We hear the word "witness" or "witnessing" used often.
What does it really mean to be Christian witnesses?
In the secular world, we have witnesses in trials and in settlement of disagreements. One witnesses to, or gives testimony of, someone's good character. Generally speaking, a witness has some specific knowledge about the matter and gives evidence of it.
In the Old Testament, in serious cases, more than one witness was required, especially in serious cases. Early Christians followed the Jewish practice using witnesses.
The word has a religious meaning as well. God was called upon to be a witness from the beginning: "remember that God is witness between you and me" (Genesis 31.51) to the end where Christ is referred to as "the faithful witness" (Revelation 1.5).
Job (16.19) calls on God to be the witness of his innocence. Paul (Romans 1.8) invokes God as the witness of his love for the people. Every time we take an oath in court by swearing on a Bible, we are invoking God to be our witness.
When Jesus was rebuked for calling God his own Father, making himself equal to God, Jesus responded: "There is another who testifies on my behalf and his testimony is true" (John 5.31). God, therefore, is witness to Jesus and his mission. Jesus told Pilate that he came to witness to the truth "for this I came into the world" (John 18.37).
God called the prophets and all of Israel to be special witnesses. The works that Jesus performed, his miracles, witnessed to who he was. So did John the Baptist: "One more powerful than I is coming . . . baptize with the Holy Spirit" (Mark 1.7-8). Jesus' teaching "with authority" was another indication of who he was.
Jesus said to the disciples "You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1.8).
The New Testament writers emphasize the historical facts which have been seen and heard and which were witnessed by many. Therefore, these were not simply stories but were based on the testimony of reliable witnesses and are historical fact.
Peter spoke to the crowd telling them that he and the disciples were witnesses to Jesus' resurrection and therefore, their witness testifies to the truth: "This Jesus, God raised up and of that all of us are witnesses" (Acts 2.32).
Paul tells how from a persecutor he became a witness for Christ. The strength of his conviction drove him to work unceasingly for Christ. The truth of the disciples' witness became even more evident when they were being persecuted and condemned to death.
Early Christians went joyfully to their deaths rather than deny Christ. They are called martyrs. The word "martyr" is a transliteration of the Greek word for witness. So the martyrs were witnesses of Christ, of his death and resurrection, of their future with Christ in heaven. The power of the Holy Spirit enabled them to be strong.
Today, Christians in many countries are being killed simply because they are Christian. Sometimes, excuses are manufactured but more often than not, those who do the killing don't even need excuses.
How are we helping these Christian martyrs? Are we ready to support them by our prayers and money offerings? Do they know we are supporting them so they can be strengthened in their suffering?
Today people question everything about Jesus and deny even the existence of God. How do we witness to them? Are we ready to stand up for Christ? Do we even know the Jesus who is presented to us in our Sacred Scriptures?
We know Christ through the faith that we have inherited. But how much do we know about Jesus, his life, his death and resurrection as revealed in the Gospels and in the letters of Paul?
Do we take the time to read and reflect on these? Can we explain what we believe to others? Do our words and actions, our lives, present the face of Christ to the world?
When we profess to be Christians, we give witness to the living Christ. We need to be like the individual who lived simply among non-believers. Later, when a missionary arrived and started preaching Christ, the people said, "Oh we knew him; he lived in that house on the hill."
Obviously, he presented the face of Christ without preaching a word. Could others say that about us?
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