John 12:42-43 Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not confess their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved praise from men more than praise from God.
Timid believers are nothing new. When we hear the accounts of Jesus’ healings, when we read how he extended a loving hand toward sinners, his kindness and gentleness can make us forget what a controversial figure he was. Several groups opposed his ministry, but no one attacked him more than the Pharisees.
At first their opposition revolved around their understanding of God’s law. The Pharisees wanted the law to start and end with external actions. Jesus insisted that the attitudes of the heart were the issue, because the law is about living a life of love. The Pharisees believed they had found the way to keep all God’s commands. Jesus’ preaching clearly showed that this is impossible. Even so-called “good” people need God’s grace as desperately as public sinners.
Eventually, the issue turned more and more to Jesus’ person. By what authority did he say the things he said? Just who did he think he was, contradicting their collective wisdom and ignoring their traditions? The way Jesus talked about the Father in heaven as his Father, the way he talked about himself, sounded more and more like blasphemy to their ears.
Jesus didn’t back off. There were literally hundreds of topics on which Jesus and the Pharisees had complete agreement. But Jesus spoke about the issues, because this is where the truth was being challenged. He took a stand where the truth of God’s word was at stake.
At the same time, those teachings filled many with fear of confessing their faith in him. Again, John says, “…because of the Pharisees they would not confess their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue.”
We know that fear, don’t we. Our Savior’s moral standards are becoming harder and harder to defend. Even within the church there are those who want us to embrace every deviation from God’s design for sex in the name of love and tolerance. They say it’s what Jesus would do. And it is true that Jesus holds out open arms to such people, but arms calling them to repent and turn away from their sin, not arms which ever embrace the sin itself. Jesus didn’t come to loosen up God’s commands about sexual purity. He drew the circle tighter. “Whoever looks at woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart,” are his own words from the Sermon on the Mount.
Perhaps we believe what Jesus says. But are we willing to let our Christian convictions be known? Are we afraid it wouldn’t be cool, that we’ll be labeled judgmental, that it might get us sent to “sensitivity training?” Is the faith Jesus has given us in God’s moral will a faith worth confessing?
Of all the miracles that our God has ever done for us, there is no greater gift than when he himself became a part of his own creation, and he lived and suffered and died for us as a real human being. Though we haven’t seen Jesus, he has not done less for us. These gifts are pure grace, pure expressions of God’s deep love for us. But are we embarrassed of our beliefs around those who don’t share them? And do you suppose that God can be pleased when we are ashamed even of gifts he has given?
Our weakness is not unlike that of the secret believers in Jesus’ day, “for they loved praise from men more than praise from God.” We love the praise of men. There may be people whose respect we neither seek nor desire. Around them we don’t care what we confess. But is there a family member, a friend, or a co-worker whose love or respect we treasure, with whom, we fear, a full confession of what we believe would cause a serious cooling in our relationship? We cannot maintain our faithfulness to Jesus and expect that we will always be accepted and respected.
Jesus anticipated this. So he promises blessing for those who dare to confess their faith no matter the cost: “Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil because of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their fathers treated the prophets” (Luke 6:22-23).