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F. Earle Fox
St Luke's REC, Santa Ana, CA
Advent II - Dec. 6, 2009 - Is. 52:1-10; Ps. 25; Rom. 15:4-13; Lk. 21:25-33
That sentence is not actually spoken by God in the Bible, but it is implied, and the reality is there -- that God gives His people a testimony.
What is a testimony? It is an accounting of something to which you are a witness. You cannot give testimony in court concerning something you have not seen, heard, touched, tasted, or smelled. That would be called hearsay. A spiritual testimony is like that. Your testimony to Jesus is your own personal experience of what He has done in your life, not what He has done for someone else. God gives us something about Himself which we can share with others to draw their attention to God and to His law and grace.
In the Collect we prayed to God, who has "caused
all Holy Scriptures to be written for our learning...." That is, through the Scriptures, God has given us a testimony of Himself, of His
law, of His love for us -- by which, if we "read,
mark, learn, and inwardly digest"
them, we will "embrace, and ever
hold fast, the blessed hope of everlasting life...."
The idea of having a testimony for the purpose of converting non-Hebrews grew slowly. So far as I can tell, there was no such idea among the Hebrews in Egypt, probably because they still had an immature religion. The law had not been given, their traditions were probably by word of mouth, not written for the most part, there were no scribes, rabbis, or synagogues, no Sadducees or Pharisees. It is not clear just what worship would have been for the Hebrews in Egypt. They had built the customary stone altars even back in Canaan, but we have no clear record of how they worshipped at those altars. After the Sinai event, their worship centered around the tent with the tabernacle containing the two stone tablets with the Decalogue, over which the presence of God hovered.
When the Hebrews entered the promised land, they seemed to have no sense that they had a religion worth sharing, or that religions even could be shared. So there was no spirit of evangelism among them. Their strong appreciation of the law as a wonderful gift from God, superior to the laws of other nations, grew only with time. And their first centuries in the Promised Land were very troublesome because they kept falling into the paganism of their surrounding neighbors. They had not learned how to pass on their faith to the next generations, or even to keep it themselves.
Some of the most important Hebrew testimony was testimony out of their ancestral past, not of their own immediate experience, but it was their corporate past, their own history which had been passed down from generation to generation.
In our own time, such a tradition would no doubt be found "interesting", a good idea, yet not be taken too seriously. We want everything on paper, in with copies passed out to everybody. But in ancient times, certainly among the tribes of the near east, they used their memories to learn what would be for us huge amounts of material, like memorizing all of the psalms. Oral tradition had to be counted on because in their early years, that was all most of them had to pass down their traditions to the next generations. The singers and the bards were the storehouses of such tribal history and wisdom.
But the material was "owned" by the whole tribe, and
they might swiftly correct any person who told the story inaccurately around a
camp fire or at a religious celebration. That history was precious because it
was a part of their corporate identity.
For the Hebrews, their testimony was of God choosing them out of the whole world of nations to be His special people, to learn who He was so that they could tell the rest of mankind, so that they might have a testimony about Him.
In Isaiah 43:9 ff., we read of God calling the nations of the world together:
"Let all the nations gather together, and let the peoples assemble.... Let them bring their witnesses to justify them....
Justify them about what? About who is God, about who is the Lord. About whether they had the true God.
"You are My witnesses," says the Lord, "and my servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe Me, and understand that I am He. Before Me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after Me..."
The Lord is calling for a
contest of testimonies. "Let the other side present itís
case," He is saying, "and you, My witnesses, will present My
The sense of hope and promise in todayís Old Testament lessons shows an awareness of the abiding gift of God in His word to them. In Isaiah 52:
"How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good tidings...."
They are those who bring the good news of God among us, God with us. And then:
"Hark, your watchmen lift up their voice, together they sing for joy; for eye to eye they see the return of the Lord to Zion..."
Eye to eye with the Lord, they see the Lord coming back to Jerusalem. The glory of the Lord had left the Temple and Jerusalem after the exiles were marched off to Babylon. God no longer accepted them as "His people". But now, the prophets were saying that God would bring His people back home to restore both the Temple for worship and Jerusalem for habitation, safety, and a military and political stronghold.
These passages came from the time of the Exile, a part of Isaiah known as 2nd Isaiah (beginning at chapter 40), many decades later than 1st Isaiah who was earlier, prophesying the doom of Israel.
The Hebrews in exile had been forced by circumstances to develop new ways of celebrating and worshipping the God who had taken them out of slavery in Egypt and led them into their promised land. They had incurred the wrath of God by their unfaithfulness to Him. In Babylon, they had no Temple. So worship had to take on a quite different mode.
In Babylon they began to develop the synagogue system with rabbis as teachers, and with the scrolls of the Torah and of other sacred writings of their history, and of the prophets. It was a much better system than merely the Temple, because it was dispersed geographically among the people and greatly enhance the participation of the average Hebrew.
During the devastating experience of the slaughter of their armies, starvation during years of siege, the destruction of the Temple and of Jerusalem as a city, and their deportation to Babylon, they questioned why God would allow such disaster to fall upon them.
All this happened, they learned, because they had
broken covenant with God. They no longer had a public testimony about the God
they supposedly worshipped. They heard the prophets tell them to live in peace
with their conquerors, to pray for the welfare of the king of Babylon, and to
carry on their lives as Hebrews.
But God was giving them a new testimony. We read in Jeremiah (16:14 ff.):
"Therefore, behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when it shall no longer be said, ĎAs the Lord lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt,í but, ĎAs the Lord lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the north country and out of all the countries where He had driven them.í For I will bring them back to their own land which I gave to their fathers."
The Hebrews grew not only in their institutions, but also in their theology. They became much more aware of God as the Creator of the heavens and the earth, the whole cosmos, that He ruled even in pagan lands to which they had been led, defeated captives and slaves, and that their defeat by the Babylonians was not due to the power of the Babylonians, but to the sovereign will of God who was chastising them for their unfaithfulness to Him and to their covenant. Babylon was an unwitting agent of God, not sovereign in its own right.
2nd Isaiah (no one knows his real name) lived through
much of this and wrote some of the most sublime passages -- with no parallel in
the literature of any other religion.
In the Epistle from Romans, we
hear that the Scriptures were
written aforetime for our learning,
again, a testimony to God, that we might have hope. Paul writes, "For
this cause I will confess to Thee (to God) among the Gentiles, and sing Thy
name." Paul had a testimony to the
Gentiles, that is, to most of us here.
The hard truth seems to be that the people of God lose contact with the reality of the testimonies given to them. And, when we cannot remember and honor the tradition which God has given us, when we no longer have a testimony based on what God did for our ancestors, God puts us in a difficult situation where we can learn our own new testimony.
Western Christendom no longer has a public testimony for God. Very few anywhere in Western civilization have either the courage or the knowledge of how to stand in public with grace and truth -- and say, "Jesus is Lord". Very few know how to make a reasonable case for the lordship of Jesus Christ in the face of withering scorn and rejection. So Christianity has been driven from the public arena.
We are about to experience , I believe, the getting of our own new public testimony. What kind of hardships we will endure, I can only guess, but I do believe we Christians must get prepared for very hard times, and, like the Hebrews in exile, be willing to learn hard lessons under difficult circumstances. If we do, we will be among the restorers of a new Judeo-Christian civilization.
If we do not, we Judeo-Christians will continue to
live in the spiritual backwaters of a dying Western Civilization.
And that leads us right to our Gospel, in which Jesus warns us of the time coming with signs in the heavens and distress among the nations. For the powers even of heaven will be shaken.
But then, we shall see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.
What kind of testimony will we have if those things happen in our time?
I have personally veered away from discussion of the "end times", mostly because we were warned by Jesus that it will come like a thief in the night, and that we will not be able to predict its coming. Yet, we are warned to be prepared. That means that we must get prepared -- and stay prepared. We must not worry about the event itself, no matter how bad it gets around us. We must want Jesus to find us, when He returns, doing our task to which He has assigned us -- not in a panic or hiding in the caves.
There has never been a time on earth when technology has allowed for the possibility of world domination like it has come about today, and increasing exponentially every decade. The world is indeed shrinking, with technological and military power, and the very dangerous centralizing of political power, outpacing our ability even to keep track of it. Given the leadership almost universal around the globe, it is only a matter of time before another major world war breaks out, or... one of the contenders for global domination actually succeeds in monopolizing the power resources.
America has been for some time the only large nation
with some semblance of Biblical foundation remaining, and that has been eroding.
We have next to no viable, healthy Christian leadership in any of the
denominations, few persons with a public testimony to the Lordship of Jesus
I am becoming more and more aware and convinced that there are large numbers of persons who do not want what Jesus is offering, not at any price. I have most of my life had a hard time believing that there are people who hate Jesus. I do not mean hate their misinformed versions of Jesus, but hate Jesus and everything He stands for.
Our testimony for those persons will not be to convince them or convert them, but to confront them and to expose them. Many, perhaps most, of them are involved deeply in the occult. Some have openly declared that they do not want God to exist because that would get in the way of their political, power, and sexual agendas. They want total freedom to do whatever they want. That is the pseudo-morality of Satan.
But these, I believe, are the kinds of persons who are behind most of the centralization of government going on all over the world, the globalist crowd. They want the convergence of power into one central and unaccountable office. And they want control of the thinking and feelings of every person on the planet. Their control of the media and of education is getting closer and closer to the point where they can carry out their plans almost unhindered. That is what we are facing in America and all over the globe.
They have infiltrated the Church, almost every
denomination, under the pretext of so-called "liberalism", so the Church
militant has been become the Church impotent.
So, how do we direct our testimonies in a world like ours?
We direct them to find those persons who are first of all truth-seekers, who want to know if they are wrong, at any cost to themselves, so that they can be free to find out what is true and right.
The dark side is very vulnerable. It cannot survive in the light. Persons who are dedicated to truth and to the law and grace of God are more than a match for the forces of darkness, not because they are of themselves capable, but rather, if they are the branches grafted into the Vine, they then have the power of God flowing through them into the world.
Judgement begins with the house of God. We must first clean our own houses, get our own spiritual lives in order with God and one another. We must become small, tightly knit communities, who get to know each other, live in the light with each other, as did the early Christians, so that we can go out into the world knowing that we have resources for rest and recuperation when we get beat up. As we will.
That should be standard operating procedure for all Christians at all times. The home should be the center of our spiritual life, not the local church. And the local church should be a resource center for the families to do the raising of their children to be children of God. The Church should be the leader of corporate and sacramental worship and of communal projects. But the primary responsibility must rest on fathers and mothers who understand what it means to be made in the Image of God, male and female, and who want that power of God to flow through their family out into the Church and the world. Those kinds of families will be the building blocks, the living stones which make up the local Body of Christ, and a living testimony to the presence of God, and the Kingdom of God here on earth.
There is no force on earth which can match an intellectually, morally, and spiritually mature Body of Christ, because the Hand of God upon which we rest, and the Voice of God which we obey, come from a place the enemies of God cannot touch. We become invulnerable until we have finished our work for Him.
So let our testimony be to that King of kings and Lord of lords who comes, as it were, once again at this season to earth to raise up people like ourselves. Let our testimonies be graceful, truthful, and public -- to Him from whom we get our testimony, Jesus, Son of God and Son of Man.
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