WHERE IS THE WITNESS?
Antony Raj J.
There is a striking contrast in the passage, Acts 4:13-22. The Sanhedrin insisted on silence; Peter and John could not keep quiet. When the Sanhedrin decided to warn the disciples to speak no more in Jesus' name, a fact remained which the Sanhedrin and anyone who lived in Jerusalem could not deny. It was the life of disciples in the society!
Their life brought remarkable changes in the lives of others. Their activity bore witness to the faith and authority they had inherited from the risen Lord only recently. Peter and John 'directly looked at' the man lame from birth; they asked him to 'look at themí, and said, "In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, stand up and walk!" They "took hold of him by the right hand and raised him up" and "many of those who had listened to the message believed." Their look, touch and speech made an impact in the society they lived. This impact had also shaken the all powerful Sanhedrin.
The disciples were simple people like us and they too lived in this sinful and perverted world. However, their life differed from ours on the following counts.
The Exemplary Life
The disciples lived an exemplary life. They had no hidden agenda. They did not play hide and seek with bearing witness to their salvation. They did not feel shy about bearing witness to the spiritual awakening and empowerment of anointing they had received from God. Therefore people believed them and received healing from them. Not only that, people in power feared to eliminate them in spite of their authority to do so. What a witness!
This aspect is lacking in our life. There is a faith deficit about our life and activities as Christians. We still bank on the good works done by the missionaries in the fields of health, education and other social sectors, many years ago. The situation has reached to such a level that the contribution of Christians in the social upliftment of this country is slowly being forgotten and unrecognised by the people. There are three reasons for this: 1) No significant work or service is added to what the old missionaries had done in the past, even to keep their memory alive. 2) Non-Christians are excelling in doing exemplary service to the society. 3) The life and activities of Christians are not exemplary.
As a result, we have nothing to give for the people or to make them believe. Hence the authorities now find it easy to oppress and suppress Christians. Moreover, we cannot boldly declare as the disciples did, thus, "I have no silver or gold" (Acts 3:6). For them, gold and silver were useless. What they needed was the name of Jesus to lead a witnessing life in order to bring changes in the lives of others. Today we only possess the things that were not required by the first century Christians. We do not have the name of Jesus to be revealed and glorified through our lives.
The Extraordinary Change
The disciples were ordinary men. But where did the boldness, which amazed the Sanhedrin, come from? Was it a miracle? No. They performed miracles and transformed lives. But they were not transformed by a miracle! As noticed by the Sanhedrin, 'these men had been with Jesus.' Their three-and-a-half-year walk with Jesus had brought the change in them. We are Christians for generations with no significant change in us for the world to notice!
For Peter and John, though they had been to the church umpteen times and noticed the man begging at the entrance, that day was different. That day they would not simply sympathise with the beggar or give alms and enter into the church, as usual. The walk they had with Jesus did certainly not allow them to do so! They stopped at the entrance, looked at the man and used the name and power of Jesus and healed him instantaneously. Their walk with Jesus had given them compassion towards the poor and sick, courage to proclaim healing in Jesus' name and a social concern to include the neglected into their community.
Peter might have been an uneducated and ordinary man, ready to betray Jesus some time ago. But now he has become a champion for social upheaval! Likewise, John might have been a coward who ran off naked, leaving his linen cloth behind, when Jesus was arrested in Gethsemane (Mk.14:54). But now his boldness has become a matter of amazement. Such was the impact their walk with Jesus had produced!
Christ's life and teachings have made no impact in our lives. As a result, our lives do not impact the society. We have not been called to live a normal life like others. We may not murder, we may not steal, or we may not commit adultery. But such sins are not committed even by non-Christians. What is great in being called the 'chosen people of God' (Isa.65:22)? Jesus said, "Unless your righteousness goes beyond that of the experts in the law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 5:20). The great ransom paid for our redemption calls for great virtues and values to exhibit. Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you, to the person who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other as well, give to anyone who asks you, treat others in the same way that you would want them to treat you, and so on.
We must exhibit these virtues in our day-to-day personal, official and social life. We must know that mistakes, however small they may be, like spitting on the road, telling lies in our office for taking leave or for late coming, giving false statements/figures for withdrawals from PF and for drawing benefits from government or other sources, not working hard, wasting our working hours, talking ill about others, not preserving the nature, not being faithful to the motherland, not obeying the law, accepting or giving bribes, etc., are sins to be avoided. When we seek to please God in our thoughts and activities, we will be living out the Gospel.
The Existent Proof
"And because they (the Pharisees) saw the man who had been healed standing with them, they had nothing to say against this" (Acts 4:14). There was proof and a living witness nobody could say anything against! Where is our proof to prompt others to stand in awe today? Where is the witness to nullify the sinister plans of others against us? We ourselves need to be living witnesses in our office and social life. We can have an impact on our colleagues by not taking sick leave telling lies about our health. We can refuse to grab the government freebies meant for the poor and needy, if we don't fall under that category. We need not fight for a seat in a city bus, we need not blow the horns of our vehicles unnecessarily, our worship and prayers need not disturb others-and the list goes on. The presence of our church and the prayers we offer must be welcome to the community we live in. Our church must live out the Gospel and reach out to the marginalised, the neglected, the poor, the widows, the sick, the orphans and the elders, irrespective of caste and creed. Our church should not encourage the social evils like caste difference, dowry, child marriage and child abuse, and neglect of elders, or neglect AIDS patients, lepers and beggars, and so on. Our youth should be role models in society. Our mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law can demonstrate to the society the ABC of love and affection. The salaried, the workers, the clergy, the students, the institutions, the hospitals, the organisations must set examples in the society.
Only then can no one say anything against us just as the Sanhedrin had nothing to say against the disciples (Acts 4:14). And there would be no cause for oppression and persecution.
The Eventual Declaration
The disciples declared, "It is impossible for us not to speak about what we have seen and heard" (Acts 4:20). A very bold declaration indeed! Let us hear from them what they have seen and heard, "This is what we proclaim to you: what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and our hands have touched concerning the word of life; and the life was revealed, and we have seen and testify and announce to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us" (1Jn.1:1). They had seen Jesus, their Master, hanging on the cross with the whole body bleeding. And it was all to call them out of darkness into His marvellous light and to make them a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own (1Pet.2:9).
We have much more to proclaim than what the disciples had. No believer can deny seeing the hand of God doing miracle after miracle in our life. If we have seen Jesus hanging on the cross with His whole body bleeding for our redemption, how can we remain without proclaiming what we have seen? The disciples had realised that God had chosen them so that they might proclaim the virtues of the one who called them out of darkness. Unless this realisation dawns in us, we cannot proclaim His virtues.
The disciples had the privilege of hearing from Jesus when they walked with Him. He spoke to them through parables, sermons, rebukes, admonitions, prayers and commands. They also heard Him speaking about His coming again to this world to judge the living and the dead with these words (Rev.22:12). It was enough for them to be watchful and remain prepared to meet Him. They realised that proclaiming His righteousness and His second coming was only the required preparation apart from "striving to be found at peace, without spot or blemish, when we come into His presence" (2Pet.3:14).
If we have seen Jesus in our place on the Cross and His hand in our day-to-day life and if we have heard Him speaking about His impending coming, we cannot help proclaiming His righteousness and His second coming to this world!