Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Characteristics of a Good Witness (Luke 24:36-53)

Despite the resurrection being part of Jesus’ teaching, his disciples had not been able to get a handle on this, and what it would all mean for humanity. These disciples were not even prepared to contemplate Jesus dying, let alone rising again. So they were quite defeated by his death, and then pretty unprepared for his resurrection. The women who attended the empty tomb were telling their story, as were as the two who met Jesus on the road to Emmaus. If Jesus’ disciples could just acknowledge and experience the reality of Jesus’ resurrection, they might just turn the world upside down (or, indeed, ‘right-side-up’). So Jesus meets with his disciples, reassures them, encourages them, and commissions them (to be “witnesses”); then also promises them all the help that they will need.

What does it mean to be a witness?
What or who is a witness?
How would you describe a witness?
Perhaps, someone who sees something and testifies to it.
Possibility of an unreliable witness!
Not necessarily a good witness if only a quick fleeting glance.
A good witness sees clearly and understands well.
A witness to Jesus goes much deeper than just a casual observance.
Giving testimonials. More personal & relational.

The Greek word translated witness is the word from which we also get ‘martyr’. This connects with Jesus’ call for us to “take up our cross” when we follow him. In other words, this means that we are prepared to endure whatever cost comes our way as we follow Jesus. We have to be ‘sold out’ to the Jesus cause to be the most effective witness.

What helps us with our witnessing (to Jesus)?
(a)  Our faith – (refer v.36-43) Jesus encourages his disciples to deal with their fears and doubts. Jesus shows them bodily reminders of his crucifixion to help them to grasp the reality of his resurrection. Jesus encourages his disciples to touch him so that they will know for sure that Jesus is their risen Lord. Jesus consumed some food in front of them to quell any lingering doubts. If we are open and attentive enough, we too will gain enough encouragement to deepen our faith in the reality of the resurrected Jesus. We will see what Jesus is doing in others, and come to a greater appreciation of what Jesus is seeking to do in us. We might also come to recognise a movement of God’s Spirit around town. In the midst of any fear or doubt, Jesus offers us his peace to replace any anxiety … Jesus said, “Peace be with you”.

(b) The resurrection itself – The fact that Jesus rose from the dead of course changes everything. From a dead-end we see a new future. New life in Christ, abundant and free! As 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new”! Yet we are still human, and thus will still need help if we are to succeed in God’s mission, and go forward in our new lives. A promise was given, and this promise was fulfilled (v.49). What was this promise?

(c)  The Holy Spirit – (refer v.49) We are not alone … Jesus promised to always be with us – the Holy Spirit is God’s witness to us that Jesus travels with us day by day. The Holy Spirit helps us to know what to say, and convicts us of what needs to change. The Holy Spirit brings Jesus’ teaching alive in our minds, and helps us to apply this teaching to everyday circumstances and events. The Holy Spirit turns our small honest efforts into great times of transformation. When fear makes us feel naked in the face of the crowd, the Holy Spirit can clothe us with effectiveness.

(d) Being worshipping people – (refer v.52) While the disciples were waiting for this promise to be fulfilled they worshipped God together. There is much blessing and strength and growth to be found in worshipping together with God’s people. Joy develops, even in the face of adversity. The Christian life was NEVER meant to be lived in isolation – this a relational life … horizontal (with other believers) as well as vertical (with God).

What are the characteristics of a good witness?

(i)                Having the Right Foundation – in Joshua chapter 24, the people of Israel were given a proposition – if all was going to go well for them then they should choose to serve Yahweh God and leave all foreign gods behind. Joshua himself, as their leader, made the impressive statement … “as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15b).The gathered people then followed by saying … “we will also serve the Lord, for he is our God (v.18b), and then later said, “The Lord our God we will serve, and him we will obey” (v.24).

Even though we see this commitment abandoned many times throughout the Old Testament, it is still one that we should choose to make now. Now we are not in a position to choose for other people, including our children and partner, but we can ourselves live in such a way that God is our highest priority, thus hopefully being an inspirational example to others who live in close proximity to us.

(ii)              Good Demeanour … another word would be ‘character’. This is about being approachable, and open for connection and relationship, rather than be closed and difficult to approach. This is about being known as an encourager – a speaker of gracious words, rather than being known as a critic. This is about being light-filled, which makes one attractive, and, like the lighthouse on the cliff, also able to give guidance. We draw people rather than push them away. Due to the poor lighting in Ireland Street in the early 1900's it was suggested by some that the name of this town be changed from "Bright" to "Dull" [source: Bright Gold]. The opposite of light is dullness or even darkness.

Jesus is ‘the light of the world’ – a famous theme in John’s Gospel (8:12), but in Matthew chapter 5 (v.14-16) Jesus says of those who would follow him … You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

We also carry a ‘scent’ with us!!! Paul in 2nd Corinthians  talks about the fragrance or aroma that God’s people can spread through their daily journey … But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads in every place the fragrance that comes from knowing him. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing … (2:14-15). Do we radiate the light of Jesus? Do we have the aroma of Christ?
(iii)            Consistency / Integrity – where our words and actions are in sync … all the time. Joshua had to push the people of Israel in his time to make these solid foundational statements (referred to above), because they had a history of flip-flopping all over the place, and running after the newest, more advantageous, and less-taxing trend. Their lives had not generally lived up to their statements. One of Jesus’ gifts to his disciples, in the face of their uncertainty, was his ‘peace’ – “Peace be with you” (v.36). It is the peace of God coming into our lives that makes us truly able to be who we are (i.e. who we are in Christ), rather than continually flip-flopping around. We are loved and we are forgiven, and though far from perfect, fully acceptable and valued by God – in this we are at peace.

(iv)            Exhibiting Purpose and Hope – in the way we live, especially in the way we use our time and other resources, we can exhibit that there is more to life than an ever-increasing number of people might imagine. Jesus is our friend, and as we serve him in serving other people and building community, we are witnessing to a greater purpose and pointing towards another ‘kingdom’ that sits above the physical world – the Kingdom of God – the place where God reigns. This is where the will of God is done. We pray … Our Father, who is in heaven, honoured be Your Name, Your Kingdom come, Your will be done – on earth as it already is in heaven (Matt.6:9-10). As we pray this prayer we are committing ourselves to being part of the process of God’s will being done on earth like it is in heaven. In this we offer hope to those around who are downcast, lost and lacking any sense of hope. The offer of God’s Kingdom is an offer of a whole new reality.

Ultimately, what are we witnessing to?

Refer verses 45-48.

·        That God loves us so much that Jesus came among us and suffered death on a cross that we might experience forgiveness.

·        That this forgiveness is open to all people who humbly repent (turn in a new direction). And that Jesus rose from the dead to lead us all into new life … the sort of life we were designed to have in the first place.

This call to repentance was NOT primarily a judgement of humanity, but rather an embracing of people through the eyes of mercy and compassion. Yes, sin and evil are real and destructive, but repentance can lead to so much better personal and relational outcomes. God exists in the hope that people will respond to his grace and be transformed into the image of Jesus. We are “witnesses” to God’s active and outreaching love.

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