“We Are His Witnesses”
Easter 6A – May 21, 2017
Acts 17:22-31; Psalm 66:7-18; 1 Peter 3:13-22; John 14:15-21
There was a woman who came to a church I was Pastoring from a local Baptist church. When I asked her why she was changing churches she said that God had not called her to be an evangelist; hers was a ministry of prayer and good works. She further explained that the pastor at the Baptist church required every member to be part of their Thursday night visitation program. She tried but she just wasn’t comfortable in that particular ministry because it was so far out of what she perceived her ministry gifts to be.
As we talked, I mentioned that very few Christians are called and gifted by the Holy Spirit to be evangelists. However, Jesus expects all His disciples to be “witnesses”. She asked me where that was in the Bible, and what was the difference between being a witness and being an evangelist? Good questions, so let’s examine
What Is A Witness.
In the opening paragraphs of “The Acts of The Apostles”, St. Luke records this scene between Jesus and his disciples just before His ascension. He had already told them to stay in Jerusalem until they receive power from above. Then in verse 8, he said: 8But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 9After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.”
So, it is Jesus Himself that charges us with being his witnesses. In the Old Testament there are two traditions about “witnessing”. The first is the witness of an individual, or something else, which bears testimony about a person or an event. The Hebrew word moed is used to refer to the “meeting” place of God and His people. That meeting could be before a burning bush, or the Tent of Meeting during the Exodus. The meetings Moses had with God in the tent bore testimony to the reality of the God of the Hebrews. The people listened to Moses because the presence of God was still upon him from having been in the tent of meeting standing in front of the glory of God.
The second Hebrew word, ed refers to the legal element of witnessing. A person was required to give testimony based on personally observing an incident and then being truthful about what was seen or heard. As a test of their faithfulness, a witness was expected to be involved in the judgment. Thus, in Deuteronomy 17:7 the witness to an act of adultery is the first to throw a stone. That is the context for Jesus saying to the men who were about to stone a woman caught in adultery, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone”.
In the New Testament there is only one word used that covers all aspects of witnessing. The word is martureo, and its many derivatives. It is the word from which martyr comes. Last week we read about the Stoning of Stephen, who gave elegant witness to the reality of Jesus’ resurrection. For that witness he paid with his life. His death began a long tradition of Christians giving up their lives rather than recanting their witnesses about Jesus. Thus, the word martyr (witness) took on a whole different context and texture through the blood of Christian witnesses.
You see, being a witness has nothing to do – per se – with being an evangelist, or a missionary, or any other ministry within the body of Christ. It does have to do with being faithful to tell and live out daily the reality that there is God – Creator of Heaven and Earth – and God has gone to extraordinary measures to reconcile us to Himself, even the death and resurrection of Messiah Jesus. Like in a court of law, a witness is supposed to have the courage to tell the truth as he or she knows it; nothing more is expected, nothing less is permitted.
God expects us to have the courage to witness to what God has done in our own lives, or in the lives of people we personally know. Even as the strongest evidence in court is a credible eye-witness, so the strongest witness to the validity of the Christian faith is our personal testimony of what God has done, or is doing, in our own lives.
Today’s Lessons Give Several Encouragements and Examples of Witnessing.
In the lesson from Acts (17:22-31), we encounter St. Paul when he first went to Athens to establish the Christian faith there. Now, in all fairness, Paul was also functioning as an evangelist as he shared his witness; but that is not the case for most of us.
As Paul was wandering around Athens he was encountering the fullness of a sophisticated pagan culture that worshiped multiple gods. In verse 23, Luke wrote that Paul found an altar in Athens dedicated TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Imagine, with all the different beliefs in different gods held by the Athenians, their commitment to logic brought them to the conclusion there must be one god who is above all the other gods, and this was the unknown god to whom they dedicated their altar. Paul the apostle of Christ began to share his testimony, “You are ignorant of the very thing you worship”. While having faith in many gods, they did not know the one, supreme God, creator of heaven and earth. This is the condition of many of our fellow citizens; and it is going to take people of courage who are willing to share their testimony that there really is God, and God can be known.
Our culture is becoming like the Athenians described in verses :25-29 – We are ignorant of the nature and purposes of God, who made us and is “not far from any one of us”. “For in him we live and move and have our being” (:28). “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone – an image made by human design and skill. (:29).” Our testimony should include the witness that it is futile to create our own gods, or to dismiss God. Help lies only in finally recognizing that God is real, and is part of our lives in ways we don’t fully understand, yet faithfully acknowledge. Paul was a witness to the reality of God Almighty and what God had done through Messiah Jesus.
From today’s Psalm (66:7-18), verse 8 testifies to the place God has in our lives by virtue of being our creator. God “holds our souls in life, and will not allow our feet to slip.” Then verse 14 tells us about the power of a testimony and the effectiveness of inviting people to come and listen: “Come and listen, all you who fear God, and I will tell you what he has done for me.”
In the epistle lesson from 1 Peter 3:13-22, we hear a call not to fear, along with a call for being prepared to share our testimony. From verse 15: “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, (:16) keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.”
Peter is saying to us that our witness to the reality of the power of God through Jesus Christ to change our lives must not be in words only, but also in lives that are sufficiently changed so that people can see that our life-styles support our words: ‘our walk matches our talk’.
From today’s Gospel lesson (John 14:15-21) Jesus reminds us in verse 15, regarding his call on us to be his witnesses, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” Then in verse 16, Jesus promises to ask our Heavenly Father to give us the Holy Spirit so we can keep Christ’s commandments. Jesus said the Spirit is always with us, and desires to be “in” us (:17).
It is the Spirit who brings Jesus to us – his character, his personality traits (fruit of the spirit), his relationship with God the Father, his prayer life, and his courage. So,
Is God Calling You To Be An Evangelist or a Witness?
If an evangelist, then your life will be involved with directly leading people into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. You will be like the nurse or doctor in the delivery room whose hands receive that new life into this world. That’s what evangelists do; they deliver new souls into the kingdom of God.
You may or may not be called to be an evangelist, but you are called by Jesus himself to be a witness. Witnesses testify to what they have personally experienced or witnessed. They tell other people what God has done, or is doing for them or for people they know.
Christian witnessing is merely sharing our heartfelt faith in Christ – what He’s personally done to change our individual lives! Or, what prayers have been answered, in His Name. Everyone is not called to argue or debate anyone into heaven. Nor, is everyone called to condemn anyone out of heaven. We’re merely called to share! As in the courtroom, we’re called to be a witness for what we know to be true about the Gospel. We are not the lawyer, the judge or the jury. We leave judgement to God!
Christian Witnessing is not about how smart we are or how sophisticated are our debating skills. In his letter to the Corinthian Church, Paul addresses the heart of Christian witnessing: And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. (1 Cor 2:1-5)
There is a song written by Bill Gaither that illustrates this theme of witnessing. The song doesn’t call anyone to do anything or make any specific decision. It just gives a witness. It’s called “He Touched Me”:
Shackled by a heavy burden
‘Neath a load of guilt and shame
Then the hand of Jesus touched me
And now I am no longer the same
He touched me
Oh He touched me
And oh the joy that floods my soul
Something happened and now I know
He touched me and made me whole
Since I met this blessed Savior
Since He cleansed and made me whole
I will never cease to praise Him
I’ll shout it while eternity rolls
CCLI Song No. 13072 © 1964 William J. Gaither, Inc. ARR UBP of Gaither Copyright Management; William J. Gaither CCLI License No. 700196
If someone asks you the reason you have this hope in you, what will your testimony be?