“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
That simple, little verse from our lesson today sets our scope of ministry as followers of Christ... Our “scope of work”... our goal, as set by Jesus himself... is to spread the Word of God “to the ends of the earth.” It’s what we... as the church... as God’s people... are to be about!
Of course, it also sets the scope of work for our personal, individual call from Christ, too... reminding us that as followers of Christ, you and I have been commissioned individually to be his witnesses wherever we go... time, talent, treasure...
It’s easy to read these words (as many have over the centuries) and assume or conclude Jesus was only speaking to his disciples... the apostles. That Jesus’ commission wasn’t actually for you and me... it’s intended use was realized long, long ago. And if it’s still relevant today... it’s only for preachers and evangelists and church workers... people like that! Those who’ve been ordained... and called...
But, do you think Peter and John and James ever heard of place called West Point, Georgia... or Lanett, Alabama... the Valley? Their world was only as wide as their feet could carry them!
Jesus’ words are for all of us! “You will be my witnesses.” The commission is for all us who are called to take part in the priesthood of believers. Jesus said, “Follow me,” but he also said, “Be my witnesses.” So, as modern disciples, we’re called to do just that!
Of course, in order to be a witness, you have to know what a witness is! Good ole’ Webster’s tells us a witness is: “One who has seen or heard something and who can give evidence for its occurrence” or “One who signs his name to a document for the purpose of attesting to its authenticity.”
A credible witness doesn’t base their testimony on hearsay... or rumor... but on first-hand knowledge... with an eye-witness being thought of as the best witness of all!
But if that’s the case... how can you and I, as 21st century Christians, living in a place the apostles never heard of or even imagined, ever hope to be witnesses of something that happened 2,000 years ago, in a place most of us have never seen?
Of course, we’ve read the Bible; we know the story, but does that make us witnesses? Can we, as the dictionary definition of “witness” says, give evidence of the occurrence of these things? We weren’t even there!
It’s true that the apostles were eye-witnesses of what Jesus said and did during his earthly ministry... but it’s also true that Jesus’ words are for us... you and me... “you will be my witnesses.”
Our testimony is about Christ, not just about what happened long ago and far away. We are to give evidence about what we ourselves have heard, seen, experienced. We can’t be witnesses unless we have actually met the Risen Christ—unless our lives have been transformed by him... only then, can we be his witnesses.
And being a witness for Christ is something we probably do a lot more often than we know or realize. St. Francis said it best: “Proclaim the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.” How many people in your own life have been witnesses, silent or otherwise, to you?
We might remember our own parents... grandparents... teachers... coaches... preachers... or a whole gaggle of others who’ve inspired and encouraged us, both by their words and by their example. We’re called to do the same for others...
Of course, again, most of us don’t think of ourselves in that way. But regardless, since Christ has called us to be witnesses, we’d best not think it’s optional.
But what can we do? How can we get started? It would appear from the scripture that two things are necessary.
First of all, of course, we can do nothing through our own power. In John 15:5, Jesus told his disciples: “apart from me you can do nothing!” And in Acts 1:8 Jesus said: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.” The Spirit of Christ... the Holy Spirit... is the means by which God equips us to do all the things we cannot do on our own.
I know what you’re thinking: “I can’t share my faith... I can’t speak... I can’t teach... I can’t help... I can’t minister... I can’t make a difference!” We’ve all said it! And it’s true! “I can’t!” But Christ, can! It’s only when we’re clothed with power from above that we can do the work he calls us to do. And you may not be able to literally pack up and go to Africa or South America or Langdale to share the Gospel. But you can use a phone... you can send a text... or lick a stamp! You CAN forgive, and forgive and forgive! You can turn the other cheek... You can go the extra mile! There’s always something we can do, with Christ’s help!
The second thing that we must do is reflected toward the end of the reading from Acts: “All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together...” Jesus himself prayed... and he calls us to be a people of prayer. Prayer is our life-line to God himself... it’s the most powerful and effective means we have for changing, not only our world... but ourselves. Prayer keeps us aligned with God in Christ and enables us to tap into the sustaining and enabling power of the Holy Spirit.
How are we allowing God to use us as witnesses for Christ? How are we sharing our story? How are we offering the love, grace and mercy of Christ - that we’ve experienced for ourselves - among our friends, family, neighbors?
Don’t be afraid to let the presence and purpose of Christ shine through your life! Don’t be afraid or overwhelmed at the idea of being a witness. You’re a witness, like it or not! Because someone is watching... and someone is needing YOU to be a light.
Let us pray: May the love of the Lord Jesus draw us to himself; may the power of the Lord Jesus strengthen us is his service; may the joy of the Lord Jesus fill our souls, as we embrace our calling to be his witnesses wherever we may be. Amen