Greeting: Hold on to instruction, do not let it go. Guard it well, for it is your life.
Text: 36 While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 37 They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? 39 Look at My hands and My feet. It is I myself! Touch Me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.” 40 When He had said this, He showed them His hands and feet. 41 And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, He asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and He took it and ate it in their presence. 44 He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about Me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” 45 Then He opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 I am going to send you what My Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”
Introduction: A poem from my youth ends with the line: “Only God can make a tree.” These words have stayed with me and reminded me of God’s unique creative power. What can be said of trees applies also to Christian witnesses, to the people who testify of the Good News of God’s grace to others. Only God can make witnesses. The exciting truth is that God regularly does make witnesses. God made people into witnesses of the risen Jesus on Easter. He makes witnesses for Jesus today.
Another exciting aspect is that God is doing this for us. God is making you and me witnesses of the Savior. Creating witnesses is an important work and often requires a great investment. Worthwhile things usually take a major investment. For example: Noah Webster took 36 years to produce his dictionary. Gutzon Borglum took 12 years to produce the 4 figures on Mount Rushmore. Michelangelo took 8 years to produce the painting called “The Last Judgment.”
A testimony to the resurrection of Jesus Christ is far more vital to people than these other creations. It is exciting to be a part of this effort. Unlike some other creations, people are vitally involved. It is essential for us to understand how God goes about it so that we can cooperate in the process.
1. By Addressing My Fears
Each believer can say: “God is making me a witness. One part of the process is to address our fears.
Jesus Addressed The Disciples’ Fears
Jesus’ first disciples had a great obstacle to their becoming witnesses. The obstacle was fear. They were afraid that their hopes had been dashed with their Master dead. They were afraid they would be hunted and not punished. Later they were afraid that the resurrection of Jesus was not real.
Jesus came to His disciples on Easter night to address those fears. He came to them as they hid behind locked doors. When they responded with fear and thought they were seeing a ghost, He eased the fear by saying: “Why are you troubled and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See, My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have. Then He showed them His hands and feet.”
When they still held doubts, Jesus asked: “Have you anything to eat?” They gave Him a piece of broiled fish, which He ate in their presence. Jesus patiently, lovingly, does what He can to ease and erase their fears. He gives solid evidence to dissolve His disciples’ doubts.
Jesus Addresses Our Fears
One of the things we know about fear is that fear often paralyzes a person and freezes them from saying or doing the thing one should. The scared-stiff person is unlikely to be an effective witness of God’s good news to others.
We have fears that can paralyze us. These fears may not be fears about the reality of the resurrection. We may be quite convinced that Jesus the crucified Savior is now the resurrected Lord. We may be very confident that Jesus was delivered over to death in order to pay for our sins and was raised from death because He had succeeded to pay for our sins in full. If that is our fear, the hard evidence of the Bible’s faithful witness permits us to lay that fear to rest.
Fears about witnessing to others often revolve around several basic things. The number of fear is the fear of sounding foolish. A person may think that he/she does not know what to say and will probably say something that is wrong or improper and mess up the conversation. Jesus addresses that fear by in effect saying: “I will teach you.” Jesus has provided resources to help us. He offers experienced witnessed to train us, helpful books to read, programs to give us instruction and practice. Most importantly, Jesus promises that His Holy Spirit will be with us and will give us the words to say when it’s time to give an answer.
Another fear people may have is the fear of rejection. A person may feel that his/her witness will cause others to reject him/her. This can be a very real and rather deep fear. Jesus helps us with that fear. There are 3 important things to remember to face the fear of rejection. One is to consider: Who is really being rejected. It’s not you. It is Jesus and His Word. Another thing for us to consider deals with a person’s concern for approval. Consider: whose approval is more important – the approval of Jesus Christ or the approval of a mere human being? A third matter to consider deals with possible separation from a friend. Would you rather have a temporary separation from a friend or loved one or an eternal separation from that friend or loved one? Unless that person hears the Good News, that person is headed for the eternal separation from you and – more importantly – from God.
Jesus gives us this consolation in all our times of fear. King David tells us in the Psalms: “When I am afraid, I will trust in You, in God, whose word I praise, in God I trust, I will not be afraid. What can mortal man do to me?”
2. By Enlightening My Faith
Jesus Enlightened The Disciples’ Faith
The 2nd part of the process of making you and me a witness is the God enlightening our faith. Jesus knew that if He was to have reliable witnesses, they had to understand God’s work and His Word. They had to know the precious truths at the heart of the message they were to share. Jesus spent considerable time teaching those truths and imparting divine insights to build up the faith of His disciples.
Jesus said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you. Everything must be fulfilled that is written about Me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms. Then He opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them: “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day.”
Jesus gave His disciples the understanding they needed. On the basis of Holy Scripture, Jesus unfolded God’s wonderful plan to save the world of sinners from their sin. He told them the facts and then He explained what they meant for people’s benefit. Jesus related the divine acts, long predicted, and then He related the divine, spiritual implications of those actions.
While Jesus remained on earth for the 40 days following His resurrection, He spent much time instructing His followers in the meaning of the Bible. He gave them insight to the Christian faith as only God can. Jesus told them of the Scriptures’ teachings about His suffering and death. He likely included sections such as Psalms 22 and 69 and Isaiah 53 is His discussions. He carefully and skillfully unfolded the predictions about and the meaning of the Messiah’s resurrection, recorded in such places as Psalm 118 and Isaiah 53.
Jesus Enlightens Our Faith
What Jesus did for His first disciples’ faith, He also does for your and my faith. He enlightens it. Ignorant people without understanding cannot be good witnesses. Jesus ends spiritual ignorance with divine insights from His Word.
Isn’t this a wonderful way in which to view our involvement with God’s Word? Jesus is ending our ignorance. Through our personal study, our group study and our listening to and pondering sermons, Jesus is preserving what we have learned of God’s will in the past and He is adding even more new understanding. Our Savior is giving spiritual light where there was once darkness. He is giving clarity where there was once confusion.
Isn’t this a compelling reason to be very diligent about taking God’s Word into our minds and hearts? God uses His Word to help me be a witness. He informs me, not only to help me, but also to help me inform others. Is this not a powerful reason to know the Bible and the Christian faith extremely well?
3. By Improving My Focus
A third element in the process of making us God’s witnesses is the improvement of the focus of our lives. God works to redirect the attention and activity of our lives to where it should be.
Jesus Improved The Focus Of The Disciples
Jesus altered the focal point of His disciples’ lives. After Jesus’ death and burial, the disciples became frightened refugees. For fear of the Jewish leaders, they hid themselves in a locked room. They were very focused on their personal safety.
Jesus changed that focus of them. He appeared to them in that locked upper room and told them: “Repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in the Christ’s name to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”
Jesus made these frightened men bold witnesses of God’s truth. He directed them to put their attention and energy, not on the tiny room where they hid, but on the whole wide world outside that room. He taught them not to be concerned about their own physical safety, but rather to be concerned about the spiritual safety of their fellow human beings. Jesus instructed them to make the major message of their teaching, not the fear of men, but the forgiveness from God. Empowered by the Holy Spirit working through Jesus’ words, these disciples turned the world upside down for Christ.
Jesus Improves Our Focus
When God creates witnesses, He works to change the focal point of those people’s lives. We all have some focal point of interest and activity. We may call it the “great love in life.” These are the few things that a person chooses to concentrate on above all. That focal point may be a family or a favorite hobby, a degree or a daydream, health or a heap of money, recreation or thrills. A focal point is the thing or things for which we live.
Jesus leads us to raise our sights and improve the focus of our lives by pointing us to the most satisfying of interests. William Booth made this inscription in the autograph book of King Edward VII of England: “Your majesty, some men’s ambition is art. Some men’s ambition is fame. Some men’s ambition is gold. My ambition is the souls of men.”
Jesus improves our focus. To the question: Who am I concerned about? He takes the focus off of ourselves and He puts the focus on the world. To the question: What am I concerned about? He leads us to care most about the Gospel of forgiveness of sins. To the question: What do I want to see happen? He leads us to answer: I want people from all nations to repent, believe and live eternally. Jesus gives us a better, a much better, focus.
God is involved in the exciting work of creating witnesses. You and I are part of it. May the God who graciously gave us life find us eager to help in the process. With our fears addressed, with our faith enlightened, with our focus improved, may we be His witnesses. Amen.