But 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.
Keep the Fire Burning
It’s been a tough, funky week. I pulled my back out and have stumbled around in a fog of limited function and muscle relaxers. Ordinary tasks like brushing my teeth and typing have become Olympic events, while challenges I work hard to conceal—lousy time perception, for example—have become looming hurdles. I’ve frustrated a lot of people, myself more than anyone, which has strapped me with mounting concern friends and colleagues may think I’m indifferent about letting them down. This has added emotional anguish to my physical discomfort. But, on the upside, it also reminded me we’re at our most human when we’re at our worst. It’s a scary place to be, too, because that’s when we feel most impotent and incapable. The mundane turns monumental; the incidental seems insurmountable.
After 33 years in mortal flesh, Jesus is about to leave the world fully acquainted with how readily human frailty spawns resignation to defeat. As He charges His followers to carry on His work, He’s keenly aware they won’t succeed without divine help. A couple setbacks and they’ll quit, presuming they’re not cut out for the job. If their fervor wanes, His message will fade, His mission will fail, and He’ll reside only in the annals of historical prophets, rather than live in the hearts of humanity. Thus, Jesus spends His last few visible minutes with the disciples reinforcing their need for the Holy Spirit. “The Spirit will give you power to be my witnesses,” He promises, shoring their confidence they can keep the fire burning.
We are living proof that Jesus lives. We testify to His sacrifice and resurrection in how our lives bear out His purpose—reconciliation with God and one another through faith. In Romans 5.1 we hear, “Since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” By disavowing compulsions to please ourselves and turning our hearts toward pleasing our Maker, we evidence renewed peace with Him. We fulfill Christ’s law to love God entirely—with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. In the same way, our determination to love our neighbors as ourselves manifests the living Christ. In Ephesians 2.4-7, Paul teaches: “God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when were dead in transgressions… in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace.” Not only are we crucified with Christ, as Paul says in Galatians 2.20, we’re resurrected with Him. And we validate His existence, “showing the incomparable riches of his grace,” by loving others as He loves us—unconditionally and sacrificially. “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another,” Jesus says in John 13.35.
Witnessing Christ’s life and love is a daunting responsibility that asks more than we can accomplish on our own. Thus, the Holy Spirit strengthens and inspires us to overcome our weaknesses and fears. That’s Its main objective and, as we’ve hopefully seen in the past week’s posts, It’s fully equipped to provide what we lack to present the living, loving Savior to the world. The Spirit empowers us, activates our faith, generates our joy, seals our inheritance by adoption, secures our access to God, and teaches us what to say. We’re given the Spirit as a single, comprehensive resource we can draw from to make Christ visible to those around us. Our love attests to His love. Our forgiveness exemplifies His grace. Our tolerance reflects His acceptance. And our faith ratifies His truth. Since the Spirit makes this (and much more) possible, the beauty of witness rests in obedience, not ability.
Bullhorns and Doorbells
If today finds you in New York City’s Times Square or on Chicago’s State Street or strolling down Market in San Francisco, I guarantee you’ll meet someone in hand-painted “repent-or-else” sandwich boards, clutching a bullhorn. If you’re at home, two strangers may very well ring your doorbell, hoping for a few minutes with you to share their beliefs. If you ask these earnest, well-intentioned people what they’re doing, I also guarantee the answer will be “I’m witnessing.” And they’re not wrong. They’re following a precedent Peter and the apostles inaugurated immediately after the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Nearly every chapter in The Acts of the Apostles finds an Early Church leader publicly preaching the Gospel or entering homes to speak about Jesus. But there’s more to witnessing Christ’s life and love than bullhorns and doorbells.
“After the Holy Spirit comes upon you, you will be my witnesses,” Jesus tells us. Our witness surpasses talking and doing. It’s being, which means it’s continuous and unintentional. How well we reflect Christ is measured in passing more often and effectively than any focused gesture or effort. Indeed, we say more about Jesus when we’re not talking about Him than when we do. This is why He instructs us in Matthew 5.16: “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” We’re “on” 24/7. People watch us closely to see if our lives square with our witness. Trying to sustain Christ’s reflection without the Holy Spirit’s assistance is folly. It ends in our witness being perceived as a ruse. Long before Jesus tells us the Spirit will empower our witness, God speaks in Ezekiel 36.27: “I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” The Spirit in us makes sure what comes from us proves that Jesus lives and loves.
There’s more to witnessing than bullhorns and doorbells. We’re “on” 24/7.
(Tomorrow: Together in One Place)