Aloha Friday Message – April 13, 2018 – Can I Get a Witness?

1815AFC041318 – April 13, 2018 – Can I Get a Witness?

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Luke 24:48 48 You are witnesses of these things.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Aloha nui loa, ʻŌmea! I hope this title seems familiar to you because we’ve used it before. In fact, already in this year of 2018 we have built teachings around the idea of a witness at least four times. Are we stuck in a rut? No, I think it’s more like we’re on the right track. In our American culture, being a witness is a huge part of our daily lives. Even the newscasts like “Eye-witness News” affect the way we receive information. Instead of the traditional reporter-on-camera broadcast, this form of reporting uses observational data in live-action video and other visual components. There is less emphasis on third-person observation and more emphasis on the experience of “you are there.” The premise is that the person in the field is the presenter of the information instead of the anchor back at the station. The anchors become providers of segues between reports and function as “media magnet” to boost ratings. This format, which has been branded in broadcast corporations around the world, began with KYW-TV in Cleveland, OH and was expanded and improved by news director Al Primo. The emphasis on historical authenticity encouraged audiences to feel they were more directly involved in whatever was happening now. As mass-media communications became denser and more sophisticated, the immediacy of being part of history has also risen to become the expected norm. We can sit in our living rooms or the hair salon or our favorite sports bar and be “live witnesses” to something happing anywhere in the world. We become part of the history being made by being witnesses to history in the making.

There is another aspect of being a witness that also plays a big role in our lives today, and that is the legal concept of being a witness. Just as with the historical interpretation of witnessing, the legal interpretation depends on seeing, hearing, or in some way gathering and sharing information that is used to make legal decisions. Most folks would agree that the legal usage differs from the historical usage because the legal usage involves experts in the law who openly try to sway the legal system to interpret events in favor of their cause – a client or government institution; they give the facts a spin which they hope will benefit the persons on whose behalf they work. Many would argue these days that in the historical concept of witnessing, there are even more “spin doctors” who work ever harder to spin things, but without us realizing it. Whether it’s in the evening news or in the courts, the emphasis these days is consistently, “I’m telling you the truth and ‘they’ are not.” Here again we see the impoverishing effects of moral relativism. Something can be true only if we believe it to be true. “What’s true for you may not be true for me.” How can there be a witness to something which may or may not be true?

Let’s turn to the Bible and the book of Proverbs to start answering that. Proverbs 14:25 25 A truthful witness saves lives, but one who utters lies is a betrayer. We also gain some insights in Exodus 23:1 1 You shall not spread a false report. You shall not join hands with the wicked to act as a malicious witness. There you have it, possibly the first mention in the Bible of fake news. In the Mosaic Law, there were prohibitions against “he-said-she-said” suits. God instructed Moses to tell the Israelites how to make life-and-death decisions for people who broke the law. Deuteronomy 17:6 On the evidence of two or three witnesses the death sentence shall be executed; a person must not be put to death on the evidence of only one witness. This is echoed by Jesus in Matthew 18:16 16 But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. The Apostle Paul brought up this idea several times including 2 Corinthians 13:1 1 This is the third time I am coming to you. “Any charge must be sustained by the evidence of two or three witnesses.”  1 Timothy 5:19-20 19 Never accept any accusation against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 20 As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest also may stand in fear. Hebrews 10:28 28 Anyone who has violated the law of Moses dies without mercy “on the testimony of two or three witnesses.” The part that I underlined there is an example of using legal and historical witnessing as a deterrent to further infractions against The Law. A central theme in the Bible is, of course, The Law.

There are over a dozen words related to “law” in the Bible (e.g., lawful, lawgiver, lawlessness, lawsuit, and even lawyer) and over 600 occurrences of such words. In the Old Testament, we often find the word תּוֹרָה (torah) {to-raw’} which we recognize as the word Torah – Law. Some of us will remember the episode in Numbers 17 where a cadre of rebellious complainers tried to usurp Moses’ authority. God told Moses to gather a rod – walking stick, staff, or scepter – from each of the twelve tribes, and also the Rod of Aaron, and to lay them in front of the Testimony – The Tent of Meeting which held the Ark of the Covenant containing the stone tablets of The Law. When Moses went back the next day, Aaron’s Rod had three stages of new growth – buds, blossoms, and fruit (it was an almond branch). This was a testimony from God against the rebels to convince them that they needed to stop complaining. The “witnesses” were the twelve rods that did not bloom and the one that did, and they were witnesses in the presence of The Law legally and historically.

Wherever there is a law to be enforced, there are also witnesses to aid in the enforcement. Wherever there is an event to be remembered, there are also witnesses to aid in the documentation. If two or three (or more!) persons witness, the likelihood of identifying Truth is enhanced and increased. It is important, then, to remember that being a witness carries with it the responsibility of being objective in reporting what we see and/or hear. At times, this requirement for objectivity is literally a life-or-death matter. Even in the life and teachings of Jesus, we see what happens when objectivity fails.

Let’s look for this in John 5:31 31 If I testify about myself, my testimony is not true. (Good News Translation – GNT): 31 If I testify on my own behalf, what I say is not to be accepted as real proof. I strongly encourage you to read this in context by going to John 5:24-33. In Jesus’ life, the “spin-doctors” were the ruling classes – Pharisees, Sadducees, the Sanhedrin, and the Elders. At that point in his life, Jesus had Disciples, but he did not have witnesses. We’ve discussed the derivation of witness before. It comes from the Greek word Μάρτυς (martus) {mar’-toos}  meaning a witness; an eye- or ear-witness; one who testifies. You may recognize it as the root of the English word martyr. Jesus did die as a martyr, and also as a redeemer, and as the Only Begotten Son of God. We are to be witnesses of that Truth. We are to testify to the Truth of the Word – Who is, was, and always will be The Law, the ever-living תּוֹרָה – the fulfillment of everything God gives and receives. We are more than two or three witnesses; we are billions throughout all of human history and human law.

Turning again to the Letter to the Hebrews, we read about the history and law of Israel as the Nation consistently and heroically bore witness to God’s Goodness as we read in Hebrews 12:1-2 1 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, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.

We should also consider what the Apostle John said about one’s testimony about the Son of God in 1 John 5:6-13, especially verse 9 (use the link to see this in context): If we receive human testimony, the testimony of God is greater; for this is the testimony of God that he has testified to his Son.

If God himself stands as a witness to the Truth – historically and legally – of Jesus, the Christ of God, we too can bear witness and testify, with our lives if necessary. We are the witnesses; now, who will testify?

Whatever, whenever, wherever, whoever, however, if ever, forever — at your service, Belovéd!

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Unless otherwise indicated, all scripture passages are from the New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (NRSVCE) New Revised Standard Version Bible: Catholic Edition, copyright © 1989, 1993 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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About Chick Todd

American Roman Catholic reared as a "Baptiterian" in Denver Colorado.

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