who care for one another and bring God’s love into a broken world”
Maurits Stevens, June 2, 2017
It’s Pentecost and the Church celebrates the outpouring of the holy Spirit – the wonderful gift of the Father! And in today’s message I would like to look in particular at the holy Spirit as a gift ‘to the world’ – working in and through us as you witness Jesus.We’re going to read from Acts chapter 1:1-8. These verses contain the very last words of Jesus before Jesus ascended to the Father. Whereas the gospels ends with Jesus’ last words, Acts opens with it. And whenever you’ve been with someone dying; the very last words are the words that you remember; they’re usually the most important words; the final things that the person wants to say before he breathes his last.
14 years ago Margot and I went on our honeymoon to the beautiful Greek Island Samos. What supposed to be a romantic trip, became actually a romantic trip – however Margot had to share my attention with someone else. Which – at a certain point became quite annoying for her. So, what was happening? As we arrived at Schiphol airport I saw this man standing alone. And I don’t know what it was, but I felt so compassionate with him. Later on it turned out that this man was in the same plane as ours! At that point I began telling Margot about him and what was going on in my heart. I really felt that Jesus had his eyes upon him and that somehow I had to ‘do’ something with that. He wasn’t staying in the same town as we were [fortunately for Margot!]. But call it coincidence or divine appointments, we came across him many times during our honeymoon. At a certain point we did an excursion to a beautiful valley – and guess what, this man was in the same bus as we were! This was the first time I could really interact with him. To cut a long story short –I was busy with this man during our whole honeymoon; in my mind, my prayers, my talks with Margot. But finally after a week, at another excursion to the Island Patmos, I got a chance to speak with him in depth and at length – and was I able to share something about Jesus Christ. After that, I have never seen him again.
It’s Pentecost and the Church celebrates the outpouring of the holy Spirit – the wonderful gift of the Father! And in today’s message I would like to look in particular at the holy Spirit as a gift ‘to the world’ – working in and through us as you witness Jesus.
We’re going to read from Acts chapter 1:1-8. These verses contain the very last words of Jesus before Jesus ascended to the Father. Whereas the gospels ends with Jesus’ last words, Acts opens with it. And whenever you’ve been with someone dying; the very last words are the words that you remember; they’re usually the most important words; the final things that the person wants to say before he breathes his last.
And what were Jesus his very last words? Let’s open Acts 1:1-8 and read together.
Reading: Acts 1:1-9
So, the very last words of Jesus leaves us with a commission, an assignment, to be His ‘witnesses’. Does that make you feel comfortable? Or would you rather have heard Jesus saying: ‘now, sit back, relax, enjoy the new life in the holy Spirit, have fun at church, make something out of your life and meanwhile I draw the whole world to the Father and then come back.’ That would probably be more comfortable. But Jesus didn’t say that. Instead, he left you and me with a commission…to witness Jesus to the ends of the earth!
Witnessing Jesus. The Greek word for ‘witness’ is ‘martur’. A martur is ‘someone who has been part of something and therefore is able to tell about it. He’s an eyewitness! It is someone who is able to stand in for the truth and come out for it.’ It is where our word ‘martyr’ comes from. Stephen – the follower of Jesus in Acts 7 – is the first martyr for Jesus and paid a huge price for his witnessing of Jesus: he was stoned to death! It immediately shows the radical consequences Jesus commission can have – it’s can be far from comfortable!
To witness Jesus thus is to ‘witness’ what you have seen from Jesus with your own eyes and to ‘testify’ [tell, proclaim] about Jesus. Jesus says his last words first of all to his own apostles. His disciples who had served and followed Jesus over the last three years. They truly where His eyewitness, different from us [but I will come back to that later].
But what was the content of their testimony? What was at the heart of their message after all they had seen Jesus do and heard Jesus say? It was ‘Jesus Christ – whom God raised from the dead’! In other words, the resurrected Jesus Christ – this was at the core of their testimony.
I will show you a couple of passages from the story of Acts – as an illustration of the Apostles’ testimony. I am not going to read them all, neither explain it, I am just going to show it:
- 1:22 ‘…For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection’
- 2:32 ‘God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it.’
- 2:36 ‘God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.’
3:15 ‘You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this.’
- 4:10 ‘It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed’
- 4:33 ‘With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus’
- 5:30-32 ‘The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead—whom you killed by hanging him on a cross. God exalted him to his own right hand…We are witnesses of these things…’
- 7:56 ‘“Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’
Conclusion: at the heart of the testimony of the apostles then and us now is Jesus Christ whom God raised from the dead! He who is now made both Lord and Christ!
Acts 13:47 ‘For this is what the Lord has commanded us: “I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’
In the Bible we see a shift in terms of this commission from Israel to Jesus to the new Israel; all followers of Jesus. Now you and I are commissioned to witness this Jesus [whom God raised to life] and to carry God’s salvation into our streets, neighbourhoods, study and work places! A huge but privileged responsibility!
Intermezzo Matthijs den Dekker
I have worked for Athletes in Action quite some years, they do evangelism through sports. I now work at LEF, part of Navigators. At LEF we encourage and equip youth leaders in churches to be an example to their young people. And we have three main areas of focus: discipleship, leadership and missions. Be a follower of Christ, lead a youth group and as a group, speak the gospel and make new disciples.
This should be an easy message for me. I know the theory, I have had some practice, I know the tips and tricks. I could give you all the teaching we do at LEF about being missional. I could tell you about persons of peace, the first one in a community willing to hear your message. About missional communities and how to set them up. About Matthew 28: Go and make disciples and I will be with you!
But if I’d do that, it wouldn’t be personal. It wouldn’t be me. I could probably fill a morning session with training on evangelism, but it wouldn’t be me.
Because when it’s about missions, when it’s about evangelism, I am fearful.
I am scared.
Send someone else.
You see, I’m an introvert. I’m shy. Where other people get energised by being around other people, to me it’s draining. When people look me in the eye, I look away. When extravert people think it’s very ‘gezellig’, I want to go home and read a book. At parties, I sometimes go to the toilet, not to pee, but to get a break.
Do you know this quote?
“The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, walk out the door, and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.”
It’s by Brennan Manning. And if you’re my age, you immediately have a DC Talk-song following up in your head.
Or this quote, by Francis of Assisi.
“Preach the gospel at all times, if necessary use words.”
I love those quotes! Even is the last one by Francis is mythical because he never said such a thing.
It’s all about the lifestyle! Yeah, I don’t have to speak about the gospel. I can just live my Christian life and people will see God’s glory shining through.
But it’s wrong. We need to use words. We need to acknowledge Jesus with our lips.
And when it comes to that, I’m fearful.
I fear being laughed at. I fear talking to strangers. I fear that people don’t like me and they reject me because of my words. I fear letting God down. I have great respect for people who do go out on the streets to speak about the gospel.
So, sharing a message about missions in the power of the Spirit at Vineyard Groningen? I’m not so sure.
But here I am. And it wouldn’t be very uplifting to only hear about my fears and things I don’t know.
Therefor I’d like to share with you a few things that I do know.
What is the gospel? Jesus came to earth, lived his life, spoke about the Kingdom, got accused without any ground, took our guilt and sin on him, was crucified, buried, rose from the death, ascended to heaven, where He is alive, in majesty and glory, right now. That’s the gospel, right? It’s true.
Here’s one you’ve heard before: the Greek word for gospel means good news. Evangelism 101: preach the good news.
But have you ever thought about that?
If it’s true, and it is true, that Jesus came to earth, lived his life, spoke about the Kingdom. If it’s true, and it is true, that he took your guilt and sin, was crucified and buried. If it’s true, and it is true, that he was risen from the death, ascended into heaven, and got clothed in majesty and glory. If all that is true, and it is true, then what does that mean for my life, right now, today?
The gospel is good news, but have you ever thought about what’s so good about the good news. For you. What’s good about the good news, for you?
I have a small confession to make. I don’t feel very sinful. I’m sure I do bad stuff, but all in all I’m a decent guy, I know I’m forgiven and I just don’t feel sinful. The message that Christ died for my sin, even though I know it’s important and true, doesn’t touch my heart.
What I do feel is shame. Inferiority. Brokenness. I need to realise that Christ died for that as well. It’s the gospel as well. The gospel is broad and powerful. My favourite verse: There is no condemnation!
Also gospel. Restoration, Hope. That is also the gospel!
One of the reasons I’m fearful, was because I had to use other people’s words. What are my words? What is my message, why is the gospel good news for me? That’s my first thing: Find your own words. Make it personal. What’s so good about the good news for you? The bible says you need to be ready to testify of the hope that is in you.
The second thing.
What is so good about the good news for the person you’re talking to. Be it in the bar, in the streets, at school, work, parties, the park, with your neighbours.
Is it forgiveness of sin? Is it the love of the Father, the restoration of what’s broken. You’re not neglecting the gospel if you don’t talk about sin and repentance right away. The gospel is broad and powerful. What is good news for the person you’re talking to?
Today is Pentecost. When you look at Peter’s speech to the people, it was all about Jesus, about him being raised from the death, being the Messiah. That’s it. Only after people asked: what should we do, did Peter speak of sin and repentance. There is a time for that, but sometimes it’s not the first thing.
Paul in Athens, notices the altar for the unknown God and delivers a powerful message, that quotes Athenian poets. But he doesn’t even mention the name of Jesus.
That’s my second thing: You need to be where the other person’s at. What’s so good about the good news for them?
Two encouragements that I need to hear as well.
Last thing: There is grace for those who are fearful. There is no way I can let God down. He loves me and he loves you. He is proud of what we do and he loves to watch us share about Him. Is he checking his list whether we’re using all the right words? No, he sees your heart, he sees you opening up to others. And if you mess up, if you’re fearful, there is grace. There is a loving Father. And he will not let you down. So probably, there’ll be a next time… And a next time, and a next time. Because God is graceful and he will keep providing new opportunities.
Witnessing Jesus in the power of the holy Spirit
Witnessing Jesus doesn’t come naturally to most of us and it certainly doesn’t make you feel comfortable. In fact, it’s far beyond your comfort zone. You will be confronted with difficult questions, rejection, you will get confused about your own faith etc. And yet, you will also testify great and powerful things happening to people. Maybe someone will come to faith in Jesus Christ. Another person might be healed after you’ve prayed for him. Or encouraged by your words or deeds.
The good news of Pentecost, however, is that it’s not just you who are to witness and testify of Jesus Christ! You receive help. Help in the form of ‘power’! Help in and by the holy Spirit! The holy Spirit as major Resource made available to you and through whom you are actually able to witness Jesus and be fruitful in that!
The holy Spirit – promised long before Pentecost day [e.g. Is. 44:3, Joel 2:28] – poured out on that particular day and on any other person following that day as he/she gives his life to Jesus! Have you put your trust in Jesus Christ? Then you have received the holy Spirit – Pentecost has become your reality!
Now, there is a lot to say about the holy Spirit, but I keep it short and only in connection to our commission to witness Jesus.
Jesus clearly makes this obvious connection between the holy Spirit, his Power and your witnessing [Triangle].
The holy Spirit is poured out on the Church, given to you, but for the sake of the world! Do you begin to see that?
I too can be really afraid of what people think of me when I witness Jesus Christ. I can be really nervous to say the wrong words. To mess up my relationship with the other person. Or I can be hindered by the thought ‘how could this person ever come to faith in Jesus Christ?’ These are natural fears and thoughts. And that’s exactly why I need the holy Spirit in my witnessing of Jesus.
Without the holy Spirit and his power, all my efforts would be useless and fruitless. Because it’s exactly the holy Spirit’s job to empower myself and my testimony, to give me courage and the words, to empower to my deeds with the supernatural and to work through my witnessing in the heart of the receiver. I am not responsible for the outcome, neither are you, that’s entirely up to God. But my responsibility is to obey to Jesus and be His witness in my everyday life. In the Spirit’s power.
And really, if you read through the gospels and the book of Acts you will become impressed about what the holy Spirit is capable to do through you and us ordinary and simple people! Nothing is too great for God – even not raising people from the dead…
The truth is that the same Spirit that was on and in Jesus is on and in you! As Jesus had been anointed at his baptism with the holy Spirit and power, so his followers then and now are similarly anointed and enabled to carry on Jesus work on earth!!!
And so, what Jesus did then – is what you and I are enabled to do now, but only because of the holy Spirit working in and through you!!!!
Closing – Witnessing Jesus, but how?
Where does all this leave us for now? I guess we all know that we are supposed to witness Jesus. But probably many of us can identify with some of Matthijs his experiences and fears. Or we don’t actually know where and how to start. On top of that, we are no eyewitnesses as the apostles were. But what we do have are the gospels, the story of Acts and the testimony of the Bible at large. You have the holy Spirit! And…you have your own personal stories and experiences.
4 Tips to help you on the way to witness the Resurrected Jesus.
- Live Public Christian lives. Follow Jesus in your everyday life – you’re his disciple after all. But as you do; let your words, deeds, actions, character speak for itself. Including your flaws, mistakes and all other things you aren’t really proud off. But live public Christian lives.
- Tell personal stories. 1 John 1:1-4. John opened this letter by telling his personal story with Jesus. You have your personal stories and experiences with Jesus. No one can argue about that – but more: this is what people are actually interested to hear about. How faith ‘works for you’ – how Jesus is real to you! Tell personal stories.
- Invite people to places where they are exposed to the gospel. I hope that our church is such a place. But at the same time, I have to admit that we can do better in creating contexts where people can discover Jesus for themselves – places like an Alpha course or so. Pray for this and maybe you can play a role in creating such a context to which we can invite people to go to in order to discover Jesus.
- In closing: Take small steps. Begin with taking small steps. Jesus is not particularly calling you to be the next Billy Graham [or maybe he is, but even then…]! Take small steps, learn by doing. [Joke: the only person who never suffered from a messiah complex was the Messiah himself ;) – point: you’re not responsible to save the whole world]. The apostles where to begin at Jerusalem – the centre of Jesus ministry at that particular moment. Begin at home; within your own marriage and family. Witness Jesus! Begin where you live and work, study and play sports. Begin small – witness Jesus, maybe even simply by blessing people in every possible way through your words and by your deeds.
Witness Jesus in the power of the holy Spirit!