The Power of Personal Testimony
November 25th, 1990 @ 8:15 AM
THE POWER OF PERSONAL TESTIMONY
Dr. W. A. Criswell
11-25-90 8:15 a.m.
And welcome the throngs of you who share this hour on our great radio station, KCBI. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Power of Personal Testimony. It is an exposition of the first half of the fifth chapter of Mark. In our preaching through the Gospel of Mark, we have come to chapter 5. This recounts the story of the marvelous conversion of the demoniac on the eastern side of the lake, in Gadara, in Gerasa, in Decapolis. And I read the last part, beginning at verse 15 after he was so marvelously converted and saved:
They in the country came to Jesus, and see him that was possessed with the demon, and had a legion of them, sitting, clothed, in his right mind: and they were afraid.
They that saw it told them how it befell to him that was possessed with the demons, and also concerning the swine.
And they began to pray Jesus to depart out of their coasts.
And when He was come into the ship, he that had been possessed with the demon prayed Him that he might go with Him.
Howbeit Jesus suffered him not, but saith to him, You go home to thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee, and hath had compassion on thee.
And he departed, and began to publish in all Decapolis how great things Jesus had done for him: and all men did marvel.
I have three areas in which to expound this marvelous, miraculous story in the fifth chapter of Mark: first, the power of personal testimony, its method; second, its place; and third, its wonderful reward.
First, its method, the power of personal testimony, chosen as the instrument of God by which His kingdom is extended in the earth. It is remarkable—it is almost unbelievable—what can be the fruit of a personal word. The fifth chapter of  Kings, the wonderful story of Naaman the leper; how gloriously he was washed and healed [2 Kings 5:1-14] all of it came about by the testimony of a little maid. She had been captured and taken out of the land of Israel; waited on Naaman’s wife [2 Kings 5:2]. And her little word of testimony, “Would God that my lord were in Israel, a prophet there who could heal him of his leprosy” [2 Kings 5 3]. Think of that; out of that one precious testimony, so brief, came that marvelous and wonderful story [2 Kings 5:4-14].
Or take again, the ninth chapter of the Book of John the blind man who was healed [John 9:1-7]. And they who led the court in Israel refused to give credit or glory to the Lord Jesus, referring to Him as a sinner [John 9:13-24]. And he replied, “Whether He be a sinner or no, I know not, but one thing I know, whereas I was blind, now I see” [John 9:25]. What do you do with a testimony like that? It is all-conclusive; it is powerful! What God has done for me!
And this is the chosen method of our Lord for the propagation of the faith and for the bringing in of the kingdom of God by our word of testimony, of faith. This is been the unchanging method of our Lord through all the years. In the first chapter of Acts, the eighth verse our Lord said, “We shall be martures, witnesses” [Acts 1:8]. That’s a legal term, martures. It referred to someone who stands in court, in a judicial setting, and testifies what he’s seen, and what he’s heard, and what he’s experienced. Our word “martyr” is that exact Greek word. The reason why it came to mean for us “martyr” was because those who testified of the grace of God laid down their lives, like Stephen [Acts 7:54-60], or like Antipas in Pergamos, in the [second] chapter of the Revelation [Revelation 2:13]. This is God’s method of extending His kingdom, our word of personal experience with the Lord Jesus.
I want to show you how the very beginning of the Christian faith is defined in that admonition of our Lord that we testify, that we speak words of our gratitude and love for Him. John wrote his Gospel in old age. “How do you know that, pastor?” Because in the Synoptic Gospels, for example, the story of that disciple who took out his sword to cut off the head of the high priest’s servant, they’re not named [Matthew 26:51-52; Luke 22:49-50; Mark 14:47]. But in John’s Gospel they are named; it was Simon Peter who drew that sword, and it was Malchus the servant whom he was trying to kill [John 18:10]. See, Malchus and Peter had been dead for a generation so when John writes his Gospel he calls their names. Well, when John in his old age prays through, thinks through the beginnings of the Christian faith, this is how he will describe it. In his first chapter John the Baptist is testifying of the Lamb of God, and two disciples hear him. One’s named John, he who is writing, and the other is Andrew [John 1:35-40]. And they follow Jesus because of the testimony of John the Baptist [John 1:36]. Then Andrew finds his brother, Simon, and he brings him to the Lord Jesus [John 1:40-42]. Then the Lord Jesus finds Philip, and wins him to the faith [John 1:43]. And Philip finds Nathanael, and wins him to the faith [John 1:45-49]. Then in the second chapter, our Lord is testifying to the leaders of Jerusalem [John 2:18-21]. Then in the third chapter He is speaking personally, testifying to Nicodemus [John 3:1-21]. And in the fourth chapter He is talking personally to a despised, outcast, sinful Samaritan woman [John 4:7-26]. And through the whole Gospel, John depicts the great beginnings of our faith in the context of my heart to your heart, and my witness to your soul.
The beginning of the Gentile conversion began in our Lord’s personal testimony and appearance to Saul of Tarsus [Acts 9:1-18]. And the Great Commission; we are to be those witnesses to all the families of the earth [Matthew 28:18-20]. This is God’s method of the propagation of the gospel. Even when Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 1:21, “It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believed,” he’s referring to the testimony of a man of God; to a preacher, to an evangelist, to a pastor. This is God’s method, chosen in heaven, to make known the saving grace of our Lord [Romans 10:14; Ephesians 2:8].
I speak now of the place. The Lord not only said to this demoniac, “Go tell,” the method, but He also said, “Go home to thy friends” [Mark 5:19]. Where are we to witness? At home, where we are. Oh dear! How many times do we respond to that calling of our Lord, “Great God how difficult it is, how hard people are, how gospel-hardened they are. To them the message is trite; it’s used, it’s worn. If we could just present the message across the seas how much better and easier it would be than to try to win these people here at home who are hardened to the message of Christ.” But it is needed so desperately here, where we live. “Go home, and tell” [Mark 5:19].
The frontiers of our lives are no longer geographical; they are spiritual. There is heathenism in Africa; there is heathenism here where we live. There is paganism in India; there is paganism here where we are. There is atheism in Russia; there is atheism here where we are. There is indescribable prevalence of indifference in all Europe; we are becoming like that here where we are, our people indifferent to the gospel message of Christ. And this is our calling “You go home, and tell what Jesus has done for you” [Mark 5:19-20]. The place for our testimony is at home, where we are.
I so well remember in my first pastorate out of the seminary; in the county seat town, where I was the undershepherd, was a drunkard, the scum of humanity. And he was known all in the town and the county as the no-account, a filthy, dirty no-account. Drunk; walked in front of an automobile and was killed. And I was asked to conduct the funeral service. They came from the ends of the earth just to see what that young preacher would say. “This dirty bum, this filthy drunkard—and what’s he going to say at the memorial hour?” This is what I said; I confess that the man was a drunkard, that he died inebriated, that he had no value in his life at all. Then I preached “But who among you tried to win him to Jesus? Who among you sought to guide him into a better way? Who among you sought to bring him into another life? Who? Did you? Did you? Did you?”
This is our assignment at home we are to witness; we are to testify. I so well remember on the library of the town in Muskogee was a bronze plaque, cast in bronze, a poem by the Creek Indian Alex Posey. This was it:
Why do trees along the river
Lean so far out o’er the tide?
Very wise men tell me why, but
I am never satisfied;
And so I keep my fancy still,
That trees lean out to save
The drowning, from the clutches of
The cold, remorseless wave.
[“My Fancy,” Alexander L. Posey]
That’s we. We’re not in the damning business we’re in the saving business. The liquor industry is in the damning business. The drug industry is in the damning business. The pornographic peddler is in the damning business. The venereal disease and the AIDS carrier is in the damning business. That liberal theologian destroying the faith of a young theologue is in the damning business. But we are in the saving business!
Do you remember when Jesus was refused entrance into a Samaritan village, James and John said, “Master, bid us that we call fire down from heaven and consume them.” And the Lord said, “You know not what spirit you are of. For the Son of Man came not to destroy men’s lives, but to save them” [Luke 9:52-56]. We are in the saving business.
I have heard the joyful sound
Jesus saves! Jesus saves!
Spread the tidings all around
Jesus saves! Jesus saves!
Give the wind a mighty voice…
Let the nations now rejoice…
Highest hills and deepest caves…
Jesus saves! Jesus saves!
[“Jesus Saves,” Priscilla J. Owens]
That is our testimony.
Lord, lay some soul upon my heart,
And love that soul through me;
And may I ever do my part
To win that soul to Thee.
[“Lord, Lay Some Soul Upon My Heart,” Anonymous]
This is our assignment.
In the few moments that remain, may I speak of the reward? Do you notice this story? It is almost unbelievable, unimaginable, and unthinkable. Here is a man, here is a man who makes the night hideous with his screams, tormented by a legion of demons. Here is a man who makes the roads impassable, violent, and here is a man who cannot be bound [Mark 5:1-5]. And yet, he is seated at the feet of our Lord, clothed—had been naked—clothed, in his right mind—had been demented—and humble, a disciple now of the Lord Jesus [Mark 5:15]. Tell me, wouldn’t you have thought those people in Decapolis would have come to the Lord and praised God? “Look! This man so violent and hideous is now a humble, sweet follower of Jesus.” Wouldn’t you have thought they would have been ecstatic, full of thanksgiving, “Let’s sing the doxology, what Jesus has done!” Just the opposite they asked Jesus to leave, to get out, to depart [Mark 5:17]; because they’d lost in the process some pigs, some hogs, some swine [Mark 5:11-13].
Well, it was to them, it was to them that Jesus sent this man to testify. “You go to your people, these people; you go to them and tell them what Jesus has done for you” [Mark 5:19]. And bless your heart, I can hardly believe my Bible; he went throughout Decapolis, the country of the Gadarenes and the Gerasenes, he went throughout the whole province of Decapolis, and told them what Jesus had done for him, his personal testimony [Mark 5:20]. And that’s where I took the name of the sermon, The Power of Personal Testimony. I turn the page, and when I come to the next chapter, Jesus is in that same place, that identical place, and He is pressed by thousands on every side, listening to Him deliver the Word of God; and He feeds them. And that is the story of the feeding of the five thousand men, beside women and children [Mark 6:30-44]. I’m not through. I turn the page again, and Jesus is there in that same place. These are the people who asked Him to leave [Mark 5:17], and they are now pressing Him on every side, listening to the Word of God. And because they tarried, He fed this time four thousand men [Mark 8:1-9]. When that demoniac got through testifying [Mark 5:19-20], the whole province turned to Jesus [Mark 8:1-2]—the power of personal testimony.
My great predecessor, Dr. Truett, was in India, preaching the gospel in India. And the Brahmans there, that highest caste, the Brahmans bitterly resented his trek, his presence, his preaching mission. And they called themselves together, these high Brahmans, hostile, antagonistic, antithetical, they gathered together and had Dr. Truett speak to them. And Dr. Truett testified what Jesus has done for him, and what Jesus means to me. The power of personal testimony he stood there before those hostile and bitter Brahmans testifying the grace of Jesus, the love of God in our Savior. And when he got through and sat down, there was a long, long pause. Then one of those Brahmans stood up and said, “Dr. Truett, we have nothing against the Christ you have preached today; only love, and honor, respect, and reverence.” The power of personal testimony; this is what Jesus has done for me, and this is what Jesus means to me.
May I close? I must. May I close with a little leaf out of my own life? My first brush arbor revival—most of our youngsters today have no idea what a brush arbor revival is—well, down there in Central Texas in the days when I was a teenager, like you kids, build a whole bunch of posts and put a mesh of wire above it, and then on top of that put tree branches, brush, that was an arbor, a brush arbor. And there we held a revival meeting. Well, I was a teenager, I was your age; and I was in a place where the teens were absolutely alien to the mind and message of God, all of them, the whole countryside. What I did was this when I’d get through preaching under that brush arbor, and had given the invitation, and had dismissed the people, I asked all the teens, all of the teens to stay with me at a little distance. And when I had gathered all of those teens at a little distance, I talked to them about the Lord, and what Jesus meant to me, “And if you’ll give your heart to the blessed Savior [Romans 10:9-10, 13], you come and stand by me.” And some of them responded.
Then the next night when I preached under that brush arbor, pressed the invitation, then dismissed the people, I asked all of the teens to come and to be with me. Then when they were with me, I said, “All of you who have given your hearts to Jesus and you’re going to join the church, I want you to leave”; and those that remained were those that were lost. And I testified to them, and again some of them came forward. I did that every night. Every night I dismissed the people, and took those teens, and talked to them about Jesus and what He meant to me. And those that were saved, or were to join the church, were to leave; and those that were unsaved remained.
Sweet people, I won every teenager in that country to the Lord before that meeting was over! Every one of them, every one of them, every teen in that part of Texas I won to the Lord, every one of them. When the last service was held and the benediction pronounced, every one of those teens was in the kingdom of God. There’s power in personal testimony.
My brother, my friend, my sister, loving you in the name of the Lord, come. Come, and let’s go to heaven together. It’s wonderful to be a Christian. It’s glorious to give your heart and life to our blessed Savior [Romans 10:9-10, 13].
Fred, let’s sing us a song. And while we sing the appeal, a somebody you, this day, this precious hour, to give your heart to the Lord; a family you, to come into the fellowship of the church; or anybody you, answering the call of Jesus in your heart; on the first note of the first stanza, come, and welcome, while we stand and while we sing.