Philip Casmer

You Are Witnesses…

by Philip Casmer on May 18th, 2023
Luke 24:44-52

The other day my wife and I were discussing our life-roles – about who’s doing what and not doing what, taking care of what and not taking care of what – you know, one of those conversations that wives always win. And in it she said, “Well, when I think of myself, I think first – I’m a mom… When you think of yourself, you think first – I’m a pastor…” She’s probably right. I tend to do that – maybe we do, generally, tend to think of ourselves by our careers… 

We all do that general thing though… think of ourselves in different ways: man/woman, father/mother, friend, Mathlete, engineer, human being, citizen… But tonight – whatever way you think of yourself – Jesus thinks of you this way. He draws you into his close fellowship of disciples – those standing and listening to the risen Lord – and what he said to them is also for you… Before he ascends away, he says, “You are witnesses…”

Now, we’ve all seen witnesses on TV or a real-life courtroom setting. Witnesses are people who know facts about something – they saw the car accident, what happened, who was at fault; they’ve seen your life, your character, they know who you are and how you are… Witnesses know the facts.

Well, Jesus actually said, “You are witnesses of these things…” He means some very specific facts. You are witnesses of what had to be fulfilled…, “what must be fulfilled…”, what needed to happen… Related to how we each think of ourselves is the idea that we all need certain things. Certainly we could boil it down to some commonalities and say that we need food and water to survive. But I bet you feel like you need more than that. An 85 year long Harvard study just concluded that what people need most for happiness is positive relationships… But you also have needs in your jobs. You need a sustainable income – enough to pay for the things you truly need and to do the things you want. You might feel you need to be comfortable. There’s a lot we might each say in the “what has to be” category.

Here’s Jesus’ what had to be: “Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” And he told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day…” 

In Jesus’ mind – of all the things that could have been – what had to be?

  1. That God’s Word would be fulfilled. And that God’s Word is supremely consistent – from before time in God’s plan, in Old Testament time through prophets’ pens, and in the New Testament life of Jesus himself – God’s Word promised a Savior to come – and God needed to fulfill his promises…
  2. In Jesus’s language that word must is just three letters long but it’s one of the most powerful words in the Bible. It reflects God’s divine necessity – it had to be that Jesus would live in our human existence just like us but without sins, it had to be that Jesus would suffer for sins in our place even to death, it had to be that Jesus would rise from death to life again, conquering its power… 

Of all he could have had, this is what God had to have… in his love, so that he could have you. This is what we need to know then, as witnesses: what God needed to happen that we ourselves need – his salvation in Jesus

Now, we should also note, that’s not all Jesus said. He also said what’s naturally true. That witnesses don’t just know the facts, they also faithfully tell the facts. You are witnesses in what will be preached too.

Here’s a great comfort as you begin to think that through. God didn’t only demand that salvation be fulfilled, he also promised it will be told. Hear Jesus’ words specifically: “repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in [Jesus’] name to all nations.” That “will” is kind of like a semi-truck running down the highway… it’s got some momentum and inertia to it. There’s no stopping that thing… God’s will is kind of like that – to a much greater degree – so, if he says things “will” happen, there is divine inertia behind it: they will happen… The salvation message “will be preached” to all nations – the whole world over.

Let’s be clear – I don’t think it’s too far to say – Preaching will happen and you are part of God’s “will…” He intends it to happen through you. You are witnesses of these facts of salvation and so you will preach… It’s the fruit of faith. And that’s not hard. Let’s be practical: you will tell your children the message of salvation – make time, open the Bible, read devotions – do it; you will talk to your neighbors at different times – sometimes how you have a church and you’ll invite them, sometimes because they think Christians are terrible – but you’ll lovingly talk with them – do it; you will preach with your feet – walking into a church on Sunday (or Thursday night) – and with your actions – being kind, fair, honest, helpful – just do it. Not hard at all…

In one sense that’s true – what to do is simple. But there are always problems…Doing it can seem difficult. People aren’t always friendly, sometimes they don’t care what you do, sometimes they have great arguments and know a lot… But you are witnesses… So God’s promise that his Word will be preached could be viewed in this negative way too… That semi truck rolling down the highway at 75 doesn’t just stop… If you get in front of it, it smash on through you… If we don’t preach it, God will find someone else to do it. Which might mean that he’d even take it away from you or me… Judgment against sin. We’re either operating inside the will of God, riding along – or it may pass us by… 

We should check often… Do we know the facts? Have we studied these things – opened God’s Word, owned it for ourselves? Or have we neglected them instead? You’re not against God’s Word – you’re here, after all. Even so, it can be just a part of our lives – often secondary to all the other things we think we need. And even if we do know, we might just feel weak or not up to the task. Perhaps people have failed in preaching to us – pastors, friends, parents – and we intimately know that preaching doesn’t always happen or always happen well… Beside just being afraid ourselves of what we’ll encounter and who we’ll meet.

In those moments, let us take stock of what we know… God worked to fulfill his salvation in Jesus. His own Son stood in your place, dying for your sins, and he conquered sins’ power – he rose. God promises this message will be preached – and one part is its daily preaching to our hearts – to call us to repentance if we forget what we know or neglect it, to repentance if we’re too afraid to tell it, to repentance which is turning away from sin… And God preaches “forgiveness of sins” to our hearts again and again and again… So that we can be witnesses… and that will only truly happen by what Jesus will send.

I’m thinking of two things in this text. The first is what Jesus sent out to his disciples right there while talking with them. Jesus “opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.” The second thing Jesus will send to his disciples is, of course, the promise of his Father, God’s Holy Spirit, and power from on high. That happened later at Pentecost – tongues of fire on their heads, speaking in different languages, powerful conversions…

Wouldn’t it be great if we got that kind of thing? I mean, wouldn’t it be great to have this kind of powerful revelation? You know? When Jesus opened their minds did those first discipes just suddenly have global Bible passage knowledge – like when Morpheus plugs Neo into the Matrix and presses the “load Bible…” button? Wouldn’t that have been great for confirmation examination, every passage? Was it like the grandest Bible “aha” moment, do you think?

You know what I’m tempted to think? We don’t get that like they did, do we? I have not had jolt-of-lightning sermon revelation – this thing took some time. You’ve never had a “flames of fire dancing over our heads experience,” God’s Spirit granting 3000 conversions in a day… Do we have everything we need? 

Did you hear the astounding way St. Paul prayed for you tonight? Listen to what he prays God grants to disciples of Jesus like us so that we have what we need as witnesses: 

I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.” (Ephesians 1:15-18)

Paul prayed that God’s Holy Spirit, who is God’s wisdom and reveals his Word, would be given to you so that you might witness just like those disciples of old. It happens as you open his Word. You will grow in wisdom yourself and in understanding – to know God as needing to fulfill our salvation and win us for himself and to know how rich that makes us – blessed with everything we need to finally live with him. This is what God prays for you and promises. It’s what you and I can pray for each day, hearing our Lord Jesus’ words: “Lord send your Holy Spirit to enlighten us to know what we need – this salvation in Jesus that richly blesses us beyond compare… and give us power to preach…” Paul prayed for that too for you: the same power God used to raise Jesus to life and to set him ruling over all things again, that mighty power is at work in you and for you… 

So, don’t rely on you and your wisdom. Don’t rely on this or us or that beautiful church. Rely on what Jesus will send…: revelation and enlightenment of his Spirit, the divine power to get his message out – even giving us the words to speak at times – so that through you and others his Word will be heard and bring people to faith and keep them there with you and me. And because that’s what Jesus sends, you can be witnesses just like those first disciples…

After all that, as you heard, those first disciples saw their risen Jesus become the ascended Lord – parted from them, covered by clouds, taken away. But they were filled with joy… On this Ascension Day, that joy is ours too. For we can pray that God would fill us, we – your pastors – and you God’s people, with his mighty power and with the knowledge of his fulfilled salvation and gracious love, so that we boldly always preach to you – repentance and forgiveness in the name of Jesus – and you preach it too. Because we are witnesses – to put it as Paul did: Jesus’ church, and our risen and ascended Lord is ruling over all things for us – so that his love will be told, known, and believed – all over, until the very end, under his blessed reign.

 

“Now to [the Risen and Ascended Lord Jesus Christ], the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.”

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