Regrettably, one of our readers fell ill recently and was unable to lead the latest sermon on witness. However, this particular topic is close to Roger’s heart and he was relishing the opportunity to talk about it. So much so that he has written a little something for us to share with you.
Witness to the Gospel. John 20.19-31
This is a sermon based on the account of poor ‘Doubting Thomas’ which I really wanted to preach but, to my dismay, illness prevented me from doing so. So I asked Malcolm if I could upload it to our website because it’s something I really want to say. I’m not going to criticise Thomas. I think he feels what many of us would have felt and responds authentically. And you have to admit, when he saw Jesus he agreed that he didn’t after all need the proof he had at first demanded. Just how much proof do any of us need? In what sense are we witnesses without it?
A few years ago there was a phenomenon called the Toronto Blessing, which caused a lot of excitement, especially among some Christians looking for Revival. The Toronto Blessing was characterised by people being ‘Slain in the Spirit’ (as some people put it), falling down when prayed for and typically laughing, crying, shaking or other stranger behaviours together with a lovely feeling of glowing all over and being loved. Needless to say, it was met in this country by everything from great enthusiasm to deep suspicion.
Some members of St Timothy’s were very enthusiastic, bearing witness to the tangible presence of the Holy Spirit in their own personal encounters. They insisted that God wanted this for everyone and that if you didn’t receive it you must have some kind of spiritual ‘blockage’ like intellectualising too much, or some un-confessed sin.
So a group of us went to a special ‘Holy Spirit evening’ at another church to experience what God was freely giving. What happened to me that evening was a great big fat nothing. People were falling down all round me and being laid in safe places but the prayer team gave up with me and moved on when I didn’t respond as I should. I had a feeling that my prayers were simply not being heard and I could almost see them bouncing off the ceiling.
I went home distraught and with a deep feeling of rejection. I bitterly demanded of God why he had not given me what so many others had received. For a while all I heard was silence. But eventually I heard God speak to me. Although I can’t claim I heard them audibly, the words were very specific, and specifically for me, to the extent that they seemed to me to be in a Yorkshire accent.
“What do you want from me Roger? Tricks? I don’t do tricks. What those people received, might be because they needed it. But you don’t need it. You already know me. So just get on with it lad.”
I was recently lent a book called The Case for Christ. An investigative journalist set out to determine whether there was any credible historical evidence that Jesus is the son of God who died and rose again. It was a fascinating read, which accumulated evidence of a quality which far exceeded what a historian, or Indeed a court of law, would normally demand. And yet, as I read it, the feeling grew that it wasn’t helping me. I caught myself saying no, it won’t do. It just won’t do.
I could imagine laying this evidence before another, and getting worked up with frustration as it was sneeringly rejected. When I said it wouldn’t do, I think I meant that it wouldn’t help me if I was trying to tell someone about my faith. The fact is, I already believed in Jesus. It confirmed what I already knew. Which is always nice, up to a point, but it doesn’t convince someone who has already decided that it’s all nonsense. After all, I couldn’t claim to have put my own finger where the nails had been.
I think the only person who will ever persuade you of the truth of the gospel is God himself, and even then not by force of argument or evidence or reason, but by his love and your willingness to receive it. You can amass evidence till you’re blue in the face and it might be rationalised, dismissed, laughed at and ignored by someone who doesn’t want it. Even if they don’t have any answer to it, it won’t necessarily make a dent.
I remember reading about when the teenage atheist Adrian Plass was engaging a young priest in debate about Jesus just for the fun of bating him. The only time Adrian Plass ever found the priest’s words persuasive was when, in despair, the priest stopped arguing and shouted “I don’t care! I just love him.”
If I am honest, at the Holy Spirit evening I didn’t need God to prove anything. He has already revealed enough of himself to me and I ought to be satisfied. My duty and my joy should now be to share what I know. Not what I’ve read but what I’ve got to admit I know for myself.
I don’t believe I’m alone in wanting something more concrete that I can experience and show to other people. But if my testimony relies on personal relationship, to wait for more is to wait for God to perform tricks. Meanwhile, until he will perform them, I am effectively denying that I know him. I don’t require any of my other relationships to provide this kind of evidence.
Therefore I have to say to anyone else who knows exactly where I’m coming from: what are you waiting for? Tricks? A physical manifestation? Are you holding back until you can put your finger where the nails were? Although God will certainly give you as much as you need to know him, he may not give you more than you need. Do you, like me, need to be told, “You already know me. So just get on with it lad (or lass).”
To others who may not know him yet: as I understand, if you invite the holy Spirit he will come. And it is by the holy Spirit we come to know God. I hope you will make this choice today. He might meet you in spectacular miracles – God has been known to shout to get someone’s attention. He might meet you in a whisper or a gentle nudge. But, I believe, meet you he will, and in a way you will recognise if you want to.