To what do the apostles and the other disciples witness when they are called to be witnesses to Jesus Christ? On the one hand, they bear witness to his death: “but you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, and you killed the Author of life.” Yet, even here, the witness to the crucifixion is tied intimately to the resurrection, for the verse continues, “whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses.” The importance of being witnesses to the resurrection is stressed also at the end of the Gospel of Luke.
After the events on the road to Emmaus, the disciples were gathered and witnessed Jesus walking, talking and eating among them. While initially “they were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost,” they were soon convinced that Jesus was alive: “‘Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.’ And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet.”
Luke tells us that “in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering.” What a terrific description! It evokes a sense of someone holding a newborn for the first time, a team winning an improbable victory or finding out you got the job. Is this real, or is it just a dream?
Then Jesus did the most human of things to ground them: “Have you anything here to eat?” The Greek of the NRSV seems too formal. I would opt for “What do you guys have to eat here?” They gave Jesus “a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.” Things just got real.
Jesus once again explained his death, its necessity and its connection to the resurrection. “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.” That makes sense. They actually were witnesses to these things, they actually saw him die, ate with him, talked to him, felt the giddy excitement of his presence.
But to what are we witnesses today? None of us saw him die on the cross, or watched him eat that piece of broiled fish, feeling faint with joy and amazement as we saw him alive in our midst. We are witness to two things: the authenticity and trustworthiness of the witnesses; and the authenticity and trustworthiness of our lives.
In our lives, we have choices each day. And as John says, “my little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.” Not to sin would be the best path, but our weaknesses lead us astray. Still, because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, “if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” Whenever we struggle with sin—so often the same old boring sins; so dull and stupid—“we may be sure that we know him, if we obey his commandments.” We can turn back to the commandments and we must turn back to the commandments and live them out in our lives. If we do not, John tells us, each of us becomes “a liar” but we have the ability to show the world the reality of the risen Lord through our love, our obedience, our tenderness, our mercy, our gentleness, our desire to live out and witness to Christ’s victory through our daily choices.
And we bear witness to the one who was raised from the dead when we believe the words the apostles passed on to us. We believe in their trustworthiness about Jesus because we live out their love for Jesus. When we live as Jesus asked us to, passed on to us by the tradition, “by this we may be sure that we are in him.” How we live makes us witnesses to Jesus Christ. It is our task today to bear witness.