The Pattern of Witness
We are studying John's gospel and John's presentation of Jesus as both fully man and fully God. He makes this presentation by using three different strands of narratives:
- The first strand is made up of accounts of Jesus' ministry and miracles that show both His divine nature and human nature.
- The second strand contains stories of how some people react to Jesus with faith and trust.
- The third strand contains other stories that show people reacting to Him with disbelief and rejection.
John does not recount these events in the order I have just explained them. Instead he weaves the three strands into a single narrative with each strand coming into view from time to time.
So far we have seen John begin with a statement that presents Jesus as the divine Messiah and how some would believe and others would disbelieve this claim. This section is in chapter 1:1-18 and is called the prologue. In these 18 verses John summarizes his entire gospel and also demonstrates the three strand approach he will use in writing his information.
After the prologue we looked at John the Baptist, the first character introduced by the gospel writer. As far as the gospel and its approach are concerned, John the Baptist is the first example of someone who believed.
In our last chapter we examined John's witness of faith and his role in preparing the way for Jesus the God/Man's coming.
Witness – Background
Let's leave off our main framework of study (the three strands made up of Jesus' witness and the dual responses of belief and disbelief) for a moment and open a "sub file" entitled: "Power of witness."
In verses 35 to 51 we will notice an early pattern for evangelism beginning with John and spreading out to bring in the first six close disciples of Jesus. They had no Bible school, worship service, correspondence courses or home Bible studies. Their main method of evangelism was through personal witness.
Before we begin to describe the approach or pattern, let's examine what the word "witness" means, because it was a word used to describe John the Baptist and the Apostles. A witness is a person who declares as true what he has seen, heard or knows.
The Greek word for witness is MARTUS/MARTUR from which comes the word MARTYR. And martyr describes a person who witnesses the truth of something with their death.
The Apostles were chosen to be witnesses of the death, burial, resurrection of Christ (Acts 1:8).
I explain all this because it is through a witness that the first six disciples come to Jesus, and John explains the pattern and power of witnessing in John 1:35-51.
The pattern and power of witness
When we read John 1:1-18, we were reading, in summary form, John's witness concerning Jesus.
In verses 19 to 34 we looked at John the Baptist and what we saw was his witness concerning Jesus.
In verses 35 to 51 we will see how the pattern of witnessing works to produce disciples and new witnesses who in turn bring other disciples, etc.
Vs. 35-37 – Again the next day John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as He walked, and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God!" The two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus.
This brief description is about John and two converts he makes. The question is, "How do witnesses become witnesses?" The answer is that they hear a witness about someone or something from another person. For example, John became a witness because of what God witnessed to him concerning the coming Messiah (He confirmed with the scriptures). John believed the witness and in turn began to witness what had been revealed to him.
Jesus' first two disciples heard John's witness, believed it and consequently began to follow Jesus.
Vs. 38-39 – And Jesus turned and saw them following, and said to them, "What do you seek?" They said to Him, "Rabbi (which translated means Teacher), where are You staying?" He said to them, "Come, and you will see." So they came and saw where He was staying; and they stayed with Him that day, for it was about the tenth hour.
What do you think happened that day? Did they sleep, play video games? No, there were questions and discussions about who Jesus was (what did John mean by the term 'lamb of God'?). We see by their following actions that they had to make a decision about Him and they did.
Vs. 40-42 – One of the two who heard John speak and followed Him, was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother. He found first his own brother Simon and said to him, "We have found the Messiah" (which translated means Christ). He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, "You are Simon the son of John; you shall be called Cephas" (which is translated Peter).
What does Andrew do the next day? He himself becomes a witness for Jesus. So in these brief verses we see a pattern or cycle begin to develop:
- God witnesses to John about the Messiah and his role in preparing the way. He does this through signs and His Word.
- John makes his witness about Jesus to the people.
- Two believe John's witness and follow Christ.
- They themselves become witnesses for Christ and bring others to Him.
We see then that the witness for Jehovah is Christ, the witness for Christ was John and from John's witness came others who were ready to witness for Christ as well.
Vs. 43-46 – The next day He purposed to go into Galilee, and He found Philip. And Jesus said to him, "Follow Me." Now Philip was from Bethsaida, of the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, "We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph." Nathanael said to him, "Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?" Philip said to him, "Come and see."
Here we see the very same cycle repeated. The crowds that followed Jesus, who waited for Him to teach, how did they know where He would be or who He said He was? The disciples were the ones who provided the crowds. How? Through their witness.
Vs. 47-49 – Jesus saw Nathanael coming to Him, and said of him, "Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!" Nathanael said to Him, "How do You know me?" Jesus answered and said to him, "Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you." Nathanael answered Him, "Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel."
In these verses John gives more details concerning Jesus' witness and the disciples' reaction.
- Jesus convinced them or witnessed to them concerning His true identity with His teaching, His knowledge and His power. His claims were backed up by His power. His was a power-based witness.
- The decision, regardless of who it was, was always the same: He was or He was not the Son of God. The decision remains the same today: to believe in Jesus as the Son of God or to deny His claims. Nathaniel is very clear in his confession of faith.
Vs. 50-51 – Jesus answered and said to him, "Because I said to you that I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe? You will see greater things than these." And He said to him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see the heavens opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man."
Truly, truly; verily, verily means amen, amen… what I am about to say is very important.
Nathaniel has just experienced the supernatural knowledge of Jesus, but in the future he will actually see with his eyes Jesus' supernatural works.
The reference to the heavens opening up and angels ascending and descending means that while Jesus was on earth, all of heavens' power was at His disposal.
The reference to "the Son of Man" comes from Daniel 7:13-14. This is a unique term applied to Jesus:
- It is always "the" and not "a" when used.
- It is a generic term casting Jesus as the Son of Mankind.
- It suggests that Jesus is a man who possesses a human nature in a way that no man has ever possessed it.
- Of course, we know that Jesus' unique status is that He is the only man possessing both a human nature and a divine nature simultaneously.
Jesus' words finish off this section by stating that His witness will only grow stronger for those who believe in Him.
Summary on Christian Witness
As we close out this chapter I would like to make a few comments about witnessing and its importance in our Christian lives.
Each of us owes our salvation to someone's witness.
Whether it was through VBS, a book, an invitation to worship, a newspaper article (as was the case with me), everyone who is a Christian today is one because somebody, somehow provided a witness of Christ to him. The idea is that not every witness is done the same way, not all have the same talent, but all need to witness in some manner. Either you witness directly for Christ through a direct one on one contact; or you do it indirectly by participating in the many works of the church.
The bottom line is that we are each responsible to continue the cycle of witness which first brought the disciples to Christ and eventually brought us to Him as well. There are many methods but we all must make a witness for Christ.
The subject of our witness is Jesus Christ.
Our basic witness is not that the church of Christ is the true church; we are the purest doctrinally of all the religious groups; the Bible is inspired. These are worthy ideas and goals, but not the subject of our essential witness.
No, our witness is that Jesus is the divine Son of God and the Savior of our souls. Our witness is that Jesus is the Lord of our lives. The purpose of our witness is to bring people face to face with this reality.
Now they may not like this witness because this reality will interfere with lifestyle, family, peace, friends, prestige, etc.
This negative response may be an obstacle to us, but we need to remember that Jesus said that if we do not witness (confess) Him here on earth, He will not witness (confess) our names in heaven (Matthew 10:32). We need to witness here if He is to witness there.
Our witness should be confirmed with our lifestyle.
Jesus said, "Let your light (witness) shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven." (Matthew 5:16)
If our lifestyles have no moral power then our witness will have no saving power.
In the Bible, the witnesses were prepared and often forfeited their very lives as a confirmation that what they said was true. All were willing to lay down their lives so that others would be assured that their witness was sincere, true and powerful. People do not give up their lives for what they know is a lie or a mistake, and people are never impressed by a lukewarm witness.
I know a lot of us have received a witness of Christ's person and power in some way, and I am persuaded that most have decided to believe the witness and become disciples of Jesus. True maturity comes, however, when we complete the cycle and begin to make our witness for Christ.
Many Christians often feel a lack of joy, purpose or peace in their souls. Often times the reason for this condition is because they are not completing the cycle of witness in their lives. They have received the witness from someone, they have believed and responded to it, but they themselves have not begun to witness to others and in so doing they are denying their calling in Christ.
They fail to witness in several ways:
- They are not witnessing directly or indirectly to anyone.
- They are eliminating the power of the gospel and their own witness for Christ with low moral standards or a lack of commitment to the church.
We will never see the heavens open up and God's power working in our lives if we do not begin making a powerful moral witness to the world with our lives, and a powerful witness of loving service to others.
People expect this from Christ's disciples and our witness falls short when we do not deliver on people's expectations of us in spiritual matters.
We have digressed a bit in order to examine the evangelistic pattern outlined for us in these few verses:
- Step 1 – Hear the witness (Romans 10:17)
- Step 2 – Believe the witness (Mark 16:15-16)
- Step 3 – Make a witness to others (Matthew 28:18-20)
In the following chapter we will go back to our main outline and review the first burst of ministry Jesus accomplishes as He begins to preach in the northern part of the country.