Sermon for the Seventh Sunday of Easter (Ascension)

Text: Acts 1:8b
Jesus said, "You will be witnesses for me in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth".

"You will be my witnesses"

In a court of law both the prosecution and the defence want witnesses. There is nothing more convincing than an eye-witness who was actually there at the time the events took place and can retell what happened clearly and precisely. A courtroom scene might go something like this.

"I was walking along Morayfield Road near the Cheesecake Shop on my way to work. I work at one of the stores near there, you know the shop thatís next to the ..."
"Thank you but please tell us what you saw and heard on the day in question."
"Well, I heard this loud crash, coming from the intersection, you know the one with the car yard on the corner.
"Was it the intersection of Morayfield Road and Torrens Road?"
"That's right. There were squealing tyres and then a loud crash; I turned and looked in the direction of the noise and I saw three crumpled cars."
"Am I right in saying that you didnít actually see what had happened?"
"Thatís right, but I did see a man running down the road away from the accident. He was bleeding Ö."

A witness is important to a trial as someone who has seen and heard something. We use that word "witness" in a two-fold sense. A witness witnesses an event and then, when that witness tells someone about that event, he or she witnesses to others about what had been seen and heard.

Jesus said to his disciples, "You shall be my witnesses first of all in Jerusalem, then out in the countryside of Judea and then to our distant cousins in Samaria. In fact, you will be witnesses for me in every part of the world".

The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are eyewitness accounts to what had been seen and heard. The style of writing in the gospels is quite unique Ė not a biography of Jesus, not a historical account, not just a factual record of what Jesus said and did, and certainly not a religious novel based on actual events. The gospel style of writing as we find it in the New Testament is quite unique. Literary experts say that the Gospel genre uniquely presents Jesus as the fulfilment of the Old Testament promises and therefore the source of salvation.

Now all that sounds terribly boring but when we understand why the gospel writers wrote what they did we realise they had some exciting good news to tell. Mark was probably the first to use this literary format. He begins with Jesusí baptism where we hear the words "This is my beloved Son". Right in the middle of his gospel is the transfiguration and again we hear "This is my beloved Son" and then at the end we hear the centurion who is standing near the cross say "This man is really the Son of God" Ė each section focuses on the words, "Jesus is the Son of God".

Through the reports of eye-witnesses Mark conveys this special and important message that Jesus is truly God come down from heaven. This is the message the disciples were to pass on to others when Jesus said, "You will be witnesses for me in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."

In order to help them do this Jesus gave them the authority, the power of the Holy Spirit and a plan of action to start in Jerusalem and then spread out to Judea and Samaria and then the rest of the world to be witnesses.

Some time ago now Joseph Bayly wrote a book called the Gospel Blimp. It's about the attempt of Christian neighbours reaching out to the community for Christ. The family purchased a hot air balloon to broadcast the gospel to the community and dropped "bombs" on the town (These "bombs" were tracts wrapped in coloured cellophane). In spite of the trouble and expense of this attempt at witnessing to Jesus, it failed miserably. The point the writer was making is that there is no substitute for loving care and personal witness, even though this is slow and time consuming, likely to cause anxiety, and even create some hostility.

When was the last time you talked with someone about Jesus outside of your circle of Christian friends?
When was it that you last attempted to share your faith with someone?
Not lately?

Let's be honest. It's tough to talk about these matters outside of the group of regular church-goers.
We don't want to come on too strong.
We don't want to be regarded as some kind of religious fanatics.
We don't want to frighten people away with too much religious talk.
We donít want to stir up any negative feelings.

You have probably heard these sayings, "I'd rather see a sermon than hear one", or "actions speak louder than words". There is truth in these sayings but there are still those times when words are necessary and we must speak.

Sharing our faith these days is quite different to days gone by. Once witnessing was calling people back to what they already knew, and to living in conformity with what they had been taught. People were basically familiar with the Bible's story and what it had to say about their lives. Today a large majority of people donít have the faintest clue what the Bible says or who Jesus really is.

And because of the vacuum that has been created by the lack of faith in Jesus, all kinds of foreign and strange ideas have crept into the lives of so many people. So we see
the power of positive thinking,
the resurgence of star signs and the interpretation of dreams,
false prophets who sound so convincing,
doomsday preachers,
proponents of a morality that is far from God's standards.
Today Christian witnessing means confronting the bewildering variety of views and religious ideas most of which donít have any connection to the truth of the gospel Ė the good news about Jesus Christ.

And just because the Gospel is so confronting to the world's ideas and views, itís possible that we will experience rejection and scorn from those who see the Gospel as so totally opposite to their own ideas. And they are right. The Gospel calls for repentance, a realisation that everything is not okay in peopleís lives and that a radical U-turn away from worldly values to those of God is required. The Apostle Paul faced negative reactions to the Gospel many times and we should expect no less today. The message of the Gospel is radical, and so opposite to the ways of the world.

In a world that is often very negative and greatly misinformed about religion, how do we speak the Good News of Jesus?

"I've been watching you," the nurse said as she was taking the cancer patient's blood pressure. "What is it that makes you so different, I mean "different" in a nice way?"
"What do you mean by Ďdifferentí?" the patient asked.
"I mean, you have been through a major operation. You could have easily died, and even now your future is not what I would call "all beer and skittles", and yet you are coping with all this so well. The other nurses were talking about this, so I thought I would ask you myself."

"Well, I can tell you that before the operation I was scared stiff..." and then she went on to tell the young nurse about her faith and trust in Jesus who was always there for her and the strength and comfort that this gave her as she faced death in the eye. The nurse left the bedside to carry on with her duties.

Notice how the patient made use of the opportunity, taking up the experience of the nurse who observed something "different" about the person she was caring for. The witness that was given was a simple testimony of what faith in Jesus has meant in those circumstances. And note that the patient wasn't given any clue about the nurse's response. But I'll tell you what did happen; the patient in the next bed overheard the conversation, and another opportunity presented itself for talking about faith in Jesus.

You will be witnesses for me in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

After Jesus had given the command to be witnesses, he raised his hands and blessed the disciples. Jesus knew it wouldn't be easy so he sends them off with his blessing and the promise to be with them always to the very end of the age. He sends us out with his blessing, with his promise and the Holy Spirit as we take up the challenge to be his witnesses,
You will be witnesses for me in Jerusalem, in all Judea, and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
5th June 2011

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