19 September 2022

We are Witnesses


The gift of the Spirit equips the church to bear witness concerning Jesus, especially about his resurrection from the dead

Preaching the Gospel - Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash
In 
Acts, Jesus tells his disciples they will be “BAPTIZED in the Holy Spirit not many days hence” and “receive power,” enabling them to be “MY WITNESSES in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea and Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the earth.” Spirit baptism equips and motivates the church to proclaim the gospel “to all nations” - [Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash].

In his sermon at the house of Cornelius, Peter explained how God had “anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power: who went about doing good and healing all that were oppressed of the devil.” And Peter and his compatriots were “WITNESSES” of these things, not only of the miraculous deeds done by Christ but also of his crucifixion “on a tree” and subsequent resurrection – (Acts 10:38-40).

WITNESSES


Witness” translates the Greek noun ‘martur,’ the same term from which the English word “martyr” is derived, though it did not yet have martyrdom as its primary sense when Luke penned Acts. That would come later after many Christians had paid the ultimate price for their “witness.”

The calling to become “witnesses” is central to the purpose and theology of the book of Acts. While the presence of the Spirit often enables a believer to engage in supernatural acts and displays of power, that is done to confirm what God has accomplished in His Son, especially in his death and resurrection.

It is the Spirit that enables disciples to become effective witnesses. As Peter reiterates in his sermon on the Day of Pentecost - “This Jesus did God raise up, whereof WE ARE ALL WITNESSES,” and especially of his resurrection from the dead:

  • (Luke 24:46-49) - “So, it is written that the Christ should suffer, and rise again from the dead the third day and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name unto all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I send forth the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”
  • Brethren, I may say unto you freely of the patriarch David, that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us unto this day. Being, therefore, a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins he would set one upon his throne. And he, foreseeing this, spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that neither was he left unto Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus did God raise up, whereof WE ARE ALL WITNESSES” – (Acts 2:29-32).

And it began with the original disciples who were “eyewitnesses” of the life of Jesus, especially of his resurrection. In fact, a fundamental requirement for being one of the Twelve Apostles is that he had been with Christ from his baptism until God raised him from the dead:

  • Of the men, therefore, that have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and went out among us, beginning from the baptism of John, unto the day that he was received up from us, of these must one become a WITNESS OF HIS RESURRECTION. And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias” – (Acts 1:21-23).

BOLDNESS


When the fledgling church found itself under pressure from the Temple authorities, rather than flee Jerusalem or seek relief from the pressure, the assembled saints prayed for God to enable them to proclaim the gospel despite the words of the Sanhedrin:

  • And when they had prayed, the place was shaken wherein they were assembled; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness. And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and soulAnd with great power gave the apostles their WITNESS OF THE RESURRECTION of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all” – (Acts 4:31-33).

Noteworthy is the declaration that the Spirit-enabled apostles are “witnesses” of Christ’s resurrection. And though supernatural miracles accompany their preaching, more important to the narrative is the “boldness of speech” the Holy Spirit has granted them in gospel proclamation.

The gospel includes more than the raising of Jesus from the dead, but, in Acts, the stress falls especially on testifying about this aspect of his life. And even when his death is mentioned, it lays the grounds for testimony concerning his resurrection.

Not many days later, Peter and the apostles found themselves hauled before the High Priest, where they were ordered to cease and desist from preaching Jesus. To this, Peter responded - (Acts 5:30-32):

  • The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you killed, hanging him on a tree. Him did God exalt with his right hand to be a Prince and a Savior, to give repentance to Israel, and remission of sins. And WE ARE WITNESSES OF ALL THESE THINGS; and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to them that obey him.

Once again, front and center is the claim that God raised His Messiah from the dead, and, once more, we read the affirmation that, under the empowerment of the Spirit, the disciples are “witnesses” of this, and of all that God did through Jesus Christ.

WITNESSES OF THE RESURRECTION


Years later, when Paul and Barnabas arrived in Antioch of Pisidia, the apostle spoke in front of the local synagogue. Among many other things, he declared to his audience:

  • And when they had fulfilled all things that were written of him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. But God raised him from the dead. And he was seen for many days of them that came up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, WHO NOW ARE HIS WITNESSES unto the people. And we bring you good tidings of the promise made unto the fathers, that God has fulfilled the same for our children, in that he raised up Jesus” - (Acts 13:30-31).

Not only does Paul refer to the testimony of eyewitnesses to the resurrection, but he also affirms that many others saw Jesus alive AFTER God raised him from the dead.

Jesus Saves - Photo by Edwin Andrade on Unsplash
[Photo by Edwin Andrade on Unsplash]

In the book of
Acts, “signs and wonders” do occur. Miracles confirm that the promised gift of the Spirit has been released. But such things are a means to an end but not the end itself.

The Spirit empowers the church to bear witness to all men about what God has done through His Son, and especially to testify to his resurrection from the dead.

And it is not coincidental that at the end of the book we find Paul under house arrest, where, despite his confinement, he “received all that went in unto him, preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching the things concerning the Lord Jesus Christ WITH ALL BOLDNESS.”

The call for the church to proclaim the gospel is foundational to the book of Acts, and to do so whether in times of peace or persecution, or whether the message is accompanied by confirming “signs and wonders” or not, the Spirit summons Christ’s disciples to become “his WITNESSES” by proclaiming him “with all boldness,” even to the “uttermost parts of the earth.”



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