John 1:1-18, John came as a witness. (11/9/2009)
Witnesses are important. For the past couple of weeks I've been transcribing a Revolutionary War pension application. The basic pattern goes like this. A person who was there – who witnessed the events – gives testimony and makes his mark; this fellow is Samuel Weaver. Then some people who know Samuel give testimony that Samuel's sworn testimony is worthy of credit, and they sign statements to that effect; one of these is Thomas Robertson, a Preacher of the Gospel. Then a Justice of the Peace, Abraham Hunter, gives a statement that he knows both Samuel and Thomas, and that they both said, in his presence, all the things that are in their statements, and that they are both worthy of credit, and he signs, too. Finally, the Clerk of the Court, William Randall, gives a statement that Abraham is a Justice of the Peace of the county aforesaid, and that he knows that the signature of Abraham is genuine, and he signs and affixes his seal of office.
The reason for all this is that eye-witness testimony is important, and people who read Samuel's statement need to have some confidence that it is true. They need to know that people with credentials – a preacher, a justice of the peace, and a clerk of the court, vouch for Samuel and his testimony, and that they are who they say they are. In today's passage, we see not only John the Baptist's testimony, but also his credentials: he was sent by God. And we notice that it isn't just the writer, but two of John's disciples – who are later Jesus' disciples – who heard John's testimony. In Greek, the word for bear witness and testify are the same word, martureo, from which we also get the Greek noun for witness and the English word martyr. At the end of the book of John, there's a statement about John the disciple that is similar to the one I described above about Samuel, “This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true” (John 21:24).
John 1:19-37, John identifies the Lamb of God. (11/10/2009)
John the Baptist came from a priestly family (Luke 1:5), but as far as we know he did not serve in the Temple. Instead, he lived an ascetic life away from the city (Mark 1:16), apparently as a Nazirite (Luke 1:15). John followed in the tradition of the Old Testament prophets, bringing a message of repentance and ethical behavior. A charismatic preacher, he had his own disciples and an enormous following of people who came out to listen and be baptized.
Naturally the religious leaders were interested in this fellow, and they sent messengers to find out more about him. You might think it a little odd that when they say, “Who are you?” he responds by saying “I am not the Christ.” Maybe they had already asked that specific question, but maybe he volunteered it because he knew it was on people's minds. The first century was full of false messiahs. John eventually gives two answers to the question. He quotes Isaiah and tells the messengers that he is a voice crying in the wilderness to prepare the way of the LORD. That is, he claims to be a forerunner of the Messiah. But the next day, he identifies himself further as a witness.
Luke 24:38-53, “You are witnesses of these things.” (11/11/2009)
You've heard the saying, “I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it.” Jesus knew that a whole lot of us would be in a difficult position: we would have to believe without seeing. For this reason he put considerable emphasis on the obligation of his disciples to be witnesses of what they had seen and heard while they were with him.
By the way, two things that are somewhat distinctive about Luke's Gospel are his attention to the joy among the early followers of Jesus and his repeated mention of the Temple. In the last two verses of the book, we see both.
Acts 1:1-8, “You shall be witnesses.” (11/12/2009)
Several years ago, when Albuquerque first started working on the problem of reducing water usage, we looked at the city's 5-year goals and at our own water usage, and we discovered that we were already below the 5-year goal for households. Even so, we got a call from the city water utility, asking if we would like to have someone come out and show us how to conserve water. The man who came was very cute; he measured the flow from the shower by collecting water for 1 minute into a plastic bag, and then he said, “Do you have a plant that we could use this water on?” Every gallon counts, so we bustled around and found a plant. After he left, my husband said that obviously they were practicing by going out first to the “friendlies.”
Jesus appointed his apostles to be witnesses in Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. As far as we know, all of the earliest Christians were Jews, and Jesus had said earlier that he had come to rescue the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Matthew 15:24). Naturally, the first group that the apostles were to witness to was the people of Jerusalem and Judea. These were the people who had been chosen by God for a special destiny. They were the people who most earnestly looked forward to the coming of the Messiah. They were the "friendlies.”
The next group, the Samaritans, were semi-friendly. Although, as we've seen earlier, there was no love lost between the Jews and the Samaritans, the Samaritans did (and still do) accept the first five books of the Bible – the books of Moses, so they did worship God. The Jews didn't like the way they worshiped God, but at least they didn't worship the Canaanite pantheon. In fact, some Samaritans had already become disciples of Jesus (John 4), and the disciples knew this.
Finally, the apostles were directed to be witnesses to the ends of the earth, which means the Gentiles. A few Gentiles had been worshiping the God of the Jews for quite some time (e.g., Luke 7:2-5), but the vast majority of Gentiles worshiped a variety of gods that ranged from unethical and immoral to violent and depraved. These Gentiles were non-friendly, but the apostles were sent to witness to them anyway.
Acts 1:15-26, Matthias is chosen as a witness. (11/13/2009)
Let's sing! Here's the tune
There were twelve disciples Jesus called to help him:
Simon Peter, Andrew, James, his brother John,
Philip, Thomas, Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus,
Thaddeus, Simon, Judas, and Bartholomew.
He has called us, too. He has called us, too.
We are His disciples, we his work must do!
Notice that there is no mention of Matthias. After Judas betrayed Jesus and then committed suicide (Bible study ain't for sissies), the eleven decided that they needed a replacement for him. I suspect that they were uncomfortable with the idea of “11 disciples.” They were all Jews, and 12 is the “right” number for most things in Judaism, going back to the 12 sons of Jacob. The disciples were determined to choose as a replacement someone who was an eye-witness to the entire ministry of Jesus. Matthias was chosen, and then we never hear of him again.
What's the difference between a disciple and an apostle? “Disciple” means “student.” “Apostle” means “one who is sent.” There were the 12 disciples who were chosen as apostles, and there were many other disciples who were not selected as apostles (e.g., Luke 6:13). Apostles who were not among the 12 disciples include Matthias, Barnabas and Paul (Acts 14:14), and James, the brother of Jesus (Gal. 1:19).
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