You Will Be My Witnesses: Week 1

Jesus’ resurrection wasn’t the end of the story but the beginning of an exciting new one.  Our risen Savior spent forty days preparing His followers to be His “witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).  Once baptized with the Holy Spirit on Pentecost (a Jewish holiday seven weeks after Jesus rose), their witness began in earnest…and through it, God changed the world forever!

This isn’t just about the apostles, though:  we are part of this story, too.  “You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (II Timothy 2:1-2).  Someone did this for us, didn’t they?  Someone knew Jesus, cared for us, and shared Him.  God probably even worked through several people to lead us to Him.

Jesus is preparing and empowering us to be this for the people in our lives, and our Sunday morning sermons for the next six weeks will equip us to act on it.  Every week, there will be a set of activities in this space to help us be “God’s fellow workers” (I Corinthians 3:9). You can listen to our sermon and then print and complete this post to start applying it. 

Will you commit to participating and taking the part Jesus has given you in His story?  If so, sign your name below and complete each of the following items.


In the past seven days, how have you shared Jesus? 

In the past seven days, what was an opportunity to share Jesus that you missed, and why did you miss it?  Lack of focus or knowledge?  Fear?  Something else?

Pray:  1.) thanking God for what He has given you in Jesus and for the opportunity to share it; 2.) asking His forgiveness for missed opportunities to share; and, 3.) asking His help to grow into a more effective witness of Jesus.

Good News

If you ever feel like “there has to be more to life than this” or “there’s nowhere to go but up”, you need to know:  you are absolutely right.  You feel that way because you are a living soul, created in the image of your Creator.  You are special and have a purpose.

The pain, emptiness, disappointment, sickness, and death we experience are the result of sin:  living differently than our created purpose.  Instead of acknowledging our Creator and following Him, we try to be in charge and call our own shots.  That doesn’t work out very well for us.

God, our Creator, loves us anyway.  Like a good Father, He created and wants the best for us.  He loves us even when we hurt Him and ourselves with sin.  Because of His love and our sin, God sent His only Son Jesus to become human like us.  When we read about Jesus’ life, we get to see how our lives are meant to be:  full of grace and truth, of faith, hope, and love.

Unlike us, Jesus never sinned; but He died on the cross for sinners like us.  He was buried.  Everyone knew He was dead.  Then on Sunday morning, He rose.  Hundreds of people saw Him over forty days before He returned to Heaven.  This truth has literally changed the world.

Through Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, God solved the problem of sin and death.  He loves you and wants you to share in that.  Do you believe Jesus is God’s Son?  Do you want to love God and have with Him a more abundant life that will last eternally?  Follow Jesus. 

Just like Jesus was crucified, crucify your old self.  Give control of your life to Jesus.  Just like Jesus was buried, be buried in baptism.  The water isn’t special, but Jesus is.  God in His grace will forgive us of our sins and give us a new life when we put our faith in Jesus by following Him.  Then you will rise like Jesus did.  Rise to a new life by the power of God’s Holy Spirit.  Rise as a member of Jesus’ body, the church.  Rise to be with Him in Heaven when this life ends.

On Sunday morning, just a decade shy of 2,000 years ago, Jesus rose from the dead.  Today can be the day that you do, too.

But the LORD was displeased with what David had done.

David, Israel’s second and greatest king, loved God.  Around fifteen years into his reign, though, David made a colossal mistake.  Israel was at war with the Ammonites, and David sent his soldiers on a campaign.  It was “the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle”…except for David, who “remained at Jerusalem” (II Samuel 11:1).  That single decision set in motion one of the great tragedies of Scripture, shaking David’s family and the nation.

David, the giant slayer, sees a woman on the roof bathing.  Bathsheba is the wife of Uriah, one of David’s thirty greatest warriors (II Samuel 23:39).  Overcome with lust, David has an affair with her, disregarding loyalty to God and his men.  Unsurprisingly (she had been purifying herself following her monthly cycle), their liaison results in a child that could not be Uriah’s.

David, the psalmist, attempts an elaborate cover up.  He calls Uriah back from the frontline for an update on the war.  David tries to get Uriah to go home to his wife on two consecutive nights, even getting him drunk.  Uriah, the Hittite (not even a native Israelite), is more loyal to God and his comrades than David.  He refuses to know his wife’s embrace while God’s people and His ark of the covenant are in a battle.  (David had no such reservation.)

So David, the man after God’s own heart, orchestrates Uriah’s murder.  He sends instructions to cause Uriah’s death in battle – and has Uriah unknowingly deliver them.  Cruel.  Heartless.  Evil.

David never should have been on that roof:  he should have been fighting God’s battle.  David never should have brought that woman home:  he should have been faithful.  David never should have lied, schemed, and murdered to conceal his sin.  Yet, he did.

Let there be no doubt the Bible is true:  fictional heroes don’t do this.  Real people do, though.  Real people, who know and love God, don’t always go where we need to be.  We do things we shouldn’t.  We hurt other people.  We try to hide our wrongdoing.  Yet, sin is too foul to be hidden.  It gives off a spiritual stench as it rots us on the inside.  It displeases the LORD.

David shows us that good people who love God still sin.  He also shows us how God’s word can convict us, as the word brought by the prophet Nathan did (II Samuel 12:7-12).  While the consequences of our actions may remain, he shows us how genuine confession can cleanse our souls, put away our sin, and allow us to live (II Samuel 12:13-14).

Let’s not pretend we are better than David.  If instead of ignoring or hiding our sin we can learn to truly repent and confess, we can be cleansed.  We can be healed. Then we can live.

Fasting: Humbly Seeking God

Fasting is the ancient practice of not eating for spiritual purposes.  In the Bible, we see it among believers and non-believers.  Daniel fasted for three weeks (Daniel 10:3).  Darius “spent the night fasting” when Daniel was condemned (Daniel 6:18).  Both fasts were followed by a dramatic demonstration of God’s power, specifically a prophetic vision and an angelic rescue.

Fasting was often associated with mourning.  It was part of the Day of Atonement, the Jewish holy day when the people afflicted themselves in sorrow for their sins (Leviticus 16:29-34).  Nehemiah fasted as he mourned the sorry state of the wall around Jerusalem (Nehemiah 1:3-4). 

King David fasted while his child with Bathsheba lay dying (II Samuel 12:15-17).  His servants were confused, though.  Why did he fast while the child lived but then clean up and eat after he died?  The man after God’s own heart responded:  “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept, for I said, ‘Who knows whether the LORD will be gracious to me, that the child may live?  But now he is dead.  Why should I fast?  Can I bring him back again?  I shall go to him, but he will not return to me” (II Samuel 12:22-23).

David understood that fasting is more than a way to mourn:  it is about humbly seeking God.  When Ezra prepared to lead a group of exiles to Jerusalem, he proclaimed a fast “that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from Him a safe journey” (Ezra 8:21).  As Esther prepared to ask the king to stop the annihilation of her people, she called for the Jews in the city to fast (Esther 4:16). 

We see this in the New Testament, too.  The leaders in Antioch were “worshiping the Lord and fasting” when the Holy Spirit chose Paul and Barnabas as missionaries (Acts 13:2).  Fasting and prayer sent them on their journey (Acts 13:3).  When they appointed elders in every church on the way back, “with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord” (Acts 14:23).

Whether giving, praying, fasting, or anything else, God doesn’t want empty ritual.  In Isaiah 58, God says that His fast brings freedom, feeds the hungry, houses the homeless, and covers the naked. “Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you, the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.” (Isaiah 58:8).  God wants us to serve Him from our hearts, humbly seeking Him and having our lives changed in the process.

Pray like this

Do you know how to pray?  If so, how did you learn?  It probably began with observing someone.  We may have learned from public prayers at worship or how our parents taught us before meals or bedtime.  Praise God that there are people in our lives who pray!

Jesus made a point of teaching His disciples to pray, especially because a lot of what they saw in the world was wrong.  Some people made a big production of praying; Jesus said to “pray to your Father who is in secret” (Matthew 6:6).  Many pagan prayers to idols consisted of a long recitation so it might feel honored and grant the request; Jesus said “your Father knows what you need before you ask Him” (Matthew 6:8).

When Jesus taught us how to pray, He focused on submission to God and His will for us (Matthew 6:9-10).  Do we pray for God to get what He desires, or do we focus on what we want?  Jesus focused on trusting God to provide for our physical needs, heal our spiritual hurt, and help us grow (Matthew 6:11-13).  Does trust in God and a desire to be closer to Him permeate our prayers?

We can learn a lot from observing the prayers recorded in the Bible.  Praying before His arrest, Jesus focused on God’s glory and helping us spiritually (Matthew 26:36-46, John 17:1-26).  Praying after Peter and John were beaten, the Jerusalem church focused on God being in control and asking for boldness to do His will (Acts 4:23-31). 

Read the Apostle Paul’s prayers for any one of the churches with which he worked.  For the Ephesians, he prayed for their hearts to be enlightened and to be “rooted and grounded in love” (Ephesians 1:15-23, 3:14-21).  For the Philippians and Colossians, he prayed that they would be filled with knowledge of God’s will and grow into spiritually fruitful lives (Philippians 1:9-11, Colossians 1:9-14).

Spend some time meditating on these passages:  really take in every word and deeply consider what they mean.  Once you understand what these prayers are saying, try adapting them to how you talk and then pray them yourself.  Let’s try making “praying scripture” a part of our routine.  As we learn from these prayers in the Bible, watch and see how God transforms our own prayers and eventually our lives.

A tale of two cities

God’s word generates strong reactions wherever it is heard.  During his second missionary journey, Paul came to Thessalonica and reasoned from the Scriptures, “explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead” (Acts 17:3).  This teaching persuaded many Jews, devout Greeks, and leading women to become Christians.

Strong opposition in Thessalonica soon formed, with a mob attacking some of the believers.  Disturbing the whole city, they shouted that the Christians were turning “the world upside down” by “saying that there is another king, Jesus” (Acts 17:6-7).

It wasn’t long before Paul and Silas were run out of town to Berea, where they received a much different response.  “Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11).  Many became Christians, though Paul’s Thessalonian opponents eventually followed and ran him out of town there, too.

In Thessalonica, some of the Jews were jealous of the response Paul received.  They appeared to have very little interest in truth and were resistant to anything that upset their status quo.  They showed no interest in evaluating Paul’s claims against God’s word, but they seemed to have plenty of time and energy to chase Paul away.

In Berea, they were eager to understand God’s will.  They believed in absolute truth and that God revealed it in the Bible.  This motivated a daily examination of the Scriptures, not as a matter of a requirement but as one of desire.  They weren’t afraid to continually test their beliefs and assumptions against Scripture.  They trusted that God’s truth could be known and followed, even if it led in a different direction than they previously expected.

We can be jealous people who blindly react when our status quo is challenged, who spend much more energy shouting than searching.  Alternatively, we can be noble people who search the Scriptures eagerly and daily because we honestly believe God’s way is best.  When it comes to God’s word, which are we? 

One thing is necessary

Being busy isn’t unique to 21st century Americans.  Just look at this example from Jesus’ ministry recorded in Luke 10:38-42:

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.”  But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”

Martha did so much right.  She welcomed Jesus into her home.  She set out to serve Him, really working hard.  Yet, there was a problem with her focus.  She was distracted by everything she personally wanted to do… and by what Mary was not doing.  (Serving the Lord loses its joy the minute we start comparing ourselves to others, whether favorably or unfavorably.)

Sometimes, it is not the blatantly sinful things that keep us from being close to God:  it’s the things that keep us busy.  We can be distracted by what we want to accomplish.  Hard work and career progression.  School assignments and youth sports.  A little bit of “me time”.  None of these are bad…if our focus is right.

Like Martha, Jesus gently reminds us that there is really only one thing that is necessary.  Instead of being “anxious and troubled about many things”, how different might our lives look if our first priority is sitting at the Lord’s feet and listening?  How might we prioritize our daily tasks differently?  How much more peace might we feel, even when some of those daily tasks don’t get done?

As we realize that we are anxious and troubled, let’s accept Jesus’ invitation to take a seat and listen.  We’ll be so glad we did, and what He gives us will not be taken away.

Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline

The church at Laodicea had developed a big problem:  they were “lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold” (Revelation 3:16).  They had grown confident in their abundance.  Convinced they did not need anything, they became spiritually complacent, even apathetic.  This disgusted Jesus. 

How Jesus addressed them says a lot about godly discipline.  He offered them true riches, white garments, and salve for their eyes (Revelation 3:18).  While disgusted by their attitude and behavior, He wanted to help them be better:  “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.  Behold, I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me” (Revelation 3:19-20). 

When we’ve been hurt by someone we care about, it can be easy to lash out.  Because we are hurt, we may want to inflict punishment or withhold love so that the guilty party shares our pain. 

Jesus sets a high bar.  Discipline should be motivated by love, not as a reaction to our personal embarrassment, anger, or fear.  Discipline is not negative:  it seeks the best for the person.  Discipline does not withhold love:  it seeks to restore relationship and promote closeness. 

May we all experience the love and closeness with Jesus and with each other that comes from godly discipline. 

As he has decided in his heart

Giving has been important to Jesus’ followers since the church began.  The Jerusalem church sold “their possessions and belongings…distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need” (Acts 2:45).  The Antioch church sent Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem with financial aid (Acts 11:27-30).  When Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles was accepted by James, Peter, and John, they asked that he “remember the poor”, which he “was eager to do” (Galatians 2:7-10).

So, it is not at all surprising that Paul directed the churches he planted to complete a “collection for the saints”.  “On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come” (I Corinthians 16:2). 

The church already met on Sundays to eat the bread and drink the cup “to proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (I Corinthians 11:26, cf. Acts 20:7).  It made sense to address the collection of this gift to take to Jerusalem on Sunday, too (I Corinthians 16:3, Romans 15:26).

Yet, Paul was very clear that excelling in giving was “not as a command” nor “an exaction” but as a “willing gift” (II Corinthians 8:8, 9:5).  It required heart.  “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (II Corinthians 9:7).

Heart matters because giving is about more than relieving poverty or meeting budgets:  it is all about Jesus.  “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you by His poverty might become rich” (II Corinthians 8:9).  We cannot be like Jesus and enjoy the abundant life without learning to be generous givers! 

Giving shows our love is genuine, and it benefits us by making us a part of something bigger (II Corinthians 8:8-11).  Reflecting on what God has provided makes us thankful, and sharing it teaches us to rely on God to have “all sufficiency in all things at all times” (II Corinthians 9:8-12).  When we give, others come to glorify God (II Corinthians 9:13-15).

When Jesus comes again, we won’t hunger, thirst, or even need light:  God will supply every need (Revelation 7:15-17, 22:5).  When we give, we learn to trust God to meet our needs, and He gives us a glimpse of how beautiful Heaven will be.

When you come together

Assembling to eat the unleavened bread and drink the fruit of the vine in remembrance of Jesus was a big deal to His first followers.  Jesus personally started it just before His death, burial, and resurrection; and, in so doing, He gave a model of worship with Him at the center that included singing and prayer (Matthew 26:26-30).  It only makes sense that those baptized after the gospel was first proclaimed in Jerusalem “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). 

We see this devotion to the “Lord’s Supper” continuing as the gospel spread throughout the world.  Luke described the Sunday assembly of Christians in Troas as “when we were gathered together to break bread”, with the Apostle Paul staying in town just to be there for it (Acts 20:5-7).  When writing to the Corinthians, Paul would refer to “when you come together as a church” with the understanding that it was to participate in the Lord’s Supper (I Corinthians 11:17-20).

Yet, Corinth also shows us just eating the bread and drinking the cup isn’t enough:  Paul said, “When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper you eat” (I Corinthians 11:20).  Why?  “For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal.  One goes hungry, another gets drunk” (I Corinthians 11:21).  The result was division, humiliation of the needy, and a failure to wait for and share with one another.  This was unworthy of what the Lord’s Supper represents because it was against who the Lord Jesus is!

To truly be the Lord’s Supper, our focus must be on Jesus.  “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (I Corinthians 11:26).  When our focus is right, the Lord’s Supper reminds us of how much Jesus loves us.  It allows us to experience His presence and look forward to His return (Mark 14:26, Luke 22:18).  Instead of dividing us, it brings us together:  “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” (I Corinthians 10:17).

Proclaiming the Lord’s death.  Remembering His love.  Experiencing His presence.  Uniting with one another.  No wonder the first Christians met every Sunday to celebrate it!  May we be just as devoted to the Lord’s Supper and in a way worthy of the Lord Jesus it proclaims!