We have been exploring together what Jesus meant when he said that he would form and sustain His church. Two weeks ago, we explored that church is a company of committed disciples of Jesus who had taken the plunge into faith. Jesus and the earliest Christian saw the relationship between Jesus and the Church as a holy marriage.
Last week, we explored Jesus’ first command for His church: Love one another. Jesus said loving one another, believers loving other believers, was the sole criterion for determining whether we were genuinely disciples of Jesus. If we cannot love each other, then we have no business claiming Jesus or sharing what Jesus means to us. The Apostle John was so firm on this point that he said to share Jesus with another while not loving someone in the church would make us a liar.
So Jesus asked his disciples to be committed and loving. And from this posture of being committed and loving, Jesus then gave the second command to his church, “19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19). Luke, in the Book of Acts, recorded Jesus’ words this way, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Jesus’ command to His church was to be a company of committed disciples who love one another and to bear witness of their beliefs and love to nonbelievers. To be a witness in Jesus’ day is the same as they are today. A witness gives truthful testimony about what they saw and heard someone do and say, as well as give truthful testimony about what they themselves said and did. Jesus said, “Give testimony about me and let your lives be your testimony of me.”
Jesus’ command to give testimony was given to His church and, therefore, Jesus’ command was given to this church, meaning everyone who claims to be a Christian seated here or listening today is a witness. Jesus did not make this command to just pastors, or members of the choir, or any other subset of the church. Everyone is to give testimony.
Let’s look at what Jesus said we are to give testimony about. According to Matthew, Jesus’ command was to “teaching other people everything I commanded you” (Matthew 28:20a). Last week, we read from the Apostle John’s letter to his church and John expressed his witness this way, “1-2 From the very first day, we were there, taking it all in—we heard it with our own ears, saw it with our own eyes, verified it with our own hands. The Word of Life appeared right before our eyes; we saw it happen! And now we’re telling you in most sober prose that what we witnessed was, incredibly, this: The infinite Life of God himself took shape before us. 3-4 We saw it, we heard it, and now we’re telling you so you can experience it along with us, this experience of communion with the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ. Our motive for writing is simply this: We want you to enjoy this, too. Your joy will double our joy! (1 John 1:1-4 MSG)
John started his testimony by explaining who Jesus was and that John was able to share his testimony from firsthand experience. After writing those words, John gave his testimony by writing his witness statement totaling some 18,658 words in what we now call the Gospel of John. Contained within John’s testimony are the commands of Jesus, things John wanted people to know and to follow.
- Jesus drove moneychangers out of the Temple, Israel’s most sacred place of worship. Jesus said, ““Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” (John 2:16).
- Jesus spoke to one of the most learned members of Israel and said, “‘You must be born again.’” (John 3:7).
- Jesus spoke to a Samaritan woman and said, “24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” (John 4:24).
- Jesus spoke to a crowd of religious leaders and said, “24 “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.” (John 5:24)
- Jesus spoke to his disciples and said, “27 Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.” (John 6:27).
- Jesus spoke to a crowd and said, ““Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” (John 7:37b-38)
We could go on for many minutes culling out the commands of Jesus from the testimony of John through his gospel. John was being a faithful witness of what he had heard Jesus say and reporting on what Jesus did. John was a faithful witness because he was standing up to be counted by giving testimony about Jesus.
Now, as to John, we can rightly say, “Well, John was with Jesus in person. John could speak personally about Jesus and what Jesus said and did. We have not with Jesus in the flesh, what testimony are we to give?”
I think this is a fair question. We cannot give firsthand testimony of what Jesus said because we were not present like John with Jesus said those words. But… There is that word again, “but.” But we who have believed that Jesus is the Son of God, and our Savior can testify about what Jesus means to us. When we do, then what we are saying is our personal firsthand testimony.
Please allow me to illustrate. Twenty years ago, our nation was attacked by madmen who commandeered aircraft killing thousands of people in New York City, Washington, D. C., and in a field in rural Pennsylvania. That was September 11, 2001. I lost a friend that day. He was the pilot of the first airplane highjacked and crashed into the World Trade Center. The next week my daughter miscarried her first child, our first grandchild. That same week, we learned my father was diagnosed with terminal cancer. He died three weeks later. About a month after my father died, my wife, Becky, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Two months later, my mother died of complications from Alzheimer’s. It was a time of sorrow. But…
But this is my personal firsthand testimony centered on what Jesus and his commands meant to me in and through that time of sorrow. I said then and I affirm now that Jesus blessed me in my sorrows because I was blessed with communion. Because of communion with Jesus, my sorrow was turned to joy.
My testimony to others then was that I had communion with Jesus, an intimate fellowship with him as my Savior and Lord Jesus Christ. From the testimony in the Bible, I knew of Jesus and came to know Him. Because of this blessing of communion, I had access to all other blessings that God intends for us to experience. I knew from John 3:16 that, “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. “ So, my testimony then and remains today that the first thing I experienced from God through these adversities, was a renewal of perspective - that if we believe in Jesus as our Savior though we may die a physical death - we do not perish for we have been given eternal life. This sense comes from communion with the Lord.
Second, communion is as an act or instance of sharing. Jesus tells us in Matthew 11:28-29 – “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Each time we faced adversity during those difficult months, we experienced God blessing by turning to Jesus and saying, "Jesus - I cannot bear this event alone. I pray that you give me the strength - not strength to endure - but strength to let go - to turn over my burdens and my fears to you. Let me do so - and find rest." And it was my testimony then and remains today that it does take strength to let go - to give our burdens to Jesus. It is part of trusting God’s word. Now here’s some good news - it works. There is in that act or instance of sharing - that communion with Jesus - an easing of the sorrow. A knowledge that you whatever you are going through - you are not going through it alone.
Lastly, I participated in the in the act of holy communion - the Christian ordination - the eating of the bread and the drinking from the cup. While we all love God and what communion means, we must recognize that familiarity and repetition in partaking the elements of communion can blotted out or blurred their significance or somehow make them seem a commonplace experience. Communion - the partaking of the elements - is supposed to be anything but common. In taking communion during those months of trial, I came to see that Jesus Christ had each and every one of us personally in mind when he went on the cross. Think about that for a minute - He had you and me personally in mind. It was my testimony then and it is now that recognizing and remembering true and personal dimension of the elements of communion helped me to experience God, by understanding that regardless of whatever we are going through in this world - Jesus has paid the price and through Him - we can have everlasting life.
This is part of my personal firsthand testimony of what Jesus said, even though I did not personally walk with Jesus in the flesh as John did. Every one of us has a personal testimony about the meaning of Jesus in our life. And every one of us is called, even commanded by Jesus, to share it with others. We can and must share what Jesus said.
Secondly, Jesus said more broadly in Acts 1:8, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” We can give testimony by how we live our lives.
Early in Jesus’ public ministry, Jesus explained how we give testimony through our living. In a sermon giving on the hillside of Galilee, Jesus spoke to his disciples this way:
13 “Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage.
14-16 “Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:13-16 MSG).
We give testimony, we are witnesses of Jesus, when we season the world with the pleasant flavors of God. We give testimony, we are witnesses of Jesus, when we bring the God-colored light into another dark world. We bring flavor and light by living our lives like Jesus lived his. Jesus was compassionate. Jesus never looked away from the needs of people. He always walked toward them. Live compassionately. Jesus was a servant. He did for others, even the most menial of tasks. Live by serving. Jesus was forgiving. He forgave when others would have cursed. Live by forgiving. Jesus was prayerful. He prayed even though he was God. Live by praying. Jesus was gentle. He took time to comfort others. Live gently. Jesus was patient. He quietly taught others and met them where they were. Live patiently. Jesus was humble. He did not demand from others titles and honors. Live humbly.
No matter how we choose to live, we who claim Christ, will give a very personal testimony of who Christ is to us. We want to make sure our testimony is a true portrayal of Christ.
We have been blessed to know Jesus through the testimony of others and through our personal relationship with Christ. Now, let’s make our joy complete by being witnesses for Jesus and giving our testimony publicly and unashamedly by sharing the words of Christ and by the testimony of living like Christ. This is Jesus’ command for his faithful followers who love one another. This is his command for his church. This is his command for this church. Amen and Amen.