Series: Gospel Truth
Sunday 15 January 2017- Justus Swart
Matt. 28: 18-20; Acts 1:8; Matt. 13:44; Rom 14:17; (1 Thess. 5:16-18); Gen. 1:26; (Eph. 2:20); Matt. 22:37-39; (Gen. 2:18)
Today we will be looking at what it means to be a witnessing community. The Gospel is not just about giving up your life without receiving anything in return. Last week we said that we need to start by surrendering everything of ourselves and our lives to God but that is only the beginning. We are not giving up our lives into a vacuum. What we are given is the most valuable thing in the world. We have gone through all the steps: repentance, service and surrendering our lives but now what? How does the Gospel change my life in between church services? Jesus provides us with a good answer. Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age’ (Matt. 28:18-20). This is what is known as the “Great Commission’. We are called to serve all nations by calling them to discipleship in Jesus Christ. We are called into His Kingdom with the single purpose of furthering that very kingdom into every inch of our lives and every inch of our surroundings. No place is exempt from this mandate and all men are invited into discipleship.
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (Acts. 1: 8). By committing ourselves by faith in Jesus, we are empowered to be witnesses to the entire world. This idea of power is very attractive, seductive and very often misunderstood. What is this power we are given in the Holy Spirit? Churches by their very nature are in a position of power, so when that is abused and mishandled it is very heart-breaking to see. When we talk about power in the wrong sense we are not really reflecting the Jesus who walked the muddy banks of the Jordan River, born in a manger, who called a bunch of fishermen to Him. He was not focussed or obsessed with the idea of power as we understand it. The idea of power is too often literally interpreted. We think of it as strength or influence over circumstances or people. What does power mean? How should I accept this power and what does it look like?
After much reading of Scriptures and agonising over this idea, I came to the conclusion that power has less to do with control and authority but much more to do with joy. I believe if you could replace the word ‘power’ with ‘joy’ in this Scripture to get a true understanding of what Jesus is talking about. “.. You will receive joy when the Holy Spirit…” We are distinctively talking about joy not about happiness. It is not always a smile; it is not always a laugh or a good time. Joy has a magnificent and singular ability to stand side by side with your grief and sadness. Joy has the ability to remind you of things to come. Joy is looking ahead; it is synonymous with the idea of triumph. Happiness is momentary and almost more emotional. Joy looks at the situation and says, “No matter what, my story is complete in Christ-Jesus.” Joy allows you to look at a situation not from where you are standing but from the end point. Joy is something so much deeper and so much powerful than happiness.
The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field (Matt. 13:44). It was considered nothing to lose all his other possessions to gain Christ. This is how Jesus sends us into the world as his witnesses with joy in our heart. We receive joy and this allows us to look at the world with a different eyes. We are not bound to look at something from one singular perspective. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom. 14:17). You cannot pull these two apart: Holy Spirit and joy. They go together. It is the power that allows you to change the way you look at something. This is what true power actually is. It is the unique ability to overcome our challenges, not with sheer might but with peace. The very fabric of our new life is joyfulness. When we can demonstrate this kind of joy to the world, we are closer to becoming that effective witness Jesus is talking about. The very difficult thing about joy is that it is not optional when you are a Christian. Be joyful always! (1 Thess. 5:16-18). It is a command to be joyful in all things. Many of you here may have a lot of reasons to be unhappy, which is fair, but you do not have a single reason not to be joyful.
How am I supposed to witness to the world with this new found joy? There is some effort behind true witnessing. The idea of witnessing has evolved over the years. Street-corner preaching was well received for some time a while back, and then it became tent meetings where many people were saved and had encounters with God. These were effective then but have become the less effective in the modern age. The idea of witnessing changes and evolves and is related to historical and situational contexts as well. I believe that witnessing must respond to the need of your society and your immediate surroundings, but I also believe that there is a form of witness that is completely timeless. That is the joyful witness of a community. Our greatest testimony to the world is that we walk freely into the presence of God and inherited a family. We became God’s family! He called us into His own life. Whatever we may have lost in responding to the cause of Christ we have gained a hundred fold within the Church. This has been our spiritual DNA from the beginning. We were created from our very inception to live in the company of other people. Neighbourliness is the very unshakeable core of the Gospel.
Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness” (Gen. 1:26). That very image is who we are. The only negative comment God made about His creation is “It is not good for man to be alone” (Gen. 2:18). It is talking about being cut off from community; isolation is a muted form of death. The most effective part of witness is to be part of joyful community. Outside of the church, what is your life pointing towards? If Jesus Christ is the cornerstone of the Church, if He is the very foundation of the Church (Eph. 2) and you are not part of it, how is your life pointing to God? Faith without the Church is not Christianity because Jesus died for the world so that the Church may call all men into life in Jesus Christ. We have to have genuine friendships; we have to have brotherliness amongst those who share in this adventure of Christ. We have to recover our true identity as part of the greater whole. We have to shake off our ideas of separations that exist between us and our neighbour. We have to reach across any divides and there to find a friend who is in need of us as much as we are in need of them. This is how life goes beyond the Sunday services. This is how the Gospel takes shape in our world. Sometimes we read through the teachings of Jesus and rush through them and we forget that Jesus came to live a life for us. He lived a life so that we can see a life lived for God. The first thing after His baptism, Jesus went and found His disciples, and He walked from one to the other and called them into His community. Effective witness is evident because you are part of a community that exists in the joy of salvation. We know that we have been made into something bigger than just our lives. Neighbourliness is another person’s claim over your life.
Christianity is giving up our lives for God and for others. ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ (Matt. 22:37-39).