Week 28 The Story
“You Shall Be My Witnesses”
One reason I love to study the book of Acts is its uniqueness. It is the sourcebook for the spread of early Christianity. Without it we would know little about the apostolic church except what could be gleaned from Paul’s epistles. It is the chronicle of the spreading flame of the Holy Spirit.
It is also a book with a splendid theme, tracing the work of the Holy Spirit through the birth, infancy, and adolescence of the church. Acts forms the perfect counterpart and contrast to the Gospels. In the Gospels the Son of Man offered his life; in the Acts the Son of God offered his power. In the Gospels we see the original seeds of Christianity; in Acts we see the continual growth of the church. The Gospels tell us of Christ crucified and risen; Acts speaks of Christ ascended and exalted. The Gospels model the Christian life as lived by the perfect Man; Acts models it as lived out by imperfect men.
The study of Acts is particularly important to us because it teaches us how to experience a stimulating, exciting life – how to make our lives count.
The author of Acts was Luke the physician, and he begins with a reference to his already completed work on the life of Christ, which we know as the Gospel of Luke:
“In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen” (vv. 1-2)
Naturally Theophilus remembered, and his thoughts turned to Luke’s great scroll and its remarkable account of Christ’s life. He was thereby primed for what was to follow.
Then in verses 3-5 Luke continues with some new information as he tells Theophilus something more of the time after Christ’s resurrection: “After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God” (v. 30.
Luke is the only scriptural writer who tells us that Christ’s post-resurrection ministry covered forty days. Evidently Jesus appeared at intervals, coming and going from Heaven at will, showing miraculous signs and instructing his disciples “about the kingdom of God.”
Luke’s s record of the stunning encounter on the road to Emmaus is a typical example. Christ met the two followers in an altered physical form and “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself” (24:27), so that they later said (v. 32), “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” The picture of those forty days is one of enraptured excitement, unfolding mystery, suspense, and anticipation.
In the midst of ongoing speculation, Jesus called the eleven together at the crest of the Mount of Olives. The apostolic band was aflame with expectancy.
“So when they met together, they asked him, ‘Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He said to them: ‘It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (vv. 6-8).
These were Jesus’ final earthly words. It has been 2, 000 years, and Jesus has not during that time planted his feet on terra firma and audibly addressed his followers. Perhaps that silence is intended to prevent anything from obscuring Jesus’ last words, so they will continue to reverberate in the church’s ears.
Our Lord has laid down in the clearest terms the mission for those who are to follow him. This is the mission of the church that would dare to call itself New Testament – the mandate of apostolic Christianity.
Verse 8 is the key verse of the entire book of Acts. Chapters 1-7 tell of the witness “in Jerusalem,” chapters 8-11 the witness “in all Judea and Samaria,” and chapters 12-28 the witness “to the ends of the earth.” This is the foundation on which to build an effervescent, exciting faith.
The core commission is seen in the heart of verse 8 “and you will be my witnesses.” We are to be “witnesses” for Christ! This is the recurring message of Acts. The word occurs no less than thirty-nine times. For example:
“God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact” (2:32).
“You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this” (3:15.
“We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem” (10:39).
“You will be his witnesses to all men of what you have seen and heard” (22:15).
To be a witness for Christ is to bring a message that is a marvel of simplicity: Jesus Christ is God come in the flesh; he died for our sins; he was resurrected; now he is exalted in heaven; he calls us to believe in him and so receive forgiveness of sins. This is the good news. There is nothing to join, no system to climb – just a person to receive and, in him, eternal life.
Though this witness is simple, it requires costly commitment from its carriers. It radically touches our inner complexities – who we are deep inside. Not only must we have the message, the logos, the Word, but we must also attract the magnificent compliment that Sir Henry Stanley gave David Livingstone after discovering and spending time with him in Central Africa: “If I had been with him any longer, I would have been compelled to be a Christian, and he never spoke to me about it at all.” Livingstone’s witness went far beyond mere words.
If we are to be effective witnesses for our Savior, we cannot be water boys in the game of life. We have to roll up our sleeves and pitch in. Our lives must display the inner reality of what we externally proclaim. That is why gospel flames raced across Asia. The apostles walked their talk. That is why Paul was able to reach the Praetorian guards while under arrest in Philippi (see Philippians 1:13). Are we witnesses like that?
This matter of ethos – who we are – demands absolute, soul-searching honesty because it is so easy to deceive ourselves. Those of us with a Bible-believing heritage who constantly hear and talk about spiritual things can by the sheer weight of discussion come to believe that we live up to what we talk about, even if we do not. Being an authentic witness demands an open, tender heart that is always growing in the experience it proclaims.
To be a witness we must have logos – the Word of Christ, ethos – the inner reality of what we proclaim, and pathos – passion. The apostles were passionate for Christ. Observe Peter at Pentecost, Stephen at his stoning, Paul before Felix. They fervently promoted their faith. They were a band of zealous believers who were accused of turning their world upside-down.
When George Whitefield was getting the people of Edinburgh out of their beds at 5 o’clock in the morning to hear his preaching, a man on his way to the church met David Hume, the Scottish philosopher and skeptic. Surprised at seeing him on his way to hear Whitefield, the man said, “I thought you did not believe in the gospel.” Hume replied, “I do not, but he does.”
The message is simple, but the demand of the messengers is serious. For effective witness, there must the Word, the inner reality, the passion.
The command to be Christ’s witnesses is for all true believers in him.
There are no loopholes. No one can say, “This does not apply to me.” Our honor exceeds that of any worldly ambassador, whether it be to China, France, or the private offices of the Prime Minister of England. Christ’s last word to us, is, “You will be my witnesses.”
Commitment is the key to a sparkling, meaningful life. Logos, ethos, pathos – what a life!
Our gracious Lord, the call is too high for any of us. But we thank you
that the other Comforter who is just like Jesus is not only with us but
in us. God, help us to be giving, praying, sacrificing, honest; true,
passionate believers, just like the apostles were. In Jesus’ name,