In the history of Christianity, being a witness has carried a heavy cost. You see, the Latin word for witness is “martyr.” Given the modern usage of that word, one can understand why many Christians today get nervous whenever the topic of “witnessing” comes up. The early witnesses to Jesus Christ in the world paid for their witness with their lives; often in gruesome and terrifying ways. When given the choice between worshipping Jesus Christ as Lord of their lives and risking imprisonment and death or renouncing Jesus, worshiping the Roman gods, and living, many chose the former. They would rather die than deny Jesus. They paid for their faith with their lives.
It is no wonder, then, that Christians today are squeamish about witnessing. To many, faith is a personal matter that is not discussed in public. It is between them and God. To others, it is wrong to try to impose their beliefs on another. And for others, they are simply too uncertain of their own beliefs to be willing to share them with anyone. There are, no doubt many other reasons most Christians are uneasy with the idea of witnessing to Jesus Christ in the world.
So then, why do we have a general rule of discipleship whose purpose is to lead people to witness to Jesus Christ in the world? When you are baptized God, through Jesus Christ, promises to always love, forgive, and surround you with his grace. In response, you “confess Jesus Christ as your Savior, put your whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as your Lord, in union with the church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races. You accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression, and you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sins.” In other words, with the churches help, you make a covenant with Christ to be a witness to him in the world. And, being a witness to Jesus Christ in the world is a remarkable privilege. It is a gift from Jesus to you. He gave his life for you so that you may receive this gift; so that you may live in his amazing grace and offer that gift to others.
We witness to a particular person. God loved us so much that he sent a love letter in the form of a man, a Jew from Nazareth named Jesus. In Jesus, God lived among us as a common carpenter; a man who earned his living with his hands.
We witness to him in many ways; ways. Some witness to personal experience of Jesus. These are the people who have had a sudden, life changing event in which they experienced the transforming power and presence of Christ. In that experience they received unequivocal assurance of their salvation and Christ’s presence in their lives. Others testify to what the Bible says about Jesus. They may or may not have had a conversion experience, but they have come to know Jesus through the witness of Scripture. Still others simply witness to Jesus Christ in the world through the way they live their lives every day. Every time you attend public worship on Sunday morning, you witness to Jesus Christ in the world. Every time you give compassion to someone who is hungry, sick, in prison, mourning, or lonely, you witness to Jesus Christ in the world. Every time you pray in public or private, you witness to Jesus Christ in the world. Every time you speak out against or resist injustice and oppression you witness to Jesus Christ in the world.
Christian discipleship is an ongoing process. It is a life-time project. Discipleship is living out the teachings of Jesus Christ. It is how you:
…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure (Philippians 2:12-13).
You work out your salvation by witnessing to Jesus Christ in the world and following his teachings through acts of compassion, justice, worship, and devotion under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. In baptism the church promises to equip and support us in the living the way of Jesus. We stand on the shoulders of the witnesses, martyrs, and saints who have gone before us. The writer of Hebrews encourages us when he writes,
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith
Michael Glen Bell and Duane Arnold give us a brilliant collection of prayers of some of that “great cloud of witnesses” to inspire and encourage us as we strive to live as faithful witnesses to Jesus Christ in the world today. These martyr’s prayers are set to music by Mr. Bell. He performs the words of witnesses such as Thomas Becket, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Oscar Romero. The words and music of this record will stay with you. They will be a source of encouragement, inspiration, and challenge as you do your best to follow the way of Jesus in the footsteps of the saints and martyrs.