Called to be Witnesses
Reading: Matthew 28:16-20
Just before his ascension to the right hand of God, Jesus told his disciples, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). In our reading from Matthew 28, which must have been said around the same time, Jesus told them of his absolute authority, and commissioned them to ‘go and make disciples of all nations’.
The task of witnesses
Being witnesses, and making disciples, are not two separate activities. A witness in a court of law is someone who reveals what they’ve experienced or seen or heard. It is not enough to have seen it; the witness needs to talk about it. So in Acts 1:22 when talking about choosing a twelfth apostle, Peter says one who had been there and seen it all must ‘become’ a witness – in other words, must now proclaim what he had seen and experienced. As people heard the testimony of the witnesses, they would believe and become disciples.
If people were to become disciples, they would need to know more than the bare facts about Jesus. They would also need to know what it all meant. Explaining the facts was part of the task of the witness. So in Acts we see Peter and Paul talking in their sermons about history first of all, and then explaining it and applying it to the hearers.
A person could be a ‘witness’ without actually having been present.
Stephen in his testimony in court (Acts 7) did not talk about personal experience: he simply preached – and was killed because of it. He had ‘seen’ the truth and bore witness to it. So Paul called him a witness of Jesus (Acts 22:20).
Our call to be witnesses
We all can be witnesses of Jesus. We all can reveal to others what we have experienced, and what we have ‘seen’ with our understanding – what God has revealed to us. What we believe is something we can bear witness to: we’ve seen it by faith, and it is true.
The Apostles were told to make disciples of all nations, and to be Jesus’ witnesses to the ends of the earth. They may have travelled far, but they did not reach the ends of the earth. Their successors – and us – do that. The call to be witnesses is a call to the whole Church.
How can we be witnesses?
1) Reveal the historical facts. The resurrection is vital – without it we would have no good reason to believe in the success of the crucifixion, in the forgiveness of sins, the conquest of evil, and the inauguration of the new creation. Jesus’ personality is vital – it is the revelation of God.
2) Reveal our passion. The apostles could not but speak of what they had seen and heard. They were utterly caught up in their message, and it showed. The revelation of Jesus Christ may result in misunderstanding, even mockery or persecution. Let us not hold back on that account.
3) Reveal the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. If what we are saying is not in accordance with Scripture it is not the truth.
4) Reveal not just the bare facts, but the meaning and significance of them, as much as we can.
5) Reveal the good news by our life more than our words. That means always seeking to tune our life to the gospel, practising what we are learning, not being put off by mistakes and failures, and above all practising the presence of the Lord who lives in us by his Spirit. May our life reveal our Lord.
TO THINK ABOUT
1) ‘Always be prepared to give an answer’ to questions about our faith, says Peter. How can you be prepared?
2) What have you ‘seen’ about Jesus?