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Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1289

February 12, 2017 Acts 4:8-33

Dr. Ed Pettus

(This is an extended outline, not a verbatim transcript.)

 

“Honing Our Witness to Christ”

 

  • Worthy of the Call: A Call to Witness

 

This is our last Sunday in a series of sermons on the topic of living in a manner worthy of the gospel of Jesus Christ. To say that phrase, “living in a manner worthy of the gospel of Jesus Christ”, at first sounds impossible for us to achieve. But the scriptures say otherwise. The scripture shows us the way of life that enables us to live worthy and most important that God is at work in us to make us worthy. God will complete his work in us and in one sense he already has because Christ has done all that is necessary for our redemption and our worth. Living worthy of the gospel is living appropriately, reflecting the love and faith and glory of God and what God has done for us. It is living in response to God’s love and initiative to save us from our selves, sin, and death. It is as simple as living in faith and gratitude to God.

We have heard about having the mind of Christ by the presence of the Holy Spirit and clinging to God’s word. We heard about the manner of Christ meaning the practices of his life like prayer and service. We also saw the spirit of Christ, both in the Holy Spirit and the spirit of Christ in the sense of character and personality. These things help us to live in a manner worth of Christ. Studying God’s Word, practicing the disciplines of Christ, and seeking the attributes of Christ, all by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Another significant element to living worthy of the gospel is that kind of life hones our witness to Christ and this, in turn, enables us to follow Jesus’ Great Commission to make disciples and teach believers to follow Jesus in all things. This is our topic to conclude this series. In living worthy of the gospel we have a mandate to witness, to give testimony. Now, in my humble opinion, giving witness comes in many forms and methods. Typically we think of giving witness as speaking, telling our story or proclaiming the gospel. For some that is not very appealing. While I would hope we all would be able to give some account of why we believe, there are also ways we can give witness that involve other means. We give witness by our actions, by our lifestyle, by our conduct, or behavior. We can give witness in art, in our job, in writing, in service, in volunteering. The point is this: our witness is in everything we do and in everything we say. Paul tells us in Colossians 3:17, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” We can give a witness to Jesus Christ by doing everything in His name and by living a grateful life. Gratitude is a great witness! Gratitude signals to other people that someone has helped us and gratitude to God signifies that God is due thanks for all that God has done.

 

Part of our call to live worthy is the call to witness to Christ. The early believers in the book of Acts gave testimony by their lives and their speech. Look with me at Acts 1:8,

 

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

 

The power and ability to witness does not come from us, it is a gift of the Holy Spirit. Jesus empowers us through the Spirit to be His witness. Even if we think there is no way we can give a witness to Christ, when the time comes, God will give His witness through us.

 

Later in Acts 4 we have multiple accounts,

Acts 4:8-12, 19-20, 29-31, 33

8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, 9 if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, 10 let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well. 11 This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. 12 And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

 

First, Peter is filled with the Holy Spirit. Peter could not have done this on his own.

Second, Jesus is the reason they are defending themselves. It was in Jesus’ name that the crippled man was healed.

Third, Jesus is the only One who can save. Peter is so deeply convinced of this now that he no longer resists the working of the Holy Spirit in his life.

 

19 But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, 20 for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” 

 

This is an instance where Peter and John cannot help but speak. There will come times in our lives when we cannot help ourselves and we must speak up. Sometimes it is when something like Bible in the Schools is threatened. Sometimes it might be standing up for someone’s integrity. Other times it might be an injustice has been done. It may even be when God has so deeply touched our hearts that we are compelled to speak the gospel.

 

29 And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, 30 while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”  31 And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.

33 And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.

 

Here the witness and the power to witness is supported by prayer. We pray that we would have the courage to speak with boldness when it comes to defending the faith. Again, in Acts 4:31, the Holy Spirit filled them to be able to speak and in verse 33 God’s grace comes upon them to give them power. It is not all up to us, but the Holy Spirit will work His way in and through us to get the witness out to those who need to hear it.

 

 

 

  • Witness For God’s Sake

 

Now there are two ways to say this title in the outline, witness for God’s sake with the emphasis on “witness” or on “God’s sake”. One sounds like a frustrated command, “WITNESS, for God’s sake!” The other for the sake of God’s reputation, “Witness for GOD’s sake.”

 

Consider 1 Peter 2:11-12

11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.

Here the witness is given through conduct, the conduct of good deeds. This is how we are to live, conducting ourselves in integrity, faith, love, hope, and so forth. People see our deeds and the hope is that they will see God’s glory through those deeds.

 

Sometimes we run through Psalm 23 so quickly and with too much familiarity that we don’t notice God’s reputation at stake. Verses 1-3,

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. 3 He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.”

God does everything in the Psalm for His name’s sake, not so that you and I will not want or take a nap in green pastures! It is for His glory! Yes, we benefit greatly from it, but that is not the main purpose; it is the reputation of God, and that too is why we give witness, that God might be glorified.

We often brag on our children or grandchildren or someone else for their sake (and a bit for our own), but how often do we consider our witness through our conduct and how it will boast for God’s sake? We hone our witness for the sake of God's holy name.

 

  • Pointing to Jesus – Giving Glory

 

Our witness is a signpost pointing people to Jesus Christ. In Matthew 5:14-16 we see again why we display our talents or skills for all to see.

 

14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.  16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

 

We can’t take all the credit for our own accomplishments. We know that it is God who gives us everything, who gives us the ability to do everything. We can hone whatever gift or skill we have been given, but it is God who deserves the glory in it.

 

Philippians 2:14-16

 

14 Do all things without grumbling or disputing, 15 that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, 16 holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.

 

“You Christians are weird.” This is the sentiment among those who are trapped in a crooked and twisted generation. Our witness is sometimes seen by being different from the world, by not being conformed to the ways of the world (Romans 12:1-2). Our witness is to Jesus, shining a light, pointing to Jesus so that others may know the Savior. We hone our witness by letting our light shine and holding fast to the word of God.

 

  • Ambassadors for Christ

 

2 Corinthians 5:14-21

 

14 For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15 and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. 16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

We are ambassadors. We represent Christ in the world and to the world. Hear that again, we represent Jesus Christ in the world and to the world. We promote our position and the position of God and His Word to the world. And unlike an ambassador from another country who simply brings the words of a leader, God is at work in us “making his appeal through us” (2 Cor. 5:20). We see again that God is at work to give His witness through us. It is not solely our own doing. God is using us to proclaim Christ even when we are unaware. We hone our witness in the love of Christ that controls us as his ambassadors.

 

  • A Cloud of Witnesses

 

In Hebrews 11, the author lists a multitude, a cloud of faithful witnesses beginning with Abel and working through the history of God’s people: Abraham, Sarah, Moses, and all the people of Israel and so forth. In the next chapter, Hebrews 12, we read:

 

Hebrews 12:1-3

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

3 Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.

 

We are encouraged not to grow weary of our witness. We are encouraged by all those who have gone before us. We hone our witness through the encouragement and example of the saints gone before us.

 

 

Much of what we have seen throughout this sermon series on living in a manner worthy of our call is to lead us to glorify God in our lives and, in so doing, give witness to His glory. In the old Catechism, the first question speaks to this goal: our chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. This is the goal of the Bible for us, to bring glory to God. In that aspect of living our faith, it is not about us, but it is solely about God. This goes against the tide of cultural thoughts and ideologies that claim life is all about us, and in particular these days, all about me. It’s the age old story of dying to self in order that we might live in Christ say that we can say with the apostle Paul, I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). This is the gospel message in one verse. It is our witness to people. It was the witness of the early believers in Acts 4 and throughout the church from its beginning. It is the witness of the entire Bible and the witness that God gives through us in word and deed.

 

Colossians 3:17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.