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Acts

Testimony

Acts  23

The word "witness" conjures up a number of meanings to the Christian: in a court of law, as witnesses to Christ, even "Jehovah's Witnesses." In today's passage we shall see just what it should mean to the Christian. Consider the testimony of Paul the Apostle:

(Acts 23 NIV) Paul looked straight at the Sanhedrin and said, "My brothers, I have fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience to this day." {2} At this the high priest Ananias ordered those standing near Paul to strike him on the mouth. {3} Then Paul said to him, "God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! You sit there to judge me according to the law, yet you yourself violate the law by commanding that I be struck!" {4} Those who were standing near Paul said, "You dare to insult God's high priest?" {5} Paul replied, "Brothers, I did not realize that he was the high priest; for it is written: 'Do not speak evil about the ruler of your people.'" {6} Then Paul, knowing that some of them were Sadducees and the others Pharisees, called out in the Sanhedrin, "My brothers, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee. I stand on trial because of my hope in the resurrection of the dead." {7} When he said this, a dispute broke out between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. {8} (The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, and that there are neither angels nor spirits, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all.) {9} There was a great uproar, and some of the teachers of the law who were Pharisees stood up and argued vigorously. "We find nothing wrong with this man," they said. "What if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?" {10} The dispute became so violent that the commander was afraid Paul would be torn to pieces by them. He ordered the troops to go down and take him away from them by force and bring him into the barracks. {11} The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, "Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome." {12} The next morning the Jews formed a conspiracy and bound themselves with an oath not to eat or drink until they had killed Paul. {13} More than forty men were involved in this plot. {14} They went to the chief priests and elders and said, "We have taken a solemn oath not to eat anything until we have killed Paul. {15} Now then, you and the Sanhedrin petition the commander to bring him before you on the pretext of wanting more accurate information about his case. We are ready to kill him before he gets here." {16} But when the son of Paul's sister heard of this plot, he went into the barracks and told Paul. {17} Then Paul called one of the centurions and said, "Take this young man to the commander; he has something to tell him." {18} So he took him to the commander. The centurion said, "Paul, the prisoner, sent for me and asked me to bring this young man to you because he has something to tell you." {19} The commander took the young man by the hand, drew him aside and asked, "What is it you want to tell me?" {20} He said: "The Jews have agreed to ask you to bring Paul before the Sanhedrin tomorrow on the pretext of wanting more accurate information about him. {21} Don't give in to them, because more than forty of them are waiting in ambush for him. They have taken an oath not to eat or drink until they have killed him. They are ready now, waiting for your consent to their request." {22} The commander dismissed the young man and cautioned him, "Don't tell anyone that you have reported this to me." {23} Then he called two of his centurions and ordered them, "Get ready a detachment of two hundred soldiers, seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen to go to Caesarea at nine tonight. {24} Provide mounts for Paul so that he may be taken safely to Governor Felix." {25} He wrote a letter as follows: {26} Claudius Lysias, To His Excellency, Governor Felix: Greetings. {27} This man was seized by the Jews and they were about to kill him, but I came with my troops and rescued him, for I had learned that he is a Roman citizen. {28} I wanted to know why they were accusing him, so I brought him to their Sanhedrin. {29} I found that the accusation had to do with questions about their law, but there was no charge against him that deserved death or imprisonment. {30} When I was informed of a plot to be carried out against the man, I sent him to you at once. I also ordered his accusers to present to you their case against him. {31} So the soldiers, carrying out their orders, took Paul with them during the night and brought him as far as Antipatris. {32} The next day they let the cavalry go on with him, while they returned to the barracks. {33} When the cavalry arrived in Caesarea, they delivered the letter to the governor and handed Paul over to him. {34} The governor read the letter and asked what province he was from. Learning that he was from Cilicia, {35} he said, "I will hear your case when your accusers get here." Then he ordered that Paul be kept under guard in Herod's palace.

What is Testimony?

It is a maxim of English law that legal memory begins with the reign of Richard the First - Richard the Lion Heart. This is not because of the splendor and virtues of that prince, but because of the work of his father, Henry II. Henry borrowed the idea of the jury from the Franks - and made it the sole province of the king, which meant the king's courts gave better justice than the barons. In those days a jury was composed not only of bystanders but also of the witnesses. The witnesses told their tale, and all together came to an agreement on the facts. Our conception of a witness and jury being separate came much later. Their idea carries with it an important truth: the witness must be willing to act as well as talk.

Witness - meaning of the word

It surprises many Christians to learn that the word translated "witness" is originally, in the Greek, the root word for martyr. One fine example of this is Stephen, the first martyr and surely a model for the witness. There are three things we might point out from his example:

·         He was willing - and prepared - to testify in words. His defense takes up more than a chapter in Acts, and it is a recitation of the facts leading up to the time of Christ.

·         He was willing to act - for as they stoned him, he forgave them.

·         He was willing to die. It is this that impresses us, and we need to discover the secret of this willingness.

Old Testament examples

The Old Testament provides us with a rich history of the idea that important events require testimony - for the memory of man is short. More than that, however, God lays in the Old Testament the ground work for the coming of Christ. Physical examples abound:

·         The Ark of the Covenant was referred to as the "Ark of the Testimony" - the container (ark) which contains the evidence. The Tabernacle itself was similarly called the Tabernacle of the Testimony. Boundary stones were laid as witnesses; when the Israelites crossed the Jordan, they set up twelve stones as a testimony to the event.

·         Frequently we see the Israelites themselves called together as a group to witness some declaration. "We are witnesses," they would declare.[1]

·         Indeed, we even see the use of ritual and symbolism as witnesses. The disciples are told to "shake dust." The transfer of the sandal in Ruth signifies the transfer of the inheritance. Even today we take Communion as a witness to the death of Christ on the Cross.

Christian Testimony

It is surprising, therefore, that so many Christians believe that testifying to Christ is someone else's job - usually the preacher's. It is not so. We are explicitly called to testify to Christ:

(Luke 12:8-9 NIV) "I tell you, whoever acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man will also acknowledge him before the angels of God. {9} But he who disowns me before men will be disowned before the angels of God.

More than that, it is the natural reaction of the Christian to the Good News - remember the woman at the well?[2] A great sinner, but the salvation was greater. She could not resist the opportunity to testify. Indeed, if you are truly a Christian, testifying to it is, in a sense, perfectly natural:

(2 Cor 4:13 NIV) It is written: "I believed; therefore I have spoken." With that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak,

What's interesting about this passage is the section of the Old Testament from which Paul is quoting:

(Psa 116:10 NIV) I believed; therefore I said, "I am greatly afflicted."

Testimony seems to carry with it affliction. As we shall see, this is the real reason most of us do not testify to our Lord.

Forms of testimony

The most commonly thought of form of testimony is preaching. Indeed, this form is explicitly commanded.[3] But there are two other forms of testimony that are fairly common (in addition to those already mentioned)

·         Most of us are familiar with the concept of "lifestyle evangelism." It is interesting, however, that the Scripture sees this as defensive - that the faith might not be slandered.[4]

·         It is also called for in the matter of church discipline, where the second step involves two or three witnesses![5] You can picture the risk in this!

Difficulties

We are quick to raise objections:

·         "I am not an eloquent person"

(1 Cor 2:1 NIV) When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God.

·         "I'd be embarrassed to bring the subject up."

(2 Tim 1:8 NIV) So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God,

Here is our real problem. We do not wish to "join in suffering." We forget that witness equals martyr - or more likely, we remember. We need to understand the power of the Gospel:

(Rev 12:11 NIV) They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.

Note the source of power: the blood of the lamb - and the word of their testimony. By these they overcame Satan.[6] We need to be connected to the power of the Resurrection if we are to do this.

The Resurrection

Paul, in our passage here, goes to the root of the matter. He is on trial for his belief in the Resurrection - a resurrection he has seen with his own eyes. His belief extends back to the earliest days of the Bible:

(Job 19:25-27 NIV) I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. {26} And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; {27} I myself will see him with my own eyes--I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!

Some will say this is just a man talking. Isaiah makes it clear:

(Isa 26:19 NIV) But your dead will live; their bodies will rise. You who dwell in the dust, wake up and shout for joy. Your dew is like the dew of the morning; the earth will give birth to her dead.

If you needed a clearer picture than this, God gives you one. Ezekiel walks in the valley of the dry bones - and sees them clothed with flesh.[7] We have the risen Lord, evidence of the resurrection to come. To testify to Him is to declare the resurrection to come.

New Testament - the nature of the Resurrection

In such a lesson as this we can be but brief. But there are some things we do know about the resurrection to come:

·         The body we have now will be transformed into a new kind of body.[8] What kind? We don't know.

·         We shall be like the angels.[9]

·         And - most significantly - there are at least two separate resurrections. The dead in Christ shall rise first.[10] Why? The Judgment.

The Judgment

The resurrection is the beginning of God's ultimate judgment on this world. We have known this since the days of Daniel:

(Dan 12:2 NIV) Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.

Indeed, the New Testament teaches us that those who do not awaken to everlasting life are doomed to the second death:

(Rev 20:4-6 NIV) I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or his image and had not received his mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. {5} (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection. {6} Blessed and holy are those who have part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years.

Impact

All well and good, some may say, but what impact does this have on the here and now?

·         The resurrection is proof of the divinity of Christ.[11] If He is God, then should you not listen to him, even now?

·         It is also our spur to imitate him:

(Phil 3:10-11 NIV) I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, {11} and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.

Some will not be convinced, even by the resurrection of Christ. Remember Lazarus and the rich man?[12] But we of all people should be - and do our best to convince others.

Finale

Do you believe that God is just? That he is fair? Do you ever ask him why the wicked seem to go unpunished? The court of God's justice is not yet adjourned. It will hold its final session when all are resurrected.

Consider this well, for there will be two kinds of accused in that court.

·         There will be those who throw themselves on the mercy of the court. Their only plea will be based upon the death, burial and resurrection of our Lord. To the merciful, God will have mercy. To those who will not judge, for they are sinners themselves, God will decline to judge.

·         There will those who will stand proudly unrepentant - "I did it my way, and I wouldn't change a thing." Like the judges in our court, mercy is for the truly repentant - and punishment for the defiant.

I once sat in a court, waiting for the trial of a friend. As a first order of business he dealt with many men who had been convicted of drunk driving. Those who were in court that day were those who had completed the prescribed course of rehabilitation, whose records were clean of further offense. There were many names called who were not present. For each of these, the judge instructed the marshal to issue a warrant for their arrest, so that they might begin serving their sentences. But for those present, he would review their records, pronounce them released, and say: "You may now say that you have never been arrested." When I first heard this, I thought it absurd. But then I realized what having a criminal record means to a potential employer. Indeed, more than that, what that judge was doing was a small picture of the day of judgment. To those who repent, he will pronounce them innocent. To those who do not, there awaits only the second death.

The books of God are not closed - yet. Repent while there is still time.


[1] Joshua 4:22

[2] John 4:28-30

[3] Matthew 24:14

[4] 1 Peter 2:15

[5] Matthew 18:16

[6] Indeed, see Rev. 15:5-6 to see that from the Tabernacle of the Testimony proceed the seven plagues of God.

[7] Ezekiel 37:1-14

[8] 1 Cor. 15:42-44

[9] Matthew 22:30

[10] 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18. Scholars disagree on the total number. For example, Hal Lindsay lists as many as six separate resurrections.

[11] Romans 1:4

[12] Luke 16:31

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