Last week I talked about how Jesus said to us “Follow me!”.
Well here we see Peter following Jesus in the most dramatic way. Just as Jesus raised a girl from the dead so does Peter.
Just as Jesus mixed with the ritually unclean like tax collectors and prostitutes so Peter mixes with the ritually unclean like gentiles and tanners (who were ritually unclean because they handled the skins of dead animals.)
You’ll notice that after Peter raised Tabitha (Aramaic) or Dorcas, both of which mean “Gazelle”, in verse 41 he immediately calls the “saints and widows” to come and see that Tabitha is now alive. Why would he do that? Surely not out of vanity or pride as in “Look what I did”. It was to demonstrate that the power and presence of God was with them, that the name of Jesus carried power.
He wanted them to see to enthuse, encourage and strengthen them. Because people NEED encouragement, if they are to flourish, and be enthusiastic about their faith and want to pass it on.
The New Testament had not been written at this point and Jesus never wrote a book. In fact Jesus never wrote a single word as far as we know, except a scribble in the sand while he was waiting for the crowd to disperse after challenging the crowd to cast the first stone at the woman caught in adultery.
What he consciously did leave is a community - his followers who would spread the good news.
This community was filled with a supernatural force that changed their life and infused their preaching and they also gained strength through demonstrations of God’s power to show that the same Spirit that empowered Jesus also dwelt in the church.
They were also bolstered by seeing remarkable acts of word and deed and they didn’t come any more remarkable than raising the dead!!!
So powerful was this witness, so enthused were the early church that the message became almost unstoppable and Christianity spread like wildfire. Within 300 years Christianity went from being a small Jewish sect from a dusty outpost of the Roman Empire to being the official religion of Rome which when you think about it is so improbable as to be laughable. That is in itself a testimony to the power of God and how He showed himself in and through that community
People need encouragement and to hear things that pep them up. Built up and encouraged in such a way, people became the difference they wanted to see, a witness to the Christian faith.
And that encouragement comes in many different ways, from raising the dead to hearing Claire’s testimony about Christianity growing in the prisons last week. It all helps and it connects us to life as it is lived.
And in the flow of history, especially in the early years of the church these disciples willing to testify and encourage and embolden and evangelise by being witnesses to Christ Jesus ran into serious opposition for exactly the same reason that Jesus did. Their insistence that they belonged to another kingdom (the kingdom of God) with another King (Jesus) brought them into sharp confrontation with Caesar and Rome. They shared the same fate as Jesus did. In the periodic persecutions that came their way these witnesses were killed for their faith.
But their refusal to deny their faith even in the face of death became yet another powerful witness to the church
The word for a witness in Greek translates as the word Martyr, (A martyr is literally a martyr) and we turn to our reading from the book of Revelation today where we read of Christian witnesses from every tribe people and language worshipping God, who had been cut down, slaughtered for their efforts but here they are in this mysterious scene from Revelation;
Cleansed, raised, now at peace with the lamb of God as their shepherd, where all tears are wiped from their eyes and at one with the Spirit.
This is a vision of vindication, of hope, that all those who stand up as a witness to Christ even or perhaps especially those who lay down their lives, will enjoy a blessed future.
If we step out in faith, stand against the crowd, proclaim Jesus as Lord, our future is assured and our reward in heaven will be great.
For when we emulate Jesus in large or small ways, we know we are doing what Jesus wants, and know if any reassurance were needed that what Jesus wants is what God wants, because as Jesus says
“I and the Father are one”.
Some young evangelicals wear a wristband to remind them of this fact. It has the letters WWJD on them which stand for “What would Jesus do?” in any given situation.
Communities can ask themselves that same question and we did on our away day and should be doing so all the time. We asked ourselves what God wanted for our church and as Jesus makes clear in that statement “I and the Father are one” what God wants is what Jesus wants. Jesus said “Follow me – be my witnesses to the world in word and deed.