May 29, 2011

We are His Witnesses - May 29, 2011

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One of the most powerful proofs that Jesus really did rise from the dead is also the simplest: Witnesses. Writing to the Christians gathering in Corinth, the apostle Paul lists some of the people that actually saw the resurrected Christ. Paul writes…
“3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born” (1 Corinthians 15:3–8 NIV).
There were so many eye-witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection that if you had lived back then you could have interviewed one witness a day for more than a year. There were more eye-witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection than we can legally fit into the downstairs, main floor and balcony of this church building.

He is risen. Our sins stand forgiven. Hallelujah.


Our readings today have a strong central theme: witnessing. Simply put, witnessing is telling others about what God has done.

Three of our four readings also mention the resurrection of Jesus. The resurrection is immensely significant to us Christians because it means Jesus TRULY is the Savior sent from God. God would not have raised Him from the dead if he was a liar or an imposter.

Keep these two things in mind as we read and talk about the Scriptures today: 1) Witnessing is simply telling others what God has done. And 2) the resurrection of Jesus is a beacon of power that we must tap into when we witness.

SERMON BITE #1 - "The Spirit of Truth Lives in Us"

Our first reading comes from John 14. Jesus said these words to His disciples during the Last Supper. This was on the day before He was crucified, and three days before He was raised from the dead.

John 14:15-21 (ESV)

15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.
18 “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21 Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.”

Jesus says that He is going to ask the Father to send the “Spirit of Truth” to His followers. Now, we know that the Holy Spirit was already with the disciples because they believed in Jesus, and the Bible says that nobody can believe unless the Holy Spirit brings them to faith. Also, we know the Holy Spirit was already with them because Jesus says, “he dwells with you” referring to the Holy Spirit.

Jesus wanted to reassure them that the Holy Spirit was going to stay with them when Jesus took his visible presence from them.

The Holy Spirit lives in us too. Paul wrote…
“…no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3 NIV).
To a young pastor Paul wrote…
“Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us” (2 Timothy 1:14 NIV).
To the congregation of believers in Corinth Paul said…
“Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16 NKJV).
If we trust that Jesus is our Savior from sin, that means the Holy Spirit has already touched us. And He will remain with us to preserve and build up our faith in Jesus.

Followers of Christ, did you hear that? The eternal and all-powerful God lives within you. God the Holy Spirit has taken up residence in YOU.

A long time ago, God told Moses to go to Egypt and lead the people of Israel up out of slavery. When Moses hesitated, God told him, “I’ll go with you”. When we hesitate to speak up about our God, remember – the Spirit of Truth lives in us. He will go with us and speak through us.

SERMON BITE #2 - "Witnessing is Praise that Someone Else Get's to Hear"

Our Psalm of the day defines praise. Praising God is simply telling God why He’s so awesome. In a sense, witnessing is just praising God that someone else gets to hear.

Psalm 66 (NIV)

For the director of music. A song. A psalm.

1 Shout for joy to God, all the earth!
2 Sing the glory of his name;
make his praise glorious.
3 Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds!
So great is your power
that your enemies cringe before you.
4 All the earth bows down to you;
they sing praise to you,
they sing the praises of your name.”

5 Come and see what God has done,
his awesome deeds for mankind!
6 He turned the sea into dry land,
they passed through the waters on foot—
come, let us rejoice in him.
7 He rules forever by his power,
his eyes watch the nations—
let not the rebellious rise up against him.

8 Praise our God, all peoples,
let the sound of his praise be heard;
9 he has preserved our lives
and kept our feet from slipping.
10 For you, God, tested us;
you refined us like silver.
11 You brought us into prison
and laid burdens on our backs.
12 You let people ride over our heads;
we went through fire and water,
but you brought us to a place of abundance.

13 I will come to your temple with burnt offerings
and fulfill my vows to you—
14 vows my lips promised and my mouth spoke
when I was in trouble.
15 I will sacrifice fat animals to you
and an offering of rams;
I will offer bulls and goats.

16 Come and hear, all you who fear God;
let me tell you what he has done for me.
17 I cried out to him with my mouth;
his praise was on my tongue.
18 If I had cherished sin in my heart,
the Lord would not have listened;
19 but God has surely listened
and has heard my prayer.
20 Praise be to God,
who has not rejected my prayer
or withheld his love from me!

In this Psalm, the whole world is encouraged to praise God. It says “Shout with joy to God, all the earth! Sing the glory of his name; make his praise glorious!”.

Why is God to be praised? Because He has created everything. Because He has done miracles for His people. Because He rules all the nations and makes sure that justice is done to the wicked.

But I’d like to direct your attention toward the end of the Psalm. Toward the end it says, “Come and listen, all you who fear God; let me tell you what he has done for me.”

This is praising God: telling others what He has done for you as an individual. The praise that the Psalm writer encourages here is praise expressed between believers. Praise shared within a congregation!

If witnessing is to be second nature for us, maybe we should start by being more open with each other about what God has done for us. Let’s not feel like we have to hold back, or say things in a certain way, or hide our darker sins. If our heavenly Father has moved our hearts to abandon these sins, and Jesus has taken them away by His cross – that’s something someone else may need to hear.

Let’s put the masks down. We’re not perfect Christians. We never were. Let’s praise our Savior God. Let’s say to each other, “Let me tell you what he has done for me.”

If we can be open with our family in Christ, maybe God can teach us to be open with the world. And maybe that will lead us to grab hold of more opportunities that we have to speak out about what God has done for the whole world through Christ Jesus our Savior.

SERMON BITE #3 - "Our Hope is Christ"

We read from the apostle Peter’s first letter.

1 Peter 3:15-22 (NKJV)

15 But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; 16 having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed. 17 For it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.
18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, 19 by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison, 20 who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water. 21 There is also an antitype which now saves us—baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, angels and authorities and powers having been made subject to Him.

In this section Christians are told to be prepared to defend the hope we have. What is our hope? Jesus – that through HIS sacrifice OUR sins stand forgiven and heaven is our home.

This takes the weight off our shoulders in connection with witnessing. When we tell others about Jesus, we are not earning our forgiveness. In fact, the very message that we seek to share with others is that we can’t do anything to earn God’s forgiveness. The forgiveness of sins is a gift that was purchased by Christ when He died in our place on the cross. The forgiveness of sins is a gift that was given to you and me when the Holy Spirit convinced us that Christ is true.

But let’s be ready to tell others WHY Christ is our hope. Each one of us will say it a little differently, but if we’re speaking from the foundation of the Bible, we’re all going to be saying something like this: Jesus is my hope because He says something unlike any other religion. He doesn’t say I’ve got to fix myself. He says I’m broken. He says I’m sinful. He says I was headed to hell – but He caught me. He says that He died for my sins and for the sins of all people so that we are forgiven. Jesus reunites us with the Holy God.

Different Christians will share the Gospel differently, but the reason for our hope stays the same. Our hope is in Christ. He paid it all. He made us His own through Baptism. He is our hope.

When we talk to other people about religion, or any of the political or social topics that non-Christians like to bring up to their “Jesus” friends – lets get Christ into that conversation. After all, Christ is our hope, and His Gospel is the power to change hearts. Paul writes…
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek” (Romans 1:16 NKJV).
SERMON BITE #4 - "The Gift of Forgiveness, and a Real Relationship"

Last Sunday we talked about being “mission minded”. And from Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, we took a few tips on how to be mission minded. The first step is to go where you have an open door. The second step is to take the Good News of sins forgiven through Jesus, through that open door. The third step is to watch out for two things: opposition, and success.

When Paul came to a new city, he usually shared the Good News of Jesus at the local synagogue (a kind of Jewish Bible Class). Typically, that was his open door. But not always. In the city of Athens, Paul saw another open door.

There were lots of thinkers and talkers in Athens. They philosophy and debating the newest ideas out there. Well, Paul took full advantage of this and got himself invited to speak at the Areopagus on Mars Hill in Athens. Lets hear how Paul took advantage of this opportunity.

Acts 17:22-34 (NIV)

22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.
24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’
29 “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill. 30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”
32 When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.” 33 At that, Paul left the Council. 34 Some of the people became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others.

Did you notice how Paul didn’t apologize at all for what he presents? He didn’t say, “Now, I know you don’t believe this, but I’ll tell you what I believe”. He just lays out the truth for them to either accept or reject. But he does that with thoughtfully, and with tact.

With the Jews he would have started with the prophecies of the Old Testament, and progressed to Jesus who had fulfilled these prophecies. But with the heathen thinkers of Athens Paul starts with the fact that God is our Creator. He moves on to the fact that God is our sustainer. That God not only puts us in the places where we live, but that God does all this because He wants us to reach out for Him. The Creator wants to have a real relationship with us!

But even though Paul is thoughtful in where he begins, he also doesn’t shy away from bringing up some confrontational things. He does it gently, but he basically tells them that they’ve got lots of gods to worship, but they don’t have the right one. He also tells them that it’s ignorance to worship idols. He tells them that a great day of judgment is coming and that all people will stand before one judge appointed by God.

Did you notice that Paul presents Jesus as the one who will judge the world on the Last Day, but he doesn’t one mention anything about grace? Doesn’t mention the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross for all sinners? I think this was because this way of thinking would have been foreign to the Athenian philosophers. Paul just wanted to peak their interest. You know, further get his foot in the door.

And it worked. While some rejected his message as soon as he mentioned someone actually coming back from the dead, others said that they would like to hear more.

Sometimes that’s what we need to do as witnesses of Christ. Gently prick someone’s conscience and see where it leads, instead of just dropping the who Law and Gospel bomb on them and walking away like our work is done.

If God is seeking to give the gift of forgiveness and to begin a real relationship with people, maybe that’s where we should start our witnessing Christ to others – with the gift of forgiveness and a real relationship.

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