SERMON: You Will Be My (Ordinary) Witnesses
TEXT: Acts 1:1-11 (ESV)
It’s good to be with all of you at Gateway Church this weekend. And one thing I want you to know — and it doesn’t matter if it’s your first time with us or if you’re worshipping at our North Main campus — one thing I want you to know is that God loves you and I love you too.
And we’re beginning a new book of the Bible today — we’re going to spend a few weeks — as we head towards summer — looking at the first five chapters of the book of Acts.
So if you have your Bible, please turn with me to Acts chapter one. We’ll be looking at verses one through eleven together today.
And, if you’re a guest with us, something we like to do at Gateway is let you ask questions. So if you have a question during the sermon, you can text your question to the number printed on the bulletin or you can submit it on the Gateway app.
And while you’re finding Acts chapter one, I want you to imagine that you’re living some time around the year sixty AD — not the 1960s — but the year zero zero six zero. It’s been nearly thirty years since a man named Jesus was crucified, but what’s grabbed your attention — is that this Jesus guy has a group of followers who are still claiming He’s God decades after His death. They even say He’s still alive. And they’re living radically counter cultural lives because of Him.
They’ve planted churches, helped the poor, some have been killed for their faith, and one follower of Jesus that you know — Luke — has been near the center of the action for some time. And you want to make sure that what you’ve heard about Jesus — and His followers — is true. So you hire Luke to do an investigation into all that’s happened regarding Jesus and His followers. Because you want to be certain that this whole story about Jesus isn’t nothing more than a silly hoax — you’re concerned about facts only.
Now — more than likely — you’ve experienced some of your friends and neighbors — maybe even some of your family members — make fun of you because of your curiosity about Jesus. You’re becoming — or maybe have become — one of Jesus’ followers too. So to prove to them — and maybe even to prove to yourself that these stories are true — you send Luke off on a journey to verify the facts about Jesus and what His followers have been up to for the past thirty years.
Now Luke — the man you’ve hired to do the investigation — is a smart guy. He’s a medical doctor. He pays attention to details. He has an eye for finding the truth. And now he’s finished his investigation and he’s written down his findings for you.
So if you’ve ever wondered about the Christian faith. If you’ve ever questioned if this religion known as Christianity is reliable — then I want to invite you to join us on this journey as we experience Luke’s findings from his investigation into Jesus and His followers.
RE-ANNOUNCE AND READ TEXT:
And this is how Luke begins his report. Acts chapter one — verse one.
“In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, 2 until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3 He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. 4 And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” 6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” 9 And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, 11 and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:1-11 ESV)
Now notice how Luke begins in verse one. “In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach,” (Acts 1:1 ESV)
Now a couple of things should stick out to us. First, Luke refers to a “first” book he’s written. And the first book is the gospel of Luke. In the time when Luke was writing, books were usually written on scrolls. Scrolls were a great way to record things, but they had some limitations. For instance, if the scroll was too long it would become too bulky to carry around. So most scrolls would keep to a length of about thirty-five feet — which obviously restricted how much could be written on a scroll. Authors had to keep the length of the scroll in mind as they were writing. Kind of like when writing a paper in school — I remember writing some papers in college with a minimum word count in mind. The prof wanted a thousand words, so that was my goal. And I found creative ways to use filler words just to get to the goal. Well writing on a scroll was the exact opposite of that. The scroll forced you to get to the point quickly because space was running out.
And Luke — in this opening verse — shows us that he’s done something quite novel for his day. Knowing that the scroll had a limit to it, he’s written two books to Theophilus. The first book was his gospel and the second book is the book of Acts. A part one and part two of his investigation. Two books that go together. Two books that tell one story.
The second thing to notice is the way in which Luke refers to his gospel. In verse one he writes, “In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, 2 until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen.” (Acts 1:1-2 ESV)
Notice the word “began.” The gospel of Luke tells the story of what Jesus began to do and teach, which would imply what about the book of Acts? That in our book, Luke will deal with all that Jesus continued to do and teach through the life of the early church — a bunch of ordinary people who believe in Jesus.
And finally, notice how Luke indicates that he’s found verifiable evidence that — though Jesus was crucified on a Roman cross — He indeed rose from the dead. Look with me one last time in verse one.
“In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, 2 until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3 He presented himself alive to them after his suffering (which — from Luke’s gospel — we know means Jesus’ death. And how did Jesus present himself alive to them after his death? He did so…) by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.” (Acts 1:1-3 ESV)
Now remember, Theophilus has hired Luke to do a thorough investigation into the accuracy of the Christian faith. He wants Luke to confirm that this isn’t all just a fairy tale or something. And Luke ends his first book — and begins his second book — with an incredible statement — Luke says, “I’ve found proof that Jesus died and rose from the grave.”
So in these opening verses we learn that the book of Acts is a companion to the gospel of Luke. And where Luke’s gospel tells us what Jesus began to do and teach — the book of Acts continues the story of what Jesus does and teaches through His ordinary followers.
CHRIST’S ASCENSION (v9-11)
And now I want to skip down to verse nine. “And when he (that’s Jesus) had said these things (which we’ll look at in a moment), as they were looking on (the “they” being Jesus’ followers), he was (so look at what happens to Jesus. He was…) lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, 11 and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? (And Peter said, “Did you see what just happened? Jesus just flew into the air. Walking on water was awesome — I even tried it myself — but flying...come on...Jesus can fly!” At least that’s what I think Peter would’ve said. But the angel said…) This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:9-11 ESV)
And this helps you to understand why followers of Jesus have reason to hope no matter how hopeless this world may seem. It’s been promised that Jesus will return one day to Earth. And this is the not just Good News — this is the Best News for everyone who believes in Christ. Because when Jesus returns He will make all things new — restoring the peace this distressed world once had — and that’s really great news. So that’s the big view of what’s going on here.
And now I want us to focus in on verses four through eight. And in these verses we see some of the last words that Jesus spoke while here on earth. And with these words, Jesus gives us a mission — He gives us our marching orders. He also gives us the scale of the mission — Jesus tells us exactly where our mission is to take place. And Jesus also tells us what will be our power so we accomplish the mission He’s given us. Because we’re just a bunch of ordinary people — who need some help to accomplish the mission He’s given us.
We’ll see the mission we’ve been given. The scale — the scope — of the mission. And the power — the fuel — that enables us to accomplish the mission we’ve been given.
Let’s begin with…
MAIN POINT 1
The mission. What’s the mission Jesus has given us? Read with me in verse four.
“And while staying with them he (that’s Jesus) ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” 6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my (what? We will be Jesus’...) witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”” (Acts 1:4-8 ESV)
So our mission is to be witnesses for Jesus. Our mission — our purpose — the reason why we exist and believe in Jesus — is to be His witnesses.
You’ve got to love the disciples — they come across so ordinary — don’t they? They’re confused all the time — which is so refreshing — because it helps me to not feel so bad about how confusing it can be trying to follow Jesus. I mean — this isn’t the first time Jesus has explained to them what He’s going to do — yet they’re still confused. They think Jesus defeated death so He can kick the Romans out of power and restore the kingdom of Israel. If they had a short term plan — that was it. Kick the Romans out of power. And once that’s done we’ll have some vision meetings and put together a 3-5 year church growth strategy.
They’re so focused on what they think Jesus should be doing — “Kick out the Romans!” — that they’ve missed what He’s been preparing them to do — “Be my witnesses.” And doesn’t this happen to us? Do you ever get so focused on trying to tell Jesus what He should be doing that you end up missing what He’s been preparing you to do?
When I first was contacted about coming to Gateway Church, I had no desire to come. I was happy right where I was pastoring. I had this rule that I didn’t go looking for other church opportunities — just keep your head down and pastor the people God has given you to pastor. But one day, I got an email from our denomination saying you should consider this opportunity at Gateway Church. And — honestly — the email felt more like a distraction than anything else.
But I shared the email with my church leadership — who were more sensitive to what God was doing than I was — and though they didn’t want me to leave — they counseled me to not miss out on something that they saw God had been preparing me to do. I could’ve just ignored that email and assumed that I knew what Jesus was supposed to be doing with my life. But thankfully — and the credit goes to the godly men at my previous church — they saw what Jesus had been preparing me for.
What about you? Are you busy trying to convince Jesus what He should be doing or are you listening to what He’s already told you to do?
And if you’re a Christian — a follower of Jesus — your life mission — the reason why you exist —is to be a witness for Jesus. What does that mean? Well to be a witness for Jesus means you live differently — it means you have values, beliefs, and morals that are different from those who are not witnesses for Jesus. It means you have a story to share about what Jesus is doing in your life and in the world because of His life, death, and resurrection.
A few weeks ago I was in Beirut, Lebanon. And while there, I met a man who used to be in the Lebanese army. And when he was in the army he hated Syrians. He fought against them and — out of his hatred for them — he did many evil things to Syrians. But then he believed in Jesus. And there are a lot of Syrian refugees in Beirut who don’t believe in Jesus. And this man — who used to hate Syrians — began opening his home to them — he began to show them love — to tell them about Jesus — he became a witness for Jesus to these Syrian refugees. And now he pastors a church of Syrian refugees. Over 180 of them cram into a room that’s a little larger than an average hotel room. Some are there to worship Jesus. Many are Muslims who come to learn about Jesus. Others are there just because an ordinary man — changed by Jesus — has been kind to them.
How has believing in Jesus changed you? How has believing in Jesus given you a story you share with others so they might believe in Him? How are you being a witness for Jesus like this pastor in Beirut?
Here at Gateway our mission is to “connect people to Jesus Christ and to one another.”
SUMMARY OF MAIN POINT 1
And as witnesses — we’re united together as one church — so we must accomplish our mission together. We must be witnesses for Jesus together. Living lives together. Connecting to one another as proof — as evidence — that our faith is reliable, trustworthy, and true. That’s what it means to be ordinary witnesses. That’s what it means to be engaged in the mission God has called all of us to accomplish together.
That’s our mission: to be witnesses for Jesus. Now let’s look at…
MAIN POINT 2
The scale of the mission. The scale — the size — the scope — of our mission. Look in verse eight again.
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses (where? We’re to be witnesses in…) Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8 ESV)
So the scale of the mission is our city, region, nation, and the world. The scale of the mission — where our mission is to be accomplished — where we are called to be witnesses — is in our city, in our region, in our nation, and in our world.
The disciples were to be witnesses in Jerusalem — think of this as their local town. But they were also to be witnesses in Judea and Samaria. Think of Judea as the region around their city made up of people who are mainly like them — Jewish people. But Samaria was a region nearby made up of people who were not like the disciples — they weren’t Jews. So we’re to go to people who are both like us and not like us.
And we’re to be witnesses to the ends of the earth. Our testimony about Jesus is to go out to all people — both near and far — so that all people might hear the Good News, believe in Jesus Christ, repent of their sins, and find everlasting life.
That’s the scale of our mission — we’re to be witnesses right here in our own city. We’re to be witnesses in our Judea and Samaria — in northwest Ohio area and in our nation — the United States. And we’re to be witnesses to the ends of the earth — having a global perspective and a love for people — in our world — who’ve yet to connect to Jesus Christ.
And remember, this isn’t just an individual mission or a corporate mission — it’s both. So — if you’re a follower of Jesus — this is your mission. You have an obligation to be a witness about Jesus. You can’t pass the buck on this one. And as a church, we’re to be witnesses — together — in our city, region, nation, and world.
So what are some ways we’re being a witness as a church?
Around the world we partner with missionaries who are taking the gospel to people who’ve yet to believe in Jesus. Earlier this year I was in Sri Lanka where less than two percent of the population is Christian. I met with pastors who are receiving Bible training so they can be better equipped witnesses for Jesus. We’ve got mission trips this summer that our high school students are going on in Haiti and the DR. We’re wanting our youth to understand that following Jesus means being a global witness.
In our nation, we partner with missionaries who are taking the gospel to people who’ve yet to believe in Jesus. You heard from one last week — Troy Wilson — who leads a church in San Francisco — a city filled with people who — for the most part — are unlike us Findlay folks. And through our partnership with Troy — and others like him — we’re helping people connect to Jesus Christ throughout our country.
And in our city, we unite together as one church in two locations full of ordinary witnesses — you all — who testify to the joy you’ve found in Jesus. Just as our missionary partners around the world — and throughout our country — are taking the gospel to people who’ve yet to believe in Jesus — we — Gateway Church — exist in Findlay Ohio to take the gospel to people in our community who’ve yet to believe in Jesus.
And our hope is that every person of Gateway Church would be a witness for Jesus in our Jerusalem — we’re to be a whole bunch of witnesses right here in Findlay.
SUMMARY OF MAIN POINT 2
That’s the scale of our mission. It includes our city, our region, our nation, and our world.
MAIN POINT 3
The power of the mission. How do we possibly accomplish the mission we’ve been given — because — it’s kinda really big? Verse eight one last time.
“But you will receive power when (who has come upon you? You will receive power when the…) Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8 ESV)
The power of our mission is the Holy Spirit. The power that fuels — and sustains us — is the Holy Spirit.
Back in verses four and five Jesus told His disciples “to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with Holy Spirit not many days from now.”” (Acts 1:4b-5 ESV)
“Wait,” Jesus says — for what? “The promise of the Father.” And what’s that? “The promise of the Father is the Holy Spirit who will come and live in you and empower you to accomplish the mission I have given you. And the Holy Spirit will be your Guide, Teacher, Helper, Power, and Hope. The Holy Spirit will keep your eyes fixed firmly on Me. He will keep your love for God and others deeply rooted in God’s love for you. And the Holy Spirit — finds great joy in keeping your joy in Me alone.” This is Jesus’ promises to us.
And throughout the book of Acts we see this promise — the promise of the Holy Spirit — we see the power of God’s Spirit give ordinary people — ordinary followers of Jesus — great boldness in the midst of persecution. Some will face death without fear because of the power of the Holy Spirit. Others will experience hardships that are unimaginable — yet they will do so courageously because of the power of the Spirit in them.
We’ll read about shipwrecks, riots, demonic attacks, and angelic rescues. We’ll read about people being dumbfounded by the witness of ordinary people who live counter cultural lives for the Lord. We’ll read of people coming to faith because their prisoners sing hymns all night long while chained to the floor because no situation can keep them from worshipping God. All because the power — by which they accomplish their mission — is not power found in their own strength — but is power found in the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.
And here’s the crazy thing — this same Holy Spirit lives in every person who believes in Jesus Christ. This same power is available to you if you believe in Jesus. This power takes ordinary men and women and makes them into bold witnesses for Jesus.
I’ve seen the power of the Holy Spirit in brothers and sisters in Sri Lanka who tell stories of having a gun held to their head as they’re told to give up their faith in Jesus or be shot — and they refused to do so. I’ve seen the power of the Holy Spirit in brothers and sisters in Beirut who are leading a church that averages 1,200 people a week — nearly the size of Gateway — yet 700 of them are refugees from Iraq and Syria who depend upon the church for food as they have no means to feed their family. Yet — whether in Sri Lanka or Lebanon — when you talk to these people you see that they have joy and hope and trust in God that will make you jealous. Because they’re experiencing a power that often times we don’t.
But — the same Holy Spirit lives in you — if you believe in Jesus. The same Spirit that lives in them — is in you. And you have the same power in you to accomplish God’s mission. You’re no less ordinary than a believer in Sri Lanka. You have access to the same power they do. And you to can be an ordinary witness who believes in an extraordinary God.
“You will be my witnesses,” Jesus has promised. “When the Holy Spirit has come upon you. Ordinary witnesses with extraordinary power.” Let’s pray together.
Heavenly Father, remind us often that our mission in life, our purpose for living, the reason why this church exists, and the reason why every person hearing my voice is still alive today — is to be a witness for You. Through faith in Christ, we’ve been saved from eternal destruction and have been given Your Holy Spirit who now lives in us, so that we will take Your Good News of salvation to all people. People who live in our community. People who live in our nation. And people who live in our world.
Father if there’s anyone listening to me today — who has yet to believe — I pray that they would do so right now. That they would acknowledge their need of a Rescuer — their need of Jesus to save them from Satan, sin, death, and hell. And that in being rescued — their heart’s desire would be to live as ordinary witness for You. Depending upon Your Spirit’s power to accomplish Your mission. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
One way that we celebrate the good news — that God gives ordinary people extraordinary power — is by participating in communion as a congregation. Communion is a time of remembrance, but it’s even more than that for a follower of Jesus.
Communion is the good news. It’s the gospel. It’s a communication of the power of God as displayed in the sacrifice of Jesus. And though it’s not written down — or spoken in words — this is the gospel — the good news of Jesus’ perfect life, death, and resurrection — it’s just in a different form.
The bread and the cup. His body and his blood. Wounded for us. Pierced for us. Shed for us. Beaten for us. Bloodied for us. Humbling us by reminding us of the death that we deserve. Yet stirring joy in us as we feast on the reward of grace we don’t deserve, but a reward we’re given because our Heavenly Father loves us. Communion is a celebration of God’s love displayed for us in the sacrifice of His Son.
The apostle Paul writes it this way in First Corinthians.
“For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.” (1 Corinthians chapter 11:23-26 ESV)
And with these words Christ has commanded all believers to eat this broken bread and to drink this cup in true faith and in the confident hope of His return in glory.
However we must remember the warning given to us.
“Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.” (1 Corinthians 11:27-30)
A person who takes communion while knowingly, blatantly, or unrepentantly rebelling against God’s commands participates in an unworthy manner. Paul says they drink judgment on themselves. God takes seriously His gift to us — the sacrifice of His Perfect Son — and we should take His gift seriously too. So let’s take a moment in silence to examine our lives for present sins that need to be repented of.
- moment of silence -
In a moment — at both of our locations — ushers will be passing the bread and cup to you as you are seated. Go ahead and eat the bread on your own, but hold on to the cup — which your campus pastor will lead you in taking together as a congregation. So eat the bread on your own, but save the cup as you will take it as a congregation led by your campus pastor.
And now — to bless this time of receiving God’s grace through communion — let’s pray these words out loud together.
Congregation: Father, we thank you for Your generosity towards us, knowing that through Your Son, Jesus, You have generously given to us. We rejoice that You have given us everything and we joyfully give everything back to Your care. Amen.
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God loves to empower ordinary people. So having believed in Jesus, go empowered by God’s Spirit to be His witness to our world. Amen.
God loves you. I love you. You are sent.