Faith and Love
Notes of an address on Mark 15:39-47
It is encouraging to see that God always had in reserve some to bear witness to His Son and to do Him honour, and sometimes they were brought forth from most unexpected quarters. Such were the Gentile sages from the East at the birth of the Lord, and Mary of Bethany with her box of spikenard in view of His burial, and the dying malefactor amid the hours of suffering on the cross, and now more surprising than all when the Lord had yielded Himself to death.
The Roman centurion could not be charged with any bias in favour of the One whose crucifixion he controlled; but as the triumphant cry broke from the Lord’s lips and He bowed His head in death, light broke into the pagan’s soul and he bowed his heart before the Crucified and exclaimed, “Truly this man was the Son of God.” Faith found expression, when ten thousand voices might have shown the folly of it in men’s eyes. Reason might have said, “These leaders of the Jews should know, and they have challenged Him to prove that He is the Son of God, the Christ, the King of Israel, by coming down from the cross. They have said that if they could SEE such a miracle as that they would BELIEVE. And surely if He could do that it would be a proof of His power.” But if the centurion had listened to such reasoning, which it must be owned was quite logical, he would have gone to his home when his day’s work was done still a pagan. But faith, not reason, moved him, and where the devil thought he had blinded every eye that might have discerned the glory of the Lord, and silenced every tongue that might have spoken for Him, the chief man on the spot that day speaks out, and the death of the Lord, which to priests and Pharisees was a proof that He was not what He claimed to be, was to the centurion the revelation of the truth. And it is here that all true faith finds its birth. We must begin with Christ crucified; there is no faith according to God’s reckoning apart from this. The Jew stumbles at it, and the Greek scoffs at it. Blind reason will not have it, but faith confesses that Jesus who died is the Son of God, that the cross is the revelation of God’s love to men and the one way by which they can be brought back to God. The centurion carried from that scene, in which he had participated, a light that nothing could quench, for he carried away faith in the Son of God.
Then came Joseph, and he was an honourable man and a counsellor. If he had considered his reputation amongst his fellows he would have stayed at home that day, but all thought of self is abandoned, the secrecy of his discipleship must end, and that when naturally we should have thought that he would have been most anxious to conceal it. If the Lord had come down from the cross in response to the challenge of the priests, he might have been bold and said, “I knew all the time who He was”; but it is when He hangs dead, apparently utterly defeated, and when Peter and the other disciples have forsaken Him and fled, that this nobleman comes forth boldly and craves His body. He was the man whom God had held in reserve, and his love for the Lord now brings him into the open and makes him bold to face the world that had rejected and crucified his Lord.
It was God’s plan, and nothing can frustrate His plans. “They had made His grave with the wicked,” as Isaiah 53:9 should read. A rough hole into which they would have cast His precious body, along with the corrupting carcases of the thieves, had been dug; but now that His work was done indignities must cease, no more dishonour must be done to Him, He is “with the rich in His death.” His burial is honourable, and in the new rock-hewn tomb of an honourable man, and though only a few were the mourners, the angels of God were there to mark the place.
But what I want to press is the fact that Joseph identified himself with a dead Christ. The centurion confessed Him—that was FAITH. Joseph identified himself with Him—that was LOVE. Only the love that reckons neither scorn nor danger, that flings aside all thought of self, could have made Joseph bold to crave from Pilate that dead body. Henceforward he would be known as the man who had taken his stand for the crucified Nazarene, and that act would most surely break every association that he had with with priest and Pharisees in former days.
When, we partake of the Lord’s Supper and eat of the loaf which speaks to us of the dead body of our Lord, of His body given for us, we identify ourselves with His dead body as Joseph did. I know of no better illustration of it. It is true that we know Him risen, exalted, triumphant, and as such He gave His presence to those who are gathered unto His Name, but the broken loaf carries us back to that moment that brought Joseph of Arimathæa to light. It is a dead Christ that we recall, dead in His love to us, and in eating that loaf we identify ourselves with Him in His death as Joseph did. It is love in our hearts responding to the love that was in His that moved Him to die for us. May it be real with us, constraining us gladly to accept the consequence as Joseph did.
This is a great test for us; I might say it is the greatest test of all. Faith confesses His greatness, it owns the truth as to His person; but love can only be satisfied with identification with Him, and if He is despised, cast out, and dead as far as this world is concerned, then we will throw in our lot with Him and share His reproach and accept for ourselves the place that they have awarded Him. There was one man more honourable than all in the eyes of God the Father that day, and that man was Joseph; but men of the same mind are maintained by the grace of God to this day and will be to the end, for it is still God’s plan that His Son, though despised and rejected, should be loved and honoured, and nothing can thwart His, plan. May we each be one of these.