The Power of Personal Testimony
April 3rd, 1977 @ 10:50 AM
THE POWER OF PERSONAL TESTIMONY
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-3-77 8:15 a.m.
And God bless the great multitude of people who are here this morning and who are sharing this hour on radio. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Power of Personal Testimony. It is based upon one of the most unusual comparisons that I know of to be found in the Word of the Lord.
In our preaching through the Book of Acts, we are in the third chapter which tells the story of Peter and John going up into the temple [Acts 3:1], and seeing a man who all of his life had been lame—born that way—whom daily was laid at the gate called Beautiful [Acts 3:2], begging from people who entered the temple [Acts 3:2], and seeing Peter and John about to enter the temple, reached forth his hand asking for some kind of a beggarly gift [Acts 3:3].
Then Peter said, “I don’t have money to give, but what I do have that do I share with thee” [Acts 3:6]. And he said, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk” [Acts 3:6].
Had you been born lame and had never walked in all of your life, and someone, a stranger, said “Get up and walk” [Acts 3:6], you’d doubtless look at him in astonishment just as this man did. But his hand extended for a beggarly gift [Acts 3:3, 5], Simon Peter took it and even at a great leverage—to me it would have been all of my might to lift up a man with both of my hands underneath him—with a leverage, that tremendous, big fisherman took him by the right hand, and just raised him up [Acts 3:7]. And when he did, immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength, and he looked at himself standing [Acts 3:7]; and leaping up and walking, he entered into the temple, walking and leaping and praising God [Acts 3:8].
What a glorious way to go to church. If we did that they’d think we were idiots, but maybe we need to be fools for Christ’s sake [1 Corinthians 4:10]. It’d make an impression upon the people if we came to church like that: walking and leaping and praising God. And all the people saw him walking and praising God [Acts 3:9]. No wonder: there are not many people who go to church like that.
And all the people saw him walking and praising God [Acts 3:9], and they recognized him [Acts 3:10]. This is the man who stood at the gate Beautiful, and they were amazed at the thing that had happened to him [Acts 3:10]; and as the lame man which was healed held Peter and John [Acts 3:11]—one with one hand, one with the other—all the people ran together in the porch called Solomon’s, there on the eastern side of the temple ground, greatly wondering [Acts 3:11].
That’s a marvelous story, and the effect of the testimony of this healed man is the comparison that we’re looking at this morning. He was not only healed and privately [Acts 3:2-7], thank God for it, but he did it openly and before all of the throngs and the throngs [Acts 3:8-10]. There were twenty-six acres in that temple, and before those throngs he was praising God [Acts 3:9]—a marvelous thing.
Now you look at what happened. When Simon Peter preached at Pentecost, the Book says there were three thousand that day who were added to the church [Acts 2:41], but when this man got through testifying [Acts 3:9]—when he finished his word of praise and glory—it says here, “Many of them which heard believed; and the number of the andrōn was about five thousand” [Acts 4:4].
Now he doesn’t say anthropoi. Anthropoi would be the word for men, women, and children—for people. There were about five thousand anthropoi, five thousand people. No. He says, “And the number of the andrōn”—that’s men in distinction from women and children—andrōn. “And the number of the andrōn was about five thousand” [Acts 4:4]. If there were five thousand men who were believing, I would think that there were at least 25,000 people who had been added to the church when this man finished his praising God—when he had done his testimony. That’s a remarkable thing; but lest you think it be unique, and peculiar, and exceptional, and apart, I want to show you the same thing—the same identical thing—in the life of our Lord.
In the fifth chapter of the Book of Mark, the Lord is in the land of the Gadarenes [Mark 5:1], and He heals there a demented, demon-possessed, poor, wretched soul who lived in the tombs [Mark 5:1-20]. And now beginning at verse 17 [Mark 5:17], after the Lord had healed that man, why, when the Lord was besought by the people on account of the loss of their pigs and hogs [Mark 5:12-16]—they’d much rather have their pigs and hogs than to have the Lord Jesus [Mark 5:17]. That’s not funny or peculiar; that’s the way most people are today—much rather have their worldly possessions, their pigs and their swine, than to have the Lord Jesus. So they besought Him to leave [Mark 5:17], and so the Lord was departing [Mark 5:18]. And when He came down to the boat, why, this man who had been marvelously healed prayed Him that He might go with Him [Mark 5:18]:
But Jesus suffered him not, but said unto him, “You go home to thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee . . .”
So he departed and began to publish in all Decapolis—
That’s that great region of ten cities on the other side, on the eastern side of the Jordan—
He began to publish in Decapolis how great things Jesus had done for him; and all men did marvel.
Now I’m going to turn over here to the eighth chapter of the Book of Mark. Now remember, in the fifth chapter of the Book of Mark, because the Lord healed that man, they asked him to leave because in the process of the healing they lost their pigs [Mark 5:12-17]. So the Lord goes away, and He leaves there this demented but healed man who has been mandated of the Lord to tell all of his friends and neighbors what God had done for him [Mark 5:18-20].
Now in the eighth chapter of the Book of Mark, He is back over there in that same place, in that same country, in that same land. Now you look at the story. “In those days the multitude being very great . . . and continuing with the Lord three days without eating” [Mark 8:1-2]. Can you imagine a church service like that—three days and three nights listening to the Word of the Lord? And then you have the story that follows after of the feeding of the four thousand with seven loaves and a few fishes [Mark 8:3-21].
What happened was when the man was healed and they lost their pigs, they begged the Lord to leave: “It’s too costly to have You around” [Mark 5:17]. They asked Him to leave; but when that man finished his testifying, praising God and telling the people what God had done for him [Mark 5:19-20], when the Lord is back over there, the multitudes are great [Mark 8:1-2]. They were won to the faith by the testimony of that demented man whom the Lord had healed [Mark 5:20], and they thronged the Lord on every side—multitudes of them [Mark 8:1]. And the Lord in compassion, after they’d been listening to Him for three days, fed them [Mark 8:2-8], and the number of them was four thousand [Mark 8:9]—all of which is the background for this message on the power of personal testimony, the power of a personal witness.
It is sometimes very easy to enter a forensic dialog about the Christian faith: argue about it, discuss it, philosophize about it, speculate about it; and when you get through with the argument, doubtless all those that are sharing in it are pretty much convinced as they were before they started. Each one continues with his own opinion. But when a man stands up and says, “This is what God did for me. I was there when it happened. I know what God is able to do for this is what He did for me,” how do you argue with a thing like that? How do you philosophize with a thing like that?
Here is a man who has met the Lord just as I had you read in Paul’s defense before Herod Agrippa II: “This is what happened to me” [Acts 25:23-26:29]. No wonder Agrippa said this man could be free had he not appealed to Caesar [Acts 26:32]. What do you do with a man’s personal testimony? The power of personal witness.
Now when you look at that in the Holy Scriptures, you will find that it is at the very heart of the Christian faith. A man testifies to what God hath done for him. The ministry of our Lord began that way. John the Baptist pointed Him out. As the Lord passed by, John the Baptist exclaimed, “Look, behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world” [John 1:29, 35-36].
And two heard him [John 1:37]—they were John and Andrew [John 1:40]—and they followed the Lord, just walking along behind Him [John 1:37]. And the Lord turned around and said, “What do you want? What do you seek?” [John 1:38] And they blurted out, I suppose in surprise not knowing how to answer. Just exactly what would you say if you were following a man, and he just suddenly turned and said, “What do you want?” And they blurted out, “Well, Master, where do You live? Where are You staying?” [John 1:38]. And the Lord said, “Come and see” [John 1:39]. John, writing that story two generations later, remembered the exact hour. John writes in the text it was ten o’clock in the morning; and they spent the day with Him, and the Lord talked to Andrew and to John [John 1:39].
Then the story begins, and it follows that same pattern. The Lord is talking to Simon Peter [John 1:40-42], then He is witnessing to Philip [John 1:43-44], and then Philip is witnessing to Nathanael [John 1:45-46], and then the Lord is talking to Nathanael [John 1:47-51]; and the story continues, and the Lord is speaking to Nicodemus [John 3:1-3].
I want to show you something here. He’s speaking to Nicodemus and is delivering to Nicodemus the greatest sermon on the new birth the world ever heard with a congregation of one [John 3:1-21].
Then in the next chapter [John 4:1-29], He is speaking to an outcast woman by the well of Sychar [John 4:5-7]—a Samaritan woman: a despised, promiscuous woman [John 4:17-18]—and He is delivering to her the greatest sermon on spiritual worship the world ever heard [John 4:10-26]: “For the Father seekest such to worship Him, that is in spirit and in truth” [John 4:23]; that delivered to a congregation of one.
You know what I read? I read this. The pastor of the church said, “As of this Sunday, we will have no more evening services for it is not worth my while to prepare a sermon and deliver it to a congregation of less than 100.” I read that announcement. Just think of the Lord Jesus delivering His great sermon on the new birth to a congregation of one [John 3:1-21], delivering His marvelous message on spiritual worship to a congregation of one [John 4:3-26]. But seemingly to Him it made no difference who was the one, whether it was Nicodemus, a rich ruler of the Jews [John 3:1], or whether it was the despised, outcast Samaritan woman [John 4:4-9]. That’s the Lord.
Now, let’s follow that story in the lives of the apostles after the Lord has poured out the ascension gift of the Spirit upon the earth [Acts 2:1-4]. Now you look at Philip—deacon, evangelist Philip. He’s in the midst of one of the greatest revivals of all time. He’s in the city of Samaria, and the whole city is turning to the Lord [Acts 8:5-25]. Don’t you wish you could have been there? Oh, revival is absolutely one of the highest, sweetest, noblest experiences in human life when a great throng of people turn to the Lord.
Well, Philip is in Samaria, and he’s preaching the gospel, and the whole city is turning to the Lord [Acts 8:5-25]. And in the midst of it, in the midst of it, the Angel of the Lord said, “Arise and go down to Gaza” [Acts 8:26]. And do you notice the text says, “Which is desert”? [Acts 8:26] There’s a reason for that. “Which is desert”—that is, it is vacant. There’s nobody there. It’s empty—just nothing but the sky above and the sand beneath.
Here this man is in a great revival [Acts 8:5-25], and the Lord says, “Down and away” [Acts 8:26]. And he’s standing there in the desert, alone, wondering at the providence of God; but the Lord always has a purpose for us. And as he just stood there by himself in that desert, down a road came a man driving a chariot [Acts 8:27-28]; and the Holy Spirit said to him, “Join thyself to that chariot” [Acts 8:29]. And he won the treasurer of Ethiopia, a eunuch, to the Lord [Acts 8:30-39]. Just one. Out of the revival just for one [Acts 8:26], just for one [Acts 8:27-39].
And the story continues like that. Someone could ask, “How is it that Paul the apostle had such a dynamic and tremendous impact upon a city like Ephesus?” [Acts 18:19-21, 19:1-20:1, 20:17-38; Ephesians 1:1-6:24]
Why, bless your heart, there’s not a schoolboy but to go to the library and read about Ephesus. One of the Seven Wonders of the World was in Ephesus; and that seventh wonder of the world was a temple, and that temple was devoted to Artemis—Latin “Diana.” It was a center of pagan worship for the whole Greco-Roman world. It was there. And from that city, all Asia—the Roman province of Asia—heard the Word of the Lord; and those seven churches of Asia were established out of the ministry of the apostle Paul [Revelation 1:4, 11].
How did he do that? In the twentieth chapter of the Book of Acts, he describes it to the elders. “Remember,” he says, “Remember, remember that by the space of three years, I ceased not day and night with tears, from house to house [Acts 20:20], testifying to the Jew and to the Greek,” whoever lived in the house, “repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” [Acts 20:21]. From house to house. How did he do that tremendous work in Ephesus? By personal testimony: from house to house testifying repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ [Acts 20:21].
My dear people, it is a tragedy beyond any way that I could describe it for us ever in the church to begin to think of people just by gobs and massesful and oceansful. And that is always the weakness and the tendency of us who live in a large city—just looking at throngs, and masses, and thousands; and we think of them in terms of large digits, great numbers. God is never that way. The Lord always thinks of us in terms of one, and one, and one by one. You listen to His teaching. There’s not a sparrow, says our Lord, that falls to the ground but the eye of the Lord followed it down [Matthew 10:29].
Isn’t that unbelievable? Those little chirping sparrows—not one falls to the ground but that God saw it, and knew it, and watched it; and He says, God, whose eye is on the sparrow, you’re worth more than many sparrows [Matthew 10:31]. Why, the Lord said even the number of the hairs in your head are numbered [Matthew 10:30].
He knows all about us, and He calls us by our name [Isaiah 43:1, 45:4; John 10:3]. He knows us [Psalm 139:1-16]. We’re never in the sight of God gobs, and bucketsful, and oceansful, and great masses. Always in the sight of God it is you, and you, and you.
You were born one, one, and the Lord gave you breath and a soul [Genesis 2:6]; and when we die, He will be there watching over [Psalm 23:4], and He sends His angels to bear our souls to glory [Luke 16:22]. And when we stand at the judgment bar of Almighty God [2 Corinthians 5:10], He will stand by us for He’s our great Mediator [1 Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 8:6, 9:15, 12:24], and Intercessor [Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25, 9:24], and Defender [1 John 2:1-2], and Pleader [Hebrews 4:14-15].
That’s God, and that’s the way we ought to be—not looking upon people by the mass, by the vast numbers, but looking upon them one at a time. This is the father, and this is the mother, and this is Mary, and this is Jim. This is the family of God. And isn’t it a wonderful thing when we speak to people remembering they are dear and precious in the sight of God, each one, and isn’t it marvelous and blessed of God when we deliver the message to them like that? We speak to them. We talk to them. We witness to them. We are faithful in presenting our wonderful good news of what God has done for us, delivering the message of the Lord.
Let me tell you something crazy. You know, a lot of things happen to a boy who grew up in the country and in a small town that a city boy never experiences. He just never does. I suppose I envy a boy who grows up in the city, but at the same time he misses a whole lot of things. Well, here’s one.
Having grown up in the country and in a little town, a little tiny town, can you imagine the effect upon me when, as a youth, I went to New York City? Ah, dear, I just couldn’t believe! Ah, oh, oh, oh. I remember when they built a two-story building in our little town, and I could not conceive of how the brick could stay on top of one another that tall: two stories high. And in New York, oh, dear me! Well, I just walked around just in amazement—just from street to street, just looking. It was overwhelming to me.
Well, when I was walking around, I came across an enormous building—an enormous building. I mean, it was big, big, big. Even in New York it was big. Well, I was on this side of the street looking at that building—beautiful building, classical Greek; and as I walked along on the street, looked at that building, on the frieze—all from one side of it to the other—there was a vast inscription chiseled into the stone. And as I walked along the street, for the whole block I read what was chiseled in that stone, and these were the words: “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”
Well, I thought that was about the best thing I ever read in my life; so I went back to the other end of the street, and I read that thing again: “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” And I said, “You know, those are noble people. Whoever in the world is that they’re talking about? That’s just great. That’s noble. No thing in the world prevents these messengers from delivering their message. What people is that?”
So I tried to stop a New Yorker to ask him. Boy, he passed me by just like that! I tried to stop another. Man, he passed me by like that! I never saw such crude, rude people in my life. In the little town where I grew up, had I spoken to somebody, he’d stop and talk to me half of the day. Just like that.
Finally, I succeeded. One of the men that I asked, “What is that?” he stopped and he said, “Young fellow, that is the United States Post Office, and it’s the largest one in the world.” And he said, “That refers to the postman.”
Well, I thought, “Isn’t that great? ‘Neither snow nor heat nor rain nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed round.’ That’s the postman.” And you know, for the years since, scores of years since then, I think of that when I see that postman coming up there to our house in the rain; and I see him come up there in the snow; and I see him come up there when it’s hot; and I see him come up there when it’s cold delivering the message, delivering the message.
And I think, “O, Lord, wouldn’t it be wonderful if that tremendous inscription could be written about us? Doesn’t matter the weather, doesn’t matter the season, doesn’t matter the time, we’re delivering God’s message.” Ah, the power of personal testimony: speaking a word, a good word, for Jesus.
I must close, but I must not without sharing this. God never allows, He never allows a personal word to fall to the ground. He always blesses it—always.
You see, it’s like this. A dear mother in one of my little churches, a dear wife, said, “Oh, will you not win my husband to Jesus?” And she was so sincere and so earnest in it. And I said, “Well, you just pray, and I’ll come to your house”—and we set the time—“and I’ll do my best to win your husband to Jesus.”
So at that time set, I went to the house. And after we had eaten supper together, why, I sat down with her husband; and until past midnight, I talked to him about the Lord—read to him out of God’s Book, tried to win him to Jesus, and failed completely. When the midnight hour had passed, he still was saying “No, no, no.” Finally, I had a prayer of despair, and frustration, and disappointment, and was showed to my room and went to bed so defeated, so discouraged.
Well, did you know the next Sunday morning, down the aisle came a twelve-year-old boy? He was the son, the twelve-year-old son, in that home; and I asked him, “Son, you say that you have given your heart to Jesus, and you want to join the church and be baptized.” I said, “Son, when did you give your heart to Jesus?”
Now listen to what he said. That boy said to me, he said, “You came to our house last Thursday night, and in order for you to talk to my father, my mother sent me to my room and to my bed.” And he said, “She thought that I’d go to my room, and go to bed, and go to sleep;” but the boy said, “I left the door open, and I listened to you talk to my father and plead with my father to accept Jesus as his Savior.” And the boy said to me, “My father turned you down,” but he said, “There in my bed, when you made that appeal, he turned you down, but I accepted Him as my Savior. I gave my heart to Jesus when you made that invitation to my father.”
I never dreamed of such a thing. I never thought of such a thing. You see, God blesses His Word [Isaiah 55:11]. He prospers His Word; and maybe sometime it is not as we had thought for, wished for, prayed for, but it’ll be in some other wonderful way God will honor and bless that word of appeal.
You know, that boy has been a deacon in his church. I stumbled into it just the other day. He’s been a deacon in that church now for over forty years. Isn’t that just wonderful? Isn’t that just blessed, and doesn’t that encourage us? We’re not to be discouraged ever nor are we to live as though it were frustration for us to witness for Jesus. God remembers. He waters; He blesses; and He brings in His own time and in His own way a precious harvest [1 Corinthians 3:4-9]. The power of personal testimony.
We must sing our hymn of appeal, and may God bless the work we’ve sought to do for Him this week. May God bless it with souls.
A family you to come, a couple, or just one, in the throng in the balcony, in the press of people on this lower floor, down a stairway or down one of these aisles: “I’ve made that decision already in my heart, dear pastor, and I’m coming. I’m on the way, and here I am” [Romans 10:8-13]. Do it now. Make it now while we stand and while we sing.
THE POWER OF PERSONAL TESTIMONY
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Acts 3, 2 Corinthians 4:13
4-3-77I. What God does with one who magnifies His saving name
A. Healing of the lame man (Acts 3:1-8)
1. Walking, leaping and praising God (Acts 3:9)
2. Fifteen thousand believed (Acts 2:41, 4:2)
B. Healing of the Gadarene demoniac (Mark 5)
1. Jesus told him to go back home and testify
2. Result of his testimony – four thousand believed (Mark 8)II. Christian faith began in a personal witness
A. Declaration of John the Baptist (John 1:29)
1. Disciples who heard him witness began to follow Jesus (John 1:35-38)
2. One by one disciples brought one another to Jesus (John 1:40-45)
B. Ministry of our Lord continued in the same way
1. Sermon on new birth delivered to congregation of one
2. Message on being born again delivered to congregation of one
3. Message on spiritual worship delivered to congregation of one (John 4:23)
C. Entire Bible is like that (Acts 8:26-37)III. The testimony of Paul
A. What kind of a preacher was he? (2 Corinthians 10:10)
B. How did he work? (Acts 20:20-21, 31)IV. One by one
A. Faith of the one lost sheep, lost coin, lost boy (John 10:3, Luke 12:6-8)