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A theology of witnessing


“When the Holy Spirit comes upon you, you will be filled with power and you will be witnesses for me in Jerusalem, in all of Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” – Acts 1:8

Witnessing for Christ

To be regarded as number eleven most corrupt nation in the world, with at least two presidents ranked among the world’s ten most corrupt leaders, cannot be adequately reconciled with our distinction as the only Christian nation in Southeast Asia. Where have we failed? We may ask.  I would say we have failed enormously as genuine witnesses for Christ Jesus our Lord in words and in deeds.

As Christian believers, we are called upon to be witnesses for Christ.  This is what we are meant to be.  When Jesus Christ our Lord promised to his disciples the coming of the Holy Spirit, it carried with it the responsibility to be Christ’s witnesses “in Jerusalem, in all of Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (cf. Acts 1:8).  The Holy Spirit that would come upon will empower them to do this divine task.

But what does it mean to be witnesses?  The number one characteristic of a witness is to be able to speak the truth at first hand.  For instance, if we are witnesses in a court of law, we are allowed to say only that which we ourselves have personally seen and heard.  Similarly, if we are witnesses for Christ, then we should know Christ at first hand.   If we are to spread the Gospel, then we have to really know ourselves what the Gospel is all about.

In order for us to have first-hand knowledge of the Gospel, there are at least two things that we should do.

First, we should appropriate Christ for ourselves.   We should always ask ourselves, “What does Christ mean for me and what must I do about him?”  We should believe in Christ, not only because someone else told us to believe in him, but rather because we ourselves have thought about him.

Onetime, Jesus Christ our Lord asked his disciples a very important question.   He wanted to know what people knew about him.  And so, he asked his disciples, “What do people say about me?”  And they told him that some were saying that he was John the Baptist, while others were also saying that he was Elijah or a prophet who had come to life.   But then Jesus asked his disciples, “How about you? Who do you say I am?”  (Mt.16:13-15).

It is not enough to tell what others think about Jesus.   We have to think it out ourselves if we are to be genuine witnesses for Christ.

But more important than the need to think about Jesus is the need to really know and meet Jesus ourselves.   Perhaps, one of our greatest mistakes is when we think of Jesus as a mere figure in a book, or as someone who lived and died and gone, and whose story we love to tell.  But Jesus is alive, and we can meet him in the same manner that we can meet a friend.  And it is only when we really know Jesus in this sense that we can be absolutely and completely sure of him.

But then we may ask, why do we not meet him more often than we do?    Most likely the reason is that we do not give ourselves a chance to meet him, or better still, we do not give him a chance to meet us.

Prophet Amos asks a very significant rhetorical question, “Do two people start traveling together without arranging to meet?”(Amos 3:3). He is simply saying that people do not meet to travel together unless they have made an arrangement to meet.    There should also be a time we set aside each day to think and to speak to Jesus and to wait for his presence in prayer.   It doesn’t need to belong.  It can be at any time of the day and anywhere. When we do that, we will really meet Christ.  And then we can be genuine witnesses for him because we can say beyond all shadow of a doubt that we really know him personally.

Witnessing to Loved Ones

Now, we may ask, where can we be witnesses for Christ?   Jesus Christ our Lord commanded his disciples to be witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all of Judea, and in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).   This means that they would take Jerusalem as a center, and then draw a series of ever-widening concentric circles until the widest circle of all take in the whole wide world.

They have to start in Jerusalem. This means they have to start at home.   They say that charity begins at home.  Certainly, our Christian witness should begin at home.

We have to start with our loved ones, relatives, and friends.

Onetime, Jesus cured a person who was violently mad.   When the person was cured, naturally his heart overflowed with gratitude to Jesus.   And he asked Jesus to let him come with him and to follow Jesus all the time.   But Jesus answered, “Go back home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you and how kind he has been to you?” (Mk.5:19).

There is no better place for us to practice being a Christian than at home.   Sometimes we misuse our homes altogether. We sometimes think of our homes as a place where we can be ourselves.   And this means that we have the right to be as bad-tempered and irritable and selfish as we like in our homes.   And that we can treat our loved ones with discourtesy and lack of consideration that we would never dream of showing to strangers or to people we do not know very well.

We can and must and ought to begin to demonstrate Christianity in our own homes.   In our homes, we can find all the chances to be as unselfish, to be as forgiving, as thoughtful and as considerate as a Christian ought to be.

Witnessing to Countrymen

Moreover, Jesus Christ our Lord told his disciples to go on to Judea, that is to say they had to be witnesses for Christ in their own country.

Sometimes we always have the tendency to praise other countries, except our own.  We always have a tendency to point out how much better other countries are compared to our own.  It is our first duty, however, to make our country a truly Christian country.

But how can we do that? Well, we can do it by taking our Christianity with us into every aspect of life.  Perhaps, one of the gravest mistakes we can make is to divide life into sacred and secular, and think that we serve God only in church, and that we can forget and leave God behind us when we go out into the world.   Every moment of life is lived in God’s presence, and therefore every moment of life should be an act of worship.

There is a Latin proverb which says, Laborare est orare, to work is to pray.  There is also a hymn that we usually sing entitled, “Worship and Work Must Be One.”  When we go out to work, we can go a long way in making our country a truly Christian country if we insist on taking our Christian principles with us into every aspect of life, keeping in mind always that every moment of our life is seen by our living God and that every work we do is a form of worship unto Him: Worship and Work must be One.

Witnessing to Enemies

Furthermore, Jesus Christ our Lord also commanded his disciples to go on to Samaria.   This is really surprising because the Jews were bitter enemies of the Samaritans and the Samaritans in turn really hated the Jews. The “Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans” (Jn.4:9).  But the Gospel of Christ must be brought even to people who are regarded as enemies.

Of course, the truth is that a real Christian should not regard any person as an enemy.  Perhaps, one of the greatest “ifs” of history is the question of what might have happened if the Western people had sent abroad missionaries of the Gospel instead of armies of war. To make it more contemporary, what might have happened if the Americans have sent missionaries who really care for people in Mindanao or in Iraq, rather than abusive armies?

In his book, Then and Now, Dr. John Foster tells us of what is known as “the greatest might-have-been in the history of the church”.  In the year 1271, Kublai Khan was the ruler of the greatest empire that has ever been known.   It stretched out from the Ural Mountains to the Himalayas and from the China Sea to the River Danube.  In that year, he sent a letter to Pope Gregory X in which he said, “You shall go to your High Priest and shall pray him on our behalf to send me a hundred men skilled in your religion…and so I shall be baptized and when I shall be baptized all my baron and great men will also be baptized, and then their subjects will also receive baptism, and so there will be more Christians here than there are in your own part of the world.”

This letter was sent through Nicolo and Maffeo Polo, who were to be Kublai Khan’s ambassadors to the Pope.   The result was that Pope Gregory did nothing about it.  It was only after 18 years that missionaries were sent and they were very few and by that time the whole situation had already changed.

There is only one real way to destroy our enemies and that is to make them our friends.   And we can only do that when we persuade them to accept also the same Gospel of Christ which alone can make us one.

Witnessing to all People

Finally, Jesus Christ our Lord also commanded his disciples to go out to the ends of the earth.  He commanded them to be witnesses throughout the whole world.  “Ends of the earth” is an idiomatic expression referring to the city of Rome as the ends of the earth westward.  It was the center of power in the whole Roman Empire. Apostle Paul had dreamed of that day when at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Phil. 2:10, 11).

It is God’s purpose that everyone should know and love Christ as well as know and love those whom Christ loved.  And so, there is laid upon us the duty of going out to the ends of the earth to tell the story of Jesus and his love.

Onetime, I had the chance to visit a church at the heart of the City of Stockholm in Sweden.  Inside that beautiful church was a huge crucifix without hands and feet.   And so, I asked the pastor why in the world the image of Jesus on the cross hanging in front of the altar had no hands and feet.   And he said that it was intended to be that way so that the worshippers should always be reminded that they are to serve as the hands and feet of Jesus Christ our Lord.

In the third stanza of the hymn I wrote some time ago entitled, “Life of the World”, I said:

“We are your hands by which you lift men’s load
We are your feet on paths where sufferings goad
We are your voice of witness to the world
We are your church, your gift of love unfurled.”

 Indeed, we should never be contented until the last person in the world knows the story of Jesus Christ our Lord and his love.  And so, by the life we live, we must do all we can to participate in God’s work “to make each person a new being in Christ and the whole world as God’s Kingdom” – a kingdom of caring, joy, and love.  To be genuine witnesses for Christ is never easy, but this is the way we can make our nation a truly Christian nation in Southeast Asia.  And may God’s empowering presence be upon always.  Amen. # nordis.net

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