You Are Witnesses
Have you ever been a witness to an accident or a crime? What did you see? How did you react to what you saw? Were you asked to recount what you saw?
Many times, when there’s an accident or a crime committed, one of the first things law enforcement officers want to know is – are there any witnesses? Properly trained detectives can piece together much of what happened, but access to eyewitnesses helps a lot.
But witnesses to the same event don’t necessarily see the same things. If they view the scene from two different locations, they will have different observations about what happened. So, those investigating the case will take the varying observations of witnesses and compare then in order to get a more accurate picture of what happened.
One place where these differences in witnesses show up clearly is in the Gospels of our New Testament. For the past few weeks, we’ve been looking at the events surrounding the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Each of the gospel writers either were witnesses to these events, or interviewed those who were, but their records vary significantly. Some people see these differences as contradictory, but I believe they are complementary. What is beyond dispute is that the events happened.
In today’s teaching we come to the close of the Gospel of Luke. Luke records some of Jesus’ final words and appearances with His followers. And He reminds them that as witnesses to the events of His life, death, and resurrection they would now need to share the reality of those events with others after His departure.
Nearly 2,000 years have passed since Luke penned these words, and the eyewitnesses of these events have long since died. But today, Christ-followers also have been tasked with the mission of being His witnesses. So, I invite you to stay with me as we reflect on how Jesus’ statement, “you are witnesses,” affected His disciples then, and how that statement affects us as His followers today. Listen as I read Luke 24:33 to 53.
As we examine this portion of the Scripture, we will see several ELEMENTS that are essential to the fulfillment of Jesus’ statement, “You are Witnesses.”
The First ELEMENT is,
By Personal Experience
Let’s recall that these disciples had been travelling to the village of Emmaus on the third day after Jesus’ crucifixion. They had been engaged in deep and earnest conversation, trying to make sense of the events they’d witnessed. As they were walking and conversing, Jesus joined them, but they didn’t recognize Him.
Jesus inquired about their sad looking faces, and He asked what animated their discussion. After they told Him, He gently rebuked them for their lack of faith. Then He led them on a journey through the Hebrew Scriptures that clearly spoke of His person and ministry. Throughout all of this, they still didn’t recognize Him.
Finally, the two disciples reached their destination and invited Jesus to eat with them. It was only when Jesus broke bread with them that they recognized Him, and immediately He vanished out of their sight. They said, “The flame of our hearts was kindled by His explanations of the Scripture.”
Now, let’s look at what they did. At that same hour they got up and headed back to Jerusalem. Why did they do that? Because they had personally experienced the reality of the risen Christ and they couldn’t keep that news to themselves. They wanted the other disciples to know about it. They were reliable witnesses. They had talked with Jesus, and they had eaten a meal with Him! I imagine their trip back to Jerusalem didn’t take nearly as long as their trip to Emmaus.
Notice how they announced the news to the group once they arrived back in Jerusalem. They said, “The Lord has been raised indeed and has appeared to Simon.” Their testimony was confirming that the report of the women was right!
In First Corinthians 15:5, Paul validates that Jesus appearing to Simon was the crucial evidence that turned the scales with the disciples. He wrote, “For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve.”
As they are in the middle of rehearsing their experience, Jesus suddenly appears in the room and says, “Peace be to you.” They were startled and frightened! Well, I guess so; wouldn’t you have been too? And even after the testimony they’d just heard they kept on thinking that they were seeing a ghost. All of this personal experience was preparing them to be accurate witnesses to the reality of these happenings.
Jesus asks them, “Why are you so troubled, and why are doubts arising in your hearts?” In other words, “why are you so agitated, and why do you reason about a matter which your spiritual perception ought to discern at once.” His question connects back with a similar question in verse 25 to the two on the Emmaus Road. There He questioned the dullness of their minds and their lack of discernment.
Even though they believed Jesus was alive, His appearance was a psychological shock. He patiently invites them to observe and touch. He says, “Look at my hands and feet, that it is I, myself. Touch me and see. I have flesh and bones and therefore I can’t be a ghost.” He shows to them the wound scars in His hands and feet. “Here, here’s the proof; look at it, touch it.”
Yet even as He is talking to them, they are still in disbelief, it was too good to be true! They were so beside themselves that they forgot their manners. Instead of them offering Jesus something to eat, He is obliged to ask them for something. Was Jesus really hungry? Did his resurrected body need food to continue to survive? Perhaps. But I believe this was just another way of Jesus reassuring them that it was really Him standing there among them. So, He took what they offered and ate it in their presence.
You and I weren’t there to personally experience the events recorded here in our text. But we accept the reliability of the biblical and historical records. Through faith we have personally experienced the life-changing power of the resurrection. We know we are no longer the slaves to sin we once were. Now we are voluntary slaves of Christ, and He has given us the power to choose what is right and good. We understand and believe that the prophecies of the Old Testament were fulfilled in Him. He is the Messiah, the anointed One, the Savior of mankind. We are witnesses by our personal experience.
The Next ELEMENT (essential to our being witnesses) is,
By Prophetic Fulfillment
Learning history can be a challenge for people with short attention spans. Many people have told me that history is boring to them. I remind them that if they don’t learn from history, they’re doomed to repeat it. In the Bible, much of history is simply fulfilled prophecy.
Jesus disciples knew much of their history as a people and nation. But they missed the significance of many Scriptures that talked specifically about Jesus as a suffering Messiah. Jesus reminded them that His words have been consistent the whole time He had been with them. He didn’t tell them one thing one time and something different a few weeks or months later. He continually told them that all the things the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms said about Him must be fulfilled.
And once again, just as He did for the two on the road to Emmaus, He patiently opens their understanding by giving them fresh light on old Scriptures they knew. He had been trying to do this for the previous three years, and really, the task wouldn’t be finished until after the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. He would bring all things to their memory and guide them in the way of Truth.
Notice what Jesus says to them; “thus it is written…” Remember, this is the way Jesus answered Satan when He was being tempted in the wilderness. It was the usual phrase given by a teacher before quoting Scripture. Part of the Old Testament prophecy was that repentance and remission of sins would be preached in His name (that is, on the basis or foundation of His name) among all the nations.
Early in the Old Testament we have God’s promise of Abraham’s descendant who would be a blessing to ALL the peoples of the world. Jacob’s dying prophecies told how Judah would maintain the governing role until “Shiloh comes.” This word is thought to be derived from the same root as shalom. Shiloh will be the one who brings peace or rest. This seems to be a clear reference to Messiah because this descendant of Judah would gather the peoples of the world, both Jews and non-Jews, to himself. Isaiah prophesied that Jesus would be “a light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of your people, Israel.”
So, Jesus goes through these Old Testament Scriptures and helps His disciples see that His suffering, His resurrection, and the preaching of repentance and forgiveness of sins to all nations were all part of God’s plan from the beginning.
When was the last time you heard a sermon taken from the Old Testament in your church? I ask that question because a lack of familiarity with the Old Testament will seriously handicap our understanding of the New Testament. The idea that the Old Testament is irrelevant to our day makes as much sense as building a house with no foundation under it! Pastor-teachers who neglect the Old Testament are short-changing their people and failing to proclaim the whole counsel of God. We need to follow Jesus’ example given here in our text.
As Christ-followers, we rely on the Holy Spirit to open our understanding. There are many prophesies given in the Old Testament that have been fulfilled and many that haven’t. If we are to be His witnesses, we will need to know the difference and how to explain these things to those who ask us. Jesus reminded His followers that they were witnesses of what the Scriptures had prophesied. He said that their witness should begin in Jerusalem. Our witness starts at home too. Prophetic fulfillment is an essential element of our witness.
The Final ELEMENT (essential to our being witnesses) is,
By Promised Power
Jesus said, “Behold, I (the I is emphatic), I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay here in Jerusalem until you are “clothed” with power from above. I like that word-picture. It speaks of a fusion between the person and the thing that’s being put on. There’s a sense in which clothing defines who we are. To be clothed with the Spirit of God is to be identified with Him, it is to take on His character.
The promise of the Father that Jesus speaks about is the coming of the Holy Spirit. Recall how Jesus told them of the necessity of His going away in John 16:7 and 8. “Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you. And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment.”
After Jesus had spoken these words to them, he led them out to the Mount of Olives. From their vantage point they could see the city of Jerusalem and recall the previous teaching Jesus had given them in that spot. Then, as He lifted up His hands and blessed them, He ascended into heaven from the same mountain to which the prophets predict He will one day return.
In response, the disciples worshipped Him and returned to Jerusalem with overflowing joy. As an expression of that joy, they continued gathering in the Temple praising and blessing God.
Have you received the power that Jesus promised to all who believe on Him? The apostle John tells us, “He [Jesus] was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own people, and His own people did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right [or authority] to become children of God, to those who believe in His name…”
And then in Ephesians chapter one the apostle Paul adds to our understanding by writing; “In Him [that’s Jesus] you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, whois the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.
Maybe you’re saying, “Pastor, how do I know if I have received this power of the Holy Spirit?” I am so glad there’s a clear answer to that question. It’s found in Galatians 5:22 and following. “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.”
Jesus didn’t tell His disciples that maybe they would be witnesses. No, He said “you are witnesses.” The same is true for us today. If we claim to be His followers, then we are His witnesses. And we will need to embrace each of these essential elements. We must know Him by personal experience; we have placed our faith in Him as the only means of salvation. We must know Him by prophetic fulfillment; all the Scriptures foretold His coming. And we must know Him by the promised power; the evidence of the Holy Spirit living in us.
May God grant us grace and strength to be credible witnesses in our day!