went into Jericho and he killed everybody, man, woman and child. Now I hope you’re taking descriptively and not prescriptively or else we’d have to become violent people, wouldn’t we.
And so in essence what you have with this instance with the rich young ruler is Jesus Christ gave a specific command to him. But when you look at the totality of Scripture and the totality of divine revelation there is nothing in the Scripture that is inherently sinful about having money; the issue is does your money have or does it control you?
So what we have taking place here is this man of wealth, a disciple of wealth, this man Joseph of Arimathea goes and he has to ask permission of Pilate to remove the body of Jesus Christ from the cross. We have talked about, in prior sermons that the reason he had to ask permission is because the nation of Israel (because of unbelief) was under discipline. And God, all the way back in the book of Deuteronomy, chapter 28, verses 49-50 said to Israel, very specifically as long as you continue on in unbelief and rebellion you will be a vassal state, or a servant state, of a larger power. [Deuteronomy 28:49-50, “The LORD will bring a nation against you from afar, from the end of the earth, as the eagle scoops down, a nation whose language you shall not understand,  a nation of fierce countenance who will have no respect for the old, nor show favor to the young.”]
And of course that repeated itself many times in Israel’s history and now once again Israel is under the thumb of the Roman Empire. And even today in the family of nations Israel continues to be bullied and pressured by the various nations of the earth, largely because of their spiritual condition, having rejected Jesus Christ. But you see, this man, Pilate, really as a Roman resented the Jews and the reason he resented the Jew, I believe, is because they forced his hand, as we have been studying, to execute Jesus Christ. And Pilate is always looking for one last chance to stab back at the Jews and I think he granted this request from Joseph of Arimathea as sort of a final way to get back at them for humiliating him and forcing his hand.
Thomas Constable in his online notes writes this: “Normally the Romans placed the body of crucified offenders, whose bodies they did not leave to rot on their crosses in a cemetery for criminals outside the city. Family members could not claim the bodies of people who had undergone crucifixion as punishment for sedition. Thus Jesus’ corpse would normally have ended up in the grave of a common criminal but for Joseph’s intervention. Pilate granted his request for Jesus’ body; probably because he realized that Joseph wanted to give Jesus an honorable burial and that would have humiliated the Jews further.”
And one of the things to become more sensitive to and to understand greater is as all these decisions are being made regarding the piercing of Christ’s side, regarding the decision as we saw last week, not to break His legs, is a divine script is being fulfilled. And as Pilate, out of probably petty vengeance, releases the body to the custody of Joseph of Arimathea; he in essence is fulfilling a divine script written 700 years in advance. Because the prophet Isaiah, in Isaiah 53, spoke very clearly and graphically about the death of Christ, which would occur seven centuries later from Isaiah’s time. And this is what Isaiah predicted, in Isaiah 53:9, “His grave was assigned with wicked men, yet He was with a rich man in His death….” How interesting it is how literally these prophecies from Isaiah are being fulfilled as Jesus’ corpse is being taken down from the cross.
Even Him being crucified between two thieves, as we saw, was predicted in Isaiah 53, how he would be numbered amongst the transgressors. [Luke 22:37, “For I tell you that this which is written must be fulfilled in Me, ‘AND HE WAS NUMBERED WITH TRANSGRESSORS’; for that which refers to Me has its fulfillment.” Isaiah 53:12, “… because He poured out Himself to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet He himself bore the sin of many, and interceded for the transgressors.”]
The decision not to break His legs or His bones was also a fulfillment of a divine blueprint in Psalm 22, Psalm 34 and Exodus 12:46 and many other passages. [Psalm 22:14, “All my bones are out of joint…” Psalm 34:20, “He keeps all his bones, not one of them is broken.” Exodus 12:46, “…nor area you to break any bone of it.”]
We sometimes think that God has lost control of things. At a time period when things seem from the human point of view most out of control God is totally in control and is actually using the free moral choices of his creation to fulfill a divine script and a divine blueprint. I hope you don’t think God has lost control of your life and your circumstances. He is very much in control, as we have seen.
Now the other part of Joseph of Arimathea that’s very interesting, going back to John 19:38 we learn not only from Matthew’s parallel account that he was a wealthy disciple, but here we learn that he was a secret disciple. It says, “After these things Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but a secret one for fear of the Jews.” Is it really possible to be a secret disciple of Jesus Christ? Is it possible to be a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ and yet to keep it hidden, to keep it underground? One of the things that’s very sad today in the realm of theology is the notion of a secret disciple is denied by many theological camps. On one end of the stick we have a very rabid Arminianism today. Arminianism is the idea that you can actually lose your salvation. And so what they in essence say is if you don’t bear fruit and have it in great quantities, physically for the world to see, then your salvation, which you once had, is now lost.
Equally destructive is the idea of hyper Calvinism, coming from the other side of the spectrum. The hyper Calvinist would say the evidence of saving faith if physical fruit and if I don’t see fruit in your life you don’t lose your salvation, but guess what? You never had it to begin with. And because of the aggressive nature of both Arminianism and Calvinism there is almost, in many corners a denial of this idea of a secret disciple. And yet what we see here is it clearly tells us that this man, Joseph of Arimathea is a disciple of Jesus but he kept it secret; nobody even knew that he belonged to this man, Jesus Christ.
Now why is this possible? Why is it possible, theologically to be a secret disciple of Jesus Christ? It’s for the very simple reason that as we have studied John’s Gospel very carefully there is only one condition that must be met before a person is justified before God. There are not two conditions, three conditions, four conditions, five conditions; if you don’t believe me just build your house upon John 3:16, you’ll see it very clearly, there is but one condition. The condition is to believe which is to have faith or confidence in this man Jesus Christ. [John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”]
We do not believe that there are two steps (the Texas two-step), two steps to Jesus. There is not believe and then become a public disciple. That is not the gospel. In fact, if anybody teaches the gospel like that they just taught a gospel of works. There is but one condition, and that condition is resolved; they are made right with God regardless of what they do with the rest of their life, in terms of being a public disciple or a private disciple. John 12:42 is such an important verse on this subject. Notice what it says: “Nevertheless many even of the rulers believed in Him,” it’s very clear that they are believers, “but because of the Pharisees they were not confessing Him, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue.” Since there is only one step to Jesus, one condition, “believe!” I believe that these individuals were saved. So it is entirely possible to believe in Jesus but because of fear not publically confess Christ and consequently still belong to Jesus Christ.
You see in America we demand fruit from people to prove that they’re saved. But I want to put yourself just for a minute in another country, where the gospel is illegal. Put yourself in an Islamically controlled country. Think of a person in a family, think of a woman for example, that perhaps hears the gospel, perhaps she got it from a secret missionary, perhaps she got it off the internet, but she believes the gospel and she knows that the moment she verbalizes her newfound faith in Jesus Christ is the moment that she will be tortured and possibly killed; that’s the moment she knows her family will be tortured and possibly killed if they go public with it.
Are we going to sit here in judgment in 21st century American with all of the freedoms that we have and sit in judgment on that woman and say you’re not a Christian? What a ridiculous and arrogant point of view. And so John is teaching that there were many people in the life of Christ, particularly Jews who believe but they really didn’t say much about it. Why is that? Because they’re afraid of getting kicked out of, John 12:42, they were afraid of getting kicked out of the synagogue. And if you got kicked out of the synagogue you were cut off from society; you were cut off from business contacts because sometimes business contacts were made in the synagogue. You were cut off from the culture. You were cut off from society. You were cut off from the community. You were cut off from your own family. And so there were many people that believed and just didn’t want to say anything for fear of the Jews. And yet John is telling us very clearly that they, indeed, were believers. I don’t think being a secret disciple is necessarily a good thing either; I just think it’s a possibility.
Now what then would be the goal of the judgment of rewards, which we call the Bema seat judgment? Did you know that following the rapture of the church we will all stand before the Lord as believers and we will be rewarded or not rewarded? On what basis will those rewards be given or not given? Based on who made progress in their discipleship for the Lord Jesus Christ. Those that hid their faith out of fear of man we would understand as being less rewarded than those that actually became aggressive and in wisdom went public with their faith. So there is a judgment of rewards where people are denied rewards or given rewards based on choices that they made. Those are where the decisions are made and evaluated regarding secret and public discipleship. They are not decisions which are rendered regarding heaven or hell. If you satisfied that condition of faith then your security is sure. If you believed in Jesus Christ your security is sure I should say.
Well, you might say to yourself, well pastor, if that’s how you interpret the Bible then what in the world do you do with Matthew 10:32-33. I’m glad you asked. Matthew 10:32-33 says this: “Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven.  But whoever denies Me before Men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven.” Doesn’t the Bible say that you have to believe and publicly confess Christ and if you don’t do both of those things then you are denied by God? Well, what I do with Matthew 10 and what I would encourage you to do with Matthew 10 is put it back in its context. A text without a context is a proof text for a theological system.
And beloved, I can string any group of verses together out of their context and make it sound any way I want to prove I anything I want from the Bible if I am not a respecter of context. Judas went out and hung himself [Matthew 27:5]; Jesus said go thou and do likewise [Luke 10:37], “What you do, do quickly,” [John 13:27] so there we have it, the Bible promotes suicide. What did I just do there? I just strung together a bunch of verses to support a preexisting belief system. And that’s the world of theology (sadly) we find ourselves in, where people almost like throwing snowballs at each other, throw one verse and another camp throws another verse. And I say let’s stop the nonsense and let’s look at what the Bible actually says.
Matthew 10 has a specific context. Do you want to know what the context is? I’m glad you asked. Matthew 10:5-7, “These twelve Jesus sent out after instructing them: Do not go in the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter any city of the Samaritans;  but rather go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’” In this particular instance the disciples were told to go out and offer the kingdom to first century Israel; the kingdom “is at hand,” the millennial kingdom can be yours. And they specifically were told not to preach that message to any Gentile but only to the Jews. And this is at a time in history where the offer of the kingdom, prior to Matthew 12, was very much on the table for the nation of Israel. I notice people that quote Matthew 20:32-33 never quote Matthew 10:5-7, the context that it is found within.
And beyond that, who did Jesus give this command to? If you simply go back to the beginning of the chapter, Matthew 10:1-4 it says this: “Jesus summoned His twelve disciples,” these are people that are already believers, “and He gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every kind if disease and every kind of sickness.  Now the names of the twelve apostles are these: The first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; and James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother;  Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus;  Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed Him.”
Other than Judas Jesus is talking to believers and so when He says go out and preach the message of the imminent kingdom which is within your grasp, you are going to be resisted by people but if you persevere in that message I will confess you before My Father. The confession before the Father is not an announcement of their salvation. They already had salvation. The confession before the Father is a reward above and beyond salvation. And so most people won’t give you what we say, “the rest of the story.”
It is entirely possible to be two things in Jesus Christ: a person of means and wealth, and yet be a very vibrant disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ. And it is possible, and the latter may not necessarily be a good thing, but it is still a possibility to be a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ and to be very secretive and quiet and clandestine about your beliefs, because there is but one condition for justification before God; not two conditions, not three conditions, not four conditions, and so forth.
Now while we’re on this business of secret discipleship, lo and behold, who does He bring up? Nicodemus! Did you know that John is the only Gospel writer that brings up Nicodemus at this point? Notice, if you will, John 19:39, it said, “Nicodemus, who had first come to Him by night, also came, bringing a mixture of Myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds weight.” Why is it that only John brings up Nicodemus’ role at this point in removing Christ’s body from the tomb?
Hold your place, if you could, here in John 19 and go back to John 2:23-25, the very end of John 2 because the end of John 2 unveils the secret here. Notice, if you will, John 2:23-25, notice what it says: “Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name, observing His signs which He was doing.  But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men,  and because He did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man.” What’s going on here in John 2? You’ve got people, it very clearly says, “believed” in Jesus and yet it also says that Jesus did not entrust Himself to those that had just believed in Him. So how is this verse interpreted by the vast majority of commentators? What they will tell you is these people were never really saved in John 2. And they draw a distinction between what is called authentic faith, which bears fruit, and inauthentic faith, or what we call spurious faith, or faith which is not real.
Here is a commentator, this is William Hendriksen, he’s a scholar and he epitomizes this mentality. He’s commenting on John 2, the verses I just read. “Many trusted in His name because of the manner in which His power was displayed they accepted Him as a great prophet and perhaps even as the Messiah. This, however, is not the same as saying they surrendered their hearts to Him. Not all faith is saving faith.” That is Reformed Theology on steroids, right there, because what he is saying is you have to do not one thing to be right with God, but two—it is believe and surrender. So if you believe and don’t surrender you’re not an authentic or genuine Christian.
I want you to think about this before we get into the theology and the exegesis of it in just a moment. Think of this from a pastoral point of view. Think the effect that this has on your average Christian in the United States and around the world. If there are two kinds of faith, the real faith and the fake faith, by the way, they don’t tell you exactly what those are in actual precision…surrender, what does that mean? I mean if I have a negative thought, does that mean I never had authentic faith? And it’s this generic terminology that’s tossed on people. What do you spend your whole life doing as a Christian?
Well, if there’s a faith that saves and a faith that doesn’t save I wonder if I have the right faith. And doubts immediately are put into your mind that maybe you’re not a true Christian. And I believe that those doubts largely are put into your head by the devil himself, because if he can get you spending your energy and your life determining whether you’re saved or not through self-analysis and introspection, you will not be serving God out of a vibrant gratitude, you will be serving God out of fear.
And let me tell you the difference between two servants; there are people that serve God because they’re afraid. There are other people that serve God because of gratitude for what He’s done. When you look at the productivity of those two servants which one is more productive? Obviously the one who is serving God out of worship and gratitude. That is to be our response to the gospel. But if there are these nagging doubts in your mind, maybe I’m saved, maybe I’m not saved, it’s like the weather report, 75% chance of rain, maybe today it will rain, maybe it won’t rain. That’s how a lot of people look at their salvation. And we’ve gone through enough passages, haven’t we? John 5:24; John 6:47, where God tells you you’re saved if you believe in Him. [John 5:24, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes in Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life. John 6:47, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life.”]
You know, there’s something that’s interesting about God is He cannot lie. If God says you believe in Him you’re saved, then that should be good enough. But if we get into this game of self-analysis, am I bearing enough fruit, am I surrendered enough, if I spend my waning days on the earth dissipating energy into something that God wants settled in my mind. And this is why this subject is near and dear to my heart because to me it is no longer a theological debate; it is no longer a debate about Greek exegesis, this has pastoral ramifications into the lives of God’s people.
Are the people in John 2 saved? The answer is absolutely they are saved. How do I know that? Because it says they “believed” in Him. The Greek there is pisteuo eis, which every single time it is used in John’s Gospel always communicates an authentic salvation… every single time! And yet people want to turn around and they want to make John 2 the one exception; beyond that it says they “believed in His name.” And I challenge you to track that grammatical construction all the way through John’s Gospel and you will see it never, ever once refers to people that never had the right kind of faith.
You say well, how could you say these people are saved; they just believed in His miracles, that’s all. Isn’t that what John 2:23 says, “Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name, observing His signs,” and people say it was just kind of a faith that was miracle oriented. You can’t just believe in the miracles of Jesus and be saved, can you? I would remind all of us of the purpose statement of John’s Gospel. This is what the Gospel is all about? What does it say? We’ve read it and had it up on this screen I don’t know how many times.
John 20:30-31 says, “Therefore many other” what? “signs Jesus performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book;  but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that by believing you may have life in His name.” The “signs” authenticate His identity; as you discover His identity you exercise faith or trust in Him and according to the purpose statement of John’s Gospel that is how people get saved. And so to simply slough off these individuals and say they weren’t saved because it was just a miracle oriented faith is to despise and deny the very purpose statement in John’s Gospel.
And you say okay, then you explain to me what it means when it says “but he did not entrust Himself to them,” verse 24. [John 2:24, “But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men,”] They believed but He was not entrusting Himself to them. The answer to that is John 15, in the Upper Room, verses 14-15, notice that passage.
John 15:14-15, what does Jesus say? “You are My friends,” not believers, the only people He is talking to in John 15 are those with Him in the Upper Room, all of them are believers, the only unbeliever, Judas, in John 13, around verse 29, has already left the building. What does Jesus say to these eleven who are all believers? “You are My friends if,” here’s a condition, “if you do what I command you.  No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.”
Notice in John’s Gospel there is a distinction between being a believer, having your fire insurance paid up, not going to hell, and being a friend of God. All friends of God are believers, but not all believers are friends of God. Notice this distinction, perhaps this chart will help. What is the one condition of justification before God? It is faith, period! What is the condition on going of friendship? It is obedience. The key Scripture for becoming a believer would be John 3:16, you all know it by heart. The key Scripture for becoming a friend of God would be John 15:14. [“You are My friends if you do what I command you.”] Becoming right with God is what we call justification; becoming a friend of God is something that we call progressive sanctification.
You say well what’s the difference? There’s a world of difference and we need to review over and over and over again the three tenses of salvation. There is justification, the past tense of my salvation; sanctification, which I have underlined here because it relates to friendship, the present tense of my salvation, and finally glorification, the future tense of my salvation. In justification we are saved from sin’s penalty at the point of faith. However in sanctification we are gradually being delivered from sin’s power as we learn to yield to the divine resources within us moment by moment by faith. There are some that make far more progress in that realm than others. And then of course glorification which is not in view here is when I will be delivered from sin’s very presence and that will happen the moment I die.
You know, Paul couldn’t wait to die; most of us are afraid to die. Paul said I can’t wait to die, “to be absent from the body” is what? “present with the Lord.” [2 Corinthians 5:8, “We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.”]
Philippians 1:21-23, Paul says I’m torn between the two; I would rather die and go to be with Christ, which is far better. [Philippians 1:21, “For to me, to live is Christ and to dies is gain.  But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose.  But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better;  yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake.”]
Why did he say that? Because he knew that the moment he died he would be out of this body. And even the propensity or the appetite or the desire to go back to sin would be done away with. And he said I can’t wait to check out of here. Oh, if the Lord has me on now for service then I’ll stick around but if I had my druthers I’d rather just die.
Belief refers to justification. Friendship with God deals with sanctification. You say well, what, then, is the incentive for friendship. I mean, if I’m already saved what is the incentive for friendship? Notice John 15:14, “You are My friends if you do what I command.” Verse 15, “No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.”
What, then, is the great incentive for friendship with God? Insight, understanding, illumination! You see, because there are some people that have not grown in their faith at all. Yes, they’re going to heaven but their faith is stagnant. They don’t have a hunger for His Word, they don’t have any great new insights from God, there’s nothing fresh or vibrant about their faith and is it an intellectual problem? No, it’s not an intellectual problem. It is a volitional problem. They have decided that I’ve gone far enough, I’ve done enough, I’ve believed and now I’m just going to live my life as I want. And the moment we put ourselves in that posture is the moment the insight that we could have in God is shut off.
And this is Paul’s concern with the Corinthian church, how he wanted to address them as mature Christians, he says you’re thriving on milk but rejecting meat. And he never says to them y’all need to get saved. What he says is you’re stuck in a level of carnality. You read through Corinthians and Paul never second guesses the salvation of these individuals. What he says is you need to grow up. You need to mature, you need to start walking with God and then I’ll be able to feed you with the deeper truths of the Word of God rather than have you thriving on milk.
Now, why, then, is John bringing up Nicodemus? Look again back at John 2:23-25, and have your… probably on the same page, open to the verses that follow, John 3:1-2. Notice what it says: “Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name, observing His signs which He was doing.” Look at John 3:2, it says, “this man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, ‘Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs…” see how signs in chapter 3, verse 2 is connected with signs in chapter 2 verse 23.
By the way, do we all know the Holy Spirit didn’t put that chapter break there? Do you know who put those chapter breaks there? Some guy named Stephen Langton put them there, in the 1600’s on a very long carriage ride, and I think the ride got bumpy at some points because I frankly think he put a chapter break to help us but it unnaturally bifurcates what is happening.
Notice John 2:25, “and because He did not need the testimony concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man.” Now look at John 3:1, “Now there was a man,” and he goes on and He describes Nick at night, or Nicodemus. Why is he bringing up the dialogue between Jesus and Nicodemus in John 3? Because Nicodemus is illustrative of the situation that he has described at the end of John 2, people who believe but they have not become friends of God. And there Jesus consequently does not entrust Himself to them, He does not reveal greater truths to them, they are stuck, essentially in a same position spiritually; Nicodemus illustrates that.
And so the story of John’s Gospel, the story of Nicodemus is how this man, Nicodemus, graduates from merely being a believer to being a friend of God. You know, he’s with Jesus, he’s interested, he’s asking Him a lot of questions, he comes at night, he’s in secret about it. I would argue that Nicodemus believed in Jesus at this point but he remained in that position of being a secret disciple for a long time. And then you go to John 7:50-52 and suddenly this man, Nicodemus, speaks up. This is only the second time we have a reference to him in John’s Gospel. He speaks up and he starts defending Jesus. See what’s happening with this man, Nicodemus? He is a believer but he is moving into friendship.
And finally the whole story culminates in verse 39 when Nicodemus really becomes public and he asks to have a position or a role, if you will, along with Joseph of Arimathea in bringing Christ’s body down from the cross. [John 19:39, “Nicodemus, who had first come to Him by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds weight.”
Now I’m back in John 19, did you catch what he brought? “a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds of weight.” You’re dealing with a guy that came to Jesus secretly at night. So now a guy that comes out and wants to publicly adorn Jesus Christ, what has happened to Nicodemus? He has graduated from being a believer to being a friend of God. Now why does John document all of this history for us? Because he wants us to do the same thing.
The first thing John wants us to do when we hear the record of this man, Jesus Christ, is he wants us to believe in Jesus. And the second thing he wants us to do, if I can use this terminology, is to come out of the closet, I mean, just get out there and live for God, get out there and reveal your Christianity, get out there and evangelize, get out there and be a spokesman for God, get out there and fear God rather than man. And when John puts this desire of the Holy Spirit upon us he is not saying you have to do the latter to go to heaven; but he says I want you to graduate from being just a believer to a friend of God. That’s the great application we’re to take from this.
How many of you are clandestine secret disciples? No one really knows you’re a Christian. I’m not going to call into question the authenticity of the fact that your name is written in the Lamb’s Book of Life; neither does John. But you’re missing out, you’re missing out on the point of your life, you’re missing out on the joy of God using you because you’re under the radar; you’re secret, you’re quiet, you’re afraid of losing your job, you’re afraid of persecution. And yet what is the Bible saying? Every ounce of persecution we go through as children of God is rewarded in the next life. God sees it all. So grow, develop, mature, obey, be public, be vociferous, speak the truth in love, and enter that rank of the saints that are fully rewarded at the Judgment Seat of Christ, and not like those who, as 1 John 2:28 and following says, shrink back in shame at the return of Christ.
Are you yearning for the return of Christ? Or are you afraid of your evaluation and the judgment or rewards at the return of Christ? Whether you are looking forward to it or afraid of it tells me more about what’s going on in your life, right now as a believer, than any other single thing. You know, it’s like taking a test in school; if you’ve been diligent, the test is actually something you’ll look forward to. If you haven’t been diligent then the test is a fearful thing. It’s like performance appraisal at work; if you haven’t been diligent on the job then the performance appraisal is something to be fearful of. But if you’ve been diligent the performance appraisal is something you look forward to and actually enjoy.
Another application of this is stop making harsh judgments about the salvation of people. In churches that are dominated, not by the type of teaching that I’m giving here, where you demonstrate the authenticity of your faith through works, there is a sharp, harsh, severe spirit of judgementalism and Pharisaism. And I believe it is a stench in the nostrils of God. I cannot tell you how many churches I have been in where people will whisper, “so and so is not saved!”
Why do you say they’re not saved? Well, they haven’t shown up to church in the last month; they haven’t given enough money; they’re not opening their home the way they should, so I am going to call into question whether they are even a Christian.
And that ignores the concept of the secret disciple. God is at work in people’s hearts and lives and you may not even see it. And so we ought to, I believe, give people the benefit of the doubt. I wasn’t going to bring this up but we had a Sunday School teacher one time, here at this church, and it was right when I got here, and fortunately he’s gone on to other pastures, but he would make these statements in the Sunday School class that were absolutely astounding. You notice we have a softball field across field; you notice that a lot of times they’ve got more people playing softball than are actually in church. And in this Sunday School class he would look out the window and he said you see all those softball players out there, they’re not saved.
Now one of my students came up to me afterwards, I invited him as a guest and he said to me, very quietly, how does he know that they’re not going to Saturday night church somewhere. Don’t churches have Saturday night services? So how can you look out on a softball field and in human pride and arrogance make a sweeping judgment about the salvation of everybody there?
And this concept of the secret disciple rescues us from overly broad statements. It restores a spirit of tenderness and love rather than a spirit of severity. You say wait a minute, pastor, if what you’re saying is true then how do you make any sense of Matthew 7:16-23. And I’m glad you asked. Jesus said this,  “You will know them by their fruits; Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they?  So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit.  A good tree cannot produce fruit, not can a bad tree produce good fruit.  Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  So then, you will know them by their fruits.  Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.  Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’  And then I will declare to them, I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’”
How can you say we should not get into the fruit inspecting business, because that’s the business many people are into? No fruit, from the Armenian side, you lost your salvation. No fruit from the Calvinistic side, you never had salvation. This person is saved, this person is not; people start making evaluations and they say we have to because Matthew 7 talks about a good tree bearing good fruit; a bad tree bearing bad fruit. There’s just one little problem—you forgot to quote verse 15. You quoted verses 16-23 quite nicely, but you left out verse 15. Verse 15 gives you the context of what Jesus is talking about, “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.”
Who is Jesus dealing with in Matthew 7:15-23? He is dealing with people that aren’t even saved at all, because they’re false teachers. You know the group He’s talking about there, primarily? The Pharisees! He is not dealing with the situation of someone who has professed faith in Jesus Christ. You will not find that in the context anywhere. He is not dealing with a believer who believes but does not come boldly and publicly forward with his faith. He is not dealing with that subject at all. He is primarily dealing with, and completely dealing with false teachers, the Pharisees who, on the surface looked like very righteous individuals but they had never believed in the Lord Jesus Christ. So let’s be careful about which verses we’re applying to which situation. And we need to develop an understanding of the context.
What is the reality of the situation I am trying to communicate? The reality of the situation is both in the case of Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus they were secret disciples who graduated into friendship. So it is entire possible to be a secret believer; it is entirely possible to be a wealthy disciple. Now that we’re finished with the introduction, the preparation for the burial. I’ve got to keep moving because I want to open John 20 on Easter Sunday morning and I’ll do these quick, don’t worry.
Verse 40, this is the preparation for Christ’s burial. “So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen wrappings with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews.” You’ll notice how they wanted to honor Jesus Christ with these linens. Dr. Constable in his online notes writes this: “John’s interest was not in the manner of the burial as much as the honor that Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus bestowed on Jesus by burying Him in linen cloth.” They came out publicly, and they said we want to honor this man, and as we put these statements and actions in the context of the whole book of John, beginning with John 2 we see this wonderful graduation of Nicodemus, beyond just being a mere believer into friendship with God.
Dr. Constable writes this: “The Egyptians removed some internal parts of the body before embalming and the pagans typically burn human corpses. The burial custom of the Jews was to place the corpse on a long sheet with the feet at one end. Next they would cover the corpse with thick layers of spices; they would then fold the cloth over the head and back down to the feet which they would tie together. They would also tie the arms to the body with strips of cloth; normally a separate cloth covered the face.”
Isn’t it interesting in verse 40 that you’ll see the word “bound.” “So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen,” why is that significant? Because there is no doubt that Jesus was dead when they put Him into that tomb. There are those that will try to convince you of the idea that when Jesus went into that tomb He was never actually dead. It’s called the swoon theory, it was invented a couple of centuries ago by a liberal scholar and the Muslims, to a very large extent, have revived it today and it is a way that they have to explain away the empty tomb…well, the tomb was empty because He never really died.
It’s very clear in John 19:30 that Jesus breathed His last breath. [John 19:30, “Therefore when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!’ And He bowed His head and gave up the ghost.”] It’s very clear in John 19:34 that when the soldier thrust the spear into His side, out of His side came both blood and water.  “But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out.”] As we explained last week, that is symptomatic of death.
Beyond that, even if He wasn’t dead they put a large, Matthew 27:60 says, stone against the entrance of the tomb. And beyond that, Matthew 27:66, they posted a guard outside of that tomb. [Matthew 27:60, “…and he rolled a large stone against the entrance of the tomb and went away.” Matthew 27:66, “And they went and made the grave secure, and along with the guard they set a seal on the stone.”]
So even if He hadn’t died, which obviously He had, He would have had to in His weakened condition move the stone, get by the guard, and then somehow wriggle out of these burial clothes which were tightly bound, after having endured the ordeal of the cross. And then showed up on the doorstep of the disciples and said I’m the risen Lord, don’t mind the sweat on My forehead, don’t mind My panting in breathing, don’t mind Me bleeding all over the place. So go out and die for Me, I mean, it’s just strains credulity that people even believe such a misguided idea.
You will notice verse 41, the place of the burial, it says, “Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid.” John makes a point of observing that there was an unused new tomb near the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Matthew 27:60, a parallel passage, talks about how it had been hewn out into the rock. [Matthew 27:60, “and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock; and he rolled a large stone against the entrance of the tomb and went away.”]
So these artificial caves, carved out in limestone, in fact when you, and if you visit the land of Israel you’ll see them all over the place. Here’s myself and my wife, beauty and the beast there visiting what some believe is the garden tomb. And you have another picture of it here. Now even our guide said, jabbed us a little bit, I don’t Christ was buried here. So it’s a matter of debate, which is fine. But the point of the matter is you have these artificial caves cared out of limestone very prominent in the land of Israel, making the description of His burial quite believable.
What does the Bible give us? It gives us an archeological background where the credibility of the biblical story could have taken place. You’ll also notice that it talks here about a garden, not just a new tomb but a garden. By the way, did you notice how John made a point of observing that no one had been laid in that tomb? That’s why when they went into that tomb on Sunday morning and it is empty there can’t be any dispute as to what had happened. The tomb was empty when they put Jesus in there; Jesus was the only one in there, and the fact that they went in there on Sunday morning and found it empty shows what? That He is risen from the dead. John is nicely setting the stage for what will be following in John 20.
But you notice this garden that’s mentioned as well. This is what one commentator writes, he says: “The fall of the first Adam took place in a garden and it was in a garden that the last Adam redeemed mankind from the consequences of Adam’s transgression.”
You want to meet the two most influential people in the history of the world, and I’m not talking about Donald Trump or somebody else, I’m talking about the truly most influential people in the history of the world; what two people involved with two gardens, have had the most influence on the totality of the human race? We have the first Adam, whose one act of disobedience in a garden involving a tree, the tree of knowledge, brought in a universal curse that the whole human race and the world, Romans 8, is suffering under as I speak. And whether you like it or not, you are physically born under that curse, called original sin.
Now fortunately we have another Adam of great influence. He is not called the second Adam; I called him the second Adam for years misstating what the bible says. He is never called the second Adam; He is called “the last Adam.” You say well so what? Well, if you’ve got a second Adam you can have a third one, and a fourth one. But if you’ve got a “last Adam” there can’t be any acts that follow, can there. And Jesus stepped into history and did an act which could never be duplicated on equal influence of what the first Adam brought us under through His one act of obedience, involving a tree, incidentally. Isn’t it interesting that the cross is called a tree, brought in universal blessing and a promise that the world that we are living in would be restored to its rightful place? [Deuteronomy 21:23, “his corpse shall not hang all night on the tree, but you shall surely bury him on the same day (for he who is hanged is accursed of God), so that you do not defile your land which the LORD your God gives you as an inheritance.”]
Now how do you get under the blessings of that last Adam? You have to be spiritually born into it. Physically we are born under the curses of the first Adam but through spiritual birth the point in history comes where we trust Jesus Christ. The moment that happens my whole position is altered; I am transferred in a nanosecond from the curses of the first Adam into the glorious inheritance of the last Adam.
And then lastly, verse 42, what’s everybody worried about? They’re worried about their religion. This deals with the placing of the body in the tomb. Notice verse 42, “Therefore because of the Jewish day of preparation, since the tome was nearby, they laid Jesus there.” The day of preparation would be… I would understand it as Friday. Now there are people that believe very strongly in a Wednesday crucifixion; I will not fight with you on that issue; if you want to believe in a Wednesday crucifixion then you can celebrate Good Wednesday; as for me and my house we’re going to celebrate Good Friday. I refuse to get into an argument with people over this issue because the important thing is not whether he was crucified on Wednesday or Friday, the important thing is He was crucified. And beyond the, the even more important thing is He came out of that grave on Sunday. Everything else, whether it’s Wednesday, Friday, and you want to be a “fighting fundy” on that one you can go do that on your own time. Count me out, I’m not interested. I want to focus on the big picture.
So the day of preparation, Friday, before the Sabbath on Saturday, was about to end; that means Friday sundown is approaching, when they’re not supposed to work, so both Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus had to work swiftly. Why? Because they were worried about the Sabbath and the Passover. One of the things to look at when you study the Bible is you look for patterns; if a pattern keeps recurring over and over and over again in the writings of an author the Holy Spirit is surfacing something that He wants us to be aware of. And the pattern is an obsession with religion while missing the big picture.
In John 18:28 what are they worried about over there? They’re worried about ceremonial defilement because of the Passover, not understanding that they just missed the big picture. They’re about ready to turn the Passover Lamb, the one that all of that imagery points to, over to Rome for execution. [John 18:28, “Then they led Jesus from Caiaphas into the Praetorium, and it was early; and they themselves did not enter into the Praetorium so that they would not be defiled, but might eat the Passover.”]
John 19:31, they’re worried about the Sabbath, the same kind of thing that Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus seemed to be somewhat worried about, not understanding that who had been crucified was the Lord of the Sabbath, the one that all of this Sabbath imagery and typology in the Old Testament points to. They had crucified the Passover Lamb. Why does John keep pointing this out to us? Because he is describing the human propensity to become wrapped up in myopic details of religiosity and duty and miss the big picture that’s right in front of us. I don’t just fault the Jews for this, all of us do this. We become focused on a tradition but we lose sight of who the tradition points to. I am not necessarily an anti-traditional person either; tradition can have its place. The problem is when the tradition itself becomes deified; the tradition itself becomes God and we miss the One that the tradition was originally set up to point towards.
Why even bring this up? Because this city and this world is filled with people that are focused on a set of dos and don’ts, religiosity, and yet it’s that very religiosity that blinds them to the big picture that they need to grasp and that is Jesus Christ. What is the big picture? The big picture is how to transfer your identity from the first Adam into the blessings of the last Adam. That’s the big picture; that is life’s most important question: how do I get out of the curses of the first Adam that I am born into and transfer my identity and my position into the blessings of the last Adam. That only comes one way, not through physical birth but through spiritual birth.
You must be born from above. There has to be a point in your life whereby you hear the gospel and you trust in it. You no longer trust yourself, your religion, your do’s and don’ts for the safekeeping if your soul. You transfer your trust, your confidence, your reliance totally into the last Adam, this man, Jesus Christ. And if that’s never happened to you it doesn’t matter how religious you are, it doesn’t matter how hard you try, you’re still under the cursed state of the first Adam. And our exhortation to you at Sugar Land Bible Church is simply this: Let’s keep the main thing the main thing. The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing. What’s the main thing? What I’ve just described, that’s the big picture, that’s what it’s all about. That’s life’s most important question. And perhaps there are people here that have never actually made that faith step and are trusting in Jesus Christ; perhaps they’re trusting in church attendance, church membership, participation in communion, working hard trying to get ahead, trying to do-gooder, as I like to say.
And as the Spirit of God places you under conviction for that sin of unbelief, our exhortation to you is to respond to the convicting ministry of the Holy Spirit and to trust or believe in this man, Jesus Christ. It is not, as we said earlier, a two-step or three-step journey; it is a one-step journey. Trust exclusively in this man, Jesus Christ. It’s something you can do right now, even as I am talking. And if it’s something you have done and are doing then on the authority of the Word of God your whole position has been transferred. And if it’s something that you need more explanation on I’m available after the service to talk. Shall we pray?