Confidence in Jesus

1 Corinthians 1:18-2:5

27 October 2013

Woodley Baptist Church

Reflective service


My topic this morning is "Confidence in Jesus", and that gives me a bit of a problem. I mean, where do we start?!

We could start with all the prophecies about him in the Old Testament, starting from Genesis chapter three through to the end of Malachi—how could we not be confident in the one who, by some counts, fulfilled over three hundred prophecies?

Or we could look at his ministry: his extraordinary, revolutionary teaching; his miracles; his complete mastery over creation, over evil, over sickness, shown so many times in so many different ways. This is our master: winning the disciples' utter confidence; winning our confidence.

Or we could look at his astonishing death: bearing the burden of guilt and sin for all who turn to him: one single man taking on that immense, crushing weight, yet with his last breath crying "it is finished!". Giving us confidence now to approach the throne of God.

Or what about his resurrection: God's vindicating power displayed in raising Jesus to new life. Death could not hold on to him; death is defeated by him; smashed forever. So we are confident in the face of death that it is but the doorway to life.

Or we could skip to the end of the Bible and consider the glorified Jesus, reigning now at the Father's right hand; enthroned right now over all things; coming again in glory as judge of the living and the dead.

And so on, and so on. The problem is that confidence in Jesus shines out from every page of this book.

Well, I've decided to go for the passage we had read from 1 Corinthians and talk about confidence in Jesus in the context of evangelism. Confidence in telling other people about Jesus.

And we need confidence, don't we, because, let's face it, evangelism is difficult.

For one thing, our message is terrible, isn't it? We talk about things that happened millennia ago, in a world where few people care much what happened last week. There's no money in it, there don't seem to be many laughs in it. The church has a shocking image problem: in the world's eyes, we're anti-gay; we're anti-women; we're anti-sex; we're hypocritical; we're intolerant; we're out of touch. And the worst crime of all in this day and age: we're just plain dull, aren't we?

So the message is bad. And then there's the messengers. Well: look at us. It's pathetic, really. We are not persuasive people; we are not television personalities, or thought-leaders, or movers-and-shakers. We don't have big advertising budgets, or hundreds of followers on Twitter, or YouTube videos going viral. We don't move in the circles of fame or power. Why would anyone listen to us?

And look at what we're up against. The so-called New Atheism is trendy with lots of highly visible and highly articulate supporters in the media. In the face of extremism across the world, there is a general suspicion of religion in any form. And in any case, the world is full of things that seem more important, more urgent, more exciting than anything that we have to offer.

What are we going to do?

Well, that's what I want to look at this morning, from this passage, 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:5. Please have it to hand if you can - p.1145.

Confidence in Jesus: what not to leave out

My first heading is Confidence in Jesus: what not to leave out.

If we are confident in Jesus, then let's get on with talking about him. We must not leave him out!

Often in conversation, I find myself avoiding mentioning Jesus at all. How's this for a typical Monday morning office conversation: "Hello, Ben! Had a good weekend? What did you do yesterday?" . "Actually I went to church, as usual" . "Church??" . "Yes, our church is really active in the community: we support a food-bank, and lots of ways for caring for the elderly and single parents, and we're big supporters of Yeldall Manor... babble... babble... babble" . And that's probably one of the better ones. I don't know how you find it, but it's altogether much easier to talk about other stuff than to actually talk about Jesus, isn't it?

What can we learn from the Apostle Paul?

Well, we find in the book of Acts that Paul had spent a whole year and a half in Corinth, preaching at first to the Jews in the synagogue, and then to the Gentiles. And we're told in Acts 18 verse 8 that many of the Corinthians who heard him believed and were baptisedref.

It sounds so easy, doesn't it! If only it were that easy today! But, actually, we find from our reading from 1 Corinthians chapter 1 that it wasn't really easy at all. For example, look at chapter 1, verse 22, Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentilesref.

The reality was that the Jews wouldn't listen to Paul because the idea of a messiah who died a criminal's death was totally offensive to them. The Gentiles wouldn't listen because it just sounded stupid: a man dying on a cross; how is that going to save anybody? Paul faced just as much opposition and indifference to the message in his day as we do in our day.

But, did he back down? Did he change his approach? No, Sir! He just stuck with the old, old story, verse 23, we preach Christ crucifiedref. In the face of resistant hearers, Paul simply carried on delivering over and over again the same basic message about the God-man Jesus, dying in our place on a Roman cross. A message that they thought was foolishnessref.

And you and I are in much the same position. On the face of it we do have a terribly weak message. It sounds like nonsense to most people. The invitation to take up the cross and follow a Jewish man crucified 2000 years ago is not one that we will ever find easy to present. It's an embarrassment.

But Paul was convinced that,—whether they knew it or not, whether they accepted it or opposed it, whether they thought it offensive or foolish or just plain irrelevant—this was the message the world needed to hear. Everything comes back to Jesus Chris crucified. We must not stop talking about him.

In fact, Paul demonstrates this throughout this letter. When he writes to the Corinthian church about divisions in chapter 3, he brings it back to Jesus. When he writes about sexual immorality in chapters 5 and 6 he brings it back to Jesus. When he writes to them about lawsuits, he brings it back to Jesus. When he writes about marriage, he brings it back to Jesus. When he writes about spiritual gifts, he brings it all back to Jesus. And so on and so on. Jesus' name appears ten times in the first ten verses of the letter. And the very last verses of the letter are also about Jesus. Paul has utter confidence that, whatever the issue, the answer is found in Jesus Christ crucified.

Friends, if we want to be people who are confident in talking about Jesus outside the church, at the very least we need to be talking about him inside the church. Everything we do should revolve around him.

And then, like Paul, we will be confident to take this message which is so precious to us, and share it with everyone we know.

Confidence in Jesus: what not to leave out. We preach Christ crucified.

Confidence in Jesus: what not to put in

For the second point, I want to skip down to Chapter 2 verse 2. Confidence in Jesus: what not to put in.

How, then, did Paul change his message to win these Corinthians? How did he tone it down to make it less offensive to the Jews? How did he dress it up to make it more appealing to the Greeks?

Chapter 2, verse 2, I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucifiedref. He didn't modify his message at all!

If point one can be summarised as "don't dumb it down"—that is, don't leave out the hard bits, namely Christ crucified, then point two can be summarised as "don't dress it up". I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucifiedref. Don't give in to the urge to add to the message.

Over the centuries the Christian church has continually tried to "improve" on the message.

What does Paul say? I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucifiedref. Every one of these attempts at "improvement" takes us away from—and actually denies—the core message, which is Jesus Christ and him crucified.

More practically, it's easy for us to get sidetracked on to all sorts of other things when we are talking to people about our faith. We either end up talking about—or fearful that we'll have to talk about—creationism and evolution; women Bishops; do all religions lead to God; the reliability of the Bible; does my gas oven have a poltergeist? (yes, I've had that one!) and all sorts of subjects around religion.

We don't need to engage with people on those terms! It's enough for us simply to talk to people about Jesus Christ and him crucified: what happened, what it means, how to respond. I'm really glad that there are people who do apologetics and write books and answer the difficult questions. But you and I don't need all the answers: we only need to talk about Jesus and his death. And that's an enormous relief!

Confidence in the power of God

So, we've looked at, Confidence in Jesus: what not to leave out—let's make sure we're always talking about him, and Confidence in Jesus: what not to put in—we don't need to add to or change the message. However weak and foolish it seems, the message is only this: "Jesus Christ and him Crucified!".

My last heading is, Confident in the power of God.

It's scary to be telling people a message that we know is very likely going to be rejected as either stupid or offensive, isn't it?

It would be so much easier if we had some training, some techniques we could use. If only we had answers to all the difficult questions people ask. If only we had some more celebrity Christians who could lend us some much-needed credibility. If only we could back it all up with some miracles. And, of course, what about our own hypocrisy? It terrifies us that people might judge us and point back at our own weaknesses, doesn't it?

It's always tempting to think, if only we had some better techniques, if only we knew more, if only we were better people: then we wouldn't be so scared of evangelism!

Well, I've got news for you. The Apostle Paul was terrified as well.

Look at verse 3. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much tremblingref.

Paul could easily have fallen back on the classical skills of persuasive oratory—he was certainly more than capable of doing so. He could have performed many powerful miracles—again, he was certainly capable of it.

But, instead, he chose to go to them in weakness, with fear and much trembling. That sounds more like you and me, doesn't it?

Paul hated to use gimmicks and techniques and methods in his presentation of the gospel. Chapter 2, verse 1, When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdomref. Verse 4, My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive wordsref.

No, Paul's approach was very plain and very simple indeed. Verse 2 again, I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucifiedref. That's it.

We don't need gimmicks, and great advertising campaigns, and spectacular miracles, and celebrity Christians, and all the answers to all the questions. We just need to talk plainly, clearly and humbly about Jesus Christ and him crucified.

There's great encouragement here, isn't there? Anyone can do this! If you are a Christian, you already know and love Jesus Christ. All you need to do is to talk about him: you don't need more training, you don't need the gift of the gab. Only this: a willingness to talk about this Jesus you know. His life and his death and what he has done for you.

We have a weak and simple message, and we are weak and simple messengers. But it's OK, because bringing it all together is the power of God!

Verse 5, all this is God's plan, so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's powerref.

This is the demonstration of the Spirit's power that Paul talks about in verse 4. Poor old verse 4. This verse is so misunderstood—it's often ripped out of context, My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive word, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's powerref— and somehow people conclude that this means that instead of preaching the word of God, we need to do miracles and healings and words of knowledge and all of that to win people. Whole evangelistic movements have been founded on this, but it is, of course, nonsense.

The demonstration of the Spirit's power is simply this. Taking a message that is weak and foolish in the world's eyes—a plain and simple message about a man who dies bearing our sin—and delivering this message not with a fanfare and spectacular signs and wonders, but through weak and fearful, stuttering, sinful people like you and me. And God takes these pitiful, pathetic means, and uses them to change lives. People believe the message and are saved! That's the power of God!

We saw this back in verse 18 of chapter one. What is the power of God? It is only this: the message of the cross.

Do you want to see the power of God at work? Go tell some people about Jesus Christ crucified. And you will find that God will use even you, with your timid, hesitant, unbelievable message. You will see the power of God in taking these, frankly, unpromising ingredients and doing something wonderful: bringing hope and new life to unbelievers. Chapter 1 verse 21, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believeref. Have confidence in Jesus; have confidence in the power of God.


So, to finish up, this is my challenge: talk about Jesus! Have confidence in Jesus!

I'm sure you've heard the old Sunday School joke. The teacher asks,"What's grey and furry, climbs in trees, has a bushy tail and likes to eat nuts?" The class is silent for a few moments until one brave little girl says, "Well, teacher, it really sounds to me like a squirrel, but since this is Sunday School, I'm going to be safe and say the answer is Jesus!"

This is sometimes used as a dig against simplistic Sunday School teaching. But I say, let's keep it simple! Jesus is the answer, now what's the question?

We have all sorts of ways of avoiding talking about Jesus, don't we? If we do religion at all, we'd much rather talk about "church", or "god", or charity work, and keep it all nice and abstract and non-threatening.

But the take-home message from this passage today is, have confidence in Jesus. Have confidence that though the world thinks the message is weak—and confidence that though we are very weak—have confidence that if we strip away everything except Jesus Christ and him crucified, then we will see the power of God at work.