Scripture: Acts 1:1-11
In this passage of Scripture, there is what a person could describe as the farewell address of Jesus. Of course he continues to be with his disciples through his Holy Spirit, but physically he was leaving. It has been over 2,000 since he physically ascended into heaven. I did some research on farewell addresses by leaders, and was fascinated by them. Many of them are now historic documents. Some of the more recent presidents of the United States have their farewell addresses on YouTube. Sports figures have given them as well. Perhaps at the top of that list is Lou Gehrig’s short farewell address to baseball on July 4, 1939. He had been diagnosed with ALS, which is now commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. In any farewell address, the person giving it looks back, and summarizes the things most important to him. He also looks forward, and speaks of the promise and hope of the future. The person giving a farewell address impresses upon his hearers the things he wants them to remember most, the words he wants to leave ringing in their ears and to guide their lives.
In this passage is Jesus’ farewell address. He knew he would be absent for an extended period of time physically, so he stresses the thing his disciples and the future needed to hear most. Listen to the words Jesus shares in verses 7-8,
…“It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. 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.”
In the books of Matthew and Luke there are similar accounts given of Jesus’ last words to his disciples before his ascension. The common themes are waiting for the empowering of the Holy Spirit, then going to all nations and being witnesses. This whole idea of going to share the love and message of Jesus is commonly labeled today as “missions.” So Jesus in his final words to the future church, focuses on missions. There are at least three aspects to what He says.
First of all, Jesus describes the power of missions. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you…” The Greek word here translated power is dunamis. It means might, strength, force, capability, ability. Now the disciples had been thinking about political power and the possible re-establishment of Israel as a nation. Jesus isn’t talking about that kind of power. He isn’t talking about power to coerce or conquer, but the power to serve and the power to shine. He is talking about a transformation of character, a Divine enabling that goes beyond mere human talent and giftedness. The Apostle Paul years later in writing to the Christians at Colosse said in Colossians 1:29, “For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.”
In praying for the Christians at Ephesus in Ephesians 1, Paul asks God that they will know the immeasurable greatness of the power available to every single believer in Jesus. Now its important to realize that the power given to Christians isn’t given to use any way they would choose. The power is an enabling for a particular task. The power is an enabling to go and to be witnesses for Jesus. Throughout the remainder of the book of Acts that power is shown to be active again and again as the disciples go and share in the name of Jesus. In fact, in Acts 8, a sorcerer named Simeon saw this incredible power the disciples possessed, and offered them money for it. They warned him strongly that it isn’t for sale – it isn’t that kind of power.
This power transforms character – its evident in how the disciples acted before and after the Day of Pentecost. This power saves souls – thousands came to a knowledge of Jesus through the witness of the early church. This power changes the direction of lives – it’s evident in how Saul, the destroyer of churches, was turned in the opposition direction and became Paul, the builder of churches. So the first thing here is that Jesus describes the power of missions, the power for missions.
Then, in his farewell address to his disciples, Jesus declares the purpose of missions. “…you will be my witnesses….” There is no option here, no choice given to followers of Jesus. He doesn’t say, “you might be my witnesses” or “you can be my witnesses if you choose to do so.” You will be my witnesses. Being a witness is mandatory, it’s not optional.
What exactly is a witness? It simply means sharing with others what you have seen in Jesus, what you have heard of Jesus, and what you have experienced with Jesus. It’s nothing fancy, nothing elaborate, nothing complicated. You just share what you’ve seen, heard and experienced as you’ve followed Jesus Christ. It’s also important to keep in mind that as a follower of Jesus, being a witness isn’t something you do, it something you are. You are a witness. If you claim to be a follower of Jesus, you are a witness. You may be a bad witness, but you are still a witness. You might say, “Well I don’t want to be a witness!”
Several years ago someone was talking about how sports figures are role models for children. Charles Barkley said with his typical tone, “I don’t wanna be a role model!” Too bad Charles, you were. If you’re a parent or a grandparent, you’re a role model whether you choose to be or not. In the same way as a Christian, you are a witness. You are sharing how much following Jesus means to you, or you’re sharing how much following Jesus doesn’t mean to you. Either way, you are a witness. The purpose of missions then, is to be powerful witnesses for Jesus.
Then, in this passage Jesus defines the places of missions. “…you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Jesus’ words here are descriptive. He is describing what will happen with the early church, and as the book of Acts unfolds, this pattern is followed exactly. The witnesses have their first impact in Jerusalem, then in Judea and Samaria, then to the ends of the then-known world.
Jesus’ words are also prescriptive. They provide a model for Christians to follow today. You are to witness in your hometown, your city. You are to witness in a larger area, such as your state. Then you are to witness to an even larger area, but still not too far away from home – an example would be your nation. Then you are to witness to the rest of the world.
The book of Acts describes not only Christians going into other areas, but it describes the church sending them. There are three missionary journeys of Paul described in the book of Acts. Paul went, and the church sent. The focus of the book of Acts is on missions – Jesus gives the pattern, and the church responded. “Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Now one of the most common church objections I’ve heard to the Biblical call to missions is, “Well, pastor, missions begins at home. We need to take care of our own first.” In other words, whatever God may be doing within these four walls takes priority over whatever God is doing beyond them. So with that kind of mindset, a local church turns increasingly inward, the power of the Holy Spirit for missions diminishes, and the death of that church often follows. For the church today, missions is not optional, it is critical. I believe it is the difference between life and death. John Piper, a very well-known pastor and preacher, has said simply regarding missions, “Go, send or disobey.” Jesus here defines the places of missions.
So what are you doing to be involved with missions? What are you doing as individuals? What are you doing as a church? What are you doing to go beyond the four walls of this church to minister within the community of Nitro? Are you participating in any ministries? Are you financially supporting any ministries? What are you doing to support missions in the state of West Virginia, in the United States, in the remainder of the world? Are you going as an individual? Are you going as a church? Are you giving as an individual? Are you giving as a church?
Years ago an older godly pastor, whom I love and respect, said these words, “A church that is not focused outward is focused inward. And a church that is focused inward is tearing itself apart.”
Where is your focus? Is it on me and my own treasured group and what I want, or is it on missions and what the Lord wants? The choice is yours.
Father, forgive us for our neglect of missions. We commit ourselves to do all within our power to be obedient, to support and to participate in ministries beyond ourselves. We intercede for this congregation, that we will focus outward on missions, and not inward on our own wants, preferences and desires. In Jesus’ name, amen.