WITNESSING – Chapter 12

Oh Peter, I am so glad to see you this week! After what you shared last week, I wasn’t sure if you would even be here. We will likely hear something, I hope, if, indeed, you must face the terrible judgment that you believe is ahead for you. But I feel particularly blessed to sit with you again and learn at your feet.

I am so glad to see you, as well. Nothing has changed regarding my future. It could be any day now. I have had some thoughts about what we might discuss, but I would like to start with you having the opportunity to ask whatever you feel led to ask me.

I really had only one agenda for this evening. I am just wondering what you feel that you would like to share with me about the rest of your life after Jesus ascended? I would want to be the kind of witness that you have been and need to learn from you what you have faced and how the Holy Spirit has led you in your witness of the Lord Jesus.

You have heard me share a bit about aspects of my life as a disciple and an apostle. I have talked a bit about my experience of having the gift of healing and the awesome and humbling responsibility that it has been.

I have shared with you that I have been jailed before – although it was often for only a short time of a few days at the most. But those imprisonments were teaching experiences that took me deeper into my faith in Jesus. We sometimes believe that we have some control over our lives as we live day after day. Prison will take that quickly away and leave one either in hopelessness and despair, or into a deeper faithful trust in our Lord to live out faithfully whatever may come.

I talked about how we who walked with Jesus soon realized after he ascended that there were key disciplines that needed to be a part of the rest of our lives if we were going to follow Jesus as he desired. Do you remember?

  • We who witnessed all that Jesus had been and done continued to share his stories and teachings with each other and used the scriptures as tools to understand those experiences of Jesus more deeply.
  • We continued, through treasuring our baptisms, to realize daily the importance of the deaths of our old selves and the rising to new life our new selves in Jesus. And we regularly ate bread and wine together with a full thankfulness of knowing the presence of Jesus being renewed in us through that meal – his body, his blood.
  • We have prayed regularly as individuals and together with each other.
  • We connect with other brothers and sisters in the faith in a fellowship community that encourages us in our faith and our witness.
  • And yes, we witness. We talk about Jesus with others as the Holy Spirit leads us and we seek to live lives that witness to his amazing grace, love and forgiveness.

But, one of the most important experiences of those days after the ascension of Jesus came through a vision that I was given. It particularly relates to our witness, but it also challenges our willingness to be open to new possibilities and to share the good news of our Lord with all people.

I had been led to travel out beyond Jerusalem. The Gospel had touched the lives of many in other towns and villages. I had the opportunity to bring healing into the lives of a couple of believers, first in Lydda and then, in a more amazing experience, in Joppa. These could be discussions for us, but for what I would like to make sure you hear, they were also part of the Holy Spirit enabling me to be closer to another town, Caesarea.

I had been staying with a believer named, Simon, a tanner, in Joppa. His house had access to its roof where I could spend my daily times in prayer. One day I went up to pray. I became hungry and as my meal was being prepared for me, I experienced what one might call a vision or trance. I saw heaven opened up and a large sheet descended to the ground. In it were all kinds of four-footed animals, reptiles and birds. I heard a voice call out to me saying, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.” I responded as a faithful Jew who understood our laws regarding so many of these animals, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.” The voice responded, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” This vision took place three times and then the sheet rose back up into heaven!

What an odd vision, Peter! You said that you were soon going to eat. If I had such a vision, I think I would have just chalked it up to being hungry and it was some silly daydream! But you, obviously, have shared it because it meant something so much more.

Yes, of course. For, as I tried to figure out what and why the vision had taken place, some people came to the house and asked specifically for me. Even as these three men were at the gate, the Spirit spoke to my heart with this message, “Look, three men are searching for you. Now get up, go down, and go with them without hesitation; for I have sent them.”

I, therefore, went down immediately and explained that I was Simon, called Peter, and I wanted to know why they had come to look for me. They said that they were sent by a centurion named Cornelius from Caesarea. They explained that this Roman centurion was an upright and God-fearing man, respected by all of the Jewish people who knew him. A holy angel had appeared to Cornelius and had instructed him to send men to Joppa to the home of a man named Simon, a tanner, who lived near the seashore. The angel said that another man named Simon, who is called Peter, would be at the house and that they were to bring this Simon Peter to the home of Cornelius so that he could hear what this man would have to say.

It was an amazing connection of two visions that awed me even as I had experienced so many awesome things in the years since I had known Jesus.

I invited them into the house and we all stayed there that night. The next morning, we headed to Caesarea.

When we arrived at the home of Cornelius, he had invited some of his relatives and close friends to hear what I had to say. At the first opportunity to speak to the group, I shared how it was unlawful for Jews to associate or visit with a Gentile, but that God had made it clear to me that I was to think of no one as profane or unclean. Therefore, I was ready to listen and learn what it was that they expected of me.

Cornelius then confirmed what his messengers had shared regarding his vision. I was there because this centurion had a vision from God to send for me and to listen to my witness.

I shared with them as I was led regarding the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. I talked about how his powerful ministry of preaching good news of forgiveness and new life in him included many healings and exorcisms. I shared about the cross and his resurrection and how many of us had spent time with him, even eating and drinking, after he rose from the dead. I spoke of how he fulfilled so much of the scripture and how all who believe in him receive forgiveness of their sins in his name.

As those Gentiles to whom I spoke, heard this witness they were overcome by the Holy Spirit and spoke in other tongues and praised God with a fullness of their hearts. It was so similar to our first experience of the Holy Spirit on that Pentecost not long before.

I knew that we needed to provide the waters of baptism to those who had been touched by the message of Jesus and the presence of the Spirit. We stayed on there for a few days afterward.

Gentiles received your witness and were filled with the Holy Spirit. Gentiles were baptized in Jesus with the waters of forgiveness and new life. So, God used you to move the Good News of Jesus beyond Jewish believers and into the rest of the world!

Well, yes, although this was not something that was immediately received with great joy by all of Jesus’ followers. When I returned to Jerusalem, I learned that believers there had heard that Gentiles had accepted the word of God and were a part of the fellowship of believers in Jesus. They challenged me, a Jew, regarding my going to the uncircumcised Gentiles and were upset that I had fellowshipped with them and eaten with them.

So, I shared with them my vision and experiences that I just shared with you. I told them that as the Spirit fell upon those Gentiles, I was reminded that the Lord had said that “John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” I explained my reasoning that if God gave them the same gift of the Holy Spirit that he gave to us, who was I to hinder God! This quieted their complaints and led them to realize and express that God had now also given Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.

So, it has been your ministry that has touched the lives of so many people across the empire. I have heard that there are Christians in cities all over the Mediterranean and beyond. And now I am also one of those touched by this message!

While, yes, it was that experience that released the church to be open to sharing the Gospel with the Gentile world, I have not been the most significant player in spreading this Good News. Paul, originally named Saul, the Pharisee turned disciple and apostle of our Lord, and those who travel with him have had a much larger ministry and mission. Apollos has also been one who has touched the lives of many in those cities.

My journeys have been less, but my witness has been faithful and, thankfully, effective wherever I have traveled. And now, here I am a witness of the love and grace of Jesus in the very capital city of the empire and touching the lives of some of those with whom I am imprisoned.

Yes, and inspiring my growth in that Gospel, as well! I know that there is much more that you could share with me of Jesus and additional stories of your witness. Witnessing is something that I have not really begun, but now I know it is part of what I need to be about as I grow in my love for Jesus and my faith in him. Peter, I will pray for my growth in faith and courage that I might be a faithful witness of the Good News of Jesus. You have inspired the work of the Holy Spirit in me in so many ways.

Your visits have been both an inspiration and a comfort to me in this time, my friend. People who follow Jesus are constantly able to be witnesses of his grace and love. It arises out of a consciousness that wherever we are, Jesus goes with us and some opportunity in deeds and/or words is taking place in either subtle or obvious ways.

Your caring actions may lay the groundwork for someone’s heart to be opened to a later sharing. Your loving words may open an opportunity for a person to share something of their life struggles to you. You pray. You listen. You love. You witness as the Holy Spirit leads. But it is not about you! It is about them and Jesus. This is why praying, listening and loving are the essential steps toward witnessing of Jesus to others.

You will be a wonderful witness of the grace and love of Jesus, my friend. Keep praying. Keep listening. Keep loving.

I will be back, the Lord willing, and I will look forward to learning all that I can from you in what time we have left. You are in my prayers every day and I am thankful for all that you have shared with me.

Go in peace my friend and know that the Lord Jesus goes with you wherever you are. His last words to us were, “Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

 

SOME QUESTIONS OR CALLINGS TO CONSIDER FOR PERSONAL CONTEMPLATION OR GROUP STUDY:

  1. Peter spoke of how being in prison can take away the sense that one has some control over one’s life. Our wills, our senses of self and what might be best for ourselves, tend to control us even as we claim to desire to follow God’s will. What might be something in your life right now that you can honestly confess to be guided by your own will and not God’s? It is important to put that situation or experience before God in prayer. Prayer is a key step gaining progress in such things. Try now to stop and pray that God’s will might overcome your will in this situation or experience.
  2. One might summarize the five things that Peter listed as key to staying connected to Jesus as God’s Word, the Sacraments, Prayer, Fellowship and Witness. Take some time to look at these five disciplines and discern which might best be strengthened in your life. Put that discipline before God in prayer and seek to take some new step to strengthen that part of your journey with Jesus.
  3. Witnessing is not an easy thing for most of us. Some people have the gift of evangelism and carry a special hunger to share the Gospel and a gift for presenting it in effective ways. Not having the gift of evangelism is no excuse, though, to eliminate our responsibility to be good witnesses of the Good News of Jesus. We are already witnesses. It is just a matter of whether we are good witnesses or poor ones. Peter provided some key primary things that can improve our witnessing – Praying; Listening; and Loving. Begin in your prayer life to ask God to bring someone into your spiritual focus. Listen with openness to learn of whom God may be leading you. Begin to pray for that person and for their growth in connecting to Jesus.
  4. Peter’s vision opened his perspective on the wider world and his need to be open to all people. As a leader, his obedience in this matter changed the perspective and the scope of the ministry of the entire church. One of the great dangers of witnessing is the danger of needing the people with whom we share to become more like us – to have our exact experience of Jesus and the faith. Praying, listening and loving are important, in part, because they can get us out of the way. Every person matters to God. Their life journeys have been followed by God. We may have the privilege of coming into their journey at a certain time for a certain purpose – God’s purpose. There are likely people in your circle of acquaintances that might not even have occurred to you as you prayed in number three above for someone to whom you might witness. They need your prayers. They need someone’s listening ear. They need a love that comes to them unconditionally in Christ. Who might that be that you know and how might the Holy Spirit be leading you into their lives more deeply?