- Philippians 2:5-13
- Matthew 22:37-40
- Luke 9:23-27
A witness observes and experiences an event or person. They testify to what they see and know. Christians are 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 moved into the neighborhood and lived as a carpenter. Jesus set aside his carpenter's tools, was baptized by John in the Jordan river and traveled around the Galilean countryside preaching about the coming kingdom of God and healing the sick. He was a teacher and a prophet. All this eventually got him in trouble with both the religious and imperial leadership. They conspired together to arrest, try and execute him on trumped up charges of blasphemy and sedition. They thought they succeeded when they killed him on a cross; an instrument of torture and death reserved for only the worst criminals.
But no human authority could defeat the Spirit of God who lived in Jesus. Three days after his agonizing death on the cross, Jesus emerged from the tomb. He was transformed and yet he still bore the marks of the nails in his hands and feet and side. He appeared first to the women, then to his disciples and to many others. Then he ascended into the heavens. But, through the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus lives on in each of us. This is the Jesus Christ to whom we are called to be witnesses.
Christians witness to Jesus Christ with their profession of faith in the baptismal covenant. We witness to Jesus Christ when we renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of our sin. We witness to Jesus Christ when we accept the freedom and power God gives us to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves. We witness to Jesus Christ when we confess him as Savior, put our whole trust in his grace, and serve him as Lord, in union with the church. Finally, we witness to Jesus Christ when we live as faithful members of his church and serve with him as his representatives in the world. This way of witnessing to Jesus Christ in the world is known in the church as discipleship.
Christian discipleship is a pilgrimage. It is daily living the teachings of Jesus Christ, summarized by him in Matthew 22:37-40:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
This way of life is what Jesus meant when he said, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). Self-denial is the way of love modeled by Jesus and described by Paul in Philippians 2:5-8
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
Christians take up their cross daily when they submit to Jesus’ way of love described above in Matthew 22:37-40. Loving God with all your heart, soul, and mind is the vertical beam of the cross. Loving your neighbor as yourself, or loving whom God loves, is the horizontal beam of the cross that shapes the Christian life. Following Jesus in the world opens Christians to the grace they need to deny themselves and daily take up their cross by loving God and loving who God loves.
Christians live as witnesses to Jesus Christ in the world when they devote themselves to living the baptismal promise to “remain faithful members of Christ’s holy church and serve as Christ’s representatives in the world.” Congregations promise to do all in their power to equip members to live as Christ’s representatives in the world.
The Wesleyan tradition tells us that the best way to assure Christians are living as faithful witness to Jesus Christ in the world is to meet weekly in a small group of fellow Christians for mutual accountability and support for discipleship shaped by a rule of life, such as the General Rule of Discipleship: “To witness to Jesus Christ, and to follow his teachings through acts of compassion, justice, worship, and devotion under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.”