Last fall, I was in a local Starbucks doing some work when I looked across the room and saw someone that looked a lot like Colin Mochrie. I wasn’t sure if it was him because the person I was looking at had a scruffy beard. I needed someone else to give me some kind of an indication whether this was really him or not, but unfortunately no such person was around. So I left Starbucks that day not really knowing if I had seen Colin Mochrie in person or not. Later, I went home and shared my coffee shop experience with my family, we checked on the internet we found out that Colin Mochrie was doing a show in Vancouver the next night. So it might have been him.
Witnesses are very important. Not only are they important for confirming sightings of famous celebrities in local coffee shops. They are also important in other ways. For we need witnesses when we are in danger. In times when we are headed towards a bad outcome, we want to make sure that we find something or someone who will really help us. For example, my brother Stephen has been diagnosed with leukemia and he needed to have a special doctor point him towards the chemotherapy drugs that have shown themselves to be effective against the type of leukemia that he has.
And the whole human race is in danger. Each and every person is in danger of dying. And because of our inbred rebellion against God, all of us face the danger of spending eternity without God and his love. Even while we live there is the danger that we will fail to live a true life, a fruitful life, a life that makes a real and lasting difference in this world. We need witnesses when we are in danger to point us toward safety.
But we also need witnesses when extraordinary claims are made. David Koresh, who was the leader of the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas made the extraordinary claim that he was the second coming of Christ. But there are no witnesses around to support his claim.
Jesus also made some extraordinary claims. He claimed to forgive people of their sins (something that only God could do). He claimed to give people eternal life (again something only God could do). He called God his Father implying that he was equal with God. He referred to himself as the Son of Man, a term which is used in the book of Daniel in the Bible to refer to the One who would come from God to overthrow evil and establish his everlasting kingdom (see Daniel 7:13-14). When someone makes extraordinary claims like this, we want to check out their witnesses to see if those witnesses support what the person says.
Witnesses are also important there is a lot at stake between accepting or rejecting a claim. Hypothetically speaking, if I had a friend who claimed that Tom Brady was the best quarterback who ever played, there would be very little impact in my life whether I accepted or rejected my friend’s claim. Thinking of a more realistic example, if we see a sign that claims that “seatbelts save lives,” that claim has the potential to make a huge difference in our lives if we are ever in an automobile accident, so it would be good to check out the witnesses to that claim, that is the research that has been done on seatbelt safety.
The outcome of accepting or denying Jesus’ claims will make an eternal difference in people’s lives. God the Father knew that humanity was in trouble and before we even realized our need or asked for help, he sent his Son, Jesus, to come into this world and become one of us in order to take our place and conquer the danger we face. In exchange, Jesus gives us his place before his Father so that we can have the life and the unblemished status that is his. Jesus is the only One who has come into this world to save you. Buddha didn’t do that, Mohammed didn’t do that and Joseph Smith didn’t do that. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26) Accepting or rejecting the free offer that Jesus gives us will have a huge impact on our lives, so we need to check out his witnesses.
Jesus knew that it is important for him to have witnesses that support his claims so in the passage that we are looking at today, John 5:31-47, he provides us with a list of witnesses so we can hear what those witnesses have to say and then ask ourselves if we accept Jesus’ claims on the basis of the witness testimony. The witnesses that Jesus lists are things that he has done, John the Baptist, God the Father, the Scriptures and Moses. All of these witnesses support Jesus’ claim that he is the Messiah, the Special One sent from God to save the world. The miracles that Jesus did show that he has divine power to heal and restore. John the Baptist said that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. God the Father said that Jesus is his beloved Son with whom he is very pleased. The Scriptures to which Jesus is referring are the Hebrew Scriptures, what Christians call the Old Testament, and these contain 353 prophecies which were fulfilled by Jesus. And in the books of the Bible written by Moses, he refers Jesus when he writes the prophecy that a king would come out of the tribe of Judah.
In listing these witnesses, Jesus was referring to people and things that his debaters, the Jewish leaders, would have accepted as having some authority. However, twenty centuries later, all these witnesses, and even Jesus himself, come to us through the Bible. And we live in a time when many people do not consider the Bible to be trustworthy and reliable, so they don’t accept the claims of Jesus or the testimony of his witnesses.
But Jesus has additional witnesses from outside the Bible that support his claim. Hostile witnesses such as Tacitus, Pliny the Younger, Josephus, Lucian and Talmudic sources tell us that Jesus was a real, historical person who lived in Judea when Tiberius was Caesar. Jesus was considered to be a wise, powerful and revered teacher who performed miracles and was crucified under Pontius Pilate on the eve of Passover. His followers believed that he was the Messiah and worshipped him as God. And there are also hints that may refer to Jesus rising from the dead. These non-biblical witnesses provide us with most of the main facts about Jesus without even opening the Bible.
There are many witnesses that support Jesus’ claims of who he is. And yet, for some, all these witnesses are not enough for them to accept that what Jesus says is true. Because accepting Jesus’ claims require faith and faith is created in human hearts by the Holy Spirit as he works through God’s Word, the Bible, and through the sacraments, the sacred acts of Holy Communion and Holy Baptism. Through these means of grace, Jesus gives us his promises of forgiveness, salvation and eternal life. And through these same Means of Grace, the Holy Spirit gives us the faith to receive those promises.
There is another witness, a potentially very powerful one, which I have not yet mentioned. And that witness is… you. There are people who won’t accept the witness of the Bible or other ancient documents, but they consider you to be reliable and truthful. So when you tell them your story about the difference that Jesus has made in your life, your testimony might be one that they consider and perhaps accept.
It is not your job to convince or convert the people around you. The Holy Spirit is the One who changes hearts and minds. Your job is simply conversation. And it is your faith that enables you to be a witness for Jesus in the lives of others. So my challenge for you today is two-fold. First, rest in Jesus. Rest in Jesus’ love and in the sure and certain promises that he gives you. Live your life as if those promises are really true because they really are. Do not be anxious or afraid about anything. Instead let Jesus live his life in and through you and trust that he will accomplish all that needs to be done. Second, remember what Jesus has done. You have a story of the difference that Jesus is making in your life. Remember what Jesus has done. Remember what life was like before he stepped in, remember what changed when he came and how your life is different. Remember those stories and be ready to share them with others. Keep them short, like 3 or 4 sentences, but the Holy Spirit can take what you say and use it to make an eternal difference in someone else’s life.
All of us can both witness and be witnesses. When we read in the Bible what Jesus says and does, we witness what he has done in the past. As we reflect on what Jesus is doing in our lives now, we witness what he is doing in the present. When we move forward in faith we become witnesses to the people around us encouraging them to also move forward in faith in Jesus. So let us remember that we are surrounded by a great crowd of witnesses that encourage us to keep our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. You can trust the witnesses that point to Jesus. Amen.
(This message was shared at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church, Langley BC on January 28, 2018 and it is based on John 5:31-47.)