A sermon preached at Forest Fold Baptist Chapel, Crowborough, on October 3,1993.
Nevertheless among the chief rulers also many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue: for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.’ John 12.42-43.
The subject for our consideration is the importance of confessing the Lord Jesus Christ. What does the word ‘confessing’ really
mean? What do we really do when we confess something? Most of US would understand what it means, to say that we have to confess our faults, or we have to confess our sins, but what is meant by confessing Christ? The word in the original Greek means, to speak the same thing, or to speak alongside other words, to agree. That is one way to put it, to agree; it is when our words run alongside the words of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is when our thoughts and our feelings run alongside His thoughts and feelings, as though they ran in two parallel lines. There is what He is and what He has said, and there is what we are and what we say. When what He is and what He has said, and what we are and what we say run alongside together, then we are confessing Christ. It includes speaking of Him, telling others about Him; and being identified with Him.
Let me give you one historical illustration. Early in the life of the Christian Church there was a very godly bishop in Smyrna called Polycarp (bishop is used there in the old, proper sense of the word;
he was one of the leaders or elders in the Church at Smyrna); he lived from around the year 70AD right through to 160AD and he was one of the very early Christian martyrs. Because he refused to take an oath using the name of Caesar, he was threatened with death by being thrown to the wild beasts. Then he was threatened .with burning, and in fact he was eventually burned as a martyr of Jesus Christ. This is what he said, and this was his confession,
‘Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He hath done me no wrong, how then can I blaspheme my King who saved me?’ A little later he said, ‘Hear plainly that I am a Christian.’ Now, that is a real confession. His feelings and his words run alongside those of the
Lord Jesus Christ, he is not ashamed of the Lord Jesus. He is plainly telling those who are going to take his life away, I am a Christian; he is not pretending, he is not hiding, he is not trying to get out of a difficult situation, he is plainly saying that he is a Christian. That is confession.
1. The importance of confessing Christ.
I want first of all to say that confessing Christ is very, very important. Let us look at a few references which will confirm what I have just said. In Romans 10, verse 9, ‘If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.’ Confessing the Lord Jesus Christ then, is vitally important because it is so very intimately linked to our salvation. We are not saved because we confess Him, but we certainly confess Him because we are saved, and we cannot be saved if we do not confess Him according to these words. ‘If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.’ With the heart man believes; that is inward, at the very centre of his being. He has a genuine faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; he believes in the righteous One; he trusts in the righteousness of the Saviour, and with the mouth, confession is made unto salvation. That is the first thing then. It is very important to confess the Lord Jesus Christ because that confession is intimately linked with our experience of salvation.
If we turn back to Luke chapter 12, we have there another reason why it is so important to confess the Lord Jesus Christ. In verses 8 and 9 the Lord Himself is saying, ‘Whosoever shall confess me before men, him shall the Son of man also confess before the angels of God: But he that denieth me before men shall be denied before the angels of God.’ Not to confess is effectively to deny, so it is very important that we confess plainly and openly that we are Christ’s disciples. We identify ourselves with Him in a very open and public way because not to do so is effectively to deny Him. ‘Whosoever shall confess me before men, him shall the Son of man also confess before the angels of God.’
It is very important to confess because that is evidence of our identification with the Lord Jesus Christ. There is an identification which we know in our hearts, that we are one with Him; we have a relationship with Him, but others are not to know that until we confess Him. In 1 John 4.15, we read, ‘Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God.’ It is very clear evidence then of our relationship with God. God dwells in
and is intimately joined to the person who willingly, genuinely confesses that Jesus is the Son of God. I said earlier that our words must run alongside the words of the Lord Jesus. Now, Jesus said, ‘I and my Father are one.’ In our hearts, we say, ‘Yes, I believe Jesus is the Son of God’, and so our words go alongside the words of the ..Lord Jesus. That is our confession regarding the true deity of the ..Lord Jesus Christ.
2. Hindrances to confessing Christ.
Coming back to the words which I read as a text, you notice there s a negative: ‘Nevertheless, among the chief rulers also many believed on Him, but because of the Pharisees, they did not confess
Him lest they should be put out of the synagogue,’ and so the second main point I want to make this evening is that there are hindrances to confessing Christ. If confessing Christ is so important, and is so intimately linked with our salvation, you would expect that there would be hindrances in the way. You know there is a great enemy, satan, who is bitterly opposed to God and to Christ, and to anyone who wants to follow the Lord Jesus. He will always be trying to hinder those who would identify themselves with the Master. Sadly, it is so. For all who seek to confess Christ there will be hindrances and difficulties in the way.
Let us look for a moment at the words of the text, in the surrounding context of chapter twelve, in John. It is said that even amongst the chief rulers many believed on Jesus Christ but because they were afraid of the Pharisees’ reactions they did not confess this faith.
So one of the great hindrances is the fear of man. The Pharisees
were very strong-minded men, and these people were afraid of their criticism. They were afraid of the opposition of the Pharisees; they were afraid that they would be put out of the religious life of the nation. That was what it would mean; to be put out of the synagogue was not just to be prevented from going into the synagogue for worship. It was to be ostracised, and separated from by all the religious and powerful people of the day: so, the fear of man was too much for them, and they would not confess him. Well, you have not got the Pharisees to face but you have many others to face. It is not easy to face those who you think are going to be your opponents, those who will criticise you, those who will scorn you and laugh at you. What a question this is! Do I love the praise of men more than the praise of God? Now, clearly, the implication here is that God graciously approves of the confession of the name of Christ. He approves of it, He is pleased with it. That is what is meant by the praise of God, but these people wanted man’s approval, and God’s approval came second to them. What is first, and what is second?
Are we more concerned about the opinions of the people around us than we are of God’s view of the matter? There is a lovely part of one of our hymns which puts it like this:
Had I a glance of Thee, my God,
Kingdoms and men would vanish soon.
Vanish as though I saw them not,
As a dim candle dies at noon.
Now in these days there are very strong pressures that are put apon us all, but upon young people particularly; the pressure to conform and to be like all the others. You have felt it, I am sure, especially those of you at school or at college. People will pressurise you, they will do their utmost to make you do what they do. I will give you one reason why they want you to be like them – because they feel uncomfortable when somebody is very different. If everybody is like them, then they come to the conclusion that they must be all right, because everybody is the same. If they see someone who is distinctively different, it makes them feel uncomfortable, and they do not like it, because it is beginning to press upon them the thought that perhaps there is another way of living, perhaps there is another way of looking at life. Because you say, ‘I am a Christian’, they will feel uncomfortable because they will know that they are not.
Look at another incident in John 9.22. There you have the case of the man who was born blind, and when the Lord healed him the religious people of the day were attacking him and his parents because of Jesus Christ. That was at the heart of the problem. You know what his parents said when they were attacked. ‘Is this your son?’ they were asked. Yes, we know that this is our son, and that he was born blind: but by what means he now seeth, we know not; or who hath opened his eyes, we know not: he is of age; ask him: he shall speak for himself. These words spake his parents, because they feared the Jews: for the Jews had agreed already, that if any man did confess that he was Christ, he should be put out of the synagogue.’ This man who had been so wonderfully healed and given sight by the Lord in a miraculous way, had the sad experience of his parents refusing to stand by him in his identification with the One who had healed him. It is very painful when those you love naturally do not agree with you in a religious sense, when perhaps your own parents will not go along with you, will not sympathise with you, when they turn against you. Well, here was a man who knew that. His parents would not confess that it was Jesus who had done this great work. They would not identify themselves with the Man who actually healed their son who they knew had been blind from birth. It is a
desperately sad thing that they should be like that, but they were. They would not confess, they would not identify with the Lord Jesus Christ because they were afraid of men.
Consider now the words of Mark 8.38, ‘Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.’ So we need to remember that, when we find there are hindrances in the way of confessing the Lord Jesus Christ, the shame we feel and which hinders us is a wicked and sinful shame. Are you ashamed of Jesus and His words? The Lord is speaking about people who were living at a time just like our own. He describes it as an adulterous and sinful generation. That is sadly applicable today. Adulterous? Terribly so! Adultery is so common that people are hardly using the word nowadays, it has become so common. It is an adulterous and sinful generation. All the pressure is upon you to be like them. All the pressure is upon you to live like them, to tolerate their way of life, never to go against it, never in any way criticising it; you must be like them, or else they become very antagonistic. If you are not like them, what do you do? Well, says Jesus, if you are ashamed of me and my words, I shall be ashamed of you. At the end I shall be ashamed of you. When I come, and the great judgment day dawns, then I shall be ashamed of you. If your words do not run alongside my words, and if your life does not run alongside my life here, it certainly will not do so there. There must be agreement, there must be these two parallel lines here if the Lord is going to receive us and welcome us hereafter. So, there is this sinful shame which is a sad hindrance in the way of confessing the Lord Jesus Christ.
3. What do we confess?
What do we say when we confess? What is it that we actually do confess about the Lord Jesus Christ? We say what Jesus said about Himself. We say that He is come from the Father, that God the Father is His Father in a unique sense, that He is one with the Father, that He is the Son of God. We agree with the Father’s voice when He says, ‘This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.’ We confess our belief in the truths that Jesus spoke, we confess our belief in the voice of God speaking from heaven about the Lord Jesus Christ. We believe that Jesus, Jesus of Nazareth, that Babe born in Bethlehem, growing up in Palestine all those years ago, is no other than God manifest in the flesh; God come into this world, God willing to take to Himself a real human form, being made a real man, and coming into this world to live amongst men.
We confess that this Jesus who is the Son of God is the only one who can save our sinful souls. That is at the heart of our personal
confession. We confess that Jesus is the Saviour of sinners and we say ‘I am a sinner, and I am convinced that there is only one way in which my sin can be dealt with, and Jesus must deal with it. I believe on the Sin-bearer, the One who was willing to bear sin in His own body on the cross; I confess my faith and my trust, and my hope in Jesus Christ.’ So you say, ‘Jesus Christ is Lord,’ and from your heart you say, ‘He is my Lord, and my God.’ It becomes a very personal confession. He is Lord whatever may be said about Him, but He is certainly Lord to you, and He is the One who you feel has a personal authority over you. You confess Him as your Lord.
4. How do we confess Him?
There is more to confession than just words. The words that we use have to be of a certain character. How is it then, that we confess Him? There are a number of ways. Firstly, we confess Him openly; it is not a secret thing. I know there was Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathaea, who are described as secret disciples. For a while, they would not confess Him openly because of the struggle and the fear which they felt but, in the end, they had to confess their faith, their love for, and their attachment to the Lord Jesus, even though it meant identifying with the dead body of the Lord Jesus. It is very striking, that in the end, when they came to confess their love to the Lord, they were confessing their love by tending the dead body of the Lord Jesus, but you do not have to do that because you know that He is risen. . .
You may be a secret disciple at the moment. I do not know whether you are, only the Lord knows that, but you cannot stay for ever a secret disciple or else you are going to fall under the Lord’s own condemnation, because when He speaks of confessing Him, He means openly, unmistakably, before everyone, believer and unbeliever, here in this place, and out there as you go to work tomorrow, wherever you are.
A true confession is a consistent confession; it is not just what we say, it is how we live. The Lord Himself said, ‘By their fruits ye shall know them.’ and one of the fruits is open confession. The Lord makes that abundantly plain in the verses we have been reading. One of the fruits of real faith in our hearts, the evidence of real discipleship, is open confession of Jesus Christ. Yes, it does mean that you live a life which is a testimony, but it also means that you open your mouth by way of confession. Paul says it very plainly in that verse we read in Romans 10, ‘with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.’
Our confession must be sincere. Remember back in Matthew chapter seven, the Lord says in verse 21, ‘Not every one that saith unto me. Lord, Lord, shall enter the kingdom of heaven; but he that
doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.’ It certainly looked like a confession. They said, Lord, Lord, but it was not a true confession because there were not the two things which Paul links together, belief in the heart and confession with the mouth. If there had been, then the belief in the heart would have governed the way they walked, the way they lived. They did not do the will of the Father which is in heaven. Their confession was not sincere and genuine. It was not a confession that came from a renewed, changed heart. It was not a confession that was proved genuine by the pattern of their life – very sad, because they did many things in His name.
The Lord has given to us two very special ways of openly and publicly confessing Him. Baptism is one of them. What is baptism? It is identification with the Lord Jesus Christ. In baptism, there is an open, visible portrayal of the fact that we are identified with Jesus, we are buried with Him in baptism. When we come out of the water, we rise with Him to newness of life. It is a very vivid portrayal of our identification with the Lord Jesus Christ. In our Church life here, we always associate baptism with confession. It is called believers’ baptism, and it is only administered to those who, with their mouths, have made confession of their faith. Some will baptise infants; I have never been able to understand why. I have studied, I have read, I have looked closely, but I have never been able to understand why, because little infants cannot testify, can they? They cannot testify to their faith, they cannot open their mouths and confess the Lord Jesus. It is indeed believers’ baptism, for only they can confess with the mouth the Lord Jesus.
The second of these special ways of confessing Christ is in the Lord’s Supper. That is our way of openly, visibly, and repeatedly confessing our identification with the Lord Jesus Christ.
5. The benefits of confession.
The last point I want to make this evening is this: if confession is so important, what are the benefits of such a confession? In the keeping of the Lord’s commandments, there is great reward, so there must be great benefits in making that open and public confession.
First of all, I believe, in spite of your fears and your doubts, it will strengthen your faith. Many of us can testify to that. I went through a period in my life where I was really struggling with this question about open confession of the Lord Jesus, and I had many fears, and I had particularly the fear of the reaction of people I knew, my own
family, my brothers and sisters and others. When, by God’s grace, I was compelled to make that confession, it strengthened my faith. It was as though, to my view of things, I had separated myself, and I made myself obvious and distinct so that people would no longer be confused about me. They knew where I stood, and I knew then where I stood. Because at that time, you really are cast upon God, and you really do have to act in faith; and trusting Him, it is very strengthening when you find that He helps you, and He is with you, and He does not forsake you. It is very strengthening to your faith to act in faith and confess His name.
It is of great benefit because it means that from then on people know that there are certain things you are not going to do, and to come extent, they give up; at least, that is how it was with me. They knew where I stood. When I was at work, especially in the common room when we were having coffee together, at first, it was very difficult, and they were always wanting me to be involved with them in various activities, so I had to explain I could not be, and why I would not be. In the end, they gave up. So it helps even in that practical way to be very clear in your confession. It hinders many from trying to tempt you and attract you out of the narrow way.
I believe that the most important benefit of confession is this, that it really does glorify God, and that is surely our great purpose in life. Confession does exactly that; it honours God and it glorifies the
Lord Jesus Christ. It must be of inward spiritual benefit to us because there is going to be great joy in honouring the Lord.
Finally, it is of great benefit because it openly unites us with other believers. It encourages them and they encourage us. It brings us into the fellowship of God’s people so that we can enjoy their encouragement; we can live, as it were, immersed in their prayers; we can know and experience their love. It unites us to the true believing Christian Church, and that is to be God’s way of blessing us.
In conclusion let us look at the text again, ‘Nevertheless among the chief rulers also many believed on Him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him.’ I pray for you who may be hindered, who may be stumbling over this matter of confession. Some may go away saying, ‘It is all very well for you to say things like that, but my situation is more difficult, you have not really dealt with my problem; I have other hindrances you have not dreamt about.’ You may go away feeling like that, but I will tell you one thing that is applicable to you, and this is that the love of Christ must constrain you. That will move you; I cannot move you. My words of themselves will not move you, but the One who loves you will move you; His dying love to you will surely move you. You will say with the Apostle that the love of Christ who died on the Cross of Calvary
moves me; it constrains me, I cannot hold back because that love is so powerful in me, it is moving me. So you will not be with those who refuse to confess Him. You will bear the scorn, you will face the consequences, you will love the praise of God more than the praise of men, and His powerful love will bring you over all the barriers and hindrances. ‘God bless you and help you’ is my prayer. Amen.