************ Sermon on Acts 1:8 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on February 18, 2007
"Power to Tell"
I God's Message for a Sinful World
A It's a sunny Sunday afternoon in the middle of the Summer. Let's take a tour of our city. Let's enter a few homes and buildings and take a look around.
First, we wander down Walnut Ave. Don't forget, it is Sunday. What do we see; what do we hear? Of course, the sound of lawn mowers fill the air. In front of some homes we see people washing their car. At another home the people are sitting in front, drinking beer and idly passing the time by. We pass one house and hear yelling, screaming, abusive language, and slamming doors inside. When we walk in we find a husband and wife in the midst of a fierce argument; she announces she wants a divorce. In still another home we see a couple packing their possessions. He was laid off work so they can no longer afford the house payments – they had to sell their home at a give-away price. In another house we hear a woman and two children crying – their husband and father was killed in a traffic accident yesterday. In the last house we come to we hear soft voices filled with despair. A husband and wife are sitting at the kitchen table. They are talking about their teenager who was arrested last week for shop-lifting; he said he did it to join a gang.
Don't kid yourselves. Every city and town has homes like these. Everyday you meet some of these people – people who are hurting, crying, fighting; people who are lonely, despairing, and grieving; people who don't know there is more to life than sex and beer. I ask, as a Christian what do we say to these people? What can we say to these people that will have meaning for their life?
Let's continue our tour. We turn left on Linwood and end up at Westgate. From there we go to Nobel and go east until we come to the hospital. At both places we meet people who are waiting to die. We meet people who are hardly aware they are alive. We meet people who are scared of death and who would sell their soul for the chance to lead a full life. We meet people whose body is filled with cancer and whose every breath is filled with pain. What do we say, what can we say, to such people?
From downtown we go to the Visalia Rescue Mission. And from there to St. John's Parkway. We decide to walk down the path beside the river from Lover's Lane going east. We see grocery carts, bicycles, big cardboard boxes, little fires, drying out rags spread over bushes. Do you know the people we meet? The homeless, alcoholics, prisoners preparing to reenter society, victims of abuse. What do we say, what can we say, to such people?
We head back to Walnut and end up at Linell Camp. Here are the working poor. They put in 12-14 hour days picking fruit, pruning trees, packing fruit, with no benefits, and at minimum wage. They can't afford to stay home if they have the flue, a sick child, or a bad cold. Their kids may or may not be in school. And, they certainly cannot afford to buy school supplies or school clothes or make trips to the doctor. What do we say, what can we say, to such people?
We can go to the industrial park and admire the big buildings. What can we say to those who work only for the money? What can we say to those who hate their job and find no meaning, enjoyment, or challenge in it? What can we say to those who try to get as much money for as little work as possible?
We can go north of town, go past Sequoia Field, and end up at the County Prison. There are killers in there, rapists, thieves, child molesters – prisoners who respect neither man nor God. What do we say, what can we say, to such people?
B You know that God has given us a message to bring to these people and to people around the world. The message tells us what is wrong, what illness it is that afflicts mankind; and, it tells us the cure for that illness.
God's message tells us why some never worship on Sunday. It tells us why there are fights and even divorce in marriage. It tells us why there is unemployment, death, drug-abuse, shop-lifting. It tells us why work can be drudgery. It tells us why there is suffering, pain, death, and cancer. It tells us why someone's precious daughter becomes pregnant and why someone's precious son becomes an adulterer. It tells us why there is crime and prison and punishment. It tells us why there are physical, mental, and emotional disabilities.
What is the answer? What does God's message tell us? It points the finger at sin.
Sin is not a very fashionable word today. Many people don't consider sin to be sin anymore; instead, they talk about acceptable, alternative lifestyles. But God's message points at sin. It doesn't care if sin is in or out of fashion. It tells us straight out that all men are sinners. It tells us that everyone, from conception on, is infected with the disease of sin.
God's message doesn't stop there. It also tells us the cure for the disease of sin. It tells us the antidote for the illness that has infected all of mankind. That cure, that antidote – it is the blood and Spirit of Christ.
God's message, then, for us and for the world? It is the same message He gave to the Apostle Peter on Pentecost:
(Acts 2:38) Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
C This message is to be found in only one place. Man didn't and man couldn't make up this message. This message is to be found only in the Bible.
When we look at the Great Commission, we all know that God has given us a job to do: to evangelize the nations, starting with our neighbors in Visalia, then Goshen, then San Francisco, then Nigeria and Haiti and Eritrea and Papua New Guinea. God has given us a message to give to the world. To bring that message, you have to know and understand and study your Bibles.
Imagine that you have to give a speech. Would you ever think of mounting the stage or approaching the lectern without being prepared? Of course not! Before you start talking you make sure that you know what you are going to talk about. It's the same way with being witnesses: you have to know what you are going to talk about before you witness. And the only way to know is to read and study and learn God's Word. You know what that means: to know the Word is to attend our worship services; to know the Word is to be involved in Bible Study; to know the Word is to have regular devotions.
II We Must Deliver God's Message to the World
A The message that God has given us – it is good news. And good news is meant for sharing. Fathers, do you remember the day your first child was born? I remember. David was born on a Saturday. I had good news, news that had to be shared. So I called up both sets of parents. When I picked up my mail I told the lady at the Post Office. I called the bulletin secretary and the vice-president of consistory. And the next day I had preached in a church in which no one knew me – of course I had to tell them too.
All of us here are in possession of good news. It is the good news of the Gospel. This news is about a baby conceived by the Spirit and born of a virgin; it is about a man Who died on a cross; it is about a king Who sits on a throne in heaven. This news is good news because it means salvation. And, like all good news, we can't keep it to ourselves. It simply has to be shared.
Imagine that your closest and dearest friend is infected with HIV because of a blood transfusion. Your friend has a time bomb ticking inside. Sooner or later he will come down with AIDS and will surely die. Also imagine that you discover a cure for HIV. Would you keep that news to yourself or would you rush to your friend with the news?
All around us people are dying an eternal death from the virus of sin. We have in our possession a cure for that virus. Do we keep that cure for ourselves or do we share it with those who are dying?
B Often it is tempting to avoid our responsibility to witness. Witnessing makes us uneasy and, perhaps, even unpopular. All too often we think we do our duty here by supporting the church's mission and evangelism program – through our prayers and our gifts. That's important too, or else we wouldn't have our Faith-Promise pledge cards. But the Lord requires more from us. He wants us to be witnesses for Christ by our words.
Think for a moment about something that is important to you. It might be the Super Bowl. I doubt if there is one football fan who is not able to talk at great length with friends and acquaintances about the Colts and the Bears. Think of the time you can spend talking about cars and girls, or school and guys. Think of the time you can spend talking about a hunting trip, or a new computer, or a Caribbean vacation, or your new grand-child. All of these may be important in your life, but none are more important than Jesus Christ. Yet, I ask you, how much time or how many times do you talk to friends and acquaintances about the Lord? Jesus is our Maker, Savior, and Lord. Nothing, no one, is more important in our life. So shouldn't we be able to talk about Him as easily and as excitedly as we talk about the Colts and the Bears and school?
C Today, and everyday, an average of 15,000+ people in Africa become a Christian. How come? The Holy Spirit takes the credit, of course, but what did He use to accomplish this? The Spirit uses the witness of ordinary Christians – not of pastors, not of church leaders – but of ordinary believers to convert the vast majority of these people. There is nothing special about the believers of Africa. Many of them are poor. Many have no education past the 3rd grade. Many of them grew up in an unbelieving home. Yet, by their witness, the Holy Spirit will lead 6 million Africans to Christ during 2007.
Look at the early Christian church. She grew by leaps and bounds. In one day she grew from 120 to 3,120 believers. She quickly spread from Jerusalem to Judea to Samaria to the uttermost parts of the earth. It took less than 250 years for the church to conquer the mightiest empire of all times, the Roman Empire.
How come the church grew so fast? Does the credit go first to Peter and Paul and the other Apostles? Not really. The first believers were persecuted for their faith. They were scattered all over the Roman Empire. Our Scripture reading tells us what happened:
(Acts 8:4) Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. Those persecuted, scattered believers – what did they do? They witnessed to Christ. They had good news about salvation for a lost in sin world; they had good news they couldn't keep to themselves. Wherever they went, wherever they fled, they told people about Christ. They were not ashamed of the Gospel. Those early believers, whether young or old, male or female, they witnessed, they proclaimed, they shared the good news.
That's our calling: to share the good news. We do that through our missionaries. We do that through our own individual witnessing. We do that through the church's programs and ministries.
D Our text from Acts 1 tells us why we are to witness to Christ:
(Acts 1:8) 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.Notice the order: you will receive the Holy Spirit and you will be witnesses. That's what happened on Pentecost: they received the Spirit and they became witnesses. That reminds us: the Spirit is a witnessing Spirit, the Spirit always points away from itself and to Christ, the Spirit impels believers to share the good news.
The Bible tells us that everyone who believes in Jesus has the Spirit. This means that everyone who believes is a witness. Spirit-filled people – and that's you and me – are witnessing people.
E What's the best way to witness? The best way is one person at a time. Imagine that you have 50 pop bottles to be filled with water. You don't take a bucket of water and dump it over them to fill them all. No, you grab the first bottle by the neck, and then you pour in water until it is filled. Then you go on to the next bottle.
So many people and churches have the bucket approach to witnessing and evangelism: they present the Gospel to 40 or 50 people at a time. They have a booth at the farm show and pass out tracts. They participate in a Nursing Home service and shake the hands of 20 residents afterwards. They have a Vacation Bible School for one or two weeks. I'm not saying these efforts are wrong, but they don't produce results unless they are followed up by one-on-one contact.
I like to ask you to do something. Pick one person, any person, someone you know, someone who is not a believer, and work on them. Pray for them. For as long as is necessary, give them God's message in word and in deed.
III Empowered to Deliver God's Message
Perhaps you are scared of doing this, of being a witness. Quite often you wonder: what do I say, will I be rejected, will people laugh at me and make fun of me?
God, however, doesn't leave us on our own. God gives us power to tell.
(Acts 1:8) 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.God gives us the Spirit. And with the Spirit we are given the power, the courage, the strength, to be witnesses. I think here of what Jesus says in another place:
(Mt 10:17-20) "Be on your guard against men; they will hand you over to the local councils and flog you in their synagogues. (18) On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. (19) But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, (20) for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.
The Apostles experienced this first hand. When they received the Spirit they received the power to tell, the power to witness, the power to pass on the good news of the Gospel.
And you too, my brothers and sisters, can experience this power because you too are filled with the Spirit.
One of my favorite activities is camping. When you camp, quite often a meal is cooked over an open fire. Suppose someone reached in the coals and pulled out a baked potato wrapped in aluminum foil and tossed it to you. There are 2 things you can do: you can drop the potato or can quickly toss it to the person beside you.
The Gospel is "hot potato" news. Either you drop it or you quickly pass it on. Too often too many Christians "drop the hot potato." They have good news, hot news, news that simply has to be shared. But what do they do? They drop it. Instead, they should pass it on.
My hope and prayer on this Mission Emphasis Sunday is that we all as Spirit-filled, Spirit-empowered people, want to pass it on.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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