Christmas is a reminder that the Christ child has always had a witness — even prior to his birth. The prophets of old foretold his coming in remarkable detail hundreds of years before his birth-appearance into the family of simple people in a rather common setting hardly suitable for a royal birth.
The prophets dared to describe this long-awaited chosen one in surprising detail as a suffering and persecuted servant and Savior, not exactly the most desired prototype for the Messiah for a people that had itself become familiar with suffering and persecution.
God’s plan all along was that people would come to recognize and trust the Savior through various witnesses. Angels revealed the plan and the identity of Jesus through a series of convincing one-on-one visitations that included John the Baptist’s parents, Elizabeth and Zechariah, and Jesus’ earthly mother and father, Mary and Joseph.
Angels again appeared prominently as witnesses and announcers at the time of Jesus’ birth in a stable, appearing to one of the least influential groups of people imaginable at the time — shepherds stationed in a grazing pasture charged with the care and protection of sheep. Traditionally religious outsiders, they were invited to become spiritual insiders by being among the first witnesses to the tiny Messiah. To their credit, they jumped at the chance and made their way to the Bethlehem stall.
Scripture records these reactions to their visit: “When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them” (Luke 2:17-18, New International Version) and “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told” (Luke 2:20).
Later, travelers from the East we call magi, or wise men, find their way to the infant Messiah by following the heavenly constellation. These are international travelers with some degree of education and wealth, bearing gifts more extravagant than most people could normally afford. The stars were their witness, and they in turn became witnesses to the Lord’s coming.
In the truest sense an evangelist, John the baptizer, cousin of Jesus, dedicated his life to being a witness to the Messiah, calling on all who would listen to recognize Jesus as the long-awaited Savior and to place their faith in him. “Repent and be baptized,” John preached from his base in the Jordanian wilderness. Fearless, he lost his life in the pursuit of his calling as a witness.
The fact is that Jesus wasn’t dropped on earth preaching, teaching and healing. His development, preparation and recognition of his own mission took time — years. Apart from the witness of Scripture, angels and others, no one would have recognized the baby as a savior. Faithful witnesses have always been strategic in helping people discover the Messiah.
Many people were witnesses to Jesus’ teaching, healing, compassion, attention and love during his earthly ministry, and they bore witness to others of the rabbi who had the power to forgive sins and provide salvation to those who were hopeless to help themselves.
At his crucifixion, even a Roman centurion became a witness, exclaiming, “Surely this was the Son of God!” Days later, following Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection, he revealed his identity at table to Cleopas and to a friend on the road to Emmaus. These grieving followers become joyous witnesses.
Most people reading this column are beneficiaries of the work of witnesses to the Messiah. They have seen the testimony of Scripture, including the witness of prophets, angels, Jesus’ contemporaries and stalwarts of the first-century church. They are familiar with the history of Christianity.
Each has likely been influenced by pastors, teachers, mentors, friends and others who witnessed to the power and necessity of a relationship with God’s Son. Each has experienced the influence of God’s Holy Spirit in his or her life. God, in his wisdom, set in place this method of reaching his human creation.
Accepting the witness of another to Christ is the most significant decision anyone can make. But it is the beginning of a process that enables the redeemed of God to become part of the eternal process of bringing all into an intimate relationship with him.
It is as if God asks each of us in the situations of life — sometimes even seemingly insignificant moments of life: “Can I get a witness?”
If we sense his nudging, we have to recognize it as a life-changing urging, for ourselves and for others who desperately need God’s salvation and power.
For God’s sake and for nonbelievers, seek ways to be a practicing witness.
Bill Webb is editor of Word&Way.