May 27, 2018
As most of us know, Kevin Wood is a presenter of Abraham Lincoln. He works hard to be as authentic as possible. He studies Lincoln and memorizes Lincoln’s speeches. He purchases clothing that looks like that worn by Lincoln. He tries to speak in the way that Lincoln spoke.
When you look at Kevin dressed as Lincoln, you have to do a double take. The only thing that makes us realize Kevin is not Lincoln is the fact that this is 2018 and Lincoln has been dead for 153 years. However, Kevin does bear witness to Lincoln.
Before Jesus ascended to the Father he said that his followers are to be his witnesses. As we begin in earnest looking at the fine print of what it means to follow Christ, we begin with the idea that we are witnesses of Jesus. We bear the name and likeness of Jesus to the world. This is what we want to think about this morning. In this world, believers in Jesus bear witness for Jesus.
I. DO YOU BELONG TO JESUS? Acts 1:6-8
This might seem like an elementary question since we are a congregation of professing Christians. But when we think about witnessing for Jesus, it is an important question. In v.8 Jesus says, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses.”
If you are involved in an accident and must go to court, your attorney will try to find eyewitnesses of the accident who might testify in your behalf. In that situation it is better if the witnesses are not related to you in any way. They are independent of you and have nothing to gain in testifying in your behalf. If they can corroborate your story they help to make your case to convince judge and jury to rule in your favor. Such people are your witnesses.
But when it comes to being a witness for Jesus, personal relationship with Jesus is vitally important. Witnesses of Jesus do not just speak in his behalf as independent, dis-interested people. They belong to Jesus. They belong to Jesus in a certain way. What does it mean to you to belong to Jesus? When you got connected with Jesus what was your understanding of that relationship?
There are many people who get connected with Jesus out of a desire to have their sins forgiven so that they can go to heaven when they die. If you had training in how to witness in the last 50 years, you were probably taught to ask a person, “If you were to die tonight do you know if you would go to heaven.” If a person wasn’t sure about it then we could go on to explain how we are all sinners and how sin separates us from God, but Jesus died for us on the cross and if we repent of our sin, believe that Jesus died for us, and pray a sinners prayer to receive Jesus as our Savior, then we will be saved and will go to heaven when we die. After all, Jn.3:16 says that, “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” So for many, being saved means having our sins forgiven so that we can have eternal life. Now, that is good as far as it goes, and many of us came to know Christ in this way.
However, I notice in the gospels that Jesus did not present himself in that particular way. And I also see that this way of presenting the gospel is not how Paul presented it. In fact I believe this presentation of the gospel reduces the gospel to a momentary transaction that takes place through a once and done prayer. And so there are people who because they prayed a prayer think all is well between them and God and do not give it another thought.
When Jesus came preaching, he called people with ears to hear, to repent of their current way of living and thinking, to count the cost and follow him. And while Jesus did die for our sins and rose again, the gospel story did not end with his resurrection. It continued with his ascension. He ascended to reign as Lord and King at the Father’s right hand. When the gospel is presented as a means of going to heaven when we die, there is a tendency to leave out the fact that Christ is Lord and King. We make the gospel to be more about ourselves than about Jesus. This presentation of the gospel makes discipleship to Jesus optional, giving rise to the idea that a person can receive Christ as Savior, but not as Lord and King.
Last week we read 1Cor.6:19-20 which says, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” Followers of Jesus belong to Jesus.
Jesus not only gave his life for us; he gives his life to us. His life is our life. We no longer derive our life from this world. In Gal.2:20, Paul writes, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
Paul tells us that when we die we will be with the Lord. The Lord is in heaven and so when we die we will be in heaven. But heaven is not our eternal home. God is going to make a new heaven and new earth. Peter writes in 2Pt.3:13, “But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” Christ, who rose from the dead and ascended to the Father, is the firstborn of the dead. He is the beginning of the new creation. And here is where it gets exciting for you and me. In 2Cor.5:17, Paul writes, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” Literally it reads, “If anyone is in Christ, new creation!”
Do you see what is happening here? The idea of being saved is not just about taking care of our sin problem so that we can go to heaven when we die. The idea of being saved is that when we embrace Christ as Savior, Lord, and King, we are given his new creation life to live out. We are becoming new creation people. Ideally, as our lives take on the character of Christ we show this world, which is passing away, what new creation people look like. Believers reveal in their living, heaven on earth.
If I only view Christ as someone who forgives my sin so I can go to heaven when I die, then I am free to live however I choose during the rest of my life on earth. Heaven is assured because I satisfied the requirement of belief and prayed the prayer. But that is not the gospel. And it will be very difficult to be a convincing witness for Jesus with that kind of understanding.
So I want to ask: Do you belong to Jesus? Is Jesus your Lord and King? Is the goal of your daily living to see Jesus Christ reflected in your character, conduct, and conversation? Are you living for Jesus? If not, why not? This is not about how well you perform. We all sin. This is about who is your king? Who runs your life? Who has your daily allegiance?
II. ARE YOU A WITNESS FOR JESUS? Acts 1:8
In Acts 1:8 Jesus says, “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." During the days of my youth and young adulthood, I participated in numerous seminars on evangelism training like Evangelism Explosion. I learned how to ask clever leading questions. I learned how to present the Four Spiritual Laws, or Steps to Peace with God. I learned how to use the Roman’s Road and the bridge illustration. And I used all those methods with some effect.
Last week in prayer meeting I shared how when I was a student at Moody, we had to do door to door evangelism. The man who trained us demonstrated a technique to use. When the door was opened we were to put our foot into the opening. We also were taught to use a survey that tried to gauge where a person was at spiritually. Perhaps you were brought to Christ in one of these ways. God uses many people and many ways to bring others to Christ.
But because our witness for Jesus is rooted in our relationship with Jesus, the condition of our relationship creates a framework or platform for our witness. If Christ is the Savior, Lord and King of our lives, then he is the most important person in all of life. We love him and worship him and serve him and promote the good news about him to others. We do this because the good news is truly good news to us. We cannot do otherwise because Christ is our life.
If we are going to think about why we are not better witnesses for Jesus, I suggest we begin by asking ourselves whether or not knowing Jesus is as good as we say it is. Our life with Christ is the place to begin. If we don’t get this right, we won’t get witnessing right.
I’m reminded of a college student named Larry. Many years ago my parents were on staff at a well-known church in Boston. Larry was a student at Boston University. He came to Christ. He was excited and began telling his friends. I will never forget at one Wednesday prayer meeting when Larry gave a testimony. In his excitement he said, and I quote, “All my friends are saying, ‘What the hell happened to Larry.’” Well we all laughed. Larry didn’t know that he shouldn’t use that word in that way, especially in church. But we were all excited with Larry.
In the beginning of our walk with Jesus, we may have that kind of excitement at what Jesus is doing in our lives. It will affect our witness. But as we mature in Christ and go deeper with him, that will also affect our witness. But it should not diminish our witness. And that is what happens to far too many Christians. In 2Cor.4:4 Paul writes, “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” But for many of us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God has grown dim.
Jesus does not have a small vision for his church. In v.8 Jesus envisions his church taking the gospel into all the world, to the end of the earth. He does not picture his church just making converts. Rather he envisions his church making disciples, calling people to become lifetime apprentices of Jesus. Nor does Jesus paint a picture of his church at home in the world. He told his disciples that they would be persecuted and imprisoned and brought before kings and governors. He said that when this happens this will be your opportunity to bear witness. And so it is even today. We are his witnesses
If you are going to move into a new housing development or apartment, you will be shown model houses or apartments to help you decide what kind of place you want to live in. Sometimes those model homes or apartments are staged. In other words, they have furniture in them to help you get an idea of what it would be like to live in those places.
When God sought to reach the world, he himself came in the person of his Son, Jesus. Jesus is fully God. When we look at Jesus we see God in all his goodness. While Jesus was on earth he spent a great deal of time teaching and training his disciples to carry on his mission of seeking and saving the lost. After his ascension he sent his Holy Spirit to indwell every one of his followers. So now God is present in us. Believers in the world are models of what it is like to know Christ. But we are not just models. We are alive in Christ. We are the real deal. God has put us on display in this world so that the world can see how good, how life changing it is to know and follow Jesus as our Lord and King. Do you belong to Jesus? Are you his witness? Amen