Mission Incarnate I: Bearing Witness to the Light

This Advent season, we are looking to the events surrounding the Incarnation of Jesus Christ to show us what the mission of the church looks like. Jesus Christ embodies God’s mission to the world, and the Church as His body still carries on that mission today. Since we want to learn how to carry out our mission, Advent will show us.

This week, I want to look at John the Baptist as our example of bearing witness. God had turned John’s father Zechariah into a living parable: until his son was born, Zechariah was as mute as God had been for the previous five hundred years. The birth of John the Baptizer opens Zechariah’s mouth, but more importantly, it re-opens God’s mouth. God will once again have a witness, as His mission to the world is resurrected through John.

There are many ways that John bears witness: whether leaping for joy in Elizabeth’s womb, wearing camel’s hair and eating locusts and honey, rebuking sin and preaching repentance, or baptizing those who wanted to be made clean before the coming of the Lord, John faithfully pointed to the light throughout his entire life. He lived and spoke in distinctive, attention-getting ways that teach us that bearing witness means directing attention to Jesus. We are not called to imitate the exact actions and details of his life, but the Church is called to share in his work of pointing out the light of the World to the people walking in darkness. So how do we do that?

Eat Distinctively – Even in something as universal as eating, there is a way to do it for the glory of God. The distinctive meal of the Christian faith is the Lord’s Supper, which, as 1 Corinthians tells us, proclaims the Lord’s death and His return. This means that when you eat the Lord’s Supper, you are engaged in mission: eating a distinctive meal that bears witness to Jesus Christ. The thankfulness and hospitality that we learn from the Lord’s Supper transform our tables too, so that the way we eat bears witness to Jesus Christ.

Dress Distinctively – Dress in a way that points to Jesus. Before clothing became a matter of lust and temptation, it was an issue of trying to hide our sinfulness from God. Following God’s rules for clothing bears witness to God’s message about bodies, sin, and the need for a covering. Christians dress in ways that preserve the God-created distinctions between men and women. Christians cover up not because bodies are shameful, but because sin is shameful. Christians refuse to dress in luxury and ostentation, because we seek first a different kind of glory. The example of John calls us to dress distinctively, so that our bodies serve the mission of God.

Act Distinctively – Of the unique actions that set Christians apart, first and foremost is baptism. Every baptism bears witness to the truths of sin and salvation, and to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Once we are washed, we go on to a life of new and different actions that mark us out as followers of Jesus, things like worship, prayer, Bible study, and singing, all done with a new character: love, peace, patience, kindness, and so on.

Speak Distinctively – John’s unusual speech had two major components: he spoke unpopular truths against sin, and he used his words to point people to Jesus Christ. Both of these are essential parts of our mission. We are called to speak bad news to a culture in love with sin, but our most fundamental message is good news: Jesus delivers from sin. Recovering John’s boldness in rebuking sin and his confidence that Jesus is the Son of God will set us apart as we bear witness to the message at the heart of our mission.

A proud and foolish heart can quickly turn a call to live a distinctive life into narcissistic attention-seeking, but John the Baptist shows us the way here as well: “He must increase, I must decrease”. As we live lives of witness, we should expect to attract attention, but all of our words and actions are meant to prepare the way for Lord, so that we direct everyone’s attention to the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

Posted on Wednesday, December 03, 2014 by CJ Bowen