Acts 10:34-43 Common English Bible (CEB)
34 Peter said, “I really am learning that God doesn’t show partiality to one group of people over another. 35 Rather, in every nation, whoever worships him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36 This is the message of peace he sent to the Israelites by proclaiming the good news through Jesus Christ: He is Lord of all! 37 You know what happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism John preached. 38 You know about Jesus of Nazareth, whom God anointed with the Holy Spirit and endowed with power. Jesus traveled around doing good and healing everyone oppressed by the devil because God was with him. 39 We are witnesses of everything he did, both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree, 40 but God raised him up on the third day and allowed him to be seen, 41 not by everyone but by us. We are witnesses whom God chose beforehand, who ate and drank with him after God raised him from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
First, I want to welcome our Facebook Live followers as they join us this morning.
Today we celebrate “Baptism of the Lord” Sunday. Let’s remind ourselves of what Matthew’s Gospel records in Matthew 3:13-17.
“At that time Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan River so that John would baptize him. 14 John tried to stop him and said, “I need to be baptized by you, yet you come to me?” 15 Jesus answered, “Allow me to be baptized now. This is necessary to fulfill all righteousness.” So, John agreed to baptize Jesus. 16 When Jesus was baptized, he immediately came up out of the water. Heaven was opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God coming down like a dove and resting on him. 17 A voice from heaven said, “This is my Son whom I dearly love; I find happiness in him.””
Jesus’ baptism was yet another human connection with God. A symbol of the new work that God was going to be doing through Jesus Christ was baptism by John – the statement of an intention to turn from the world’s ways and turn toward God. While Jesus had no reason to repent, the symbol was the beginning of new life. Jesus was beginning a new phase in his life – his public ministry. Notice God’s testimony about Jesus in the midst of the baptism. “A voice from heaven said, “This is my Son whom I dearly love; I find happiness in him.” On this Baptism of the Lord Sunday it is a perfect time to start a series on our witnessing as Christians.
As I came to this morning’s scripture, I realized that I had referred to this scripture earlier this year. It was May 19th. The meat of the passage is Peter’s revelation about the Gentiles in a vision about a sheet let down from heaven. In it were unclean animals of every kind. God said get up, kill and eat. It was a symbol of fully accepting Gentiles into the family of God. What I saw in this passage at that time was “grace for all” – no exclusions. This time, however, when I came to the scripture I was struck by several phrases. Twice Paul reminds us of our knowledge by saying, “You know…”, and then naming us as witnesses. “You know what happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism John preached. 38 You know about Jesus of Nazareth, whom God anointed with the Holy Spirit and endowed with power. Jesus traveled around doing good and healing everyone oppressed by the devil because God was with him. 39 We are witnesses of everything he did, both in Judea and in Jerusalem.” When he says, “We are witnesses” he is using and inclusive “we” – them and US!
I was then struck by an image of a courtroom. In verse 42 the words “testify … judge…” gave rise to that Courtroom image in my mind. Paul is calling us to be witnesses called to make a case for Christ and God’s PLAN of salvation for all. Witnesses tell what they have personally heard and seen. We are witnesses of all Jesus did and said through the scriptures. While we were not standing where they stood physically, the Scriptures put us there in heart and mind. Through what we read with eyes of faith we truly are witnesses of all that Jesus did.
Why are we called as witnesses for Christ? Last week I spoke about God’s Secret PLAN - mystery. That PLAN was to restore life for the people of God through bold and confident access to God. I reminded us that we are a part of that amazing and wonderful plan. Hear the plan in Acts 10:40-41. “They killed him by hanging him on a tree, 40 but God raised him up on the third day and allowed him to be seen, 41 not by everyone but by us. We are witnesses…”. God allowed Jesus to be seen after the resurrection, but not by everyone. Why? Glitz of seeing the resurrected Jesus does not compare with the effects of the Risen Christ in the lives of those who follow. It is about what happened in the lives of those who believed in his resurrection. Peter, the one who saved his own skin by denying he even knew Jesus, was forgiven and emboldened to commit his life to the resurrected Christ. There was Mary, his mother, witnessing to the disciples on the morning she found the tomb empty, even though they didn’t believe the testimony of a woman. Then there was Stephen – we’re not sure he witnessed the risen Christ, though probably not. He is introduced in Acts 6:8 in this way, “Stephen, who stood out among the believers for the way God’s grace was at work in his life and for his exceptional endowment with divine power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people.” Stephen was witnessing even as he was stoned to death – even forgiving his accusers with similar words to what Jesus had used – “Father, don’t hold this sin against them.”
As Jesus says in the Gospel of John, he had to go to the Father, therefore needed witnesses. Not just the 12 disciples or those of that time and place. He needs US! The PLAN is that people would “see” Jesus through those who have “seen” Jesus – US! We have “seen” Jesus at work. We have seen Jesus at work in the Scripture, yes, but we have also seen him at work in our own experiences as well – What God has done and is doing in our lives.
So, Why does witnessing seem so difficult? Witnessing is filled with unknowns, and unknowns are scary. I don’t know about you, but I was taught to avoid scary on most instances. Will I find myself tongue-tied just when I need to be clear? Will I say the wrong thing? What will be their response to my witness? Will there be no reaction to what I share? Will there be a negative reaction to what I share? Often, because of the unknowns, we choose not to witness at all. “Let someone who is good at it do the witnessing.” “Leave it to Max Lucado, or the preacher, or to ‘so-in-so’ who has such a great witness.” My question is, “Is it a choice?” The answer is yes and no. Through free will we are truly given the choice. To say “no” limits our usefulness to God. To say “no” stands in the way of God’s amazing PLAN. But to say “yes” opens amazing new horizons in our relationship with God. Why would we say “no?”
Verse 42, however, states it rather clearly – we are commanded by Jesus! There’s not a lot of wiggle room in that statement. Again, the commands to the disciples transfer to us. In Romans 10:13-15, Paul sums it up. “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” 14 But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? 15 And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” There is an urgency to “speak” the Gospel – now and often. There people who need to hear our witness.
We are called to be witnesses. We might even call it a subpoena. Listen to Jesus words in Matthew 29:19-20 – we often refer to this as the “Great Commission.” : “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” It is our purpose, our life plan, our charge. Hear, again, his words at His ascension from Acts 1:8 (the second half of the verse) “… you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
I want to close with two thoughts. First, God considers us to be worthy to be called as witnesses. We will talk more about this next week. And second, we ARE Called! Not some are called, but ALL are called. Will we be a part of Gods amazing PLAN – a tool in God’s tool box - and help transform this world?
Let’s talk more about it.
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Pastor Paul Grossman