Last summer we were visiting friends in New York where we lived and ministered prior to coming to Manila. After a church meeting we all had a picnic at a beautiful park on the west side of Manhattan by the Hudson River. Looking southwest along the river there was a hole in the skyline where the World Trade Center once towered in pride.
I asked my friend where he was that tragic day, and he told me that he was actually driving by the same park when he noticed a passenger jet flying down the river at a low altitude. I pause here in the telling because at this moment you are seeing the same image that I saw in my mind when my friend related what he had witnessed. Yet for some reason listening to my friend’s story at the site of the incident had more impact on me that any of the news footage that I had seen of 911, one of our nation’s greatest tragedies.
There is a fundamental difference between being an eyewitness and simply repeating what we have heard about an event. In a court of law anything other than an eyewitness account is called “hearsay”, which is not admissible. This simply means: I heard it, and then I said it. In Christianity people often get the terms confused, thinking that we need to go “witnessing” while never having “witnessed” the things we will speak of.
“but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”
Jesus is not saying in this verse that God will only give us power to tell the gospel, but He will make us eyewitnesses of the gospel by the indwelling and transforming work of the Holy Spirit. Like the park where my friend told his story, our lives are also the site of an event, and this event is so personally significant that it is called a new birth. Yet unlike the tragedy in New York we went from war to peace, disorder to order, death to life. It was a reverse catastrophe such that if it did happen it would be worth the telling and produce eagerness in the listener.
As a visiting pastor, Jim Hayford, said here last week, “our handicaps are not liabilities, but they are opportunities.” I hate to use the following example in light of the sensitivity evoked in mentioning 911, but I hope that it may bring encouragement to those who think that they have grown too little in their faith to be a witness. If you were to witness any catastrophe like 911 as if the film ran backwards you would see the miracle even before the damage was completely undone. In the same way anyone who sees the process of spiritual transformation will also see the hand of God in it even though the work is not yet complete. Salvation is the event that precedes a life of continual change.
For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.
If God has touched your life in any way then you are a witness.