Today we have once again emphasized Operation Andrew and have encouraged you to participate in this opportunity to prepare for the Franklin Graham Festival. We as a church are promoting the Festival because we believe it will be a great opportunity to share our faith and proclaim the name of Jesus in southern Manitoba.
Today is also Pentecost Sunday, the day on which we are reminded of the coming of the Holy Spirit into the life of the church.
These two ideas of witness and the coming of the Spirit come together in Acts 1:8 which we want to examine this morning.
A few times in my life I have been with people who were on their death bed. After they passed away, we have had conversations about what they said. When someone says something at the end of their life, we take those words seriously. If they are giving final instructions about the disposition of their property or their funeral, if they are expressing love to family, or dealing with spiritual issues, we understand that these are more important words than many others spoken in a lifetime.
These words in Acts 1:8 are the last words which Jesus spoke before he ascended into heaven and so they are important. They are also important because they mark a significant transition in the life of the people of God. Jesus was leaving and not returning until he would come in the end. Yet the ministry which Jesus had begun was not going to be stopped. In fact, by leaving, Jesus was giving the ministry of proclaiming the kingdom of God over to His disciples. How would they do it? This verse speaks about that by pointing to two aspects – the witnessing task and the empowering for the task.
You Shall Be My Witnesses
The sending aspect comes when Jesus says, “you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem…”
John Piper says that being a witness for Jesus fits with the passion of God to bring people to himself. He writes, “The Spirit's all-consuming passion is to exalt Christ to the end of the earth.” In Scripture we see this all-consuming passion of God. Hab. 2:14 says, "All the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord." In Joshua 4:24 we read that, God brought his people into Canaan "so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty." David commanded us in Psalm 96:1-3, "Sing to the Lord all the earth … Declare his glory among the nations, his marvellous works among all the peoples!" Isaiah 49:6 gives God's word to his servant, "I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth." Jesus himself said, "Go make disciples of all nations" in Matthew 28:19 and "This gospel must be proclaimed to all the nations" in Mark 13:10. God’s desire is to be glorified in all the earth and God is glorified when people accept the forgiveness offered in Christ. When we are witnesses, we are in tune with what is most deeply in the heart of God. Do we understand the deep passion God has to make His name known?
If we do, it will come as no surprise that God wants us to be witnesses. But what does it mean to be a witness? Witnessing is not something we do, it is something we are. Notice that Jesus does not say “go and witness.” He says, “you shall be my witnesses.” How will we “be” witnesses? Being a witness is being an example of what God has done. God redeems, forgives and changes us. Since we do not save ourselves, whenever people see us they see an example of what God has done and we are witnesses to the power and grace of God. "Here I stand," says Charles Spurgeon, "myself a proof of what my Lord can do. I, his servant, saved by him, and renewed by him, washed in his blood, it is I who, while I live, whether I speak or not, am a monument of his love, a trophy of his grace." When we live in a relationship with God we bear witness to the fact that Christ can remove despair, that Christ can transform character, that Christ can sustain us in temptation, that Christ transforms our thoughts to noble thoughts, that Christ supports us in times of trouble and that Christ sustains us in the hour of death.
So as Jesus leaves, he indicates that his disciples will be witnesses. Then Jesus identifies places. He mentions that this witness is going to take place in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the uttermost pasts of the earth. Many have noted that this is an outline of the book of Acts. Chapters 2-7 describe ministry in Jerusalem and Judea. Chapters 8-11 describe ministry in Samaria and the rest of the book begins to describe ministry that extends to the ends of the earth.
But we are not in Jerusalem or even Samaria. What does the “where” question mean to us?
The first answer to that question is, “wherever you are!” At the BGSE they did an informal survey to find out how people came to Christ. The results were quite interesting. Can I ask you to respond to the question, “How did you come to Christ?” How many of you came to Christ because you watched a TV program? How many of you came to Christ because you listened to a radio broadcast? How many of you came to Christ through the influence of a pastor? How many of you came to Christ because you read a tract? How many of you came to Christ through the influence of a Christian friend or family member who either spoke to you or brought you to a place where Christ was being proclaimed? This survey reveals that the most powerful method of gospel proclamation is when each of us is a witness where we are. So the first answer to the “where” question is that you have an opportunity to be a witness wherever you have been placed.
Not only do surveys reveal this, but the intention of God also reveals it. God has created each one of us in a unique way and to live in a particular place. We are who we are and where we are by the design of God and that is where we are witnesses. The terms I have heard used are that we are biologically credentialed and geographically positioned.
Do you think that it is insignificant that you have been created with a certain type of racial background, certain physical strengths and weaknesses, abilities and interests? Whoever you are is a unique creation and God has placed you into this world with your particular mix of gifts, personality and relationships because He wants you to be a witness by the very person you are. We sometimes think that our personality and background is a random act, but God is in charge of witness in this world and He has given you all that you have and brought you to be who you are so that you, with your unique personality can be a witness to those around you.
You have also been geographically positioned by God to meet the people you meet and be seen by the people who see you so that right where you are you can be a witness for Christ in your world.
Biologically credentialed and geographically positioned mean that you are a witness right where you are. Make it deliberate. Live in a love relationship with Christ. Look for opportunities. Participate in Operation Andrew. It is a way to recognize that you have a unique opportunity to be a witness for Christ right where you are with the people you meet on a regular basis.
But going beyond where you are is also involved. John Piper points out that in North America there is one Christian church for every 800 people. In India, there is one Christian church for every 8000 people.
An article found on the U.S. Center for World Mission web site contained a graph showing that most missionary effort is expended on the people groups already reached or in a Christian cultural area like North America. Clearly the need is great to send those whom God is calling into areas of mission work among un-reached people groups.
Is God calling you?
You Will Receive Power
As the disciples heard about the task given to them to be witnesses, what was immediately clear is that it was an impossible task. They were to go “to the ends of the earth.” How could 12 or even 120 of them go to the ends of the earth? They had no idea about the task that was to be done. They were still thinking in political terms when they were asking just previous to this, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” Furthermore, they still lacked strength of character to be witnesses for Jesus. Just a few days earlier, when Jesus was arrested, they had all fled. After he had risen, they had spent much of their time hidden because they were afraid of the authorities. It was, for them, an impossible task.
The only thing that made it possible was that Jesus said, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you.” The power for witnessing at that time came from the presence of God through the Holy Spirit.
Are we any more courageous or able to be witnesses? We may be filled with resolve and desire. We may be well educated and have a good knowledge of the gospel message, but we also are faced with an impossible task. Our resolve isn’t always there. Our ability to say the right word is most often lacking until after the opportunity. The many things which distract us cause us to neglect to see opportunities. It is impossible for us to be effective witnesses for Jesus! For us, the power for witness also comes from the indwelling Holy Spirit. John Piper says, “People are indispensable in world missions, but people alone are useless in world missions. We must have power.”
What The Spirit Does
So if it is the power of the Spirit who makes it possible for us to be witnesses, what is the work that the Spirit does in witness?
It is the work of the Spirit to send people. Throughout Acts, we see that it was the Spirit of God who sent the messengers. It was the Spirit who sent Philip to meet with the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts 8. It was the Spirit who sent Peter to Cornelius in Acts 10,11. It was the Spirit of God who affirmed the call of Paul and Barnabas to go beyond Antioch to the Asian territories in Acts 13. It was the Spirit of God who closed the door to Bithynia and led them to Macedonia in Acts 16. God’s Spirit directs the work of witness. Are our eyes opened to the way in which God is leading us today?
The proclamation of the word of God is also accompanied by the work of the Spirit. The Spirit empowers those who speak and allows the hearers to understand. The Spirit of God accompanies the Word of God with signs and wonders. In I Corinthians 2:1-5 Paul says, ”When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.”
Faith itself comes by the power of the Spirit. I Corinthians 2:10-16 discusses this and tells us that “the man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God.” So in other words, it is a miracle of God when people are able to understand the gospel. It is not up to us to persuade them by strong argument, but we are to witness and rely on the power of the Spirit to make changes in the hearts of those who hear. One writer says, “Although it does not fit our logical schemes well, the Spirit is both the cause and the effect of faith.”
It is also the Spirit who converts people. We do not convert ourselves. Although it is true that every individual must repent and have faith, it is also true that faith merely opens the door for the work of the Spirit in conversion. Titus 3:5 says, “He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit…” Whatever language we use, whether adoption, washing, rebirth or sanctification, all of them are a work of the Holy Spirit.
It is very important that we recognize and embrace this truth that it is the Spirit of God who is at work in bringing people to Christ. If it is our cleverness, power, authority or ability which allows us to be effective in ministry, then we will receive the glory. If it is God’s power which is at work in us and if we are servants blessed to be used by God, then the glory goes to God where it belongs.
Witnessing In The Power of the Spirit.
So why do we not see more of this at work? The question can be answered by looking at the list of missionaries and evangelists who were used of God to build His kingdom in Acts. Many of them were not powerful people, well educated people or highly effective administrators. That was not the factor which made a person an effective witness to Jesus. In Acts 6 the church chose people to care for the widows. The qualifications for this ministry is that they were to be people who were “known to be full of the Spirit.” One of those men was Philip and it was that qualification which also made him suited to be used of God to be a witness to the Ethiopian Eunuch. Charles Spurgeon said, “It is amazing how persons, of very scanty gifts, and very small attainments, have, nevertheless, become wise toward God, their mental faculties being quickened with regard to heavenly things in a very remarkable manner.” What made them so fit to be used of God? It was a reliance on the Spirit of God and a deep relationship to God.
How can we be filled with the Spirit. One of the problems today is that we are filled with ourselves and our desires. When I say this, I am pointing to myself as well. At the BGSE, someone suggested that the reason is that we have used the language of commitment instead of surrender. The problem with commitment, so it was pointed out, is that we retain control. Commitment speaks about our reaction to God and His work. When we are committed, we make the commitment and consequently, we have the power to choose the level of commitment which we will make. It was suggested that we need to speak in different language. We need to speak instead about complete surrender. When we are surrendered to Christ, then He is in control. We submit to Him and then we are open to what He wants to do in and through us.
When we have settled the matter of control, and we are yielded to Christ, then we are in a position to hear the word of God and to listen to His call to missions and to witness. When we have settled the matter of control, we simply wait for the Lord’s leading in our lives. And He will lead us to the opportunities that He has for us. Because we are yielded, we will be living in an obedient and attractive way. Because we are yielded, our time belongs to Him. Because we are yielded, our mouth and our willingness to speak belongs to Him. When we then are witnesses, it will not be because of our cleverness and ability, but because the Spirit of God has empowered us and worked through us.
One writer says, “The power of the Spirit is unleashed in our lives when we put our confidence in the word of the cross, pray for the Spirit’s help and obey the command to go and to witness.”
Those of you who are following some of the blogs of people in our church may have read Amber’s story. Amber went to Toronto to be with Mike and Martha. Before leaving, she had prayed that God would make her a blessing. In her blog she writes:
“This morning I flagged down a taxi and on the 7 minute drive to the hospital I had an opportunity to share my faith with the cab driver. He was a really friendly man, and we started off talking about the weather, which led to me saying I was from Manitoba. We talked about why I was in Toronto and then he asked me what I did....If I was a student, or worked etc. I explained that I had a one year old daughter back home and she was my full time job :) and my husband & I also ran our business. He then asked how long I had been married and I replied "5 years." I am surprised he didn't pull over on the side of the road right then and there. He was STUNNED...."Married to one person for 5 years?" he asked in his thick accent that was a little hard to understand. "Yes" I replied. He proceeded to ask me questions like how long we dated before we got married (4 years) and how old I was when I got married (18!) etc. He kept questioning me "So, you are telling me you have only been with one man, ever? How did you know that you should marry this man? Didn't you think about travelling around and seeing who else was out there?" I then had the opportunity to tell him that I was a Christian and believed in God and that He brought us together and we felt Him leading us to be together. He was really fascinated in what I had to say. He continued to ask me "Ok, so here you are in Toronto, by yourself, you never want to do, ummmmmm, what they call a one night stand?" Come ON, Mister! So, I told him again, "No, I am completely happy where God has led me in my life, I have never had any desire to be with anyone but my husband....." And it almost seemed like he didn't believe me. As we continued talking and were approaching the hospital he said "You know, I think this is really great. You are doing the right thing....you can teach your children what you have done and teach them that your 'way of life' is good." he continued to say "People don't talk enough about the happiness marriage can bring, it doesn't always have to be a bad thing." As I left the cab I told him it had been really nice talking to him and hoped he had a great day. I know it doesn't seem like much, but I pray that our conversation will have an impact on this man. I don't know where he was at in life or why he thought that my story was amazing, but I do know that he was able to see a little glimpse of Gods love through me. Little ol' me.”
I appreciate Amber’s ending “little ol’ me.” Because we are Spirit empowered, we will be witnesses.
I want to encourage you to recognize and rejoice that you are a witness for Christ, a living example of what God has done in your life and to not be afraid to live that and to share it.
I want to encourage you to submit to Christ and allow His Spirit to direct your path to witness.
If you are not already doing it, I want to encourage you, once again, to become deliberate about your witness by becoming involved in Operation Andrew.