“Testifying by Our Deeds”

Easter 4

April 17, 2016


Text:  Acts 9:36-43; John 10:22-30; Revelation 7:9-17

    This past Thursday I was scheduled to testify at the trial of an individual who ran the stop arm on the school bus I was driving while subbing a route back in February.  I was not looking forward to doing this, but I had been subpoenaed.  As it turned out, I got a call on Wednesday from the county attorney saying I didn’t have to report because the defendant had agreed to plead guilty to a lesser charge.  

    We also talk about testifying in church.  In some churches, individuals stand up in front of the congregation during worship and tell about how they see God at work in their lives.  I have noticed in the churches I have served over the years that most people find the idea of doing that terrifying.

One day Jesus was in Jerusalem, walking in the Temple in the covered porch known as Solomon’s Portico.  Here he was approached by a group of Jewish religious leaders, who surrounded him and asked, “How long will you test our patience?  Are you the Messiah or not?  If you are, tell us plainly.”  Jesus responded, “I have told you, but you don’t believe.  The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me.”  The works Jesus did testified about him.  Notice he didn’t say, “The things I say testify about me.”  He said, “The works I do testify about me.”  And what they testify is that Jesus is the Messiah, God’s chosen one, who is one with the Father and who gives those who follow him eternal life with the Father.

Jesus’ works testified to who he is and who God is.  Could this be also true of us?  Could it be that we testify of God at least as much by what we do as by what we say?  I think so.  I believe our Scriptures from Acts and Revelation  bear witness to that.

In Acts, we are told of a woman of Joppa named Tabitha in Aramaic  or Dorcas in Greek (or Gazelle [as in the antelope] in English--and some of us think people today give their children weird names) who was a follower of Jesus.  We are told “her life overflowed with good works and compassionate acts on behalf of those in need.”  She died, and two of Jesus’ followers in Joppa went and brought the apostle Peter from nearby Lydda.  When Peter arrived and was taken to the upstairs room where the body was laid, all the widows stood beside him, crying and showing him clothing that Dorcas had made for them.  Her testimony to God’s faithfulness and love was nothing she said.  It was what she did to help people in need because she was a follower of Jesus.

That testimony of good works inspired another.  Peter sent everyone out of the room, prayed, then said to the body, “Tabitha, get up!”  She opened her eyes, saw Peter, and sat up.  He helped her stand up, and presented her alive to the Christians of Joppa.  Peter testified to the power of the Resurrection, not by preaching a sermon, but by doing a good work, raising a dead person back to life so that she could continue testifying to the power of God through her good deeds.

And then we have our text from Revelation.  In John’s vision, he sees a vision of heavenly worship.  The worshippers are a crowd so huge no one can count them, from every nation, tribe, people, and language.  They stood before the throne and the Lamb (Christ), wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands.  There they worshipped and praised God.  

An elder asked John, “Who are these people in white robes, and where did they come from?”  John replied, “You know.”  The elder responded, “These people have come out of the great hardship.”  The “great hardship” or “great tribulation” refers to a time of terrible persecution of Christians.  The Book of Revelation was written during the reign of the Roman Emperor Domitian around 96 AD, which was such a time.  These people are people who refused to give up their faith in Christ.  They testified to Christ and his Resurrection by standing firm in their faith even in the face of persecution and death.  

 The elder told John, “They have washed their robes and made them white in the Lamb’s blood.”  This image sounds strange.  How does washing a robe in red blood make it white?  Here is how I understand this:  Jesus makes us pure by shedding his blood and suffering and dying for our sins.  The color white is traditionally associated with purity.  These martyrs who are before the throne have shared in Christ’s suffering, and have been purified through Christ’s sacrifice because they testified to his death and resurrection through their words and deeds, regardless of the personal cost.

Because of their faithful testimony, “they are before God’s throne.  They worship him day and night in his temple, and the one seated on the throne will shelter them.  They won’t hunger or thirst anymore.  No sun or scorching heat will beat down on them, because the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them.  He will lead them to springs of life-giving water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”  Their faithfulness in testifying to Christ with their very lives has placed them in the very presence of God, where they worship him forever.

We who follow Jesus are called on to testify on his behalf, not only with our lips, but with our lives, not only with our words, but also with our deeds.  I recall one of my dad’s favorite sayings:  “Talk is cheap; it takes money to buy whiskey.”  What I believe he meant is that we need to back up what we say with what we do.  Jesus had a word for people who talked righteous talk but didn’t live a righteous life:  hypocrite.  Sometimes I am a hypocrite.  I don’t do what I say I am going to do.  My walk doesn’t always match my talk.  But when that happens, my ability to testify to the work of God in my life and in the world is compromised.

And that is why I need the church, and why I think anyone who belongs to Jesus needs the church.  I stumbled across this quote from Rich Mullins this past week that I think really sums up this truth beautifully:  “I never understood why going to church made you a hypocrite.  Because nobody goes to church because they’re perfect.  If you’ve got it all together, you don’t need to go.  You can go jogging with all the other perfect people on Sunday morning.  Every time you go to church, you're confessing again to yourself, to your family, to the people you pass on the way there, to the people who will greet you there, that you don’t have it all together.  And that you need their support.  You need their direction.  You need some accountability.  You need some help.”

There are many people today who think the church’s ability to testify about God is badly compromised.  Many times Christians talk about love and forgiveness, but treat some people in ways that are not seen as loving and forgiving, especially those who live differently than most of us do or have different opinions on certain subjects than we do.  Sometimes it looks like Christians care more about principles than we do about people.  I recognize there are times when this is true of me, and sometimes that gets me in trouble.  You see, just because I am a pastor doesn’t mean I have it all together.  Sometimes I get it wrong.  I need support.  I need direction.  I need accountability.  I need help.

In John 15:34-35, Jesus said, “I give you a new commandment:  Love each other.  Just as I have loved you, so you also must love each other.  This is how everyone will know that you are disciples, when you love each other.”  Love is not mere talk.  Love is action.  As it is written in 1 John 3:18, “Little children, let’s not love with words or speech but with action and truth.”  We testify truly to God’s love and presence in our life not only by what we say, but by what we do.  Let us seek to be faithful in so doing.  Amen.

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