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Asking the Wrong Witnesses

Asking the Wrong Witnesses

Graham Gladstone

Ask those freed from unclean spirits, the blind who saw, the dead who came to life again, and, what is greater than all, the fools who were made wise, and let them answer whether Jesus was a malefactor. But they spoke, of whom he had himself prophesied in the psalms, “They rewarded me evil for good.” – Augustine[1]

Having spent the last three months preaching through the Gospel of John, these words from St. Augustine strike me immediately as true. Those who judged Jesus, the ruling officials and the Roman representatives, came to the trial with prejudices against Jesus and political legitimacy to protect, so it’s no wonder that Jesus was found guilty (well, not “guilty,” but “guilty because we say so”) and executed.

Imagine, though, what would have happened if the witnesses called to testify had been all those left in the wake of Jesus’ gracious Kingdom work—those freed from unclean spirits, the blind who saw, and the dead and the foolish. What a powerful witness to the goodness of God that would have been. In the interest of giving them a voice, here is my best guess at what they might say.

Nicodemus (John 3)
“I was a man of great power and prestige, well respected by the powers that be and a teacher to all of Israel. And yet, I couldn’t shake the feeling that maybe we were missing something, that although we searched the Scriptures to honor God and recognize His Anointed One, we were missing the point. Then I heard of this Rabbi, doing the sort of thing that ‘the Anointed One’ would do, so I had to see for myself. I went to Him, to hear from Him, and He changed everything. We were trying to reach up to God and here God was reaching down to us – He was going to do all that we could never do – He Himself would sprinkle us with cleansing water and give us a new spirit,[2] to enable us to follow the Law we were trying to keep in our own strength. I kept my mouth shut for a while, but when my peers started outwardly opposing Jesus, not even hearing from Him themselves, I knew I had to make a stand.[3] Jesus took a stony, old religious moralist, and made me into a generous, grateful follower of God.”

The Samaritan woman (John 4)
“My experience with Jesus couldn’t be any more different from Nicodemus’. He was a great rabbi, well-respected, well-versed in the promises of God to His people; I was a social outcast, unable to hold onto a husband, unaware of the truth about God. Jesus found me at a well – it was noon and I was there in the heat of the day to avoid the accusing stares of the local ladies – and He asked me for a drink. I could see that He was hot and worn out from traveling; I knew how the water would refresh Him, but He opened my eyes to see that in fact God was offering that very experience of refreshing to me! He knew my ignorance, He knew my sin, He knew my past and yet He treated me with gentleness and respect, and for the first time in my life, I recognized that God could love someone like me. I had to tell everyone, and after they heard from Him, He stayed with us and showed us that He truly was the Savior of the world.”

The paralyzed man (John 5)
Yeah, I met Jesus. He’s the one that healed me on the Sabbath. I told you about that already, remember?[4] I’d been lame for 38 years, and I’d gotten into the habit of dragging myself over to the pool at Bethesda – I heard that if you could get into the water when it stirred, you could get healed. But I never could. But then one day, this man came along – never told me His name, at least, not ‘til later – and He said ‘Get up! Pick up your mat and walk’ and all of a sudden I felt something in my legs that I hadn’t in years – strength. I got up and walked. I carried my mat even! Of course, that just got me into trouble with the authorities because it was the Sabbath, but Jesus found me later and said something about stopping sinning, but I told you about that already, remember? Can I go now?

The blind man (John 9)
I remember the day I met Jesus – clear as if it were yesterday. I was born blind, and so as was my custom, I sat by the roadside to beg, barely scraping together enough to live. I was blind, so that was a real hardship, but the thing that really stung was the social stigma. Sure, people would toss me a coin or two, but as they walked away I could hear them whispering to one another “I wonder what he did, or what his mother did, to deserve that blindness” – translation – “he messed up, so he deserves God’s punishment.” But then one day I heard something new: “It’s not his fault.” And then suddenly, this man was putting mud on my eyes; He sent me to the pool at Siloam to wash and… I could see! I could see! I had never been able to see in my life and He let me see! He changed everything! He let me see the world but He let me see even more – that God had sent this man Jesus, His Son, to open the world’s eyes, to give life! You keep asking me, I know, but the story’s never going to change – you just need to go ahead and believe too!

Lazarus (John 11)
Those were days I will never forget. I was dead, but Jesus made me alive. What more can I say? I could see how my death had destroyed my sisters, and yet in that moment, Jesus made me alive and mourning turned into utter joy. He raised me from the dead. What more can I say?

Looking back on these accounts, I see an incredible picture of Jesus – a man who sought out all sorts of people – men, women, sinners, “saints,” those who would follow Him and those who were ambivalent – and changed their lives by introducing them to the real power of God. And He not only healed them (physically, socially or spiritually), He gave each of them something to think about – with Jesus, a physical thing was never just a physical thing – His every act became a spiritual object lesson – ‘you must be born again,’ ‘living water within you will give you life,’ ‘I give you eyes to truly see,’ ‘everyone who believes in me will never die, but live eternally.’ It’s a shame they never got to testify in court.

But then again, if they had, Jesus never would have died and that would have prevented the greatest object lesson of all, the ultimate ‘good’ to borrow from Augustine, the supreme sacrifice of atonement– the sinless Lamb of God dying in the place of God’s sinful people, so that we sinners could be restored to God forever. That was God’s will – God Himself handed Jesus over[5] – so no testimony, however moving, would have stopped this incredible outpouring of grace, mercy and justice. “Heaven’s peace and perfect justice kissed a guilty world in love.”

It remains though for all of these witnesses, the freed, those given sight, those raised from the dead, to point us to Jesus, that we might recognize who He truly is, that we might give our lives rightly in response, as the ruling authorities should have – in His service and worship.

Graham is a long-time worship leader with an M.Div. (Heritage Seminary) and a passion for seeing the God of the Bible receive the praise He deserves. He is now the preaching pastor at Langford Community Church near Brantford, Ontario. Connect with Graham at or on Twitter @gwgladstone.

[1] Augustine, “Tractates on the Gospel of John 114.3.”, in Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: John:11-21, commenting on John 18:29.

[2] See Ezekiel 36:25-27.

[3] See John 7:45-52.

[4] See John 5:15.

[5] See Acts 2:23.

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