Pastor and author Chuck Swindoll shares a powerful story about an interaction he had with his father. “One of my most unforgettable moments happened when I was about ten years old. My father served our country during World War II in a plant in our hometown, building all sorts of interesting equipment for the massive tanks, fighter planes, and bombers that defended us in lands far away. Dad worked too long and too hard. As a result he suffered a physical breakdown. And on its heels came an emotional trauma that puzzled everyone, including the doctors.
I was convinced in my heart that my dad was going to die. He may have had such thoughts too, because one night he called me into his room for a somber father-son talk …. I remember leaning hard against his bed, listening carefully to a voice that was hardly more than a whisper. I thought I was hearing him for the last time. He gave me counsel on life – how I should live, how I should conduct myself as his son. The counsel wasn’t long, and then I left and went across the hall to the room that I shared with my older brother. All alone, I lay across my bed and sobbed, convinced that I would never see my dad alive again.
That scene still haunts me. Even though my dad recovered to live … I still remember the night he talked to me. Something very significant is wrapped up in our final words. Consider the night in Jerusalem when the Lord and his disciples gathered for … what we call “The Last Supper.” Less than twelve hours after [that meal], Jesus was nailed to a cross; a few hours later, he was dead. Jesus understood the significance of those moments and the importance of his last counsel. And so he gave them exactly what they would need to carry them through the rest of their days.”
Today we’re wrapping up a brief series on the DNA of Christ Church. Your DNA is what makes you, you. It’s the 3 billion character long description of who God created you to be. And every cell in your body contains that DNA code. In human DNA, each of those 3 billion characters is one of four nucleotides. At Christ Church, we use three words to describe our spiritual DNA as a church. Three words that form the core of our life together as the people who are Christ Church. Those three words are WORSHIP, WORD, and WITNESS. CHRIST is the focus of each of those words. We worship Christ. The Holy Spirit uses the Word of God to shape us into the image of Christ. And we are called by God to share in word and in deed the love of God, and the good news of what God has accomplished for us in Christ. Christ is our focus as we gather in worship, as we are shaped by the Word, and as we bear witness to the goodness and love of God. So turn with me to Acts 1:1-11.
In Acts 1, Luke records the last interaction Jesus had with his disciples on this earth. After the last supper in the upper room, after the trial and beating, after the cross, 40 days after the resurrection and the empty tomb, Jesus gathered them on a hillside near Bethany and spoke his final words to them. For 40 days he’d appeared to them again and again. Jesus wanted them to be absolutely clear that they weren’t hallucinating, weren’t seeing things, weren’t going crazy. Look at V. 3. Jesus appeared to them so many times, in so many different places, and in so many different ways over that 40 days after his resurrection so that they could be sure that they weren’t hallucinating or imagining things. So that they could be sure that they weren’t crazy. And he was teaching them about the kingdom of God in the light of his now accomplished work of salvation on the cross and resurrection from the dead. He even ate with them. Look at V. 4. Ghosts don’t eat. Hallucinations don’t eat. Jesus wanted to make absolutely sure that they understood exactly what was happening, because he was leaving his ministry on earth in their hands. And through them the mission and ministry of Christ has been passed on to us. We are to be his witnesses.
When our focus shifts from ourselves and our comfort to Christ and his glory in worship, and when we allow his Word to deeply penetrate our minds and hearts with truth, we are transformed from the inside out and our lives – the way we interact with others, the way we act in the marketplace, in our business dealings, become acts of witness to the goodness and grace of God in Christ. David Livingstone was a Scottish physician and medical missionary and explorer in Africa. He took the good news of Jesus much deeper into the African interior than any who had gone before him. Journalist Sir Henry Morton Stanley found Livingstone in central Africa and spent quite a bit of time with him, and later, talking about his time with Livingstone, said, “If I had been with him any longer, I would have been compelled to be a Christian – and he never spoke to me about it at all.” His life was so shaped by Christ and so compelling that simply by living, he drew people to Christ. Jesus wants us to live his story.
But he also wants us to tell his story. Look at V. 8. A witness is someone who can speak to the truth. In a courtroom, a witness is someone who can speak to what they have seen, heard, and experienced directly. Hearsay is not permissible. A witness is someone who can give an account not of what they think, what they suppose, but what they know. Of what they saw and experienced. Jesus wants us to tell his story, the story of his life, his death, and his resurrection, and what it means. This doesn’t mean that we need to get into arguments with people or impose our will. Some people like to argue, and these days that happens more and more on social media. People post judgmental, condemning statements on social media sites and think that they’re being a witness for Christ. Really all they’re doing is coming across as judgmental jerks. Now, I’m not saying that we need to be liked by everyone. Jesus made it very clear that isn’t going to happen. And fruitful conversations CAN happen electronically. But for that to happen, there must be a relationship outside of the electronic environment. When I was in seminary, much of the communication among students prior to and after the on-campus part of the class was done electronically. One thing I noticed was that prior to meeting someone new, I tended to view their posts and messages as being judgmental, arrogant, or rude, especially if they were discussing one of my thoughts or ideas. But once I got to know the person in class, face to face, I stopped viewing their digital comments in that way, even if they were arguing with me. Why? Because I knew them better. But on social media, or in the comments section of a blog post, I probably don’t have that familiarity with the people I’m arguing with. So I’ve chosen not to engage in those debates. I used to argue. But now I choose not to. It just isn’t helpful and really doesn’t move people toward Christ. Throwing a meme out there without any context or making a comment that’s going to be read by a lot of people you don’t know, and who don’t know you, isn’t helpful.
And we start with people we already know and love. Jesus said “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Our witness for Christ is to spread to the ends of the earth, but it starts at home. Jerusalem was their own community. They were from Galilee, but they had spent the past several weeks with Christ in Jerusalem and had traveled there with him at other times as well. It was the hub of all religious activity in Israel and a place they were very familiar with. And it was where they were at the moment. Our witness starts right where we are with those we already know and love. We are to pray for, love, reach out to, and share Christ with those around us just as much as we try to facilitate that happening around the globe through our prayers and financial support. Christ is best shared in relationship. It was as Stanley spent time with Livingstone in the African interior, living beside him, getting to know him that Livingstone’s faith in Christ began to call out to him. As a church, we can set out signs, and put ads in the paper and postcards and business cards around town, but absolutely nothing can replace your personal invitation to a friend, a coworker, a neighbor, a family member to join you for worship, or to attend an interesting Bible study. We would love to add ten new families or individuals to the Christ Church family by the end of May. The season of Lent is coming up. What a great time to invite someone to spend 7 Sunday mornings leading up to Easter learning what Jesus Christ is all about! Or what about the January 29 chili cook-off? It’s a great time to invite someone to join you. Or what about next Sunday? We’re starting a new sermon series on Mark’s Gospel called “J.E.S.U.S. His Life. His Mission.” Any Sunday is a great Sunday for someone to visit. And any day is a great day to offer the invitation!
They were supposed to start in Jerusalem – their town, their neighborhood – and then it was supposed to extend outward from there. Samaria was the home of the hated Samaritans. People they didn’t like, and who didn’t like them. In Matthew 5:44, Jesus says “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” How many of us pray for the people we don’t like, and the people who we know don’t like us. And not for God to smite them. How many of us pray that God will prosper our enemies, and be gracious to them, and bless them, and reveal himself to them in a powerful way so that they are drawn into a relationship with him? That’s the call of Jesus to all of us.
And then their witness for Jesus was to go to the ends of the earth. That seemed to include Gentiles too! This was unheard of. The good news about Jesus wasn’t just for them. It wasn’t just for people like them. It was for all. Jesus was asking them to go back to places where they had experienced rejection. To cross boundaries that were taboo to cross. Philip is the one who crossed the big boundary and went into Samaria as a witness for Jesus. But the witness wouldn’t stop there. It would go on. By the end of the book of Acts it had gone as far as Rome itself, but even Rome wasn’t the end. The mission Christ left his church was to reach even farther, and it has. And the mission isn’t over. We are still called to witness to the truth of God in Christ. The book of Acts is the story of Christ at work in the world through his church, and it is the one book of the Bible that doesn’t have an ending. There is no conclusion. Flip over a few pages to Acts 28:30-31, the last verses in the book, and you’ll read: “He [Paul] lived there [in Rome] two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.” Luke leaves us hanging. Why? Because the mission continues. God is still at work, reaching out through us offering hope and grace and mercy in Christ. The mission that began with Peter, Andrew, James and John, Philip, and Paul now rests upon us, for the message must go to the ends of the earth. In fact, Jesus tells us that the gospel “will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations” (Matt. 24:14) before he returns. Every person within reach of the gospel. It is a powerful witness that refuses to be stopped. It is a persistent witness that keeps going regardless of circumstances. It is a courageous witness willing to cross every social and cultural barrier, leaving none out. It is a passionate witness, a flame that burns in the hearts of all who call Christ their Lord and savior for their hearts burn with passion to reach all who can be reached. It is a tall order. But Jesus has not left us to fulfill it by ourselves.
In the last days Jesus spent with his disciples before the cross, he told them that he would soon be going away, and they were filled with sorrow. And to comfort them, he said to them “Let me assure you, it is better for you that I go away. I say this because when I go away I will send the Helper to you. But if I did not go, the Helper would not come” (Jn. 16:7). In Christ, the Word made flesh, God incarnate, Christ would die on behalf of all, but because he had limited himself to a human body, his earthly ministry was limited in time and space. But when he returned to the Father’s side, he would send the Holy Spirit. By definition, as spirit, not body, the Holy Spirit is able to be present everywhere, wherever people who place their faith in Christ may be found. “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.” Not power to get rich. Or to become a Christian superstar. Not power to shame those who don’t follow Christ. No. Power to be his witnesses. Power to love like he loves and live like he lived. The power, the driving force behind our witness for Christ is nothing less than the Holy Spirit of Christ filling our sails with a heavenly wind, transforming us so that our lives themselves bring glory to God and draw others to the cross of Christ, causing our words to fall on fertile soil as we speak in love, with kindness and courage, about the love of Christ.
As we’ve explored our DNA – WORSHIP, WORD, and WITNESS, we’ve asked what some may think are rhetorical questions about them, questions like “Who is worship about?” and “How does the Word of God shape us?” Some may think those questions are rhetorical because we all KNOW the right answers, right? We know that worship is all about Christ, not us and our preferences. We know that God uses his Word to shape us from the inside out to look like Christ. Most Christians in a church somewhere this morning KNOW the right answers. But as Christians we don’t LIVE those answers. We know that worship is all about Christ, not us, and then we turn around and refuse to participate, or find another church if the music isn’t at least mostly to our liking. We know that through the Holy Spirit God uses his Word to shape us into the image of Christ, but outside of maybe the sermon, we refuse to participate in opportunities to allow the Word of God to penetrate our minds and our hearts with the truth. And we know that we are supposed to be telling Christ’s story, sharing his love, but we don’t give ourselves in service to others and we don’t share the good news of what God has done in Christ. We know the right answers. But for the average Christian in America today those right answers have little if anything to do with the way we actually live. Those right answers have become completely useless, because for the average Christian SELF has replaced CHRIST as the central focus of the Christian life.
All we have to do is look at the content of people’s prayers. When Christ prayed “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10), one of the things he was praying for was the strength and the courage for God’s will to be done in his life. He was praying for the strength and courage to face the cross, to pick up his cross and carry it to a cruel and excruciating death. And Christ promised us that we would find ourselves in the same boat. “Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matt. 16:24). One of the central features of life in Christ is that I cease to be the central focus of my life. That is a position that is taken over by Christ. Most Christians know that life in Christ by definition has Christ at the core, Christ on the throne of life. Sadly, we proclaim this truth, all the while keeping ourselves solidly on the throne, at the core of our lives.
Christian Smith is a sociologist at Notre Dame who studies among other things the sociology of religion in America. In his book Soul-Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers, he concludes that many young American adults have a faith characterized by “moralistic, therapeutic deism.” According to this view of God, if we live good lives and if we’re kind to others, then God will provide “therapeutic benefits” to us like self-esteem and happiness. Other than that, God is not involved much in our world.
He also found that many young Americans’ prayers lacked any sense of repentance or adoration. Smith writes, “This is not a religion of repentance from sin.” Again, Smith concludes that this “distant God” is “not demanding … because his job is to solve problems and make people feel good. There is nothing here to evoke wonder and admiration.” We SAY it’s all about Christ. We LIVE as if it’s ALL about us. Our actions call our bluff.
Friends, God’s desire is that we become a people transformed by the Word of God, worshipping God in spirit and in truth, who with passion and conviction, share the love of Christ without discrimination, with courage, in word and in deed, in the power of the Holy Spirit. In our work and in our play, in activity and rest, in our neighborhoods, our workplaces, our homes, from Traverse City to the ends of the earth, in worship, word, and witness, may we bring honor and glory to Christ alone. Let us pray.