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Witness in John

In the Greek New Testament, the common word for “witness” or “testimony” is μαρτυρέω (martureo), which which we get the English word, martyr. There are variations of this word that can be used as a noun or communicate that there are more than one who is witnessing, but the root word remains the same.

The objective behind this word study begins with Jesus’ statement to Pilate that Jesus’ purpose is to “bear witness to the truth” or, depending on how you wish to translate John 18:37, “testify to the truth.” When I think about testifying regarding a matter, the first thing that comes to mind are the creeds and confessions of the church. I think of the Latin phrase, Credo, Ergo Confiteor — “I believe, therefore I confess…” So, when we find Jesus making a testimony — giving a witness as it were — before Pilate, it ought to draw our attention to his words. 

Usually, when we see this language in John 18:37, we focus on the words before it, “for this I was born, for this I came into the world.” There are a handful of things that Jesus says he came into the world to do — something extremely important to look at — but for our purposes here, I wanted to focus on the idea that Jesus is testifying to the truth…and really, on a more significant level, to the idea of testimony in John’s writings. It should be noted that the other Evangelists also used the word “testify,” but not nearly as regularly as does John. As John carries his use of this term into his Epistles, those references have been included in this study as well.

In John’s prologue, he employs this term three times: John 1:7,8,15. What is interesting about this is that all three of these references are to John the Baptist and his bearing witness to the Messiah. John is called one who bears witness to the light so that men may believe. Without a witness, faith does not emerge from the heart of men — as Paul writes in Romans 10:17, “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of Christ.” Verse 15 builds doctrinally on this matter in that it introduces the preexistence of Christ. It is a reminder that for John, even in the beginning of his Gospel, the idea of witness carries with it factual content — doctrine — not just personal feelings. 

As we continue into the narrative and find John the Baptist’s ministry introduced, we find three more uses of the term in verses 19, 32, and 34. Verse 19 introduces what is the “testimony” of John. What is that testimony? He testifies that he is the voice of one crying out in the wilderness of whom Isaiah speaks (Isaiah 40:3). In verse 32 we find John’s testimony as to the anointing of Jesus as the dove descends upon him and in verse 34 we are given the definition (again a doctrinal statement) that Jesus is the Son of God.

What I want to highlight is that already we are seeing doctrinal elements showing up as part of the testimony of the believer. In this case, they are of the eternality of Jesus and of the fact that he is the Son of God. While much can be written as to the meaning and significance of these statements, I want to confine my observations here to the point that both of these ideas will become prominent in the early creeds of the church. Perhaps to present it a different way, the Creeds of the church do not teach us what to believe; they articulate for us what the True Church has always believed. 

John 2:25 is the next use of the terminology. Here we are told that Jesus does not need someone to “bear witness” or to “testify” as to the nature of man. We need to say little here other than the fact that once again, we have something of the divine attributes of Christ (omniscience) being presented, though not necessarily in the context of a creed but simply mentioned in the historical narrative.

In John 3:11, we find Jesus engaged in a dialogue with Nicodemus. Jesus’ condemnation against Nicodemus is that he and his disciples are testifying to what they have seen but that the religious establishment that Nicodemus represents does not accept it. Yet, what is this testimony that has been seen? The testimony finds itself laid out in the dialogue that goes before — and it is a condemning one. No one can believe unless the Holy Spirit gives rebirth. How have Jesus and the disciples “seen” this? It is clearly seen in the rejection of Jesus by the religious establishment.  It is a reminder to us today of just how much damage is done to the church of Jesus Christ when those who are not regenerated are permitted to hold positions of leadership or influence. In the case of Nicodemus, Jesus’ condemnation seems to have shaken him up as we see Nicodemus returning in John’s narrative later, but that time as a “secret disciple” of our Lord.

John 3:26 and 28 return us to John the Baptist and his testimony. The first verse again asserts that John has borne witness as to Jesus being the Messiah and in verse 28 we find John’s testimony that he is the forerunner.

Again, we find this language in chapter 3. In this case, verses 32 and 33. Here John the Apostle speaks of Jesus’ witness to what he has seen and heard (verse 34 helps clarify this that these things are from God the Father). Again, the Jews have denied this but God has sealed the testimony as being true. How has it been sealed? Arguably with the miracles but also with the Spirit given to the ones who believe (verse 34).

In John 4:39 we find the Samaritan woman testifying to the townspeople what she knew about Jesus. Again, this is more of a narrative description than a theological one, but it reminds us of two important principles. First, that we are all called to “witness” or to “testify.” What does that look like? It means we testify to others what we know to be true. How interesting that our Creeds do just that. Thus, how important our creeds are to the faithful witness of God’s people. And, if we ignore the historic creeds and confessions, what we tell others about Jesus is purely subjective.

John 4:44 is the very familiar proverb that a prophet has no honor in his own country, yet it stands in stark contrast to the words of the Samaritans that come just two verses earlier, that Jesus is “the Savior of the world,” again language that is fundamental to later creeds and confessions.

John 5 contains extensive use of the term testimony in the context of those people and entities that testify to Christ. We find the word found in verses 31,32,33,34,36,37, and 39. Verse 31 is Jesus’ statement that he is not alone in bearing witness to himself (an allusion back to the Old Testament model of needing two to three witnesses to substantiate major crimes), In verses 32, 33, and 34 we find references to the testimony that John the Baptist brought, remembering too that John was a priest and priests were responsible for the testimonies of God to the end that even the Tabernacle was referred to as the “Tabernacle of Testimony.”  Verse 36 refers to the works (miracles) that God did through Jesus as testimonies of who he was and in verse 37, Jesus refers to the Father himself who had testified to him. In fact, Jesus goes on in verse 38 to say that if you deny that Jesus is who he said he is, then you deny the Father and do not have the Father’s word abiding in you. Finally, in verse 39, Jesus speaks of the Scriptures as bearing witness to him and closes the section with a blazing condemnation in verse 46 — if you deny Jesus you deny the Scriptures and you are accused by Moses (who also wrote of Jesus). Indeed, it is a reminder that the Jews (even of today) who reject Jesus also reject Moses.

In John 7:7, Jesus testifies that the world hates him because Jesus testifies that the works of the world are evil.

John 8:13,14,17, and 18 again form a unit. Even after Jesus’ statement in chapter 5 that others have testified about him, the Pharisees come back to the same notion and again accuse Jesus of testifying to himself (verse 13). Verse 14 begins with the language that he can testify to himself because his testimony is true (Proverbs 12:17) and then condemns the Pharisees by telling them that they do not know from whence he came. He indeed came from heaven, thus the Pharisees are rightly accused again of not knowing God. In their zeal to obey the letter of the Law they lost the Lawgiver himself.  In verses 17 and 18, Jesus comes back to this and affirms that when he speaks, the Father is speaking through him. His testimony is the very testimony of God. This statement is not only an affirmation that Jesus is a prophet (a prophet’s job is to testify the word of God to God’s people) but also that the content of Jesus’ message, that he is the Son of God, is true.

John 10:25 echoes John 5:36 that the works he does testifies to who he is.

John 12:17 is a narrative account that those who saw Jesus raise Lazarus testified to who Jesus was. Who but God has the power over life and death?

John 13:21, at first simply looks like a simply narrative comment — namely that someone at the table (Judas) would betray him. Yet, when you once again look to the historical confession of the Christian church, the betrayal of our Lord holds itself as a prominent doctrine reminding us too that the enemies of our Lord, like Judas, will be remembered forever as accursed by God.

John 15:26 and 27 speak of the Holy Spirit testifying about Jesus to the Apostles and then of the Apostles testifying about Jesus to the world. John also testifies that those with the Holy Spirit need no teacher because the Spirit teaches them (1 John 2:27). Yet, of whom does the Spirit testify? Jesus. One of the testimonies against the prosperity preachers and the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) today is that they typically only speak to build themselves up or to build up their brand of theology. That very act testifies that it is not the Spirit of God who is guiding them.

Chapter 18 brings us into the false trials of our Lord. Verse 23 is Jesus rebuking the High Priest for striking him without reason and verse 37 is his statement to Pilate that he is testifying to the truth.

John 19:35 takes us back to the language of the Holy Spirit testifying as to the person and resurrection of Christ. Again, these are essential themes to the historical confessions and creeds of the Church and in John 21:24 we find John testifying to the truth of the words of his book.

As we move into the Epistles of John, you will notice that John places more emphasis on those things that must be a part of our Christian witness — things that are reflected in the historical creedal and confessional language of the church.

1 John 1:2 — that Jesus is the source of eternal life

1 John 4:14 — that Jesus is the Savior of the World

1 John 5:6-7 — depending on your translation, that the Holy Spirit testifies to the reality of who Jesus is

1 John 5:9 — the witness of God is greater than that of men and God’s witness is that Jesus is his Son.

1 John 5:10 — the one who believes has the witness in himself (Holy Spirit) and the one who does not believe does not have this witness. Spiritual life comes through faith.

1 John 5:11 — part of the witness God has given us is that of the gift of eternal life.

3 John 3 — the witness that the church is walking faithfully

3 John 6 — the witness that the church genuinely loves the body

3 John 12 — Demetrius’ good witness

Thoughts:

Most certainly, the witness of Jesus that is truth has to do with who he is and arguable with the idea that there is salvation in none but he. Yet, with that said, we ought to note how many doctrinal passages are included in these references. It stands as a reminder to us that the witness of the Church is not an arbitrary thing, but it includes a body of ideas and teachings that must be held if one is claiming to be a Christian. These things have historically been included in the creeds and confessions of the Church…language that the church today has largely abandoned to our great harm.

Saturday Word Study: Testimony in Psalm 119

The word in Hebrew that is translated as testimony is עֵדוּת (eduth), and is derived from עֵדe (ed—note that both of these words are pronounced with an “ae” sound in English).  Both words carry similar meanings, though the connotations vary somewhat in terms of how they are used.

The first word, עֵדוּת e (eduth), refers to a witness or testimony, but is normally used in terms of legally binding stipulations or laws.  The Tabernacle is, for example, called the Tabernacle of Testimony (Numbers 17:4) because they were the home of the tablets of the Ten Commandments.  This becomes very pronounced when you get to verse 10 of the same chapter, for Moses is told to put the staff of Aaron before the testimony — ultimately the staff then was kept with the 10 commandments (Hebrews 9:4).  

Thus, when Psalm 119 speaks of testimony in this sense, it can be said to be speaking of the Moral Law (10 Commandments). Of course, all of God’s Law — all of the Scriptures even — are connected with the Ten Commandments.  This word testimony is found 9 times in the 119th psalm (which should tell us something right there), and is located in verses 14, 31, 36, 88, 99, 111, 129, 144, and 157.

The second word עֵד (ed), is a massively important word in Hebrew and is found 118 times in the Old Testament even though it is not explicitly found in Psalm 119.  It refers to the idea of witness in much the same way as the New Testament Greek term μαρτυρία (marturia—from which we get the term “martyr”) is used.  This word refers to that witness which confirms the truth to be so.  This is one’s testimony of faith before men, for example, as well as being a testimony in a court of law.

The connection between these two words is found in the concept of the covenant of God.  God’s covenant with his people is his  עֵד (ed), but this עֵד (ed) contains stipulations for those that would be in covenant with our Lord and King.  Those stipulations are the עֵדוּת e (eduth) of God.  

What is also worth noting is that another word that is derived from עֵד (ed) is the term עֵדַה (edah), which means “congregation,” referring to a gathering of God’s people.  God’s people are those that he has put into relationship with himself through his covenant, his עֵד (ed), and regulates through his עֵדוּת e (eduth).  All very closely connected.  This word is found 14 times in Psalm 119 (vs. 2, 22, 24, 46, 59, 79, 95, 119, 125, 138, 146, 152, 167, 168).  So closely are these words and ideas related that in most, if not all cases, when Psalm 119 is translated into English, they have translated it as “testimony” rather than congregation.  This is probably a little misleading in the crossover to English, but at the same time, in the context of the Psalm, it appears that the Psalmist is doing much the same thing—wedding together these ideas.  Or, to put it another way, the presence of the covenant people of God are God’s testimony to his own covenant faithfulness—his חֶסֶד (chesed—pronounced with a hard “ch” like in “Loch Ness”).  The word חֶסֶד (chesed) is variously translated in our English Bibles, but refers to the covenantal faithfulness of God in spite of our covenantal unfaithfulness, and is found 7 times in Psalm 119 (vs. 41, 64, 76, 88, 124, 149, 159) and is often translated as “steadfast love” or “mercy.”

With this in mind, permit me to digress to Deuteronomy 6:4 for a moment, commonly called “the Shema” in Hebrew circles.  The bulk of the book of Deuteronomy consists of Moses’ sermonic expositions of the Ten Commandments, forming a Constitution for the people of Israel.  With this in mind, the Shema functions essentially as the preamble to the constitution for the people.  In fact, in Judaism, Deuteronomy 6:4 is considered to be the single most important verse in the Bible and the very language that defines them as a people—giving them their national identity.  It establishes their relationship with God as a covenant people and reminds them that they are a people who have been given a name, loved as such by their God.  It is the first prayer that the faithful Hebrew prays when he wakes in the morning and the last prayer he prays before he goes to bed at night.  It is also chanted at the beginning of a traditional synagogue service.  What is especially interesting is the way it is written in the Hebrew Bible:

 שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל יְהוָה אֱלֹהינוּ יְהוָה אֶהָד

Note that the last letter of the first and last words have been written larger and in bold print.  These two letters, when taken out of the verse spell, עֵד (ed) — or witness.  In other words, the Shema itself is the witness of the Jewish people to their God, just as the covenant is God’s עֵד (ed) to his people.  Lastly, if you reverse the letters of עֵד (ed), you end up with the word דֵּעַ (de’a), which means “knowledge.”  Just as fear of the Lord is the beginning of all wisdom (Psalm 111:10), so too is all true knowledge rooted in the covenant of God.  Any pursuit of knowledge apart from God’s revelation through his covenant is vanity, Solomon reminds us in Ecclesiastes.

Covenant is, as we know, the context in which God interacts with his people.  On the very first day that Adam was alive and placed in the Garden God established his covenant with Adam and set before Adam the עֵדוּת e (eduth) of the covenant—don’t eat lest you will die-die.  The punishments given out after the fall are the consequences of their failure to fulfill the covenant.  Genesis 3:15, though reminds us that a Messiah is coming who will redeem his people from bondage to the one who led them into sin.  Genesis 15 provides us with a foretaste of what would happen to this divine Messiah, though.  In the context, God is confirming his covenant with Abraham and Abraham is sent to divide up the animals and separate them creating a bloody path to walk through.  In ancient times, when covenants were made between Kings and their Vassals, they would divide up a group of animals like this, and then the Vassal, as a pledge of faithfulness to the covenant, would walk through the middle of the line of animals as if to say, “if I don’t fulfill my part of the covenant, may what happened to these animals happen to me also.”  Now, some have suggested that there may be evidence that both the king and vassal walked through this line, but the evidence is varied and this proposition makes little sense as the vassal had no power to enforce this commitment upon the king, where the king certainly had the power to enforce it upon his vassal.

Either way, what is significant is that Abraham should have walked through the bloody pathway, but God puts him into a deep sleep (not unlike the sleep that God put Adam into before he took out his rib to form Eve), and God walked through the bloody pathway in Abraham’s stead.  God was saying to Abraham, I will be your covenant mediator and representative for this covenant.  If you or your line fail to keep this covenant, may what happened to these animals happen to me as well.  And that is exactly what took place on the cross of Calvary.  Jesus fulfilled what God promised, bloody and bruised, because we could not be faithful to the עֵדוּת e (eduth) of God’s covenant.

In the context of Psalm 119, the psalmist completely understands that for one to be truly blameless and righteous before the Lord, one must first submit his life to the testimonies of our God—to the עֵדוּת e (eduth) of God’s covenant.  Thus, he sets the Law before him as a guide and instructor.  We must understand that while the psalmist speaks at times of being blameless before his accusers, this is not to be interpreted in terms of a form of human self-righteousness.  Instead, he also understands, as Abraham understood, that his redemption would be paid for by another—by God himself through the promised Messiah, and that his personal righteousness was based, through faith, in the coming of the promised one.  At the same time, he understands the thrust of what Paul would say in Romans 6:1-2.  In light of that, the psalmist both begins and ends the psalm focused on remembering and obeying the Law of the Lord.

A Sincere Trust

Remember those days when you were first learning to swim, perhaps with your father or mother standing beside the swimming pool, encouraging you to jump in and they would catch you? Perhaps it was learning to ride a two-wheeled bike for the first time and your parent (or maybe a trusted older sibling) was keeping you up, saying “trust me, I’ve got you.” Perhaps the thing to which you can relate is stepping out in a business venture and your partner or backers saying, “trust me, you got this!” 

We rely a great deal on trust…and to some extent, if you don’t place your trust in others you end up becoming a curmudgeon and a cynic and you isolate yourselves from relationships. But even though trust is a part of most of our relationships, often we do not spend much time thinking about what trust happens to be. 

The dictionary defines trust in terms of your “belief in the reliability” of another — in other words, it points to someone or something that is outside of you upon which you rely. In many ways, the word is almost synonymous with the word, “faith.” Trust is that recognition that if you rely upon another person, they will not let you down.

And so, when the Catechism, in Question 21, asks about true faith, it speaks of having a sincere trust that the Holy Spirit works in me through the Gospel. What is this all about? The Spirit has many roles in the life of the believer — he is counselor (John 16:7), teacher (John 14:26; 1 John 2:27), and giver of gifts (1 Corinthians 12:4-11) amongst other things. But most basically, His role is to conform the life of the believer into the image of the Son. 

How does the Spirit do this? The most basic way he does this task is through the Gospel — through the word studied and preached and applied to the life of the Christian. We might even more simply speak of this in the context of the “ordinary means of grace” or in the context of the “keys of the kingdom,” both of which we will talk about more later in this catechism. 

And so, an aspect of True faith, or saving faith as some would put it, is the trust that the Spirit is at work in me, conforming me into the image of God’s Son (Romans 8:29) — in other words, that tomorrow I might look more like Jesus than I did today. Trusting also implies that we act upon that trust — striving as empowered by the Holy Spirit toward this goal of honoring Christ, whether through applying the Ten Commandments to my life as a way to grow in my sanctification or in seeking to be obedient to the many other commands we would see Jesus, our Lord, set before us. In other words, genuine trust requires an action on my part — a response to that trust — jumping in the pool, riding the bike, entering that business venture. We act in faith in the confidence that the Spirit is acting in us through the Gospel. 

And note one more thing…it is the trust that the Spirit is acting in us through the Gospel — this does not require (or even speak of!) supernatural works (this I would argue, ended at the close of the first century with the close of the Canon). It is through the Gospel — the written revelation of God contained in the Bible. A humble and faithful life, rooted in the Word of God, is a far greater testimony than all the “miracles” that man might like to think he can produce.

Boldly and Plainly

“Jesus answered him, ‘I have spoken frankly to the world — I have always taught in the synagogues and in the temple where all the Jews gather. And in secret I have said nothing. Why then do you question me? Question the ones who heard me as to what I said to them. Look, they know what I said!”

(John 18:20-21)

 

To those who like to insist that the word “world” — ko/smoß (kosmos) — always refers to all people without any exceptions, here is a great illustration of the breadth of the term. For clearly, the world of whom Jesus is saying he has spoken to is not talking about all people without any exceptions. Instead, Jesus is implying that he has spoken to all kinds of people in the length of his ministry and in doing so he has spoken openly, boldly, plainly, and frankly. Certainly, in some contexts, the word ko/smoß (kosmos) can refer to all people without exception, but it must be noted that there is a breadth in the usage of the term such that context must be the key to understanding this word’s meaning when it is used.

What is more significant is Jesus’ statement to Annas that he has spoken nothing in secret. There are some who would challenge this statement citing the times when Jesus took the disciples to the side to instruct them or who would cite that the purpose of Jesus’ parables was to keep the unbelievers in the dark as to what Jesus was communicating (Matthew 13:13). While it is true that Jesus did take his disciples to the side on occasion, there was nothing secretive about these actions and the disciples were there as a witness to what it is that Jesus taught. Jewish culture also required two to three witnesses to charge a person with a serious crime — Jesus always took at least three (Peter, James, and John) with him so that they could record what was said and done. In terms of the parables, they were being spoken publicly, if the spiritual truth behind the message was unrevealed that stood as condemnation against the unbelieving Jewish officials, not as judgment against Jesus.

The bottom line is that Jesus is not going to recognize that these false judges have any authority over him — thus he does not legitimize their late night travesty of justice by answering their questions. He simply says, go ask the witnesses. If the witnesses would speak truth, there would be nothing that they could charge Jesus with — but truthfully or otherwise, the wicked priests had arrested Jesus for the purpose of murdering him — this evening would not come to a close without them making their charges — in this case, through trumped up false witnesses, but here I get ahead of myself.

And thus begins the false trial of Jesus in Caiaphas’ court. Perhaps, though for us, it is most important that we ask the question of ourselves — what have we been teaching others by our words and by our actions? Can we say, with Jesus, that our faith has been articulated in a way that would be considered bold, frank, or otherwise plain? Could witnesses to the things we have said and done articulate what we really believe? Would those witnesses even know you as a Christian by what you have talked about on a lunch break at work or at the ballfield? Sadly, I fear that “bold, plain, or frank” would not be an adjective that could accurately describe the lives of many professing Christians in America today. Yet, if the problem is noticed, the next step is to correct the error. Will you do so in your life? Will you strive to the kind of witness that speaks truthfully of Christ to a world that is in desperate need of the Gospel?

Glory, Unity, and the Christian Testimony

“Also, the glory that you have given me, I have given them, in order that they may be one just as we are one.”

(John 17:22)

Again we find Jesus using the language unity amongst believers, this time, though, in connection with Christ’s glory. In essence, what Jesus is stating is that he has given to believers his glory so that believers may be united as one.  Another way of saying this is that as we apprehend the glory of Christ, it ought to bind us together as one body—that Christ’s glory ought to bring unity to true believers, not division. And, one might go as far as to argue that as we divide and fight with one another, what we are betraying is that we have not apprehended the glory of God.  Again, this does not mean that Christians are to have spiritual fellowship with false religion, but it does mean that denominations are sometimes guilty of so narrowing their understanding of Christianity to the point that anyone outside of their specific interpretation of non-essentials is considered highly suspect.

But what is it about the glory of Christ that ought to draw us together with other Christians?  To begin with, what is the glory of Christ?  The Greek word for glory is do/xa (doxa), which is the word we get “doxology” from.  This word refers to the magnificence of or splendor of a person.  The Hebrew word for this is dOwbD;k (kabod), and it also captures the idea of something that is weighty in its significance.  Thus, when the Apostle Paul speaks of the “eternal weight of glory” (2 Corinthians 4:17), he is reflecting on this idea of the weightiness and significance of what we will become.  C.S. Lewis also relates this concept in his work, The Great Divorce, where the heavenly people are substantial and weighty and the people from Hell are described as ghosts or phantasms, no longer having any substance of their own.

Though humans are sometimes referred to as glorious, God’s glory is infinitely greater than the glory that men might earn or be given. In fact, the glory due to God is so much greater than what we can conceive that even our best efforts to rightly honor our God on our own strength are doomed to utter failure.  And thus, as God’s glory is much greater than man’s glory, the weightiness of that glory is so infinitely great that we ought to be both overwhelmed and smothered by it when in His presence.  When the saints of old witnessed the glory of God, their response was to be humbled and bow in worship—yet, how casually we tend to come before God and how arrogantly we present ourselves before Him.  How, when we come to him in prayer, we have lost any sense of His transcendence and his glory.  There is a certain electricity that is in the air as children anticipate seeing the first snow of the season or as they go to bed on Christmas eve, anticipating what will be under the tree the following morning; we ought to have this same “electric” anticipation as we prepare to go before our Lord in prayer or before we come into his presence for corporate worship.  It is as if we almost don’t expect to be confronted by the glory of the Almighty God of the universe.

A good novel can compel us to keep reading long after we ought to have put it down and either gone to bed or go to do another project.  Why is it that so often Christians agonize over the idea of even reading a chapter of the Bible a day?  And why is it that so many Christians are not riveted by the text, but are put to sleep by it?  It is almost as if they do not expect to find the glory of the transcendent God revealed on the Bible’s pages.  Yet, beloved, that is exactly what God does on the pages of scriptures!  He reveals to us Christ!  He shows us his mighty redemptive work as well as his remarkable grace to a rebellious people—people who again have experienced the glory of God and have chosen to ignore it to worship idols of their own creation.  To those who deserve wrath (like us), God has shown grace.  And not only that (as if that is quantifiable in human terms!), God has taught us in his word how we can best enjoy Him and how we can best enjoy life in this world.  What a wonderful book we have been given—one through which we can apprehend the invisible God and know our role in His creation as bearers of His image.  There is no human work that can pale in comparison.

Yet, how often our actions betray our hearts.  We act as if God’s glory is nothing  more than a flickering light that hardly offers any illumination in the darkness of the world in which we live. And if we do not go with an expectation that God will reveal his glory to us in his word or in his worship, why should he reveal himself?  Jesus told Thomas, “Blessed are those who believe without seeing…” (John 20:29), what poor straights we are in.  And, Jesus here in this prayer is saying, “May the glory that I give to my disciples be such that brings them in unity with one another and demonstrates to the world that I am God.”  If we don’t grasp the weightiness of God’s glory in a real and tangible way—such a way that drives us to our knees in prayer, worship, and the study of God’s word—then how will we ever cease to bicker over the non-essential things that separate us?  And similarly, if our Christian testimony to the world is tied to our unity, should we be surprised that the non-believers are so hostile towards Christian witness?  Loved ones, let us evaluate first our own hearts and then our hearts amongst other believers, and ask ourselves, is the glory of God binding us in union with fellow believers and is our apprehension of God’s glory attracting others to the faith?  It ought to be.

The Testimony of Israel

“Which is where the tribes go up—the tribes of Israel—

as the testimony of Israel;

to give praise to the name of Yahweh!”

(Psalm 122:4)

Have you ever thought of your church attendance being part of your testimony?  I am not simply referring to a testimony of praise to God, but a testimony before the nations that God is living and active in your life.  It is easy for us to nod some level of agreement to this statement, for the fact that we choose to attend church rather than do other things on Sunday is a constant reminder to unbelievers of our faith, but let us take it one step further…how about the demeanor or attitude that you take about going to church with your non-Christian acquaintances?  Do you make it seem like you would rather be out goofing off with them, but you have to be in church?  Do you fall over yourself apologizing for not being able to do the things that the others are doing?  What message does such a stance send regarding the desires of your heart for the Sabbath day?

Loved ones, what a contrast the Biblical model presents to our more modern practice!  Our joyful attendance upon the Lord’s worship is to be our testimony.  We are not to grumble, but we are to shout to the world that Christ is alive and that he is the only source of salvation for mankind!  We are to proclaim that there is only one name by which mankind can know salvation and that he has given us the great privilege of knowing him in that way.  Beloved, we have been given a wonderful and awesome gift, why be silent about it?  Why grumble and mutter about obligation?  Our worship is the place wherein which we gather with those of the redeemed to enter into the greatest wonder and joy that life can ever bless us with—the presence of Jesus Christ our Lord!  What a wonderful opportunity to testify to the nations by testifying to our neighbors that one can find life and life abundantly in Jesus Christ the Lord!

My prayer for you this day is that you see your worship as part of your testimony and that you become intentional about how you come into the gathering of the faithful.  Do you come in with a shout of joy or do you come in with a groan and a whimper?  How you come in communicates a world of truth about your heart’s state.  Loved ones, do not fall into the traps that the world sets for us—never apologize for your faith, but boldly proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord and that you look forward to the day wherein God’s people gather to make a public testimony of the greatness of our God.

The splendor of the king, clothed in majesty,

Let all the earth rejoice; all the earth rejoice.

He wraps himself in light, and darkness tries to hide,

And trembles at his voice, and trembles at his voice!

How great is our God!

Sing with me—

How great is our God!

And all the world will see,

How great, how great is our God!

-Chris Tomlin

Testimony and Psalm 119

The word in Hebrew that is translated as testimony is tWd[e (eduth), and is derived from d[e (ed—note that both of these words are pronounced with an “ae” sound in English).  Both words carry similar meanings, though the connotations vary somewhat in terms of how they are used.

 

The first word, tWd[e (eduth), refers to a witness or testimony, but is normally used in terms of legally binding stipulations or laws.  The Tabernacle is for example, called the Tabernacle of Testimony (Numbers 17:4) because the tablets of the Ten Commandments were contained within.  This becomes very pronounced when you get to verse 10 of the same chapter for Moses is told to put the staff of Aaron before the testimony—ultimately something that was kept with the 10 commandments.  Thus, when Psalm 119 speaks of testimony in this sense, it is speaking most specifically of the Moral Law (10 Commandments) but also carries the implication of the rest of the law of God—in essence, all of God’s word.  This word is found 9 times in the 119th psalm (which should say something right there), and is located in verses 14, 31, 36, 88, 99, 111, 129, 144, and 157.

 

The second word, d[e (ed), is a massively important word in Hebrew and is found 118 times in the Old Testament even though it is not explicitly found in Psalm 119.  It refers to the idea of witness in much the same way as the New Testament Greek term marturi/a (marturia—from which we get the term “martyr”) is used.  This word refers to that witness which confirms the truth to be so.  This is one’s testimony of faith before men, for example, as well as being a testimony in a court of law.

 

The connection between these two words is found in the concept of the covenant of God.  God’s covenant with his people is his d[e (ed), but this d[e (ed) contains stipulations for those that would be in covenant with our Lord and King.  Those stipulations are the tWd[e (eduth) of God. 

 

What is also worth noting is that another word that is derived from d[e (ed) is the term hd”[e (edah), which means “congregation,” referring to a gathering of God’s people.  God’s people are those that he has put into relationship with himself through his covenant, his d[e (ed), and regulates through his tWd[e (eduth).  All very closely connected.  This word is found 14 times in Psalm 119 (vs. 2, 22, 24, 46, 59, 79, 95, 119, 125, 138, 146, 152, 167, 168).  So closely are these words and ideas related that in most if not all cases, when Psalm 119 is translated into English, they have translated it as “testimony” rather than congregation.  This is probably a little misleading in the crossover to English, but at the same time, in the context of the Psalm, it appears that the Psalmist is doing much the same thing—wedding together these ideas.  Or, to put it another way, the presence of the covenant people of God are God’s testimony to his own covenant faithfulness—his ds,x, (chesed—pronounced with a hard “ch” like in “Loch Ness”).  The word ds,x, (chesed) is variously translated in our English Bibles, but refers to the covenantal faithfulness of God in spite of our covenantal unfaithfulness, and is found 7 times in Psalm 119 (vs. 41, 64, 76, 88, 124, 149, 159) and is often translated as “steadfast love.”

 

With this in mind, permit me to digress to Deuteronomy 6:4 for a moment, commonly called “the Shema” in Hebrew circles.  The bulk of the book of Deuteronomy consists of Moses’ sermonic expositions of the Ten Commandments, forming a Constitution for the people of Israel.  With this in mind, the Shema functions essentially as the preamble to the constitution for the people.  In fact, in Judaism, Deuteronomy 6:4 is considered to be the single most important verse in the Bible and the very language that defines them as a people—giving them their national identity.  It establishes their relationship with God as a covenant people and reminds them that they are a people who have been given a name, loved as such by their God.  It is the first prayer that the faithful Hebrew prays when he wakes in the morning and the last prayer he prays before he goes to bed at night.  It is also chanted at the beginning of a traditional synagogue service.  What is especially interesting is the way it is written in the Hebrew Bible:

dx’a, hw”hy> Wnyheloa/ hw”hy> laer”f.yI [m;v.

Note that the last letter of the first and last words have been written larger and in bold print.  These two letters, when taken out of the verse spell, d[e (ed)—or witness.  In other words, the Shema itself is the witness of the Jewish people to their God, just as the covenant is God’s d[e (ed) to his people.  Lastly, if you reverse the letters of d[e (ed), you end up with the word [;D: (da-a), which means “knowledge.”  Just as fear of the Lord is the beginning of all wisdom (Psalm 111:10), so too is all true knowledge rooted in the covenant of God.  Any pursuit of knowledge apart from God’s revelation through his covenant is vanity, Solomon reminds us in Ecclesiastes.

 

Covenant is, as we know, the context in which God interacts with his people.  On the very first day that Adam was alive and placed in the Garden God established his covenant with Adam and set before Adam the tWd[e (eduth) of the covenant—don’t eat lest you will die-die.  The punishments given out after the fall are the consequences of their failure to fulfill the covenant.  Genesis 3:15, though reminds us that a Messiah is coming who will redeem his people from bondage to the one who led them into sin.  Genesis 15 provides us with a foretaste of what would happen to this divine Messiah, though.  In the context, God is confirming his covenant with Abraham and Abraham is sent to divide up the animals and separate them creating a bloody path to walk through.  In ancient times, when covenants were made between Kings and their Vassals, they would divide up a group of animals like this, and then the Vassal, as a pledge of faithfulness to the covenant, would walk through the middle of the line of animals as if to say, “if I don’t fulfill my part of the covenant, may what happened to these animals happen to me also.”  Now, some have suggested that there may be evidence that both the king and vassal walked through this line, but the evidence is varied and this proposition makes little sense as the vassal had no power to enforce this commitment upon the king, where the king certainly had the power to enforce it upon his vassal.

            Either way, what is significant is that Abraham should have walked through the bloody pathway, but God puts him into a deep sleep (not unlike the sleep that God put Adam into before he took out his rib to form Eve), and God walked through the bloody pathway in Abraham’s stead.  God was saying to Abraham, I will be your covenant mediator and representative for this covenant.  If you or your line fail to keep this covenant, may what happened to these animals happen to me as well.  And that is exactly what took place on the cross of Calvary.  Jesus fulfilled what God promised, bloody and bruised, because we could not be faithful to the tWd[e (eduth) of God’s covenant.

 

In the context of Psalm 119, the psalmist completely understands that for one to be truly blameless and righteous before the Lord, one must first submit his life to the testimonies of our God—to the tWd[e (eduth) of God’s covenant.  Thus, he sets the Law before him as a guide and instructor.  We must understand that while the psalmist speaks at times of being blameless before his accusers, this is not to be interpreted in terms of a form of human self-righteousness.  Instead, he also understands, as Abraham understood, that his redemption would be paid for by another—by God himself through the promised Messiah, and that his personal righteousness was based, through faith, in the coming of the promised one.  At the same time, he understands the thrust of what Paul would say in Romans 6:1-2.  In light of that, the psalmist both begins and ends the psalm focused on remembering (implying obedience) the Law of the Lord.