Acts 1:6-14

Witness Begins at Home!

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Acts 1:6-14

Witness Begins at Home!

Richard Niell Donovan

Jesus’ disciples never did learn! Jesus was within minutes of leaving them forever, but they asked, “Lord, are you now restoring the kingdom to Israel?”

All their lives, they had expected that the Messiah would restore Israel to King David’s glory—a new and glorious kingdom. Jesus had many times tried to give them a new vision of the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is within you. The Kingdom of God is every heart where God is king. But the disciples had this other image in their mind—the image of the Messiah leading an army against the Roman soldiers—and they couldn’t seem to get past that. And so they asked, “Lord, are you now restoring the kingdom to Israel?” (1:6).

Jesus told them that God’s timetable was God’s business, not theirs. And then he told them what was their business. He said:

“You will receive power
when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.
You will be witnesses to me in Jerusalem,
in all Judea and Samaria,
and to the uttermost parts of the earth”

That was their business—and it is our business—to be witnesses for Christ. What is a witness? A witness is a person who can testify to something that he or she knows for a fact. A witness in a court must have seen or experienced something personally. The court is not interested in what they have heard about or suspect. The court is interested only in what they know.

Jesus said to his disciples—which includes us:

“You will receive power
when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.
You will be witnesses to me…”

You will be the people who will tell the world about me.

Note that this is a two-step process. First of all, Jesus promised the disciples that they would receive power through the gift of the Holy Spirit—something that happens at our baptism. Then he told them that they would be his witnesses—people who could testify to others about what Christ can do. First, we have to experience what Christ can do, and then we tell other people about that. Experience—then tell—that is the role of the witness!

It is also interesting to note the pattern that Jesus established for witnessing. He said:

“You will be witnesses to me in Jerusalem,
in all Judea and Samaria,
and to the uttermost parts of the earth.”

To understand the picture that Jesus was painting, it helps to understand the geography. Jerusalem was their Holy City—the place of the Temple—God’s home, so to speak. Judea was the province or state in which Jerusalem was located, and Samaria was the neighboring province.

Jesus was picturing concentric circles, reaching ever outward. First, the disciples were to be witnesses to the community in which they found themselves—Jerusalem. Then they were to expand their ministry to the adjoining region. Finally, they were to expand their ministry to the ends of the earth.

And that remains the model for Christians. We need to start where we are—in (this town) where our church building is located — in (this town) — in (adjoining towns) — or wherever we live and work. It is always tempting to send money to a missionary in Africa and to consider that our witness. But Christ wants us to start closer to home, because nobody else has the same access that we have to our families, our friends and our co-workers.


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Our witness needs to start with our own families. Our witness needs to start with little things. It would be nice to believe that our lives are so wonderful that our families will be drawn to Christ just by seeing what he has done in our lives.

But not many of us are that wonderful. We need other means of witnessing to our own families and to guests in our homes. Something as simple as saying grace before meals can be a powerful witness to your family. When we give thanks before each meal, it reminds every member of the family of the God who gave us the food, and it reminds us of our faith.

We witness to our children by reading them Bible stories. We started with David when he was very young, and read him Bible stories every night for years. Now we are reading Bible stories to Elizabeth. Just imagine the impact on a child’s life of reading Bible stories to them every night for years. Those stories will be a part of them for the rest of their lives. Even when they are old, as they struggle with important decisions, those stories will continue to instruct and guide them.

Even if our children are grown and gone, we can bear witness in our homes. We can bear witness to our husband or wife. We can bear witness to visitors. In small, quiet ways, we can have an influence with Christ.

Then Jesus calls us to expand the circle—to cast our net wider—to include Judea and Samaria, the area around us. We are to be Christ’s witnesses to our friends and co-workers on the peninsula—and in Monterey County—and in the places where we travel. If we have truly begun our witness at home, it becomes very natural to expand that witness beyond our home.

Dr. Frank Harrington is the minister of the Peachtree Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, the largest Presbyterian Church in the United States. In one of his sermons, he told about visiting his grandchildren in Dallas. He took them to their favorite restaurant, a place called EZ’s. The restaurant was crowded. Dr. Harrington had his hands full with three grandchildren in tow. They went through the line and got their food and finally got settled in their seats and began to eat. Then one of the grandsons, Michael, looked up and said, “Everybody QUIET! We haven’t had the prayer!” Harrington says:

“It got quiet as a chapel in that place.
The manager turned off the music.
There we were, holding hands,
and we said the prayer we always say:
‘God is great! God is good,
let us thank Him for our food.’
You know, I saw people wiping their eyes with napkins when we finished.”

Harrington concluded, “Prayer is a part of our public witness.”

And so it is. My sense of it is that grandson Michael probably made a difference in several people’s lives in that restaurant that day. He reminded people about God’s presence in that place. He reminded them about God’s goodness in providing food. He reminded them about gratitude—and about prayer. It is very possible that some person’s life was changed. But that child’s witness in that restaurant happened only because his parents had made their own witness inside their own home. The parents had taught the children to pray, and so the children prayed. And the prayer made a difference.

Evelyn Underhill put it this way:

“Being a disciple means living a disciplined life,
and it is not very likely that you will get other disciples,
unless you are one first.”

Actions speak more loudly than words, don’t they! In his book, Who Speaks for God? Chuck Colson told about a debate about homosexuality and AIDS that took place in the newspaper between a New York bishop and conservative church leaders. The bishop had said that AIDS was not God’s judgment on the homosexual community, and the conservatives said that it was. Colson commented:

“The debate raises a timely question.
Who does speak for God?

“Ironically, while the bishop and his conservative challengers
were pontificating over who was responsible for AIDS,
I discovered that a young woman on my staff named Christy
was using her evenings and weekends to do something about it.
At a time when most Americans
were panic-stricken over the contagious disease
or snickering at snide AIDS jokes,
Christy and her prayer group
were visiting terminally ill AIDS patients
at a Washington area hospital.
None of the men had families in the area,
and certainly no visitors.
So Christy’s group brought them postage stamps,
stationery, books, tapes and cookies.”

Christy says of their ministry to these AIDS patients:

“They are socially unacceptable because of their lifestyle
and medically unacceptable because of their diseases.
They are scared.
They are dying.
They are unsaved.”

In her ministry, Christy was reaching out in the name of Christ to bring Christ’s love and compassion to the unlovely—just as Christ had reached out to touch the lepers and demon-possessed and disabled people of his day. Her visits and her small gifts became a healing balm to the aching souls of dying men and women. Because she had reached out in those ways, she was also able to tell them of the Christ who could save them. She reported: We have been able to pray with eight of the patients. Two men who died in the last ten days received Christ.

Christ called his disciples to be his witnesses: First to Jerusalem, then to Judea and Samaria, and finally to all the world. We can learn from their response to his call.

• They did not go immediately to a board room where they could devise a plan for conquering the world.

• They did not go to the bus station to begin their travels to distant places.

• They began by returning to Jerusalem—to the Upper Room where once Christ had shared his Last Supper with them—and there they devoted themselves to prayer.

Shortly after, by the power of God, they began to turn the world upside down. But first, they had to have God’s power, and for that they got on their knees.

That’s the key! We can be effective witnesses only once Christ has empowered us. Our prayers are a channel for his power. Let us become a people of prayer—so that we might become witnesses for Christ in (this town) —in (this state) —and to the ends of the earth.

Scripture quotations from the World English Bible.

Copyright 1996, Richard Niell Donovan