Witness, Mercy, Life Together (Part I)
Pastor’s Window for May 2011
Witness, Mercy, Life Together (Part I)
Beloved in the Lord,
With our Synod’s new three-fold emphasis on “Witness, Mercy, Life Together,” and with our new banner of the same theme (a gift for the congregation purchased with Zeb Hempen’s memorial money), perhaps it will be helpful to consider each of these emphases individually. This month we consider Witness.
Witness is a translation of the Greek word martyria (μαρτυρία), from which we get the English word “martyr.” The word means “testimony,” a historical and legal term. One who witnesses testifies to what they have seen or experienced. When we speak of Christian witness, we mean the testimony that a Christian gives about Jesus and what He has done for us and for our salvation. We are speaking of our Christian confession of Christ. Of course, when we call ourselves witnesses, we recognize that we cannot be witnesses in the same technical sense that the first Christians were witnesses. A “witness” in the technical, Scriptural sense is one who has physically witnessed Jesus Christ to be alive after the resurrection. Relatively speaking, only a very few of the vast numbers of Christians who have ever lived are in this sense “witnesses.” But what we cannot see with our physical eyes, we see by faith through the Holy Scriptures and the Sacraments. In these means of grace, we actually encounter the risen Christ, who really speaks to us in Scripture and preaching, really washes us in Baptism, really forgives our sins in Holy Absolution, and really feeds us with His true body and blood in the Lord’s Supper. So in this sense, we, too, are witnesses, and we are called to testify, to confess Christ to the world, beginning with those among whom God has placed us in our daily vocations.
Needless to say, the idea of “witness” is a key component of what it means to be the Christian Church. The Church is called to proclaim Christ. Our risen Lord Jesus declares to the apostles, “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8; ESV). He commands His apostles, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20). Witness leads to discipleship, which is accomplished through Baptism and teaching. Our Lord further commands, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:15-16). Witness happens in the preaching and catechesis (teaching) of the Church, through which the Holy Spirit grants faith. Witness continues in the sacramental life of the Church. The Spirit makes disciples/witnesses in Baptism, and as St. Paul says, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Cor. 11:26).
Of course, the Holy Spirit is responsible for the results of our witness, whether the person we witness to comes to faith. We are simply called to testify. “(I)n your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15). And we are to do so no matter what the consequences. Remember, “witness” is a translation of martyria, from which we get the English word “martyr.” Witness can lead to martyrdom. The martyrs, those who have suffered and died for the faith, bear the ultimate witness to Christ. “I will also speak of your testimony before kings and shall not be put to shame” (Ps. 119:46). “And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say” (Luke 12:11-12). The Holy Spirit has already taught you what you should say. You know the Creed. You know the faith from attending church and Sunday School. That is what you should say. And you can take the consequences, knowing that when the world persecutes you, you are blessed (Matt. 5:11). “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (v. 12).
It is a great privilege to be a witness of Christ. Because in Baptism you bear the Name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, you are a living witness of Jesus Christ wherever you go. The “Witness, Mercy, Life Together” banner will remind us of this every time we see it.