We Are God's Witnesses
P. G. Mathew | Sunday, July 20, 2003
Copyright © 2003, P. G. Mathew
"This is what the LORD says--Israel's King and Redeemer, the LORD Almighty: I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God. Who then is like me? Let him proclaim it. Let him declare and lay out before me what has happened since I established my ancient people, and what is yet to come--yes, let him foretell what will come. Do not tremble, do not be afraid. Did I not proclaim this and foretell it long ago? You are my witnesses. Is there any God besides me? No, there is no other Rock; I know not one." All who make idols are nothing, and the things they treasure are worthless. Those who would speak up for them are blind; they are ignorant, to their own shame.
Our culture is one which celebrates diversity and moral relativism. Thus, it says homosexuality is as good as heterosexuality, abortion is as good as having and raising children, headship of wives is as good as headship of husbands, and other religions are as good as, or better than, Christianity. But if all religions, ideas, and lifestyles are equally valid, what about the biblical injunction of world evangelization? Are all ideas of God valid? Are all religions true? If so, then there is no need for Christian evangelism and Christian world missions. In this study we want to examine the Isaianic view of witness-bearing.
I. Idols and Their Worshipers
According to Isaiah, the people of God are to bear witness to the God of Israel as light to the Gentiles. Implicit in this idea is the truth that Gentiles are in darkness, without truth, and worshiping, not the true God, but manmade idols. So let us first look upon idols and those who worship them. In chapter 44 Isaiah is waging a war against all idolatry. In verse 9 he says that idol makers are blind, ignorant, shameful nothings. In verse 15 he points out that, by worshiping what his hands made, an idol worshiper is, in effect, only worshiping what his mind conceived. In verse 17 he says that the pagan looks to his own creation for salvation, praying, "Save me; you are my god."
Yet the idol maker does not stop to think about the incongruity of what he is doing, as we read in verse 19. He does not think, know, or understand enough to ask, "Why am I worshiping that which I made? It makes no sense!" In fact, according to verse 20, one who makes idols is deceived: "He feeds on ashes, a deluded heart misleads him."
Then we are told about the idols themselves: "Is not this thing in my right hand a lie?" we read in verse 20. This is a serious statement by the prophet: Idols are lies, projections of fallen human hearts. In verse 9 we are told they are worthless. In verse 18 we read that idols are know-nothings whose eyes are plastered and whose minds are closed.
The best we can say of an idol worshiper is that he is a self-worshiper who is fascinated with his own ideas, an autonomous person who opposes the true and living God. In verse 13 we read, "The carpenter measures with a line and makes an outline with a marker; he roughs it out with chisels and marks it with compasses. He shapes it in the form of man, of man in all his glory, that it may dwell in a shrine." That is why idol worship is totally false. We are created to worship the transcendent, living, glorious, infinite personal God who alone is worthy of our worship.
II. The Problem with Syncretism
What about syncretism? Many people think that all religions are equally valid and the more religions, the better. They delight in a pantheon. Rather than the exclusive worship of the true God, they concoct a religion that worships both Yahweh and Baal. Syncretists imply that Christ speaks equally through all religions.
This syncretistic spirit is illustrated in several places. In 1 Samuel 5 the Philistines conquered Israel and brought the ark to their shrine in Ashdod whose chief idol was Dagon. Certainly, the Philistines thought the more gods, the better. But the next morning they discovered Dagon had fallen prostrate before the ark as if he were worshiping the God of the ark. They put Dagon back, but when they came the next day, he had fallen again. This time his head and hands had broken off in total defeat. In that falling and breaking of the head of Dagon, God was declaring that as the true and living God, he would not tolerate syncretism.
We see syncretism again in 1 Kings 18 where the people of the northern kingdom had rejected the exclusive of worship of Yahweh and were worshiping both Yahweh and Baal. The prophet Elijah sent out this challenge: "How long will you waver between two opinions? If Yahweh is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him." There was a great contest in which Baal failed miserably before Yahweh.
In Exodus we see how God appeared to Moses and sent him out to declare war against the gods of Egypt. By his mighty hand and through the plagues, he totally defeated the gods of Egypt and delivered his people out of bondage to Pharaoh.
In Daniel 2 we read that Nebuchadnezzar had a dream. Though he brought in all his idol-worshiping wise men and told them to declare and interpret his dream, they couldn't do it. Only Daniel could do it, having received the dream and interpretation from the true God.
III. The Uniqueness of Yahweh
The Bible rejects every kind of syncretism, so here Isaiah affirms there is only one God, one Savior, and one gospel. The uniqueness of Yahweh is found in the following verses:
Isaiah 44:6 This is what the Lord says-Israel's King and Redeemer, the Lord Almighty: I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God.
Isaiah 45:5 I am the Lord, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God.
Isaiah 45:18 For this is what the Lord says-he who created the heavens, he is God; he who fashioned and made the earth, he founded it; he did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited-he says: "I am the Lord, and there is no other."
Isaiah 45:22 Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other.
Isaiah 46:9 Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me.
The Isaianic view is that all idols are nothing and worthless know-nothings. There is only one true God, who alone is the Lord, the eternal I AM. He was there before any other "gods" were formed, and he will be there when they are gone. He is the first and the last. There is no other God beside Yahweh.
Not only is God unique and does not share his glory with other gods in the pantheon, but because he alone is God, he alone is Savior. So in Isaiah 43:11 we read, "I, even I, am the Lord, and apart from me there is no savior." If there is only one true God and therefore only one true Savior, then witnessing to him is mandatory.
IV. Proofs for the Uniqueness of Yahweh
What are the tests that the gods of this world must take to prove their deity? Isaiah sends out the following:
Isaiah 41:21-24 "Present your case," says the Lord. "'Set forth your arguments," says Jacob's King. "Bring in your idols to tell us what is going to happen."
Isaiah 43:8-13 Lead out those who have eyes but are blind, who have ears but are deaf. All the nations gather together and the peoples assemble. Which of them foretold this and proclaimed to us the former things? Let them bring in their witnesses to prove they were right, so that others may hear and say, "It is true." "You are my witnesses," declares the LORD, "and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me. I, even I, am the LORD, and apart from me there is no savior. I have revealed and saved and proclaimed-I, and not some foreign god among you. You are my witnesses," declares the LORD, "that I am God. Yes, and from ancient days I am he. No one can deliver out of my hand. When I act, who can reverse it?"
Isaiah 45:21-22 Declare what is to be, present it-let them take counsel together. Who foretold this long ago, who declared it from the distant past? Was it not I, the LORD? And there is no God apart from me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none but me. Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other.
Isaiah 46:9-11 Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please. From the east I summon a bird of prey; from a far-off land, a man to fulfil my purpose. What I have said, that will I bring about; what I have planned, that will I do.
Isaiah 48:3 I foretold the former things long ago, my mouth announced them and I made them known; then suddenly I acted, and they came to pass.
These are the challenges God puts out to the false gods: Can you declare the end from the beginning? Can you foretell what is going to happen? Having predicted, can you bring to pass what you predicted concerning the future? Can you interpret the past and make sense out of history?
The answer to all of these questions is no. Idols are only dumb creations of man. The history of the world makes sense only when it is seen from the point of view of Scripture because the God of Israel alone makes predictions and then brings them to pass.
All idols and idolaters fail these tests. That means all other religions and all other ideas of man given as solutions for our salvation, are lies. There is only one God, one Savior, one Sovereign, one Creator, one Judge-the God of Israel.
V. The Purpose of Our Life
The purpose of Israel's very existence was not to amass wealth or to become original thinkers. It was to bear witness to the true God, their Savior.
In Isaiah 43:10 God says, "You are my witnesses. . . and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he." This divine declaration is an indicative, a nonnegotiable statement filled with authority. God is saying, "Because I have chosen you, saved you, delivered you, and revealed myself to you, your purpose is to declare who I am to the world so that others may also come to experience salvation."
God makes three points here. First, he says, "that you may know. . . me." The Hebrew word for "know" is yada, which is used in Genesis 4:1 in reference to Adam's relationship with his wife. It speaks not only of mere intellectual knowledge but also of love, of the intimate knowledge gained through an intimate relationship. The idea is expressed when Jesus prayed, "This is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent" (John 17:3). We need experimental knowledge of God. God has chosen us that we may know him intimately as the unique God of Israel. It is a progressive, ongoing knowing.
Second, God says, "that you may. . . . believe me," or "trust me." We find the same word used in Genesis 15:6, where we read, "Abraham believed the Lord." This also is progressive and ongoing; the more we know God, the more we will trust him. We will say, "God said it, I believe it, and that settles it for me."
Third, God says, "that you may . . . understand me." We must gain insight so that we are able to discriminate between good and evil and not fall prey to ideas that negate the true God.
So our purpose is to be God's witnesses, but before we can testify about God, we must know him, trust him, and understand him as the true God and Savior. We must have more than intellectual knowledge.
Why do people not want to believe in the gospel? They are arrogant and do not know God. The more we know God, the more we will fall down before him and worship him; confessing our sin and calling on him, saying, "O God, have mercy upon me a sinner!" We must have personal, experimental knowledge of the one who alone is God, and therefore who alone is the Savior, not only of Israel, but of the ends of the earth. We must love him, trust him, have insight into him, and have communion with him.
That is the first thing. We cannot go and open our mouth if we do not know what we are talking about. Witnesses must tell the truth about what they experienced. We cannot just say that "I read this about God in a book"; we must experience him. Then, having known him and trusted him, we are to do something else: God says "the people I formed for myself . . . may proclaim my praise." (Isaiah 43:21).
In Isaiah 43:7 God says we are created for his glory; therefore, we are to proclaim his praise. What does that mean? It means we must proclaim his attributes; proclaim his person as unique; and proclaim his saving work, that he alone is God and therefore he alone is Savior.
In Isaiah 66:19 we find this same idea: "I will set a sign among them, and I will send some of those who survive to the nations-to Tarshish, to the Libyans and Lydians (famous as archers), to Tubal and Greece, and to the distant islands that have not heard of my fame or seen my glory. They will proclaim my glory among the nations." Peter picks this up in 1 Peter 2:9, saying, "You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light." The purpose of our life is not to have a good time; it is to declare the praises of him who saved us.
The True Witness
Israel failed in her witness-bearing task. Instead of testifying about God to sinners, they blasphemed his name among the nations-so much so that God had to send them into exile. Instead of being different from the nations, they became like them, thus repudiating their divine purpose of being witnesses of the Holy One of Israel. This is always a temptation we face also. We are called to be separate, yet we yearn to be like the world.
But in the midpoint of time an Israelite came who was the faithful and true witness to God in the world. The unique God of Israel, the great I AM, the First and the Last, himself became incarnate in the person of Jesus Christ.
How do we know that this sole Deity and Savior about whom Isaiah was speaking is Jesus Christ? In Isaiah 44:6 we read, "This is what the Lord says-Israel's King and Redeemer, the Lord Almighty: I am the First and I am the Last; apart from me there is no God." This "First and the Last" expression is applied to Jesus Christ four times in the book of Revelation: Revelation 1:17; 2:8; 21:6; 22:13. So when Isaiah speaks about the First and the Last, he is speaking about Jesus Christ.
Additionally, the Scriptures tell us that Yahweh-the LORD of the Old Testament, the "I AM" of Exodus 3:14-is Jesus Christ. When Moses asked the question, "What is your name?" God spoke from the burning bush, "I AM WHO I AM." We find this idea of "I AM" in Isaiah 43:13, where we read, "Yes, and from ancient days I am he."
This self-existing, self-sufficient, eternal being became incarnate in the person of Jesus Christ. We see reference to this in several places in the gospel of John, in chapter 8, verses 24, 28, and especially in verse 58, where Jesus said, "Before Abraham was born, I am," and in John 18:5-6. In the Greek it is ego eimi. Some may say, "I am he," but the expression is "I am." The idea is that "I AM", Yahweh, the covenant Lord and unique Savior of the Old Testament, is now incarnate in the person of Jesus Christ.
We find further proof of the God of whom Isaiah spoke being Jesus Christ in John 12:41. John writes, "Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus' glory and spoke about him." Where did Isaiah see the glory of Jesus? In Isaiah 6:1-3 we read, "In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: 'Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.'" This is the One John identifies with Jesus.
So by the life and death of Jesus, Yahweh, the I AM of the Old Testament, became incarnate and bore witness to the Father. He did not come to promote himself. PGM He came from the bosom of the Father to make him known. That is what bearing witness is all about, as Jesus himself said in John 1:18: "No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only," meaning Jesus Christ, "who is at the Father's side, has made him known" (John 1:18).
In Revelation 1:5 and 3:14 we are told that this Jesus Christ is a true and faithful witness to God and his plan. Concerning him the Father said, "This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased," and "This is my beloved Son: Hear ye him." In other words, God is saying, "Hear his testimony, because he is bearing witness to me."
Jesus Christ came to do the will of God. It was his food to do it and finish it. In Isaiah 53 we read that the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand and in Psalm 40 we read, "It is written about me in the scroll. I desire to do your will, O my God." Jesus Christ became truly a light to the Gentiles, as we read in Isaiah 42:6. Jesus Christ is the sole Deity and sole Savior that Isaiah was speaking about, the only atonement for the whole world. No wonder Peter said, "There is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved."
Witness bearing is very important. We should never believe the lie of diversity that every religion is equally valid. That is a lie! If every religion is true, then it spells the death of global evangelization. But all gods of the world are lies-worthless, blind, impotent know-nothings. At best, they are sinful projections of human ideas of self-worship. At worst, they are demonic.
But in spite of the idolatry of the nations, God loves them. Therefore God sent his Son to be incarnate and to make propitiation for his people. Witness bearing is of vital importance, that Jews and Gentiles may be saved. The Lord himself commanded his apostles to make disciples of all nations.
In Isaiah 43:10 and 44:8 God said, "You are my witnesses." Jesus says the same thing in Acts 1:8. Now no longer the Israel, but the entire people of God, both Jews and Gentiles, are commanded to bear witness. Our purpose in life is to know God, believe in him, and understand him as sole Deity and Savior, so that we can declare that truth to the world.
You shall be my witnesses! The Lord of the Old Testament that Isaiah spoke about, is Jesus. So the apostles were to give witness in the power of the Holy Spirit to the person and work of Jesus Christ before the world. This is exactly what they did. In Acts 10:39-43 Peter says,
We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen-by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.
What must people do to be saved? Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and they shall be saved. Jesus himself said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life." So we must tell people to abandon their false gods and idols, whether of money, self, or sinful ideas, and turn to Jesus Christ to be saved. And every believer, the moment he or she experiences the mighty salvation of God, must be a witness to Jesus Christ. We must study God's charge to us in Isaiah 43:10: "You are my witnesses. . . so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he," and declare the praises of him to all the nations.
The Challenge of Witnessing
Finally, let us look at the challenge of witnessing.
We must be persistent witnesses. What does the word "witness" or "to bear witness" mean? In Hebrew it means to emphatically, repeatedly, and permanently affirm one's personal knowledge of facts.
We find an example of such persistent witnessing in John 9. After Jesus healed the blind man, the unbelieving religious people came to the man and demanded, "How were your eyes opened?" He replied, "The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see" (vv. 10-11). The people were not satisfied with that answer, so they called him to appear again. This is why testimony means emphatic, permanent, and repeated affirmation of the truth that you personally know. In verse 17 we read, "Finally they turned again to the blind man. 'What have you to say about him? It was your eyes he opened.' The man replied, 'He is a prophet.'" Again, in verses 24-25 we read, "A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. 'Give glory to God,' they said. 'We know this man is a sinner.'" What was the man's answer? "Whether he is a sinner or not, I don't know. But one thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!" We cannot testify if we do not have experimental appreciation of salvation. But when we taste and see that the Lord is good, we will open our mouths, unafraid. So again in verse 29 the people said, "We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we do not know even where he comes from." And the formerly blind man replied, "Now, that is remarkable! You don't know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly man who does his will. Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing" (vv. 30-33).
This is the idea of witness bearing: repeated, emphatic affirmation of the facts we know. No matter how many times we are asked to testify, we will tell the truth.
We are under obligation to witness. In Romans 1:14 Paul says, "I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks." If you are not testifying to the facts you know, that is a criminal act. Proverbs 29:24 tells us, "The accomplice of a thief is his own enemy; he is put under oath and dare not testify." Now, if this is true, we must acknowledge we have committed a crime in living our lives silently and not speaking about Jesus. Why is there such silence? Why are we silent about Jesus, who loved us and died for us?
I think we need to repent of our silence. We are all fascinated with the Vanity Fair of this world. We even lodge complaints against God, saying God is not giving us as much as we think we need: "Where is my husband? Where is my wife? Where is the job?" Yet God has sent the greatest gift from heaven-his Son, who was in the bosom of the Father-how dare we not witness of him! Paul even pronounced a curse on himself, saying, "Woe unto me if I preach not the gospel!"
In 2 Kings 7 we read that there was a siege in Samaria which resulted in a famine. After God graciously intervened and the besieging army fled, some lepers went into the enemy camp and found plenty of food. They began to eat voraciously, but then they said, "Wait a minute. It is not right for us to feast and hoard food when people in the city are starving." That is what we do with the gospel. We are having a great time while others are starving. Or suppose you are surrounded by people who are sick with a serious disease that, unless treated, is lethal. You have the medicine, yet you refuse to share it. That is callous disregard for humanity's suffering. There is only one sure medicine sent from heaven. That balm of Gilead is Jesus Christ. What we need is not more money or power or a bigger house or a shinier car. What we need is Jesus. Taste and see that the Lord is good, and then tell others about him.
Keep in mind that the world is always testifying for its gods. Idolatrous ideas are being broadcast every moment. The devil is passionately witnessing against God; we must testify to our true God and Savior.
Our witness should be personal. When you are testifying in a court, you cannot say, "I read about it in a book" or "Somebody told me." No, we are only interested in the eyewitness report. When we read the word of God, we must ask God to apply these great truths to our hearts that we enjoy Jesus Christ, that we can declare that he is truly Savior.
Be prepared for cross-examination. A witness is always cross-examined. The disciples were cross-examined by the Sanhedrin, King Agrippa, and others. When the world cross-examines you, be prepared to give an answer for the hope that is within you. This requires theoretical objective knowledge of the word and experimental knowledge of God. Then we can say, as the blind man said, "I was blind but now I see."
Character matters in witness bearing. If you are a thief, you may come and give a testimony, but when you are cross-examined about your life, you will have to sit down. Mere mouthing of facts are not enough; your life, including personal, family, church, and work, should be holy. When your character is good, people will listen to you talk about Jesus Christ. The demons spoke truthfully about Jesus, saying, "He is the holy One." What did Jesus say? "Be quiet! You are not helping my cause, because people know you are a demon!"
We need courage to testify. Jesus said they will arrest us, scourge us, exile us, and kill us. But a true witness will continue to bear witness and will never change that testimony. He would rather die than change. This is why the Bible said, "Ye shall receive power after the Holy Ghost is come upon you, and ye shall be my witnesses."
What prevents us from testifying? Our own sin, as well as our worldliness, ignorance of the gospel, lack of present enjoyment of Jesus, and fear of the world. But Christ Jesus died in our place and he gave us eternal life, which no death can destroy. Neither death nor life is able to separate us from the love of God. So may God help us to enjoy Jesus Christ and declare him among the nations. Amen.
Copyright © 2003, P. G. Mathew
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