Summary: Jesus built His church upon the foundation of a multitude of witnesses. Sometimes we forget how significant that can be.
OPEN: About 10 years ago, during a Homicide trial in Nassau County in the state of New York, the prosecution was examining their witness on the stand. In his testimony, the witness stated that he saw the victim lying on the ground, obviously dead.
When the prosecution had finished, the defense lawyer rose to his feet intent on undermining the credibility of the witness. and conducted the following cross-examination:
"Sir, are you a doctor?"
"No," replied the witness.
"Well, are you a paramedic?"
"No, I’m not," the witness stated.
"Have you ever gone to medical school?"
"Never," was the answer.
"Then tell me, sir, how do you know that the victim was indeed dead?"
"Well," responded the witness, "I went to his funeral."
APPLY: In every Crime Scene Investigation, it’s hard to beat the value of eyewitnesses
Now, it is a fact that witnesses can often disagree on some significant details of a crime, but when large numbers of eyewitnesses tell you the same thing over and over it’s a pretty good indication that what they say they’ve seen is true.
The Bible recognizes this fact.
In Deuteronomy 19 we’re told: “One witness is not enough to convict a man accused of any crime or offense he may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.” Deuteronomy 19:15
This concept was so central to Biblical reasoning that, when Paul confronted the church at Corinth about problems they had there, he told them:
"Every matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses." 2 Corinthians 13:1
I. And so it’s not surprising to find that Jesus built His church upon the foundation of a multitude of witnesses.
After Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, the Apostles sensed a need to find a replacement for Judas. Peter cited references from the Old Testament explaining why they should do this & then said: “… it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a WITNESS with us of his resurrection." Acts 1:21-22
In other words whoever was going to replace Judas as one of the 12 had to be an eyewitness – not just of His resurrection - but of every thing Jesus had done from His baptism by John ALL THE WAY thru His ministry until His death, burial and resurrection. Only two men met that criteria. What that reveals to us is the significance the apostles placed on the importance of eyewitness accounts.
When Luke wrote his gospel he stressed how important he felt 1st hand accounts were for his book::
“Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who were from the first EYEWITNESSES and servants of the word.” Luke 1:1-2
Later, when he composed his story about the church (the Book of Acts) Luke wrote these words:
“In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. After his suffering, he showed himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.” Acts 1:3
Very subtly, Luke is telling his friend Theophilus that the eyewitnesses he’s used for his book didn’t just see the risen Jesus once… they saw him several times over a period of 40 days.
So, when Paul writes about the story of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection, you can sense that he is telling of witnesses of the resurrection that he’s already spoken to himself.
He says that Jesus “appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.
After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.
Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.”
Essentially, Paul is saying:
“Hey, there are over 500 witnesses who saw the risen Christ. If you don’t believe me… if you have any doubts… if you have any questions… go talk to one of them.”
II. How do we know what these witnesses saw?
Well, a few of them wrote books.
One of those witnesses had once been a tax collector before he met Jesus. He was an educated man who wrote down the things that he’d heard and observed, and he wrote a book we call the Gospel of Matthew.