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A WILLING WITNESS

“Who He Really Is” — No. 1

John 1:19-31
1st February 2004

Beverley and I recently drove through the Cumberland Gap from Tennessee to Kentucky, following the pioneer Daniel Boone to Middlesboro. It has been revitalised because of two men. Middlesboro entrepreneur Roy Shoffner ran a successful Wendy's and McDonald's franchise, and had established the Middlesboro Bank. But the mountain community needed something that would attract hundreds of thousands of tourists a year.

He found it in following his passion began as a war-time pilot. In 1942 the US Army Air Force ferried much need fighter planes (P-38s) and heavy bombers (B-17s) to England from the U.S. via a route from Canada to Greenland, to Iceland, and on to England. The route was considered at the time to be daring and risky. One squadron, caught in a fierce ice storm crash landed in Greenland. The crews were rescued but the planes gradually were totally covered in snow and ice. After the war, all P38's were broken up for scrap. Fifty years later old pilots wanted at least one such plane restored, but the only known ones were under the ice of Greenland.

From 1977 until 1992 twelve different teams made attempts to find and recover one of the lost aircraft. In 1992 the Greenland Expedition Society, under the sponsorship of Roy Shoffner, set out for Greenland. The expedition involved 40 people and cost over $350,000. They found an aircraft through metal detecting equipment, but it was buried 268 feet beneath the ice. The other man was Bob Cardin, the enthusiastic project coordinator for the expedition. Their plan was to melt a shaft through 268 feet of ice to reach a plane and then bring it up piece by piece to the surface and restore it.

They used a meltdown generator, shaped like a child's spinning top, which melted the ice by pumping hot water through copper tubing coiled around the outside. The four-foot-wide device melted ice at a rate of two feet per hour. The water created was then pumped out. It took a month to melt a 268-foot-deep shaft. Men equipped with steam hoses were lowered to carve out a cave sur-rounding the aircraft. Water created from their carving was constantly pumped out. Once the cavern was completed, technicians began to take the P-38 apart. Propellers, the wings, the tail were removed, the fuselage disassembled; every part of the plane was scrutinized, logged and recorded and then hoisted to the surface.

All of the aircraft parts were then taken to Middlesboro and the restoration of the plane, called The Glacier Girl began in January 1993. Each piece was marked, cleaned, checked to determine if they should be used again, repaired for use, or replaced entirely. The day came when every part was reassembled. The original 1942 air was still in the tyres. The engines were tested and 20,000 people gathered at the airfield in October 2002, to see if the plane could still fly. I have seen the film of that first test flight. The excitement was as fever pitch as the test pilot taxied up the run way, turned and thundered down the run way. No one was more on edge than Bob Cardin. As he eagerly talked to us we caught his enthusiasm. The nose wheel lifted, the test pilot pulled the stick back, and fifty years after it had last flown, Glacier Girl rose in the air and for the next two hours buzzed the crowds, wheeling in the air. The world's only P-38 was flying again. Roy Shoffner takes the plane to air shows around the country. Tens of thousands of visitors come from all round the world to Middlesboro see this unique plane.

New motels and hotels, restaurants and fast food outlets were built and Middleboro has undergone economic revival. Bob Cardin greets everyone personally, enthus-iastically telling them the story of rescue, recovery and restoration. He is a most willing witness and his enthusiasm for the task is infectious.

1. THE WILLING WITNESS.

He is an example of what the New Testament calls a "witness." The Greek word, martureo means being a willing witness like Bob Cardin; someone who was there, testifying to what he has seen and heard, telling the story of rescue, restoration, renewal and rejoicing. There is no way anyone could stop Bob telling the story or deny it happened. Nowhere is this sense of witness more developed than in John's writings. Jesus is spoken of as the supreme witness to God and His love. John the Baptist bore testimony to the truth of Jesus' witness. In John 5, Jesus argued pointedly that John the Baptist, the Father, and the Scripture all bear witness to Him. In John 8, Jesus reminded His hearers that according to the law the testimony of two people is true. Thus His hearers needed to respond to the truth of His witness. For John, Jesus' message as witness was inseparable from His very personhood. Jesus is true and faithful, and so is His message. A response is demanded. The early believers were challenged by Christ Himself to be His witnesses throughout the world Acts 1:8 informed and empowered by the Holy Spirit. John 15:26-27 Throughout the New Testament, believers are instructed that their witness is to be true and faithful, reflected both in speech and life-style. Acts 4:33; 14:3; Heb. 10:15-17; 1 Thess. 2:10 Believers were to be willing witnesses. This high commitment to witness exemplified by Christ resulted in His persecution and death.

Likewise His followers would be persecuted for their witness. Jesus predicted John 15:20 "If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me." Early in the Book of Acts ch 7, Stephen became the first martyr. That very word comes from martureo and really states that Stephen was first and foremost a witness, giving testimony even at the cost of his life. The death of Stephen serves as a stark reminder that true and faithful testimony to Christ requires total commitment.

2. THE WITNESS OF JOHN THE BAPTIST.

John the Baptist had denounced King Herod for his murders and his subsequent illicit marriage to his brother's wife, Herodias. She conspired with her daughter Salome, to get her stepfather drunk and agreeable to anything she wanted. The precocious girl danced her dance, and the immoral old murderer fell victim to his own word of honour, and gave the girl what she asked for: the head of John the Baptist on a plate. So ended one of the Bible's most noble lives.

John had said: "I am not the Messiah." They asked if he was Elijah the Prophet come back to life, but John said: "No, I am not." "Then tell us who you are. What do you say about yourself?" John replied: "I am the voice of someone shouting in the desert: Make a straight path for the Lord to travel."..."I baptise with water, but among you stands the one you do not know. He is coming after me, but I am not good enough to untie his sandals ."" It was there the next day that John saw Jesus of Nazareth walking down the banks of the River to be baptised also: John 1:29-34

John recognised Jesus as the long expected Messiah: "There is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one I was talking about when I said, 'A man is coming after me, but He is greater than I am because he existed before I was born'. I did not know who would be, but I came baptising with water in order to make Him known to the people of Israel. I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from heaven and stay on him. I still did not know that He was the one, but God, who sent me to baptise with water, had said to me, 'You will see the Spirit come down and stay on a man; He is the one who baptises with the Holy Spirit.' I have seen it, and I tell you that He is the Son of God." John the Baptist was a great witness to Jesus Christ.

Frequently John speaks of himself but in the context of witnessing to Jesus. Note his words in this Gospel: "I am not the Messiah...no I am not...I am the voice of someone shouting in the desert...I baptise with water...I am not good enough to even untie his sandals...I was talking about Him...He is greater than I am...He existed before I was born...I did not know who He would be...I came baptising with water to make Him known...I saw the spirit come down like a dove...I still did not know that He was the One...but I have seen it and I tell you that Jesus is the Son of God." John was able to talk about himself and his understanding but in doing so he was a truly humble witness, always pointing, not to himself but to Jesus. "He must become more important while I must become less important." What an example to us all. John the gospel writer is interested in our role as humble witnesses to Jesus, and he uses that word 47 times in his Gospel, far more than any other writer. To be a witness to Jesus is a significant part of our calling as a Christian.

3. FAITHFUL WITNESSES TODAY.

Last July 6th about 300 officers of China's Public Security Bureau (PSB) disrupted Christians at worship in the village of Hengpeng and demolished their church building. A week later, police raided a house church in Xiaoshan city while Christians were meeting at 4am for Sunday prayer and worship. Both were churches of the "Little Flock" network, founded by Watchman Nee. Nee died for his faith in a Chinese labour camp in 1973. Authorities arrested the leaders of the churches. At the beginning of 2003, Christian leaders in China said they had learned from "inside sources" that the government was planning to systematically crush the house church movement. The SARS epidemic evidently stalled those plans, and now the campaign has begun. The Communist regime forbids worship outside state-backed "patriotic" religious bodies. Evangelism outside church buildings also is forbidden, though both officially recognized and unregistered churches are growing rapidly. The Communist government finds this growth politically threatening. During a two-month period beginning in mid-August, authorities closed or bulldozed more than 100 churches and church leaders are continually arrested, beaten severely and imprisoned. They are witnesses for Christ, brave, even to death.

4. THE MESSAGE OF THE WITNESS.

In Middlesboro, Bob Cardin greets everyone personally, enthusiastically telling them the story of rescue, recovery and restoration of the Glacier Girl, as the P-38 is now called. He is a most willing witness and his enthusiasm for the task is infectious. The essential parts of his message are similar to that of Christians making their witness to Jesus Christ.

RESCUE. The whole point of the coming of Jesus was as an expression of God's love for a lost humanity. Jesus came like a good shepherd seeking and saving the lost sheep. Outside of God, each of us is lost. The lost need to be rescued. Our task, as the old hymn puts it, is to "rescue the perishing, care for the dying."

RECOVERY. Once found, we must be brought back from the icy grip of death. As the plane was entombed without any future, so we are dead in trespasses and sins until we hear a voice calling us to come out of the tomb, and we are raised to walk in new life. We are rescued, our lives as recovered, in fact Jesus described it as being brought back from the dead, and being born again. After rescue, there is a resurrection from the dead.

RESTORATION. That recovery leads to our restoration. We are remade, renewed, restored. As the hymn puts it: we are "ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven." Paul wrote: 2 Corinthians 5:17-19 "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And He has committed to us the message of reconciliation." We have no alternative but to witness to this restoration of our true nature. We have been rescued, recovered, restored.

REJOICING. No wonder the witness is full of rejoicing. The outcome of all witness is praise to God for what He has done in our lives, and what he is doing in the lives of others. The witness is always rejoicing.

When such a witness to the life changing power of Jesus Christ is made, you must want to receive it and believe it.

REFERENCES.

  • Freedman, David Noel, ed., The Anchor Bible Dictionary, Doubleday, 1992.
  • Crushing House Churches. Jeff M. Sellers. Christianity Today. 13/1/2004
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