Thursday, May 25, 2017

On Witnessing and Suffering

Today's reflection on the Daily Texts:

Those who are far off will come and build the temple of the Lord. - Zechariah 6:15 (NASB)

"Lord," Ananias answered, "I have heard many reports about this man Saul and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem." But the Lord said to Ananias, "Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel." - Acts 9:13,15 (NIV)

Two-year reading texts: Psalm 68:28-35; Proverbs 17; 2 Corinthians 1:12-22

Today is Ascension Day, the 40th day of Easter, when the resurrection appearances of Jesus are replaced with the story of him being taken up into heaven. The appointed scriptures for today include these last words of Jesus to his disciples, from Luke's gospel:
"Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high." - Luke 24:46-49
The word "witnesses" in Greek is martures, from which we get our English word "martyr." As Jesus suffered, so those who testify to his truth will also suffer.

Saul, also known as Paul, is a notable example of this suffering. Today's Acts 9 reading points out the suffering he himself has inflicted on Christians, making Ananias rightfully skeptical and afraid of him. God insists that he is chosen, and will be a witness to many. And the very next verse adds God's final word on the matter: "I will show him how much he must suffer for my name."

Paul did suffer greatly for testifying about Jesus the Messiah. In the first chapter of 2 Corinthians, he writes about being afflicted so greatly for his work that he thought he was going to die. But God brought him through it, he writes, so that he could continue to build up the believers in Corinth.

For me today, these verses make me think of the unlikely people God can choose to be witnesses and builders of the church. In fact, in a lot of ways, I'm a pretty unlikely choice myself! Who else might God be choosing and calling and preparing for this kind of work? No doubt there are people who don't seem to be qualified, who rub us the wrong way, who have dubious pasts or serious character flaws, who we would never choose - and yet God has chosen them. We can pray for the humility to let God's word be final, and to cooperate with those who do testify truly and build up God's kingdom.

Today's texts also make me think of the suffering and other costs that come along with testifying to God's truth. If we were preaching our own news, it could be something smooth and easy and comfortable and attractive, and people would love us for it. We might get rich and win affirmation by it. But speaking the truth that Jesus is Lord of all and the one way to life with God requires discipline and sacrifice, and it's not easy or profitable. I can't say I've suffered greatly for Jesus or his gospel, but working for him does come with certain costs. We can pray for patience and perseverance, and for the perspective to remember that when we do pay the price, we're staying close to Jesus and the path he himself traveled.

May we come from wherever we are, and join with God's other people however unlikely, to work together to build the kingdom of the Lord!

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