In November of 1989, the Berlin Wall fell in Germany and the Velvet Revolution took place in what was then Czechoslovakia, which over the next two years led to the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the demise of communism in Eastern Europe.
With walls falling and doors opening, Christian mission groups began to send teams into these previously closed nations. In June of 1990, I was on one of those mission teams sent to Prague, Czechoslovakia. My job was to sit on the Charles Bridge playing Western pop songs by Bob Dylan and the Beatles in order to gather a crowd with whom others on our team would share the message about Jesus.
One afternoon, our team leader asked me to share the gospel in front of a couple of hundred people. I tuned to closest person on the team, a guy named Bob Mimms, and said, “Um, how about you do it.”
Thankfully, he did.
I learned a lot that day on the Charles Bridge from watching Bob share with the crowd.
Some of you will have the opportunity to share the message about Jesus with friends in the dorms this year. Or over lunch or with your kids. I missed an opportunity in the summer of 1990. I don’t want you to miss the opportunity in the fall of 2018.
What I learned from watching Bob is what we all can learn from the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 where he provides four key lessons about sharing the gospel with others.
1 And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. 2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, 4 and my speech and my message were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.
The message of the gospel is not complicated.
We see this in verse 1, where Paul says that his preaching was not “with lofty speech or wisdom.” He didn’t try to impress with his vast theological knowledge. Rather, Paul used simple, non-technical, ordinary, “user-friendly” language.
The Apple McIntosh computer was introduced in the 80s as a “user friendly” alternative to the standard IBM PC. In fact, I still have my first Mac that I purchased in 1989 (show my original Mac on stage). Before I got my Mac, I actually had an IBM desktop, but I never used it. I couldn’t figure out how to use it. At that time, to operate a PC, you practically had to have a degree in computer engineering. But the Apple MacIntosh was designed to make computing accessible to everyone.
The gospel is like that.
Even though a Mac is complicated enough under the hood to challenge the most advanced technician, it is also simple, “user friendly” enough for a computer novice to use. In the same way, the gospel is deep enough for the most brilliant theologian never to plumb its depths, but is accessible enough for a young child to grasp.
The gospel is not complicated. It is much more user-friendly than we may think.
The heart of the message is the substitutionary atonement of Jesus.
Rather than get sidetracked with secondary elements of Jesus’ mission, Paul decided to focus on the main thing. This is what Paul means in verse 2 when he says, “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”
But why focus on the crucifixion? Why not the moral teachings of Jesus or his example as a healer of physical sickness? Because Paul knew that the hub of Jesus’ mission was his death—like the hub of a bicycle wheel—everything about Jesus’ life must be understood in light of his death. In theology, we call his crucifixion the “substitutionary atonement.”
Those two words are both significant.
1) Substitutionary – As the word implies, this means that Jesus took out place as a “sub.” He stepped in to take the penalty that the law of God demanded and that we deserved due to our moral rebellion against the wisdom and ways of our Creator-King.
2) Atonement – To atone is “to cover.” This means that the debt our sins had incurred was paid in full—covered, like someone would “cover the check” for a meal by paying for it. We were guilty before the law of God as sinners and deserved the consequence that our sin demanded—the death penalty. But Jesus stepped in as our substitute and served the sentence of death in the place of the sinner.
Substitutionary atonement. It is the heart of the Christian message.
But we need to make those long words understandable—“user friendly.” So, let me give you a really simple and practical way to share about Jesus with the cross at the center. Since many of you are familiar with the bridge diagram based on Romans 6:23, I want to introduce you to an illustration based on 2 Corinthians 5:21. I call it the A+ for an F.
2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
Here is how the A+ for an F works. Imagine you are taking a cumulative final exam. You have to ace it to graduate with your degree. You only get one shot. No do-overs.
As the professor hands out the grades, the letter on your exam is an F. You are devastated.
But there is one student who took the exam and received, remarkably, a perfect score—an A+.
That student then stands at the front of the class and makes an outlandish offer. He is willing to exchange his grade for yours! All you have to do is admit to your failure, give it to him, and take his perfect score as your very own.
This is what took place on the cross. Jesus isn’t standing, but hanging, offering to exchange the F of your sin for the A+ of his perfect righteousness. The act of giving your F to him is called repentance and receiving his A+ is called faith.
Using the A+ for an F illustration is a simple way to share about the substitutionary atonement of Jesus.
Sharing the gospel can be a fearful endeavor.
Even Paul, himself, experienced this fear. Notice the words he uses in verse 3, “I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling.” The Greek word translated weakness means “to lack confidence.” Sometimes the lack of confidence we feel is a lack of confidence in the message itself (is this really true?) or it may be a lack of confidence in our ability to say it right.
People ask me now and then if I get nervous when I speak on Sundays. Absolutely, I get nervous and feel a ton of pressure. There are a lot of churches out there. And then there are world-class preachers online. Why would you want to listen to me? And then, what if I say something that offends you? What if the sermon just falls flat? Last week I caught a glimpse of someone looking at his watch and was flooded with insecurity. So yeah. I get nervous and lack confidence. Just like Paul.
Do you see what this means?
It is okay to be nervous and lack confidence when the opportunity arises to share the gospel. It is quite natural to fear rejection or fear saying something the wrong way. I get it.
But here is a pro tip. It is called “weakness evangelism.” Rather than telling someone what they need to hear, share your story about what you needed to hear and what you are learning about grace.
Explain that you are learning that the gospel message is not about what we must do for God but is about what he has done for us.
But at the proverbial end of the day, the most encouraging part about sharing a personal testimony is our final lesson, which is that…
The power to change a life is not in the speaker but with the Spirit.
This is Paul’s point in verses 4 and 5 where he says that his preaching was not with “persuasive words of wisdom.” In other words, he was not leveraging his powers of logical persuasion or trying to manipulate a response with an overly emotional appeal. He wanted the message to be simple and straightforward so that their faith in the message of the cross would be the result of the Spirit’s power to give them ears to hear and eyes to see.
Several years ago, after a number of trees fell on our property after a big storm, I purchased a hydraulic wood splinter. With a hydraulic splitter, I just put a log on the machine and press and hold a red button. The splitter does all the work. But it is not going to spit the log unless I press the button.
Do you see the connection?
Pressing the button is just sharing the message of the cross. The power is not in what I do, it is located in the hydraulic power of the splitter.
This is why I titled this message “The Hydraulic Wood Splitter for the Win.”
I have no power to save or regenerate anyone or change anyone’s life. But God does! The Holy Spirit is the hydraulic log splitter. He is the life changer. And he has chosen the preaching of the cross and the simple sharing of the message as the means he uses to reveal his power to break hard hearts with the law and then heal them with the gospel.
But why does one person respond to the message while someone else doesn’t? We know that is not in the quality of the sermon. It is the quickening power of the Spirit.
Which is why I decided to resign this week. No, not from being pastor, but from trying to play the role the Holy Spirit. There is a lot of pressure trying to be the Holy Spirit. It is exhausting. So, I’ve decided to resign and let God be God.
How about you? Are you ready to resign from being the Holy Spirit? How about we commit to pressing the red button more and letting the Spirit split the wood?
Maybe God has been applying his hydraulic power to your life today. Maybe you are ready to receive his grace in Jesus. Maybe you are ready to be fully forgiven and perfectly accepted by God as a beloved son or daughter?
If you would like more information about receiving God’s gift of grace in Jesus, feel free to contact me at email@example.com.