Stop Sharing ‘Your’ Testimony

I hear all sorts of testimonies. I love ministries like I am Second. I love to hear people’s stories. Normally when people try to share Christ or the Gospel, their testimony falls into one of two categories. The first category is personal experience. People will share about their past and how God has changed them or how thy overcame something. This is the way I was taught to share the Gospel growing up, “Tell people your before and after, how God worked in your life. No one can argue against your experience.” The second category is God’s word. People will share and explain what God has said. I have never heard a testimony that fits into both categories, just as I have never heard a sermon or Bible study lesson that fits into both categories. People either talk about themselves or about God. Our testimonies will either be our words or God’s, self-centered or Christ-centered.

After His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus came down the mountain and, in Matthew’s Gospel, we see the section of miracles. Matthew puts all of the miracle accounts together because he is showing, from the Old Testament, that Jesus is the Messiah. According to the prophecies of the Old Testament,

  • The Messiah was both a descendant of Aaron and David (Matthew 1:1-25).
  • He would be heralded by Jews and Gentiles (2:1-12).
  • He would be born in Bethlehem, come out of Egypt, and called a Nazarene (2:13-23).
  • He would be preceded by a second Elijah (3:1-17).
  • He would fulfill all righteousness according to the Law (4:1-11).
  • He would uphold God’s Law and it would be fulfilled in Him (5:1-7:29).
  • Miracles and signs would accompany His ministry (8:1-10:42).

To see how the previous sections connect with the Old Testament prophecies, please see our Bible Study Index or Stream/Download this Red Letters series. In Isaiah 35:4-6, we see,

Say to those with anxious heart, “Take courage, fear not. Behold, your God will come with vengeance; The recompense of God will come, But He will save you.”

Then the eyes of the blind will be opened And the ears of the deaf will be unstopped. Then the lame will leap like a deer, And the tongue of the mute will shout for joy. For waters will break forth in the wilderness And streams in the Arabah.

These were God’s instructions through Isaiah preceding the Babylonian Exile. The nation of Israel would grow anxious. Through God’s word, they would be encouraged by the promise of a deliverer, a Messiah. Through the Messiah, God’s recompense would come. This is the “great and terrible day of the Lord” (Joel 2:31) that was fulfilled on the day of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection (Acts 2:20). Miracles of healing and great natural signs would accompany the ministry of this Messiah. So, to prove that Jesus is the Messiah predicted by the Old Testament, Matthew dedicates a section of his Gospel to Jesus’ miracles and signs.

Matthew 8:1-4

When Jesus came down from the mountain, large crowds followed Him. And a leper came to Him and bowed down before Him, and said, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.”

Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him, saying, “I am willing; be cleansed.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. And Jesus said to him, “See that you tell no one; but go, show yourself to the priest and present the offering that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.”

The leper’s request (v. 1-2)

When Jesus came down from the mountain, large crowds followed Him. And a leper came to Him and bowed down before Him, and said, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.”

According to the Law, a leper is physically unclean.

“Then the Lord spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying, ‘When a man has on the skin of his body a swelling or a scab or a bright spot, and it becomes an infection of leprosy on the skin of his body, then he shall be brought to Aaron the priest or to one of his sons the priests. The priest shall look at the mark on the skin of the body, and if the hair in the infection has turned white and the infection appears to be deeper than the skin of his body, it is an infection of leprosy; when the priest has looked at him, he shall pronounce him unclean’” (Leviticus 13:1-3).

The word, unclean (טמא), is the same word used to describe a rotting corpse (Numbers 19), animals that might carry disease (Leviticus 11), those who have committed sexual sin (Leviticus 18), and a woman on her minstrel cycle (Leviticus 18).

When the leper comes to Jesus, he does not ask Jesus to heal him but, instead, to make him clean- to purify him. The leper wasn’t interested in simply being rid of this severe inconvenience. He wanted to be ritually pure according to God’s Law so that he might rightly worship God according to the Law.

Furthermore, the leper asks to be cleansed according to Christ’s will. This word, will (θελης), refers to one’s wish or desire. The leper effectively submits to Jesus’ will, Jesus’ desire or Jesus’ plan. “If it is Your will, please make me clean.” In the previous section, we saw Jesus refer to Himself using the title, “Lord.” Here, the leper concedes that it is Christ’s will that is done above his own. He also confesses that Christ is Lord.

Christ’s work (v. 3)

Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him, saying, “I am willing; be cleansed.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.

No one was to touch an unclean person, and anyone who touched an unclean person became unclean (Numbers 19).

Uncleanliness in the Old Testament was not necessarily spiritual but physical. This instruction was given with concern for public health. There didn’t need to be a preventable epidemic. In the Gospels and in Jesus’ miracle, infectious disease becomes a picture of the Gospel. Jesus touches this infectious person and heals him. When Jesus touches the infectious person, He becomes physically unclean according to the Law. The leper’s uncleanliness was imputed to Him. At the same time, the leper is healed.

Sin is the thing that makes us spiritually unclean under the Law. The Gospel message is that, in salvation, the sin of God’s people is imputed to Jesus. Jesus, who is the only righteous one, becomes spiritually unclean on behalf of His people.

So far in our study, we have seen that the Law is meant to be a testimony against us. Here, we see that the Gospel is meant to remove our sin by imputing our transgressions to Christ. In Christ, the recompense of God has come. God has exercised His justice and vengeance by crushing His Son so that His people do not have to be under His judgment and wrath. Their sin has been imputed to Christ. This is precisely what the prophets revealed the Messiah would do for God’s chosen people.

“But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him” (Isaiah 53:5-6).

So, God gives the Law as a testimony against people. They cannot keep its standard and it reveals their unrighteousness by causing them to sin. This is a burden to us because we cannot keep God’s law. Every person falls short of God’s glory. Then, even in the Old Testament, God declares His Gospel. His Son would come, bear the sin of His people, and be executed in their place. This would please God (Isaiah 53:10). God’s justice was carried out in Christ. This is good news!

Consider all of your sin and all the ways in which you have broken and break God’s law, standard of morality, and standard of glory. Let it weigh on you. Feel judged and condemned. Realize that you are not good enough. Then hear the Gospel in both the Old and New Testaments. That sin, which came from your own unrighteousness, was already imputed to Jesus and God’s justice was carried out at Calvary. If we are in Christ, we are free.

Christ is willing (θελω) to both heal and see the leper cleansed. It is His will, desire, wish, and plan to have the uncleanliness of the leper imputed to Him just as it is His will to have the sins of His people imputed to Him according to the Law and the Prophets. Christ’s miraculous dealings, which are a picture of the explicit Gospel, depend strictly and specifically on Christ’s own will. He is Lord. He has all authority.

The leper was cleansed immediately. The cleanliness of Christ was imputed to the leper immediately. Even before the cleansing religious ritual. The Law is fulfilled in Christ and He accomplishes perfectly what the Law was not effective to perfectly accomplish. We remember that the purpose of the Law is to point us to the perfect, sufficient, and wholly effective work of Jesus Christ alone.

The proper testimony (v. 4)

And Jesus said to him, “See that you tell no one; but go, show yourself to the priest and present the offering that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.”

Jesus instructed the former leper not to tell anyone about the miracle, but to testify according to the word of God in Leviticus 14. While God does do miraculous things, our testimony is not based on our experiences, but is the word of God alone. God’s word is sufficient. This is the message Jesus devoted Himself to during His Sermon on the Mount. It is the message He calls His disciples to without tainting or taking from it.

Stories about what we have overcome or how we have changed are insufficient. Only Christ’s testimony, the testimony of His word, is sufficient. As we share the Gospel, practice evangelism, we share Christ’s words, not ours. If we experience signs or miracles, Christ’s instruction is that these things are not to be the content of our testimony. Every Christian is a proclaimer of God’s word alone as his or her testimony. As Jesus taught in His Sermon on the Mount, His word is entirely sufficient and His people do not taint it or hide any part of it away. We put Christ’s word on display, not our own experiences. This applies to the sharing of testimonies and preaching and teaching in the gathering of the church.

Questions:

  1. How does Jesus’ teaching compare and contrast to the way you thought evangelism was to be practiced?
  2. How important is it for us to be Christ-centered rather than self-centered in evangelism? Why? What does this mean?
  3. How does the will of Christ directly relate to the cleansing of each person? What does it mean that Christ is Lord?
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