from wonder to witness


I’ve had a few Turning Points in my life, as I’m sure you’ve had too. My first turning point came when I was 12. I grew up in a normal American dysfunctional home. My parents divorced before I could understand and we were nominal churchgoers. I was a troubled and angry kid. I rode the short bus and was labeled a special kid. I was so embarrassed. After my mom remarried, our family moved for work reasons to a small town in the middle of Wisconsin. We began attending a Bible Church. They used Bibles. So the next week mom went to Sam’s Club and bought Bibles. We grew like weeds. Within months, both my mom and I came to Christ. A few years later we got baptized together.

My second turning point came when I was 18. Since my salvation leaders in my church took me under their wing and helped me to grow in God’s Word and the gifts of the Spirit. I was encouraged to consider fulltime Christian service. That led me to Bible College, then a yearlong church planting apprenticeship in South Africa, then ministry for the past 8-years as an assistant pastor in Indiana, and then marriage to [Congolese] Sarah who I had met years before in Bible College.

My third turning point came on a vision trip Sarah, Justus, and I took to Chad last year this time. I clearly remember walking the dry dusty roads of northeast Chad, the hot sun beating on my face, and a sense of thirst on my tongue. While walking through the abstract streets I could hear the calls from the local mosque, donkeys laughing, and the Spirit of God convicting me. I though to myself, “You got Someone these people do not. 100% of the people in this town do not know your Jesus. Who will help bring the church to unreached Chad?”

The book of Acts is full of turning points.  Today I want to draw your attention to a turning point in Acts 1. Here the disciples are getting some last words from the resurrected Jesus. He had spent many hours, days, and years teaching these men who they were. He called them God’s servants, friends, beloved children, and brothers. Sometimes they seemed to understand who they were, but at other times they seemed clueless. And just before Jesus is about to leave them and ascend to heaven, He says, “You are my witnesses.” [Acts 1:8]

What is a witness? A good Christianese word. When the word witness appears in the book of Acts it most often refers to the role the 11-apostles had as legal eye-witnesses of Jesus’ death and resurrection.[1] At the end of the book, Paul uses the word of himself because he also had heard and seen the resurrected Jesus. But in Acts 1:8, when Jesus uses the word witness, He alludes to Isaiah 43. There the word witness applies broadly to all of God’s people:

Isaiah 43:10You are my witnesses,” says the LORD, “and My servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe Me and understand that I am He. Before Me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after Me. 11 I, I am the LORD, and besides Me there is no savior. 12 I declared and saved and proclaimed, when there was no strange god among you; and you are My witnesses,” says the LORD.

How does Isaiah give meaning to witness in the book of Acts? First, being a witness is not something any of these people chose. It is something God chose for them. Israel was God’s chosen people; likewise, Jesus chose His disciples. We often talk about witnessing as if it is something you choose or don’t choose, but it is not. You are witnesses by God’s choice. And you cannot help but be witnesses when you are identified with Jesus. Either you’re a witness or you’re not. It’s like my wife saying she’s kind of pregnant. Either she is or she is not.

Second, what made them witnesses was not something they did, practiced or earned; it was something they were. It was a relationship with God that made the apostles witnesses. You are a mom/dad because you have children; you are a son/daughter because you have parents; you are a man/women because that’s how you were born; or you are a student because you are in school. You are a witness because you are a follower of Christ.

A witness is not a passive role you fulfill. Rather the biblical idea of witness is quite active. Jesus says you can bear witness or you can even bear false witness. There were specific things Israel did and did not do which affected their testimony as witnesses. So it is with a witness of Christ. What does your witness say about Jesus?

As a witness of Christ, I openly and publicly demonstrate what I have learned and seen while with Jesus. But my witness is much more than words; it is a whole way of life. The Greek word for witness is μαρτος, where you get the word martyr. As the early Christian gave up their lives for what they had seen, the word martyr began to mean “one who choose to suffer or die for his or her beliefs.” [i.e. Stephen, cf. Acts 7:58] To be a witness, means giving my whole life, even giving up my life for what I have seen and heard from Christ. To be a witness is not a fatalist. But as a witness I am unwilling to bow to the god of comfort and safety or muzzle my mouth because the gospel will offend someone. Jesus says the cross is foolishness to unbelievers. Recently, I’ve been challenged by the story of Mark, a brother serving in North Africa,

Mark was part of a team of two families serving Muslim. Late in August, the team received death threats. The families were evacuated, but Mark stayed for one last meeting with believers before joining them. The night after the meeting while at home preparing his dinner, Mark was shot. He was discovered the next morning in his home, but he had lost too much blood to survive. At his passing, Mark left a young wife and two infant twin daughters. Mark’s agency feared the possibility of legal action from Mark’s father, who was not a believer and who vocally opposed his son’s service among Muslims. But at Mark’s funeral, Mark’s father was among fifteen people who gave their lives to Christ. His wife plans to minister in the same region where her husband was killed.

Third, being a witness is first “so that” you may know God and then “so that” others may know your God. Being a witness is about knowing God, seeing His steadfast love, observing His work in creation, hearing His voice. Being a witness is not something directed only toward others—though it has implications for those around you. Being a witness begins by being grounded in your relationship with God.

“Witness-ship” is a mark borne by getting near God. There is something so powerful about God’s character that it is impossible to get near what He is doing without being marked. The closer you get the more profound the mark.

Not only can you see God at work in historic acts, but also if you keep your eyes open you keep seeing him at work today. You see God at work in your life, in your friend’s lives and in the world around you. You still see God doing things that you long for but can’t make happen on your own. You see God’s forgiveness and love. You see how God transforms messed up lives and redeems them through His Son.

You—His witnesses—play a huge role in God’s plan.[2] You are the evidence of God’s work. The Bible tells the story of ordinary people so you can learn about an extraordinary God. How do you know God’s love is steadfast? By looking at the story of God’s people. How do you know God keeps His promises? By looking at His people. How does the world hear about God’s salvation? By hearing and seeing the witness of God’s people, like you and me. God has made His people messengers of His love, ambassadors of His kingdom, lights on a hill, salt in society. God has called you to be His witnesses.

The disciples stood on the mount starring with wonder into the sky, like a crowd at Cape Canaveral watching the shuttle launch or Superman making his classic exit, only this was no space shuttle or superhero it was the coronation of Jesus Christ. And with the rest of our time today, I want to uncover what Jesus expects from you, His witnesses.

1. You are commanded to live in the power of the Holy Spirit [Acts 1:4–5, 8a]

The book of Acts is often referred to as the Gospel (or autobiography) of the Holy Spirit. If you want to learn about the person and work of the Holy Spirit read Acts. In Acts 1:2-8 Jesus gives a concise theology of the Holy Spirits work. And amazingly Jesus receives the instruction from the Holy Spirit on the Holy Spirit.

First, His followers are guaranteed baptism by the Holy Spirit, which fulfills the promise Christ gave of the Helper who would come after He ascended [vs.4-5, cf. Luke 24:44-49].[3] For the first time, God would not dwell in a temple, but His temple would now continually dwell in His people. Jesus cautioned the disciples not to leave Jerusalem without the Holy Spirit. Why? If they did not waited they would be powerless.

Second, His followers are guaranteed power from the Holy Spirit to do miraculous works among the people [v.8a].[4] Jesus has completed His earthly ministry and now inaugurates the apostle’s earthly ministry.[5] These men witnessed Jesus’ teachings and miracles, and now they would continue on His ministry after Him. Although you might not exercise signs and wonders quite like the apostles, His ministry through you is still powerful and miraculously changing lives.

In Martin Lloyd-Jones’ book Joy Unspeakable he uses an illustration to describe the difference between common Christian living and what happens when the Holy Spirit comes upon a person with this unusual and unmatched power.

It is like a child walking along holding his father’s hand. All is well. The child is happy. He feels secure. His father loves him. He believes that his father loves him but there is no unusual urge to talk about this or sing about it. It is true and it is pleasant.

Then suddenly the father startles the child by reaching down and sweeping him up into his arms and hugging him tightly and kissing him on the neck and whispering, “I love you so much!” And then holding the stunned child back so that he can look into his face and saying with all his heart, “I am so glad you are mine.” Then hugging him once more with unspeakable warmth and affection. Then he puts the child down and they continue their walk.

This is what happens when a person is baptized with the Holy Spirit. A pleasant and happy walk with God is swept up into an unspeakable new level of joy and love and assurance and reality that leaves the Christian so utterly certain of the immediate reality of Jesus that he is overflowing in praise and more free and bold in witness than he ever imagined he could be.

The child is simply stunned. He doesn’t know whether to cry or shout or fall down or run, he is so happy. The fuses of love are so overloaded they almost blow out. The subconscious doubts—that he wasn’t thinking about at the time, but that pop up every now and then—are gone! And in their place is utter and indestructible assurance, so that you know that you know that you know that God is real and that Jesus lives and that you are loved, and that to be saved is the greatest thing in the world. And as you walk on down the street you can scarcely contain yourself, and you want to cry out, “My father loves me! My father loves me! O, what a great father I have! What a father! What a father!” [cf. Acts 2:11]”

The Holy Spirit’s all-consuming passion is to exalt Christ to the end of the earth. And the reason He has a white-hot passion is to empower you to witness to the ends of the earth:

  • “All the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord.” [Numbers 14:21; Habakkuk 2:14]
  • God brought His people into Canaan “so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty” [Joshua 4:24, cf. 1 Samuel 17:46].
  • David commands, “Sing to the Lord all the earth…Declare His glory among the nations, His marvelous works among all the peoples!” [Psalm 96:1–3]
  • “I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” [Isaiah 49:6]
  • Jesus himself said, “Go make disciples of all nations” [Matthew 28:19].
  • “This gospel must be proclaimed to all the nations” [Mark 13:10].
  • “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, for You were slain and by Your blood did ransom men for God from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.” [Revelation 5:9–10]

The Holy Spirit wants the world for Christ. So He equips you as His witness with power to do it. He gives you absolute confidence that as you go out making disciples in His authority  nothing will thwart His name from reaching the nations.

2. You are called to share the gospel with people near and far, and similar or different than you [Acts 1:6–8]

Imagine you had the opportunity to ask Jesus any question. What would you ask? The disciples have an honest question for Jesus. Since Jesus and the OT prophecies talked a lot about this coming kingdom, and many anticipated a Messiah who would reign and release His people from the oppressive Roman Empire they ask, “Will you now restore your kingdom?” Jesus does not belittle their question, but reminds them that the timing is not for them to know. Instead, He refocuses them on being ready for the great task of sharing the good news with the known world.

The geography boundaries mentioned becomes an outline for the remainder of Acts as the apostles take the gospel from Jerusalem [1-7], to Judea and Samaria [8-12], and to the edges of the globe [13-28]. Jesus calls them to share the gospel with people like them in Jerusalem, the hub of the Jews. But He also calls them to share the gospel with people on the other side of the tracks in Judea and Samaria. These were people the Jews did not like. But God loved. For centuries the Jews had a sour spot for the “half-breed” Samaritans. But God intended Israel to be a light to the Gentiles. Since, Israel failed in this mission, Jesus is calling the apostles to carry His torch to their lost neighbors and be a bright light to the world. This is also the reason for your church and you: be a light locally and globally.

As witness we are team players. We are no longer just bystanders on the bleachers. We’ve been trained by the Master to carry the ball (gospel) up and down the field. I think of the five men who lost their lives in Ecuador to reach the Auca Indians. One wife and sister returned to the village and the wife raised their daughter among the tribe that killed their husband. Many in the tribe converted. Months ago, I met a man from North Africa whose church had been bombed a dozen times by Muslims. These are people on the front lines of Jesus’ mission shining the light in darkness. Near, far, similar, or different there are not boundaries to the gospel.

Who are your Samaritans? Is it your annoying co-worker or boss? Is it a relative? Is it a sassy celebrity like Lady GaGa or Katy Perry? Is it the Hispanic or black down the street? Is it the poor person you see on the corner always seeking a hand out? Is it your fellow Democrat? If you’re from Ohio, could it be people from Michigan? You know your Samaritan. It’s the one who makes your skin crawl and you avoid them like the plague. Jesus died for them too and He is calling you to be a witness to them.

3. You are urged to be diligent, even as you long for Christ’s return [Acts 1:9–11]

The purpose of God and the passion of the Spirit are not yet completed. We might question why, but Jesus’ answer will always be, “It is not for you to know the times and seasons which the Father has fixed by His own authority.” The great danger we face in the American church is the illusion that the purpose of God is complete, that the world has been evangelized. But there are over 2.7 billion (that’s billion!) people in the world who have not heard the gospel; they have no missionary, no church, and not enough Christians in their own people group to reach themselves.

That boggles me, as I am sure the apostles were boggled that day they starred into the sky wondering when Jesus would return. I love what happens next. Two messengers dressed in white came to the apostles. What message did say to the apostles? Why do you wonder? Witness! Jesus will come back. Not yet. So get to it”

Proof of the disciples diligence is in the remaining 28 chapters of Acts. They confidently expected Jesus’ return, but didn’t twiddle their thumbs in the meantime. With their own ears they heard their calling from the lips of Jesus: you are witnesses not stargazers. Owning the Spirits passion they spread the name of Jesus to the ends of the known world.

Turn to Acts chapter 29. Ah, this chapter does not exist! This is your chapter or appendix. The apostles are gone, but the work is unfinished. There are still billions of lost people lined up to hell all around you. 99% of Yemen, Libya, and Pakistan are unbelieving, unchurched, and lining up to the gates of hell. The picture of the young boy looking to the sky is a reminder of a need for a Savior. Who will tell him? As you wait in line for Heaven or Jesus’ return, people next to you need a turning point. Be a witness. Speak up for Jesus. Remember how He was the greatest turning point in your life?

Jesus died on the cross for the people of your church. He is returning for you soon. Jesus is worthy of your absolute surrender. God opened your eyes so you could believe in Him. When God saved you He gave you His Spirit. He has clothed each of your with His power. You live among a world of sin, darkness, and great need. God has charged you to take the gospel to these people and ends of the earth. The stakes are high. But Jesus says, “You are my witnesses.” To whom will you share?


[1] Cf. 1:21-22; 2:21-33; 3:14-16; 5:31-32; 6:13-14; 7:58; 10:37-41; 13:30; 22:13-15, 20-21; 26:15-16

[2] You and I are an indispensable link in the chain of redemption. See how the Spirit deploys people in Acts 8:29, 39; 9:17, 31; 10:19–20; 11:12; 13:4; 16:6–9; 19:21.

[3] Cf. Luke 3:16; cf. Mark 1:8; Matt 3:11; John 1:33; Acts 2:3

[4] Power, δυναμις, is used almost exclusively in Acts to describe the supernatural, miraculous power of God through them to confirm they are from God, representing Christ, and their work is from the Holy Spirit. Note: Acts 2:22; 3:12; 4:7-9, 33; 6:8; 8:10, 13; 10:38; 19:11; cf. Hebrew 2:4.

[5] During Jesus’ ministry, there is no reference to the Holy Spirit being upon anyone except Jesus. The Spirit descended upon him at his baptism (Luke 3:22), filled him as he returned from the Jordan (Luke 4:1), led him both in and out of the wilderness (Luke 4:1, 14), and rested upon him in his sermon at Nazareth (Luke 4:18).

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