ACTS1v8 YOU WILL BE MY WITNESSES.
Jesus left nothing tangible to mark his life on earth - no book, not even a letter, no monumental work of art or great composition. He just left a handful of men and women. He says to them, "You are my witnesses." They, and all subsequent disciples, were to bear witness to Jesus. A Christian's first responsibility is not to the church, the faith, the authority of the Scriptures, or even Jehovah or the Spirit, but to Jesus. The Acts of the Apostles is a record of how the early believers spread the word about Jesus, the Saviour of the world.
I want to look in this exposition at what makes a good witness.
(B) Someone who speaks up for Jesus.
(a) It is important what we say about him.
I am amazed at how quickly Christians make up their minds about a prospective pastor. We had a man visit our church who was good looking, dressed soberly in black, preached in a fine sonorous voice and generally conducted him self with assurance. He was God's choice for us! Another candidate was rather angular in appearance, tastelessly attired, brusque in delivery and edgy in private conservation. On no account had God called him! It only took two or three hours for one man to be accepted and another rejected.
The same people who make snap judgments of strangers on the basis of little evidence are often strangely reticent to talk about their nearest and dearest. Not long ago I took the funeral service of an old lady. I asked her son, who had lived with his mother for over 50 years, what he considered to be her chief virtues. He replied, "I'll leave that to you. That's your job." On another occasion I asked a middle-aged bachelor what he most admired about his father. After much humming and hawing he said, "He were a hard man to please."
I hope those of us who live close to Jesus are more reflective than that! John had this to say about his Master: We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John1v14.
I admire Jesus because he was full of grace and truth. I love the gracious way that he dealt with the needy, like, Jairus' daughter, Zaccaeus and Mary Magdalene. Yet, he never compromised the truth. He was prepared to put anyone right, from his dear friends James and John to the coldly indifferent Simon the Pharisee. It did not make any difference who it was - Jesus treated all men with perfect integrity.
The second question I would ask is: has Jesus done you any good? I once played hockey with a local doctor. Two ladies attended our church who had very different opinions of the said doctor. One lady, who was seriously ill with a heart condition, found him cold, remote and unable to do her any good. The other women gave him a glowing testimonial. Dorothy had nasty pains in her head that were getting worse and worse. Eventually she saw Dr X who told her, "I know what is the matter and I can get you well although it will take time." Dorothy would say, "I know some can't get on with Dr X but he got me well. I can only speak as I find."
Has Jesus put you right? Can you speak from personal experience? Paul wrote to Timothy: Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners - of whom I am the worst. 1Tim1v15. If you have assurance of sins forgiven and have been adopted into God's family; if you have received the gift of the Holy Spirit and been given the hope of eternal life - say so. Jesus said: "I tell you, whoever acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man will also acknowledge him before the angels of God. But he who disowns me before men will be disowned before the angels of God." Luke12v8.
Thirdly, can you recommend Jesus without reservation? No genuine believer has any reservations about Jesus. I gave an old pupil of mine, and her husband, a lift home after preaching at the Baptist chapel in Rattlesden. She usually attends when I speak there once a year. Before I dropped her off she said to her husband, "I always had a love-hate relationship with Mr Reed at school." Well let's hope it was more love than hate! Nevertheless she had certain reservations about her form teacher.
There are some so-called Christians who claim that Jesus was a man of his time and that if he lived today he would call women to positions of leadership and address God as Mother. Others consider that his teaching is total unrealistic. They object to what he said about loving enemies, judging others, anxiety and the pursuit of wealth. A third group consider that Jesus was bluffing, or just plain wrong, when he talked about judgment and the destruction of the wicked.
For myself, I have total confidence in everything Jesus said and did. I do not love him as I ought, or obey him in everything, but that is because of my imperfections - not his. When I begin to doubt God's wisdom, or even his existence, I come back to Jesus and I am reassured. Nobody could invent the life of Jesus. Anyone living that life is unmistakeably divine.
(b) It is important how we speak about Jesus.
One Sunday evening Gloria Gayner was being interviewed on Songs of Praise. She was asked why she liked singing hymns. Gloria replied with great affection and a lovely smile, "Because they are about my first love - Christ." It did my heart good.
I had an elderly friend in Glemsford whom I would visit at least once a year. Mrs Golding loved to speak about her Lord. As health failed and life drew to its close she would say, "The Lord is good. The Lord is good. The Lord will take care of me. He has gone to prepare a place for me." It is difficult to convey the rich satisfaction she took in her Lord. She relished Jesus as a connoisseur of fine wine might a famous vintage.
A few years ago I wrote a letter of commiseration to my uncle David as he died of Motor Neuron disease. He replied telling me not to feel sorry for him. This is part of what he said: I have a wonderful memory of my father. (My grandfather Hughes - a Baptist pastor.) He always ended his sermon in a certain way. He would close the big Bible which had been open on the pulpit. It was the moment I had been waiting for. As he closed the great book he would say, "And so it all comes back to Christ." So often did he say this that it seems now as if he always said it. "Everything comes back to Christ." What a gift, what an affirmation of God's goodness. With such a priceless gift there is no need to feel sorry for me.
Now isn't that a moving, heart warming tribute to Jesus from a dying man. They are my uncle's last words to me.
(C) Someone who lives for Jesus.
The best evidence that a man is a good farmer is his farm. In the autumn I walked the footpaths of Thelnetham with a friend who pointed out fields that were a mass of weeds. My friend would say, "He hin't much of a farmer." I could see that! The best evidence that a man is a good teacher is his pupils. I used to work with an RE teacher who I had better call Miss X. We all dreaded the Deputy Head asking us to cover Miss X's RE class last period on a Friday afternoon. It was like being put in charge of a cage of demented monkeys. The behaviour of the children reflected badly on Miss X's competence. The best evidence that Jesus is the Lord of Life is the conduct of his followers.
Last year I attended my uncle Joe's funeral. I greatly respected Joe because he cared for Betty, his wife, as she deteriorated with Alzheimer's disease, until her death. I last saw my aunty Betty in 1989 when she could no longer talk and could scarcely eat. I asked Joe how he managed to cope. He said he didn't think he could manage without the help of three ladies. One lady was Betty's hairdresser, another a cleaner and the third, her carer, who came in each morning to bath her. These three women, with scarcely a GCSE amongst them and on the lowest of wages, made all the difference. They treated Betty with respect. They were kind and gentle. People are not all bad!
Now, one of the reasons the three ladies were so good to my aunt was that they admired Joe and what he was doing for his wife. Their admiration for Joe affected their conduct. Similarly, if we love and admire Jesus it will affect our conduct.
In 1989 I lost three Christian friends - Albert White, Tom Crawford and Len Vincent who all died. Albert, the village shopkeeper, was a kind, generous and helpful man. Tom loved the brethren; he revelled in prayer and was always prepared to give others the benefit of the doubt. I can remember the last prayer meeting he conducted. He asked us, "When did you last tell Jesus that you loved him?" Old Will shouted out, "Last night." Some might say Len Vincent wasn't much of a witness. He was subject to depression and worried over many things. But Len had a tender conscience and a tender heart. He reminded me of Mr Fearing in Bunyan's, 'Pilgrims Progress'. Mr Fearing was: a man of choice spirit only he was always kept low, and that made his life so burdensome to himself and so troublesome to others. He was, above many, tender of sin. He was so afraid of doing injuries to others he would often deny himself of that which was lawful because he would not offend.
Len was a man of 'choice spirit'. Above all he was faithful. He was very pleased to sit with my invalid father for an hour. Here was something he could do for an even poorer tool than himself. God was faithful to Len - he never tested him beyond endurance.
The three men, Albert, Tom and Len, were witnesses to Jesus. They witnessed to me and I recall them with gratitude and great affection.
On August 16th 2002 I read with considerable interest an interview with Mary Soames, Winston Churchill's youngest daughter, in the Daily Telegraph. It is, perhaps, what inspired this message.
Mary Soames was the only one of Churchill's children whose life did not end tragically. Winston Churchill was indisputably a great man but he was also a selfish one. He came first, second and third. This did not make him the best of parents. Mrs Churchill rather neglected her children because she was so involved in her husband's life. So why didn't Mary Soame's life end in tragedy?
There was one very important difference between her upbringing and the upbringing of her siblings. Just before she was born Mrs Churchill appointed a nanny. She was Mrs Churchill's first cousin, Madeline Whyte, an impoverished gentlewoman who trained as a nurse. She was a very insignificant creature compared with Churchill. The family called her cousin Moppet and Mary Soames called her, Nana.
Mary Soames said, I think Nana made a great difference. Neither Winston Churchill or his wife were committed Christians but Madeline Whyte was. She was very upright, very Scottish and very religious. Mary Soames said, It was she who gave me my faith. It was real to her and she made it real to me. She gave me frightfully good religious books. We got on our knees for prayer time every night. She found me a very good children's service not far from Chartwell in a parish with a magnetic priest... . So, the church became part of Mary's life and remains part of it. She concludes her remarks on Nana by saying, I am very grateful to her.
Madeline Whyte, the obscure Scottish cousin, had the courage of her convictions. She wanted the little girl in her care to become a Christian. There was something far more important than being Churchill's daughter and that was becoming, by adoption, a child of God. Jesus said, "There is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents." Lk15v10. He does not say that there is any rejoicing in heaven over a world war won!
Today, we lack the courage of our convictions. We lack it were it matters most - in the upbringing of children. Parents succumb to the spirit of the age. They do not give their offspring Biblical teaching. They do not insist that the most vital thing in life is to follow Jesus. It is far more important than exam success, high status, having fun or anything else. We lack it in our willingness to witness to our friends. When I was a young man I was quite prepared to tell my friends that they were sinners and needed salvation. Now I find myself reluctant to do so.
Peter made a bold stand for his Master when he told the Sanhedrin, the ruling body of the Jews consisting of the nation's elite, "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved." Acts4v12. This was an uncompromising statement of faith. Peter and John had the courage of their convictions, so had cousin Moppet - do we?