Bearing Witness to the Risen Christ (Part 3)
In this blog series, we are preparing to examine Acts 22-24 in order to draw out principles from Paul’s ministry for how Christians today can “bear witness to Jesus”. First, however, we are establishing from the Scriptures that God’s people are indeed called to make Jesus known in the world. We began with a survey of Old Testament passages, and now this week we will see how the New Testament continues and even intensifies this truth—that God’s people are called to be his representatives and ambassadors in the world.
We’ve seen that Israel was intended to make God’s great name known among all the nations of the earth. But, as the Old Testament makes clear, they largely failed in this task. One of God’s complaints against his people in the prophetic literature is (and I paraphrase), “Y’all are making me look really bad” (see, for example, Isaiah 52:5 and Ezekiel 36:16-23). Israel was supposed to make God look really good—they were supposed to represent him faithfully—but they made him look really bad because of their faithlessness and disobedience.
Enter Jesus. He is Israel as Israel should have been (and then some). He perfectly represents God to the watching world. Jesus was able to say to his Father, “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me” (John 17:6). He could also say, “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do” (John 17:4). So Israel profaned God’s name, but Jesus glorified his Father. Israel hid the true nature of God from the world, but Jesus came to reveal God’s beauty and goodness to everyone. Israel fails, and Jesus wins.
But the fact that God’s people totally dropped the ball, and Jesus picked it up and slam-dunked it, doesn’t mean the people of God don’t have the ball anymore. No, they still have the ball. That is, they still have the job of showing off God’s beauty and goodness to the world. But now that Jesus has come, they are now guaranteed to succeed.
There are two reasons for this—two reasons why it is now impossible for the church to fail at showing off God in the world. The first reason is that Jesus has already done our job perfectly for us, and so when we fall short (which we inevitably will) we can point to Jesus and say, “If you want to see what God is like, look at his beautiful and glorious Son.” We point people to Jesus, who is “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Hebrews 1:3). But there is a second reason why we can’t fail. We can’t fail because God, by his Spirit, is making us look more and more like Jesus every day (2 Corinthians 3:18). This means that the church is able (in an admittedly imperfect but still very significant way) to represent God to others because in Christ we are being made like him.
So now that Christ has come, the church is truly equipped to make God known in the world. We do that by pointing people to Jesus (we might call this evangelism, or preaching the gospel), and we also do this by living transformed lives for the world to see. Now Jesus can say crazy things like, “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you” (John 20:21), and Paul can say that “we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us” (2 Corinthians 5:20).
But once we are convinced that we should be bearing witness to Christ, how can we practically go about doing it? We will examine Acts 22-24 over the next few weeks to answer this question.