• Acts 1:8 “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Essentially a witness (Greek μάρτυς) is someone who attests the fact or truth of something. The word originates in a legal context. In the New Testament, the focus is on the act of testifying, not of what the witness has seen, but of what the witness is saying. There are two other words in the NT for eyewitness.

• Luke 1:1-2 Many have undertaken to compile a narrative about the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as the original eyewitnesses (αὐτόπται) and servants of the word handed them down to us.

Αὐτόπται is the plural of αὐτόπτης. It comes from a combination of the Greek word for self and the word for see. An eyewitness is someone who sees something himself or herself.

These eyewitnesses that Luke consulted in writing his Gospel were the people who had actually seen Jesus and observed what he had done. Jesus chose not to use this word because he was calling on all believers to be witnesses – not just the eyewitnesses.

Peter was one of those eyewitnesses but he used a different word.

• 2 Peter 1:16 For we did not follow cleverly contrived myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ; instead, we were eyewitnesses (ἐπόπται) of his majesty.

Ἐπόπται is the plural of ἐπόπτης. It is the combination of the prefix for over and the verb for see. Peter was emphasizing the crucial role of the first witnesses of Christ – the leadership role of establishing the church.

The eyewitnesses were very important because they laid the foundation for the generations after them. But they were not the only witnesses. We have the same Holy Spirit they did, and we share the calling to witness. But I want to study what is means to be a witness today. What does it entail? What do witnesses of Jesus do?

I want to begin my study in Matthew 18. The word witness appears in verse 16.

• Matthew 18:16 But if he won’t listen, take one or two others with you, so that by the testimony of two or three witnesses every fact may be established.

Let’s back up and read the chapter to this point. {All texts are CSB version}.

Who Is the Greatest?

• Matthew 18:1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “So who is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

The section heading comes from this verse. Jesus had made it clear that he was a king of a coming kingdom. The disciples assumed that since Jesus was using a political term like that, then if Jesus was going to be king, each of them would have a position of authority as well.

• Matthew 18:2 He called a child and had him stand among them.

What could Jesus mean by this? Maybe the disciples thought that for some reason, this particular child would be greatest. Maybe he would grow up to become a great teacher, healer, or leader? No, it was not this particular child who would be greatest.

• Matthew 18:3 “Truly I tell you,” he said, “unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Those disciples each assumed that he had a solid place in God’s kingdom by virtue of their choosing to follow Christ. But Jesus popped their balloons. He said that they had to turn and become like children or else they would not even enter the kingdom, much less lead it.

• Matthew 18:4 Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child – this one is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

The kingdom will have a different way of measuring greatness. The kingdoms of the world measure greatness by personal power or attainment. Christ measures greatness by personal humility and deferment to others.

• Matthew 18:5 And whoever welcomes one child like this in my name welcomes me.

Neither of the disciples thought they were showing disrespect to Christ when they were arguing with one another about who had rank. But Jesus suggested that they were showing disrespect. They were refusing to welcome Christ. Jesus will be establishing the fact of his own existence and his purpose for the world – but he would be doing it through witnesses who are like this child.

• Matthew 18:6 “But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to fall away– it would be better for him if a heavy millstone were hung around his neck and he were drowned in the depths of the sea.

Now, notice how Jesus turns the subject matter of the conversation. They had been talking about who was the greatest in the kingdom. Now Jesus introduces the subject of causing people who believe to fall away. What is the connection?

The first specific connection has to do with causing simple believers to fall away from the faith.

• Matthew 18:7 Woe to the world because of offenses. For offenses will inevitably come, but woe to that person by whom the offense comes.

These offenses are stumbling blocks that lead people away from commitment to Christ. Leaders are especially liable to this because people are watching them.

Then Jesus talks about how cautious we all should be about letting sin lure us away from our commitment to Christ.

• Matthew 18:8-9 If your hand or your foot causes you to fall away, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or lame than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to fall away, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hellfire.

Notice that the hell Jesus talks about is not some shadowy underworld that people’s spirits supposedly go to when they die. What is this “eternal fire” (8) and “hellfire” (9)?

First, let me tell you what it is not. Hell is not life. Twice in these verses Jesus talks about those who “enter life” but he makes it clear that those in hell have not entered life. Hell is death – the second death. Whatever pains and sorrows and suffering and shame people will experience in hell, it will not be perpetual.

So, what is the “eternal fire”? It is the permanent fire. It is the fire that destroys permanently. Paul calls it “permanent destruction” in 2 Thessalonians 1:9. That is the final state of the lost.

The Parable of the Lost Sheep

• Matthew 18:10 “See to it that you don’t despise one of these little ones, because I tell you that in heaven their angels continually view the face of my Father in heaven.

Another reason we should be careful about being factual witnesses of the truth is that the little ones have angelic intercessors. If we mistreat people because we assume we are great, someone greater is there to right that wrong.

• Matthew 18:12-13 What do you think? If someone has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, won’t he leave the ninety-nine on the hillside and go and search for the stray? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over that sheep more than over the ninety-nine that did not go astray.

The Shepherd is going to make sure that he ends the day with the same 100 sheep he began with.

• Matthew 18:14 In the same way, it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones perish.

The technical term for the one verse moral of a parable is the nimshal. The nimshal of the parable of the Lost Sheep is this verse.

So, such is the important task of those called to witness to the facts of the gospel. We cannot steamroller over the little people in our pursuit of greatness. If we do, we run the risk of not even entering the kingdom ourselves, and incur the wrath of angels, and God himself.

Restoring a Brother

• Mat 18:15 “If your brother sins against you, go and rebuke him in private. If he listens to you, you have won your brother.

The end result that Jesus is looking for is RESTORATION, not excommunication. He wants us to restore the relationship so that at the end of the day, all 100 sheep are accounted for.

Note: you might notice that the words “against you” are not in some translations. The Greek words (εἰς σὲ) are not in many of the best manuscripts, and may be a copyist addition. I think it is important to note that we have a responsibility to restore those who are falling away, even if we are not personally offended by them.

• Mat 18:16 But if he won’t listen, take one or two others with you, so that by the testimony of two or three witnesses every fact may be established.

The witnesses are there to help the brother who is threatening to leave to return to the fellowship. They are there to help establish the facts. Our role as witnesses of Christ is to establish the facts. We are all needed for that. There is going to be opposition to the truth of the gospel. There are going to be challenges to the Bible’s claims. People are going to question whether Jesus was real, whether what he said was true, whether he really died on the cross, and whether he really rose from the grave. Our role as witnesses is to weigh in on the side of all these facts.

• Mat 18:17-20 If he doesn’t pay attention to them, tell the church. If he doesn’t pay attention even to the church, let him be like a Gentile and a tax collector to you. Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will have been loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you, if two of you on earth agree about any matter that you pray for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, I am there among them.”

If it doesn’t work, and the sheep deserts, there is still something Jesus wants that small group to do: pray for restoration.

This first passage we have studied shows us that our role as witnesses includes evangelism, but it is more than that.

But we are not the eyewitness. The ones who saw Jesus are long dead. They left us a historical record in the Bible. Christians choose to believe that historical record.

We can also testify to what believing in Jesus has done in our own lives, and how he has changed us. We can also talk about how he has blessed others – perhaps even those in our own family.

Our witnessing should be conversational, not confrontational. Our goal is not just to “get the gospel out” but to reconcile people to God. We have to believe in the God of all one hundred sheep. That shepherd does not want to leave anyone behind.

Our witnessing is best done as a team. There is a reason that Jesus suggests bringing witnesses along. Agreement is a magical thing. It can help people see the other person’s point of view. It is collaboration, and that adds respect.

Also, our witnessing does not end once someone has professed faith in Christ. There will be challenges to people’s faith, and we will need to witness to the facts of the gospel and seek to bring the lost sheep back into the fold.

Author: Jefferson Vann

Jefferson Vann is pastor of Piney Grove Advent Christian Church in Delco, North Carolina. You can contact him at marmsky@gmail.com -- !

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