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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


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.

A Message to the Peoples

“And the number of those who lapped with their hands to their mouth was 300 men; all of the remaining people bent over the knee to drink water. And Yahweh said to Gideon, ‘With the three hundred men who lapped, I will save you and give Midian into your hand and let all of the people go, each man to his home.’”

(Judges 7:6-7)

All but the 300 are now dismissed to their homes. At this point, an army of 32,000 men has been reduced to 300…just about one percent of those who originally rallied to fight alongside of Gideon. By human reckoning, even the thirty-two thousand was small compared to the hordes of the Midianites, but 300 is almost laughable…that is in human terms. The key phrase in the verses leading up to this is “I will save you and give Midian into your hand…” God is doing the work (as he always does in the life of God’s people!) and God is ordering such so that he is the one who gets the glory. The rest of the soldiers are sent home.

But why send the soldiers home? Why not keep them as backup? Why not keep them as a support staff to assist the wounded? First, that defeats the purpose of calling out the 300 and would demonstrate a lack of trust on Gideon’s part. But there is something more important than that. Each man is sent back to his village with a purpose, and that is to report to the people what God is doing on the battlefront. Imagine each man returning home and his wife and kids and extended family would be pulling him to the side and saying, “Why are you back so soon? Didn’t Gideon need you? Did the Midianites not show up?” At this point, there are 31,700 men who are traveling to villages all through the region and telling the people, “No, God is going to move, so Gideon is only keeping 1 out of every 100 men that showed up.” That, folks, is exciting news.

In todays world of televisions and the internet, I fear we take for granted the ability to communicate easily and quickly. We are used to an ever-moving feed of news that tells us what is going on across the globe with very little delay in time. Yet, in our hyper-active news-fed world, I fear we have lost the value of face-to-face explanations of what is seen. In addition, given this era’s rejection of the things of God, it seems that the majority of what is reported has to do with violence, war, terrorism, and political scandal. Well, that, and the social lives of the rich and famous. Really??? Is not news of the spread of the Gospel much more significant on an eternal scale? How beneficial it is for the church to hear a missionary back in the states on furlough, say, “This is what I am seeing the hand of God do in such-in-such a land.”

The sad thing is that many Christians have fallen into the trap of thinking that what the evening news reports as important is what is truly important that they don’t get excited when a missionary comes to report as to what they see God doing. Shame on the church and shame on the Christian that is more concerned with crime statistics, sports statistics, and the stock market than on the movement of God in the world. How we need to train ourselves to look at the world through the lens of the Bible and not with the lens of human society.

Influencing the Culture

“Naphtali did not dispossess those who dwell in the House of Shemesh or those who dwelt in the house of Anath; and they dwelled in the midst of the Canaanites who dwelt in the land. Thus, the House of Shemesh and the House of Anath became forced labor for them. And the Emorites tormented the sons of Dan in the mountainous region, thus they did not give them the ability to come down to the lower plains. And the Emorites were prepared to dwell in the mountains of Cheres, in Ayyalon, and in Sha’albiym, but the hand of the house of Joseph was glorious and they became forced labor. And the border of the Emorites was from ascents of Aqrabiym to the  cliffs and above.”

(Judges 1:33-36)

We draw the introductory history to a close…again, this is designed to overlap the end of the book of Joshua and to prepare us for the context of the book of Judges that follows. Chapter 2 will shift from looking backwards to looking forwards and in many ways will summarize Judges as a whole. But for now, we must content ourselves with once again reflecting on the consequences of a partial victory. Indeed, there are benefits that can be gained through the forced labor of the pagan peoples, but largely the presence of the idolatry of the pagans has a devastating effect on the people.

But let us pose the question, what if the people were not inclined to stumble at the paganism of the Canaanites. Instead, what if the evangelistic fervor of the people were such that it was the Canaanites that were converting to Judaism? What a different conversation we might be having. Interestingly, while I am not an advocate of slavery in any form and the American manifestation of slavery that took place several centuries ago is not anything that could be described as good, may I at least offer that many Africans, who had grown up in an Animistic religion, were converted to Christianity. We don’t typically think of forced labor and slavery as being redemptive in any way, but shall we not celebrate the thousands of souls that were saved because of this horrible practice? Might we say with Joseph, that “While you intended it for evil, God intended it for good”?

Surely some of these Canaanites that were put to forced labor converted, but mostly the Canaanite practice influenced the Israelites to fall into sin. How about those influences in your life? Are your non-Christian friends influencing you or are you influencing them? At the end of the day, are they more like you or the other way around? A vital and healthy faith ought to influence others without being influenced by the unbelief of others. Though, much like ancient Israel, that doesn’t much happen in our churches. Were that it would. May we strive for it to be so.

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?

A Time to Keep Silence and a Time to Speak

“But Peter followed him from a distance up to the court of the High Priest and going in he sat with the subordinates to witness the end.”

(Matthew 26:58)


“And Peter, from a distance, followed him as far as the courtyard of the High Priest and he was sitting with the subordinates and warming himself by the fire.”

(Mark 14:54)


“And when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat down in the midst of them.”

(Luke 22:55)


“The servants and the subordinates were standing around a charcoal fire they had made because it was cold and they were warming themselves. And Peter was also in that place and warming himself.”

(John 18:18)


Probably the obvious question to ask is with whom did Peter sit? Matthew and Mark speak of subordinates and John adds servants, but the question is, who are these people gathered in the middle of the night in Caiaphas’ court. Luke implies that these were amongst those who arrested Jesus, leading some English translations to render these verses as Peter sitting with the “guards.” Yet, the cohort (the official soldiers from the Temple) seems to have either departed or faded into the background for a variety of reasons, leaving us more likely with the rabble-rousers that made up the mob that accompanied the Cohort from the temple. Needless to say that this crowd is not a casual crowd and they are anything but neutral to the events that are transpiring.

Often this courtyard scene with Peter’s denial is portrayed as if Peter is being asked innocent questions about his association with Jesus and that his denials are out of an unfounded fear of what might happen. I don’t think that is what is implied here, though. These questions come from a very hostile crowd that is wanting to see blood — thus, while we still might speak of Peter’s cowardice to follow Jesus even to prison or death (Luke 22:33), prison or death most certainly would have been the end of this night for Peter had he spoken boldly of his connection with Jesus. Peter had escaped capture in the garden just hours earlier (if that long!), it is sure that this escape was fresh in his mind and he knew the climate of the people with whom he would be mixing in Caiaphas’ courtyard. Danger was all around.

It should be noted that some English versions translate Peter as standing by the fire while the synoptics (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) portray him as sitting. This objection, if it be a real objection, can be answered in two ways. The simplest way is to recognize that Peter first approaches the fire standing up and remains standing so long as those around him are standing. Then, as Caiaphas takes his position for the trial, people settle down and sit. Peter, not wanting to stand out chooses to sit as well. The second way — if it be a way at all — is to note that the word that John uses, i¢sthmi (histami), can simply mean to be located in a particular spot (standing or sitting). Thus, there is no real contradiction between John’s account and the account of the other four evangelists.

While these questions may be curious, there are two clauses in these verses that are very striking. The first is how Mark refers to the fire around which Peter and the subordinates are gathered. Instead of using the ordinary word for “fire,” which in Greek is pu◊r (pur), he chooses to use the word, fw◊ß (phos) — “light.” One might be tempted to dismiss this as a curiosity, that perhaps Mark was simply looking for a different word to use for variety until one points out that this is the only time Mark uses the term fw◊ß (phos) in his entire Gospel. Furthermore, this is the only occurrence in the Greek New Testament where the term fw◊ß (phos) is used to refer to a fire.

One still might be tempted to suggest that Mark is just referring to the light that is emitted from a fire to foreshadow the fact that Peter would be recognized by those around him. Of course, this is presuming that this fire is the only source of light in the courtyard, which seems to be an odd assumption as oil lamps likely would have filled the space with light. A better answer is to recall that Mark is traditionally understood to have served as Peter’s scribe in Jerusalem, and thus this gospel was written under Peter’s oversight. Thus, there seems to be the suggestion here that the one thing Peter does not intend to do (at least initially) is to hide. His presence by the fire, in other words, is not just to warm himself (though that is one of the reasons), but is also to be present “in the light” and not in the midst of shadows. Of course, Peter’s nerve is lost as the proceedings go on and he realizes that he is noticed, but it is likely that at least at first, Peter’s intent was to be visible.

The second thing of particular interest is Matthew’s statement that Peter followed to see “the end.” The end of what? If Matthew is referring to “the end” of Jesus’ life, could it have been that Peter expected Jesus to be tried and executed even before dawn? Could Matthew have been speaking of “the end” with respect to their pilgrimage from the Sea of Galilee to Caiaphas’ courts? This latter explanation seems to be a better answer to the question. And, while likely not “the end” as Peter anticipated at the time, it indeed was the end — the end of Peter being only a follower and time for Peter to stand up and lead — though that final aspect would not be fulfilled until Pentecost. Solomon writes that to all things there is a season — for Peter (and for the other 10 who remained faithful), the time of following Jesus as he walked and taught in this earth had come to an end. Soon, the time would be for him to speak — and speak boldly he would.

“All the peoples must strike their hand!

Cry aloud with a voice of jubilation!”

(Psalm 47:2 {verse 1 in English Translations})


And the psalm of celebration begins! First of all, notice to whom this command is being uttered. It is not just to the people around the throne of God nor is it just uttered to the people of Israel. It is uttered to “all the peoples”! People from every race and language and nation are being called by the psalmists to give God praise and to exalt before him. Throughout the Old Testament there is this reoccurring promise that God will bring peoples from the nations into Israel and into Jerusalem — a promise of the Gospel going to the gentiles — and passages like this anticipate that great and glorious time when every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

That being said, with a call to rejoicing comes an implicit warning — it is Yahweh that is to be feared (see the following verses) and those people who do not submit and come worship him will find themselves subdued under the feet of God and his people. Indeed, there will be a day when every knee will bow and tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, but of those God has not called to himself in faith — those that continue to reject the Gospel — they will find themselves kneeling and confessing to their great consternation and humiliation as an utterly defeated foe.

One curious element is the phrase that is typically translated as “clap your hands” in our English Bibles. In Hebrew there are four different verbs used to describe the clapping of one’s hands and these verbs carry with them a variety of connotations. What I found most interesting is that the verb used here is better translated as “strike” or “give a blow” and the word for hand is actually singular, thus producing the translation above: “strike your hand.” Interestingly, in most of the instances where what we would describe as “clapping” are found, the term for hand is found in the singular, yet we translate it into the plural. There seems little explanation for this choice of terms apart from the visual idea of clapping where one hand is held still (as one would hold a small drum) and the other is in motion. Thus, when we envision the clapping being called for, it should not be seen as the thunderous applause that we often call for in our western culture, but a more rhythmic clapping that would produce more or less a drum beat (the stationary hand being the drum). The design, of course, being to draw people into the worship and praise of our God.

I could raise the question about one’s boldness of witness — is your witness one that boldly calls all of the peoples to Christ? Or do you do the very American thing and say that one’s religious preferences are one’s own business? The Bible knows nothing of this latter model. Yet, the question I would rather leave you with is that of the contagiousness of your worship. Does your worship draw others around you into worship? That doesn’t mean we need loud rhythmic clapping and dancing in the aisles, a humble and heart-felt worship that is gentle and quiet can have an even more powerful effect on others than the loud boisterous style. But do the people around you get drawn into the worship of God because of the way you worship in life? When in church, does your worship draw other believers into worship in a positive way — sometimes that guy who has had a bad week really needs the spirit of other believers around him to help draw him into that spirit of worship. Beloved, examine your witness, but also examine your worship. Is it contagious — the worship of these sons of Korah is.

A Public Witness

“And so, when the servant of Abraham heard their words he bowed down in worship to Yahweh.”
(Genesis 24:52)


Take notice at how many times this servant praises or worships God for his provision and for his grace. That is a fabulous thing, but is it not convicting to us? How often we neglect to praise God for his good works in our lives or we wait until a more “convenient” time. Here, the servant of Abraham bows before the Lord right there in the presence of everyone around. He does not worry about their reaction, their impression of him, or whether they will join him or not. He doesn’t even invite them to join in anything formal, but he simply bows before the Lord and worships.

How different the world would look were Christians to behave in this way, neither afraid or intimidated to kneel even in a crowded place and give God thanks for both big and small things. How different this world would look were Christians to pray with others on the spot, not afraid of the responses of onlookers, rather than to vaguely commit to praying for another and then going on their way without a second thought. How interesting it is that Eliezer, who is a relatively minor figure in these accounts, can teach us so much about living out the Christian life — he has clearly learned much by watching Abraham live out his faith. I wonder how much people learn about the Christian walk by watching us live out our own faith.

Whether we like it or not, the world is watching our lives and behavior and sadly what the world has often seen from Christians is that our lives look no different than any other person who walks the streets. In fact, I think that one of the the things that is attracting a younger generation to false religions like Islam and Mormonism is that they see a difference in the way these people live. Sad. Friends, may we too be intentional about living out our faith publicly as well as privately and may Christ be glorified in our witness, even that witness that takes place in the things that we do even apart from the words we use.


Fear Not, Little Flock!

Have you ever noticed how many times the Bible talks about fear? There is a fear of the Lord, which is the source of wisdom and knowledge—a fear that reflects a holy reverence for who God is. There is also a fear of the world—a fear of going hungry, not having the things we need, or of being persecuted for our faith. This is a fear that we are not to entertain in our lives, for it ruins our witness. The reason we need not fear any of these things is because we have a God in heaven who is sovereign and all-powerful and who loves us with a love that will never be lost or squandered. The pagans do not have a God who will do for them what our God does for us.

There are ramifications of leaving this second kind of fear behind. When you let go of fear and worry you also are left without excuses—you know, those excuses we all use to avoid doing what God has called us to be and to do. Notice what Jesus says immediately after these words:

“Fear not, little flock! For it is the pleasure of your Father to give you the kingdom.”

(Luke 12:32)

In other words, it is the pleasure of God to give us—his church—the kingdom. He will use us to transform the world around us to the glory of Christ Jesus. What a wonderful promise—though we are strong, we are not measured by our size, but by the size of the God who is working through us and dwelling in our hearts.

When we read these words of the Gospel, our heart ought to skip a beat! Is this what God really intends for our little church? The answer that God gives us in an unequivocal, yes! Yet, there is a catch. Jesus also stipulates a means by which he wants us to accomplish this task in the verses that follow:

“Sell your possessions and give benevolences. Make yourselves coin bags that do not wear out and an unfailing treasure in heaven where no thief comes near nor does any moth destroy. For where your treasure is, there also your heart will be.”

(Luke 12:33-34)

Note, Jesus is not telling us we must take a vow of poverty—here he does not say, “sell all of your possessions.” The fact that he still calls us to have a money purse is a testimony to that. The key is what we are using those possessions to accomplish. If we pursue possessions to gain more possessions for ourselves, then the possessions become idols and distract us from God’s purpose. If the possessions are but a tool to accomplish the work of the kingdom, then God will bless their use, for your heart will reside with heavenly things, not earthly ones.

So what does this mean for us? It means that our handicap is not our small size as a church and congregation. Our Father will not limit his work based on human considerations. Our handicap is our fear of letting go with the things we treasure on earth—both individually and corporately. Remember, David did not form a committee before he went to fight Goliath—he went in the strength of God and slew him. The God that gave him that boldness is the same God that indwells every believer, there is no reason that we too should not be so bold as to engage the giants of unbelief in our day.

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

Shema! (Mark 12:29)

“Jesus answered, ‘The first is: ‘Hear, O’ Israel, the Lord, your God, the Lord is one!’’”

(Mark 12:29)


To answer this question, Jesus quotes what is known in Hebrew as the “Shema” (Deuteronomy 6:4).  The Shema is easily the single-most important text in the Hebrew Bible; it defines the Hebrews as a people and perpetually reminds them of their place in relationship to God.  Many scholars have argued that the book of Deuteronomy itself is essentially a constitution for the Israelite nation when they enter into the promised land, and if this is the case, the Shema is the Preamble to that constitution.  It is the first prayer that a Jew prays in the morning when he awakens and the last prayer that he prays before bed; in times of distress, like during the oppression of the Jews in Nazi Germany, it was the Shema that was used as a means to identify oneself as a Jew to the Jewish community in hiding.  It is also the first prayer that is prayed (normally sung or chanted) at the beginning of a typical synagogue service.  And here, Jesus uses this prayer, this statement of faith, to sum up what it means to obey the law. 

The Shema begins with an imperative statement:  “Hear!”  The word in Hebrew that this is derived from is the term [m;v. (shema), which is where it gets its name.  More importantly, though, the term [m;v. (shema) does not simply mean “to listen,” but it also carries the connotations of obedience and submission to what follows.  It is a command to the people to hear the words that are being said, to internalize them, to submit to their authority, and then to live in obedience to what is being commanded of the listener.  There is no room for ambiguity in this command—you must hear is the idea that this command is conveying.

The second word that is found in the prayer tells us to whom the prayer is addressed:  Israel.  We, as Christian believers, must be reminded here that the name Israel applies to us today.  Paul reminds us in Romans 9:6-8 that one is not a member of Israel simply because of genealogical descent, but through the promise of God—through faith.   In Galatians 3:29, Paul also reminds us that we are counted as Abraham’s offspring—heirs according to the promise and members of true Israel—through faith in Jesus Christ.  Thus, this command of “hear, O Israel,” is a command that is set before our very ears today and must be laid upon our own hearts as well. 

Yet, what is significant about this language of “Israel” is not simply that we are part of the promise (though that is a great and a wonderful thing), but it is a reminder that we are bound together as one people in Jesus Christ and we have been given a name.  Israel was not a name that Jacob chose for himself, but it is a name that was given to him after he wrestled with the Angel of the Lord (Genesis 32:28).  The name means, “One who has striven with God.”  Now, we usually think of striving as a totally negative thing, yet let us never forget that while striving against God is not an act of submission, it does mean that God’s hand is upon your life.  The reprobate and pagan who has rejected the things of God does not need to worry about striving with God in his or her life—Paul reminds us that God has given them up to their sinful ways—allowed them to pursue the sinful things that will destroy them (Romans 1:24-25).  God’s hand is only upon his people, rebuking us when we sin, drawing us toward himself in righteousness.  In our sin we strive against God; we wrestle with his calling upon us, yet his calling is upon us; his hand is in our lives.  Israel is a name given to us as God’s people to set us apart from the rest of the world, to remind us of our corporate unity as God’s people, to remind us that it is a name given to us by our God (only the Master has the authority to give a name to those in his service), and it is a reminder that God’s hand is upon our lives.  It is a reminder that we should rejoice in as gentiles, for once we were not a people, but now we are God’s people—once we had received no mercy, and in Christ Jesus we have received mercy (1 Peter 2:10—a fulfillment of Hosea 1:23).

The next words that are pronounced are, “the Lord,” or kurio/ß (kurios) in Greek.  In Hebrew, this would be pronounced, “Adonai,” which means “Lord of Lords.”  Yet, Adonai is not the Hebrew word that is used in Deuteronomy 6:4, hwhy (Yahweh) is.  Yet, out of reverence for God’s covenantal name, the Hebrew people developed a practice of never pronouncing it and saying “Adonai” instead.  That practice carried over into the Greek writing, and thus, kurio/ß (kurios), or “Lord,” was used instead.  What is important about this language is that this is the covenantal name of God that he gave to Moses in Exodus 3:14, which is a statement of his eternality and uniqueness.  “I am who I am,” is how we often translate this name into English; that God is, he always has been, and he always will be.  God is eternal and there never was a time when God was not—nor will there ever be a time when God will cease to be.  All things that are had a beginning and this beginning is found in the creative work of our God.  Yet, this God, as great and mighty as he is, chose to condescend to fallen man and have a relationship with them, and in doing so, has given us his name that we might know him by that name for all generations (Exodus 3:15).  He is a God that is knowable, and is ultimately knowable in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ, who is answering the scribe in this case.

Jesus continues his quote of the Shema with the words “our God.”  In the Hebrew, this is one word, Wnyheloa/ (Elohinu), which is the Hebrew word, “Elohim” with the first person plural pronoun as an ending, thus, it does not read, “the Lord God,” but it reads, “the Lord, our God.”  This is important on a number of levels.  First of all, we must remember that these words were recited by the Hebrew people at least twice daily.  Thus, every day men and women were professing that this Yahweh was their God, personally and individually.  To call Yahweh, “our God” is also a reminder that we are bound as part of a covenantal community and not isolated, “Lone Ranger,” believers.  We are in a covenantal relationship as the church with one another and with God himself, and these words form a concise reminder of that fact.

In addition, the name, “Elohim” carries with it a variety of connotations.  We must remember that there are many names for God used in the Old Testament, and these names all are designed to reflect different aspects of his character.  The name Elohim reflects two ideas: God as creator and God as lawgiver.  To speak of God in this way, then, reflects the idea that the people are confessing God to be their creator and their lawgiver.  A creator has ownership over that which he has created and a lawgiver has the right to establish the rules and guidelines that his creations must live by.  These are words that remind God’s people of our submission to his authority and to his laws.  It is God who defines who we are and sets up the parameters as to how we go about doing what we do.

Finally, the Shema ends with the language, “The Lord is one.”  This reflects not only that God is one, monotheistic, God, but that he is alone in his Godhead.  God has no rivals, he is unique and infinitely wonderful.  Nothing in creation even comes close to his perfection.  This reflects the immutability of God’s perfections, and as the great and wonderful God, he is the source of all true wisdom and knowledge.  This language also reflects the language of the first commandment: “Thou shalt have no other Gods before me.”  God is God alone in our lives; he will not share his authority or place with any other.  There is no room for idols of any kind (even modern ones like our careers, wealth, status, etc…) in the lives of God’s people.  God is God alone.

And this is how the Shema closes, although the language of the larger passage explicates how the believer is to go about living this out.  Jesus will touch on this as he continues, but let us not overlook the importance of this first statement.  It is the credo, if you will, of God’s people; it establishes our identity and reminds us of our proper relationship with God.  In fact, in most traditional editions of the Hebrew Old Testament, the last letter of the first and last words are written in bold case and a larger font.  These two letters spell the Hebrew word d[e (ed), which means testimony or witness.  How often we are guilty of seeking to distort that relationship.  How often we are guilty of trying to set ourselves up as lawgiver in our own lives.  Oh, beloved, we are men and women in submission, but we are in submission to a good and wonderful God; let us live happily in submission to God’s laws and God’s providence in our lives, and let these words always remind us that we are God’s people and he is our covenantal God.