Jesus does a lot of amazing things in Luke 36-49. He “appears” out of seemingly nowhere; but he’s not a ghost. He’s got the skin, the bones, and the scars to prove it. And he eats with them; ghosts don’t get hungry. And, as if he hasn’t done this over and over again before his crucifixion, he explains why, despite his indiscriminate love, he suffered and died and rose again. And finally, the light begins to turn on for the disciples!
But maybe the most amazing thing that Jesus does in this scene is something overlooked by we contemporary readers. Jesus calls them witnesses of these things (Luke 24:48) Jesus doesn’t give them a choice. Not, would you like to be my witnesses? Can you be my witnesses? No, he states a truth. Because you are here, because you followed me and because I’ve explained to God’s plan as I stand before you in a resurrected body, you are a witnesses. No avoiding it. No going back.
This may make sense for those disciples who were present in the room where it happened; who saw the risen Lord and experienced his teaching first hand. But what about us, with 2,000 years of separation between those first eye witnesses? How are we witnesses to this good news we read about in the gospels?
Truth is, Jesus’s empty tomb work is showing up everyday, all around us, if we have the eyes to see it. For the longest time, I thought I had to be the one to create these situations, as if it was up to me to do the resurrecting! No wonder witnessing carries a negative connotation for most of us, though many of us wouldn’t want to admit it. But that’s a burden too large and heavy for us. Besides, God’s already accomplished the work. We just have to point it out when we see it!
Too often, I think I have to be a witness to Biblical theory or doctrine instead of being a witness to the simple story of God’s work. When I do that, however, I’m making the good news all about me. Its bound to go wrong with that approach. Rather, instead of being in control of God’s witness, I’m learning that God is at work all around me. Oftentimes, it’s in the hard places in life. All I need in order to be a witness to God’s salvific activity is be present to God’s spirit moving around me. If we believe what Jesus said, that we are witnesses to God’s good news, then we have the eyes and the ears and the heart to be aware of this.
Jesus promised God would aid us in this work with the gifting of the holy spirit (Luke 24:49 and Acts 1:8), so we shouldn’t be under the impression that this witnessing work is on our shoulders. If we believe God still works through the Holy Spirit, all we have to do is daily ask that we be aware of God’s Spirit at work and then look for it expectantly. God will use our story and the resurrection story to point out in our work, in our families and in our neighborhoods that resurrection still happens; that there is another story at work rather than power and dominance. The alternative or real story is the Kingdom of God and that everyone is invited to experience.
David Fitch, Professor of Theology at Northern Seminary address this posture of witnessing in his short volume entitled Seven Practices for the Church On Mission:
Every day in our neighborhoods, amid strife, broken relationships, and tragedy, whether we are Christians or not, we need the gospel. Christians must play host to spaces where the gospel can be proclaimed. As we gather around tables and the various meeting places of our lives, if we will be patient and tend to Christ’s presence among us, the moments will present themselves for the gospel to be proclaimed contextually and humbly out of our own testimony. And in these moments, Christ will be present, transformation will come, and onlookers will catch a glimpse of the kingdom. This is faithful presence.
The Psalm for this week reminds us that people long for stories about resurrection – that life can be good.
“There are many who say, ‘oh that we might see some good!
Let the light of your face shine on us, Oh Lord!’
You have put gladness in my heart
More than when grain and wine abound.
I will both lie down and sleep in peace;
For you alone, Oh Lord, make me lie down in safety.”
We are witnesses to Christ’s resurrection story and the Spirit’s ongoing resurrection work today. People are longing to lie down and sleep in peace, which is to say, they long to be whole. It’s not up to us to make this happen. Rather, we just need to be available to point to where these deep needs in everyone can be found. And do it with gladness in our heart.
- What does Jesus mean when he calls his disciples witnesses?
- What are examples of being a witness in society? (Witness a car crash, a winning shot, a wedding, etc…)
- Does a witness do the acting or simply the reporting?
- What emotions come with being a witness for Christ?
- What stands in our way of being a witness?
- What help do we have in being a witness?
- Do Christians sometimes make witnessing harder than it has to be?