The cost of bearing witness

By Greg Jones

“Remember Jesus Christ – raised from the dead – a descendant of David – that is my Gospel for which I suffer hardship.”

Paul wrote these words to remind the faithful that the Gospel is for real. That Jesus is for real. That God’s power to give life, even to the dead, is for real. Paul wrote these very real words of life while he himself was in chains a prisoner of the Romans. Do you think Paul knew when he wrote this letter that he would suffer an even harder fate than mere chains? Do you think Paul knew he would also suffer death for his witness to the love of God in Christ?

Of course he did. Paul knew that witnessing for Christ can get you hurt – and even killed. He knew it, because he used to track Christians down in his former life, and we know he helped to kill at least one.

Paul knew that testifying for Christ was costly, but he knew it was worth it. He tasted the fruit of New Life that the Resurrected Jesus gave to him, and he knew it was worth giving his life in witness.

In Greek the word for ‘Witness’ is actually the word “martyr.” For centuries the word ‘martyr’ literally just meant somebody who bore witness – like in a courtroom. Jesus used the word to commission his disciples – he said, “You will be my witnesses.” He said, “You will bear witness to my love, to my cross, to my resurrection.” Jesus commanded his disciples to be his witnesses – and he gave them the power of God to do it well. And they did. And they spread that Gospel all over the Roman world with a rapidity and tenacity that is still astonishing.

And the price the apostles paid was death. The most powerful witnesses to Christ faced crosses, fires and swords – and by doing so changed the lives of thousands who were made strong by their sacrifice. Because of the way they served God as witnesses to Christ, the word ‘martyr’ changed meanings also. Over time the word martyr took on the connotation of someone willing to pay the price for the sake of their witness.

If you’ve been following the news, you’ve heard that the Congress is trying to pass a resolution about the Armenian genocide which happened some 90 years ago. Or perhaps you’ve heard tell of the Armenian taxi driver slain in her car by an Australian security company doing business in Iraq.

These stories remind me of my Great-Grandfather, the Rev. James Perry, who was a missionary over there – in the Near East – doing humanitarian work for the sick and suffering. He spent years in various parts of the old Ottoman Empire doing relief work. He had a young wife and two infants, but nonetheless he worked to bring help to the suffering in the name of Christ in the face of great danger.

In February of 1920 – as Turks were massacring thousands of Armenian Christians in the city of Marash – my great-grandfather, another American, and two Arab Christians drove toward the city in a relief truck filled with supplies to help the victims and survivors. They were slain by Turks with orders to kill any Christians on the road. The story was front page news in America – from the New York Times to small town papers everywhere.

I can’t wait to meet my Great Grandfather. I know I will because he has died with Christ and now lives and reigns with Him. But, I’m not counting my days until then. Because Christ wants me – and you – to focus on today … to live today … to endure today … to praise God and witness to his saving love to this hurting world today. Our work as Christians is not to sit still or to wait or to quibble over words or to serve ourselves – but to give our lives for Christ.

God wants to transform our lives into the life of Jesus Christ for ministry in this world.

I understand if folks don’t want this transformation into Christ – witnessing is dangerous. It is costly. But if any want to live eternal lives, we must remember that eternal living starts in the here and now. And eternal living is birthed by doing one thing:

“Remember Jesus Christ – raised from the dead – a descendant of David.”

The Rev. Samuel Gregory Jones (“Greg”) became a member of Christ’s Body at St. Columba’s in Washington, D.C. He is husband of Melanie, father of Coco & Anna, rector of St. Michael’s Raleigh, and author of Beyond Da Vinci (Seabury Books, 2004). He blogs at

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