John 12:42 is a record of many rulers who could have stopped the crucifixion of Jesus if they had enough courage to stand up for what they believed. But they were cowards, and thus allowed themselves to be intimidated by the “preachers” of the day who promoted the established religion of Judaism. John recorded, “Among the chief rulers also many believed in Him [Jesus]. But because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him lest they should be put out of the synagogue.”
The problem was—as is common among religious leaders—that “they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God” (Jn 12:43). Their cowardice, therefore, was based on selfish ambition and the preservation of their positions among the people. This is a very real scenario in which many religious leaders find themselves today. They would sacrifice the truth of Jesus for the sake of their positions and purse.
In fear for our physical well-being, cowardice may arise in our own hearts in order to preserve ourselves from harm. At the time of the arrest of Jesus, it was stated, “Then all the disciples forsook Him and fled” (Mt 26:56). Even Peter “followed Him at a distance” (Mt 26:58). However, we must understand this fear of the disciples in the historical context of what they believed at the time. To them, their leader who was supposed to establish a physical kingdom of Israel, was being arrested (See At 1:6). It was a time when they were still focusing on the physical restoration of national Israel (See At 1:16). However, after the resurrection of Jesus they would be convinced that Jesus was a king of a spiritual kingdom (See Jn 18:36; Rm 1:4).
After the resurrection of Jesus, and with the threat of beating and imprisonment, the same Peter who followed from afar off during the trial of Jesus, later stood boldly before the religious rulers and said, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you more than to God, you judge. For we cannot but speak the things that we have seen and heard” (At 4:19,20).
Nevertheless, we must not take lightly the intimidation that can come from the established religious leadership of religion. For example, consider the situation during Peter’s ministry in the city of Antioch. “Before certain men came from James [in Jerusalem], he ate with the Gentiles. But when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision” (Gl 2:12).
It seems that Peter could stand bravely before unbelieving Jews in Jerusalem, but he found it difficult to stand bravely before believing Christian Jews who came up to Antioch from Jerusalem. Because he openly denied living by the gospel in fellowship with Gentile brethren, Paul approached him with the statement that “he stood condemned” (Gl 2:11). If we are ever in a situation where we deny the gospel because we are fearful of standing for Jesus, then we too stand condemned. If we are ever ashamed of the gospel, we are in trouble (Rm 1:16).
For those who would allow their cowardice to deny the opportunity to believe in and obey the gospel, John has a message: “But the cowardly … will have their part in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death” (Rv 21:8). We must, therefore, take courage in the following words of Jesus: “And do not fear those who kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Mt 10:28).
It takes courage to stand up for Jesus. It takes courage to stand for that which is truth. If we are afraid to let our light shine for Jesus, then we have succumbed to fear. But we must remember that “there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” (1 Jn 4:18). Therefore, we must “be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might” (Ep 6:10). It is through His power that we stand. If we trust in ourselves, we will fall. But if we firmly believe that God works mightily in us through His power, then He can through us “do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think according to the power that works in us” (Ep 3:20). The Canadian novelist, Charles William Gordon, put this strength into the following words:
“Be sure you are right, and then stand. At first you will be denounced, then you will be deified. At first you will be rejected, then you will be accepted. First men will sneer at you, then if you wear well, they will swear by you. First the sneer, and then the cheer. First the lash, then the laurel. First the curse, then the caress. First the trial, then the triumph. First the cross, then the crown. For every scar upon thy brow, thou shalt have a star in thy diadem. Stand somewhere, and let humanity know where you stand. Stand for something, and let humanity know what you stand for. Be sure you are right, and then stand.”
[That’s it for this series.]