We are Witnesses!
At the start of the Book of Acts, Jesus predicts that his disciples will be “baptized in the Holy Spirit not many days hence,” and they will “receive power” enabling them to become “MY WITNESSES both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea and Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the earth.” The receipt of the Gift of the Spirit would equip and motivate his saints to proclaim his message “to all the nations.”
In his sermon in Caesarea, Peter explains how God “anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, who went about doing good and healing all that were oppressed of the devil.” Peter and his compatriots were “WITNESSES” of these things, not only of the miraculous deeds done by the Nazarene but also of his crucifixion “on a tree” and resurrection from the dead – (Acts 10:38-40).
|[Photo by Ben White on Unsplash]
The English term “witness” translates the Greek noun ‘martur,’ the same word from which the English word ‘martyr’ is derived. The summons to become “witnesses” is central to the purpose and theology of Acts. While the presence of the Spirit often enables a believer to engage in supernatural acts, even that serves to confirm the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
It is the Spirit that empowers disciples to be effective witnesses. As Peter reiterated 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, Acts 2:29-32).
It began with the first disciples who were “eyewitnesses” of the life of Jesus and his resurrection. The fundamental requirement for being one of the Twelve Apostles was that he had been with Christ from his baptism until God raised him from the dead - (Acts 1:21-23).
When the young Assembly found itself under pressure from the Temple authorities, rather than flee Jerusalem or seek relief from persecution, the assembled saints prayed for God to enable them to proclaim the Gospel despite the words and resistance 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 soul… And 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).
The Apostles were “witnesses” of Christ’s resurrection, and though supernatural miracles did accompany their preaching, far more important was the “boldness of speech” granted to them by the Holy Spirit to proclaim the Gospel despite adversity and persecution.
Not many days later, Peter and the Apostles found themselves hauled before the High Priest, where they were ordered to cease preaching Jesus. To this, Peter responded:
- “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” - (Acts 5:30-32).
The claim that God raised His Messiah from the dead was central to their message, and with the empowerment of the Spirit, the Apostles were “witnesses” of this very thing.
OF THE RESURRECTION
Years later, when Paul and Barnabas arrived in Antioch of Pisidia, the Apostle spoke before the local synagogue, where 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 did Paul refer to the testimony of eyewitnesses of the resurrection, but he also affirmed that many others saw Jesus alive AFTER God had raised him from the dead.
“Signs and wonders” do occur in Acts. Supernatural miracles confirmed that the promised Gift of the Spirit had been granted. But such things were a means to an end but not the end itself. The Spirit-empowered Assembly attests to all men what God has done through His Son, and especially in his Death and Resurrection.
|[Photo by Thomas Lipke on Unsplash]
It is not coincidental that at the end of Acts, we find Paul under house arrest where 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.”
Regardless of his chains, the Spirit of God would not allow Paul to remain silent, the proclamation of the Kingdom of God and the resurrected Christ must go on no matter what. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “I am under compulsion, for woe to me if I preach not the gospel!” – (1 Corinthians 9:16).
The call for the Assembly of Jesus to proclaim the Gospel is foundational to the Book of Acts, and to do so both in times of peace and persecution and with or without confirming “signs and wonders.” The Spirit summons his disciples to be “his WITNESSES” by proclaiming him “with all boldness,” even to the “uttermost parts of the Earth.”
- The Mission - (The mission of the church between now and Christ’s return is to announce the Good News of his Kingdom to all nations – Matthew 24:14)
- With Boldness - (In response to threats from the high priests, the young Assembly was filled with great boldness of speech by the Spirit – Acts 4:5-31)
- Spirit and Mission - (Jesus now dispenses the gift of the Spirit to his people, and it empowers them to carry out gospel proclamation to all nations)