Whatever else we are as followers of Jesus (leaders, teachers, students, pastors, theologians, servants, philosophers, etc.), we are primarily witnesses of who He is and what He’s done. Whatever we might become and whatever we might do, everything is subordinate to our life purpose of personally telling others about Jesus. After His resurrection and immediately prior to His ascension to heaven, Jesus told His disciples,
“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
The word “witness” is used twenty-nine times as either a verb or a noun throughout the book of Acts. A witness is somebody who tells what he or she has seen and heard. When you are on the witness stand in court, the judge is not interested in your ideas or opinions; he only wants to hear about what you have actually heard, what you have actually seen, and what you specifically know. Our English word martyr comes from the Greek word (μάρτυρες) translated “witness” in Acts 1:8. Martyrs provide legal testimony, and establish facts to convince a judge and/or jury of an individual’s vindication or condemnation. Church tradition tells us that all but one of the eleven apostles who heard this promise were witnesses in life and martyrs in death (John died in exile). While many of God’s people have sealed their witness by laying down their lives, more have been rejected and ridiculed by others. For the last 2,000 years, God has empowered His disciples to be faithful witnesses even when they faced the most intense opposition. That same power for witnessing is available to us today through God’s Holy Spirit. Our task is not to convince people, but to testify of the truth of the gospel. As a witness of Jesus, we call attention to what we know of Him through His Word and through our relationship with Him and share His message with others. As a witness, we proclaim the reality of His death and resurrection. When Jesus says, “you will be My witnesses” He uses a future indicative verb (as in “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come”); it’s a statement of fact, more than a specific command. A witness is what we are as a follower of Jesus Christ rather than a command of something we are to do. The the question, then, is not whether we will be a witness, but rather, what kind of witness will we be? In a courtroom, if an witness has an eyewitness testimony that cannot be disputed, then the only recourse of a prosecuting or defending attorney is to attempt to discredit the character of the witness. It’s the same with us as witnesses for Jesus Christ. Regardless of the truth of His life, death, and resurrection, if our behavior and character is not consistent with our belief and confession, then our testimony will be damaged. However, if our life lived in the Spirit of God is characterized by faith in Jesus and brings glory to Him with life of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control (Galatians 5:22-23), then our witness can be powerfully effective. We see this consistent life of testimony lived out in Jesus’ followers in Acts 4. Peter and John were proclaiming that Jesus had been resurrected from the dead, so the religious and political leaders seized them and put them in jail. The next day, Peter and John were put on trial and stood before the rulers, elders, scribes and the High Priest of Israel as witnesses to the power of God’s Holy Spirit and the resurrection of Jesus.
“When they observed the boldness of Peter and John and realized that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed and recognized that they had been with Jesus.” Acts 4:13
The Sanhedrin observed in Peter and John what they had seen in Jesus; specifically, courage to speak boldly and authoritatively without formal training (cf. Matt. 7:28–29; Mark 1:22; Luke 20:19–26; John 7:15). They may also have remembered seeing them with Jesus (John 18:15–16). These powerful, educated rulers may have looked on these former fishermen with contempt, but they could not question what they had seen in the lives and character of these men. Based on the witness of their lives, the rulers couldn’t come up with a charge that would stick, that would keep them in jail. It’s amazing how ordinary people are able to do extraordinary things with the Spirit of God at work in their lives.
“Peter and John answered them, ‘Whether it’s right in the sight of God for us to listen to you rather than to God, you decide; for we are unable to stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.‘” (Acts 4:19–20)
As witnesses by the power of His Spirit, Peter and John simply couldn’t keep quiet about Jesus. In the same way, all of us can be effective witnesses in our neighborhoods, in our schools, in our workplaces, in our communities, around our state, throughout the country, and around the world.
Can I get a witness? As believers in Jesus Christ, we are all witnesses. What kind of witness will we be? Are we a credible witness or a contemptible one? Are we quietly living for Jesus or actively telling others about Him? When people observe your life and mine will they recognize us as followers of Jesus?
Follow me… as I follow Jesus Christ.