”Can I Get A Witness? . . .”
Vol: 30 Issue: 6 Wednesday, December 6, 2017
”For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty.” (2nd Peter 1:16)
The New Testament of the Bible consists of twenty-seven short Greek writings, essentially letters that were exchanged throughout the Church, the first five of which are historical in character.
The first four historical books are commonly called the ‘Gospels’ (literally, ‘good news’) that record the eyewitness accounts of the public ministry of Jesus Christ.
The Gospels aren’t exactly biographies of Jesus, since they reveal little of the Lord’s life on earth, apart from His Divine origin and His three years of public ministry.
The first three Gospels are called the ‘Synoptic’ Gospels because they share common features not found in the fourth Gospel, that of the Apostle John.
The Synoptic Gospels tend to focus on the humanity of Jesus, whereas John’s Gospel examines Jesus from the spiritual perspective.
Critics often point to the variations between the Gospels as evidence the Scriptures are flawed,since some give seemingly different accounts of the same event.
It is important to keep in mind that each presents a distinctive point of view, and each was originally composed for a different audience. Personally, I regard the differences between the Synoptic accounts as strong evidence supporting their accuracy.
The Gospels are eyewitness accounts. Much of my law enforcement career was spent conducting investigations and interviewing eyewitnesses. It has been my personal experience that no two eyewitnesses ever describe the same event the same way.
Sometimes the differences are subtle, sometimes glaring, but it was identical accounts that raised a red flag.
Mark’s account of the Olivet Discourse differs from that of Luke’s or Matthew’s but only in minor points of perspective, the way two eyewitnesses to a car wreck remember different details based on their point of view and what stood out to them at the time.
The writings of the New Testament were completed by about AD 100, with the majority of them having been in existence within forty years of the Lord’s Crucifixion and Resurrection.
This also argues strongly for their accuracy. The Synoptic Gospels were written and distributed within the lifetime of men who were alive and could remember the things that Jesus said and did.
Many of us were alive and old enough to remember the assassination of President Kennedy. Many of us witnessed the Kennedy assassination, and the subsequent murder of Lee Harvey Oswald three days later, on live television, as it happened.
While there are literally as many conspiracy theories as there are conspiracists to dream them up, the basic historical facts remain indisputable.
Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas by a gunshot wound to the head. Oswald was murdered in the basement of the Dallas Police parking garage when Jack Ruby poked a thirty-eight into his ribs and pulled the trigger.
I could not write a credible book arguing that Kennedy was really shot in Seattle and Oswald really died in a shootout with police by the Space Needle. There are too many living witnesses to take me seriously — it would never get any traction. (Even my wife wouldn’t buy a copy, let alone start telling the story to her friends).
Consider this: The Synoptic Gospels recount a time when Jesus was speaking to a crowd so large that, to get a sick man into His presence, the roof was ripped off the building so a paralyzed man, confined to a cot, could be lowered to Him.
Ripping part of a roof out of a building would attract the attention of its occupants. Seeing a guy lowered down in front of the featured Speaker would grab the attention of every person in the room. And when the paralyzed guy got up and started running around, there was not likely a disinterested person in the house.
Jerusalem of Jesus’ day was a small town where everybody pretty much knew everybody else. When the Gospels began making their rounds, this fantastic story was accepted because there were eyewitnesses to attest to its truth.
Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead in full view of many witnesses. John records the resurrection of Lazarus was reported to Caiaphas the High Priest and the Council of Pharisees.
If, even thirty years later, somebody tried to fabricate this story, there would be living eyewitnesses to argue against its truthfulness.
And if there were no eyewitnesses to support the account, the Gospels would have been discredited as just one more Messianic legend. Nobody would have believed them and Christianity would never have found a foothold — especially among the Jews.
The ‘Thirty-Nine Articles’ document that determined the Canon of Scripture, that is, separating the Inspired Word of God from other historical and religious works of the time, declares in Article VI,
“In the name of the holy Scripture we do understand those canonical Books of the Old and New Testament, of whose authority was never any doubt in the Church.”
If there had ever been an expressed doubt, it was carefully examined for contemporary eyewitness testimony. Within three hundred years of the Resurrection, the Canon of Scripture was assembled.
All legitimate doubts were satisfied.
In opening his report to his patron, Theophilus, the Apostle Luke attests:
“Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us, Even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the Word.” (Luke 1:1-2)
Both Peter and Luke made clear from the outset that they were personal eyewitnesses to the ministry of Jesus Christ. Peter reminds his followers that he was a “witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed.” (1st Peter 5:1)
Luke also drives home the point of eyewitness testimony, writing,
“And we are His witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey Him.” (Acts 5:32)
Moreover, Luke stresses that the Apostles were far from the only witnesses:
“And He was seen many days of them which came up with Him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are His witnesses unto the people.” (Acts 13:31)
The fifth historical book of the New Testament is really a continuation of the Gospel of Luke,but divided into the Acts of the Apostles. In it, it recounts the beatings, stonings, ostracism, torture and ultimate deaths of many of His eyewitnesses.
The only Apostle to die a natural death was John the Beloved, who lived into his eighties. The rest were given a choice between denying the testimony of what they witnessed, or accepting a horribly brutal and painful death.
This is, to my mind, incredibly powerful evidence. Following Jesus meant abandoning their lifelong religion, their families, their friends, their homes, all they held dear, to become vagabond preachers, subject to the whims of the authorities and declared public enemies of Judaism.
Given the choice, not one recanted. All went joyfully to their deaths, as did countless Christian martyrs of Nero’s persecution. They KNEW by personal eyewitness what we know only by faith.
They SAW Jesus heal the sick, raise the dead, turn water into wine, feed five thousand with five loaves and seven fishes, walk on water, die, be buried, and rise again three days later. They WATCHED as He ascended into heaven. They SAW the angels and HEARD their words:
“Which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:11)
With what they knew, first-hand, how COULD any of them trade what they knew for certain was an eternity with Jesus for a few more years of this life?
Imagine if you had walked with Jesus, talked with Jesus, witnessed His miracles first hand. What would there be about dying that would frighten YOU?
That is what makes the Acts of the Apostles such powerful evidence. Who would choose to live a life of misery and joyfully embrace an agonizing death when a simple declaration could make it all go away — unless they were absolutely certain?
We live in a generation unlike any in history. Our technological advancements border on the miraculous, indeed, we’ve come to expect a new technological miracle as part of our daily routine. We live in an age of miracles, to the degree the miraculous loses some of its ‘miraculousness’. (I had to invent a word to make my point — sorry)
My point is this: Miracles are less convincing to this generation than they used to be. That is why God ensured we would have adequate eyewitness testimony.
So that we could KNOW as the Apostles did, that we are NOT following cunningly devised fables.
Jesus is alive and well and everything is under control — despite the seemingly ever-increasing chaos all around us. We can be confident of His involvement in the affairs of men and in His promise:
“Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto Myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.” (John 14:1-3)
And when He comes again, to ‘receive us to Himself’, we have the eyewitness testimony of the angels who told the ‘men of Galilee’, that “this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into heaven.”
Or, as the Apostle Paul explained in greater detail,
“For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him. For this we say unto you BY THE WORD OF THE LORD, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.” (1st Thessalonians 4:15-17)
We have the evidence of undisputed eyewitness testimony.
“Wherefore comfort one another with these words.” (1st Thessalonians 4:18)