Alistair Kay, Sheddocksley, Aberdeen
As preachers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we are charged with the responsibility to be first and foremost witnesses to the Lord Jesus (Acts 1 v 8). Yet, if you ask the average man to be a witness he would dread the thought! What exactly does it mean to be a witness?
As a practising court lawyer for the defence, I see lots of witnesses in my daily work. Whilst most are police officers, many are simply members of the public that happened to be in the right place (or wrong place?) when something happened. Most often they are afraid of the cross-examination of the defence solicitor- me! The purpose of cross examining a witness is to test their evidence, show gaps, and put to them the defence scenario for their reaction. This tests the memory, and credibility of the witness.
It’s quite different when I’m the witness and not the other way round! Yet should it really frighten us if we are witnesses to the truth of the Gospel at work in our lives and confident that Jesus is able to keep all the promises he has made to those who believe in him?
In court, most witnesses must speak to the facts- what they saw, heard, or experienced in some other way. Only experts in a given field of learning (such as medicine) can give opinion evidence. So likewise we are foremostly witnesses to the facts of the Gospel as we have experienced the resurrection power of the Lord in our own lives.
Surely this is why our own personal testimony is worth so much. We should learn from the apostle Paul who often gives his conversion experience either in his defence (e.g. Acts 22 & 26) or in his letters (e.g. Galatians 1 v 11-24). I find myself referring to bits of my own testimony each time I preach the word. Without this factual basis, we are merely giving opinion evidence, and this is far less convincing to the sceptical jury (or the congregation).
Each witness in court has to give their evidence without being prompted or led in any way; otherwise an objection will be raised. Often the lawyer has to dig deeper into the testimony to bring out the key facts as most witnesses string the story together too fast or dwell on less important matters. As witnesses for Christ we should be diligent that we give a full account of our faith, as most Scottish congregations don’t interrupt us to clarify a point as a lawyer may do in court. Again, Paul in his writings constantly asked questions, as if to clarify his points, and then proceeded to give the answers. This is a helpful device for us in preaching the word.
You may wish to imagine that your congregation is hearing your testimony for the first time, and will pass a verdict on it at the end of the service (and maybe they do!). Will you be found a credible witness? Will your testimony move them to convict?
The bit that most witnesses dread is the cross-examination. What will the cunning defence lawyer ask them, will they be tripped up in their testimony, will they be forced to admit not really knowing a vital point of evidence, will they look a fool, etc. You can’t really prepare for this. In court, a good cross-examination can help win the defence case, although some witnesses come through very well and stand steadfastly to their story.
Yet should we be afraid of being cross-examined? If we are sure of our faith and know the basis of our trust in Christ and his promises, have we really anything to fear? Think of it this way- the unconverted person we are sharing with (the defence lawyer) is really testing our credibility as witnesses to the Cross of Christ- so they are actually examining what the Cross means to us! So the term cross-examination is very appropriate! We should welcome this, as that is the root of our salvation- and theirs too.
Finally, the jury must give it’s verdict based on the evidence it has heard. Sometimes the congregation will be asked to make a response at an alter call, and other times they just go home to mull it over in their minds. They will consider what truth was said, the manner in which it was said, and how the witness (you or me) handled the “Cross” examination.
One major point of difference is that the jury are also the people in the dock! They way up the evidence against themselves, and must apply the truth to their own lives! We want them to be convicted of their sin, and persuaded to put their trust in the Gospel message and Cross of Christ. As preachers we should hope that no “Not Proven” verdicts will result (far less any “Not Guilty”)!