sermon

Witnesses

Rev. Dr. John J. Lolla, Jr.

May 5, 2019

Text: Act 2:32, New Testament: I Peter 1:3-9, Acts of the Apostles: 2:14a, 36-41

                How many of us have been in a courtroom to watch a trial?

How many of us have watched a courtroom on television?

There’s a great difference between watching a courtroom on television and being in a courtroom. Television courtrooms lack the intimacy of experiencing a courtroom.

There is nothing like facing people and seeing them wrestle with the question of truth that is on trial in a courtroom. The defendant acts one way regarding a testimony. The plaintiff acts another way to a testimony.

The lawyers are busy taking notes and listening intently. Jury members respond in different ways. Some show upset. Others appear distracted.

Then there is the judge.

Black robe. High bench above everyone else, looking down on the proceedings from the lofty place of judgment. The judge is committed to equity. The judge is committed to preserving the participants trust in the judicial proceedings. The judge represents the highest values of the society.

The judge is to see the verdict represents a just representation of the truth, and the punishment required of a crime.

Criminal statutes are society’s standards for appropriate social conduct that have been developed over centuries of judicial debate and academic consideration. Punishments for transgressing those statutes have also been developed over centuries of judicial debate and academic consideration.

Prosecuting attorneys represent those standards and punishments.

If you have been the defendant, your reputation as an honest, trustworthy person is at stake. Depending on the severity of the crime, your freedom is at stake. Your attorney represents your defense based on the truthfulness of testimony as to your innocence.

While the defendant is on trial, there are others on trial as well in a courtroom. Each person is on trial to represent the truth – the plaintiff, prosecution attorneys, defendant, defense attorneys, judge, and especially the witnesses. Every trial needs witnesses.

Since the time of Moses’ law, two witnesses giving the same truthful testimony are necessary to convict or exonerate. Without truthful witnesses there can be no trial. Without truthful witnesses, there cannot be justice.

Bearing false witness is a crime against God, and society.

Truthful witnesses are the key to justice. Without truthful witnesses there cannot be justice. The judge cannot prejudice either the defense or the prosecution to determine the truth. But the judge is committed to uncovering the truth. The judge knows that community trust in justice will be destroyed without convictions or exonerations based on truth.

But what if the witnesses refuse to testify?

What if the witnesses aren’t giving false testimony, but simply won’t testify before the judge?

Miscarriages of justice occur without testimony. Defendants can be convicted of crimes they didn’t commit and go to jail or be executed. Unless there are willing witnesses coming forward to testify not only does the defendant face wrongful conviction, but society loses its ability to represent justice.

Not testifying is considered an error of omission in a courtroom.

The witness refuses to testify. This is different from an error of commission when the witness lies under oath. A witness lying under oath can be charged with perjury. A witness who refuses to testify can be charged with contempt of court.

The witness who refuses to testify shows contempt not only toward the judicial proceeding but the necessity of society to be just. Without a testimony to the truth there can be no justice. Without truth there can be no faith in the justice system, the government, or the laws that represent justice.

Which brings us to Jesus.

Jesus is the one on trial in the courtroom of life. The first time He went on trial, His witnesses refused to testify. Not one of the disciples rose to His defense. Any one of them could have testified, but they refused to offer a defense for him.

Those who did testify against Jesus wanted to silence Him on charges of blasphemy. But they knew that blasphemy meant nothing to Roman justice. Self-idolatry was not a criminal offense for the Romans.

So the witnesses in Jesus’ trial gave false testimony. They claimed he was a threat to Caesar. He was a threat to Roman government. He was a rabble rouser who was generating crowds who wanted a Messiah to overthrow their oppressors.

The problem was what was the truth. Pilate asked it himself – what is truth? Yes, Jesus was generating crowds. Yes, Jerusalem’s crowds did think He was the Messiah. Yes, Jerusalem’s crowds did want the Messiah to over throw the Romans.

But Jesus had said nothing about social revolution. If he had said anything about changing society, it was about repenting for sin. Jesus was calling the people to repent for the Kingdom of God was near.

There was just enough truth in the claim of the Jewish leaders to be credible. But Jesus said his kingdom was not of this world and he renounced violence. The people who knew the truth about what Jesus taught were silent.

The disciples refused to be witnesses to the truth about Jesus. He had never said a thing about overthrowing the Romans. He had never made a claim about needing to arm themselves for a revolution.

So, Jesus was tried and convicted of a crime that was not a crime and was tortured and crucified for lack of witnesses. Their error of omission allowed the error of commission to stand as the truth.

Jesus was a victim of injustice because no one stood on His behalf to defend Him.

Yet this morning’s Scripture reading from Acts 2 says the Apostle Peter standing up in the market square of Jerusalem on Pentecost. He had failed to defend Jesus in the courtroom in which Jesus’ life was at stake.

But Peter was now a willing witness in defense of Jesus’ rising from the dead.   Peter testified that Jesus died for their sins and Jesus was raised from the grave to forgive their sins. Peter was so convicting in his testimony that thousands of people began to join the church.

The Jerusalem market place was not physically Pilate’s court room. But juries aren’t limited to room where trials are held. Juries exist wherever public opinion is compelled by witnesses to render a verdict as to whether Jesus of Nazareth was raised from the dead and is the Son of God.

You and I wouldn’t be here if there hadn’t been willing witness to defend Jesus Christ was raised from the dead and lives that we might be forgiven of sin through repentance in His name.

Wherever there are skeptical people about Jesus as God’s Son, there is a courtroom that demands a witness to the truth.

That courtroom can be a home where children complain about going to Sunday school. Or a hospital room where a relieved family credits a physician with a patient’s health when the physician says the patient’s recovery was impossible. That courtroom can be a public school where a child comes to a principal and asks for help after burning a Satanic Bible. Or that courtroom could be in a corporate tower where a senior accountant is demanding that a junior accountant massage the financials to give the appearance of a corporate profit.

There are courtrooms everywhere where Jesus is on trial before the jury of public opinion. If a skeptic knows you are a church member and you fail to live up to the truth, you are bearing false witness about Jesus. If a spouse who doesn’t go to church sees that you can’t live up to the truth, you are not witnessing to Jesus Christ.

Lots of people leave the church because their business relationships with Christians are unjust or dishonest. They see Christians taking liberties because the Christian is forgiven of his or her sin, so the Christian can justify misrepresenting the truth.

And when a person comes to you asking for personal advice about how to handle a difficult relationship, you become a witness to how your faith in Jesus Christ guides you in managing that relationship.

The fact is, every day we are in the courtroom that needs witnesses in defense of Jesus Christ. The fact that people are leaving the church in droves and the unaffiliated from church has risen to almost 25% of the nation is a sign that too many Christians are refusing to be witnesses in Jesus’ defense.

Each of us has a responsibility to be a defense witness to Jesus Christ. But if we haven’t thought deeply enough about our faith to be able to give a defense testimony, we are unlikely to be willing witnesses. We remain silent and let Jesus be convicted by false testimony that does not represent Him as the Son of God.

Each of us needs to take time to consider our testimony in Jesus’ defense, so that when we find ourselves before a jury needing the truth about Jesus, we are ready and willing to testify.

Jesus is watching our defense of Him. Be ready to speak!

Amen.

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