My wife and I were reading in Trent Sheppard’s book, The Jesus Journey, this morning and we came across this verse and this interesting question:
“There was a man walking by, coming from work, Simon from Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus. They made him carry Jesus’ cross.”Mark 15:21 NIV
Mark’s Gospel points out that this man, Simon, had two sons, Alex and Rufus. Why is that important? Mark’s Gospel was the first of the four that are in the New Testament. Scholars say it was probably written c. AD 66–70, during Nero’s persecution of the Christians in Rome or the Jewish revolt, because Mark makes references to war in Judea and to persecution.
So Mark is saying, “Hey, if you want to confirm that this story is true, go ask Alex and Rufus.” You see, the gospels were written because eyewitnesses were dying off, probably Simon too, and the early Christian followers realized they needed a written testament to replace the eyewitness testimonies of those who were no longer with them.
We are called to be witnesses. But we need some help. We don’t have eyewitnesses who walked with Jesus. This is the problem Paul saw when he wrote his first letter, the first of all the books of the New Testament. The First Epistle to the Thessalonians is believed to be the earliest of Paul’s existing epistles and may be the oldest book in the New Testament. Paul’s teachings in this letter are primarily focused on the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, including the hardships that followers of Jesus Christ will face before His return, the Resurrection of Christians at the Second Coming, and the timing of Christ’s Second Coming.
In future Thoughts posted here I will attempt to dig into these topics. But for today, I want to talk about WITNESS, and the major theme of this letter, to remain faithful as a witness. In Chapter 4, Paul instructed the believers in Thessalonica how to “live in order to please God.” He writes in vs. 3-8
“It is God’s will that you should be sanctified,” …”to avoid sexual immorality,” … “to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like those who do not know God,” …and that “no one should take advantage of a brother or sister. The Lord will punish all those who commit such sins. For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit.”I Thes. 4: 3-8 NIV
Take special note of this gift of Holy Spirit. This is important for our thought today. Note also that it’s not only about preaching and conveying the message of the gospel, but living a holy life is what it means to be a witness too. Paul exhorts us to:
“live a life of love,” to be “ambitious to live a quiet life,” “minding your own business,” “working with your hands,” “not dependent on anyone else,” all to “win the respect of outsiders.”
This is what it means to be a person of character, being a good witness as a follower of Christ. I’m not going to dig into the question of when or how the Lord returns. Many books have been written on the topic. We’ll attempt to do that another day. For now I’m pointing out that Paul wrote this letter because several of the early followers had died. He writes:
“Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.”1 Thes. 4:13-14 NIV
In other words, this gospel enterprise, the message of the truth that Jesus was born of a virgin, died a brutal death on a cross, the earthquake, the graves that opened, the sky that went dark, and the veil of the Temple that ripped from top to bottom is what we believe. Jesus was placed in a tomb, guarded by Roman soldiers, and yet the sealed grave stone rolled open anyway. He appeared to his followers confirming the truth to even Doubting Thomas who wanted to touch the scars in his hands and where the spear pierced his side.
Those guys, hiding in that upper room were the eyewitnesses, along with 500 others who heard him speak to them these words just before Jesus flew off into heaven where he is seated at the right hand of the Father. Listen to what he says about being his witnesses: He said to them:
“It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”Acts 1:7-8 NIV
So, we receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on us. We have power to be his witnesses everywhere. He works in you to live a holy life, so that you can proclaim this truth with both words and deeds.