To Know Christ And To Make Him Known
Maybe I can get away with this joke. I mean, after all, I’ve been here for several years now and you haven’t run me off yet. So maybe I’ll take a chance…
It’s the story of a little boy who was pulling a wagon along the sidewalk when suddenly one of the wheels came off. It happened right in front of the preacher’s house and the preacher was sitting on the front porch. As the wheel came off the wagon and started rolling down the hill, the little boy said, “I’ll be damned.” The preacher jumped up and said, “Son, you need to clean up your language. You ought not to be saying things like that.” The little boy promised to do better, but, wouldn’t you know, the next day the same thing happened in the same place. When the wheel came off and started rolling down the hill, without even thinking, the little boy said, “I’ll be damned.” Once again the preacher jumped up and this time he said, “Now, Son, that’s enough of that. You need some help so I’m going to suggest to you that the next time that wheel comes off or anything goes wrong in your life, you need to say, ‘Praise the Lord!’ You’ll be surprised at how much better that will be.” The little boy agreed to try. Sure enough, next day the same thing happened in exactly the same place right in front of the preacher’s house. The wheel came off the little boy’s wagon and began rolling off down the hill. The little boy took a side-long glance at the preacher, and then he cried out, “Praise the Lord!” Suddenly the wheel stopped rolling down the hill. It turned and, starting rolling back up the hill, rolled over to the axle on the wagon, and then reattached itself. The preacher said, “I’ll be damned.”
Well, God does do some dramatic things in this world, but, frankly, I think that the most dramatic things God does are in your heart and mine. That’s where the real miracles take place. We see that quite clearly in Acts chapter 1 where we are told what Peter did after the betrayal and subsequent death of Judas Iscariot. The disciples gathered together knowing full well that something needed to be done in light of their changed circumstances. It was at that point that Peter took the initiative. Peter said, “There are great days ahead for the church, and we need to be operating at full strength. I think we need to elect someone to replace Judas.” Now when Peter proposed this election, he went on to say that there were two requirements which must be met by the person to be elected to replace Judas. Interestingly enough, those two marks must be present, I believe in the life of anyone who claims to be a true disciple of Jesus Christ. Let me show you what I mean . . .
The first requirement for the true disciple, Peter says, is to know Jesus.
Peter expressed it this way, “It is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time while the Lord Jesus went in and out among us.” What Peter is saying is that the true disciple is someone who knows Jesus—not just someone who knows about Jesus but someone who has walked with Jesus, who has spent time with Jesus, who knows Jesus personally.
Jesus was and is the single most dominant figure ever to grace the dust of this earth. Why is that true? I believe it is because He possessed the power to take ordinary people and transform them into extraordinary disciples. You see this Jesus always saw sickness as an opportunity for healing, sin as an opportunity for forgiveness, sorrow as an opportunity for compassion. He brought hope to the hopeless, comfort to the uncomfortable, cleansing to those who had been corrupted. He had the knack for taking the sheer junk of our human experience and transforming it and us into things of great beauty, power, and significance in life. To know Jesus personally is to know His transforming power in your life.
Wendell Johnson, who was a famous American cultural anthropologist, was doing some research among the Hopi Indians in the southwestern corner of our country. He became very friendly with the people in the tribe, and when the time came for him to leave, having completed his work, the tribe actually had a great farewell festival for him. He wrote about what an enjoyable experience that was, but he said the one sentence that meant the most to him was when an old Hopi woman came up to him, put her arms around him in a great big bear hug, and said, “I like me best when I am with you.” Now that is the mark of a disciple who walks personally with Jesus Christ — one who delights more in her own self because she recognizes what Christ has accomplished in her life. You see, it’s not just knowing about Jesus, it’s knowing Him personally in your own experience. It’s being able to say, “Jesus, I like me best when I am with you.” That’s what it means to know Jesus.
Now the second requirement for the true disciple, Peter says, is to make Jesus known—not only to know Jesus but also to make Him known.
Peter expressed it this way, “We must elect someone who will become with us a witness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” What he is saying here is that the true disciple is someone who knows Jesus and someone who shows Jesus—someone who is willing to bear witness to how he or she knows Jesus.
Be careful to distinguish here between a witness and an advocate. An advocate can defend a proposition or an argument without being personally involved in it. For example: Bertrand Russell, the great mathematician and philosopher, was an avowed atheist, yet repeatedly, in the course of his life, he said that the only hope for the world was that people would act toward one another as Christians. He was not himself a Christian, yet he was advocating the Christian lifestyle. He was arguing for something which he himself had not experienced. That’s what an advocate does, but a witness is different. A witness speaks out of the depth of personal experience, and therefore a witness for Jesus Christ is one who has been personally involved with Jesus Christ in life. So, you see what Peter is saying here is that the basis of discipleship is to know Christ personally, but the business of discipleship is to tell others what you know about Him. So many times I hear people in the church say something like this, “I don’t ever say anything about Christ. I just let my belief in Him show through the way that I live.” Now whenever I hear that, I have to tell you I think of the Irishman who was asked on one occasion, “Are you saved?” He replied, “To tell the truth, my good fellow, I am saved, but it was such a narrow squeeze that it’s not really worth talking about.”
Dear friends, let’s be honest at this point. None of us live so splendidly that we can honestly say that our lives radiate Christ to such a degree that it is unnecessary for us to speak of Him. The fact of the matter is that if we make that claim, we are guilty of sinful arrogance. So just hoping that somehow the light and spirit of Jesus Christ are going to show through the way we live is absolute foolishness. Our task, as true disciples of Jesus Christ, is to tell other people about this Jesus we know and love. That’s what it means to be a witness to Jesus Christ. That’s what it means to make Jesus known.
Well . . .
The election that Peter proposed was held, and lots were cast. That’s the way they made decisions in those days. They believed that, by casting lots, God would exercise His authority and make the choice. So the lot fell on a man named Matthias. He became a disciple at a very exciting time—the time when the Roman Empire was just beginning its collapse, and the time when the Empire of Jesus Christ was just beginning to spread like sunshine around the world. Ironically enough, we never hear another word about Matthias after his election. There is no other mention of him in Scripture. We do not know of the things that he accomplished in his life as a disciple of the Lord. However, let me dig back into history and select another instance of witnessing arising out of the early days of the Christian church in order to sum up what Peter said and to bring this whole matter to a close.
As Christianity began to spread throughout the Roman Empire, it even spread to the ranks of the Roman Legion. There was one particular detachment of troops—forty in number—all of whom were converted to Jesus Christ. These forty soldiers were known throughout the Roman Army because they were exceptionally good at the sport of wrestling. You see, the Roman Army prided itself not only on its military achievements, but also its athletic prowess. Consequently, the Roman military authorities were always staging what were the equivalent of the Olympic Games featuring a variety of sports. These Forty Christian Wrestlers, as they came to be known, always won the crown of victory in these Roman games. At one point these forty soldiers were stationed in Switzerland charged with defending the northern border of the Roman Empire. It was at that point that an order came down from the emperor demanding that every Roman soldier take an oath swearing allegiance to Caesar as the ultimate authority in life. Of course the Forty Christian Wrestlers could not and would not take that oath even though they knew it would result in a death sentence. The way in which it was decided to put them to death was to strip them of their clothing, drive them out onto the frozen surface of a lake at nightfall, and leave them there to die from the cold. The hope was that some of them, as they watched their comrades die, would recant and return to the shore where the other Roman soldiers had gathered about their campfires outside the tents. Well during the evening hours as the other soldiers wanned their hands over the fires, they could hear wafting through the silence a song sung by these young men out on the ice. It was a song sung by the Forty Christian Wrestlers every time they engaged in military conflict or athletic competition. The words of the song they sang were these: “Forty Christian Wrestlers, wrestling for Thee, O Christ. For Thee we claim the victory. From Thee we claim the crown.” As the night wore on, the sound of the song grew fainter and fainter as one after another of the young men succumbed to the cold. Not long before the dawn, one of the Forty Christian Wrestlers came crawling to the shore and said to the Roman commander, “Sire, I do not wish to die. I will worship Caesar.” The commander looked at him and said, “The courage and faith of your comrades this night has made me a Christian. Since you have proved a coward, I will take your place.” The commander then stripped off his clothes, walked out onto the ice, and they could all hear him singing, “One Christian Wrestler, wrestling for Thee, O Christ. For Thee I claim the victory. From Thee I claim the crown.”
You see the flag of Jesus Christ never hit the ground. It was passed from one hand to another, and so it has been for more than 20 centuries now. That, I submit, is the greatest miracle of them all. From one generation to another throughout the history of human kind, those who have known Jesus Christ have made Jesus Christ known. That is why I believe that Jesus is asking us today, “Who will be my true disciple in the world?” God grant that we may answer the question as Isaiah answered it centuries ago. God said, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for me”? Isaiah responded, “Here I am, Lord, send me.” My beloved people, say it in your own heart now, even as I say it aloud, “Here I am, Lord, send me.”
Let us aim here to follow in their train . . .
Soli Deo Gloria