ELDER NEIL PHELAN JR.
WE ARE HIS WITNESSES (part 1)
"And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him." -Acts 5:32
The words of our text are taken from the mouth of Peter and the other apostles as they stood before the high priest and elders of Israel. These religious leaders placed the apostles in the common prison for the miracles they were blessed to perform in the name of Jesus Christ. The angel of the Lord opened the prison doors, and brought them forth, and they boldly entered into the temple and taught. Their persistence in declaring the doctrine of Jesus Christ was a threat to the popularity of these rulers and elders so they were once again apprehended and brought before the council and commanded "Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name? and, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man's blood upon us." Then Peter and the apostles gave this testimony: "We ought to obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree. Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Savior, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him."
According to Peter and the apostles, to be a witness is to "obey God". The very last words of Jesus, before He ascended to the Father, were "ye shall be witnesses unto me" both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth" Acts 1:8. These words will forever stand as a blazing testimony to one of the most prominent purposes of every God called minister of Jesus Christ, and in a lesser sense, to every church member: "we are his witnesses".
God has always had a witness to reflect His glory and testify of His holiness. He shall always have a witness. In the morning of time the very creation witnessed the presence and power of God "When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy"- Job 38:7. Even in times when nations walked in their own ways God "left not himself without witness, in that he did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness" -Acts 14:17. God has had His witness even when people did not understand or have knowledge of it. Every moment and in every language, creation perpetually witnesses the power and omnipotence of God while "The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge. There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard" -Psalm 19:1-3. God is alive today and He is not silent. God's creation is a perpetual sermon witnessing His very being.
The early church of the Jewish nation, the church in the wilderness, stood as a perpetual witness against the false God's and the darkness of Canaan's land. Stephen said "Our fathers had the tabernacle of witness in the wilderness, as he had appointed, speaking unto Moses, that he should make it according to the fashion that he had seen" -Acts 7:44. As they worshiped in the movable tabernacle made of animal skins, this nation stood as a witness to the Jehovah God of Israel; of His laws; of His power; and yes, even of His Christ to come. Oh, how the Canaanites hated this people and their laws! As God preserved their testimony His kingdom displayed His power and presence.
When we fulfill our calling as faithful witnesses we join company with a host of predecessors who were themselves faithful witnesses. Peter acknowledged that he was an elder "and a witness of the sufferings of Christ" -I pet 5:1. Paul was told by Ananias "thou shalt be his witness unto all men of what thou hast seen and heard" -Acts 22:15. These words were confirmed by the Lord who told Paul "Be of good cheer, Paul: for as thou hast testified of me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome" -Acts 23:11. John the Baptist was a man "sent from God" "to bear witness of the Light": Jesus Christ. The very miracles that Jesus performed, bore witness of His deity and Sonship as Jesus said "I have greater witness than that of John: for the works which the Father hath given me to finish, the same works that I do, bear witness of me, that the Father hath sent me"-John 5:36. The everlasting gospel the apostles preached stood as a witness unto all the world "And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come"-Mat 24:14. And so it is today. Preaching shall forever remain a witness, exposing darkness and exalting God.
As we look back in history we read of many other children of faith who were our brothers and sisters in Christ. As we study their faithfulness to God we must acknowledge that "we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses"-Heb 12:1. These old patriarchs seem to hover above us in a cloud and say "what are you doing today, where is your faith, where is your witness?" We might even consider a more recent cloud of witnesses, not recorded in God's word: the cloud of our fathers, mothers, grandparents, great grandparents, friends and family who have gone on to be with the Lord, who once witnessed the very Christ we preach today. God has honored their testimony by preserving the church in our area. Will our testimony be as fervent?
If someone were to ask you "what is the purpose of the church", what would be your reply? We know that the purpose of the church is not to populate heaven. That work was completed when Jesus Christ hung upon the cross and said "It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost." The sins of every one of God's family was at that time placed upon the lamb of God, our substitute as He became the sin of every heir of grace. We can add nothing to that perfect work but we can tell the child of God what Jesus Christ has done for them. This will never make a person become a child of God, but if they are a child of God they will delight in a savior's love. Sinners can find comfort as their faith rests in the blood of Jesus Christ, and not in their own works. The purpose of the church is not to 'make' the elect, but rather to 'find' the elect by witnessing unto them and telling them how they were eternally saved and secured; who it was that washed their sins away; the love the Father had for every one of the elect before they ever came into this world; and the personal and specific atonement of their sins upon the cross. The person of Jesus Christ should take on a whole new concept when one observes Him as their personal sacrifice. Are you looking for your spiritual brothers and sisters in this dark world? Are you witnessing?
The church has many purposes in the world. According to God's word one of the greatest purposes of the church is to remain a faithful witness in a dark world. The witness of the New Testament church is even more specific than the witness God had in days gone by. We are to be "HIS" witnesses. The most prominent mark of the New Testament church is the mark of Jesus Christ. He is the center of it all. The church is not 'of' the world but is placed by God 'in' the world to stand as an ever present witness of Jesus Christ, His resurrection, His power, His deity, His doctrine and way of life. Jesus said "my kingdom is not of this world". As Peter and the other apostles boldly proclaimed their purpose in this dark world they spoke for us all for "we are his witnesses".
The visible church is made up of people. It is not a building or a piece of property. The church is a body of baptized believers confessing and testifying the finished works of Jesus. They worship and adore their Lord Jesus Christ. They acknowledge their sin and agree with God on every hand. Every servant of Jesus Christ is 'his' witness individually as a singular light and each individual witness brings their light and places it on the candlestick as they collectively become the church, "the light of the world". The source of their light is from the one for whom they witness, "the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world": Jesus Christ.
As I read the Bible I am quite sure the Lord has never intended for His church to become the silent minority. If little, then loud; if scorned, then proud (of Jesus); if persecuted, then bold; if silent then cold. The silent church becomes a dead church. These words are not critical but rather scriptural. Jesus said "let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven" - Matthew 5:16. We witness by shining our light. A light is piercing and noticeable. By shining our light, we are revealing the light of Jesus in our hearts by the way we live, the way we talk, and the works we perform. These all stand before men (the people around us) as a constant witness to the person and doctrine of Jesus and His work in our hearts. But there should be more.
There is also the witness of the mouth. Jesus said "What I tell you in darkness, that speak ye in light: and what ye hear in the ear, that preach ye upon the housetops. Matthew 10:27. The early church was very vocal and thus accurately accused of such a witness by the religious leaders of their day as they referred to them as "These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also" Acts 17:6. How else could they have "filled Jerusalem" with the doctrine of Jesus Christ.
Not only can we tell people what we believe, we can also witness to them by bringing them to church. Who do we invite and who do we bring to church? Any person who will come! It is not our job to determine who will receive the gospel, it is just our job to publish it. We are not to look at a person, their cloths, their job, their lifestyle or any outward appearance when we witness to them or invite them to church. I am thankful the Lord Jesus left us plenty of examples that He did not do so. The scribes and the Pharisees could not understand the compassion that Jesus had for sinners as they "murmured against his disciples, saying, Why do ye eat and drink with publicans and sinners?"- Luke 5:30. But Jesus said "I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance"-Luke 5:32. Consider the woman at the well who ran into the city proclaiming "Come, see a man, which told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ?"-John 4:29. What a witness! Consider Mary Magdalene, a woman out of whom Jesus had cast seven devils. Consider how wicked she must have been. Who was it that Jesus first showed himself after His resurrection? It was not Peter. It was not John. It was not James. It was Mary Magdalene! "Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils" - Mark 16:9. You see, Jesus looks upon the heart from a perspective in which we have no access until we see the work of God manifested in the life. The gospel has the power to bring that out when it is attended by the spirit of God. Jesus was interested in sinners. Should not our purpose be the same.
Andrew first brought his own brother, Simon Peter, to see the Lord. He didn't just invite him. The scripture says he "brought" him. Phillip found Nathanael and saith unto him, "we have found him, of whom Moses in the Law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph." And when Nathanael began to make excuses Philip just said "come and see". That is simple enough for any witness. Just say "come and see". The more we invite and witness, the brighter our light shines in our community.
When Charles Spurgeon was young, he traveled to a boarding school by wagon. Upon arrival, a peddlar held a shiny new pocket knife in Mr. Spurgeon's face. Of course, you can imagine the thoughts of a young boy when he saw the pocket knife. Spurgeon later used this experience as a beautiful example for witnessing. He said that if the peddlar had left the knife in his pocket he would have sold few and possibly none. We should be as the peddlar with our testimony for Jesus Christ. We should hold Him before the eyes of every person who will listen.
We should also be persistent. My great uncle told me a true story about a man who sat on his front porch every Sunday. In those days, they either walked to church or traveled by wagon. Each Sunday as they passed by the gentleman's house they invited him to church. Each Sunday he declined. But they continued to invite him anyway, every Sunday. One Sunday as they approached the man's house they noticed he was wearing a suit. When they extended the opportunity to travel with them to church the man accepted the invitation, went to church and was Baptized that very day. Sometimes, seeds take a long time to come up and we should not only invite, but we should be faithful witnesses and reinvite.
I can tell you that Satan hates witnesses. He will try to discourage every heart that endeavors to tell others about his sworn enemy, Jesus Christ. If Satan can, he will leave us baffled and confused, frustrated and feeling that the world would not have the doctrine of Jesus Christ. We should not expect to be appreciated every time we witness for Jesus Christ, but know we have done what we are supposed to do as faithful stewards of God's word.
When we read the 14th chapter of Acts, it seems that Paul's efforts to preach Jesus were miserable failures because he was stoned and carried out of the city "supposing he had been dead." Paul could have decided that the world will not have this doctrine. But when he returned to the church "they rehearsed all that God had done with them, and how he had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles." They rejoiced because a few seeds were sown and there were some who received their testimony as God opened the door for them to witness and preach. Satan hated Paul and attempted to silence Paul's testimony. But God over ruled this evil. The outcome of our efforts is in the hand of God, "it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful", not successful in the eyes of men.
A WITNESS MAKES A WITNESS
Our faithfulness as witnesses to Jesus Christ may result in criticism, rejection, personal affliction, persecution, and ultimately death; but a witness makes a witness. According to William Jones, in his book, "The History of the Christian Church", there was much evil persecution against the early Christians for their witness and testimony for Jesus Christ. They were called "Christians" because the world at large knew who they followed and what they believed. Men, women and children were burned at the stake, thrown to wild beasts, skinned alive, drowned, beaten, imprisoned, starved, and tortured by every means the depraved mind could imagine. We would wonder why God would allow such. But Jones makes the observation that every time one witness was martyred for the testimony of Jesus Christ, the Lord would raise up two or three more to take their place. Some of the most prosperous times the christian church has experienced was during times of the hottest persecution. In some places, the N.T. word for 'witnesses' is translated from a word which means "martyr". This kind of witnessing behavior brings the true followers of Jesus Christ to surface. What we enjoy today is a result of not only the blood of Christ, but also the blood of our forefathers.
When we witness for Jesus Christ we are lifting up His standard. We lift it up and gather around it as faithful soldiers of the cross. "So shall they fear the name of the Lord from the west, and his glory from the rising of the sun. When the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord shall lift up a standard against him. And the Redeemer shall come to Zion, and unto them that turn from transgression in Jacob, saith the Lord" -Isaiah 59:19-20. When the enemy comes in like a flood our duty is to "lift up a standard against him." Isaiah has commanded us by prophecy to "Go through, go through the gates; prepare ye the way of the people; cast up, cast up the highways; gather out the stones; lift up a standard for the people" Isaiah 62:10. If we never lift up a standard and blow the trumpet our testimony is defeated, our purpose is lost, and our witness has failed. God will then find other witnesses for he has promised "my words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed's seed, saith the Lord, from henceforth and for ever". He will have a witness.
HOW DO WE WITNESS?
What does a witness do? What is their job? The job of a witness is summed up very concisely in John 3:11: "Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness". A faithful witness does not make up something that sounds good or something that is pleasing to the ear. A witness is not to fabricate their own religious ideas because they are displeased with God's word nor twist the scriptures to fit their agenda. The witness simply states what they "know" and they witness what they "have seen". That is all any courtroom wants a witness to do: tell what they have seen and what they know; nothing more and nothing less. What we tell should agree with what God has told us in His word. Therefore, a witness of Jesus Christ should be more than a person who has some knowledge. They should "speak" and "testify". They should be looking for opportunities to tell others what they know about Jesus Christ and convict them with God's word. Are we fulfilling our part of this testimony today? Are we faithful witnesses?
According to Solomon "A true witness delivereth souls: but a deceitful witness speaketh lies"-Prov 14:25. As we stated earlier, a true witness tells the truth. As we tell others about Jesus Christ, we want them to receive the same deliverance we have. We want to deliver them from every wind of false doctrine, from law to grace, from faith in works to faith in Christ, from the wiles of Satan and even from the sin they may be presently involved in, "to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me" -Acts 26:18.
WHAT KEEPS US FROM BECOMING WITNESSES
What keeps us from becoming faithful witnesses for Jesus Christ. What are some of Satan's hindrances. Fear can hinder our efforts to witness for Jesus Christ. More times than not, our fear is not for our life, but of what people will think or say about us. Our friends, relatives, our co-workers and even our immediate family members can intimidate our efforts to witness for our beloved. Today, we have not "resisted unto blood, striving against sin" but in the days of the early church, there was a genuine fear for life and limb.
After Stephen's martyrdom, "there was great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles"-Acts 8:1. Even during the hottest persecutions, when others were scattered, the faithful apostles of Jesus Christ remained in position to testify, and witness the gospel of Jesus Christ. Many of them gave their life as an offering unto God. Their martyrdom furthered the cause and served as an example to other believers. During this time, Saul of Tarsus, "made havoc of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison". Many of the saints were "scattered abroad" and as they were scattered they "went every where preaching the word." These scattered and persecuted saints were not preaching from pulpits as ordained elders, but rather were witnessing to all who would listen about the good news of Jesus Christ. They did not allow fear to hinder their faithfulness to witness.
Have you ever been ashamed to tell someone what you know about Jesus Christ and that you love Him? Yes, Satan can hinder our testimony by his jeers and refutations and make us ashamed to own our Lord. Have you ever been ashamed to hug a brother or sister in public; to be identified with the church or the Lord; to be known as a Christian; to witness. The songwriter has accurately written 'Ashamed of Jesus! sooner far, let evening blush to own a star; he sheds the beams of light divine, O'er this benighted soul of mine. Ashamed of Jesus! that dear Friend; on whom my hopes of heav'n depend! No! when I blush be this my shame, That I no more revere His name.'
You see, this is a common obstacle to every believer. Even Paul said "So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also. For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek."-Romans 1:16. Even the apostle knew of this hindrance as he witnessed before the noble Jews he once ran with. Yes, even our former friends that we once socialized with can remind us of past follies and cause us to be ashamed, fearing their replies. We should never be ashamed to witness for our Lord before family, friends, loved ones and even total strangers whenever the opportunity arises.
If we must be ashamed of something let us be ashamed of our sin. Boasting of sin is the witness of Satan for he loves to exalt evil and depress righteousness. You have probably heard men or women bragging about their sinful escapades. The television is constantly exalting evil before the eyes of millions. Salt and light turn the tables. Salt and light expose evil as darkness flees and holiness is preserved. Is it your desire to see wickedness diminish in our country, in your city, in your neighborhood. If so, then let us faithfully witness. Let us never be ashamed to own Jesus and His word.
A faithful witness must have something to tell. As we mentioned earlier, they must speak; they must be able to defend their faith. They must have knowledge. Peter admonishes us to "sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear" 1 Peter 3:15. We should always be ready, willing and capable of answering those that ask of the hope within our souls. Our witness should not be filled with metaphors such as "this is what I think" or "its in the Bible somewhere", but rather give the scripture, God's word for it, praying that God will lead us in our efforts. If we can't memorize the verse we can always open our Bibles and turn to the verse. Solomon wrote "An hypocrite with his mouth destroyeth his neighbour: but through knowledge shall the just be delivered." Proverbs 11:9. Knowledge delivers not only ourselves, but also those around us if we use it properly.
4) Sin, Past and Present
If we are to become a witness for Jesus Christ we may find that we have some adjustments to make in our life. Our testimony will never be effective if our life does not display the work of God in our hearts. Our desire to witness for Jesus Christ can expose personal sins in our own lives, bringing about a change through repentance and ultimately make us a better person for the effort. Our conversation in life should become that of a witness. If we want to witness we must live like a witness. That is why it is so necessary that we live what we preach and practice what we believe. Sin can destroy our desire and our ability to witness for Jesus Christ as well as destroy our testimony in the eyes of others.
Past sin can have its negative influences on our endeavors to be a faithful witness for Jesus. Not because we have sinned, for all have sinned. Even Peter cursed and denied Jesus before the fire of the enemy and later preached before thousands to the converting of "about three thousand souls." What would have happened to Peter's testimony if he had given up because of past sin. Satan can bring our sins to remembrance and tell us that we once lived a life of sin and our efforts to serve Jesus today are pure hypocrisy. Satan can almost convince us that we have no part in this effort. That is why he is rightfully referred to as "the accuser of our brethren". But consider this: the sinners testimony is a very valuable testimony in the army of God. It reveals the power of God through repentance. Consider how far the sinner has traveled in his experience to come to the banqueting house. Consider how much he had to overcome. Consider how much he probably knows about the enemy for he has been in his camp! Consider Saul of Tarsus, Solomon, consider David's 51st Psalm. I am not suggesting that we sin in order to become a witness. But I am saying that God uses different vessels for different purposes "and who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?"-Esther 4:14. God has always chosen His prophets, His preachers, His elect, and His witnesses. Let sin not hinder our efforts to faithfully witness for Jesus Christ the savior of sinners and "let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us".
One of the first steps we take in becoming a faithful witness for Jesus Christ is to confess Him as our Savior by public baptism. By this act, we confess to ourselves, to our family, and to the whole world that we are sinners in need of a savior. We confess that Jesus is that Savior and that our faith rests in the finished works of Jesus Christ.