Keys to Helping Others Discover Jesus, Part 7 – Certainty


When reading Winston Churchill’s wartime speeches, I was struck by the certainty with which he spoke. Consider these words, delivered when it seemed like Nazi Germany would prevail: “We shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end…. We shall fight on the seas and the oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”

The wickedness of the enemy, and the absolute rightness of the fight, enabled Churchill to speak with great certainty, calling on Britain to expend all her resources, even to the last ounce of courage and final drop of blood, in order to win the fight. Similar resolve and certainty can be seen in President Roosevelt’s speech to congress after the Pearl Harbor attack, or George W. Bush’s address to the nation following the September 11, 2001 attacks. For each of these men, the brutal attack of an enemy helped them speak with absolute certainty as they addressed their peoples and the world. I would argue that the power with which they spoke flowed directly from their sense of certainty about what must be done.

When I teach preaching, or when I listen to a preacher, a question I always ask is, “Does he believe what he says?” It is a basic and primary fact that persuasiveness in speech corresponds, in great measure, with the sense that the speaker believes what he says, that what he says is bone-deep, emerging from an inner fire kindled by the Holy Spirit.

When you speak to another about Jesus, about who He is and what He has done, and what He has done for you, do you communicate with a sense of great certainty? I do not mean by this that you speak loudly or forcefully, or that you are overbearing or pushy or demanding. Certainty is communicated as the “joy of the Lord” is experienced and expressed as we speak. The deep, inner peace of Jesus that we possess as we face life’s most vexing problems reveals to others a certainty that comes from the center of our heart. And certainty flows from our strong belief in the facts of the gospel.

When we speak of Jesus and the gospel, we are not speaking of something that is merely helpful or interesting to us. Jesus is not one aspect of our life. He is our life, and, indeed, He is life! Apart from Him there is nothing but death. This distinction must be as real to us, and more so, than that which existed for Churchill in fighting the Nazis, or Bush when confronting militant Islam following 9/11.  

In the New Testament you discover that the Apostles spoke with certainty because they spoke of what they knew to be absolutely true. They proclaimed that in Jesus Christ, in His words and His deeds, His life and death and resurrection, the new age had arrived. They proclaimed that God had exalted Him, that He would come again as Judge, and that today was the day of salvation. They further stated that all of this fulfilled prophecy.

The main emphasis was on the death and resurrection of Christ, but they did not neglect the life and work of Jesus which led to these. Critical to the apostolic message was that they spoke of events, not theories or philosophies or abstractions. The Apostles did not preach an “idea.” They spoke of the God whom they heard and saw and touched. Their message was founded upon historical facts. Jesus walked this stony earth. He was tried under Pontius Pilate. He died on the Cross and was raised on the third day. They saw Him and talked with Him and ate fish with Him, following His resurrection. They spoke of these historical facts, and did so for decades, until they died themselves, most often violently as martyrs. Jesus Christ and His life on this earth was something that happened, and is happening, and is going to happen.  Of this they were certain. You see it in Peter’s message in Acts 2 and throughout the Acts and the Epistles.

Not only were the Apostles certain of the facts of the gospel, they were certain that these facts were unique, unrepeatable and final. “For the death that He died, He died to sin, once for all” (Rom. 6:10a). And the one, final, unique gospel of Jesus Christ “delivered us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Col. 1:13). That is, the historical facts of the gospel are powerful to rescue us and deliver us from the brokenness of this dark world, and transport us to the Kingdom of God. This is our testimony! This is our story! Of this we must be certain.

Either our neighbors, and the peoples of the world, can be baptized into the life of God through faith in Christ, or Jesus and the Apostles were liars. Either Paul’s experience of being risen with Christ is the most stupendous of all realities, or the entire basis of our faith is a sham. We must be certain of what we speak. And to be certain we must have clarity about the facts and what is at stake in this cosmic battle for the souls of human beings. We must believe what we say, and we must speak of those things that we deeply believe.

I believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ. I believe that faith in Jesus Christ delivers human beings from death to life, and this for all eternity. I believe that God is “not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9c), and that Christ’s death demonstrates God’s love for sinners (Rom. 5:8). I am more certain of these things than I am of anything else. My confidence in the rising sun pales next to my faith in the rising of God’s Son. My hope for what tomorrow brings in this life is nigh unto non-existent compared to my hope in heaven with Jesus.

How certain are you of Jesus and the gospel? Those who would help others discover Christ must be certain of Him.

Woody Allen and the Great Checkmate


Woody Allen is best known as a prolific movie director and husband of ex-wife Mia Farrow’s adopted daughter Soon Yi Previn.  A recent interview with Oliver Burkeman focused on his movies and his “shameful marriage,” but the article concluded with a deeply troubled Allen discussing aging and death.

Now 76 years old, Woody Allen says of ageing, “It’s a bad business. It’s a confirmation that the anxieties and terrors I’ve had all my life were accurate. There’s no advantage to ageing. You don’t get wiser, you don’t get more mellow, you don’t see life in a more glowing way. You have to fight your body decaying, and you have less options.”

Burkeman observes that Allen’s coping response to the anxieties and terrors of life is to keep his mind distracted from life’s realities.  As Allen says: “The only thing you can do is what you did when you were 20 – because you’re always walking with an abyss right under your feet; they can be hoisting a piano on Park Avenue and drop it on your head when you’re 20 – which is to distract yourself. Getting involved in a movie [occupies] all my anxiety … If I wasn’t concentrated on that, I’d be thinking of larger issues. And those are unresolvable, and you’re checkmated whichever way you go” (The Guardian, Sept. 13, 2012).

Allen’s assessment of ageing and death reveals the thinking of a thoughtful unbeliever.  His melancholy does not result from misunderstanding our existence in flesh and blood.  No, he understands things quite well.  His fear is the reasoned response of hopelessness.  And we should never forget this.  Unbelievers with whom we share Christ may not state their anxieties so clearly.  They may not admit their need for distraction from the “larger issues.” But this is where unbelief inevitably leads, to hopelessness smothered by distraction.  Or, as Allen expresses it, unbelief ends in the knowledge that you’re checkmated and there is no way to win the game of life.

As I listened to Allen’s heartbeat through his words, I thought of a favorite novelist, Ernest Hemingway.  Like Woody Allen, Hemingway lacked faith in Jesus and grew despondent as he faced death.  Rather than succumb to the “biological trap” accelerated by cancer, he chose to end his life with a shotgun blast.  This was Hemingway’s final act in determining his life through his own choices, rather than life and death being determined for him.  If death was going to checkmate him, he decided to place himself in checkmate and end the game on his terms.

Despair by “thinking unbelievers” is the reasoned response of hopelessness.  How could a thinking person not feel fearful and checkmated when they look into the eyes of their spouse and children, believing that death will separate them forever?  How does unbelief not produce unending despair when tragedy strikes?  Without Jesus the only way to cope with life’s greatest sorrows is unending “distraction.”

I have discovered that hopelessness is helpful as we share Christ.  And if an unbeliever isn’t hopeless, and doesn’t feel checkmated, we should help him feel that way!  If hopelessness is smothered by distractions, we should pierce through the distractions, and lance the boil of hopelessness so that it spills out and runs all over.  Because as Woody Allen says, when the distractions are removed, one is left with the “larger issues.”  However, Allen is wrong when he says that the “larger issues” are unresolvable.

As believers we know that death is not checkmate.  The spit and blood of the Roman Cross seemed to the world and the underworld to be the final checkmate when Jesus gave up His life. But Jesus’ death was followed by the Great Checkmate when on Sunday morning Jesus Christ rose victoriously, checkmating death and the devil.  The resurrection of Jesus, to be followed by the resurrection of the dead in Christ, resolves all of the “larger issues” that grip Woody Allen in fear.  “For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.  For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.… Death has been swallowed up in victory” (1 Cor. 15:52b-54).  This is the good news with which every thoughtful unbeliever must be confronted.