Freedom sermon series

  1. United We Stand - 1 Cor. 3

  2. Finding Our Place of Service - Romans 12

  3. Sharing Christ with All People - Acts 17

  4. Sharing Christ in All Places - Acts 1

  5. Agreeing on the Basics - Church Life 101 - 1 Cor. 1

Scriptures: Acts 1


It had been a difficult time for the apostles. One day they had followed Jesus through the streets of Jerusalem as He rode on a donkey. The crowds had been ecstatic. Lining the streets they cast palm branches before the Lord shouting "Hosanna, Hosanna, blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord." This was it, or though the disciples had thought. Jesus would rise to the position of political and military prominence they had envisioned when they first began to follow Him. And they, the faithful disciples, would be the cabinet, they would be His key advisors.

But then it all came crashing down around their heads. How could things have gone so wrong so quickly? One week Jesus is being proclaimed as the Messiah, the next week the very same people are shouting, "Crucify Him, crucify Him!" How could it be? Their Teacher and Leader, the one who had fed the five thousand with just a handful of food, the one who had raised Lazarus from the dead, the one who had given sight to the blind and made the lame walk, the one who commanded the sea to be still, and it obeyed (!), was now being taken off by these pagan Romans to be crucified, like a common criminal? As they stood around the outskirts of the crowds that surrounded the cross, it was their darkest moment. No doubt they walked away in silence, confused, ashamed, frightened, with shattered hopes.

In the days following this unspeakable tragedy the unexpected happened. Several of those who followed Jesus claimed that they had seen Him alive. Some thought the Jews had stolen His body, others knew they had seen Him, they were certain. At first they couldn't believe it, could it be true, or was it just a cruel hoax? Gathered together in an upper room, they locked the doors, fearful that they would suffer the same fate that befell Jesus. And then He appeared, the doors were locked, no one could get in, but there He was, in the flesh, resurrected from the dead. They touched His hands, they heard His voice, they saw His face. Jesus was alive, He had conquered death.

For forty days after His suffering on the cross, Jesus went about teaching and preaching the Kingdom of God. And then, perhaps on a hillside, Jesus gathered His disciples together and he commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but that they should wait for the Promise of the Father, who was the Holy Spirit. And they asked Him, "Lord, will you at this time restore the Kingdom to Israel?" They were still looking for a restoration of a political, geographical and military kingdom. But Jesus told them it was not for them to know the times or the seasons, when He would return and when He would restore the Kingdom was not their business but the Father's. Their business was to be about the job of witnessing. They would receive Power after the Holy Spirit came upon them and they would be witnesses for Jesus, in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the very ends of the Earth.

This was the last thing Jesus said before He ascended into heaven. His disciples would be endued with power from the Holy Spirit and they would be witnesses.

One of the things we do, as a church, as the body of Christ, as His followers, as Christians, is we are witnesses unto Him, we testify about who He is, what He has done and what He will do for those who place their trust in Him.

Every Christian who has come to know the forgiveness of sins, who has experienced the grace of God, who has the Holy Spirit living inside of them, should be, can be and is commanded by Christ to be a witness.

The word evangelism is ev-angel-ism, the prefix ev meaning good, and the word angel meaning messenger. So the word literally means good-message-izing.

The word Gospel comes down to us from the Anglo-Saxon godspell, which signifies God's spell, or God's Story.

The word witness is a translation of the Greek word MARTUS from which we get our English word martyr - one who witnesses with his or her life. (Robert J. Morgan, Nelson's Complete Book of Stories, Illustrations & Quotes, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers) 2000.)

This is what it means to be a witness, to simply tell with our lips and with our lives what Jesus has done for you and what He will do for anyone who will put their trust in Him. But many Christians never share; they never tell anyone else about Jesus, many of them cannot.

According to nationwide surveys conducted by the Barna Research Group regarding evangelism:

  • Nine out of 10 American adults (86 percent) cannot accurately define the meaning of the "Great Commission."

  • Seven out of 10 adults have no clue what "John 3:16" means.

  • Barely one third of all adults (31 percent) know the meaning of the expression "the gospel."

If you were to break it down generationally,

Busters (those between 18–33 years of age) are more likely than any other generation to share their faith with others. Barna's data show that 66 percent of Busters shared their faith in the last year, compared to 58 percent of Boomers (those 34–52 years of age), 52 percent of Builders (those 53–71), and 41 percent of Seniors (those 72 years plus). (1999)

Fact of the matter is, according to Barna,

Only about half (53 percent) of born again Christians feel a sense of responsibility to tell others about their faith. In other words, nearly half of born again Christians do not think that it is their personal responsibility to share their religious beliefs with those who do not know Christ. (1999) (Robert J. Morgan, Nelson's Complete Book of Stories, Illustrations & Quotes, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers) 2000.)

What does the scripture have to say? What did Jesus have to say about our responsibility to evangelize, to witness?

Look with me this morning in Acts chapter one, verses 4-8, our specific verse will be verse 8.

This is the mandate that explains all of the activities of the Apostles throughout the book of acts. It is the theme of the book of acts, it was the theme of the early church, that they were to go and be witnesses.

"Ye shall receive the power of the Holy Spirit coming upon you."

1. Promise of power

God had been with them in the flesh. Jesus had walked beside them and they had beheld His glory. But He was ascending into heaven and He promised to leave them a power, that would not just be with them, but would be within them.

The Holy Spirit was very active in the Old Testament. In Judges 6:34 the scripture says the Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon, in Judges 14:6 the Spirit of the Lord came upon Samson, in I Samuel 10:10 The Spirit of God came upon king Saul, In 1 Samuel 16:13 the Spirit of the Lord came upon David, over and over the Spirit of the Lord came upon men, but did not reside within them.

But through the prophet Ezekiel in Ezekiel 36:26&27 God promised,

"I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will place My Spirit within you and cause you to follow My statues and carefully observe My ordinances."

Jesus promised in John 14:16-17

"And I will ask the Father and He will give you another Counselor to be with you forever. He is the Spirit of truth. The world is unable to receive Him because it does not know Him, because He remains with you and will be in you."

Now, Jesus tells them this is about to happen, they are about to receive this power.

We need to try and understand this power. This is divine power; this is the power of God living within us.

a. This power is personal

It comes in the Person of the Holy Spirit

This power is not something we learn, it is not something we earn, it is not something you sort of grow into as you go to church, it is, in fact, not something but rather someone. This power comes when we have the person of the Holy Spirit, God Himself, living inside of us.

It comes personally to every believer

Every believer has the Holy Spirit. He comes into the life of every believer at the point of salvation. It is not a question of how much of the Holy Spirit we get but how much of us He gets.

This power, in fact, is the natural result of a life surrendered to the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit.

b. This power is spiritual

His power enables us to impact the spiritual realm when we obey Him in the physical realm.

Acts 4:31 And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together;

We must be careful not to fall into the trap the disciples fell into, thinking that Jesus came to institute a physical empire, the Kingdom of God is a spiritual kingdom, someday it will be physical, but for now it is in the spiritual realm that the battle is fought and won.

We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, or Jesus would have given us physical power,

Second Corinthians 10:3-4a "For although we are walking in the flesh, we do not wage war in a fleshly way, since the weapons of our warfare are not fleshly but are powerful…"

c. This power is eternal

Not like batteries that need recharging, this power never fails, it never wanes or weakens, if we grow weak it is because we are trying to operate in our own strength rather than in His strength.

d. This power is transformational

It made them:

Bold – Acts 4:13 "When they observed the boldness of Peter and John and realized that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed and knew that they had been with Jesus."

Passionate – Acts 5:40- 42 "After they called in the apostles and had them flogged, they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus and released them. Then they went out from the presence of the Sanhedrin, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to be dishonored on behalf of the name. Every day in the temple complex, and in various homes, they continued teaching and proclaiming the good news that the Messiah is Jesus."

Effective – Acts 6:7 "So the preaching about God flourished, the number of the disciples in Jerusalem multiplied greatly, and a large group of priests became obedient to the faith."

Success in witnessing is simply taking the initiative to share Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit, then leaving the results to God. - Bill Bright

2. Purpose for the power

The major reason the Holy Spirit was given to believers is so that we might join God in the expansion of His kingdom. While the Holy Spirit does many other things in the life of the believer, He is in the world to convict of sin and to enable us to share the good news with sinners. This is the Power Jesus Promised us.

Witnesses are people who tell what they know, this is the practical side of the power God gives us. We are not simply to live, no mimes on the witness stand, we have to speak up, telling others what we have experienced and know to be true.

Things that hinder evangelism

1. Coldness in our love for Jesus – you cannot say you love Jesus and then be content to allow people for whom He died to go to hell. You cannot say you love Him and then disobey His commandments. Jesus said, If you love me, you will keep my commandments. Here he commands us to be His witnesses. In Matthew 28, in the great commission He commands us to make disciples. When you truly love someone, the things that are dear to them, become dear to you. When we love Jesus, we cannot see Him on the cross, blood running down His hands, His side, His feet, and feel no emotion. If we see Him there, dying for all humanity, and then walk away without any feeling as to why He died, walk away without any conviction that we should do our part to reach the world He died to save, how can we say we love Him. All too often we grow cold in our love for God because we have supplanted Him, we have replaced Him with a love for the things of this world. Our comfort, our pleasure, our place in society, our accumulation of wealth, these things crowd out the lowly Jesus, and Jesus becomes nothing more to us than a fire insurance policy from the fires of hell. When our love for Him grows cold, we no longer feel the sense of urgency, the passion to witness that we did when we first came to know Him.

2. Coldness in our love for our fellow human – We must not reinterpret the Holy Spirit's ministry in a selfish vein. He did not come here simply to make us comfortable. He came here to empower us, to enable us, to encourage us, and to edify us (or build us up). The gifts He gives us are for the edification or building up of the body, not just for our own personal enjoyment. Christianity is not about getting everything we can get, it is about doing everything we can do and giving everything we can give.

Folks, people for whom Jesus died walk the streets of our neighborhoods everyday. They walk up and down the halls of our schools and office buildings, they shop with us, live by us, stop next to us as stop lights and sit at the table next to us in the restaurants we frequent. God has sent us, you and me, into the world to be a witness to them. We alone have the message of life, we alone have God's commission to be a light to the world. If we don't tell them, who will. If we don't tell them, why not? Because we don't love them like we should. We would tell our families, we would tell our loved ones, because we love them. Jesus tells us that we are to love the Lord with all our hearts and our neighbors as ourselves.

3. Bad theology – Bad theology hinders evangelism. Some do not evangelize because they do not believe there is a need to. Universalists believe everyone will get to heaven and there is no need for anyone to be saved. But within the membership of our congregation this is not a problem. We know that all must repent. Our theology errs when we begin to think that God has to call you into the ministry before you become responsible for evangelism. Scripture teaches us that all born again believers have an obligation to share the gospel.

One of the reasons I believe we need a reformation in the area of ministry is because the mindset that so many Christians have is one that says all ministry, of which evangelism is a part, is something the clergy is to do, and that they, as laypeople are somehow exempt from the responsibility of doing evangelism.

For four hundred years the Christian church had no great preacher by rhetorical standards. The first great preacher was Chrysostom. Yet during those centuries, Christianity conquered the Mediterranean world by the faithful witness of the common believer. - Warren Wiersbe and Lloyd Perry

While there were no professional missionaries devoting their whole life to this specific work, every congregation was a missionary society, and every Christian believer a missionary, inflamed by the love of Christ to convert his fellow men. Every Christian told his neighbor, the laborer to his fellow laborer, the slave to his fellow slave, the servant to his master and mistress, the story of his conversion as a mariner tells the story of the rescue from shipwreck. - Philip Schaff, about the early days of the post-apostolic church (Robert J. Morgan, Nelson's Complete Book of Stories, Illustrations & Quotes, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers) 2000.)

God has given us this power for a purpose, so we can be witnesses.

3. The power in practice

The scope of our mission: Sharing Christ in all places

The Gospel is not something we come to church to hear; it something we go from church to tell. - Vance Havner

On December 17, 1912 Bill Borden boarded ship for China via Egypt. His missionary career would be among history's briefest - and most effective.

Borden was born into an upper-class family on Chicago's Gold Coast, heir to a fortune in real estate and milk production. His mother became a Christian, and young Bill began attending Chicago's Moody Church with her, soon becoming a Christian himself. Shortly afterward, when Pastor R. A. Torrey challenged worshipers to dedicate their lives to God's service, William quietly rose - a little fellow in a blue sailor suit. He stood a long, long time while the service went on, but there was no wavering, and it was a consecration from which he never retreated.

Later at Yale University, Bill became well known as a star athlete, good-looking, worth $50 million, and committed to Christ. At a student missions conference in Nashville, he was deeply moved by Samuel Zwemer to reach the Muslims; and following graduation he announced he was giving his immense inheritance to the cause of world missions. He joined the China Inland Mission, planning to evangelize the Muslims in China. But first came language study in Egypt. On the eve of his departure, his widowed mother wondered if Bill had done the right thing, giving up fortune and homeland. "In the quiet of my room that night, worn and weary and sad, I fell asleep asking myself again and again, 'Is it, after all, worthwhile?' In the morning as I awoke, a still small voice was speaking in my heart, answering: 'God so loved the world that he gave his only beloved son.'"

A month after arriving in Egypt, Borden contracted spinal meningitis. He was dead in two weeks, but he left a final message on paper stuffed under his pillow: "No Reserve! No Retreat! No Regrets!"

What about you today? Are you sharing your faith? Do you have a faith to share? Are you willing to be obedient to Jesus Christ?

Dr. Calvin Wittman is pastor of Applewood Baptist Church, Wheat Ridge, Colorado. He serves as a trustee at Criswell College, and regularly contributes to Open Windows, a monthly LifeWay devotional publication.