Coming Out

by Ricky Chelette, Executive Director

Do you have a coming out story? So many people do these days. Each one is boldly posted on our favorite social media platform and affirmed by a plethora of positive comments proclaiming the individual’s bravery, courage, and authenticity, ultimately declaring them as the latest “hero of the day.”

Though I have great admiration for everyone who chooses honesty and transparency over lies and deception, I’m certain these acts of self-disclosure do not rise to the level of hero.

Historically, we have reserved hero status for those who choose to risk limb, love, and even life for the good of others.  Today’s coming out stories seem to be very little about others and all about self – hardly the definition of heroic.

Contrast today’s coming out stories with the coming out of a little known but highly significant character in the drama of Christ’s crucifixion. He shows up out of nowhere and is a pivotal player in the most significant event in human history – the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.  His name is Joseph of Arimathea. He doesn’t come out about his feelings or sexual identity, because he knows these feelings do not define his life. He instead comes out as a follower of Jesus and does so to the most powerful man in his region.

Joseph’s coming out story recorded in the gospels can teach us some powerful truths about our coming out for Jesus.

The cross changes everything. Joseph was likely present at the crucifixion. Though we have no specific text that records this fact, we know that he was a member of the elite Sanhedrin, a group of 70 Jews who served as the “supreme court” of the Jewish faith. They were the most powerful men in Judaism.  The Sanhedrin was made up of the two sects of Judaism: Pharisees (of which Joseph was a part) and Sadducees. It was the Sanhedrin who carefully watched Jesus as he taught (John 11:56), and it was the Sanhedrin who agreed that Jesus’ blasphemy was worthy of death (John 3:18, 5:25, 11:4, 50-51). However, not all 70 of the Sanhedrin agreed. Joseph voiced opposition to the death plans for Jesus (Luke 23:51), and Nicodemus likely agreed as they would become the first two to break ranks and follow Jesus.

The Bible does tell us that Joseph was a man “looking for the Kingdom of God” (Mark 15:43), and likely could have been influenced by Nicodemus, a fellow member of the Sanhedrin (John 3:1) and recent convert to Christ (John 3).  It is very likely that they were at the crucifixion and witness to all that transpired that dreadfully wonderful day.

As witnesses to Jesus’ death, they saw the pain he endured and the gentle way he responded to those who mistreated him, mocked him, and hurled insults at Him. Joseph saw something in the crucifixion that changed his perception of who Jesus really was. No longer was Jesus a foe, but He was indeed the One who Joseph had been seeking – the Messiah – and that realization radically transformed Joseph’s life.

When we see the cross for what it is and what Jesus accomplished through it, we too can never be the same. Jesus, the innocent one, took upon Himself the penalty of our sin so that we might be reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:18-19). Joseph realized that truth, and it so gripped his being that it moved him to embrace a new way of living.

Discipleship is costly. Coming out for Jesus always has a cost. Understanding who Jesus really was, Joseph had found what he had been seeking – the Kingdom of God.  As a result, he was willing to do everything and anything necessary to honor His Lord. In honoring Jesus, Joseph knew he could lose everything.

Joseph was rich (Matthew 27:57), a Pharisee, and a member of the Sanhedrin. To identify himself with the likes of a criminal, especially one crucified for treason, would likely cost him his position, his reputation, and his friendships with fellow Jews. Furthermore, this was the Passover season and for a Jew to touch a dead body would render Joseph unclean for at least seven days, making him unable to be near his family, the temple, or other Jews (Numbers 19:11). Additionally, approaching Pilate to ask for the body of Jesus cast great suspicion upon Joseph as to his connection to this traitor of Rome.

But regardless of the cost, Joseph asked Pilate for the body of Jesus and was granted his request. Might it be that Joseph heard Jesus when 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” (Mark 8:34-35)?

Would you be willing to come out for Jesus, knowing that in doing so everything you once knew and loved would be different? People would see you differently. People would treat you differently. You could lose your fortune, your influence, and even your good reputation? Joseph was willing to risk it all for the cause of Christ. True discipleship elevates the one followed as greater than the one who follows.

Identity determines how we live. When Joseph asked for the body of Jesus, he summarily submitted every other allegiance for that of following Jesus. When Joseph carried the lifeless body of Jesus through the city to the new tomb, he publicly came out to the crowds that he was a follower of Jesus.  Joseph’s identity changed from self-generated (Pharisee, Sanhedrin, rich) to God-created (a follower of Jesus). His new identity compelled him to honor His Lord in burial. Indeed, Jesus was the Son of God (Matthew 26:63), and his King (Luke 23:3). Joseph’s life now exemplified this newfound identity.

Our identity determines how we live as well. We identify as republicans, democrats, gay, straight, liberal, conservative, constructionists, progressives, Protestant, Catholic, and the list goes on.  But are we first and foremost Christians who earnestly follow the ways of Jesus? Does our life tell the message of the gospel to all who see us and interact with us?

Our world desperately needs to see and read our coming out stories. Like Joseph of Arimathea, we must be bold, courageous, and put it all on the line. At Living Hope Ministries, I’m blessed to be surrounded by people who are coming out for Jesus, for truth, for a different way forward in our world of confusion, hate, and chaos. They, like Joseph, have decided they have found the One, and it has changed everything!