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Bearing Witness to the Holy Spirit's Power

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Dear Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ,

Today is my tenth wedding anniversary.  Robin and I had a special dinner last night with our children and parents to mark this anniversary, to remember God’s grace and care over the years.  God has be very good to us over the last 10 years.

The church celebrates anniversaries as well.  There are a whole series of anniversaries that the church marks every year.  We call them holidays: Christmas, Epiphany, Good Friday, and Resurrection Sunday. On May 5th we marked Ascension Day –remembering Christ’s Ascension into heaven and celebrating that Christ is Lord and head of the church and enthroned in heaven. 

In my congregation, we looked at Jesus’ ascension as described in Acts 1.  Studying that passage, I was struck by the emphasis on the Holy Spirit and on the power he would bring.  Jesus gave them a command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised.” 

He reassured them with the promise of our text for this sermon, Acts 1:8 “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.”

Have you ever been on a roller coaster?  Slow, steep climb . . . from the top, you race down into the adventure.  It seems that since the resurrection, the disciples are beginning a rollercoaster ride.  The disciples are on the steep incline, moving up slowly, waiting nervously for the ride to begin. 

As they waited and prayed, they selected Matthias to take Judas’ place in the apostolic ministry – so he could “become a witness with us of Jesus’ resurrection.”

I like building campfires.  Setting it up is an art-form – tinder, kindling and logs need to be in place and ready before it can be ignited.  God is setting up a fire here too, and it is a work of art.  The apostles stay in Jerusalem, as they were instructed, awaiting the coming of the Holy Spirit.  As they wait, the feast of Pentecost rolls around, and Jerusalem begins to get crowded.

The feast of Pentecost, also known as the feast of weeks, is a festival in which Jewish men who are able are supposed to come to the temple with an offering of thanks to God.  It is a Thanksgiving celebration, so Jews from around the world flocked to the temple to celebrate the harvest. 

·        They gathered to worship God and celebrate his providence. 

·        To celebrate the way that God supplied food. 

With the Pentecost festivities underway, the last elements were in place so God poured out the Holy Spirit in power upon his people. The Spirit came as what appeared to be tongues of fire.

But notice the reason for the power: the apostles received power in order to bear witness to the resurrection of Christ – that is their message.  Peter’s sermon gives the heart of the message they shared:

Jesus was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you with the help of wicked men put him to death by nailing him to the cross.  But God raised him from the dead, freeing him form the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.

The resurrection was the heart of the testimony the apostles were given the power to proclaim.  The Holy Spirit supplied the power and the ability for Peter and the other apostles to preach – to bear witness to the resurrection.

In fact, the Holy Spirit made it possible to bear witness to all the people gathered in Jerusalem.  And there were a lot of people there from around the known world:

Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11(both Jews and converts to Judaism) Cretans and Arabs.

As Jews and converts from around the world most of these people grew up in these other cities.  It is not unlike me – I come from Dutch background.  I’m the first generation in my family to be born in Canada, yet I hardly understand Dutch or Frisian at all – certainly not enough to listen to a sermon.

Coming from all over the known world, the visitors to Jerusalem probably had some troubles understanding Aramaic which was most common in Jerusalem, or Hebrew, the language of Scripture.  They might have had difficulty with Greek as well, even though it was the most common language in the Empire.  Like the people scattered from the tower of Babel, their languages were all confused – they weren’t able to understand much of the language.

Although most of those visitors probably knew more languages than most Canadians do, it would be easiest for them to understand the sermon in their own language.

This is the grace of this scene: the apostles were sent to bear witness to the resurrection, but they were not left to do it alone, they were given the power of the Holy Spirit.  Luke records the miracle:

4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

The believers were given the ability to speak to people in their own language, bearing witness to the resurrection.  The visitors were amazed and perplexed, yet admitted, “We hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!”

This is a miracle of speaking and hearing

It rather boggles, the mind doesn’t it?  Jesus wanted the message to get through, and in the power of the Holy Spirit it happened in an amazing way.  The apostles gave witness to the resurrection in a powerful way. 

Dearly loved people of God, Jesus’ instructions for his followers have not changed.  We are still called to bear witness to the resurrection. 

I was really happy to participate this past week in the examination of Mike Collins as a ministry associate or evangelist for your congregation.  He gave a good account of what God has done for him and spoke of the importance of sharing the good news with a community who desperately long for hope and purpose.  But this command to bear witness is not something that you can hire someone to do on your behalf.  I once heard someone make a distinction between

·        the work of an evangelist, who explains the good news,

·        and the responsibility all believers have to bear witness in word and deed that Jesus has risen from the grave and lives as our Lord and Saviour.

The work of an evangelist is unique, but based upon the witness of the rest of the community of believers.

But neither the evangelist nor the crowd of witnesses speaks alone.  I am convinced that the Holy Spirit continues to give us power to bear witness to the crucifixion, resurrection, and reign of Jesus Christ as Lord. 

At times it is more alarming and unnerving then a roller coaster.  The Holy Spirit makes believers able to speak about the hope that they have through the life of Jesus Christ.  That is the promise that Jesus gave his disciples in Matthew 10:19-20

But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.

In this confidence, be bold to speak of Jesus resurrection, giving the reason for the hope that you have. 

As we faithfully bear witness to Jesus’ resurrection, speaking in the power of the Holy Spirit, I am convinced that a miracle of hearing will also happen.  By God’s grace, the Holy Spirit goes ahead and prepares us to hear the Word of God.  He pricks our conscience or sooths our guilt in ways beyond our understanding. 

Through the Holy Spirit, we do not just hear a story of a man in Judea 2000 years ago who died at the hands of the Jews and Romans. 

No!  We hear the good news of our loving God’s redemption plan: in which God lived among us, died our death, and was raised to life.  He ascended into heaven and sent his Spirit from there to live in us and live among us that we may hear and believer and have everlasting life through the Son of God, our Saviour and Lord.  By that Spirit who came and dwells among us, we hear, we believe, and we speak: bearing witness to the resurrection of Jesus.

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