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Marks of a Missional Congregation. Week 3

Introduction. So far in our series on ‘Marks of a Missional Congregation’, I suggested we are missional, good news, Jesus sharing people because God is missional. Last week we considered that we are missional because we are part of the Kingdom of God, we thought about this using the striking parable in the book of Daniel of the stone that grows until it fills the whole earth. Today using our text from Isaiah and our key text from Luke’s gospel we will reflect on being a missional people because we are called to be witnesses.

For a period of my working life, I spent a considerable amount of time in court, both Magistrates and Crown Court. They can be intimidating places unless, they are part of your everyday life. When courts are unable to identify the guilty person, it will often make decisions based on the testimony of witnesses. To the modern world, a “witness” is commonly understood as someone who testifies on behalf of a person or to an event that he or she has seen with their own eyes or for which the person has first-hand knowledge. This is the common understanding of serving as a “witness” in court. Such witness is meant to establish the truth so that a proper judgment can be arrived at.

In the Bible a witness is basically someone who sees something amazing or important. If this person begins to share what they have seen, we call this “bearing witness.” In the ancient world people were often requested to gather at important events so they could be bear witness. We see this for example in the book of Ruth concerning a transaction on a piece of land.

The Bible bear’s witness. From start to finish in the Bible, God raises up people who will bear witness. These are people who see and experience God ––who then bear witness and represent him to the world. From time to time in the storyline of the Bible, God appoints a chief witness among the people to help them do this. They were sometimes called Prophets like Jeremiah or Isaiah.

Our reading today is taken from a section of the book of Isaiah Ch’s 40-48, that might be called the servant chapters. Here Israel’s task is to act as God’s witness to the nations. But they keep getting it wrong. Isaiah 42:18-20 NIV

“Hear, you deaf; look, you blind, and see! Who is blind but my servant, and deaf like the messenger I send? Who is blind like the one in covenant with me, blind like the servant of the Lord? You have seen many things, but you pay no attention; your ears are open, but you do not listen.”

But God whose intention is always missional, says he will raise up a servant or chief witness out of Israel like no other. Isaiah 49:6-7 NIV

he says: “It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” This is what the Lord says---the Redeemer and Holy One of Israel---to him who was despised and abhorred by the nation, to the servant of rulers: “Kings will see you and stand up, princes will see and bow down, because of the Lord, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.” In short God will send one from a mother’s womb, carefully prepared like the finest bow in a quiver, as the earlier verses in our reading stated, one who will not only restore Israel but will be the means of God’s salvation to the whole earth.

Luke bears witness. Most scholars agree that Luke is a particularly fine witness. He seems to know what to record, which details that are important, all with the intention of bearing witness that the one Isaiah spoke off has indeed come. This ability to bear witness in his written record is seen not only in the Gospel of Luke but also in the book of Acts. So, when Luke records the final words of Jesus to his disciples it is no accident that he gives such emphasis to the phrase Luke 24:48 NIV. You are witnesses of these things.

Whilst those first disciples were direct witnesses of who Jesus was and all that happened to him, this does not mean we are excused the task of bearing witness. You and I witness to Christ not by giving testimony to facts but to the truth- truth that is not always visible or “provable”. We render testimony to what we have “seen” in our hearts, and not necessarily what we have seen with our physical eyes. We testify to our faith in actions and words, inviting people not simply to understand what we are saying but to meet the Lord, personally and powerfully.

Bearing witness can be costly. Many of these earlier followers even died for their witness. In fact, eventually the Greek word for witness (μάρτυς mártus) began to carry the connotation of a martyr. Today across our world many Christians face these very same challenges. We should not be surprised therefore that bearing witness to Christ feels difficult or something we shy away from, but we must continue to bear witness even during a Pandemic and afterwards. 

In the recent addition of Baptist’s together there is an article by someone I know whose is minister in a Baptist Church in the north end of Birkenhead. This has always been a tough area known to some as the river streets, it was here in the early 1980’s that I cut my teeth as a young Probation Officer, in many respects it was a Baptism of Fire, but one in which God was very present. Back then I was very conscious of this small Baptist Church in the of middle a very deprived area and it is important Spurgeon Child Care facility, not knowing that in later year I would preach at one of their Anniversary Services. In the article, Cathy the minister who is not young (I am praying she never hears or sees this), speaks about how with a closed building they have still found ways to witness to their community. Towards the end of the article, she says this “Walking through the streets a couple of months ago I passed four churches that were closed, and I prayed in my spirit: “God, how sad it is to see your church building closed.” The Holy Spirit just spoke to me straight away and said: “Cathy, my church buildings may be closed but my church is very much alive.” We are only alive if we take seriously our responsibilities to be witnesses of these things. 

We are missional because we are called to bear witness.

Practical Point. Missional congregations take the scriptures seriously.

For quite a lot of my life whenever I purchased something that required self-assembly, I would stupidly start by ignoring the instructions, I can do this, surely anyone can work this out. These days I have learnt my lesson whether it is a bookcase or something more complicated, check the parts and follow the instructions and if in doubt get Stephen to do it.

As I have already shared in this reflection the whole storyline of the Bible is a record of those who bear witness. It is a kind of Manuel that taken seriously can help us avoid making the same mistakes repeatedly. It is not going to tell you what to have for lunch, but it can inspire and equip you to live a life of purpose. If you have never taken the scriptures seriously it is never too late. I am aware that some people increasingly find it easier to listen to the Bible rather than to read it. There are some good free resources available to assist this, please just ask. In this respect the work of the Bible Society and its website is a resource well worth considering. 

Across the world people are desperate to hear the scriptures in their own language, but we often take it for granted. I read recently of two Bible Society workers called Jonas and Joseph, both excellent Bible based literacy class teachers in Africa, murdered by the Islamic extremist group called Boko Haram for simply teaching people about the love of Jesus for them through the scriptures. To witness to our faith is still costing lives across our world.

We are missional because we are called to bear witness.

First published on: 23rd January 2021
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