Why Witness? – And What’s “Witnessing” Anyway?

Lawry’s Prime Rib – the BEST prime rib on the planet.

The bad thing about finding the best of anything is that if you try it somewhere else, it’s always a letdown. The best theme park (Disneyland), the best TV show (Sports Night), the best Star Wars novel (Thrawn) – no matter what it is and how much you enjoy it, you’ve hit the pinnacle of success. Lawry’s Prime Rib in Beverly Hills is my absolute favorite restaurant. I’ve been to others and enjoy them a lot, and if I want ribs, well Lawry’s isn’t the place. If I want a great pasta, I wouldn’t go there either. But if you want the most tasty, drip-worthy, explode-in-your-mouth-with-flavor prime rib in the universe, it’s Lawry’s you want to go. Not only is their prime rib the best ever, they have the most amazing accompaniments to heighten your experience. Maybe it’s because of them that the prime rib is so far above everyone else. From the spinning bowl salad to the Yorkshire pudding to the creamed spinach, it’s all spectacular. And the service? OMG, it is beyond top notch. I think my favorite is when they pull the entire table away from the booth so you can sit down easily and then they push it back in. All so you can relax and not have to squeeze your way in to your seat. But the best part of finding the best of anything is sharing it. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of seeing someone else discover that you were right all along and that they couldn’t imagine their life without it.

Now if you asked me how they make the prime rib so good, I couldn’t tell you.

If you wanted to know why the spinning bowl salad has that perfect blend of flavors, it would be as much a mystery to me as it was to you, although I would guess “beets” or maybe the dressing. And if you wanted the secret to their raspberry trifle, the best I could do would be to shrug, because the truth is I’m not an expert on these things. I could take a guess and I might come close because I do love to cook, but I’m not a chef. I’ve never had culinary training. The finer points about the art of creating with food is still largely unknown to me. But I think I could still convince you to at least give it a try. My testimony about how great it tasted, my enthusiasm for the service and the atmosphere, the fact that I’ve returned again and again for nearly 30 years would probably weigh heavily in your decision to come with me next time I went (and if any of you ever want to go, just let me know). Just because I don’t know some of the details or that I might not understand the cooking techniques involved probably wouldn’t bother you in the slightest. So why is it we don’t feel equipped to share our faith as easily as we would our favorite places to eat?

I did get a seminary degree, but you don’t have to if you want to share your story about Christ

We have this crazy idea we have to be seminary graduates.

That somehow we have to be experts in theology to tell other people why Jesus is so awesome. We get intimidated because we think if we try talking about why Jesus made a difference to us, people are going to expect us to have all the answers, but that isn’t true. They might be skeptical, they might be fearful, they might even have questions you can’t answer, but that doesn’t take away from the power of your story. No one expects you or anybody else to know any more about religion than they do about a restaurant. Think about the number of things you talk to people about to convince them to do or try something new – the schools we attended, places we’ve visited, favorite vacation hangouts, the best watering hole in town, our favorite sports teams. Everyone knows that for nearly six years I’ve been trying to convince you all that the Dodgers are a far superior team to the Giants, but to no avail. Does that stop me? Nope. Because I know that once you become True Blue, you’ll see the error of your ways. Sharing about your faith should be no harder than sharing about your favorite place to eat. It’s simply sharing your own personal knowledge about something.[1] That’s all it is. Being a witness is simply sharing your own personal knowledge about something. It doesn’t mean you have to be an expert or have any special training. It’s a personal account of things that have happened to YOU. And who could be a better witness to what has happened in your life than you?

Best. Team. Ever.

Let’s go to the Bible and hear what God has to say about it.

We’re going to share from Acts 1:3-8. This is the passage right before Jesus leaves the Earth to return to Heaven and he’s speaking with the disciples one last time. He has proven himself over and over again during a period of forty days and is about to leave when he gives the disciples one more command.

3After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. 4On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

6So when they met together, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”  

7He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

One of my favorite pictures of Rome

You will be my witnesses.

I think it’s remarkable that Jesus didn’t go to the rabbis or the other leaders of Israel to share his message of love, salvation, and forgiveness. You have to remember that as far as we know, none of Jesus’ core disciples were rabbis. They were fishermen and tax collectors and whatever else. The Bible isn’t clear on all of their occupations, but it’s probably true that they didn’t have any training in the books of the Torah any more than any other child would have learned. They didn’t have special knowledge of God’s Word EXCEPT for having experienced a life with Christ. And that’s all that was needed. Jesus didn’t single out the really smart people and say “you will be my witnesses.” He points to all of them, because they have their own unique perspective on what has happened in the life of Christ and how it affected them. They can offer the kind of personal testimony that is compelling and honest because they have experienced it for themselves. And that’s what Jesus wants. He wants a group of believers to go out into the world and share from their own knowledge and experience of God. Christ knows that the most effective witness is a personal witness. The most effective sharing of the Gospel is our OWN story of how Jesus has made a difference in our lives. Christ was running the first viral marketing campaign.[2]   Nearly 2000 years before the Internet, Jesus already knew that the best way to spread the Word wasn’t going to be with billboards along the Roman road or publishing an editorial in the Roman Times; it was going to be through people like you and me. He knew the best way to get people to believe in him was through those who were closest to them. We have far more influence in our own social networks than anywhere else and that’s what is going to make the most difference, when friends and family hear from us the impact that Christ has made on our lives.

For some reason we have the notion sharing our faith is an imposition.

People have said to me, “I don’t want to push my religion on other people.” And I have to ask “Why not?” We feel completely fine pushing everything else from our favorite spatula to our favorite brand of eggs – why not our favorite religion? Your favorite spatula isn’t going to be of any use when you die, but preparing for your eternal life in comparison seems pretty important. Why is it so hard to talk about then? Maybe because it is such a sensitive subject. Like politics, it seems near impossible to change someone’s mind about religion once they’ve made a choice. But does that mean we shouldn’t try? Before you say “no,” I want you to consider something else – silence is a form of communication. Silence is a form of communication. Saying nothing is as much of a choice as it is to say something. Saying nothing conveys the idea that we don’t care or we don’t have an opinion or it’s not important enough for us to share our thoughts. And is that the message we really want to get across? Are we so scared to share our thoughts about Christ that we would rather sit idly by while others make choices that lead them away from knowing the truth about God? We see it all the time. New age crystals, wiccan practices, all sorts of alternative paths to God except that they’re not. Ask yourself this. If you were stuck in a foreign country, is it easier to find your way by guessing the right way to go or having a friend that you trust guide you there? That’s all sharing your faith is about, being that guide through a world filled with choices that lead nowhere.

People get confused about what it means to share their faith.

I hear the excuse quite often that “faith is personal.” I completely agree with that. So does Jesus. But while faith is personal, it is not private. Faith is personal, not private. Meaning that your faith is a personal journey and a story only you can share. And only you are the expert on faith in your life. But faith was never meant to be hidden away like some secret treasure or worse like something we are embarrassed by. Christ makes is abundantly clear in the Great Commission that our primary goal as Christians is to share our faith – “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19).” And he told us in our reading this morning, “…you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the Earth (Acts 1:8).” We must not be afraid to share our faith. Too much is at stake. So as we approach this Christmas season, let us commit to praying about who that one person might be who could really benefit from being closer to Christ. Think of that one family member who you might invite to church to experience God the way you do. And then do something. Let God use you to share his love, especially during this season of faith as we approach Christmas. And you never know where it may lead. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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[1] Definition from Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary.

[2] Definition from wikipedia on viral marketing.

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