Imagine these two scenarios and your response to each:
- The pastor and Deacons have decided that the entire church is going on a missions trip and rather than heading overseas you are simply going to head down the street telling everyone you meet about Jesus, sharing the Gospel with them on the spot. For those who feel they are too quiet to do such a thing, the leaders have prepared sandwich boards with the slogan “the end is near, repent,” so you will not need to say a word. This missions trip will be ongoing for rest of your life. The pastor approaches you personally and asks if you will commit to this evangelistic outreach.
- Your very best friend has been hauled into court on trumped up charges. The prosecution is attacking your friend’s character with all manner of false information. The defence attorney approaches you and asks if you would be willing to take the witness stand and tell the jurors what you know about your best friend.
I imagine that for most people, even the most outspoken might have difficulty signing on with scenario one, but even the quietest (such as myself) would readily agree to help out with scenario two. It may come as a relief then, to know that we are not all called to be evangelists per se: “The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers” NRSV Ephesians 4:11 (emphasis mine). We can all think of people that are called and gifted as evangelists and most of us can identify that we are not among them! But there is even better news, not only can we breathe a sigh of relief regarding what we may not be called to do, but we can take confidence that we are provided with what it takes to be what we are called to be, that is, His witnesses. Isaiah 43 has much to teach us about being His witnesses in a portion which includes reference to a court case:
9 Let all the nations gather together,
and let the peoples assemble.
Who among them declared this,
and foretold to us the former things?
Let them bring their witnesses to justify them,
and let them hear and say, “It is true.”
10 You are my witnesses, says the Lord,
and my servant whom I have chosen,
so that you may know and believe me
and understand that I am he.
Before me no god was formed,
nor shall there be any after me.
11 I, I am the Lord,
and besides me there is no savior.
12 I declared and saved and proclaimed,
when there was no strange god among you;
and you are my witnesses, says the Lord.
13 I am God, and also henceforth I am He;
there is no one who can deliver from my hand;
I work and who can hinder it?
Isaiah 43:9-13 NRSV
We learn at least four things about being God’s witnesses from this passage:
1) Being God’s Witness Begins With Knowing God. We might expect that verse 10 should say “You are my witnesses . . . so that others may know” but instead we have “You are my witnesses . . . so that you may know” (italics mine). In Isaiah’s prophecy, the better the people of Israel knew God, the better witnesses they would be. The better we know God as Christians, the more natural it will be and feel for us to take the witness stand and testify to what we know about Him. If we find speaking up about our faith difficult, perhaps we need to check on what our relationship with God is like. Being a witness for God begins with knowing God.
2) God Calls All His People to Be His Witnesses. In saying “You are my witnesses” God is not speaking to the prophets or priests specifically, nor is He creating a new category of people called “witnesses.” He is speaking to all His people. All Israel could look back and see God’s goodness throughout their history. Every Christian person is able to speak about God’s goodness in history, at the cross, and in life. God calls us all to be His witnesses, not just some.
3) The World Needs a Witness. Israel’s neighbours tended to be polytheistic, with false beliefs often leading to poor ethics. Israel was to be a light in the darkness, able to set the record straight. There are three things in particular in Isaiah 43:8-13 where the record needs to be set straight: God is, God Saves, and God Speaks. In each of these affirmations today’s world sorely needs a witness to the truth. Beliefs all around us today are different than those around Israel back in the days of Isaiah, but they are no less in error; error that leads to a worser world as ethics reflect belief, and error that leads to the worst possible future – separation from God. The world needs the Christian witness.
4) Being God’s Witness Draws Us Closer to God. The context of the Isaiah passage is that Israel is to be in exile and in poor shape when called upon to be God’s witnesses. It is in that place of exile that Israel can look back on how God kept His promises time and time again, both in deliverance and in judgement. From that dark place, and by preparing to be a witness to God’s existence, rescue, and fulfilled promises, Israel can again affirm dependance upon and trust in God for the promised future. As Christians, our faith will deepen as we engage more fully in what it is we believe and why. We will go deeper in the scriptures, deeper into prayer, but also deeper into the disciplines of theology, ethics, history, philosophy, logic, ethics, and more. Everything I have learned from the Bible, from beyond the Bible, and from life, has served to sharpen my thinking and deepen my trust in God for my present and for my future. As we prepare to be His witnesses, we will be better prepared to be His followers.
Ready to take the witness stand? We are called to be God’s witnesses and we will be taking a closer look at this in the weeks to come with a series called “Witness Traits: You May Not Be Billy Graham, but You Are God’s Witness.”
(You can listen to the audio of the full sermon at http://www.churchcloud.com/calvary-baptist-cobourg/ or through iTunes podcast upon release)