Every follower of Jesus is appointed and equipped to be His witness in the world. We’re witnesses even if we haven’t seen Christ’s miracles with our own eyes, heard his voice, touched His resurrected body or watched him ascend into heaven as King. If we call ourselves Christians, we are His witnesses, whether we like it or not. It’s just a matter of what kind of witness. Witnessing is not just for those original eye-witnesses in the first century or the few super-spiritual, extrovert Christians who lead our local church. Every believer whose mind has been opened by the Holy Spirit is a witness to the greatest true story of all time. No matter what our personality or style, the Holy Spirit will empower us to testify of what God has done through Christ. The great anomaly is that God’s Kingdom will advance in power to the ends of the earth through weak witnesses like ourselves. Let’s allow the Lord to show us a panorama of his global mission, so that we can take our place in it as faithful, Spirit-empowered witnesses. Today’s texts are from the end of Luke and beginning of Acts. They are Luke’s account of the Great Commission, Jesus’ last words to his disciples:
(Luke 24:45-49): Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”
(Acts 1:3-8): After his suffering, he presented himself to them 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. 4 On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
A reasonable question
The original eye-witnesses of the resurrection asked Jesus a reasonable question given their context: “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:5)
It was a legitimate question given the fact that their minds had just been opened to see that Jesus was the long-awaited suffering Servant promised through Isaiah. What’s more, Christ had risen from the dead and said that they were on the verge of a great outpouring of the Spirit, just as the prophets had promised (Micah 4:6-8; Joel 2:28-32). Jesus’s Jewish disciples were waiting for David’s King to free them from oppressive Roman rule, to gather God’s exiled people and restore Israel’s greatness. Surely the Spirit’s power would now be used to restore David’s fallen tent and plant Israel in their own land? (Amos 9:11-15) Perhaps Jesus was following the script after all!
But Jesus lifted their blinkers one inch at a time during the forty days between his resurrection and ascension. It must have been six weeks of stunning revelation as Jesus appeared to his disciples, ate with them and connected the Old Testament promises to Himself. He was opening the curtain to show them how the Kingdom of God would advance when He was no longer physically with them.
A cosmic answer
Jesus’ surprising answer to their question is in Acts 1:7-8. It’s as though he takes them up a mountain and breaks open their narrow nationalistic perspective. He shows them a panorama of God’s vast Kingdom and its global mission which extends far beyond the borders of Jerusalem and the state of Israel. He won’t allow his disciples to speculate about the future unknowns, but rather tells them to get on with the certainty of building God’s Kingdom in the meantime. Jesus lays out the ‘known’ before them:
The Holy Spirit will empower them for Christ’s worldwide mission of proclaiming the gospel. It’s a simple but invincible plan.
This is exactly what those early Jewish witnesses did throughout the book of Acts. They were the true, restored Israel and a light for the Gentiles, so that God’s salvation might reach all nations to the ends of the earth, as the Old Testament prophets had foreseen (Isa 49:6). We see thousands of Jews believing in David’s promised King, then Samaritans, the household of a Roman centurion called Cornelius and a Jewish synagogue leader called Crispus, as well as complete outsiders like the Ethiopian eunuch, many Greeks and Gentiles. Just as Isaiah foretold, the name of Jesus became the banner for the nations and the scattered people of Judah from the four quarters of the earth… (Isa 56:4-5; Isa 11:12; Acts 4:4; Acts 8:5; 10:34-35; 13:47; 15:1; Acts 18:8).
Seek first the Kingdom of God
If we are Christ’s disciples, we too must hear Jesus’ answer! Like the disciples, we are prone to place ourselves at the centre of history and get caught up in pointless speculations of when and how Christ will return and restore all things. We are exposed to many preachers and writers today who seem more obsessed about predicting the signs of the times than proclaiming the gospel clearly. They seldom speak about sin or our desperate need of a Saviour and don’t have a heart for mission. Then there are the self-styled ‘anointed men of God’ who mimic the power of the Holy Spirit to extend their own petty kingdoms rather than Christ’s.
We too need to take off our personal blinkers and ask what it really means to be an emissary of Christ, the ascended King, before whom every knee will bow. Jesus reminds us that no one knows the day or hour when He will return as Judge and King of the whole world (Matt 24:36; Mark 13:32). But His return and rule are certain, and in the meantime we’re to let down our nets, sow the seed of the word, keep the oil burning in our lamps and work in his harvest fields— At home and across the world. Let’s take care not to get so caught up with our personal dreams; our own church programmes and national interests, or our hobbyhorses about the future, that we are oblivious to the many unreached people in our own cities and around the world. If Christ is Lord of all (as He claimed to be), we are first and foremost citizens of His eternal Kingdom and His witnesses to the world (Matt 28:18). We should be careful which kingdom we seek.
“Clothed with power”
Jesus’ last words on earth tell us that it’s not education, affluence or military strength that advances God’s Kingdom to the ends of the earth, but power from on high. The disciples needed to wait for the Holy Spirit in the city of Jerusalem before they launched out into the nations (Acts 1:4). But when the Spirit’s power was poured out on them, those terrified, uneducated disciples became bold witnesses of the gospel. Steven died a brave, Christ-exulting death and Saul the murderer became Paul the greatest missionary who ever lived. Over and over again, the apostles testified about Jesus to ordinary and important people (Acts 24:22; 3:15; 5:32; 10:39; 10:41; 13:31). The Holy Spirit convinced and convicted hearts, leading thousands to bow before the King of kings.
In context, “power from on high” is the Holy Spirit’s power to help us bear witness to our Lord and to open spiritually blind eyes to see the truth of our message and respond to Christ (1 Cor 2:4). It is not a magic wand to give us what we want.
Even today, the Holy Spirit prepares ears to listen. He cuts and burns hearts to respond to the truth (Luke 24:32; Acts 2:37). He equips and leads Jesus’s witnesses. He gives us deep confidence about who Christ is and the courage to speak and suffer on His behalf. The Spirit still gives us grace, faith and irresistible words of wisdom, like He gave Steven when he witnessed to those who stoned him. He still teaches us what to say when we are opposed and fumbling for words (Luke 12:11-12). Without the Spirit’s power, our best efforts to witness will fail.
“You will be my witnesses”
Even though we live 2000 years later, we can still be truthful, Spirit-empowered witnesses if we speak plainly about what we know about Jesus and what He means to us. One of the most credible witnesses in the Bible is the demon-possessed man called Legion, who was once naked, tormented by demons and living among the tombs. After Jesus freed him, he sat at Christ’s feet, clothed and in his right mind. He begged to stay with His Saviour, but Jesus sent him out saying, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him” (Luke 8:39). That’s a lovely picture of an authentic witness! We too have a wealth of blessings in Christ to share with the whole city. Like Legion, we have experienced the mercy and grace of Jesus’s forgiveness. We now know peace and love instead of alienation. The invisible God has revealed himself to us through His Son. We have a bridge to the Father through the cross of Christ. Jesus has sent us out with a wonderful testimony! If Jesus appointed Legion as his witness, surely we can be his witnesses too?
Lord, help us to walk in the power of the Holy Spirit and take the gospel to our neighbours, our city, our nation and the world. Clothe us with power from on high and teach us what to say when we’re given an opportunity. Show us where we can build a gospel oasis in our family, workplace, school, university and city. Root us deeply in serving our local church and make us holy, so that our lives reflect the witness of our words. Lord, may your kingdom come on earth! Give us a heart for your mission to the ends of the earth. Fill us with the wonder of your salvation and then lead us to become witnesses to the unreached people of our world. In the name of Jesus, our Saviour and King, Amen.