|YOU SHALL BE MY WITNESSES
Pastor Stephen Muncherian
September 13, 1998
Forty days after Jesus’ resurrection - just prior to His return to Heaven - Jesus has the disciples gathered together with Him in Jerusalem. And there Jesus shares with His disciples His final command - His instruction about what they’re suppose to do once He’s gone. And His words - this command - has been mission statement of His church from that moment until now. What He told the disciples then has just as much authority over our lives today.
This morning - Rally Sunday - our focus is on missions and outreach - our witness of Jesus Christ in obedience to His command. And so - as we begin this new season of ministry together - we want to look together at what Jesus commanded His disciples.
I’d like to read for you Acts 1:8. Jesus is speaking to His disciples and He says this, “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”
These are powerful words for us to hear this morning: “You Shall Be My Witnesses.” How do we obey this command? What does it mean to be a witness of Jesus Christ?
First, Jesus says, “You shall be my witnesses” - witnessing of Jesus is personal.
Last year many of us attended the Billy Graham Bay Area Crusade. Several thousand men, women, and children packed the Cow Palace, The San Jose Arena, and The Oakland Coliseum each night of the crusade. And as Billy Graham gave his message - and then the invitation to receive Jesus as Savior - we watched as thousands came forward.
And that’s often how we think of evangelism - witnessing for Jesus. Some anointed - gifted - speaker who shares a powerful message and people respond. Later in the Book of Acts - after the command of Jesus - recorded in chapter two - Peter preaches a sermon and about 3,000 people trust in Jesus as their Savior. Its hard to think of ourselves as witnesses of Jesus with that kind of example.
But Jesus says, “you” shall be my witnesses - and this is personal. Even Billy Graham when he calls thousands forward - has them meet with individual counselors. Jesus would preach to thousands - but if we look at His ministry He was always avoiding being caught up in large crowds. He healed people and then told them not to tell anyone. In the middle of a large crowd He invited Himself to spend the night in the intimacy of Zaccheus’ home. Jesus talked with the Samaritan woman alone at the well.
And throughout the Bible here are other examples of this type of witnessing. Peter and John with the Temple Beggar. Paul and Silas sharing one-on-one with the Philippian Jailer and then with his family. Philip with the Ethiopian court official alone on a dessert road south of Jerusalem.
People committed to using whatever ability or circumstances God has given them - to share the Gospel with others.
In Kon-Tiki: Across the Pacific by Raft, Thor Heyerdahl tells how he and a crew of five crossed the Pacific Ocean from South America to the South Pacific Islands on a crude raft of balsa logs bound together with hemp rope. During the three-month journey in 1947, they had little control of the direction of the raft and no way to stop its forward progress. They learned early in the voyage that anything dropped overboard was almost impossible to recover once it passed behind the raft.
Two months into the voyage and thousands of miles from land, Herman Watzinger lost his footing and went overboard. The raft, driven by a strong wind in heavy seas, moved ahead faster than he could swim. The five remaining men were horrified for their friend. They tried to throw him a life belt on a rope, but the wind blew it back at them. In seconds, Herman was all but lost to their sight in the tumble of waves.
Suddenly Knute Haugland grabbed the life belt and dove into the water. He swam back to Herman and wrapped his arm around him, holding his exhausted friend and the rope while the men on the boat drew them back to the boat.
Effective witnessing requires individuals willing to risk everything for others who are drowning apart from salvation in Jesus Christ. God wants to use each of us to reach our children - our friends and family - our co-workers - those we’re in contact with - with the Gospel.
Second, Jesus says, “You shall be my witnesses” - witnessing of Jesus is a command. “Shall Be” is an imperative. For the Christian there is no choice.
In Matthew 28:18,19 - Jesus tells His disciples, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.”
There was no congregational meeting to discuss purpose statements and the validity of Jesus’ vision for His church - no ad hoc sub-committees set up to do a feasibility study. Jesus - with the authority of the resurrected Master of His Church commands His disciples to go out and witness. The same command is given to us today.
Some say, “Faith is a personal matter - In our church tradition we don’t push this on people” or “I don’t have the gift of evangelism” or “I’ll just live out my faith in front of my friends and they’ll figure it out” or “I don’t know how to talk about it.” The bottom line for each us is that our Lord has said, “Go out and witness.” And there is no valid reason for disobedience.
Third, Jesus say, “You shall be My witnesses” - witnessing is dependent on the power of God working through us.
Pastor Michael Hartwig of Valparaiso, Indiana, tells this story about himself: I started visiting a man in a nursing home who had been instrumental in starting the major industry in town. When he died, I was asked to do the funeral service. I was nervous, because I knew our church would be packed with dignitaries.
The service went well, and on our way to the cemetery I began turning in my Bible to the passage I was to read at the graveside. While I was turning to 1 Corinthians 15 - which speaks of our certain hope in Jesus Christ - while I was turning to 1 Corinthians 15 - the funeral director asked me a question. I could tell he was impressed with the Gospel message I had brought. He asked several questions, and I answered each one. I was proud of myself and the job I had done. Here was a man who had listened to hundreds of funeral services and he singled out mine as being one of the best.
With this on my heart I stood at the head of the casket with the family and friends in front of me. I asked them to listen to the words of Scripture. I read with a sense of dignity 1 Corinthians 5:1: “It is reported that there is sexual immorality among you!”
The last command of Jesus is not “GO” but “WAIT.” Acts 1:4 “He - Jesus - commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised....You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you....”
The only way to effectively testify of God - Jesus - is if He is the one testifying through us.
Have you seen the PCS Sprint commercial - where there’s a guy and girl out by the ocean. And the guy is talking on a cell phone - and he’s suppose to be talking to the girl’s father and explaining that he wants to marry this girl. And he’s making absolutely no sense at all.
“Excuse sir, the beauty ocean and I see what you think with waves of white rocks....” Until the girl hands him another cell phone and instantly he begins to make sense. “Sir, I’d like to marry your daughter.” Of course he’s got the wrong number. But, with the right cell phone - the right communications company - communication is possible.
It doesn’t matter how excellent a speaker we are - how many witnessing classes we’ve gone to - the books we’ve read - the programs we set up - the goals and objectives - unless we are willing to allow God to work through us - unless we’re plugged into the right means of communication - we’re talking gibberish.
And that’s comforting to know. Because the power and ability to witness doesn’t come from us - it comes from God. No where in the Bible is there a requirement to lead 1,000 people to Christ - God doesn’t hold us accountable for that. God holds us accountable for our obedience to Him - our surrender - our willingness to allow Him to work in our lives - in us and through us.
Fourth, Jesus says, “You shall be My witnesses” - and this concerns the message that we share - witnessing is about changed lives.
There’s a story told about a man who went to the doctor after weeks of symptoms. The doctor examined him carefully, then called the patient’s wife into his office.
“Your husband is suffering from a rare form of anemia. Without treatment, he’ll be dead in a few weeks. The good news is, it can be treated with proper nutrition.”
“You’ll need to get up early every morning and fix your husband a hot breakfast - pancakes, bacon and eggs, the works. He’ll need a home-cooked lunch every day, and then an old-fashioned meat-and-potato dinner every evening. It would be especially helpful if you could bake frequently. Cakes, pies, homemade bread - these are the things that will allow your husband to live.”
“One more thing. His immune system is weak, so it’s important that your home be kept spotless at all times. Do you have any questions?” The wife had none.
“Do you want to break the news, or shall I?” asked the doctor.
“I will,” the wife replied.
She walked into the exam room. The husband, sensing the seriousness of his illness, asked her,“It’s bad, isn’t it?”
She nodded, tears welling up in her eyes. “What’s going to happen to me?” he asked.
With a sob, the wife blurted out, “The doctor says you’re gonna die!”
What are we willing to sacrifice for each other? Theology and doctrine are important. Clearly speaking the Gospel message of man’s sin - and our salvation through Jesus Christ is essential. But, what testifies of the reality of the Gospel is whether or not as Christians the Gospel has impacted our lives. And a powerful testimony of the Gospels impact in our lives is the character of our relationship together as Christ’s Church.
Jesus said, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples - that you witness of Me - if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35)
The Apostle John writes, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God.” (1 John 4:7a)
In this world - where so many struggle to find something or someone to believe in - where many seek God but have absolutely no idea how to find Him - in this world - what will attract our children - our family and friends - those we are in contact with - what will attract them to the Gospel - will be if they see something in us that can only be because of God. A supernatural - divine - relationship caused by the love of God - God who is love - living in our relationship together.
Are we there yet? That type of relationship? - No. The challenge before us is are we willing? Are we willing to set aside everything that would keep us back from that type of relationship and allow God to draw us together in His love?
Jesus said, “You shall be My witnesses.” We are witnesses - good or bad - individuals willing to be obedient to our Lord - in surrendering everything we are to Him - to share and visibly demonstrate His Gospel to others..