You keep having the same reoccurring dream. You are walking up to a strange house. You ring the doorbell and wait and wait and wait. Your palms are sweaty. It’s hard to breathe. You desperately want for nobody to be home, that way at least you can say you tried. Your hopes begin to rise, nobody’s coming to the door, you’re going to make it. Then suddenly the door opens and your heart leaps into your throat. The person on the other side doesn’t look happy. “Yeah? Wad’dya want?” “Uh . . . Um . . . I’m here to uh . . . I mean I would like to um . . . “Hurry it up I don’t have all day!” “Please, I would like to uh . . . Have you ever thought of …” The harder you try, the worse it gets. Your tongue starts tripping over itself. You can feel the heat as your face is turning red. You start feeling dizzy and the world begins to spin around you. This is a disaster. Suddenly the leering face on the other side of the door starts to laugh and point. The more you try to get the words out the harder they laugh. They laugh and laugh and laugh. Then they start to point and laugh harder. Only then do you realize your standing there without a stitch of clothes on. You wake up screaming!
Sound familiar? Maybe your dream ends with a slamming door instead, or attacking dogs, or a shot gun, or a law suit. If so, your not alone. Nearly every Christian I know has had one of these dreams before. The call to witness is a very scary thing for many Christians. Every Christian knows it is something they should be doing, and many even feel like it is something they want to do. But hardly anyone feels ready or able and so most aren’t willing to witness.
That is where our text for this morning can be of help. Maybe by looking to the example of John the Baptist, we can get some pointers for this witnessing stuff. By looking into this text we can discover how to be ready, willing, and able to witness, both personally, and as a congregation.
The first step to being ready as a witness is simply to know who you are. After all, isn’t that one of the dreaded questions that might come up. “Just who do you think you are?” Wasn’t that the exact question the Pharisees’ men asked John? “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” And what was John’s answer? “He confessed, he did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” What kind of answer is that? Of course he’s not the Christ! Why would anyone think that?
What else does the text say about him? Not much. “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.” The Gospel writer is pretty clear in pointing out that John the Baptist was really no one special. Basically, he was just some guy whose name was John. The text goes on to say: “He came for testimony, to bear Witness to the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness to the light.” That’s all we are told about his background by John. There was this guy, who wasn’t really special except that he was sent by God. He was sent by God for one reason and one reason only. He was to be a witness to the coming Christ. He himself wasn’t God, he was only there to tell other people about Him.
Most Christians have trouble witnessing simply because they don’t know their limitations. Read those verses again and this time put your name in them instead of John’s. When God calls you to be a witness for Him he is NOT calling you to be Him. Think about it for a minute. He is not calling you to be the light; only to point others to the light. He is not calling you to be your neighbour’s Saviour; just the one who points them to the one and only Saviour. He is not expecting you to convert anyone, change hearts, or restore broken lives; simply show others the One who can and will do all these things: Christ. Too many Christians avoid witnessing because they mistakenly feel responsible for things beyond their control. “I don’t know enough. My faith isn’t strong enough. I’m not good at debating, I haven’t had enough skills or training, I don’t live a good enough life. I’ll be a big failure!”
But nothing could be further from the truth. Every one of you has more than enough skills to witness effectively. I’ve even seen you do it before, for such things as pointing out a good book, or movie or restaurant. What did it take for you to recommend one of those? All you had to do was experience it. You read the book, you saw the movie, you ate at the restaurant. Recommended any good Gods lately. Really? What’s your experience with Him been like? You’ve heard His words. You’ve read His book (most of it anyway). You’ve seen firsthand the kind of work He does. You’ve felt his love and support. You’ve received his forgiveness and promise of everlasting life. What more does one need to talk about. Come and see for yourself.
If knowing that you yourself are not God, and more importantly, that you don’t have to be God makes you a ready witness, what would make you a willing witness? Why was John so willing to witness? I think the answer lies in the fact that John new in witnessing it was never about him. He wasn’t putting himself out there to be judged. He was putting Jesus before others. Look at every response he makes to these priests and Levites in our text. “Who are you: I am not the Christ. Are you Elijah: I am not. Are you the prophet: No!” The more they try to dig out information about John, the less he has to say. Finally they ask “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” What does John reply? “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.” He points to Jesus, the coming Messiah. When they press him as to where he gets his authority to do all this work his answer again points not to himself but to Christ. “I baptize with water; but among you stands one whom you do not know, even he who comes after me, the lace of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.”
Time after time, John leads them back to Christ. John wasn’t the one on trial. He wasn’t the focus of attention. He wasn’t the one being accepted or rejected. Only Jesus was. John was willing to witness because he knew it wasn’t about himself. The more they tried to make it about him, the more he made it about Jesus. What a healthy attitude for witnessing! Too many Christians will not witness because they do not want to be rejected. Well, even when rejection happens, it is not the Christian being rejected; it is the message of Christ not being accepted. Have you ever recommended a movie to someone only to have them come back to you later saying they didn’t like it much? Has that stopped you from recommending movies? Of course not! It’s just a movie. In fact you’ve probably recommended other movies to that same person since. And you know what? They’ve probably even taken you up on some of them, even if that first one was a stinker. Now of course Jesus is far more important than any movie. But recommending him to others doesn’t have to be any harder. Simply give the invitation to “come and see for yourself” and God has promised He will take care of the rest.
And knowing that is the only way we will be able to be God’s witnesses in the world. God will take care of the rest. He will do the converting. He will change the hearts. He will heal the broken lives. He’s done it for each and everyone of us here. He will do it for others. When we do this witnessing thing we are never alone. He promises to be with us every step of the way to give us the courage, to give us the words, to give us the forgiveness when we need it. All of this he does for us through the Holy Spirit. As Acts 5:32 says: “And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.” It is the Holy Spirit who gives us the power to witness, even when we don’t think we can. Again from Acts (1:8) “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.”
God has promised that He can and will take even our most feeble of attempts and bring about miraculous results through the Holy Spirit. He simply wants to give us the opportunity to share in His glorious work. He wants to be able to share His love in Christ with others the way He has shared it with you already. As the prophet Isaiah said in our OT lesson: “I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my soul shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations.” The Gospel makes us able to witness. The Gospel forgives us when we don’t do a good job of it. It is God’s power at work in our lives. It will be His power at work in the lives of those we witness to as well.
There is a congregation sent by God. It’s name is witness to it’s faith – Christ Our Hope. It is not God, but it is to point to God. Are you ready willing and able? You can be. Witnessing doesn’t have to be the nightmare we all tend to think it is. It can, and should, be very simple. It can be our joy! Like the eye doctor whose eye chart read “God loves you and has a plan for your life.” Witnessing can be like the couple who lovingly placed scripture plaques in each of their hotel’s rooms so that it was the last thing the guests would see at night, and the first thing they would see in the morning. Witnessing can be as simple as inviting friends and neighbours to come with you to church. And what better time than as Christmas approaches. Are you ready, willing and able to be God’s witness? By the grace of God, Yes you are!