In his book, Facing Leviathan, Mark Sayers tells a story of walking into the Holocaust Museum in Melbourne, Australia and pondering the photos on the wall of a everyday Jewish family in prewar Poland. He then goes on to remark “The story of the young man’s life accompanies the photos. The initial persecution of the Jews, the transportation to the camps, then the death of his entire family.”
Then he hears a voice behind behind him that startles him. The voice has a face and that face is remarkably like the face of a boy in the pictures in front of him. The old man was the boy in the picture and the survivor asks “Would you like to ask me anything?”
Sayers wants to ask this man the right question and, in his head, goes through a list of questions that might be appropriate for this sacred moment with a man who has seen so much. Sayers describes his inward struggle in what to ask and then realizes something simple, but profound. To use his words:”I realize I am not talking to a professor, an expert, an author, or a commentator. I am speaking to a witness.”
That last sentence grabbed me, so I grabbed my computer to start writing this.
Being a “witness” is not just being on the scene, but experiencing the scene, being immersed in the scene in a way that it changes us. This man in the museum was not just a history buff, but he is history. He didn’t just observe the atrocities, the atrocities affected him. He is an insider, one who the holocaust happened to and not merely one who has researched it.
You Had to Be There
“You will be my witnesses..” seems to be to be much more than being a clever storyteller. (see Acts 1:8) There was a sense of gravitas, a sense of reality in the man who lived in the concentration camp and could winsomely tell the story about the reality of it. When talking about marriage generally, I can speak about the beauty of the institution. When I talk about my wife, I can passionately talk about the meaning of the institution…because she gives meaning to it for me. Both are beautiful, but talking about my marriage to Adrienne has meaning to it that is indescribable. A man who lost so much in concentration camps in Nazi occupied Europe has more to share than a mere interesting tale.
Can They Get a Witness?
As I type, I see dozens of people pass me to go down the road to wherever they are spending today. I look at them and wonder who they are. Statistically, more than nine out of ten of the people who pass me are unaware of the powerful reality around them that Jesus Christ is Lord. He is everywhere around them, filling the universe and the details in it, but invisible to both their eyes and the eyes of their hearts.
I don’t know them, but I would imagine that they are like so many people I meet. There are those who live lives shaped by the latest fad that gives them some feeling of being part of the ”in crowd.” There are some who spend much of their life trying to get by, making money to survive this week and wondering where next week’s meals will come from. There are those whose lives are dominated by fear, pride, questions, and the next emotional or chemical “fix.” Then there are those who have the time and resources to examine “life” and find that their world is deeply complicated, if not chaotic.
These are the people to which Jesus sent his “witnesses.”
Those first men and women Jesus sent out saw something. No, not just “saw something”, but were immersed by the reality of being part of Jesus’ life. I always thought that the power Jesus promised was the power to accomplish a task. As true as that may be, that’s not all. I believe the power of the Spirit on them was the power to continue to be immersed in the reality of Jesus’ life and to be a window into the reality of the greatness of the person of Jesus. This is transforming.
Witnesses are More than Storytellers
The life and words of the witnesses are an experience for the hearer. They bring a sacred moment with them wherever they go. But to bring the sacred with them, the witness must first experience the reality of Jesus deeply. If he is merely a character in an interesting story, that story will never change a life. The witness must be invited into the story of Jesus. There is a big difference between reading about how Jesus calmed a storm someone else was in and seeing him come through in the storm I am in. One gives warm feelings that fade away through the day. The other creates a sense of overwhelming awe and humility that will not wear of. The reality of the greatness of this Man is imprinted on us.
Maybe we don't have witnesses because we don't want Jesus to bring us into his story, with all of the thunder, lightning, wetness and wonder.
Face to Face
This is too long already, but here is the point: those friends that I love dearly who so easily dismiss the story of Jesus need a powerful experience of his reality. Not mere reasoning, preaching, and storytelling, but a powerful witness that breaks through years of questioning and fearful rebellion.
What my friends need is to hear the story, but also come face to face with the One who was there…and become a witness themselves.