Resurrection Witnesses, Luke 24:36-48
I don’t think I will ever forget the time I was called to be a witness in a trial for a person who had broken into the church I was serving as pastor. The actual break-in occurred around Christmas. I learned about the break-in from the church’s custodian who always arrived at the church early in the morning. On the particular morning of the break-in, he called me at a time that communicated that something was not right. Telling me about the break-in, he said that he had called the police. I went to the church and found that someone had broken into the church administrative office and my office which was part of that office suite. The police were with the custodian when I arrived, and we looked around the church office to assess if there was any damage. We found that the petty cash kept in the office was stolen and that my sermons had been rifled through with some of the sermons laying on the floor. To my dismay, I found that while the money had been worth stealing, none of my sermons were missing.
A report was filed, and within the next few days, a police officer informed me that the person who had broken into the church had been arrested. In addition to the church I was serving, the person who had been arrested confessed to breaking into all of the churches. I asked if I could visit this person who was now imprisoned and was told that this was permissible. When I went to visit him in prison, he sat on one side of the glass partition in the visitation area and I was on the other side. I told him that I was the pastor of one of the churches he had broken into. His head fell forward and he held his stomach as I shared this news.
He told me he was sorry for what he had done and that he was associated with one of the local gangs. He had broken into the churches to get money to buy drugs. He had called members of his gang following his arrest, but they would not answer his calls. I told him that I was visiting him to let him know that our church forgave him for what he had done, that we believed in God’s love for him, and that we wanted to help him.
He asked if it might be possible to get some underwear and socks, which we helped to obtain. During the next few months, I continued to visit him as we continued our conversation about God and forgiveness. The date arrived for his trial, and I was called upon to be a witness. After sitting for hours at the courthouse and waiting for his trial, eventually, the time for his day in court arrived. As part of the trial, I sat at the witness stand and told of our interaction together over the past few months.
I was thanked for my time, and he was sentenced to prison. After the trial, I saw the commonwealth attorney who thanked me for being a witness. Feeling a bit discouraged over the results of the trial, I thanked him and said that it was a challenge to wait all day for five minutes of testifying. To which the commonwealth attorney replied, “Maybe somebody heard the gospel today.” On the day following the trial, I visited the young man who was now a convicted felon. He thanked me for being a witness and said that the judge was correct to convict him. He also said he was grateful for the concern and care that had been shared with him by the church. He also shared that he hoped to walk in a new direction in his life because of what he had witnessed during the past several months.
Witnesses – in the Bible, a witness was a person who had firsthand knowledge of a fact or an event. In the Old Testament, biblical law required the testimony of at least two witnesses to establish the guilt of any offense. Sometimes the prophets and leaders of Israel even called upon God to be a witness to what they told people. Sometimes even inanimate objects such as stones were invoked as witnesses. An example of this practice is seen in the story of Jacob and his father-in-law, Laban, placing a pile of stones as a witness that Jacob and Laban would stay on their side of the pile of stones.
- 864, The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, Vol. 4
Today’s scripture lesson tells of a time when the risen Christ commanded his disciples to be witnesses of his resurrection by proclaiming repentance and forgiveness made possible through the risen Messiah. I find it interesting that Jesus commanded them to be resurrection witnesses in spite of the fact that Luke records earlier in this scripture reading, “While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering.”
It is in the disbelieving and wondering joy of their doubts, that Jesus called his disciples to become resurrection witnesses. Have you ever experienced disbelieving and wondering joy in your life? If so, perhaps the risen Christ was calling you to be a resurrection witness. Perhaps the risen Christ was calling you to live in the reality of doubtful faith so that maybe somebody will hear the gospel in the midst of their doubts and their wondering joy.
Frederick Buechner put it this way:
“Many of us have faith in God and yet we have doubts, too, and in the long run perhaps it is just as well that we have them. At least doubts prove that we are in touch with reality, with the things that threaten faith as well as with the things that nourish it. If we are not in touch with reality, then our faith is apt to be blind, fragile, and irrelevant.”
The Longing for Home, Harper Collins, 1996, p. 169
I think the reason Luke recorded the disciples’ doubtful faith when Jesus called them to be resurrection witnesses was so we might know:
- It is okay to have doubts as we accept Jesus’ call to be resurrection witnesses
- What it means to live with joyful faith in the resurrected Christ
In 2016, Pope Francis had these words to share about what it means to live with faith in the resurrected Christ:
“Let us not make faith an abstract theory where doubts multiply. Rather, let us make faith our life. Let us try to practice it in the service of our brothers, especially the neediest,” … If we live our faith with this intensity, ‘then many doubts vanish, because we feel the presence of God and the truth of the Gospel in the love that, without our merit, lives in us and which we share with others.’”
Resurrection witnesses. People who have first-hand knowledge of the risen Christ as they live with faith even in the midst of their doubts.
People who make faith in Christ the witness of their life so that somebody might hear the gospel. May God grant us the courage to be resurrection witnesses.
April 18, 2021