Luke 8 tells the odd story about Jesus’s encounter with the Geresene Demoniac. This man has been driven wild by the Legion of demons inside him. He’s found living among the tombs being unable to be contained by chains and shackles, screaming and running around naked. The people in the city want nothing to do with him because he is so crazy. However, everything changes when he encounters Jesus. Jesus releases him from the demons that have held him captive. And after gaining his freedom the crazed lunatic is found dressed and in his right mind talking to Jesus. It’s an amazing transformation. But the most amazing part of the story is still to come. When Jesus prepares to leave the healed man wants to go with him but Jesus won’t let him go. Instead, Jesus tells him to go back to his own home and declare how much God has done for him. The formerly crazed lunatic becomes a missionary. The formerly demon possessed becomes a witness.
It some ways it seems hard to believe. Jesus doesn’t send him to a biblical training class or to a seminary to learn the proper ways to share the gospel. And he doesn’t even put him through a discipleship program to prepare him for ministry in his local setting. He just sends him home to declare all that God has done for him. He sends him to be a witness.
Witness is an interesting word. What does it mean to be a witness? Often, in the religious world, witness is relegated to simply sharing one’s testimony, telling the gospel story in a succinct message in an effort to convince others to accept Jesus as Lord. But it is deeper than that. A witness is one who tells others about something they have seen, heard, or known by personal presence or perception. A witness sees an event taking place and then tells others what they saw. The faithfulness of a witness is not determined by how others respond. A faithful witness tells the story accurately and it is the power of the story, the power of the event described, that causes transformation. The power of transformation is in the event that the message proclaims, not in the messenger.
In this sense, witness is not creating something new. It is not polishing a talk or presentation to make it more effective. Witness is declaring what God has done. Witness is sharing with others what the witness has seen and heard God do. Witness is paying attention to all of the things that God is doing in the world and then sharing what one has seen with others. David Fitch and Geoff Holsclaw describe it this way in their book Prodigal Christianity:
Witness participates in God’s work; it cannot generate it. There is no burden here to do or prove something. Witness is about everyday attentiveness and faithfulness to God’s Kingdom that helps others learn to see it for themselves.
This is exactly what Jesus wants the man healed from demons to do. Jesus tells him to go back home and declare all that God has done for you. The man has no burden to do anything new or to prove any great truth. The man simply is sent to be a witness, to tell others about what God has done in his life.
And this is also exactly what God wants us to do as followers of Jesus. Our task is to be a witness to all that God has done. Our task is to declare to others the things of God. Our task is to participate with God in his work as God seeks to redeem and restore the world. Witness is not about generating contacts for conversion and it’s not about having a fancy message to share. Witness is not about having all the answers to all the questions. Witness is not about a program or a new work. Witness is opening our eyes to what God is doing in the world around us and then sharing what we have seen and heard, declaring to the world what God has done.
God is asking not that we go off with him to a secluded community, but that we go back home, to our own towns, to our own places of work, to the places that we live, and declare to others the good things God has done. To be a witness in our normal course of life.