Tuesday, February 21, 2017

"Can I Get a Witness?"

Recently, I read a story about witnessing:

When he was the pastor of the Methodist church in Scarborough, William Sangster had an eccentric member who tried to be a zealous Christian. Unfortunately, the man was mentally deficient and usually did the wrong thing. While working as a barber the man lathered up a customer for a shave, came at him with the poised razor, and asked, "Are you prepared to meet your God?" The frightened man fled with the lather on his face![i]

I have heard the gospel presented in many ways, but I can assure you that I’ve never heard it with a razor to my throat! When I was growing up, I heard the quiet testimony of Sunday school teachers. I heard loud preachers and compassionate pastors proclaiming the Good News from pulpits. I watched my parents live out their faith, and saw God at work both in their feats and failures. I was given gospel tracts, books and Christian comic books. I received the kind word about the Lord from older family friends. At school, my own friends who were believers encouraged me in my faith. There were so many people who led me to meet Jesus for the first time, and others who helped me to grow in my relationship with Him. If you’re like me, then you’ve had many different witnesses to lead you to faith.

In the fifth chapter of John’s Gospel, Jesus gets in trouble, first for breaking the Sabbath laws, and then for claiming to be the Son of God. As if in a court case, Jesus makes his defense. Because Jewish law requires a matter had to be established by two or three witnesses,[ii] Jesus provides six testimonies that He is the Christ. First, he offers the testimony of John the Baptist, whom God sent specifically as a witness to Jesus’ coming:

“If I were to testify on my own behalf, my testimony would not be valid. But someone else is also testifying about me, and I assure you that everything he says about me is true. In fact, you sent investigators to listen to John the Baptist, and his testimony about me was true. Of course, I have no need of human witnesses, but I say these things so you might be saved. John was like a burning and shining lamp, and you were excited for a while about his message (vv. 31-35[iii]).”

Next, in verse 36, Jesus says that if John the Baptist counts as one witness, then Jesus’ own testimony about himself counts as two witnesses. “…I have a greater witness than John—my teachings and my miracles. The Father gave me these works to accomplish, and they prove that he sent me.” 1 Corinthians 1:22 says that Greeks look for wisdom and Jews seek for a sign. In Christ, we have both. Jesus’ wisdom is the second witness that proves He is someone of spiritual substance, while Jesus’ miracles are the third witness that substantiate the power behind His words. If you doubt one, believe the other—Jesus counts as two witnesses for Himself. Will you heed the testimonies of Jesus’ word and deed?

Then, Jesus says that God the Father provides the fourth witness that He is the Christ. In verses 37-38, He says, “And the Father who sent me has testified about me himself. You have never heard his voice or seen him face to face, and you do not have his message in your hearts, because you do not believe me—the one he sent to you.” Now, when Jesus was baptized, the Spirit descended like a dove and the Father said, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy (Mattthew 3:17).” If this is so, then how could He say that they had never heard the voice of the Father? It’s because their hardened hearts were not tuned to God’s voice. In John 12, God’s voice speaks from the heavens, but those with unprepared hearts only think that it has thundered. Jesus says that even though the Father gives testimony to His greatness, not everyone will believe or respond. Will you listen to the voice of the Father, as God testifies to Jesus?

Also, Jesus says that the Scriptures are the fifth witness about Him. In John 5:39-40, Jesus says, “You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me! Yet you refuse to come to me to receive this life.” In other words, God gave the Bible in order to point to Jesus—but many people think that eternal life comes from believing in the Bible. Eternal life comes from knowing Jesus. Like the Pharisees, many people today worship the Bible instead of Christ. Placing words on a page over an encounter with the Living Word, they become stuck in rules and regulations like the teachers of religious law. Will you follow the Bible to Jesus, or will you get stuck in glorification of words on a page?

Finally, in verses 45-47, the Master says that Moses is the sixth witness to the fact that Jesus is the Messiah. “Yet it isn’t I who will accuse you before the Father. Moses will accuse you! Yes, Moses, in whom you put your hopes. If you really believed Moses, you would believe me, because he wrote about me. But since you don’t believe what he wrote, how will you believe what I say?” Jesus has already cited the scriptures that Moses wrote, so it seems like He is doubling up again. But Jesus is also talking about Moses himself. Yes, Moses’ words testify to Jesus being the Messiah. But on the Mount of Transfiguration, Moses’ apparition validated the Christhood of our Lord.[iv] Will you believe the testimony as each of these witnesses? Will you accept the overwhelming evidence that Christ is Lord?

Once Christians accept the testimony and receive Jesus as their Lord, God calls us to become witnesses ourselves. The problem is that so many believers think that their story ends at salvation and doesn’t continue with our calling as disciples and missionaries of our Lord. Howard Hendricks says, “In the midst of a generation screaming for answers, Christians are stuttering.[v] Instead of faltering in our call to tell of Jesus’ saving power, we need to accept His mandate to become faith witnesses. He promised we would not be alone, but that He would be with us. He wants to remind us, “…You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere--in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8)."

[i] W. Wiersbe, Wycliffe Handbook of Preaching & Preachers,  p. 215.
[ii] Deuteronomy 17:6; 19:15; Matthew 18:16; 2 Corinthians 13:1
[iii] All scripture quotations taken from the NLT.
[iv] Matthew 17:1-13
[v] http://www.sermonillustrations.com/a-z/w/witnessing.htm.  January 19, 2017.

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