Last week in our Sunday morning worship service we were privileged to hear a testimony from a sister in Christ whom God had rescued from the hell of domestic violence and drug dependency and completely transformed her by His grace and love into the mighty woman of God she is today. It was a wonderful testimony. It was a personal testimony. Nobody else on this planet could tell that story – it belonged only to one person and yet when she shared her story with her fellow believers, something happened in the heavenly realm. I couldn’t describe it or even understand it at first, but I just knew God was doing something above and beyond the journey of this one brave disciple. Don’t get me wrong, this testimony was amazing and God’s power was manifest in and through the weakness and brokenness of this special child of God, but when a testimony is shared, something happens beyond the boundaries of that person’s experience. A powerful Kingdom principle is triggered – one which most of us don’t even know about and yet we should because the Bible has a lot to say about the power of testimony and the importance of testimony for the growth of the Kingdom of God.
In the days following that wonderful testimony, I found myself pondering this some more and trying to understand what I felt last Sunday. Then I saw it – right there before my eyes – just one sentence towards the end of the Bible which I don’t ever remember reading before. I’m sure I have, but this one sentence which I found in Revelation 19:10 says this: “The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” That’s the New King James Version. Other translations express it in a variety of ways but they all say the same thing. As soon as I read those words, something happened that I can’t fully describe, but it was like the words turned red and started to flash in the text. I had no idea what the sentence even meant at first – but it leapt off the page and gripped my heart in a way that made it clear to me that God wanted to do something with this sentence and that I should not let it go or pass by too quickly.
I love it when God reveals something to your heart first that your mind can’t explain. That’s because your heart can fit where your head can’t fit. So at times God will invite us into things that we have some perception of – but that we can’t fully comprehend. It may seem frustrating at first but after this has happened a few times in your life you learn to embrace this firmly because it’s a wonderful way to learn. Sometimes God does His best work in us by revealing something to our heart that our mind just doesn’t understand. This then forces us back to God in prayer and reminds us that the Holy Spirit is the ultimate guide to all truth and until the Spirit shows us more, this deep conviction will just sit there and force us to dig deeper, search the Scriptures and wrestle with this revelation until we can put some words together which make sense so we can share this insight. So let me share some of the insight God has given me over the past week as I have been wrestling with the power of testimony and how God has always planned to use testimony in His Heavenly kingdom.
Let me remind you of that sentence again from Revelation 19: “The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” So what is the testimony of Jesus? Basically it is the spoken or written record of anything Jesus has said or done. The Spirit of Prophecy is that prophetic anointing or prophetic mantle. So what is prophecy? Well prophecy has two dimensions as I understand it. One is to foretell the future. A prophet may describe something that is going to happen at some point in the future. But I think predominantly in the Scriptures and throughout Church history the prophetic is used not so much to foretell, but to change present situations. The prophetic will be used to make a decree that actually changes the reality which an individual, a family, a Church, a city or a nation is facing. It’s the Word of the Lord proclaimed which changes the environment into which it is declared.
So think of it this way, the testimony of Jesus carries with it the weight of heaven to alter the reality of a problem or situation that we’re facing in the kingdom of this world. Or to put it another way, it is written into the DNA of the testimony of God’s power at work, that it has that ability to actually change the reality into which it is spoken. But wait . . . there’s more!
The testimony of Jesus most certainly changed the reality around Him every day He walked among us as thousands of people were healed, saved, delivered from oppression and even raised from the dead. But that was not the end of it. This verse says, “The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” This simply means that if Jesus did it once, He can and will do it again! The testimony of Jesus does not just create miracles – it creates faith for more miracles because Jesus is the same, yesterday, today and forever. His will, His mission, His compassion, His desire to bless and heal and save and deliver does not alter with the passing of time. If He did it once, He will do it again and again and again!
I remember back in the 1990’s I was part of the organising team for a large Worship Conference in Sydney. There were about 1,000 people present and I remember after one worship time we discerned that God’s power was present to heal and so we called a number of people forward with specific problems which the Lord had laid on our hearts during the worship time. One of conditions was severe lower back pain. A number of people came forward and we were praying over them one by one and I was standing close to one lady who was being prayed for by a colleague and she shared her story about a nasty car accident, multiple operations and chronic back pain 24 hours a day for over 15 years. She was completely healed there and then and for the first time in decades she had no pain in her body whatsoever.
Out of the corner of my eye I noticed a lady in the second row who had not come forward for prayer, but she had heard the other lady tell her story and she witnessed her being healed right before her eyes. Without delay this lady pushed past all the people in her row and came the front and pushed her way into the line of people being prayed for and stood next to this completely healed woman. Then she said something very simple which even sounded a little arrogant at the time, but God brought back this 30 year old memory to me last week and now, all these years later, I can see what God was doing that night. As soon as this second lady positioned herself next to the one who was healed of chronic back injury, she looked me straight in the eye and said, “If God did that for her, then certainly He will do that for me.”
Now it was not until last week that I realised that this woman actually had a brilliant understanding of the kingdom of heaven. First of all, she affirmed that God is no respecter of persons, what He’s done for one He’ll do for another. He doesn’t have us in categories where these people get special things, and these people get the crumbs. That’s not how God works. So she understood that. Secondly, she understood that God is the same yesterday, today and forever. So something He’s done at another time He’ll do again. So she spoke it out without any doubt and said, “If God did that for her, then certainly He will do that for me.” So we asked the woman who had just been healed if she would join us to pray for this lady. She did and God healed this woman too. I lost count of the number of people with serious back issues who were healed that night. It was wonderful, but I now realise the theological truth which was playing out before my eyes all those years ago. It’s a truth that I don’t ever recall knowing until last week, even though it has been there since the Church was born.
It’s a truth that the great Charles Spurgeon obviously wrestled with at some point in his ministry. Spurgeon was an amazing Baptist Pastor from England who preached to thousands of people for many decades and his sermons are still available in print and they are rich in theology still pack a punch. Now I have read most of Spurgeon’s sermons over the years, I’m a big fan, but this past week I found something in one of his sermons from July 17, 1859 which I don’t remember ever reading and God used these words from 163 years ago to open my eyes to a very powerful and very important truth about the testimony of God. Lister to what Spurgeon said:
“When people hear about what God used to do, one of the things they say is, ‘Oh, that was a very long while ago.’ But I thought it was God that did it. Has God changed? Is He not an immutable God, the same yesterday, today and forever? Does not that furnish an argument to prove that what God has done at one time he can do at another time? I think I shall push it a little further and say that what God has done once is a prophecy of what He intends to do again. Whatever God has done, is to be looked upon as a precedent. Let us with earnestness, seek what God would restore to us … that we may richly enjoy His grace and power today.”
So there you have it – way back in 1859 – in a conservative Baptist Church of all places. The body of Christ had an opportunity to step into a reality that I don’t think anyone else was seeing back then even though this truth is clearly revealed in Scripture. Spurgeon declared the nature and power of testimony, and the Spirit of Prophecy and revelation which accompanies it and he made this declaration with incredible conviction. But I can find no evidence that it went any further. It appears to me that this amazing proclamation of a powerful kingdom principle just got reduced to a good sermon, instead of an invitation to explore what might be possible if we actually treasured the amazing record of what God has done. “The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” It has always been there right in front of our face. In fact we can go way back before Spurgeon and even before Jesus …
The Book of Deuteronomy is probably not the ‘go to’ book for most modern Christians but there are some hidden gems tucked away in this Old Covenant book which shed light on our reality right through the ages. In Deuteronomy chapter six we are exhorted to “keep the commandments of the Lord, keep the statutes of the Lord, and keep the testimonies of the Lord.” Now we know what it means to keep a commandment – God says it and we do it. Simple. But what is keeping the statutes? Keeping the statutes of God is where He is teaching us His value system. So in a commandment, God is telling you what to think. In a statute, He’s telling you how to think. Let me say that again. In a commandment, God is telling you what to think; in His statutes, He’s telling you how to think – He’s actually showing you His perception of reality and how He navigates life. So He says, “Keep the commandments, keep the statutes,” and then He says, “keep the testimonies.“
How do you keep a testimony? Well I have spent some time contemplating this because it speaks to the heart of what I believe God wants to teach us all right now. My conclusion, through studying the Scriptures and especially the Gospel of Mark and the lifestyle of Jesus, is that keeping the testimony basically means that I hold the record of God’s interventions among His people so close to me, that they become the lense through which I see the world around me and the present challenges of life. In other words, we are meant to interpret our current reality through our history with God. Our history with God, indeed all of humanity’s history with God, has now given us the right lense through which we can see possibility in a problem instead of just the problem; we can see the nature of God in a situation; we can see how God is going to become triumphant now in a particular difficulty.
This truly is amazing. You and I actually have the ability to steward the testimonies of God’s supernatural intervention so well, that they become the place from which we think and act; the place from which we pray and believe. The place from which we minister in God’s miracle-working power. The testimony of God’s mighty works is not just an exciting and encouraging moment of reflection – it’s much more than that. Imagine Elijah right now standing in front of you prophesying. That’s what a testimony is. It is prophesying. This is the heart of God. This is the nature of God. This is the covenant of God, and it is available to you and me. That’s what a testimony is. Ok, let me put some more meat on these bones by taking you to Psalm 78.
Psalm 78:1-7 “Give ear, O my people, to my law; Incline your ears to the words of my mouth. I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings of old, which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, telling to the generation to come the praises of the Lord, and His strength and His wonderful works that He has done. For He established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which He commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children; that the generation to come might know them, the children who would be born, that they may arise and declare them to their children, that they may set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep His commandments.”
So God’s people are being exhorted to train their children not only in the law of God, the commandments, but to train them in God’s wonderful, mighty works, which is His testimony. It says it in verse five that he established a testimony in Jacob. So you can see this was a pattern of a value system for the spoken and written record of all that God has done which was to be given to this generation that they would give it to the next generation and they would give it to the next generation. This passage also tells us why this testimony is so important – it is so they may set their hope in God.There’s something about this testimony that conditions a child or an adult, to position themselves to place hope in God when a trial comes. Their instinctive response is, “I’m going to trust God, because I know He’s the God who works wonders. I don’t understand what He’s going to do. I don’t know how He’s going to do it, but I’m going to trust Him.”Where did that come from? It came from those who declared the testimonies of God, over and over again.
What I want you to notice this – and it’s a really big deal. This is what we do for ourselves; this is what we do for our children and grandchildren – we set the stage for them to have courage because it takes courage to obey God. We want courageous obedience, radical obedience in our lives. So here in Psalm 78, its says we keep the testimony going for multiple generations. Why? So that they will put their hope in God; so that they won’t forget the works of God; so that they will have the courage to obey God. All through the Old Testament we see the high price God’s people paid when they failed to declare the testimonies of God. At those times when we do see the radical obedience of God’s people we know that it’s because they remembered the testimony of God. They had not forgotten His mighty works and wonders throughout their whole history as His people. That is when victory comes. That is when faith arises. That is when God’s people are at their best, then and now!
What happens if the testimony of the Lord declines? What happens when we stop recounting the miracles of God? We see less miracles. Now when we see less miracles, we expect less miracles. If we expect less miracles, we talk about them less. When we stop talking about them .. when we stop testifying to God’s miraculous works, then we stop expecting them. There is this downward spiral which takes us very quickly to the point where the mighty miracles of God, the powerful wonders of God have just become part of our history. As Charles Spurgeon said, we just talk about what happened a long time ago, with no expectation of it happening again to us, through us or around us. Our pathetic narrative becomes, “Long, long ago in a faraway place, God used to do these amazing things …” and the inference is, “… but not anymore!”
Tragically, this is where so much of the Church is right now. The powerful testimony of God is relegated to become part of Israel’s history, not ours. The miracle-working, society-transforming signs and wonders of God become an historical account in the book of Acts; a distant memory of something that happened back then – on the other side of the world. It’s no longer a current reality and therefore not even a current expectation.
Whenever the Apostle Paul was in trouble, he would revert to his personal story – his own testimony. It’s not just the miracles of healing, it’s the deliverance, it’s salvation – which is the greatest miracle of all. Why did he do that? He did that because he understood that, “The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” Paul understood that the signs and wonders and miracle-working presence of God among His people was not a temporary phenomenon God used to establish the Church. This was a normal day at the office for God and He wants us, He needs us to proclaim the testimonies of God day and night and pass them on to our children and build faith in them to believe that the God Who is the same yesterday, today and forever is the God Who desires to manifest His presence among us the way He always has.
In Hebrews 11:1 we are told that, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things unseen.” When we lose that assurance and our conviction fades away, we no longer believe the testimony of Jesus and therefore the cutting edge, nation-transforming spirit of prophecy is not evident or effective in us or in the Church. The book of Acts is most certainly an historical account of the birth of the Church. However, for millions of Christians today, that is all it is. The book was called the Acts of the Apostles for a reason – it is a testimony of what God did in and through the Apostles and they did all that in the power of Christ, through His indwelling Spirit. So we could rename the book of Acts and call it, ‘The Testimony of Jesus’ because that is what it is. In fact, that is what the four Gospels are; that is what Paul’s Epistles are and the New Testament letters and the book of Revelation.
In fact the whole Bible is meant to be read and celebrated as a testimony of God’s powerful engagement with, among and through humanity. We have an Old Testament and a New Testament. What do you think the word testament means? It means TESTIMONY. Who’s testimony is it? Ultimately it is the testimony of Jesus – the Creator and Sustainer of the universe; the Author and Finisher of our faith; the One Who secured our salvation through His life, death and resurrection. Jesus is our testimony and we are called to declare His mighty works day and night and never stop.
We heard an amazing testimony last week about the life-changing, healing, restoring power of Jesus in the life of a domestic violence survivor. We are meant to rejoice with those who have been delivered and restored through Christ, and we do, but what is God’s end goal from every testimony – right throughout history? His end goal is that we believe what He did for one He will do for others. That means that until every domestic violence victim hears a testimony like the one we heard last week, God’s will has not been done. The specifics of our journey are personal and apply only to us but the miracle-working power and presence of God at work in us belongs to everyone who needs the same deliverance and that is why the word of our testimony is so important, so powerful and so necessary.
When we finally understand the power of testimony and how its absence has contributed to the rapid decline of the Church’s power, influence and relevance in the world, then everything will change and the Book of Acts will no longer just be an historic account of the birth of the Church, it will also be a running commentary of the Church of today – your Church and mine. Let me leave you with some of Charles Spurgeon’s words again: “What God has done once is a prophecy of what He intends to do again. Whatever God has done, is to be looked upon as a precedent. Let us with earnestness, seek what God would restore to us … that we may richly enjoy His grace and power today.”