What Does It Mean To Be A Witness For Christ? My Acts 1 Sermon

by Bobby Gilles

in Liturgy & Sermons

Hear my Acts 1 sermon at this link, or watch it below. Or you can read my manuscript below the video player.

August 26, 2018 – Witnesses – Bobby Gilles from Sojourn Collective on Vimeo.

Reading: Acts 1:1-8

Intro: Dilemma
Good morning, this is Pastor Bobby. This is the third week in our 5 Identities sermon series. We’re learning what it means to be a Christian. So far we’ve learned that to be a Christian is to be a worshiper and a disciple. Now we’re looking at the identity that gets at the heart of the mission that Jesus gave the church before he ascended into heaven: what it means to be a witness.

We just read the first 8 verses of Acts because I wanted you to have some background, but our main focus today is v. 8:

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

For now, zone in on that italicized part.

When we began this series, we handed you a Personal Renewal Plan, a simple tool so you can see how you’re doing in each identity. What do Sojourners (including me) score lowest on? “Witness.”

You’d think it wouldn’t be that way because psychologists tell us that all humans thirst for significance and purpose: to know that our lives matter, that what we do is important, that we’re a part of something grand.

And being a witness for Jesus is the grandest adventure of all because it’s the way God has decided to bring his kingdom to earth. So being a witness fulfills this need for significance and transforms us into who we were meant to be – agents of God, stewarding his creation and carrying out his will on earth as it is in heaven.

But very quickly when we become Christians we find:

• It can cost you friends/social standing.
• It can be embarrassing.
• It can seem fruitless.

Finally, there’s a question that non-Christians ask us over and over, and many of us even ask it of ourselves:

Who are we to say which religious founder is right? Are we that arrogant to claim we’ve figured it out?

This is the easiest question to answer, so it’s where we’re going to begin, and then we’ll work ourselves up to the hard stuff. But I warn you: at some point over the next ten minutes you’re going to think, “All of this sounds great … for Christians who lived in another time and another place. But it actually makes me feel more hopeless because I didn’t experience what they experienced.”

If that’s you, then just stick with me because we will get to that. So, the answer to this question, “Who are we to say …” is, “We’re nobody.” We can’t even agree on where to eat.

But what if God made it really simple? What if he said, “I love you humans but I made you, and I know you’re going to need help figuring this out. So, I’m going to answer the question, ‘Which religious founder do I follow?’ in the easiest, most dramatic way possible: it’s the one whom I raise from the dead.”

“The others will all die and their bones will rot, but the right one will stay dead for three days and then come out of the grave with a new body that can never die. That’s the guy.”

And it’s in the resurrection of Jesus that we begin to learn what a witness is, and how we can overcome our fear so that we can do this work of witnessing.

Look at our key verse again:

And you will be my witnesses,
Acts 1:8

A witness is someone who experiences something and then tells about it. Christianity spread from a group of poor people in a conquered nation to cover the whole world, not because they learned a bunch of facts or debating techniques but because they experienced something so life changing that they could not keep quiet, even when faced with loss of their jobs and friends, family inheritance, social status, imprisonment and death.


The amazing thing about the 27 writings we call the New Testament is that they are part of one coherent book that is the inspired, infallible, inerrant Word of God, and they are historical documents built on eyewitness testimony to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

John, who wrote more of the N.T. than any other of the original disciples says this in a letter:

We proclaim to you the one who existed from the beginning, whom we have heard and seen. We saw him with our own eyes and touched him with our own hands … now we testify and proclaim to you that he is the one who is eternal life.
1 John 1:1-2

And he wrote this at the end of his biography of Jesus:

This disciple is the one who testifies to these events and has recorded them here. And we know that his account of these things is accurate.
John 21:24

One more, a man named Luke – a doctor, a historian, a missionary with the apostle Paul:

Many people have set out to write accounts about the events that have been fulfilled among us. They used the eyewitness reports circulating among us from the early disciples. Having carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I also have decided to write an accurate account for you,
Luke 1:1-3

There’s nothing like the Gospels and letters of the New Testament in all of history – certainly not compared to other religious writings. So detailed, so specific. These writings dared their readers: “Fact check us. Go to these places, talk to these people, investigate.”

So we have common people, just like you and me, who were often scared, timid, and selfish during Jesus’ life and death. But all of a sudden after the resurrection they begin telling everyone about Jesus, in spite of the threats, beatings, imprisonments. They were eyewitnesses to the resurrection, and if only we were eyewitnesses to the resurrection then we could be bold and set the world on fire like them, right?

Only, let’s dig a little deeper. When Jesus rose from the grave he first appeared to a group of women that included his mother Mary, and a woman named Mary Magdalene, and said:

go find my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
Mary Magdalene found the disciples and told them, “I have seen the Lord!” Then she gave them his message.
That Sunday evening the disciples were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders.
John 20:17-19

What?!? Throughout their years with Jesus, he told them over and over, “I’m going to be killed and buried, but three days later I will rise.” Now it’s three days later, their fellow disciple is telling them, “I saw him,” but they aren’t hitting the streets to spread the good news. They aren’t even going out looking for Jesus. They are hiding.

Maybe it’s because, unfortunately, men don’t always listen to women. You ladies know this. Jesus has already messed up his Resurrection Victory Tour by appearing first to women. Maybe Peter tried to do some mansplaining to Mary, “Listen doll … when a body dies, it stays dead.”

Maybe when the guys actually see Jesus, then they’ll be filled with boldness and start running everywhere, telling people how to get saved. Let’s find out what happens when Jesus appears to them.

When they saw him, they worshiped him—but some of them doubted!
Matthew 28:17

As Pastor Jonah said a few months ago, another way to translate this would be: “they worshiped him – but they had their doubts.” And so, we read in today’s main text:

During the forty days after he suffered and died, he appeared to the apostles from time to time, and he proved to them in many ways that he was actually alive.
Acts 1:3

John gives us a window into one of those times in his biography of Jesus. This is a strange one, not just because a dead man is walking but because of the response. Now keep in mind he’s already appeared to them:

Later, Jesus appeared again to the disciples beside the Sea of Galilee. This is how it happened.
Several of the disciples were there—Simon Peter, Thomas (nicknamed the Twin), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples.
Simon Peter said, “I’m going fishing.”
“We’ll come, too,” they all said.
John 21:1-3

What do you do when something is going on in your life that you don’t have answers for? It’s too much for your heart. So, you just go fishing. Or shopping or video gaming. Or you just put in more hours at the office to avoid what’s going on at home.

These disciples are eyewitnesses to the greatest, most surprising event in world history but they aren’t running off to tell the world, they’re trying to find Nemo.

Jesus isn’t surprised. He doesn’t show up on the shore, screaming, “You idiots! You should be out telling the world that I’m the savior! Why are you fishing?” No, he simply makes breakfast for them. He is patient and loving because he knows that even his own resurrection won’t be enough to turn his followers into this force that will change the world.

Let’s look at our main text again. Jesus has spent 40 days proving his resurrection. He’s got a big mission for them. But first, he says:

“Do not leave Jerusalem until the Father sends you the gift he promised,
Acts 1:4


And he explains that this gift is the Holy Spirit:

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere …
Acts 1:8

The Holy Spirit does many things for believers: teaches, guides, comforts, heals, prays to God the Father for us in accordance with his perfect will, and guarantees our spot in heaven. But here Jesus highlights that the Spirit gives us power, boldness, strength to carry out our mission as witnesses.

But how do we know this is for us, today, and not just for those eyewitnesses? When Peter the fisherman was filled with the Spirit he stood up in front of thousands of people, including those responsible for killing Jesus less than two months before, and for the first time he boldly proclaimed the gospel: that God is holy, we are sinners, and Jesus died for us and because of us. Then:

Peter’s words pierced their hearts, and they said to him and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?”
Peter replied, “Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
This promise is to you, to your children, and to those far away —all who have been called by the Lord our God.”
Acts 2:37-39 (footnote: “and to people far in the future”)

If this is true then it doesn’t matter that we weren’t alive on the first Easter Sunday. We still have an eyewitness – the first one, the only one who was in the tomb when Jesus awoke, and even the one who was responsible for the resurrection. Look at this:

The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you.
Romans 8:11

John, that great eyewitness to the resurrection, is long dead. His bones have turned to dust. Peter, dead. Mary, dead. Luke, Paul, Mary Magdalene, dead, dead, dead. There is only one remaining eyewitness to the resurrection of Jesus, and he lives inside of you.

In baptism you identify publicly in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. Then the Holy Spirit comes inside as if to say, “I’ll never let you forget it. Just as I was the first eyewitness and the power behind the resurrection of Jesus, I’ll be the first eyewitness and the power behind your resurrection.”

When we say “yes” to the Spirit, he empowers our witness that the kingdoms of this world have become the Kingdom of our God. We are like advance heralds, telling people, “The king is coming.” The resurrected body of Jesus was an advance on his promise to make all things new: a new heaven and new earth, full of justice, joy, peace, love. No more oppression. No more depression. No more death or decay. One scholar says it like this:

“The resurrection is neither an isolated … miracle nor simply the promise of eternal life beyond the grave. It is, rather, the decisive start of the worldwide rule of the Jewish Messiah, in which sins are already forgiven and the promise of the eventual new world of justice and incorruptible life are assured.” – N.T. Wright

Have you ever sat around with Christians and said, “I was talking to my cousin yesterday. She’s going through some stuff, and she’s not a Christian. Although it was the last thing I wanted to do, I kept getting this sense that I should invite her to church or talk to her about the gospel.”

No kidding – because you’ve got an Eyewitness inside of you, shouting, “He’s alive! I was there! Your cousin doesn’t have to feel hopeless anymore. She doesn’t have to die alone, separated forever from the good life with God. Say something, buddy! I got your back!”

You may be the least powerful person in this room, but the most powerful person in this room lives inside of you. You’ve got nothing to fear.

This voice inside of you says, “You have your doubts? Well, I don’t – I was there in the tomb. I empowered it. And then I came inside a bunch of timid fishermen and I empowered them to tell about it. Now I’m inside of you, so trust me.”

And what defines success? That you witnessed, not that someone converted. You can’t save anyone or convince anyone. That’s God’s business. What you are doing is significant because God gives it significance, even if you can’t see the big picture result that he sees.

The presence of this supernatural all-powerful eyewitness inside of you means that you can do this, no matter how shy you are or how uneducated you are. So listen: I usually have a little rhyme for you or some kind of poetic aid to help you remember what I’ve preached, like “He knows me and he chose me” or “Where’s the place you show no grace?”

Today I don’t have a rhyme but I do have some wordplay. And it’s going to be a little corny but this is what you get for letting a songwriter preach. So here we go – even though this is corny this will help you remember:

I witness because of the eyewitness within me.

See what I did there? Say it aloud with me:

I witness because of the eyewitness within me.

This Spirit will prompt you to speak, and more than that he will even help you say whatever he wants said.

If I was a motivational speaker, this is the point when I would say, “You can do this. You have it in you.” But I don’t know if you’ve got “it” in you. I just know that you’ve got “Him” in you. And that is how and why you can do this.

Further, if you refuse to share the gospel because you don’t think you know it well enough, you’re passing up one of the best ways to help yourself know it. Social scientist Charles Durhigg says this:

“When you find a new piece of information, force yourself to engage with it, to use it in an experiment or describe it to a friend – and then you will start building the mental folders that are at the core of learning.”
Charles Durhigg

If you want to remember what you learn when you come here or when you read your Bible, share it. Look at yourself in the mirror, say, “I witness because of the eyewitness within me,” and then share what you’ve learned.


But practically speaking, when are some good times to talk to people about Jesus or invite them to this service or your community group? I have two free helps for you today:

First is our free Testify field guide. We always have copies on the How We Grow wall – today we have some stacks at the Welcome Table. Pastor Jonah wrote it, it’s got some great stuff in there from Pastor Travis, too, and you can read the whole thing in 15 minutes. It will help you be a better listener, and help you share your story of how you’ve experienced Christ in your life. Next, here’s something we adapted from Northpoint ministries:

The Triple “Not”
• Things are not going well
• I’m not prepared for this
• I’m not from here

Unpack w/ an example for each.

Your Monday Challenge is to take home the Triple Not bulletin insert and put it somewhere that will help you remember – your fridge, your desk, your nightstand, until you’ve memorized each of these statements.

I witness because of the eyewitness within me. The resurrection proved Jesus was God’s man, and that everything he said was true, which is good news for us because on the night that Jesus was betrayed, he took a loaf of bread like this one. And after giving thanks he broke it and said, “This is my body, broken for you.”

Then he took a cup of wine like this one, and he said, “This is my blood, shed for you. Drink this in remembrance of me until I come again and feast with you.”

After I pray, those of you in the front half of the room will come forward and tear off a piece of bread, dipping it into wine or juice as your conscience permits. The cups with wine have strings of twine tied around them. If you need gluten free communion elements you’ll find them here in the front – my left, your right. For those of you in the back half of the room, you’ll find communion stations in the back, right in front of the sound booth.

Taking communion reminds us of how we were united with Christ when we repented of our sin and experienced our own death, burial and resurrection as we were baptized. As you come forward, remember that you died to sin and you put your hope in the crucified One. Then hear the Spirit inside of you, whispering, “He’s alive!”

If you’re not a Christian I ask that you don’t come forward and partake of communion because it symbolizes something you haven’t accepted yet. Instead I urge you to pray to receive Christ, and then we can prepare you in the weeks to come to be baptized and receive communion.

Also, if you came here through some odd circumstance but you’re thinking, “This subject of witnessing is exactly what I don’t like about Christians – trying to hoist their religion on me,” I get that.

But how much would we have to hate you to believe that we’ve been told the way that you could live forever, but then not share it with you? We love you. We’re glad you’re here. We hope you come back. And if we pester you with talk of resurrection, know that it’s because we want resurrection for you, too. Jesus is offering it to you now, but the choice is yours. Let’s pray.

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