October 6, 2013
Pastor Joe Wittwer
Difference
#3—A Powerful Witness

 

Opening:

What do you think of when I say the word “witness”?  Some of you think of the movie with Harrison Ford.  Some of you think of a courtroom where a witness answers questions and tells what she knows.  And some of you think of what some zealous Christians do, like this (John 3:16 guy).  Or this: we’re going to send you out on the streets armed with tracts.  

Today is part three of our “Difference” series.  What difference has Jesus made in your life?  And what difference are you making in the world?  One of the ways we make a difference in the world is by simply sharing the story of Jesus, or how Jesus has changed our story.  You are a powerful witness.

If you are a Christian, it’s because someone told you about Jesus.  Someone was a witness.  That’s how the good news spreads.  And every follower of Jesus gets to be part of the fun!  

Introduction and offering:

 

What in your life can only be explained by the presence and power of God at work in you?  Jesus changes us.

One day, Jesus and His followers sailed to the other side of the sea of Galilee—the Gentile side.  As they got out of the boat, a wild man came running toward them. This poor tormented man lived naked in the cemetery among the tombs; day and night, he screamed and cut himself.  The locals had tried to subdue him but no one was strong enough; when they chained him, he broke their restraints.  Now he was running straight at Jesus and His men!  Suddenly he threw himself at Jesus’ feet and started groveling.  Jesus commanded the evil spirits to leave him; they begged Jesus to send them into a herd of pigs feeding on the hillside.  Jesus did, and the pigs—2000 of them—rushed down the hill into the sea and drowned.  A swine dive!  

The herders ran to town to tell everyone that their pigs were dead.  They came out and found the local menace clothed and in his right mind.  They were so scared that they asked Jesus to leave.  They had already lost their pigs; who knew what might happen next!   When Jesus got in the boat to leave, the man He had freed wanted to go with Him.

Mark 5:19–20 (NIV) Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” 20 So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.

“Go home and tell your story—tell what the Lord has done for you.”  The man did, and people were amazed.  And the next time Jesus showed up on the other side of the lake, a great crowd of thousands gathered to hear Him—probably because of this man’s story.  

One man’s story set off a chain reaction.  Maybe your story will do the same thing!

What difference has Jesus made in your life?  And what difference are you making in the world?  Those are the questions we’re asking in this 5-week series, “Difference.”  We’re going from inside out.  We started with the difference in you: you are a new creation, and you are a holy person.  Today, we start moving from the inside out: you are a powerful witness.  

Here’s how the Jesus movement spreads.  Jesus changes someone—they become a new and different person.  Then they share the Jesus story and their story with others around them, and Jesus changes them too.  It’s contagious!  You catch it and you pass it on.  It’s always been that way.  History is filled with famous Christians—from the apostle Paul to Augustine to Martin Luther to Billy Graham.  But as important as those people are, the message of Jesus has always been spread primarily by ordinary people—unknown people—who tell their story to others.  “This is what He has done for me.”  

You are a powerful witness.   

The Big Idea: Jesus has made a difference in your life.  As you tell that story, He makes a difference in others too.

Here’s our text.

Acts 1:8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

This is Jesus’ promise to the first disciples after His resurrection.  I believe it still applies to us.  I want to talk about the two parts of this promise: you will receive power and you will be my witnesses.  First, what He does in you: you will receive power.  Second, what He does out of you: you will be my witnesses.

1. You will receive power.

Acts 1:8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

You will receive power.  The Greek word for power is dunamis.  We get “dynamite, dynamic, dynamo” from it.  It means power or ability.  This power or ability comes from the Holy Spirit.  In the New Testament, power is often associated with the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit empowers believers to do what God wants them to do.  

In Luke 24, the resurrected Jesus sends His followers to tell His story everywhere.  But first, they are to wait for the power.  

Luke 24:48–49 (NIV) You are witnesses of these things. 49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

You are witnesses—but first, wait for the power.  

ILL: One time, our connection to the water main sprung a leak.  It was on my property, so I had to fix it.  I had to dig a hole 8 feet by 8 feet and 5 feet deep.  My friend Rick came over to help me.  For a couple hours, we swung pick axes and shovels, and we got down about 6 inches.  I got on the phone and called a guy with a backhoe.  He dug that hole in 30 minutes—it was the best $100 I ever spent!  I just needed to wait for the power.

The Christian life is like that.  It’s not difficult; it’s impossible.  You need God’s power to do God’s work, and to live God’s way.  

Jesus promised that they would receive power when the Holy Spirit came upon them.  And He did.  The story is in Acts 2, and it’s remarkable.  Jesus’ band of followers has basically been under cover, hiding out for the last 7 weeks since Jesus’ death and resurrection.  But when the Holy Spirit came upon them, they received power and immediately began publicly telling the Jesus story.  In fact, Peter boldly proclaimed the gospel to a big crowd and 3000 people believed and were baptized on the spot!  That’s a pretty good church plant!

Notice that they received power and immediately were witnesses to Jesus and what He had done.  This happens repeatedly in the book of Acts: people are empowered by the Holy Spirit to boldly proclaim the gospel.  Paul wrote to Timothy:

2 Timothy 1:6–8 (NIV) For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. 7 For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. 8 So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God.

There it is again.  The Holy Spirit gives us power.  And specifically, it is power to fearlessly share the story of Jesus—without shame or timidity.  But I think there’s more.  The Holy Spirit not only gives us power to tell the story, but to live the story.

Ephesians 5:18 (NLT) Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit,

This command—be filled with the Spirit—is present tense: keep on being filled with Spirit.  Stay filled with the Spirit.  Here’s the interesting thing: the following verses describe the Spirit-filled life in terms of relationships.  Here’s how Spirit-filled people treat each other as husband and wife, as parents and children, as employer and employees.  In other words, when we’re filled with the Spirit, He changes the way we do life, the way we do relationships.  He gives us the power to live a new and different life.  Our relationships become a living example of the gospel, a picture of God’s love and grace.  

Why is this important?  Because if we tell the story but don’t live the story, we will be discredited.  We’ll be dismissed as hypocrites—there’s a lot of that going around.  We have to live it and tell it both.

It’s not either/or; it’s both.  Some people say, “I just live the life and let my life speak.”  It takes more than that—your good life alone won’t save anyone—the story of Jesus must be told.  Others tell the story but don’t live the life—and that doesn’t work either.  We’ve got to do both: live like Jesus and tell His story.  Walk the walk and talk the talk!  And to do that, we need the Holy Spirit.  

I hope this makes you feel like I did digging that hole—it’s time to call for help.  We need the Holy Spirit.

I pray every day—often multiple times a day—to be filled with the Spirit.  Why?  I leak!  I wander from God.  I sin.  I get distracted. So I ask Him to fill me, again and again.  I surrender and open myself and ask for His help, His power.  Let’s do that right now.

Prayer.

You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.  And…

2. You will be my witnesses.

Acts 1:8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

The word “witness” translates the Greek martys (noun) or martyreo (verb).  The English word “martyr” comes from it, and from early Christian history, the martyrs were considered the ultimate witnesses for the faith.  

ILL: “The Martyrdom of Polycarp” is the oldest written account of a Christian martyrdom outside the New Testament, written in the mid-second century.  Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna (in modern day Turkey) was arrested and taken to the arena.  When the proconsul told him to swear allegiance to Caesar and renounce Christ, Polycarp replied, “For eighty-six years I have been his servant, and he has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?”

As the proconsul insisted that he swear loyalty to Caesar, Polycarp answered: “(You) pretend not to know who I am; listen carefully: I am a Christian. Now if you want to learn the teaching of Christianity, name a day and give me a hearing.”  

So the proconsul said: “I have wild beasts; I will throw you to them, unless you change your mind.” But Polycarp said: “Call them!”

Then the proconsul said, “Since you make light of the beasts, I will have you consumed by fire.” Polycarp said: “Do what you want.  The fire you threaten burns for a time and is soon extinguished.  There is a fire you know nothing about—the fire of judgment to come. But why do you wait? Do what you want.”  

The dude was a stud!  Where does that kind of power come from?  The Holy Spirit gave Polycarp the power to be a witness—a martyr.  

But what did martys mean?  It was a witness, someone who testifies in legal matters.  It’s the same today.  To be a witness in our legal system means that you faithfully tell what you saw and heard.  That’s a witness, and what he gives is called a testimony.  By the way, both “witness” and “testimony” are from the same Greek root, martys.  

This is precisely what it meant for Jesus’ followers.  The apostle John wrote:

1 John 1:3 (ESV) …that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you.

The first followers of Jesus saw Him and heard Him.  They lived with Him for 3 years and some of them wrote down part of what they saw and heard.  

John 21:24–25 (NIV) This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true. 25 Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.

John and each of the other gospel writers were witnesses, faithfully telling the story of Jesus which they had witnessed.  And they especially focused on the death and resurrection of Jesus.  They had watched Him be killed and buried.  And then, they had seen Him alive again!  And this was their message: they told the story of Jesus, culminating in His death and resurrection—and that resurrection is what set this story apart.  

When they decided to replace Judas in the apostolic band of 12, the qualification was that whoever it was had to be a witness of His resurrection.

Acts 1:22 For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.”

And then when the apostles told the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection, they always made sure to add that they were witnesses—they had seen him die and then saw Him alive.

Acts 2:32 God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it.

Acts 3:15 You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this.

Acts 5:30, 32 The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead—whom you killed by hanging him on a cross. 32 We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”

Jesus died and was raised.  We saw it!  We are witnesses!

So now you should be thinking, “How can I be a witness?  I wasn’t there.  I didn’t see it.”  You’re right.  None of us are witnesses like the apostles were.  They were there, we weren’t.  They saw it; we didn’t.  Their role is unique in the Christian faith—they were Jesus’ chosen witnesses to see His death and resurrection and pass it on to us.  

So how are we witnesses?  In two ways.

A. Tell His story.

Even though I haven’t seen Him myself, I have the written testimony of people who did.  I can tell His story with confidence that I have it from right from eyewitnesses.  It has been carefully preserved and passed down in an unbroken chain for 20 centuries.  I know that the story I’m telling is the same that the apostles told in the first century, that Polycarp told in the second century, that Augustine told in the fourth century, that Leo told in the sixth century, and that Luther and Calvin told in the sixteenth century.

So tell the story.  Tell the Jesus story—it’s incredibly powerful.  

Romans 1:16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.

The gospel, the Jesus story, the good new of what God has done in Christ, is powerful!  

ILL: Imagine not just hearing, but seeing the story of Jesus for the first time, almost as an eyewitness.

That’s what happened to a primitive tribe in the jungles of East Asia when missionaries showed them The Jesus Film. Not only had these people never heard of Jesus, they had never seen a motion picture. Then, all at once, on one unforgettable evening, they saw it all—the gospel in their own language, visible and real.

Imagine how it felt to see this good man Jesus, who healed the sick and was adored by children, held without trial and beaten by jeering soldiers. As they watched this, the people came unglued. They stood up and began to shout at the cruel men on the screen, demanding that this outrage stop.

When nothing happened, they attacked the missionary running the projector, thinking he was responsible for this injustice! He was forced to stop the film and explain that the story wasn’t over yet, that there was more. So they settled back onto the ground, holding their emotions in tenuous check.

Then came the crucifixion. Again, the people could not hold back. They began to weep and wail with such loud grief that once again the film had to be stopped. The missionary again tried to calm them, explaining that the story still wasn’t over, that there was more. So they composed themselves and sat down to see what happened next.

Then came the resurrection. Pandemonium broke out this time, but for a different reason. A party erupted and the celebration was deafening. The people were dancing and slapping each other on the back. Christ is risen, indeed!

Again the missionary had to shut off the projector. But this time he didn’t tell them to calm down and wait for what was next. All that was supposed to happen – in the story and in their lives – was happening.  

That’s how the story of Jesus was received in the ancient world, and is still received by many who hear it for the first time today.  Some of us have heard it so often that our hearts are callused.

ILL: In 1996, when we did Easter in the Arena, a local TV station sent a reporter to interview me.  She asked what we were doing and I explained that we were gathering to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus.  By the end of the interview, she was frustrated.  “I need an angle, something newsworthy for this story.”  

“How about this?” I said.  “A man was raised from the dead!”  

That’s newsworthy!  The gospel is good news, rather than good views.  It is story of what God did for us in Christ.  It is the Jesus story in all its simplicity and power.  Here’s the only man who predicted his death and resurrection—and did it!  It’s a compelling story.

By the way, Chuck Smith died on Thursday.  Chuck was the founder of the Calvary Chapel movement and the father of the Jesus People movement in the 1970’s.  Huge difference!  I met Chuck personally a couple times.  The first one was in the Denver airport, where I recognized him.  He was sharing the gospel with an airline employee at a gate.  I stood near and listened, and it was so simple, gentle and clear.  I don’t think the woman knew who he was—he was just a kind man who was sharing the story.  Chuck was the real deal; he will be missed.

Tell His story—you are His witness.

B. Tell your story.

I began today by telling you about the wild man whom Jesus delivered and then sent home to tell his story.  That one man’s story impacted an entire region—the Decapolis, which had ten towns.  Thousands came to hear Jesus because of this one man’s story.  One man’s story set off a chain reaction; maybe yours will do the same.  You never know.  Tell your story—you are His witness.

This isn’t the only time this happened.  In John 4, Jesus stopped to rest by a well in Samaria.  A woman came to draw water and Jesus asked her for a drink, and then engaged her in a conversation.  At one point, Jesus asked her to go get her husband.  “I don’t have a husband,” she said.  

“You’re right,” Jesus said.  “You have had five husbands and you’re not married to the man you have now.”  Jesus read her mail.  She was stunned.  

The woman went back to her village and told everyone, “Come with me and see a man who told me everything I ever did.  Could this be the Christ?”  What was she doing?  Telling her story.  Jesus had just read her mail, and now she’s telling everyone.  “This is amazing.  Check it out.”  So they did.  They hiked out to the well to meet Jesus—because of her story.

John 4:39 Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.”

Many of them believed in Jesus!  Why?  Because of the woman’s story.  But then many more believed when they heard Jesus for themselves.  She just told her story and it started a chain reaction.  

Tell your story.

The apostle Paul was arrested and spent a couple years in jail.  Finally, he gets a hearing with King Agrippa.  This guy has power—he could help Paul or hurt him.  What’s Paul do?  He tells his story.  You can read it in Acts 26.  He tells his story and he finishes with the Jesus story.  And then he appeals to Agrippa, “Do you believe?”  

Acts 26:28–29 Then Agrippa said to Paul, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?”

29 Paul replied, “Short time or long—I pray to God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.”

Paul tells his story.  Why?  He wants King Agrippa—and everyone else in the room—to become what he is (a Christian), to have what he has (new life in Christ).  

Tell your story.

“But, I don’t know what to say.”

How about this?  In John 9, Jesus healed a blind man.  The religious authorities kept pestering this man, asking him what he thought about Jesus.  Finally, he said,

John 9:25 “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”

I was blind, but now I see.  I was this, but now I’m that.  Fill in the blanks.  Here’s what Jesus did for me.  He can do it for you.

Tell your story.  It’s powerful.  God will use it.

Your next step: Each day this week, ask the Holy Spirit to fill you. And tell someone your story.

If you’re not yet a Christian: ask a Christian to tell you his/her story—in three minutes.