Bearing Witness to the Resurrection

Proclaim Sermons
Homily: Easter Sunday 3
April 18, 2021
Reproduced with Permission
Proclaim Sermons

Summary: Just before his ascension Jesus had some last words for his disciples. One statement, "You are witnesses of these things," had special significance for the disciples, and it has special significance for disciples today. Being a witness is not optional. We ARE witnesses; we need to consider how we bear witness to the Resurrection.

"I can't un-see that ...." Have you ever spoken or thought that or some version of it? These days, it often refers to some stupid or inane thing that has shown up on your computer - on Facebook or YouTube, or whatever the current popular social media site is at the moment. Someone you know or even a complete stranger has forwarded a bit of video and you clicked on it. All at once you saw something you wished you had never seen, but you can't really "un-see" it, and so you're stuck with that thought, or those images rolling around in your head for the next few hours, or days or maybe even months. So, we try to fill our minds with other things and hope that what we saw will just fade away.

"I want to un-see it." Maybe you've been at the wrong place at the wrong time, and now you're being called on as a witness to a crime. It's a lot of bother, having to go to court, rearranging your schedule. It's inconvenient. And, depending on who the defendant is, it may even be dangerous. "I wish I had never even seen it," we might say.

"You are witnesses of these things," Jesus said to the disciples before his ascension. What did that mean for the disciples, and what does that mean for us? Today, we're going to consider what it means that, as followers of Christ, we are witnesses to the Resurrection.

Steps leading to being witnesses to the Resurrection

If you heard that a close friend or family member had come back from the dead, you would understandably question the sanity and reliability of the person telling you. You would have to see the person with your own eyes, and even then, a lot of questions would have to be answered.

Last August, a young woman who was declared dead at her suburban Detroit home opened her eyes at a funeral home as she was about to be embalmed.1 Found unresponsive at home, paramedics had been called and tried for 30 minutes to revive her, but with no success. An emergency room doctor was consulted and agreed with the paramedics, and so she was pronounced dead. More than an hour later, as she was about to be embalmed, she opened her eyes and was rushed to the hospital. Can you imagine the stories the witnesses had to tell? Things like this just don't happen!

Luke tells us it took three events for the disciples to believe Jesus was alive. In the first Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James and "other women" had gone back to the tomb with spices they had prepared for Jesus' body. They found the stone rolled away and "two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them." They asked the women, "Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen."2 When the women returned and told the Eleven all they had seen, the women's words words "seemed an idle tale, and they did not believe them."3

The second event Luke records took place on the road to Emmaus.4 Jesus walked next to two men who were discussing the thing that had happened in Jerusalem. As they talked, Jesus, "Beginning with Moses and all the prophets ... interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures."5 Later, as Jesus joined them at table, he "took bread, blessed it and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight."6 They returned to Jerusalem to tell the Eleven all the things that had happened to them.

The Eleven didn't believe these witnesses either, or at minimum, they weren't convinced.

But then the third event occurred. While the Eleven were talking with the two men from Emmaus, Jesus stood among them. "Peace be with you," he said. They thought they were seeing a ghost. "Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself," Jesus said. "Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have." He showed them his hands and his feet. While they were "still disbelieving" he asked them if they had anything to eat. When offered a piece of fish, he took it and ate in their presence.

From unbelief to being witnesses

Did Jesus have a smile on his face when the recognition finally began to set in? We don't know, of course, but surely there was a friendly face the disciples never expected to see again in this life. He began to teach them, "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you - that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled." Then he began what must have been the greatest Bible study of all time. Can you imagine? People crowd into public auditoriums to hear a best-selling author talk about his or her latest book; here the author of the universe was explaining things to them about his ministry and mission to the world.

Jesus went on to talk about his role as Messiah and the things that had to happen as he fulfilled that role. "That the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead ... and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations ...."

Then came the clincher! "You are witnesses of these things." Not, you can be witnesses; not you should be witnesses; not you can choose to be witnesses. "You are witnesses." They could not un-see what they had seen. And because of that, they had a responsibility for the rest of their lives to continue being witnesses. Jesus continued, "See, I am sending you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high."7 And in a short time, on the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descended upon them and they began the work of being witnesses.

Bearing witness to the resurrection

Karoline Lewis, a professor of preaching at Luther seminary, says of this passage, "As it turns out, witnessing is not voluntary, but a state of being."8

We are witnesses. It's who we are; it's what we are; it's what we were made for. For some, that is not good news. We remember when we have not worn that job and that title well. We remember when we have deferred the task of witness to someone else. We know sometimes (probably more than we like to admit) we have not been a good witness for Christ.

What we have to realize, however, is that we are never not a witness. So, when we turn our backs on the opportunities God gives us to be witnesses, we nonetheless continue to witness; just not as the best and most effective witness; perhaps even a witness against what God can and wants to do in the lives of God's people. Either way, however, we are witnesses.

Witnesses for God every day

We are witnesses in all that we do every day. When people know we are believers, they will check us out. Mark, a businessman at the beginning of his career, with a growing family and a meager salary, asked a friend in church about airport parking for an upcoming trip. Every dollar he spent on travel came out of his pocket and he was always looking for ways to save. The friend recommended one of the parking companies and told him it was possible to get a free stay after so many trips. He said he could give him a voucher to use, but it was not quite "above board." The young man said he would manage on his own and didn't feel right about doing anything that was questionable. The friend smiled and said he was glad to hear that his faith was not for sale! We are witnesses and others are watching to see if God really makes a difference in our lives and in our faith.

We are witnesses. In business, in school, in our marriage, in our families, as parents, as children, in our hobbies and in sports. In all of life, we are witnesses. We can make lots of excuses as to why we should set aside our witnessing from time to time, but those excuses do not hold water. We are witnesses, and every day we should look for the best way to witness to our faith and bear witness for Christ and the Resurrection in everything we do.

Shortly after the day of Pentecost, Peter healed a crippled man. This prompted people to gather around him and John at Solomon's Portico. Peter rose to the occasion, preaching a good word for the resurrected Christ. And referring to the Resurrection, Peter said, "To this we are witnesses."9

That's true for all of us. "To this we are witnesses." Go out and let your witness be known!