26th April 2009 (3rd of Easter)
A witness is simply one who has seen something happening. In a court of law, today as in Bible times, witnesses were expected to say what they had seen. False witness was forbidden in the ten commandments, and witnesses who did not speak out what they had seen or learnt about were also sinning against God (Leviticus 5:1).
The early disciples were first hand witnesses of the Messiah’s suffering and resurrection, and of the spread of his teaching from Jerusalem. In their preaching they made much of what they had seen and heard, and nothing could silence them. Jesus and his death and resurrection may have been inconvenient truths, but those truths were never hidden away even when it was dangerous to speak of them.
Things are different now, at least in our part of the world. The church often gives the impression that it has seen or heard nothing first hand, nothing that would make people wonder whether Jesus was God’s promised saviour-king. Even if we had seen something, there would be little danger attached to talking about it. The news would not make much difference to most people today.
In the time of the apostles the news of Jesus’ resurrection made a big stir. Their message was that this Jesus, crucified by the Romans at the instigation of the Jewish religious authorities, was proved by God to be the Messiah, the king who would overturn all human kingdoms and empires and bring in the reign of God, the reign of peace. This was not something the authorities cared to hear; indeed, it was rebellious, subversive. It had to be stopped. Yet those who spread the news would not stop, despite persecution – they could not help speaking of what they had seen and heard (Acts 4:20).
The message of the apostles is just as relevant today. Jesus is still the king of kings, to whom all authority on earth and in heaven has been given, including authority over every aspect of our lives, our private and our working lives. No one can usurp that authority. Jesus is still the means by which we may receive forgiveness, when we stop going our own way and instead follow him (which is what ‘repentance’ means). That is what brings us into line with God, and into a new relationship with him. It opens the channel for resurrection life to flow into our earth-bound lives, so that we can be changed and be agents of change. It opens the way for us to be where God lives on earth, through his Spirit in us.
Why are we not seeing more happening? We long to see more change, in ourselves and in people around us. We long to see God glorify his servant Jesus more and more in our villages and work places. Why don’t more ‘times of refreshing’ happen?
I don’t have definitive answers. I wonder whether since talk about Jesus is not dangerous here, there is less need for miraculous back up. But I suspect that it is more likely to be a problem with us: I wonder if we have grasped how great is the good news we’ve received, or how great Jesus is? Maybe our faith is still too small. Let it grow!
1) How can our knowledge of and trust in Jesus grow? What should we do?
2) What good news have we to share?