Courageous Witness

Are you open about your faith? Do you talk about what God has done in your life, that he has helped you through tough times, he has answered prayer, he has released you from sin and guilt, he has changed you completely, he has given you a new life? Are you bold in sharing?
My hope for today is that when you head home you are encouraged by the bold confession of the saints so that you too will give a courageous witness concerning all that God has done for the world in Jesus Christ. We heard in Hebrews 12 that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. So many saints have gone before us in the faith, confessing Jesus in life and in death. And on this day, this All Saints’ Day, we rejoice that God calls us saints by his grace, and we also draw inspiration and motivation from the good examples set for us. We remember and emulate those who have gone before us, whether family member, friend, or heroic saint of old.
Some of those saints who are in the great cloud of witnesses were there in the locked room on Easter evening. We hear the account in Luke 24. The disciples gathered in that room were trembling and confused, not knowing what to do with their lives. Their teacher, their leader and master, Jesus, whom they hoped would be the Messiah, was seized, accused, condemned, whipped, and crucified. His death was confirmed by a spear piercing his side, stabbing up into his heart. He was buried, and the tomb was sealed and guarded. That Sunday morning, however, there was news of an earthquake, angels, a rolled away stone, and an empty tomb. But what to make of it all?
As they wondering, gathered behind locked doors, the resurrected Jesus appeared in their room, and they were startled and frightened! And Christ, who had just conquered death, now had the difficult task of conquering their fearful hearts! He spoke peace to them, he showed them his hands and feet. And because in joyful shock they were still disbelieving, he ate some fish for them. A ghost couldn’t have done that! This must be the real Jesus, fully alive again!
Then Jesus told him that the Old Testament Scriptures were meant to bear witness concerning him. He said “everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (v. 44). And the lightbulb came on for them. That’s when their own Scriptures, which we call the Old Testament now, came into focus for them. The Scriptures foretold the Messiah’s conception, birth, life, ministry, miracles, preaching and teaching, sacrificial death, triumphant resurrection, ascension into glory, ruling and reigning over all things, and coming again on the Last Day. And this Jesus of Nazareth guy, this was him!
Luke 24 continues: “Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (v.45-47). Notice what Jesus wants. He doesn’t just want those faithful few in the room to be saved. Boy, it would be easy to be a Christian then, wouldn’t it?—If we could all say: “I know what I believe, and I’ll just keep it to myself. Let’s not trouble anyone with our beliefs. Everyone is entitled to their own views after all. It’s a private matter.”
Think of that! What an easy and lazy faith it would be if we gathered in a private room and celebrated a faith that was supposed to be only for us! We wouldn’t have to worry about those moments when you try to tell someone that you go to church and youth group, and they scoff at you. You wouldn’t risk ridicule by telling someone that your faith informs how you live, what choices you make, how you spend your time, how you vote, how you manage your resources, and more. You wouldn’t have to actually care about people and do the difficult work of building relationships so your faith and life can be a positive influence on them. You wouldn’t risk making a friendship awkward by discussing faith. You wouldn’t actually have to pray out loud for someone going through a hard time. You wouldn’t actually have to try to put your creed and confession into words. You wouldn’t have to be open about your struggles and acknowledge that you’re a forgiven sinner. You wouldn’t have to learn a little bit of apologetics so that you can answer the evolutionists, the abortionists, the hedonists. You wouldn’t have to try to correct anyone or warn anyone that they’re on the path to destruction. You wouldn’t have to tell people their choices are unhealthy and harmful to themselves and to others. You wouldn’t have to keep learning the faith and pondering how to impact the ever-changing culture with the unchanging Good News of Jesus.
Boy, that would be easy. You know what, let’s confess that that’s what our sinful nature wants—an easy, lazy religion that we can keep to ourselves. Our sinful nature says: “You shouldn’t be a Christian, but if you must believe in Jesus, at least keep that garbage quiet!” The truth is, we want the easy life of faith in the private room, just us and Jesus. We should take a moment right now to confess that we are too quiet, too timid, too lazy, too fearful, too selfish to be a courageous witness. Forgive us, dear Lord!
But notice what Jesus wants. He wants repentance and forgiveness of sins to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning with Jerusalem. He goes on: “You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high” (v. 48-49).
Friends, that power from on high is the Holy Spirit who was poured out upon them in a spectacular way on the day of Pentecost. Those disciples were emboldened, and preached Jesus, and 3,000 people were baptized in just that one day, the first day of the spreading of the news of Jesus. Look what Spirit-empowered, courageous witness does!
Jesus called them “witnesses.” In the Greek, the word “to bear witness” is the word martyreo, and we have brought that word into our English vocabulary as the word martyr. When we usually use the word martyr, we are usually referring to people who have given up their lives and died for the faith in a bold confession of Christ. And certainly, we honor and admire the martyred saints and seek by God’s strength to emulate their courage.
But “martyr” is actually broader than that, and we can be courageous witnesses even if we aren’t slain for the faith. So, what is a witness, and what do witnesses do? In general terms, witnesses tell what they’ve seen and heard, like when someone is giving a statement to the police after a crime or accident. Witnesses testify that events actually took place, like when witnesses sign the marriage license, or sponsors sign the baptismal certificate. In a legal setting, witnesses swear to tell the true facts. In everyday life, people are constantly bearing witness concerning matters that are meaningful to them.
Jesus tells these disciples, who were eyewitnesses of the events of the crucifixion and saw the risen Christ with their own eyes, that they will be ones who proclaim that these events actually took place, they will tell the true facts, and they will share all these matters that are meaningful and life-giving to them. Jesus says they will be his witnesses. And indeed they were.
And to this day, their witness is echoing all over the earth. You and I are honored and privileged to be able to join in the witness. We maybe haven’t seen the risen Christ with our own eyes, but we still know the truth that sets people free. We still know the hope that fills our hearts. We still know the great power of God. We still have the eyewitness testimony in the pages of Scripture, a witness that rings the truth, a message of love that cannot be silenced, a shining light that will not be snuffed out. You can use the Word to tell what God has done for the world. You can use your experience to tell what God has done for you. You can quote others, or you can put it in your own words. You can pass it on face to face or put it out there on social media. You can take that next step with your unchurched friend and invite them into your life and into your church.
Might it make a friendship awkward? Might things get weird at school or work? It might. But maybe, just maybe, it might make an eternal difference. Besides, Jesus doesn’t want you to have a lazy faith that timidly appears only in a private room with other believers. He wants you to share it. And don’t worry about who you are and if you’re the right person. He uses all kinds of people to share it.
You know, those of us who are lifelong Christians, maybe especially we lifelong Lutherans, should learn from the converts and be bolder in our witness. If we are lifelong Christians, what a blessing it is to have grown up in this truth and life and faith! But we can easily take it for granted. Some of the most courageous witnesses in this church are the people who openly confess that they had been asleep, they had been dead, they had walked in darkness, but now they have a new and different life. Let’s thank God for those witnesses among us, and the rest of us should strive to imitate that. The truth is we were asleep and dead in sin too, but we were too young to remember our awakening. But our story is the same. We were saved too, forgiven too, raised up to new life also!
So, why not be a courageous witness? What are you afraid of? Rejection, pain, loss? Well, then you’re in good company with the saints of old, the first apostles, and even Jesus himself. Are you nervous that you don’t know how, or you’re afraid to take the first step? Start small. Start by sharing things on social media. Or forwarding emails. Start by talking about the faith with other Christians so that you know how to put it into words when you’re talking to an unbeliever.
Start somewhere, but above all, remember what your source of courage is. It isn’t your own strength. Your source of courage is Jesus, Son of God, who has won the victory. It is the Holy Spirit who dwells within you so that you don’t have a spirit of timidity, but of power. Your confidence is in God the Father, who created you and made you talented and unique, and who has given you your own circle of influence. He puts people in your path (people that I can’t reach), people who are ready to hear the Word. He promises to give you the words. You just have to open your mouth and start.
As we seek to Tell the Next Generation, as a church we will strive be a “Courageous Witness.” We’ll encourage each other, teach each other, study together, do ministry together, invite others, proclaim Jesus with words and actions. Let’s let Lee’s Summit know we’re here. Let’s let Kansas City hear the news. Let’s proclaim it in our nation and across our borders, and over the oceans. Jesus is King. Jesus is Lord. Jesus is Savior. Jesus has forgiveness. Jesus is love. Jesus is risen, and we too will rise! And now is the time to call the world to repent and believe the good news, for he is coming soon. Amen!