The King Who Takes Away Our Fear – John 19:38-42

The King Who Takes Away Our Fear

Nick Esch, 10/21/2018 Cornerstone Baptist Church

Introduction

I love church history… One of the reasons I love it so much is because I love seeing the effects of God’s grace on His people… How He enables saints to boldly live for Him… Think of Peter being transformed from a man who denies Christ in the face of fear, to boldly preaching the gospel come what may; or Paul and Silas singing in prison instead of being over run by fear… One of my favorite stories is of a man named Polycarp, who was actually a disciple of John (who wrote the Gospel of John). He was a pastor for a number of years, but Rome had grown increasingly hostile to Christianity and was demanding that all Christians deny Christ… They wanted them to confess Caesar as Lord, or to worship, so called, Roman gods, instead of the God of the Bible… But Polycarp would not deny Jesus… Even under the threat of death he said, “Eighty and six years I served him, and he has done me no wrong; how then can I blaspheme my king who saved me?”

When they threatened to burn him at the steak he said, “You threaten the fire that burns for an hour and in a little while is quenched but know nothing of the fire of eternal punishment… Bring what you will…” When they went to tie him to the stake and burn him, he requested that he not be tied down, saying, “Let me be as I am. He that granted me to endure the fire will grant me also to remain unmoved without being secured…” As they lit the fire around him, he never moved; but the fire wouldn’t burn rightly; it never consumed him… So eventually they put him to death with a dagger; and it’s said that everyone marveled at the great difference between Christians and unbelievers… For Polycarp, so compelled by love and amazed by grace, would not forsake the King who saved Him… His love for his King overpowered his fear… And beloved, that’s what I want us to see in our text today: how the King who saves us does away with our fear and enables us to boldly live for Him… So with that in mind, look with me at John 19:38-42…

John 19:38–42

We’ve walked through the heart of Good Friday; after living the perfect life, in love, Jesus has laid down His life to save His people… Jesus has suffered the wrath of men as well as the wrath of almighty God, and He has died our death on our cross… And now, with the Sabbath fast approaching, the Jews have made sure that Jesus was taken down off the cross, so that they could keep in line with God’s Law—at least as they saw it… Typically, those who were crucified were thrown into Gehenna… Gehenna was a valley just south of Jerusalem where garbage, and even bodies were burned… It was said that the fire there burned red hot and never went out… It’s the place that Jesus used as an illustration for hell… A place with unquenchable fire and where the worm never dies… But, at the start of our passage we see two men unwilling to let this happen…

The first man we see is Joseph of Arimathea. In verse 38 we read, “After these things Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took away his body.” Now, we don’t know a whole lot about Joseph, but from the other Gospel accounts we know that he’s a rich man, and he’s a member of the Sanhedrin: a Jewish tribunal, made up of an assembly of Rabbis… And that, along with the fact that he was a secret disciple of Jesus, because he was afraid of the Jews, ties us back to an earlier passage in John…

In John 12:42 we’re told that, “many even of the authorities believed in [Jesus], but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue…” It seems that Joseph was a member of this group… He was one of the authorities who had come to believe in Jesus; but for fear of the Pharisees—the other Jewish leaders—he didn’t openly follow Christ… Whether he was genuinely a Christian at this point we don’t really know; we just know that at some level he had come to believe in Jesus, and John tells us that on some level he considered himself a disciple of Jesus, even if he was only one secretly…

Next, in verse 39 we see the other man who wouldn’t allow Jesus’ body to just be discarded and burned… There we read, “Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight.” We first meet Nicodemus in John 3; there we read, “Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, ‘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.’ Jesus answered him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God’” (John 3:1-13)… Nicodemus, like Joseph, was a Jewish leader, and was likewise a rich man… We can see that just by the amount of myrrh and aloes he brings to anoint Jesus’ body… 75 pounds of myrrh and aloe was a lot and it would’ve cost a lot… So, like Joseph, he was a rich Jewish leader… And, like Joseph he didn’t openly follow Jesus…

We’re told here that he went to Jesus by night… In John night and darkness go hand in hand with sin… That’s why in John 1:4-5 we’re told that, “In [Jesus] was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” Nicodemus, under the cover of darkness, caught up in his own sin, not knowing how dark his night really was, goes to Jesus, and Jesus tells him that he’s so caught up in sin and darkness that the only hope of salvation is for him to be born again… He had questions for Jesus, he had some belief in who He was, but he had no desire to be publically identified with Him… We don’t know that Nicodemus considered himself a disciple of Jesus like Joseph, but like Joseph his connection to Jesus was undercover…

Now look at why this was the case. First, the most obvious answer is because of sin… Nicodemus walked in darkness… Sin had kept Nicodemus from walking in the light, and no doubt the same could be said for Joseph… But here we’re also told that this secret discipleship was for fear of the Jews; now it could be that they feared death, because obviously—based on the cross of Christ—they knew that the Jews were capable of horrific things… But in John 12:42 when we’re told that there were leaders like Joseph and Nicodemus who believed in secret, we’re told that they wouldn’t confess it because they were afraid that they would be put out of the synagogue… And by that John seems to be telling us, not that they are fearful of not being able to go to worship or gather with God’s people, but that they’re fearful of losing their position and posture within the Jewish community… So the issue is pride… We can see this by what’s said next in John 12:43; for fear of man and being put out of the synagogue they would not confess Jesus publically, “for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.” They loved self-glory more than the glory of God… And as Hebrews 1:3 tells us, Jesus is the radiance of the glory of God, so essentially they loved themselves more than Jesus…

They feared man, they feared death, they feared losing their position and posture, and behind all of these fears were the sins of pride and idolatry… They loved and worshipped themselves… Friends, many of us share the same fears that these men had; we fear death, constantly living in fear of what might happen… We fear our fellow man and fear losing our position and posture in the world, so we constantly live in worry and anxiety, seeking to keep up appearances, and make sure everyone views us a certain way… Though we probably wouldn’t outright say it, in our hearts we feel as though we are at the center of the universe, and since that’s true for how we feel we want everyone else to feel that way too… We don’t just want people to like us, we want people to like us as much as we like us… Now, there are many who are wrapped up in depression and feel the opposite of all of this; but think about why that is… There are certainly legitimate causes of depression, and some are completely out of our control; but depression often comes when we realize people don’t view us as amazing, or when we feel there’s no escaping the fear of man, or fear death, or anything else… So, sometimes even depression flows from our prideful hearts…

In one way or another all of us should be able to identify with Joseph and Nicodemus… Some of you have not yet fully surrendered to Jesus because you’re worried about what others may think… Some of you are genuine believers, but you haven’t gone public with your faith and been baptized and joined the church because of fear… And some of you are just caught up in pride and fear, even as genuine Christians, and it’s greatly effecting your walk with Christ… We all have idols and pet sins that we struggle with…

For me, I remember when I first became the interim pastor here; I had and I have strong convictions about the Word of God… But, I’ve also always struggled with the desire of wanting to be liked… It has always greatly bothered me when people don’t like me… At my job before becoming a fulltime pastor I was good at my job, I had a fruitful ministry there, and everyone seemed to really like me… But I remember my first Sunday as interim pastor someone chewed me out for standing wrong when I preached… Then the next week I had others tell me they didn’t like the way I preach… Then I had others tell me they didn’t like me because of what I preached… And on and on it went… The Lord made real clear to me real quick that if I was going to be faithful as a pastor I was not always going to be liked… In fact, sometimes I would be despised and hated… But that was all an act of God’s grace towards me as He began to kill the idol of pride and self-worship that lived in my heart…

Now, I’m still very much a work in progress, but, by God’s grace He has not allowed me to operate as a pastor in the fear of man… As I struggled through those trying times I ran to Him in prayer and saturated my soul in His Word, which only strengthened my convictions… So though I didn’t want to be hated, at the end of the day I feared God more than man, and I loved Jesus too much to make ministry about me… And Lord willing I will continue to die to myself and live and pastor for the glory of King Jesus… I still desire to be liked, but I have a far greater desire to please God, and to preach His Word rightly in hopes that others might come to truly love Jesus… Ultimately it makes no difference whether people like me; what matters is that they love Jesus… I tell you that to show you that ungodly fear can be crippling; but we cannot be controlled by fear if we’re to truly follow Christ…

If we look back at Joseph and Nicodemus as two rich men who were established Jewish leaders with much to lose, at one level we can understand why they didn’t openly confess Christ and follow Him publically… But, we must remember what Jesus has to say on this subject… He said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:34-38). There’s no getting around it… If we are going to follow Jesus we must die to self… Again, love of self is what’s behind our great fears… They loved the glory of man more than the glory of God… And so do we when we aren’t living in a posture of self-denial and submission to Jesus…

Jesus calls us to abandon fear of man and all other ungodly fears, and follow Him publically… He says, “have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:26-28)… So in one sense that’s the cure to fear of man: fearing God… But fear isn’t enough…

Fear of God is the beginning of wisdom, but it must go further than that… Again, at the heart of their fear of publically following Jesus is that they love the glory of man more than the glory of God… And you see, that reveals their idol… More often than not, the things we fear the most reveals what we truly love, which reveals the idols of our hearts… An idol is anything more important to you than God, or anything you love more than God… And if we’re anything like Joseph and Nicodemus, the reason we are so often controlled by fear is because we love self-glory more than God’s glory… And when that’s the case it reveals that we are our chief idol… We are what’s more important to us than God… So, the sin of idolatry, or pride, or of self-love is what’s typically behind the life controlled by fear… But Jesus says die to self… Fear hell not death… Fear God not man… But again, fear of God is the beginning of wisdom; if we’re really going to have this whole life change it’s going to take more than just fear of God… Our very loves must change… So how do we get there? Well, look back at our passage…

Let’s read through the whole thing: verses 38-42… “After these things Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took away his body. Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight. So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. 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. So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.”

Two men, with much to lose—position, posture, status, riches, their very lives—who were once so filled with fear that they would never openly confess Christ, now boldly go to Pilate, publically, leveraging their status as Jewish leaders so that they can properly bury the body of Jesus; and then when they do they give Him, not just a proper Jewish burial, but the burial of a King… Nicodemus takes 75 pounds of myrrh and aloes to anoint Jesus with… Again, we’re not sure how much this would have cost, but it would have been a lot… And 75 pounds was much more than what was needed to anoint Jesus… To cover the smell that accompanies death and decay they covered linin clothes with the myrrh and aloe and wrapped Jesus in it, and then the excess would have been placed in the tomb around Him as a love offering… And the tomb itself, a new tomb, in the garden of a rich man—Joseph—is a tomb fit for a King, fit for the King, the Messiah, Jesus, the Suffering Servant Himself… As Isaiah 53:9 says, “they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death…” So by placing Him in Joseph’s tomb this Scripture was fulfilled perfectly… Though He died with the wicked, Joseph and Nicodemus would not allow His body to burned with the wicked… Though the Jews surely hated it, just as they hated the fact that Pilate kept calling Jesus the King of the Jews, at great risk to themselves, Joseph and Nicodemus gave Jesus the burial of a King…

So why would they do this? What changed? Well, what changed is their hearts… As we can see from the risk they take and the sacrifices they make, both leveraging their status and their riches for the glory of Christ, they now love Jesus more than themselves… And what’s remarkable, is that they didn’t fully understand what was going on… They didn’t fully grasp the hope of the resurrection… But what they did get, what they had seen displayed was the love of Christ on the cross… And that love changed everything… And you see, it’s that love, it’s the love of Christ that enables us to die to self and live for Jesus… It’s the love of Christ that gets us beyond fear…

You see, both of these men had previous dealings with Jesus; and when they did Jesus pointed them to the cross and His love for sinners, though they didn’t understand it at the time… In John 3, after telling Nicodemus that he must be born again, Jesus tells him, “as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15)… And while speaking to the Jewish leaders that believed in Him but wouldn’t publically confess it, in John 12, which most likely included Joseph, Jesus said, “when I am lifted up from the earth, [I] will draw all people to myself.” And John tells us, “He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die” (John 12:32-33). And that’s the same thing He was referring to with Nicodemus when He spoke of being lifted up like Moses lifted up the serpent… Jesus was talking about the cross… And now Jesus has gone to the cross… He has poured out His life on the cross as God poured out His wrath upon Him on the cross… And as we saw last week, He did all of this out of a heart of love; He allowed His heart to be crushed under the wrath of God because of His great love for God and love for His people… And this love, displayed on the cross, is what seems to have gripped the hearts of Joseph and Nicodemus, and changed everything…

Joseph and Nicodemus give Jesus the burial of a King because that’s who He is, and that’s who they seem to believe Him to be… Jesus is the King of the universe, who stepped down from glory and took on flesh to save us from our sin and the wrath of God… You see, God is infinitely holy and glorious; but we have sinned against Him and fallen infinitely short of His glory… And we therefore deserve His infinite wrath… But Jesus humbled Himself and came and lived the God glorifying life that we should be living, and died the wrath absorbing death we deserve to die… The King of glory humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross… And He did this to save us… Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners… And He did this because He loves us… Christ loved us and gave Himself for us… And as Joseph and Nicodemus saw this happen—as they saw Jesus go to the cross, and the words that He spoke to them earlier came flooding back to their mind, they were so compelled by His love and His grace that they joyfully counted the cost, and they died to themselves, and they did what they thought was right… They sought to honor Christ as King by giving Him the burial of a King…

Now, no doubt, on the one hand this burial was unnecessary because on Sunday He’s going to get up from the grave in victory… But, on the other hand, this fulfilled Scripture, it was honoring to Jesus, and it was the beginning of His exaltation, after His humiliation… You see, it’s after Jesus humbled Himself to the point of death on a cross that God exalts Him as King of kings and Lord of lords; and that exaltations begins with this kingly burial… So as these two men put some of these pieces together, realizing that Jesus is indeed the true King of Israel, the King of the Jews, the King of the universe, and realizing that He loved them and gave Himself for them, they are willing to count all things as loss for His sake, because now they can’t help but love Him… 

The love of Christ and the cross of Christ, and their love for Jesus that He has birthed in their hearts is what transformed them from men who live in fear, to men who leverage their lives for the glory of Christ… You see, because Jesus went to the cross we no longer have to fear death, we no longer have to fear hell, we no longer have to fear the judgment of God, because Jesus took that all upon Himself… Jesus satisfied the wrath of God for all who will turn from their sin and trust in Him… Jesus took the worst thing that could ever happen to any of us upon Himself, by taking the wrath of God that we deserve upon Himself… And in so doing He exchanged our sinfulness for His righteousness, so that all of us who trust in Him will be counted righteous in Him… So God doesn’t look at us as sinners who deserve hell, but His children in whom He is well pleased… And this changes everything… We don’t have to live in fear of man, fearing what people think of us, because God—the one whose opinion chiefly matters—delights in us… We don’t have to live in fear of the future because Jesus purchased our future at the cross—He purchased eternal life and eternal joy for us at the cross… We don’t have to live in fear of death, because as Jesus is being placed in the grave here, He’s ushering in the death of death… On the third day He will conquer the grave, and one day their will be no more death; and even now, if we are in Christ, though we die yet shall we live… But again, that’s only if we are in Christ… So friends, if you have not already, I beg you, turn from your sin and trust in Jesus… Forsake all, count the cost, and follow Jesus all your days…

Conclusion

Joseph and Nicodemus seem to have a genuine love for Jesus here… They risked everything—worldly speaking—for the glory of Christ… Though at one time they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God, here we see them counting everything as loss for the sake of Jesus, who is the radiance of the glory of God… Jesus’ love for them and their love for Jesus transformed their lives… Just as Polycarp could not blaspheme the King who saved Him, so likewise, they saw Jesus for who He is: the King of the universe who gave all in love, and that led to them living for Jesus’ praise with no fear… And that’s exactly what we need…

Seeing Jesus as the King, as our King, is what leads to salvation, and it’s what leads to sanctification… The clearer we see Jesus the more boldly we will live for Him, because the clearer we see Him the more we will love Him… And the more we love Jesus the more we will hate sin… The more we love Jesus the more we will die to self… So beloved, see the King of glory for who He is: He is Lord, He is Messiah, He is the Savior of all who will turn from their sin, trust in Him, and follow Him… He’s the King who took on the grave to save sinners like you and me… So may we die to self, forsake our fear, and live for His praise…