Confidence in Jesus

1 Corinthians 1:18-2:5

29 September 2013

Blenheim Free Church, Maidenhead

Morning service


Let's face it, evangelism is difficult.

For one thing, our message is terrible, isn't it? We talk about things that happened 2000 years 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: 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 huge 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?

Judging by the growth rates of the churches in this country, what most people seem to have done is simply give up on evangelism altogether. It's no wonder we've lost confidence. Perhaps, if we just keep our faith to ourselves, then we don't need to deal with any of this.

But we know that's wrong, don't we. And this morning I want to look at how we can re-engage realistically with evangelism.

Now, I could at this point try to gee you up with enthusiasm for a fantastic new technique for presenting the gospel, guaranteed to win your friends. We could look at ways to present the gospel more confidently. We could discuss tools and courses and so on.

But I'm not going to do this. Instead, I want to talk mostly about weakness, focusing on chapter 2 verse 2 of our passage. Have a look at it. The Apostle Paul says to the Corinthian church For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.ref.

We do have a weak message. We are weak messengers. Yet, if we can just grasp this verse and inscribe it in our hearts and minds and wills, I believe that we will come to know the power of God. That's my outline this morning: (1) the weakness of the message and (2) the weakness of the messengers together (3) reveal the power of God.

Confident in the Weakness of the Message

So first, be confident in the weakness of the message: I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.ref

We learn in Acts that Paul had spent a 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 easy, doesn't it! If only it were that easy today! But we learn in our reading from 1 Corinthians chapter 1 that it wasn't really easy at all. For example, 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.

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. He didn't dress it up; he didn't tone it down. Not one bit.

Now, I'm sure that this doesn't literally mean that the only thing Paul ever spoke about in 18 months in Corinth was the cross. But I am certain it means that everything he did say was brought back to and rooted in Jesus Christ and his death for us. Whatever topic Paul addressed, it was always looked at in the light of the cross. He would not let Jesus become a historical figure, but brought him into the midst of every conversation.

Actually, we see Paul doing 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.

I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucifiedref.

Yes, on the face of it we do have a terribly weak message. It sounds like nonsense to many 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.

But the wrong thing to do is to try to dress it up. Over the centuries the church has continually tried to "improve" on the message. We've tried to make it more relevant: Jesus will solve your problems, cure your sickness, bless you with riches, make you happier. We've tried to make it less offensive: Jesus wasn't dying to bear the wrath of God in our place, he was simply demonstrating the ultimate sacrifice; there is no hell, we shall all be saved in the end. We've tried to make it more believable: following Jesus' moral teachings is what matters; the miracles are all scientifically explicable; he didn't really rise from the dead.

In my case, I often find myself avoiding mentioning Jesus at all. "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 have 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" . Altogether much easier than actually talking about Jesus, isn't it?

When we talk to our colleagues, friends, neighbours and relatives, how can we take Paul's approach and "resolve to know nothing except Jesus Christ and him crucified". How can we root and ground everything in the cross of Jesus? Think about how you can bring things back to Jesus. We love him! Let's talk about him.

Yes, it is a weak and pathetic message in the eyes of the world. But it is the only key that will ever unlock the power of God. We've got to stick to it, ruthlessly.

Confident in the Weakness of the Messenger

So we've looked at the weakness of the message. What about the weakness of the messengers?

It's scary to go and tell 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. Twenty-five years ago, when I was a young Christian, so-called Power Evangelism was all the rage, with the idea that if people could see God at work in healings and words of knowledge they would become believers in droves. 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 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. 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.

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.

Confident in the Power of God

So we have a weak and simple message, and we are weak and simple messengers. But it's OK, because behind it all is the power of God! This is the third heading: Confidence in the power of God.

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

God's power at work is 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 people like you and me. And God takes these feeble means, and uses them to change lives. People believe the message!

Before I was a Christian I was an arch sceptic; I honestly made Richard Dawkins look moderate. I was scornful of anything to do with Christianity; I loved to argue with Christians, they were easy prey. God didn't exist; and even if he did, I was pretty sure I was cleverer than him in any case. Yet, one day, somebody managed to tell me about Jesus and explain to me about his death on the cross for me, and I found that I believed it. The message did not seem powerful in itself; the words were certainly not powerful or persuasive. Yet through them God worked his power in my life: I believed; I was saved; I was transformed.

We can do this, can't we? We have a weak message: just Jesus Christ and him crucified. But it doesn't need improving on. We are weak messengers, fearful, stumbling, foolish. But that's OK as well.

If we will do this, if we will resolve to know nothing except Jesus Christ and him crucified, then we will see God's power at work, changing lives, bringing people to faith. Not because of any skill or ability of our own, but simply because of the truth and power of the gospel message.


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.