Can I Get a Witness?

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By Queen Street Baptist Church. Discovered by Player FM and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Player FM, and audio is streamed directly from their servers. Hit the Subscribe button to track updates in Player FM, or paste the feed URL into other podcast apps.

Acts 1:1-11

Introduction

Have you ever been in the awkward experience of expecting someone to do something and you are not sure if they are going to do it? You are hanging on their every word and action, hoping that that they will get around to what you want them to do or say. It can be stressful.

When Amanda and I were getting married, we decided to have the publishing of the banns of marriage. This is when the pastor announces during a regular worship service that so and so are getting married. At the time I was a youth pastor in Brantford and Amanda was attending a church here in St Catharines. Since we were getting married here, we decided to have the banns read at her church. I came down to St Catharines to join her for church and to hear our banns published. So we sat down in the pews and prepared for our big moment. The pastor began the announcements and we got all ready and… nothing. That was okay, the congregational prayer was coming up and that would be just as appropriate. We got read and… nothing. The pastor began preaching and we had resigned ourselves that he had completely forgotten. But then in the middle of his sermon, he pulled out a piece of paper and read out our banns. He had forgotten but remembered during his sermon and actually made the connection quite well.

I get a similar feeling in the passage that we are looking at here. Jesus had been crucified and had risen on the third day. He had spent forty days with his disciples and was about to return to heaven. Before this happened, a conversation between Jesus and the disciples took place. They ask him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” Remember that many Jews saw the Messiah in very much “this world” terms. The Messiah was a Son of David, who like David would fight for his people’s freedom. Jesus had pushed that definition significantly. On the cross, Jesus had defeated the powers of sin. In the empty tomb, Jesus had defeated the powers of death. How much harder could it be to defeat the power of Rome? There is a sense, as the disciples see Jesus preparing to leave, of “Aren’t you forgetting something?” Did defeating the Roman Empire and restoring Israel to political independence just slip Jesus’ mind? Let’s take a look.

But Witnesses

You can’t blame the disciples for wanting the kingdom of Israel to be restored. They didn’t like paying Roman taxes and they didn’t like having Roman troops occupying their land. If a foreign power was occupying our country, we wouldn’t like it either. Add to that, the Old Testament has numerous examples of God actually restoring the kingdom of Israel and promises of doing it again. It really seems like a reasonable request.

And notice what Jesus says. Jesus doesn’t tell them that God will not do that. It is just that the timing of that event is not their business. When will it happen. Some think it is the modern state of Israel others that it is an eschatological event. The point is that it would not happen in their lifetimes.

In a recent sermon, I spoke to you about the “big but.” That often in the Bible one statement will be made, which may feel discouraging and then there will be a but something else that has hope. Jesus was not going to restore the kingdom of Israel on that day “but.” But what?

Jesus moves them from worrying about he was going to do with Israel to what the Holy Spirit was going to with them.

We will look soon at the day of Pentecost, but we need to note here that what was to happen was Holy Spirit activity. It was not what they were to do with a bit of Spirit tagged on but what the Spirit was going to empower them to do.

And what were they supposed to do? They were to be witnesses for Jesus in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria.

What is a witness? I is not necessarily a professional evangelist. How do we normally use witness? A crime is committed and the police look for a witness so that they can find out the truth of the event. That is pretty much what the disciples are being asked to do. They are witnesses of their experience with Jesus and they are to share that with others.

Jesus then adds something to this. They are to be his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria. In one way this is a geographical expansion. Jerusalem is the city where they are. Judea is the region that Jerusalem is in and Samaria is the one after that. But it is more than geography. It is also about comfort zones. Jesus could have said Galilee instead of Samaria. Galilee was further away and was Jesus’ home. But Galilee would have been just as, if not more comfortable than Judea. Samaria was a place where there was significant ethic tension. Jesus is saying that they should be witnesses to those they are most comfortable to those they are least comfortable with.

Today’s Witnesses

What does this mean for us? There are some differences between us and those original disciples. They were with and knew Jesus personally. They saw him face to face. Jesus gave them this command directly. But the principles are the same.

I know some Christians who are grieving the loss of influence that the church has in our society. Some can remember when stores were closed on Sundays and the Lord’s Prayer was mandatory for all students, Christian or not. They long for those good old days.

Some may be praying for a return to Christian Canada. How long O Lord until you return Canada to its Christian heritage? And yet Jesus’ words to the disciples remind us that God’s primary concern is not to wed political and religious forces. When we look to the New Testament, we have trouble finding any support the church having authority over society. It was never meant to be a top down situation.

We may long for a Christian Canada “but.” But what? The same “but” as before. But we are to be witnesses of Jesus. But that sounds kind of hard and uncomfortable. If we think that, we also need to remember that the Greek word for witness is martyr. The word didn’t originally mean people who die for their faith. Rather many of the early Christians who were witnesses, happened to die for their faith, thus transforming the meaning of the word.

Here in Canada it is unlikely that we will die for being witnesses for Jesus. We may offend some people, but they probably won’t kill us.

But what if you haven’t been to Bible college or seminary? What if you are not gifted as an evangelist? Jesus doesn’t command us to explain the theological details of how he saved us from sin. Jesus said to be witnesses.

Think back to the crime example. If a person is a witness to a shooting, the police don’t demand that they be an expert in ballistics. They saw one person pull some kind of gun on another and pulled the trigger. That’s all they they need to testify.

Being a witness is about sharing your experience with Jesus. You don’t have to answer every potential question. You witness to what Jesus has done in your life.

And the Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria principle applies to us as well. We start with those who are most like us, with those we are most comfortable with. But then we move out beyond that circle, to those less like us. Then we get to the Samaritans, whatever group may really struggle with. Remember that there was real ethnic hatred, on both sides, between the Jews and Samaritans. If the disciples had to do it, and as we will see they did do it, then we have no excuses.

Conclusion

Jesus didn’t forget about the restoration of Israel. It didn’t slip his mind. Rather it was not his priority. His priority was for the disciples to be his witnesses. What is Jesus’ priority for us? It is the same thing as for the disciples. It is about being witnesses of Jesus. It is not about shoving religion down people’s throats. It is not about being push or abusive. But somehow, we are to live and speak in a way that people can tell that Jesus is at work in our life. The great thing about this is that this not done in our own strength or according to our own wisdom. There is a reason why Jesus tells them to wait for the Holy Spirit. By the power of the Spirit we can testify to the truth of Jesus to those that he brings in our path. Our challenge is to let him do that with us not just for those like us but for the Samaritans in our life as well.

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