Short Meditations on the Ascension: 5. Witnesses
Lk 24:48 You are witnesses of these things.
Witnesses are those who have observed certain events and who are called to recount what they have seen. We see it in the courts on a daily basis. Luke in starting his Gospel speaks, “the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses.” (Lk 1:1,2) What he had, came from those who had been there, seen it all, heard it all, and had passed it on to him. The apostle John writing his first letter used the same language: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it.” (1 Jn 1:1,2)
This is very important: there were lots of people who had been with Jesus, seen what he had done, heard what he had said and you couldn’t wipe it from their memories. That was the starting place for these disciples who Jesus was teaching – you are my witnesses, you have seen it all, you are the ones to tell everyone else what you have seen and heard.
Peter understood this when a short while later they decided to appoint one to replace Judas who had died: “Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us, beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.” (Acts 1:21,22)
When Paul said the church was “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets,” (Eph 2:20), the ‘prophets’ referred back to the Old Testament witness to the coming one, and the ‘apostles’ referred to those called by Jesus to be present witnesses. It wasn’t just their teaching, but their teaching that came as witnesses to their Lord, what they had heard him teach, what they had learnt from him. This is why they were so important; this is why Jesus is culminating his teaching from the Scriptures by reminding them again that this is their calling, this is why they had been with him for those three years – to tell everyone now what they had seen and heard.
The Gospel is not a made up fairy-tale, it is the account of the Son of God, “the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God.” (Mk 1:1) These men and women were witnesses to the fact that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God (Mt 16:16, Jn 20:31) and they eventually gave their lives for that truth, ten of the remaining eleven dying as martyrs for that testimony, only John dying of old age. THAT is a testimony that only the foolish ignore.