A legend recounts the return of Jesus to heaven after his time on earth. Jesus bore the marks of his earthly pilgrimage with its cruel cross and shameful death. The angel Gabriel approached him, so the legend goes, and said, “Master, you must have suffered terribly for men down there.”
“I did,” Jesus replied.
“And,” continued Gabriel, “do they know all about how you loved them and what you did for them?”
“Oh, no,” said Jesus, “not yet. Right now only a few people in Galilee know.” “Gabriel was perplexed. “Then what have you done,” he asked, “to let everyone know about your love for them?”
Jesus said, “I’ve asked Peter, James, John, and a few of my friends to tell other people about me. Those who are told well in turn tell other people about me and my story will be spread to the fartherest reaches of the globe. Ultimately, all of mankind will have heard about my life and what I have done.”
Gabriel frowned and looked rather skeptical. He knew full well what poor stuff humans were made of. “Yes,” he said, “but what if Peter and James and John grow weary? What if the people who come after them forget? What if way down in the twentyfirst century, people just don’t tell others about you? What then? Haven’t you made any other plans?
And Jesus answered, “I haven’t made any other plans. I’m counting on them.” Twenty centuries later, he still has no other plan. He is counting on us.
High on God’s priority list is saving the lives of men and women. God’s heart beats for the souls of men and women. In fact, it is his constant thought, his continual pursuit, and his consistent plan. This passion is reflected in Jesus. Jesus is God revealed. And Jesus “came to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10). It is reflected in Jesus’ commission to the church. The church is the body of Christ in the world today. The church is to “Go and make disciples of all the nations” (Matthew 28:20). It is reflected in some of Jesus’ final words while on earth to individual believers. Each believer represents Jesus. Jesus said, “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” (Acts 1:8).
Just as God is in the life-saving business so is Jesus, so is the church, and so are individual believers. We can’t escape that fact. The plan for saving those lives that was given to Jesus, then to the church, and then to individual believers has not changed. There is no other plan.
The Elements of the Plan
The inspiration. Jesus said, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you.” The Holy Spirit indwelt God’s people at Pentecost to give believers the power to witness. The power is given for a purpose. That purpose is to be a witness. The endowment of power was the prelude to the effectiveness of the witness. The Holy Spirit equips us to boldly share our faith. That power provides us with the equipment and the motivation to share our faith.
In our witness we don’t necessarily need to work harder, we need to work smarter. We don’t need a new presentation, or a new program, or a new instruction, or a new training program. We just need to allow the power to be unleashed in our lives.
We Christians, myself included, are like the lady that took a first aid course. She was trained and equipped in all the proper procedures and mechanics in giving first aid. On the last night of the course the instructor ask if anyone had had an opportunity to use their training. This lady raised her hand. “Tell us about,” replied the instructor. “Well, the other night there was a terrible accident in front of my house. Quickly I ran out to see. I saw a man slumped over the steering wheel of his car. His face had hit the windshield. He was scratched and cut. His right arm was lacerated with blood oozing out. It was horrible,” the lady said.
“What did you do?” asked the instructor.
“I remembered my first aid,” said the lady. “I knew if I put my head between my legs I wouldn’t faint.”
Peter Marshall, the famed Presbyterian minister, would say, “We Christians encased in suits designed for many fathoms deep are marching bravely to pull out plugs in bathtubs.”
We have the power, we have the equipment, we have the instruction. We just need to use it.
The obligation. Jesus said, “You will be my witnesses.” The verb is in the imperative mood. It is a command. There is no choice. Jesus did not say, “Please witness,” or “try to witness,” or “if you feel like it witness,” or “when you finally feel competent then witness.” There is no witness protection program with God. Jesus was implying that you and I would be his witnesses, period.
Here’s the point: We are either obedient or disobedient witnesses.
Notice Jesus did not say “You will go to witness” or “You will do witnessing.” He said, “You will be my witnesses.” We are witnesses. Witnessing is not just something we do; it is something we are. We don’t go to witness, we witness as we go. With every breath we take, with every word we utter, with every action we make, we are witnessing. It’s been said that when Stanley discovered Livingstone in Central Africa and had spent some time with him, he said, “If I had been with him any longer I would have been compelled to be a Christian and he never spoke to me about it at all.” The witness of his life, his being, was irresistible.
The representation. Jesus said, “You will be my witnesses.” As followers of Jesus Christ, we represent Christ. We witness on behalf of Jesus. Our witness is for him and about him.
If you have ever visited the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas, you have noticed that on the wall near the main entrance is a portrait with the following inscription: “James Butler Bonham – no picture of him exists. This portrait is of his nephew, Major James Bonham, deceased, who greatly resembled his uncle. It is placed here by the family that people may know the appearance of the man who died for freedom.”
No literal portrait of Jesus exists either. But, we, his followers, greatly resemble him and stand in his place representing him to the world carrying his message that he died for our freedom.
The occupation. Jesus said, “You will be my witnesses.” A witness, according to the dictionary, is one who has seen or heard something. It is one who is called upon to testify. A witness is someone who says I know this to be true. We don’t witness about something we have received second- or third-hand. No court is interested in hearsay testimony. We witness out of our first-hand experience. A witness does not say, “I think so,” a witness says, “I know so.”
In Biblical times witnesses did more than live their lives for Christ, and share their life-saving stories, often the witnesses gave their very lives. The word for witness is martus from which the English word martyr is derived. The word became a Christian word. For a witness for Jesus Christ was one who, literally, would give his or her life. In sacrifice, and possibly, martyrdom, they would stand and die for Jesus. We know of the gospel today because of the men and women who have gone before us sacrificing their lives so the message would spread.
And, where does it spread?
The expansion. Jesus said, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” The witness was to operate in overextending series of concentric circles, first in Jerusalem. Jerusalem was where Jesus was publicly crucified as a criminal. In Jerusalem, Peter had denied Jesus, Judas had betrayed Jesus, and the other disciples were in hiding. These men had no political, social, or economic clout. Jesus, however, commanded them to begin in Jerusalem with the implication not to leave the city until they had succeeded there. It was a very difficult assignment.
Within weeks of Jesus’ departure, however, the disciples were accused by the religious experts in Jerusalem of having fulfilled the Great Commission in that city. Speaking on behalf of the council of elders, the high priest told them, “You have filled Jerusalem with your teaching” (Acts 5:28). In a matter of weeks, the church went from the Upper Room to every living room in Jerusalem. It is estimated by scholars that during the first twenty-five years of the Jerusalem church, it grew from 120 people to over 100,000 people.
It would have been so easy for them to say we have enough in Jerusalem, why do we need to go to Judea. And definitely not Samaria, much less the rest of the world.
I remember several years ago when we lived in Indiana drying by a health club. They had a big sign out front: New Member Drive – Price Reduced.” That hit my button. So I joined the health club. Several weeks later, the owners put the same sign back up and when I drove into the parking lot and saw the sign my immediate thought us: “I don’t want any more members. I may have to wait in line for the racquetball court, or wait for the shower. I’ll not be able to the locker I like or park close to the building.”
It dawned upon me that is the way human depravity works. We don’t want anymore people because of the inconvenience it would cause us. What if those early disciples had said, “We’ve reached 100,000 in Jerusalem, that’s enough.” What if the apostles’ said, “I’m not going to risk my life for the cause. The whole world can go to hell for all I care.” What if the person who shared Christ with you had said, “I don’t have time. It’s too inconvenient for me to tell you about Jesus.” Where would we be now?
We are here today because the disciples waited and the power of the Holy Spirit embodied their lives. They dared to take Jesus at his word. They didn’t just talk about witnessing they were witnesses. They represented Jesus everywhere they went. They began where they were-Jerusalem, but in every expanding circles they told of the lifechanging power of Jesus throughout the Judea; then Samaria, the semi-Jewish state, would be a kind of bridge expanding out into the rest of the world; and finally their witness would travel to the fartherest reaches of the world.
You and I are believers today because a few disciples took Jesus at his word. They told people who in turn told other people who in turn told other people. And the word spread from generation to generation, from culture to culture, from century to century. And now we are responsible for telling others about the love of Jesus so the chain will not be broken. It’s the only plan that Jesus has.
We can’t grow weary. We can’t forget. We must tell others about Jesus. Jesus has made no other plans.