One of the most frustrating things for a Christian is the loose way the word Christian is used by most people today. All sorts of people are said to be Christian even though their beliefs and lifestyle are so remote from the teachings of the New Testament. Bishops who do not believe in either the virgin birth or the resurrection abound. Prominent people, who in life seemed to deny everything Christianity stands for, die and are buried as if they were great saints. So what is Christianity? What is a Christian?
The safest answer must be that a Christian is a follower of Christ. But even such a basic answer raises problems. Which Jesus Christ is he following? Is he the Jesus of modern thought who was not born of a virgin, did no miracles and never arose from the dead? Or is it the Jesus Christ of the New Testament?
Francis Schaeffer voiced the concern of many when he wrote:
I have come to the point where, when I hear the word ‘Jesus’ which means so much to me because of the Person of the historic Jesus and his work — I listen carefully because I have with sorrow become more afraid about the word ‘Jesus’ than almost any other word in the modern world. The word is used as a contentless banner, and our generation is invited to follow it. But there is no rational scriptural content by which to test it, and thus the word is being used to teach the very opposite things from those taught by Jesus. We have come to this fearsome place where the word ‘Jesus’ has become the enemy of the Person Jesus, and the enemy of what Jesus taught.
Luke wrote his Gospel and the Acts to show us the real Jesus: ‘Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught’ (Luke 1:1-4).
The book of Acts is also written to Theophilus who needed to ‘know the certainty of the things you have been taught’. This is something every Christian needs to know, particularly young believers. Your whole life is before you, so is the Christian faith worth building the next forty or fifty years on? Is it true? Can it be relied on? You would be a fool to build your life upon a myth, so you need to know.
Luke was a man who ‘carefully investigated’ everything he had heard about Jesus Christ. He spoke to eyewitnesses and obtained from them the facts ‘about all that Jesus began to do and to teach’. So if you want to know the truth about Christianity there can be no better person to ask than Luke. In his Gospel he takes us right up to the ascension of Jesus to heaven. Now in Acts, which is just as much about Jesus as is the Gospel of Luke, he continues the story of Jesus.
Acts relates the acts of Jesus through the Holy Spirit in the lives of his people. There is no human explanation of what is to follow in this book apart from the power of the living Jesus at work. The Christian faith is not based upon a dead martyr but upon a living Saviour who died and then rose from the dead. This may seem incredible to some but Luke says that Jesus ‘gave many convincing proofs that he was alive’. And what can be more convincing than that over a period of forty days after his resurrection he appeared to his people to rebuke, encourage and instruct them?
Luke singles out just one of these appearances in verses 4-5. This is the explanation of the amazing events that are to follow. Jesus baptized his apostles with the Holy Spirit and this gave them the power to do all that Christ wanted them to do. The ‘few days’ of verse 5 refers to Pentecost which was ten days after the ascension. In the account of Pentecost in Acts 2 we are not told they were baptized with the Spirit, but filled with the Holy Spirit. In fact the phrase ‘baptized with the Holy Spirit’ is not used again in Acts, whereas on several occasions we are told of Christians being ‘filled’ with the Spirit. The one exception is verse 16 in chapter 11, which refers back to this verse in chapter 1:5. The reasonable deduction from this is that being baptized with the Spirit and being filled with the Spirit refer to the same thing.
If we are to know power to witness we need to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Witness is not a matter of technique but of the power of Christ working in us and through us.
Many Christians are timid about witnessing. To counter this a great many different methods and schemes of personal evangelism have been devised. This is all done with the best of intentions, but it does not provide the answer to the problem. It makes witnessing too mechanical and artificial, so that instead of being a natural overflow, it becomes rather the scraping of the bottom of the barrel.
What verse 8 makes clear is that we will never witness properly for Christ without the enabling power of the Holy Spirit. Witnessing flows out of worship. Too many older Christians tell new converts that the first thing they need to do is to learn how to witness. This is wrong. The prime need of the new convert is to learn to worship. This means a living and real experience of God in everyday life. Witnessing will always be difficult unless the heart of the believer is absorbed in God. Being absorbed in God is the product of being filled with the Spirit of God. The believer who is filled with the Spirit cares only about pleasing God and being obedient to him. His life is controlled by the Holy Spirit, centred in Christ and seeks at all times to honour God. Witness then becomes inevitable.
You must never forget that once you are known as a Christian, everything you do is a witness. It may be a good witness or a bad witness. Your behaviour is every bit as important as your words. People will quite rightly dismiss all you say if they do not see the gospel having an effect upon your life. Witnessing, therefore, is not an occasional happening, but a twenty-four-hour business. Your life will show where you stand with God, but it is your words, more than anything else, that will show unbelievers where they stand. The gospel must be spoken (Romans 10:14). The people in your home, school, factory or office need to hear of God’s love and offer of salvation. If you do not tell them, it may well be that no one else will. You must never confine your witnessing merely to giving a testimony of your own experience of God. This can, of course, be included, but your purpose must be to present people with the gospel. They must be shown that they are sinners (Romans 3:23), under the wrath and judgement of God (Romans 1:18) and already condemned by God (John 3:18). You must tell them that God demands repentance (Acts 3:19; 17:30) so that they can then turn in faith to Christ for salvation (Ephesians 2:4-9; John 1:12).
In your witness, do not be arrogant or aggressive. On the other hand, do not be timid or apologetic. Speak naturally and warmly of the things of God. Do not be over-concerned about proving a point and winning an argument. In all this, it is clear that we need the power of the Holy Spirit.
The ascension must have been an amazing event to see and the Christians looked on in wonder as Jesus disappeared into the clouds. But the angels had the great encouragement for them that this was not the end of Christ’s dealings in this world. He would come again (v. 11).
The promise of the second coming of Christ was no new doctrine. Jesus had referred to it in several parables. So they had heard it before but the present circumstances demanded that they be reminded. It is the same with us. We live in a day when sin is so aggressive and arrogant that it is easy to lose heart. ‘Has Christianity any future?’ seems to be a fair question. So we too need to be reminded that Christ has not finished with this world. He will return (v. 11).
The second coming of Jesus will be:
All this should be a great encouragement to us (1 Thessalonians 4:18). Yet it should also keep us vigilant because we do not know when Jesus will come (1 Thessalonians 5:6). Throughout the centuries there have been Christians who have been fascinated in trying to work out when the Second Coming will take place, whereas, in fact, we ought to live every day as if the Lord was returning now. This doctrine should encourage sanctification not speculation.
The task facing the early church was immense but they were given the incentive of Acts 1:11 and the promise of the power to accomplish it in verse 8. The same incentive and promise ought to motivate us today.