“Go, tell it on the mountain,
over the hills and everywhere
Go, tell it on the mountain,
That Jesus Christ is born.”
During a recent Advent sermon, my pastor placed the well-known Scripture John 1:1-9 in the context of a courtroom drama. In the passage, John is called a “witness” who “testifies for Jesus. The point of the sermon was that in the case against Jesus, we all start as members of the jury. We each have to make our decision as to the truth of his claims. When we decide for the defendant, we are called to speak as witnesses to that truth. We must move from the jury box to the witness stand – and we must testify for Jesus.
This metaphor struck a chord in me because it was a famously discredited lawyer who moved me from the jury box to the witness stand: Charles Colson. Colson served as Special Counsel to President Richard Nixon from 1969 to 1973. Once known as President Nixon’s “hatchet man,” Colson was named as one of the Watergate Seven. He pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice for attempting to defame Pentagon Papers defendant Daniel Ellsberg and served seven months in the federal Maxwell Prison in Alabama.
Colson became a Christian in 1973. His mid-life conversion to Christianity sparked a radical life change that led to the founding of his non-profit ministry Prison Fellowship and to a focus on Christian worldview teaching and training. I was introduced to Chuck Colson in his first book, Born Again. A troubled thirty-something skeptic, I teetered on the line of unbelief with a lot of what I read in Scripture, especially the resurrection. And then I read this and moved out of the jury box to the witness stand.
“I know the resurrection is a fact, and Watergate proved it to me. How? Because 12 men testified they had seen Jesus raised from the dead, then they proclaimed that truth for 40 years, never once denying it. Every one was beaten, tortured, stoned and put in prison. They would not have endured that if it weren’t true. Watergate embroiled 12 of the most powerful men in the world-and they couldn’t keep a lie for three weeks. You’re telling me 12 apostles could keep a lie for 40 years? Absolutely impossible” (Charles Colson in Born Again).
The Christmas holiday is over. Now what? What do those of us do who are convinced of the truth of the story of Jesus breaking into our world? We get on the witness stand. We go tell it on the mountain. We live so that others will see the reality of Jesus in us. We tell our truth the same way the disciples told theirs – and Charles Colson told his. The stories of our lives become testimony for another’s life. We can help others move from the jury box to the witness stand.
The author of Go Tell it On the Mountain was John Wesley Work, Jr. Work is said to have been the first black collector of Negro folk songs. He attended Fisk University in Nashville where he studied Latin and history. Singing in the Mozart society while at school sparked his interest in Negro spirituals. In 1898, he received a Master’s degree from Fisk and became an instructor of Latin and Greek. While teaching, Work became a leader in the movement to preserve, study, and perform Negro spirituals. With the help of his brother, Frederick Jerome Work, John Wesley Work, Jr., collected, harmonized, and published a number of collections of slave songs and spirituals. The first of these collections was New Jubilee Songs as Sung by the Fisk Jubilee Singers, in 1901.