“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” Acts 1:8
As we introduce our study of Acts 1:8 we are going to answer 6 questions from 20,000 feet, so to speak: who, what, when, where, how, and why. Yesterday we answered, who. Today, we will answer, what and when.
The second question we need to answer it, “what?” What are you and I to be and do if this command is for us? The answer to this question, is witnesses. Jesus said, “You will be my witnesses.” What is a witness? The definition that I have developed for the purpose of this study is two-sided.
On one hand, a witness is one who has a personal experience with, knowledge of, and relationship with Christ. This raises a serious question. Are we witnesses? Or are we advocates? A witness is one who has personal knowledge of something. They are the ones sitting on the witness stand in the court room testifying to what they have seen with their eyes, heard with their ears, and felt with their hands, and experienced personally. Advocates, on the other hand, are more like the lawyers. They can pull together the facts and the testimonies and put them into a logical presentation in an effort to convince the judge and the jury that their position is correct. We need advocates. We need advocates to make good argument and to convince skeptics that the claims of Christ and His Word are legitimate claims. Advocates however, do not change the world. Witnesses change the world. We find in Acts 4:13 that “When they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.” They did not perceive that they were seminary trained or especially gifted. They just knew they had been with Jesus!
On one hand, witnesses are those who have had a personal experience with, knowledge of, and relationship with Christ. On the other hand, a witness is one who is willing to lay down their lives and their all for Christ and His Great Commission. I think it is important to note as well, that the greek word translated witness here, and throughout the new testament is the word μάρτυρες (martyres) from the greek root μάρτυς. The word literally, and originally meant witness: an eye witness or ear witness. The word however, as you can probably tell, has been borrowed by the English language and is our word “martyr.” According to The American Dictionary of the English Language, the word martyr, in english, means “One who, by his death, bears witness to the truth of the gospel.” The word used in Acts 1:8 for witness has now become synonyms with dying for one’s faith. This was because the witnesses “martyres” of the NT so often were put to death for their witness. Putting both sides of this definition together we can see that a witness is one who has such personal experience with, knowledge of, and relationship with Christ that they are willing to lay down their lives and their all for Christ and His Great Commission.
The next question, we must answer is, when? When should we, as Christ’s followers, be true witnesses? The answer to when is when the Holy Spirit comes upon us. Jesus said, “but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.”
We are the product of our culture and as a product of our culture, we have been ingrained with the American spirit. As the American dream goes, we can do anything we set our minds to accomplish. I fear that we in the 21st century American church are so capable, so skilled, so resourced, and so diligent that we never really practically need God. We need the power of the Holy Spirit whether we recognize it or not.
Now, let’s think about this. This power comes from (with / through) the Holy Spirit. Jesus said, you WILL, not may, but WILL receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. He does not say you will receive salvation. We know that when we are saved the Holy Spirit comes to set up residence in our hearts. He indwells all of His children. The Holy Spirit is present in the lives of all believers. What Jesus is referring to here seems to be different however. He says, that when the Holy Spirit comes upon His followers, in this way, that power will come as well. He says you will receive power. This is an emphatic statement that Jesus makes. There are no if’s, ands, or buts. Have we ever really experienced the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives or is He just someone that we talk about?
This power, that Jesus was referencing was not present in their lives. Jesus said, you WILL receive power. This means that they did not already have this power. These people had walked with Jesus for 3 years. They had seen Him crucified, buried, resurrected and working miracles. They had left everything to follow Him. He had even breathed on them and said, receive the Spirit (John 20:22), yet they did not have this power. Some of us have known God, followed God, and believe, but do not have power and we don’t even recognize it. We can carry on most of our activities smoothly, efficiently, even (by all indications) successfully, never realizing that the Holy Spirit of God is virtually absent. Maybe before there is any hope of us receiving this power, we must admit that we don’t have it and that we need it.
This power was essential to the mission. This power was so essential to the mission that Jesus told them not to do ANYTHING until they received it. In Luke 24:49 He said, “Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high.” Again in Acts 1:4 we read, “And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, "you heard from me.” I wouldn’t have lasted 5 minutes! If I were there, I would have led the believers in prayer for a few minutes and then reminded them all that there is a Gospel to proclaim! There is a world to reach! We must get busy! But Jesus said, wait. I wonder how many people went to hell as they waited? Do we think Jesus did not know that while they were praying and waiting in Jerusalem that souls were slipping into eternity lost? Jesus knew that people were dying without hearing the gospel message, but He also knew that without the power of the Holy Spirit, their witness would be powerless. Jesus wanted them to believe and embrace the fact that apart from Him we can do nothing.
This power is needed by us today. This power, this presence of the Holy Spirit, is something that we should be pursuing and pleading for. Paul instructs the church at Ephesus in Ephesians 5:18, “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit.” Literally, the greek reads, let us be continually being filled with the Spirit. This is not a one dose and your done kind of deal. We need more. If I were to ask the majority of Western believers at any given moment, “Do you want to know the Father more and experience him in greater ways?” I would assume that virtually every one of them would say absolutely! If I were to ask the majority of Western believers at any given moment, “Do you want to know Jesus more and experience him in greater ways?” I would assume that virtually every one of them would say absolutely! But if I were to ask the majority of Western believers at any given moment, “Do you want to know the Holy Spirit more and experience him in greater ways?” at least a portion of those individuals would respond, “I already have him.” The power of the Holy Spirit fell on the followers of Jesus in Acts 2 at Pentecost. This was not a one time event however. We read again in Acts 4:31 that “when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.”
Where is this power of the Holy Spirit that we read about in Acts? With this power, Peter preaches 1 sermon and 3000 are saved at Pentecost. Today we preach 3000 sermons and rejoice if 1 is saved. With this power this small band of believers were accused of disturbing an entire city (Acts 16:20)! When was the last time you heard of a church’s witness being so powerful and bold that they disrupted their city block, much less an entire city! These believer, with the power of the Holy Spirit were accused of turning the whole world upside down (Acts 17:6)! Oh how desperately we need this power today! Who? You and me! What? Witnesses! When? When the Holy Spirit has empowered us and emboldened us to be His witnesses.