Witnesses: Gathered and Ready

Witnesses: Gathered and Ready

TEXT: Acts 1:1-8; Luke 24:44-49

Unimaginable loss, wondering if anything will change, questions about next steps… a full couple of weeks for the followers of Jesus. Like those early disciples, we have shed tears, sought answers, and asked “What now?” And I can’t think of a more fitting text for today than the one from Acts 1.

Jesus had been crucified, then appeared risen from the dead. Luke records (Luke 24) the stories of Jesus appearing to different people and explaining things. He explained the scriptures and he “opened their minds to understand the scriptures.” Can you imagine? Don’t you wish Jesus was here to answer our questions?

He also gave them a mission: Christ suffered, died, and lived again; tell everyone everywhere (the nations) about repenting for the forgiveness of sin; you followers are witnesses to all this; God has promised power to accomplish this.

We are still trying to understand, follow him, and have hope. I don’t have all the answers to what has happened in the last few weeks, but I can point you to the words of Jesus and the confusion of the disciples who were not so different from us. I pray you will find some answers, some direction, and some hope from that.

The Best Plans… (vv. 6-7)

“Lord, NOW are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” Now you’re going to beat down the Romans, right? You obviously have the power – their torture and soldiers couldn’t keep you down. Now you’re going to bring it, right? After three years of Jesus’ teaching and the recent explaining of the scriptures and helping them understand, the insistence of the disciples in asking that question would be laughable if I didn’t do the same thing all the time.

Thanks for the Sunday school lesson, Lord; now here’s what I really want to know…

“Is this the year our church is going to grow? What if we tried small groups? What if we do a better job of connecting with our visitors? What about a social media coordinator?” Yep, I’m right there with the disciples. I am struck – and convicted – by the disciples’ question that I still have much to learn about “Thy will be done” and putting God’s will ahead of my own.

Or the deep questions made fresh this past week: “Lord, when will the violence in our world end? When will wars and shootings come to an end? What about injustice and racism and political divisions?” Thanks for the cross and Easter and grace and all that, but when are you going to fix things? And what are we supposed to do in the meantime?

Jesus’ answer is short and deep; and then he moves on. His answer is verse 7, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority…” What in the world is an epoch? We don’t get to know the day and time the end will come. And we don’t get to know the timing, that is, God’s time. What Jesus is saying is that it’s God’s business and we would do better to listen to what God IS saying then speculate about what God is not revealing. Jesus is very clear in this passage that he would reorient us towards our present mission.

The message for the disciples is WAIT for God’s POWER and follow God’s PLAN.

The POWER (v. 8a)

Here’s the best part: the fuel, the POWER, for this work is not something we have to generate. It comes from God. Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would be poured out on those who trusted in Him, and that Spirit would energize, compel, protect, embolden, catalyze, and bless the words and actions of human witnesses.

And God’s Holy Spirit is not something we have to earn a degree to figure out, or scale a mountain to discover, or have a special quality to deserve. God promises it! If you are a Christian, you believe and trust and follow Jesus Christ; and Jesus has promised his Spirit will live and work in you. We would be foolish – beyond foolish – to ignore that power and resource God has given us as believers.

We do not have to wait like the disciples did for the power of the Spirit at Pentecost. It’s already happened; it’s already available for us. So for us, WAITING for God’s power is really SEEKING God’s power.

We can ignore, tune out, dismiss, and otherwise miss out on that power; that happens all the time. Or we can try to run on our own power, resources, strength, and wisdom; that also happens all the time. Our own power may even work in some ways for a while; but it won’t in the long run and it won’t when we hit that impossible wall, whatever it may be. Only God is big enough and powerful enough.

The PLAN (vv. 8b, 1-5)

Okay; we need God’s power. What are we supposed to do?

In the second part of verse 8 Jesus spells out the PLAN. It is clear that it is not our plan, but what God is doing. Jesus said, “…you shall be My witnesses…” What is it that we have witnessed? Think about a witness in a courtroom. The questions are, “What have you seen? What have you heard? What do you know?”

Luke summarized the Christian witness in verses 1-5. That is what is referenced by “witnesses” in verse 8. We are witnesses to four things:

  1. Jesus’ ministry as recorded in the Gospel of Luke – what he did and taught (v. 1)
  2. Jesus’ suffering and resurrection (v. 3)
  3. Specific teaching about the Kingdom of God (v. 3)
  4. The promise and reality of the Holy Spirit in the believer’s life (and sign of the promised Kingdom of God) (vv. 4-5)

That’s the basic story we need to have under our belt, applied and experienced and explained through the filter of our own lives. Said even more simply, we need to know God’s story in Christ, witnessed through our own story and experience.

Then Jesus goes on to describe the scope of this PLAN – the where of it: “…in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (v. 8). This is God-sized work and we are a part of it here first, then in our neighborhoods, community, nation, and world.

The POWER and the PLAN

What does all that look in our congregation, our community, and beyond? It does not mean sitting by while the world moves on around us. But neither does it mean seeking salvation in our own strength (or that of our musicians or staff or parties or politicians). For the Christian it means seeking God’s power and participating in God’s plan.

Can I grow our church with better preaching, music, technology, or friendliness? Maybe we can attract a few people to those things – but does that attract people to a great God or to great music? Only God has the power to change human hearts, to forgive sin, to restore new life, and provide a new identity and purpose. We certainly will continue preaching, singing, and welcoming newcomers, but if we aren’t first asking God and trusting God to do the hard work – the supernatural work – it’s all for nothing. We need to be pre-occupied with what God is already doing around us. That may be at Brighton or across Rea Road or across the city. It may look like nothing we can envision yet. But if our #1 priority is seeking God’s power and participating in God’s plan, then we will be ready and working in the right direction.

Likewise, can we reduce the number and severity of tragedies like those we’ve seen in recent days? Yes, we can change gun laws, offer and fund mental health resources, offer education and training, and so much more. We stalemate suggesting singular fixes because they are tied to our politics. We spend our energy arguing between non-competing solutions when we need to do it all! What if – as our Christian witness – we looked for what God’s values and priorities were – children, life, peace, healing, help – sought God’s wisdom and participated in making those values drive our solutions? Indeed, we would continue pursuing remedies I mentioned, but deeper resources could be brought to bear.

I get the frustration of complaining about “thoughts and prayers” and no action. That’s not what I’m talking about. The disciples were guilty of action without thought and prayer; I’m afraid we do the same whether it’s something like growing the church or something like responding to human tragedy and suffering. Jesus made it clear: God IS working in the world and in human lives right now. And as believers we need to ground our actions in the wisdom, power, and purposes of God.

Sometimes desperation and getting to the end of our rope will cause us to look for God’s power and plan. But that need not be the only way it happens. In wisdom and humility, we can choose that even now.

Lord, what are you doing? How can I be a part? Will you help me do that?

Some Music Used

  • Preludes
    • Lion of Judah
    • Build Your Kingdom Here
    • Fill Me Now
    • A Mighty Fortress – Cathy Youngblood, piano
  • Open Up the Heavens (Meredith Andrews)
  • Let Your Kingdom Come (Sovereign Grace)
  • CONFESSION: Shine into Our Night (Sovereign Grace)
  • Go Forth for God