October 4, 2017
Bishop Ariel Cornelio P. Santos
We have a great God! We have a faithful God! But sometimes, we forget this when trials and problems come. Our faith is tested and we forget God’s promise that He will never leave us nor forsake us. He is always there. In the poem “Footprints in the Sand”, in the beginning, there were two sets of footprints; but when the man encountered storms in his life, he noticed that there was just one set of footprints. He asked the Lord why He left him when he needed Him most. The Lord said, “I did not leave you nor forsake you. During the times of your trial and suffering when you only saw one set of footprint, that was the time that I carried you.”
We should be witnesses of God’s faithfulness and God’s promise that He always fulfills. A witness is one who testifies. If one is called to be a witness to a crime, his testimony may be the basis of the judgment, and it may determine his sentence if he is guilty. The witness has to have a first hand knowledge of what of a testimony.
As Christians, our testimony starts with the grace of God and it is made full by our obedience and good works. In Isaiah 61, which is the gospel of the Kingdom, the gospel of grace, it starts with what Jesus quoted in Luke 4, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted.” What is the good news? “He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives, and freedom to prisoners. To proclaim the favourable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn, to grant those who mourn in Zion, giving them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantel of praise instead of a spirit of fainting, so they will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.”
The good news is for man who was in bondage to sin and to all the other slaveries. The good news is that we have a Messiah on whom the Spirit of God rests and who has come to free us from our slavery. We were helpless; and only by God’s grace are we delivered from our bondages and slavery. This is the gospel in a nutshell. There is nothing we can do about it; we cannot help ourselves; we cannot free ourselves; and it is the Messiah who does this for us.
Isaiah says that the former prisoners and captives will now be called oaks of righteousness, which is the planting of the Lord so that He may be glorified. It is God’s doing, not ours. In Verse 4, “Then they (former prisoners and slaves) will rebuild the ancient ruins, they will raise up the former devastations, and they will repair the ruined cities, the desolations of many generations.” We, who have been restored, will be the restorers of the ruins.
The gospel, the good news, is that God initiates, by grace, His good deed of setting the captives free, so that those who have been set free, now, work for Him and participate in the work of restoration. Blessed so that they can be a blessing to those who need the blessing, who need the restoring, and who need the deliverance. It is when they do the good works of rebuilding and restoring after being restored, after themselves being restored, that they become effective witnesses of the gospel of grace.
We cannot restore if we haven’t been restored. We cannot bless if we have not been blessed ourselves. We cannot give life without us first receiving life. We cannot teach what is not alive in us yet. Before we are sent, we are blessed and we are equipped. The gospel needs to be alive in us before we can proclaim and be a witness of it. We need to realize that God is alive in us and He will never leave us nor forsake us so that we can proclaim the good news. The reward of sharing of our restoration to others is the fulfilment that we get from the fruit of our labor.
St. Paul wrote to the church at the Thessalonica when he was imprisoned so that they would not worry for him. In chapter 3: 5 - “For this reason, when I could not endure it no longer, I also sent to find out about your faith, for fear that the tempter might have tempted you, and our labor should be in vain. But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us good news of your faith and love, and that you always things kindly of us, longing to see us just as we also long to see you, for this reason, brethren, in all our distress and affliction we were comforted about you through your faith; for now we really live, if you stand firm in the Lord.” St. Paul says that he and his companions had fulfillment in life because what they taught the people were not in vain.
The reason Jesus gave us the commandment to love one another is so that His joy may be in us, and that our joy may be full. The joy and the pleasures that we pursue are nothing compared to the fullness of joy that God Himself has and wants us to have in fullness.
What is a witness? The Greek word for witness is “martureo” where we get our English word martyr. Throughout the centuries, the Christians were persecuted when they gave their witness; and it has come to mean as “one who dies for their faith.” He is an ardent witness that he would die for what he witnesses about. We still should die for our faith – as in to die to ourselves; to die to our comfort; to die to our apathy; to die to our passivity. We are supposed to this for the rest of our lives.
A witness in court is being called to the witness stand, and after the cross-examination, he is asked to go down because his responsibility is finished. The witness in the kingdom of God is a lifetime witness. Christ’s witness is one who has been changed by what he is a witness to, by what he has experienced and he is never the same again. Being so, he cannot help but be a proclaimer of what he has experienced.
Those whom Jesus healed couldn’t help but jump, shout and praise because they cannot contain what they experienced. In Mark 5, Jesus and His disciples went to a region of Gerasenes, and He was met by a chained demon-possessed man who was called Legion because of the many evil spirits inside of him. He asked the spirits not to be sent to another place, but to the herd of swine nearby and it happened; and the spirits were drowned in water. This man who was formerly possessed was seen by the crowd restored, but instead of them being happy about this, they got afraid and sent Jesus away. The man who was formerly demon-possessed asked Jesus that he wanted to go with Him, but Jesus told him, “Go home to your family and tell them everything that the Lord has done for you and how merciful he has been. Be a witness right at home.”
In our minds, maybe we think that we have been called to be an apostle, an evangelist, or to be a pastor. We are not called to do something radical. We are not called to do something that will make it to the headlines. We are simply called to be a witness right at home – right where we stay – in school; in the workplace; in the community. Show them in the way we live, what God has done for us. Stay where you are! Be a witness where the good news about God is needed.
Not many are called to be great leaders, but to be called as leaders of friends, of brothers and sisters, of neighbors, and of officemates. This is our calling because we are witnesses of God’s things. The Samaritan woman that Jesus ministered to was said to be the first woman evangelist because she witnessed to the people in her village about who Jesus is. The people asked Jesus to stay in their village for two days, and they told Him about what they have heard of Him; but after their first hand experience with Jesus, they now know that He is the Messiah.
Be a witness – right at home; in our own backyard. We are witnesses if we are building homes. Parents are witnesses if they are good parents to their children. We are witnesses if we are volunteering in the Church – counselling, ushering, dancing, giving your gifts to the Lord. We are witnesses if we are honest at work. We are witnesses if we are good stewards of the gifts God gave us. We need not preach in the buses, although some are called to do this, but all of us, most of us are called to be witnesses right where we are. The little things we do in secret, and in places like our homes that not many people see, God sees; and we have a great reward from Him.
Be the one to tell the story of God’s grace and love everyday where we are. Be a demonstration of the Spirit and His power. It is not in big words, in big actions, but in how we live.
The integrity of the Creed is in the deed. The sincerity of the profession is in the action. We call ourselves Christians and what we say we believe is seen in our deeds. When Jesus sent out the seventy in Luke 10, He gave them instructions and one of them was, “When you enter a house, stay in that house.” They did not ask, “Lord, if we stay in that house, we could only reach out to a few.” Stay in the house means to show the people who you are, your character, who the Spirit that resides in you. Show them that you have been freed and have been changed. Show them that the life of God is in you, but stay with them. Stay in the house and show them the God who is in you. This is more challenging than doing something radical. It is more challenging to be a witness every single day because this takes more from us. It is more challenging to be a longtime witness than to be the man of the hour.
We have been equipped for this and all that we have to do is act naturally. All we have to do is to show our DNA – because we have received the Divine nature in us. We have been called witnesses. We have been freed. We have been given garlands. Ashes has been taken away from us, and we have been given joy and gladness instead of mourning. We are being used as oaks of righteousness because this is the gospel of the Lord, and this is the way it is in the kingdom of our God.