Preached by Alan Jenkins LLM on 18 April 2021: Third Sunday of Easter
Acts 3:12-19 / Luke 24:36b-48
Luke’s record in the final words of our Gospel this morning, as he describes Christ’s last appearance to his disciples before his Ascension. This was no casual invitation for the disciples to take a passing interest in the fulfilment of the scriptures, the confirmation of ancient prophesies; no, this was an imperative – ‘you ARE witnesses of these things’.
And Luke repeats a reference to being witnesses in his account of the Acts of the Apostles, as we heard earlier. In that context, when Peter was speaking, it was an accusation rather than a simple fact or statement, for Peter was reminding his listeners that they had been witnesses to the crucifixion of the Author of Life, that they had all betrayed Jesus in effect by vicariously handing him over to Pilate, that they had been complicit, as witnesses, to choosing Christ’s life or death over that of a murderer.
But notice the change of pronoun – not you are witnesses, but we are witnesses – for Peter’s words were not just for those standing around the colonnade of the Temple’s outer wall, but for all believers who would be Christ’s disciples thereafter. So, we are ‘cut in’ to Peter’s indictment, and also to the appeal to repent and turn to God.
Being a witness involves more than just hearing or seeing things; we need to be able to share our experiences, maybe under oath if in a court of law, but in any case, with confidence and an understanding of our responsibilities. Yet, how often have we witnessed some event and declined to get involved. We might think ‘My testimony won’t make any difference anyway – other people were there and saw it – I don’t have time to fill in all the paperwork and, anyway, it doesn’t affect me’ But if we take that approach to our understanding of God and what Christ has done for us, then our silence will speak volumes about our faith – and our commitment to discipleship.
For we are those disciples who have come after Peter and the original group of Christ’s followers. We are the ones who have been charged by Jesus to ‘go and make disciples of all nations’, his Great Commission at the end of Matthew’s Gospel. And that is the theme of the final Holy Habit that we will be exploring towards the end of this month. The Holy Habits series is sub-titled ‘Missional Discipleship Resources for Churches’, and whereas we have been looking at the various Habits largely from a personal standpoint, the word ‘Missional’ tells us that as a church we have much to do if we are to honour Christ’s charge to us.
For, conversely, declining to give evidence, dodging opportunities to be recognised as a witness to Christ’s sacrifice for us, are sure-fire ways to put ourselves in the same position as Peter when he denied Christ in the temple courtyard. If we are to ‘make disciples of all…’ then we have to be committed disciples ourselves, by trying to be like Jesus, and by living and breathing our faith.
Because witnessing is not optional: it’s not an intermittent activity of faith; it’s not something we can decide to do one day and then resolve to take the next day off; it’s constant. It’s a way of life; it’s who we are; and importantly it’s who other people expect us, as Christians, to be.
Being witnesses is one thing, because, in a way, all we have to do is to watch and hear; being a disciple needs more energy, more commitment, more activity, more guidance. So where do we get the ‘tools’ for his particular calling? Equally, how do we make resources available to others who we could help to become disciples?
Well, tune in to our final Holy Habit to find out more (that’s the trailer over!), but even now, we can look back to the establishment of the early church and think about the experiences that those first founding members witnessed. In particular, and most dramatically, there were two significant events for them that we will be remembering over the next month: the Ascension, followed by Pentecost.,
Ascension reminds us that Jesus commanded his disciples to proclaim the good news of the Gospel, news that they had personally witnessed. Pentecost followed, when gifts from the Holy Spirit were offered, literally in languages that many could understand, which in reality meant in practical ways that many could understand.
We, who follow, have witnessed much in our spiritual and material lives and, as we continue to learn from the witness of those early Christians, we should be prepared to declare ourselves as today’s witnesses and disciples, and discharge Christ’s Great Commission. Amen