“Be a Witness”
Easter 5, May 3, 2015
Be a Witness
Text: Acts 8:26–40
I read this week about a group of 50 Belgians who got on a bus and they were going to drive all night on this bus to the ski slopes at La Plagne. (It is in eastern France, near the borders of Italy and Switzerland.) They partied and visited and then went to sleep, so that when they got to their destination the next morning they would be ready to go skiing. But things didn’t work out that way.
When they woke up on the bus the next morning, they weren’t at the LaPlagne ski resort, there was no snow, and there were no mountains. When they looked out of the bus, they saw…vineyards! The kind of vineyards they have in the south of France.
Needless to say they had a little conversation with the driver. He explained he had followed the directions on his GPS. What the driver didn’t share, or realize, is that the GPS had listed three different La Plagnes in France. And he had selected the wrong one. When folks follow wrong directions and wrong voices, things do not turn out so well.
As Christians, our challenge is to stay on track too, to be guided correctly on our journey. If we are to bear fruit as branches of the Vine, who will keep us on track? We will answer that question today.
Let’s start with Philip and the Ethiopian. It’s quite understandable that the Ethiopian fellow could not understand what he was reading (vv 30–31). No individual can claim to know Scripture’s meaning through his or her own abilities. The Holy Spirit must enlighten us through the Gospel. This is true for everyone, so don’t feel bad. The disciples themselves didn’t understand until Jesus opened their minds and the Holy Spirit came upon them at Pentecost. The mind alone can’t understand the things of God unaided. Remember what we confess in the catechism: “I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, or come to Him.”
In the text, the Holy Spirit sent Philip to educate the Ethiopian about the Bible and what it says about Jesus (vv 31–33). Everything in the Bible, Old and New Testaments, revolves around Jesus. The Ethiopian was reading Isaiah, and Isaiah and the other prophets testified about Jesus and predicted His coming. Jesus is the Suffering Servant of Isaiah’s prophecy. Isaiah’s words declared to centuries of Old Testament readers the same assurance they declare to you: that Jesus willingly laid down His life for your salvation. Jesus’ death and rising again means new life for all peoples and nations.
Because God loves you, He sent the Holy Spirit into your heart and is determined to keep you firm in the only faith that saves. We don’t know Jesus, we don’t have faith, forgiveness or salvation, without the Holy Spirit in here.
It is the Holy Spirit who guides us. And I hope at this point I have successfully made the point that we need that guidance. Because when people turn to themselves, their stuff, their technology, their wisdom, they get lost.
Ever since the Garden of Eden was emptied, people have been trying to come up with their own ways and their own directions and their own recipe to end up in heaven. And folks who listen to all these things are going to end up disappointed. Eternally.
The ultimate, final and only truth is this: only faith in Jesus Christ can forgive you and give you eternal life. That is because only Jesus has removed your sins and only Jesus has defeated death by His rising again. All this He has done so we will reach the right destination. As Jesus told us, He is “the Way.”
So, knowing the Holy Spirit will guide you in your faith and your study of God’s Word, who will guide your opportunities to witness about Jesus? Because that is something we all need to do. When Jesus says, “Be light” & “Be salt” & “Go! And make disciples of all nations” it is pretty clear this Good News, this Gospel, is not something we should keep to ourselves. We need to share it.
If you were drowning and a guy came by in a boat with a life preserver and didn’t throw it to you because he thought he might need it later, that would be disappointing, right? In the same way, we should not keep Jesus, and what He did for us, to ourselves. God is not sending us out to save all nations, though you can help with that, too. Look at Philip, he was not sent to a big city, he was sent to talk to one dude! God must send someone to seek after the one lost sheep, not just the multitudes.
A recent study shows that 25% of people who don’t go to church are atheists or agnostics. Perhaps the most pertinent discovery Barna learned in this study is that when you get to the bottom line, the unbelievers’ problem is they don’t trust. That’s not too surprising, is it? People don’t trust the president, Congress, or the Supreme Court. A lot of people these days don’t trust the police, and who ever trusted advertisers?
But it’s sad when they don’t trust the Lord or His Holy Word. They meet a grumpy Christian and they write off Christ; they hear about a pastor or priest who sinned and they write off the church. They hear some scholar take a shot at the truth of God’s Word and they write off Scripture as a fairy tale. But in the Lord and in His Word is life, forgiveness, and something and someone to hold on to…ALWAYS!
Now, for twelve years you have been hearing me tell you how important it is that we tell others about Jesus. Over the years I have used various illustrations and ideas to get across to all of us the importance of not keeping this to ourselves. Today, I will try this one.
Ken Klass gave me this idea…What would you say to your kids or grandkids if you knew they only had a short time to live? What would be the last thing you would tell them? You love them. Good. They are special to you. That’s good. Then what?
What would you say to your spouse? What words are kind enough, affectionate enough, caring enough, to convey how much that person means to you? Yet, after those words of love are said, then what?
What would you say to your parents? We would surely thank them for all they did. We would let them know we appreciate them. But then what?
What would you say to your brother, your sister, your closest friends, your neighbors, your co-workers? Would we try and heal pains and fix arguments and let go of grudges? OK. But then what? Is that all there is?
I know this is not a pleasant thing to think about. But paraphrasing a line from a popular cable TV show…”Death is coming.” Very few of us have never mourned. Even fewer will avoid it in the future. If death comes unexpectedly to someone close to you, if accident, stroke or heart attack robs you of those last days with that person, will not your sadness be stronger, your regrets more raw because of words unspoken? What would you say to those close to you if you knew they had only a short time to live?
For 2,000 years the answer to that question has always been something we who are Christians should know. When the church was healthy, it was first on the list. When the church was sickly, it dropped in importance. But always, always, those who have been saved by Jesus have been honored to share Jesus to a dying world. Jesus: Crucified and Risen. The empty Easter tomb has given us something to say about death and, we cannot remain silent about God’s Son and the Good News of great joy that: He is Risen!
It is a wonderful obligation we dare not try and get out of. After all, the clock is ticking … and the hour and minute hands are not running backwards. We need to share what we have. Because this is what Christians are supposed to do.
And remember you are not doing this alone. The Holy Spirit will guide you so that you can bear fruit in fulfilling your calling (Jn 15:5). You may very well be called to go where you are already going. The workplace offers a set of unique opportunities to share the love of Jesus. Prayer may be regulated in public schools, but the Holy Spirit can still provide opportunities for you to witness to schoolmates or teachers. Or, you could run into a co-worker at the office coffee pot who tells you life is not going so well, and you tell them “Jesus is here for you,” and invite them here to church. The Holy Spirit will guide you when you are in that kind of situation. This is what Christians are supposed to do.
Let’s close with this. I think we would all agree that it is a bad thing to go to the doctor and be told we have cancer or Alzheimer’s. We do not want to hear it and doctors do not want to say it, but we would all agree that doctors should tell us right?
I read recently that according to the Alzheimer’s Association, a lot of doctors are not telling patients that they have Alzheimer’s when they do indeed have it. The statistics the Association shared are these:
* 90 percent of cancer patients get their diagnosis from their physician.
* 45 percent of Alzheimer’s patients get that information from their doctors.
Doctors don’t want to talk about that. And we Christians can identify with that, right? We don’t want to tell a loved one, a friend, a colleague that they are going to die. We don’t want to tell someone because they refuse the gifts of Jesus Christ, they are going to die eternally either. As a result, we, like those doctors, are liable to keep our mouths shut. That’s a shame … and it’s a shame because there is a big, and incredibly important, difference between our news and that of the doctor sharing the news of Alzheimer’s.
That difference is Jesus Christ. Here’s what I mean: there is no question that a soul whose sins are unforgiven will eventually stand before Jesus Christ, and He will condemn them. But it is equally true that faith in Jesus Christ, God’s Son, our Savior, provides a cure. Jesus is a 100 percent cure for every sin of every sinner.
But people will not get that cure unless they are told of their condition and God’s perfect treatment. This is why you and everyone in this church needs to tell others the good news of the Big Doc’s cure. This is what Christians are supposed to do.
The Ethiopian may have thought at first that it was pure coincidence that Philip was traveling that same road. But God wanted him to know the truth about Jesus and God brought the two together to achieve His purpose. That same Spirit works through life’s events to guide you into the truth and give you opportunity to be used as a chosen instrument. As He has guided you so far, let Him continue to guide you to grow in faith and use the opportunities to witness about Jesus. Be a witness. This is what Christians are supposed to do.