We are witnesses
Sermon for Easter 3
Bible reading: Luke 24:48
I’m not sure I’d be prepared to die for my country … but I hope that I’d be prepared to die for my Lord. I’m not sure that I’d be prepared to die killing people … but I hope that I’d be prepared to die bringing eternal life to people.
The Christian faith is built entirely on Jesus Christ who was prepared to die bringing eternal life to people. Since the death of Jesus Christ it is estimated that 40 million disciples of Jesus have been martyred because they were not prepared to stop following Jesus, they were not prepared to stop confessing Jesus as their Lord and Saviour, they were not prepared to stop witnessing, and telling and teaching others about Jesus.
A Christian who is killed because of their faith in Jesus and confession of his name is called a martyr. Eleven of the twelve Apostles of Jesus Christ died as martyrs. Little did they know, as they gathered with Jesus to celebrate the resurrection, that they would all die for seeing and believing and living and telling that truth. Little did they know, as Jesus said to them in the Upper Room: “you are witnesses of these things”, that it meant far more than that they had seen Jesus, and they would tell others that Jesus was alive again. “You are witnesses of these things”, would come to mean, ‘you will die for telling others that Jesus died and rose again’. The word martyr, means to witness, to see and hear and tell of the resurrection. But since that led to being killed for speaking out, the word martyr gradually took on the meaning of one who dies for confessing the faith.
I have never met a martyr who has been killed for their faith. I once met Pastor Richard Wurmbrand who was imprisoned for 14 years for confessing his faith in Romania. I once heard Brother Yun, The Heavenly Man, speak in Adelaide, after being released from many years in Chinese prisons for spreading the Christian faith. I have been inspired by reading the stories of countless Christians who were killed for witnessing to Jesus. But they all lived in other countries. I’ve never heard of a Christian being killed for telling others about Jesus in Australia. It is so easy to tell others about Jesus in Australia. They may not believe what we say. They may not even like what we say. They might even ridicule us for saying it. But they will not put us in prison. They will not kill us. We can be witnesses to Jesus without being killed for it. So why are we so slack at witnessing?
Jesus’ disciples had all deserted him when he suffered and died. They huddled together in fear, even after it was reported by the women that Jesus had been raised from the dead.
Then Jesus stood among them and said, Peace be with you. They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. … Look at my hands and my feet … Touch me and see … and while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, do you have anything here to eat? They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence. … Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.
Jesus is so patient with his frightened disciples. They had deserted Jesus. They were burdened with guilt. They were torn between fear and joy at seeing Jesus. But Jesus did not condemn them. He forgave them. He showed them the wounds of his crucifixion. He ate in their presence. He explained the Scriptures to them, how he had to suffer and die and rise from the dead. Jesus nursed his disciples to faith.
Faith in Jesus may not come easily to you. Perhaps you have trouble believing that Jesus could be raised from the dead? Perhaps you find it hard to believe that Jesus suffered and died and rose again from the dead for you, to forgive you, to give you a new life, to give you eternal life? Perhaps you are so used to the ways of this world, that you can’t believe Jesus’ resurrection brings a whole new way of living, for you and for the whole world?
A man came home from work to find that his wife had hung a plaque on the wall that said: Pray changes things. The man took it down. His wife was astonished and asked, ‘Don’t you like prayer?’ ‘Sure, I like prayer,’ he replied, ‘but I don’t like change.’
The resurrection of Jesus changes things … changes everything. Life is no longer a rat race ending in death. Life is no longer the round eternal: going to work to make money, to build a bigger home, so you have to go to work to pay for it, before you die and lose it.
The ways of this world are littered with failure. Wars solve little or nothing. “Money can’t buy me happiness.” Relationships often fail to satisfy. Church seems dull, and less and less people see it as a place to find meaning.
I’ve been speaking to a few of my relatives. They are very godly people. But their grandchildren have little or nothing to do with the church. Yes, some of my cousins’ children are active Christians, but others have no contact with the church. Parents and grandparents worry for their descendants, living without faith and God and the church – living as though Jesus has not died and been raised to give them eternal life – living like the rest of the world. In Australia, Anzac Day has become more important to us than Good Friday.
Jesus stood with his disciples in that upper room on the day of his resurrection and showed them he was really alive – and this changed everything. He said: “repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be preached to all nations in my name, beginning in Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And I’ll give you the Holy Spirit.”
The resurrection isn’t just a doctrine we believe. The resurrection of Jesus is a new life we share in, and are empowered to go out to call every one else to share in, beginning at home. Studies suggest that too many people who sit in church and hear the story of the resurrection and confess the creed, are not changed by it, and don’t speak about it in their homes.
A chap started going to church and his mates said: ‘I suppose that now you’re going to church you’ll start acting different!’ ‘No, I’m still the same old bloke,’ he replied.
To believe in the resurrection is to be changed by it, to live like Jesus, and daily point people to Jesus by our lives and words.
“We are witnesses”, said Peter and John and the other disciples as they preached the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. They saw it, they spoke it, they lived it, they died for it. The resurrection changed them so much that even the skeptics said: “we can see you’ve been with Jesus.”
We are witnesses. We’ve met with the risen Lord in Holy Communion. We’ve seen him at work in Baptism. We’ve heard him speak to us through his word. Holy Spirit, help our lives and words call others to follow Jesus Christ. Amen.
Pastor David Christian